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Friday, December 31, 2010

The year that was: 2010, vol. 2

To the essence
End-of-year “in memoriam” segments always draw fresh sighs and headshakes of disbelief. There exists a sense of grief anew, for the individual and for the impact on our greater society, the talent depletion that marks such transitions. In a look back, here’s a sample of giants that joined the ancestors in 2010, in alphabetical order:


Became America’s mom as the spunky senior looked with wonderment and spoke with pride that her boy “Joey” was taking the stage with the 44th president of the United States as his No. 2, affirming her investment and intuition that the one-time stutterer she knew was destined for great things.
Juan Mari Bras
A key figure in the Puerto Rican independence movement and self-proclaimed diplomat for the cause that wrote extensively, organized and brought a people’s concerns about colonial tactics on the island to the United Nations as well as renounced his U.S. citizenship in favor of a Puerto Rican one.
Richard Holbrooke
Known as much for his swagger as for his considerable skills, he served as ambassador to presidents and negotiator of conflicts spanning from Vietnam to Bosnia to Afghanistan.
Phyllis Kaniss
An early witness to the increasing convergence of media domination and local elections and the consequences of a shrinking political news hole in favor of spin-flavored ads, shared her insights with accessibility with her U. Penn students and media consumers with equal aplomb through well-crafted, thoroughly researched books on a subject that lies at the heart of our democracy.
Imari Obadele (Richard Bullock Henry)
The one-time FBI target turned college professor shifted tactics from calls for black separatism to help found the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA), endeavoring for decades to bring the issue to the national fore.
Michael O’Pake
The longest serving state legislator in Pennsylvania worked his way up from the projects of Reading and never lost touch with those humble roots or the desire to serve the mass of constituents in Berks County, even amid population shifts, economic decline and minority status in his chamber.
When the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. stirred political pots and launched his bid for the presidency in 1984, he had the political insight and analysis of this noted strategist and educator by his side, and scholars at Howard University and the University of Maryland, journalists and politicos-to-be were guided by that wisdom in ensuing years.
Trailblazing activist, lawyer and politician that made people believe in hope and change decades before a man named Obama as the first credible African-American candidate for mayor in Philadelphia and proponent for independent Democrats that galvanized citizens of all ages, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientation. Modeled what “power to the people” could mean, for a city and a nation.

Music and culture
The endearing story of the black man who served as the butler in the White House for eight presidents arose during the inauguration of one he would not have the pleasure to serve, the first African-American occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and subtly showcased the dignity and pride that 2008 brought into fruition for generations.
Gary Coleman
The child star whose body never caught up to his age lived a troubled life in the post “Diff’rent Strokes” years, but forever remained an endearing figure with his chubby cheeks and memories of the catchline, “What you talkin’ about, Willis?”
The undisputed dean of the American marching band, he revolutionized the concept of having college musicians troop around in standard formation and infused power and pageantry to the game with show-stopping dance routines and impeccable and relevant music that kept crowds dancing in the stands, be they U.S. presidents, Super Bowl fans, or Parisians across the Atlantic. His Florida A&M Marching 100 remains oft-imitated, and still, never duplicated.
Al Goodman
Some voices meld like the angels, others stir a warmth in the soul, and Ray, Goodman, and Brown provided the perfect blend for R&B fans and lovers everywhere, especially any woman who knew she was a “Special Lady.”
The “Lady and Her Music” was a force of entertainment for nearly a century, a product of the old school – dynamic activist, dancer, pinup girl, actress, singer and all around star, whether she was protesting for civil rights, dancing in the Cotton Club, starring in Cabin in the Sky or as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz, flirting with “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley or dominating Broadway.
Marvin Isley
The bassist behind the funk that was both the Isley Brothers and Isley, Jasper, Isley and the author of “Fight the Power.”
Hank Jones
The storied jazz master took piano keys to heights unheralded and put a distinctive downbeat on the art form, leaving a template for only the most daring to follow.
As a musician, singer, actress, she exuded torch singer looks but coupled that with immense talent that withstood abusive relationships and elusive commercial success and crafted an undeniably lush body of work that celebrated jazz, women and perseverance.
The petite “Ivory Queen of Soul” took the world of R&B by storm in 1979 and never released its fans from her maelstrom, a soaring catalogue of songs and riffs rife that ranged from aching hearts to a spirit of survival that highlighted her vocal gifts and musicianship, touching generations.
A jazz saxophonist and flutist that melded reeds into eternal music and remade a song into the standard now known as “Moody's Mood for Love," so sophisticated that it inspired both lyrics and re-recordings from artists as diverse as Van Morrison to George Benson to Dana Owens aka Queen Latifah.
Trudy Pitts
Half of the Philly favorite Trudy Pitts and Mr. C team that played halls throughout the city and jazz houses around the country, her skills on the organ and piano rivaled her vocal stylings among fans.
Erudite musician, educator, broadcaster and unofficial jazz ambassador, he introduced untold people to players and stories that otherwise may have fallen into the cracks of history and elevated jazz to a national conversation.
Jefferson Thomas
As America stood at its crossroads for educational integration, he was among the Little Rock Nine that braved ugly crowds and pure hatred in their efforts to secure a basic education in the 1960s, and tapped into a resilience that awed adults twice their age and a bravery that inspired scores more here and abroad.

Business and media

Frank Baldino Jr.
Before most people understood the promise of biotechnology, the accomplished scientist founded a fledgling company from within a Philadelphia scientific business park, putting Cephalon on the path of destiny and a stock market gem, helping to propel Pennsylvania’s status as one of the leading biotech centers in the United States.
Stephen J. Cannell
No child growing up in America between the ‘70s and ‘80s was beyond his reach, with creations like the Rockford Files, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team and 21 Jumpstreet as part of the portfolio for the prolific writer, both for TV and vacation-friendly fiction.
Phil Jasner
“Sportswriter” fails to capture the essence of his work, which chronicled a culture and a people of Philadelphia and its storied basketball highs, lows and overall obsession with the game, players, coaches and fans that make this city one of the best to love/hate from the stands for decades as part of the Philadelphia Daily News reporting team.
Eunice Walker Johnson
More than just the wife of a powerful and ambitious businessman that recast the image of African Americans for a nation, she made her own inroads along the same path by showcasing the beauty and worth found in African-American women, well before the cry that “Black is beautiful.”
Small only in physical stature, the decorated journalist with the resounding and commanding voice led news reports in print and on radio and television for more than 50 years and paved a road to success for those who dared to seek truth.
J.D. Salinger
While more than a reclusive one-hit wonder, his seminal work, The Catcher in the Rye, remains required reading for students, many of whom recognizing bits of themselves in the rumored autobiographical protagonist Holden Caulfield.
Author and activist, intellectual and historian, he reshaped how Americans looked at themselves and their country with treatises such as A People’s History of the United States, The Politics of History, Terrorism and War and nearly a dozen others.

The year that was: 2010, vol. 1

It’s a funny thing about reflecting on a year that’s passed. Unless you’re among the few that keep daily diaries or blogs, it can all appear to be a blur. Then when you sit down and consider everything that transpired, you wondered how you managed to keep up – let alone get set for the next year. Just looking at all the talent that has passed on alone can leave you breathless.
Such is the case for 2010, whose waning hours not only closes out a year, but also the first decade of the 21st century. The dawn of this “post-modern, post-racial” age offered plenty of examples that would challenge long-held assumptions of what life would be like in an era closer to George Jetson-styled flying cars than Model-T hoopties.

So as we flip back to the last year of the century’s turn, there’s plenty to mull, from the constantly twisting political fortunes of America’s first black president to the environmental and economic futures of Haiti and the Gulf states to the ongoing saga of redemption for the NFL’s most notorious quarterback. Here’s an A-Z recap:

It became the new buzz word among the economist set and on the global stage as European countries on the brink of financial meltdown sought to stiffen their upper lips and purse strings, slashing budgets like groundskeeper after crabgrass. As unemployment lines grew longer, people grumbled louder and economies grew at glacial paces, if at all. There were exceptions, such as Germany, which touted its tough self-discipline as the reason why it escaped the financial catastrophe engulfing its neighbors relatively unscathed. As the leader in the austerity parade, Chancellor Angela Merkel channeled Margaret Thatcher-cum-Uncle Scrooge as she fought her counterparts on bailing out fiscal basketcases like Greece, Portugal Ireland and Spain – and even her own sagging poll numbers. The crises threatened the kumbaya harmony the single currency Euro was supposed to institutionalize. World leaders finally worked out a semblance of a plan, to the balks of conservatives everywhere, perhaps saving the globe from dipping into an even deeper recession – or plunging their grandchildren into economic bondage for the ages.

BP oil spill
Fitting that this disaster leads the list, as its real impact has yet to be uncovered, and may not for generations. If sales on four-headed Gulf shrimp emerge in the years ahead, it’ll be clear as to why. The Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20 and the billions of crude oil that invaded the Gulf of Mexico in the months afterward riveted the nation and the world. A spat between the wedded allies brought about hostilities the likes of which had not been seen since the original Tea Party as Britons took offense at Americans demanding that BP dip into its profits (and theoretically, their pension holdings) to pay for cleanup efforts. Meanwhile, in places such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, brown and black sludge crept onto shorelines and swallowed birds and sea life alike. The ecological damage to tenuous wetlands and the economic fallout from fishers and shrimpers, and all their related industries, soured many on the response efforts of the Obama Administration. Neither BP nor the administration would fess up to what the administration knew of the depth of the problem, after faulty estimates of how much oil bubbled into the sea. BP had its spin team working overtime, buying up Google ad space, launching a TV offensive and trying to downplay when BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg mentioned the company’s concern for “small people,” attributing it all to translation difficulties. But when Obama pushed to secure a BP-sponsored fund to pay for the cleanup – rather than using taxpayer dollars – GOP legislators likened it to “Chicago-style politics” and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to BP front man Tony Heyward, costing him chairmanship of the House energy committee. Heyward was later sent to Siberia, literally.

Chilean miners
The story of numbers, faith and technology riveted the world. For two months, 33 men stood trapped some 2,000 feet beneath the earth after a mine caved, with only a 3-inch hole providing any light or contact with the world above. Tearful families fearing the worst sent SOS prayers and held vigils. The men redefined camaraderie, surviving early on by sharing a single tin of canned fish, a few crackers and swigs of water until reinforcements swirled down the hole. It took an international effort of engineering and moxie to rescue the men, hoisting them upward using a cylindrical capsule about three feet wide. Reporters from across the globe huddled in the vicinity, providing wall-to-wall coverage from every angle. Each man’s story was relayed by anxious anchors as breaking news across cable and network TV. Drama came by watching each rescue effort, along with what happened when each man reached the surface. Few were as entertaining as the spectacle of Yonni Barrios, who was met by his girlfriend, not his wife, who boycotted the rescue efforts. Overall, it was a media ratings bonanza, but one with a happy ending – and possible made-for-TV movies or book deals in the works for the survivors.

At one point, a paper bag test would keep African Americans from even being eligible for certain societal niceties. For gays and lesbians in service to their country, it was an admission – or targeted revelation – of their sexual orientation that would rip away their employment, rank, benefits and dignity. When Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was introduced during the Clinton Administration, it was hailed as the great compromise on how to handle the discomfiting conundrum of the LGBTQ presence in the military. President Obama campaigned on the pledge of ending DADT, and caught heat from that same constituency as well as the usual voices from the right fringe about his ultra-liberal, socialist ways. Obama pressed on and did it Sinatra style – his way. Fearing a court or presidential order would cause more disruption, particularly in the midst of two wars, the Conciliator-in-Chief sought buy-in from the brass and Congressional repeal. He asked the military to do their own studies, which forced many to confront the hypocrisy that stood staring at them: the inanity of discharging skilled and valued personnel based on bedroom practices and, worst still, preaching the value of integrity among troops while forcing scores of others to lie to their comrades in arms daily. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq War veteran, beat the drum and led the cheers to right this wrong, from the House floor to the 2008 Democratic National Convention to losing his seat amid the GOP midterm wash. But his advocacy in the House shoved the snowball that became one of the major pieces of civil rights legislation of the modern era. With DADT disbanded and a presidential order to allow LGBTQ folks equal access to hospitalized partners, queer disbelievers will have to pick a new reason why they can’t/shouldn’t trust this president. Expect a ramp up for gay marriage.

Elizabeths – Edwards and Warren
The former was the doubly-suffering wife of an ambitious yet fatally flawed politician. The latter is the woman that scares the bejeezus out of men in pinstripes, be they on the Hill or the Street. For many, Elizabeth Edwards was the model of class and grace, having tackled the death of her teen-aged son, two bouts of cancer and a philandering husband whose fling produced a child at the height of her stress. She lost her battle with cancer, but won hearts and admiration the world over. Elizabeth Warren shot out of the ivied towers of Harvard and aimed for protecting the American middle class from the gouging techniques that had become standard practice in the financial sectors, and pardoned by their Congressional enablers. Fighting tooth and nail, the folksy professor conspired with the president to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – and a permanent bull’s eye on her and her efforts from character assassins on the right.

Farmers – black and Native Americans
Those who live by the land will tell you loans for the land are what helps keep them aloft – and African-American and Native American farmers had endured decades of outright discrimination in the process, with stunning lack of intervention by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 1997 case of Pigford v. Glickman was set to reverse that and provide a settlement of $50,000 to qualified farmers that could prove claims of racial bias. But the judgment lingered without a payday for another decade. GOP members in the U.S. House cried that the bill was fraud waiting to happen, but it moved ahead in the lingering moments of a Democratic majority. President Obama signed the $4.6 billion class-action settlement into law in December, ending a generations-old struggle for equal recognition and treatment. Too bad it wasn’t enough to silence the Obama-isn’t-black-enough crowd, which continues to carp on.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (retired – forcibly)
The wars in the Middle East launched in the Bush Administration amid the hysteria induced by 9/11 remain a quagmire of epic proportions.  For every step forward come three backward – and the unfortunate body bag count to prove it. Any honest person can admit that the standard term of “victory” is a lot more complicated than the patriotic jingoism Americans crave. That has overinflated the egos of some in the military who forget that above all, is a chain of command. Such was the case for Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who shot off his mouth to a Rolling Stone reporter about his thoughts on his civilian masters, macho-man style. So scathing were his remarks, President Obama faced a choice at a critical time during the ongoing Afghan campaign: remove his second leader there and chance destabilizing troop morale or retain a loudmouth who broke all the rules and highlight the double-standard most enlisted feel exist. In the end, Obama made McChrystal pay the piper and gave him the boot. Don’t be surprised to see the deflated macho man puff up again on a GOP presidential campaign trail, if not ticket, in 2012.

Health reform
It was the policy battle royal that came to a head, where the president was called everything except a child of God or Satan (though mentions of Mephistopheles might be found if those angry placards are scanned closely enough). He was intent on ripping away time-honored American prized health care options, such as being dropped by insurers due to pre-existing conditions, booting babies born imperfect, jacking up prices or capping benefits when illness strikes and coverage is needed most. And that Nancy Pelosi, with her gavel in hand, dared to act like she actually ran the U.S. House of Representatives! Watching this idea – one elusive since Teddy Roosevelt’s day – become the law of the land was ugly, with flames fanned by opportunists more interested in claiming power through fear than care for the masses through compassion. In the end, President Obama reigned victorious, but his audacity cost him the House and the new GOP leadership and its think tanks have vowed to undo it.  Smells like Washington spirit. Or something.

It was the tablet PC that ate the competition, despite rumored release dates, fits and starts that left Apple lovers breathless and converted PC users. Tech gurus had been bopping around, trying to perfect a tablet computer that would be accessible and desirable for a few years now. Apple upped the ante, just as it did with its smash digital music player, adding affordability to the hit list. The lines to the store weren’t as impressive as those for the revolutionary iPhone of a few years back, but the reviews and raves have been steadier. Now, the system operates on both AT&T and Verizon networks. And the device has flipped the entire world of publishing has been turned on its ear. Newspapers and magazines are retrofitting for this new platform, and Amazon’s Kindle book reader finally got some serious competition. Of course, with the iPad, there are those other favorite details, like WiFi, email, web browsing, gaming, photo editing . . ..

Juan Williams
Unfortunate slips of the tongue happen. In the case of veteran newsman and opinion maker Juan Williams, his commentary on FOX News became a bit too much for his NPR employers to take. So they pink slipped him, in the sloppiest way possible, opening up all sorts of moaning about liberal media biases, assaults on the First Amendment and, yes, even the race card. As NPR officials mucked around in the mess they helped create, Williams boogied on down and settled into his digs at “fair-and-balanced” FOX as a permanent, rather than a moonlighting, gig, with a sweet payday for his troubles.

Korea – divided and deadlier
North Korea has long resembled the bratty antics of the mythical middle child, starved for attention and prone to doing almost anything to get it. That has left its neighbors to the south in awkward situations as their northern cousins throw tantrum after tantrum. But South Korea is taking a ballsier approach as of late, frustrated with China’s acquiescence with the ever-paranoid Kim Jong-il, who’s in the midst of a succession handoff to his youngest, untested son, Kim Jong-un. Nuclear weaponry and instability make for a nasty mix on the perpetually problematic peninsula.

Lady Gaga
Since a picture speaks 1,000 words, let’s have this one sum up the antics of the shock singer who has been scrambling to occupy the pop-performance artist space left vacant since Madonna turned to motherhood and put her clothes back on. Yes, it is a dress made of meat. Like her forebear, Lady Gaga revels in and reviles celebrity. Upnotes: when she turned political, she pushed against DADT. And at least she can carry a note, which puts her ahead of most of the pop princess pack.

Michael Vick
Whenever there’s a negative word going around in the national media, there’s little doubt that an Obama critic somehow has a finger in it somewhere. Such is the case with what should be an inspiring story, that of a man who went horribly left, found help and is striving to recapture glory he once took for granted. Michael Vick went from football hero to demon in the eyes of America when the one-time franchise quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons was convicted for dog fighting and animal abuse. The horrific incidents detailed in the case were stomach turning, and Vick went to federal prison for his crimes, just as his endorsement deals were coming into full fruition. The Philadelphia Eagles picked him up once he was released, to the consternation of fans that often split along racial lines. Then a funny thing happened. He played, with MVP-intensity, at long last. He scrubbed his life. He earned respect, the Philly way, the hard way. Dismantling Washington (and one-time Eagle and mentor Donovan McNabb) and flipping an apparent loss to the Giants into a breathtaking come-from-behind win made for highlight reel nirvana. Then came the snippet of an interview when he said he’d like to own a dog. Strangely enough, the second part of his comments, about demonstrating how to treat animals with respect, failed to surface. And then, when the president called Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to laud him for giving a second chance to a convicted felon, the gates of right-wing hell opened, with ridiculous calls for Vick’s execution. Too bad those same outraged puppy lovers can’t seem to focus their attention on the ongoing misery in Haiti or catching a libidinous strangler in Philadelphia.

Natural disasters: Haiti and Pakistan
In January, the world’s heart was ripped from its chest as we watched the horrific scenes pouring out of Haiti. The 7.0 earthquake in one of the world’s poorest nations had the twin devastating effect of lingering death and excruciating survival. Especially painful was watching children instantly maimed and orphaned. Or ex-pats here feeling helpless grief. The images and pleas for help unhinged wallets normally slammed shut after holiday shopping, particularly amid a recession that wore out its welcome months ago. Text message donations and all-star, all-channel telethons highlighted the best America had to offer as money for relief efforts came in record numbers. More bizarre moments erupted later, such as entertainer and philanthropist Wyclef Jean pledging to run for president of his native land, despite not being a resident. Worst, the billions in pledged aid from countries around the world has yet to reach the island, with hundreds of thousands still displaced and infrastructure and stability as weak as the rebar-free buildings that collapsed like paper.

And then, a few months later, Pakistan faced unheralded flooding and all the ailments that connect to such catastrophe, ranging from cholera to starvation, slammed the country as well. In total, some 14 million were estimated to have been impacted, according to the United Nations. But with Pakistan so closely identified as a safe haven for the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorists and its continued power struggle with a rising India for domination in South Asia, there was a stark difference in the response, despite the devastation. Taliban leadership even exhorted Pakistani officials to shun Western aid, the same type of support groups often attacked by the insurgents. Others worry that the lack of enthusiasm will cultivate more desperation and hate – ample fields for future terrorists-in-training.

Keith Olbermann
The absolute darling of the nation’s left-leaning crowd, his daily countdown of stories and excortication of most things Republican and all things FOX News remains one of the highest rated programs on MSNBC. But he ran into bumps this year, from the death of his father to wading into the murky politics of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the sexual assault charges pending against the intelligence world’s Public Enemy No. 1. Suspended after donating to Democratic candidates during the midterms, a violation of NBC News policies, he returned to his chair somewhat chastened this fall but no less virulent.

The name went from a bad joke on the nation to an illness for which a cure has yet to be found. First the “momma grizzly” found a band of people to prop for office, with a decent win-loss ratio, reviving fears that the American intellectual vacuum that provided George W. Bush with two terms may have resurfaced. Still on the hunt for money after resigning her governorship of Alaska, she “penned” two books, went on the attack against the first lady (and had to slither back after the blowback from her GOP colleagues and would-be 2012 rivals), was handed a commentary post on FOX News (surprise!) and a reality show on the state that really is not that into her. And then the out-of-wedlock teen mother that is her daughter showcases her oafish moves on national television and survived elimination on Dancing with the Stars time after time, proving that no matter the myth, talent is no guarantor of success in this nation.

Qu’ran burning
In a media age, some people’s sense of self-importance swells beyond control, and such was the case for a bit-sized Florida pastor, the Rev. Terry Jones, who decided that he and his whopping 50-member congregation would take on “islamofacism” by burning copies of the Islamic holy book. His threats were circulating on jihadist recruitment sites halfway around the world before the mutton-chopped minister became a fixture on national TV and his comments plastered in article after article. The Obama Administration, hoping to tamp down already inflamed hysteria on the part of would-be terrorists, sought to chill out Jones. Even Bob Gates, the secretary of defense, made a personal call to talk reason. Jones called off the stunt, but not before critics questioned why he garnered so much attention in the first place, and the hand-wringing that came among assignment editors as to whether they aided and elevated a nuisance into a potential crisis. In the months since, Jones has crawled back to his Gainesville outpost, Dove World Outreach Center, assumingly to continue preaching about “peace” and “tolerance.”

While declared dead – finally – the impact of the two years-plus downturn lingers on. It outlasted the massive stimulus plan the Obama Administration touted as the economy’s savior. It pummeled popularity polls. And it haunted those who scour Craigslist, Monster and the masses of jobs boards, searching for work. Unemployment hovered near 10 percent for most of the year, sitting at about 9.8 percent for November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the ongoing consternation for the president and Democratic leaders in Congress. Among African Americans, the issue is even direr, with national unemployment rates soaring to 16.1 percent. Despite the lagging economy, even this Grinch couldn’t steal Christmas 2010. Consumers bounded back to stores, still timid, but a bit more determined to engage in a bit of stimulus of their own.

RNC shenanigans
Michael Steele started off his term as the GOP’s Great Black Hope and too often was left looking like its Great Black Dope. From the bondage-themed nightclub scandal to his seeming pro-abortion stance, scandal after scandal had rank-in-file Republicans calling for his ouster, but the reversal of the party’s fortunes during the midterm elections gave him plenty of room to laugh, all the way to the bank – or Guam.

February snow didn’t just blanket the Eastern Seaboard – it buried it. From Philly to D.C., Canadian-sized drifts submerged every car, bus, trolley, school, street, avenue, tree and anything else affixed to the ground for more than 10 minutes. Everything ground to a halt. Everything. Most bypassed any thoughts on excavation efforts of their vehicles since the stores had been sold out of bread and milk days before. Crowds started cheering oft-reviled Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter when he unleashed the plows. It was a storm for the ages, even if the good folks in Buffalo poked fun at the catastrophe of climate change. Epsom salt sales soared in the weeks that followed as digging out took on a whole new meaning.

Tea Party
All silly hats and outrageous placards aside, the tea party movement – too vast, dispersed and diverse to corral into a category – came as an outgrowth of the suspicious, fearful public stirred into a frenzy by Republican and Republican-leaning forces. Less than a conspiracy than a tinder box with a ready flame, people “mad as hell” decided that all blame should fall on the man in office who two years ago inherited the messes of the preceding president and his cohorts that did little to combat stagnant wages or additional government spending. And like any good party, the nuts came out in force to round out this band of misfits and misfires. Purity tests erupted and suddenly those smug GOP legislators started going all wobbly as the mob came for them, felling viable candidates like Mike Castle in Delaware with whack jobs like Christine O’Donnell. Others rode all the way into office, from Florida’s Marco Rubio to Kentucky’s Rand Paul. Overwhelmingly white, old, bitter and anti-Obama, efforts were made to filter racially tinged elements by reaching out to people of color and supporting the Congressional bids of some, with Allen West and Tim Scott among the winners’ circle.

U.S. Supreme Court, round 2
With the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, conservatives clinched their teeth and fists as President Obama was afforded yet another pick for the highest court of the land. His selection was his solicitor general, Elena Kagan, the former dean of the Harvard Law School and the first nominee in more than a generation that did not come through the usual process of having served on a lower court. Republican senators stamped their feet and sought to dampen the mood, but her confirmation was near cake. Her selection made for the fourth female and eighth Jewish justice in the court’s history.

The View
So when President Obama joined the TV gabfest that is The View, political purists were aghast. In their view, it was yet another move toward an ever-pedestrian presidency – what with appearances on Oprah, Jay Leno and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. But it gave him the opportunity to connect with a largely female viewership that tends to be disconnected from politics – an audience that includes the first lady, he noted. So with legs crossed and great self-control – not once did he ogle Sherri Shepherd’s ample bosom – he chatted it up with her, Barbara Walters, Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg, and even did a light tango-tangle with the resident conservative-lite chick, Elisabeth Hasselbeck. ABC appreciated the ratings boost.

World Cup
Finally a bright spot during the course of the year! South Africa captivated the globe by pulling off a feat usually tackled by nations with higher GDPs and FIFA confidence. The country partied almost as much as it did when Mandela walked free, and the continent swelled with justifiable pride, hosting the global event for the first time – even if none of its nations made it to the finals. Instead, Spain walked away with soccer’s most coveted prize.

Mark Zuckerberg
When a feature film, the Social Network, and snafus around privacy and ad policies threatened the founder of Facebook and his empire’s reputation, he stepped up his public relations games. The $100 million gift to the Newark public school system deflated the self-absorbed, aloof mantle with which the whiz kid had been saddled and offered a chance for him to tell a new story. The one with which most were familiar – the maladjusted and socially awkward Harvard grad who went on to take a school project to a billion-dollar industry in under a decade – suddenly was giving way to a vision of Zuckerberg as philanthropist, offering to give a leg up to the next techno-preneur.

Catch your breath yet? Take a swig of something bubbly, sit back and relax. From the looks of things, 2011 will be equally paced, so after sleeping off the New Year’s Eve festivities, lace up the sneaks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Teena Marie: A Tribute Behind the Groove

“She’s just light-skinned.”
“Nah, she’s Puerto Rican. See all that curly hair? And it’s long!”
“She’s Portuguese!”
“Yeah, you know her song, ‘Portuguese Love.’ She’s Portuguese.”
“Maybe she’s white.”

Gasps were audible, the silliness of such a thought.
“No white girl sings like that!”
Heads would nod in clear affirmation.
“I mean, she can sang!”
So went the childhood debates that echoed adult ones circa 1980-81 about the petite powerhouse known as Teena Marie. To her fans, she was simply Lady T, the woman that delivered note after soulful note on the radio, at Philadelphia’s Robin Hood Dell East, at the famed Budweiser Superfests. She kept the irons in the fire. She was a sucker for your love. She told you like it is, square biz.

For those of us of a certain age, it’s hard to remember radio pre-Teena Marie.

Sure, there had been “soulful” white artists before, and in the years since. But it wasn’t so much the novelty of her ethnicity that fascinated fans but the sheer magnitude and depth of her voice. That talent to dig deep and emote in an authentic way endeared her to countless men and women. Coupled with brilliant arrangements and instrumentation – who can forget the call for a saxophone on “Aladdin’s Lamp”? – Teena Marie clarified what musicianship could and should be in the pop world. She was on par with the likes of Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan, as a funky force of nature devoted to both rhythm and the rhyme. Mary Christine Brockert she was born, but Teena Marie was how the California native lived.

Sassy like Sarah, earthy like Etta, lyrical like Linda, she was a talent that offered a reflection and a refraction of rainbow influences.

An icon of the ‘80s, she stayed consistent in her delivery and relevant in her music far beyond, seen in recent tracks with Faith Evans and signing with a most unlikely house, hip-hop label Cash Money Records. For her it was less of about taking chances and more about going where the music led her.

Sometimes those places were a bit darker. Her torrid romance with one-time-mentor-all-the-time-proclaimed-freak Rick James was a side show worthy of wagging tongues in a pre-TMZ era. And her ultimate battle with, and triumph, over a record label, especially one as storied as Motown, ushered in a new type of artistic freedom, a tale overshadowed only in later years by the epic saga of Prince vs. Warner Bros.

Yes, the airwaves may be dominated more today by the likes of Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys, but even those superstars knew how to trace the roots of their inspiration, evident in the tributes they paid to her.  It’s almost apropos that their words, much like those of rock star Lenny Kravitz and the incomparable DJ jazzy Jeff, have dominated social media in the past 48 hours. Be it Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, first the whispers, then the confirmations, then the tributes cropped up, like wildflowers after a spring rain. These were the same outlets she jokingly said she was mastering. In fact, her missing Tweets were a signal to some that something was amiss. The news spread in minutes. The heartache among fans lingers longer.

The close of a year often brings losses and times of transition. In a year that has seen the departure of legends such as Lena Horne and Abbey Lincoln, it is sad to see music lose yet another cherished voice. With a baker’s dozen of albums, Teena Marie established herself as a contemporary classic, a standard for quiet storm as well as up-tempo old-school formats of R&B programming.

Her voice, pitch clear and emotionally perfect, may remain frozen in time there and on iTunes, but summer concert series in R&B-loving outposts like Philly and elsewhere will never be the same.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Pedestrian President

So President Obama was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night, touting the accomplishments of his administration and, more importantly for Democrats, working to reconnect with those eager-beaver first-time and youthful voters. For Stewart and company, it’s ratings gold. For Obama, it was an opportunity to make the case to younger, left-leaning progressives that have been disgruntled or simply dropped out of the process since 2008. Watching Obama tangle with Stewart about his “timidity” on the health care debate was classic.

It was clearly physically challenging to stay still and quiet for the wise-cracking Stewart as the Commander in Chief spoke. Stewart often looked like the ADD/ADHD kid in the back of the classroom who keeps shooting his hand up to answer the teacher’s question.
Courtesy: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Without a doubt, it was an entertaining half hour – and a one-upsmanship on his “rival” and Comedy Central cohort Stephen Colbert, who hosted Vice President Joe Biden this fall.

Beyond the guffaws, what will be mulled is whether it’s “dignified” for the leader of the free world to get into a give-and-take with a comedian – albeit an influential and witty satirist.

There was a time when people gleaned the news of the day in more sober fashion, reading newspapers and newsmagazines, watching discussions on roundtable talk shows and then dissected politics with facts and vigor. Those days, sadly, are mostly behind us. Today, the leading source of news for many young Americans under 30 is The Daily Show. After all, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, fewer than 1 in 3 Americans gets news from a daily paper these days.You can shake your head in disgust and pine for "the good ol' days" or you can hunt for the masses where they live and make your pitch. 

The savvy politico goes where the people are. Even for all of her insanity, Sarah Palin has learned to insulate herself by manipulating media that offer maximum friendly exposure with minimum risk. Witness her daughter's shrewd placement on Dancing with the Stars, which guarantees facetime and, or, name mention on ABC news affiliates.Or the onetime governor, onetime GOP veep candidate's forthcoming reality show on TLC. No shame in her fluff pursuing game. 

Of course, you’ll have folks who continue the rant that Obama is demeaning the office of the presidency by appearing on unseemly shows, outlets that don’t dignify his position. Smarter money would point to the fact that it’s a totally strategic outreach plan to target specific demographics of the coalition that put him into office. His pop-in on the couch at The View last summer was to flash a big reminder sign in front of those daytime watching women who drift in and out of political conversations. Ditto his appearance with Stewart, who is not afraid to skewer the man he obviously touted for president.

Bill Clinton blasted these doors open with his appearance on the now-defunct Arsenio Hall Show, winning over a youthful population who looked at this guy as not only sufficiently wonky enough for the job, but cool to boot. And his 1993 MTV confessional on “boxers or briefs” took things to new heights – or lows, depending on your vantage. After that, it didn’t seem so unusual for major party candidates to work the late-night circuit, from Leno to Letterman.

Much like John F. Kennedy knew how to work the cameras in his debate with Richard Nixon back in 1960, this president has displayed comfort in doing the full-frontal assault on unconventional forms of media if it means connecting with voters and gaining an advantage. Old-school pundits may pshaw at the tactic.

Then again, that was the same thinking that prevailed when some guy named Howard Dean talked about raising money for political campaigns on the internet. And we see how sound conventional wisdom turned out to be on that one. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

March madness

I’ll admit it. My feet are tired.

I say this as organizers rally to herd earnest masses onto buses for yet another march to Washington, D.C. to draw the attention of legislators – and more accurately these days, the media – around progressive values. It’s poised to be chockfull of the pre-Election Day red meat needed to galvanize those 2008 new-to-the-process voters that were so passionate about bringing change to how business in this country is conducted, from Wall Street to Main Street to K Street.

That’s not to say the cause is not just. But the method seems painfully dated.

Coxey's 1894 brigade in D.C. Courtesy: Library of Congress
We’re fighting wars with remote controlled drones and cyber sabotage, but when it comes to raising a ruckus about equality and justice, the tactics seem squarely and stubbornly rooted in the last century. Just as we no longer protect the homeland with antiquated surface-to-air batteries of the Camelot era, we should be thinking a bit more deeply and creatively in how to sway people toward reason.

Yes, such marches have impacted the national psyche – in the past. But like any other one-trick pony, repetition weakens the wow factor.

Gathering up the troops in a mass display of shock-and-awe to decry ill-considered policies has been the American civil activist’s trump card since the 1890s. Jacob S. Coxey stirred passions as he led the unemployed to storm the Mall, to the strain of familiar concerns – from the aggrieved, who felt those in power recklessly and callously abandoned core principles for greed, to the powerbrokers and social observers, who feared an insurrection among “the radicals.”

History shows that such demonstrations have had merit; Coxey and his 500 or so collected cohorts prompted sympathy and long-term effects that later manifested in efforts such as the New Deal. Women descended on Washington to “welcome” President-elect Woodrow Wilson in 1913, presenting a visual reminder of voters he had yet to tap, seeing as though the laws refused to recognize them as full citizens. Hundreds of rabbis stood forth days before Yom Kippur 1943 to protest the decimation of their brethren and culture in war-savaged Europe. And for sheer magnitude, few can top the iconic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – though the sea of collective calm that strikingly countered overhyped fears about the 1995 Million Man March is up there.

But you can’t help but to think that media personality Glenn Beck was trying his best to emulate those grievances and demonstrate that “real” Americans – read: graying, WASPs – are suffering at the hands of this government, especially now that it’s run by the “others.”

Contrived causes plus hijacked methodology equal diluted punch for ensuing protests. Increasingly, marches for social justice issues seem to be falling into a trap of devolution, a game of whose is bigger. And that sets up dangerous one-upsmanship, with the possibility of issues being trampled because they are not deemed as aligned enough with the American public, based on turnout. Since the National Park Service stopped offering its independent tallies after 1995’s debacle, neutral observers are more skeptical when attendance numbers are bandied about these days, anyway.

Even if it were about bodies, it’s not been made clear, mathematically or otherwise, why having 200,000 people on a dead D.C. day outweighs, say, 20 key legislative district offices facing 10,000 constituents each. Or even 40 facing 5,000 constituents.  As I understood it, demonstrations are supposed to capture the imagination, focus the attention with some breathtaking, novel display.
Then again, maybe that sexy bus trip with the smelly rear bathroom, the limp, plastic-wrapped sandwiches in cardboard boxes and the yawning rhetoric that spills from the mics and mouths of appointed leaders makes it all seem so much more noble, a sacrifice for a greater good. Not sure. 

When things get to the point of near parody, though, a la the “marches” being “organized” by satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, it makes you start wondering whether the strategy is still the best one. Especially since Congress is out of session, and lawmakers are back in their districts, stumping for midterm votes right about now.

It’s a free country. And the Mall is known as America’s Backyard. If it’s time for a major-league public bitch session, fine. I’m more interested in probing for more innovative approaches to reaching and appealing to the hearts and minds of my fellow Americans -- not just legislators, but also the constituents that elect them. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Pledge of tired retread: GOP 2010

Never one to solely rely on interpretation of things and events by my colleagues in the nation's newsrooms, I took some time to read A Pledge to America (cue soaring strings and other orchestral music here). In case you had been yawning, this is the much hyped plan from Republican House members to “restore America.”

Photo: Ricky Carioti, The Washington Post
 It was meant to capture the urgency of the ‘90s-era Contract with America, with an attempt at a 2.0 twist. It wound up just twisted, a wretched and ultimately hollow blob of sloganeering overreach. It was so bad, once fawned over Tea Party members issued a counter Pledge.

What’s been interesting is that some of the sharpest critics to date on the GOP manifesto haven’t been the usual suspects. Instead, it’s been GOP allies, those who are now doubly mourning the passing of conservative stalwarts such as William F. Buckley and other Republican public intellectuals. Yes, there was a time when those terms once were compatible. This Pledge adds proof that today, not so much.

After the first three pages of big print and graphics (note the gigantic shot of the Statute of Liberty), come the words, a mash of patriotic paraphrasing of the Declaration of Independence to give it some heft. It has gems like this one:
An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.
Yes. Self-appointed elites, not duly elected officials. And certainly not the authors of this work, as it were.

Evidently, a bunch of folks snookered an innocent public and snuck into Congress. The many in this case would be . . . well, still trying to figure that out. At last check, America operated under this crazy system called representative government, with people sent to halls of power to represent, you know, we, the people.

But for the purposes of making it past the fourth page, stick with the narrative of the masked Svengali-bandits that invaded an unsuspecting Hall of Power. Because of them, those people, it is proclaimed, “urgent action to repair our economy and reclaim our government for the people cannot be overstated.”

Again, insert masked Svengali-bandits here for this to make sense. Of course, the bulk of them just arrived in D.C. on January 2009. Or so the narrative would go. The brave legislators proposing a reconnection of “highest aspirations to the permanent truths of our founding” actually were kidnapped by said Svengali-bandits and had no idea of what was to come, all these things meant to upend American values.

That’s the only reason why poor GOP House members, despite valiant effort, couldn’t ensure a quick, painful death of the auto industry that made this nation a world leader. Thwarted in shenanigans to retain a status quo to keep every little Jimmy not born in perfect condition off insurance rolls. Defeated in a crusade to help banks continue to pick the pockets of credit holders without trust fund-level resources. It’s been a horrifying nightmare, all this consumer protection business being advanced. Daggone it!

Truthfully, I had held out hope to read something new, innovative. An approach that inspired more than ridicule. Re-reading the bill-inspiring Contract and then contrasting that with today's Pledge, sadly, it must be reported that was not to be. This bit of fluff is overwrought rhetoric that snarls with quiet fear without delivering anything close to intellectual rigor. These Crusaders of Congress decry what they're up against, detailing the state of affairs as if they never spent any significant time there.

Uh, yeah.

And a note to the PR team: visual aids are meant to enhance, not detract, from a product. In apple-pie-happy pap like this, examples of American ingenuity shouldn’t be limited to well-worn techniques like increasing margins and fonts or inserting photos. It sets off the BS monitor, and this 45-page document is cause for full sirens.

The Mount Rushmore and cowboy shots? Classic. The whole Dick-and-Jane construct that is so deeply missed? Compelling. So much so it compelled a round of that fun GOP pastime, “Spot the person of color in the crowd.” Even with prescription glasses, it's a tough call.
If unintentional, it’s well past Freudian. It’s time to fire the PR team. This is 2010, not 1950.

Then again, maybe it was all intentional. Maybe the GOP honestly thinks the bulk of this nation is stupid – or at least willing to overlook the fact that the authors of this treatise are and have been part of the institutions they are so roundly attacking with virulence. But if this is intended to move a national agenda and dialogue, not just stoke nostalgia and fear, maybe someone needs to package decoder rings along with this mess upon distribution.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A final "Hubba, Doc!" - for FAMU's Dr. William P. Foster, 1919-2010

A recent and unseasonably cool August day found yours truly in Bed, Bath & Beyond and catching not just a sale, but glimpses of a lost memory. Nervous moms with teens in tow traipsing the aisles, plucking items to make the transition from bedroom to dorm room comfy and less traumatic. Sale signs announcing the best deals on bean bags, sheets and, of course, the ubiquitous foot locker – standard requirement at one time for incoming freshmen at Florida A&M University.

Since I’m no longer mistaken for one of those freshly-minted college-bounds, nostalgia rose watching the scene, remembering the role I played with my mother as we prepped for my journey to Tallahassee. There was eagerness and anxiousness about discovery.

During my time at FAMU, two figures were seminal. One was our brilliant and gregarious president Dr. Fred Humphries. Standing a good 6’6, possessing advanced degrees in chemistry and a voice that could be mistaken for God’s – even when sounding tipsy at football games – he made a quick impression on the hordes of us who scurried across campus, in search of knowledge and keys to brighter worlds.

The other was smaller in physical stature, but not so in presence, and that was Dr. William P. Foster.

For most colleges of note, football tends to be the celebrated focal point for students and alumni alike. At FAMU, it’s all about the Marching 100, the band that has performed before audiences at home and abroad to dropped jaws and deafening roars with each show. From college classics to TV commercials to Super Bowls to America’s representatives at the 200th anniversary of Bastille Day in Paris, the band has been there, done that. President Obama was just the latest graced with an Inauguration Day presence.
I used to wonder why people who knew me for years had started asking what instrument I played when I told them of my college decision. When I landed on the Hill, I understood. Without a hint of humility, longtime game announcer Joe Bullard would affirm fans and put visitors on notice, “The Marching 100. Often imitated, never duplicated. Like Coke, it’s the real thing.”

The band’s precision twists, twirls and splits make for eye candy – and unparalleled grace through fitness. Ask any member of the band about the ability to hold a “90” and an instrument for extended periods. But as stunning as the choreography tends to be, that it is twinned with outstanding musicianship and rigor in performance propelled FAMU’s name to added heights.

All of that was borne from Foster.

There was a reason he was known as “The Law.” There had been a musical team before his arrival. Foster made the “100.” He revolutionized the college marching band, and his 1968 manual became the bible for baton wielders nationwide. High school students – and their band directors – clawed at the chance to learn from him during summer camps and workshops. Band bystanders would wander down to the hollowed practice grounds known as the Patch and watch that motley crew of players rehearse every step and chord.

But when Foster ambled up his step ladder, the effort went stratospheric. He demanded perfection. Every time. And if it didn’t sound right, if it didn’t look right, he demanded it again. And again. And again. The results were evident.

To be a member of his band meant to be dedicated, gifted – but not necessarily black, or male. If you could deliver on his demands, you were in. His vision never wavered. The focus was sound and fury, from 1946 when he arrived until 1998 when he retired his wand. No “sparkle girls.” No distractions.

Early in my reporting days, as a FAMUAN staffer, I once tracked down stories of hazing within the band. The actions grieved him. Foster insisted on discipline, but said he abhorred the rituals that came to light. He found talent without character distasteful, as much as showmanship without substance.

When Drumline was in production, it was known that while modeled off band heritage like that of the "100," FAMU would not participate. It was not going to pull that many students from their studies for that length of time – to lose to a fictional college. Rattler Nation wouldn’t have it. Neither would Foster.

Being there as he wound down his conducting days was an added treat to the FAMU experience, like watching living history. You could see the reverence his band had for him, appreciate how the music department he dominated cultivated artists ranging from Nat and Julian “Cannonball” Adderly to Wycliffe Gordon. Countless smiles would pour from the band room when he closed out the final home rehearsals with one phrase and praise: “I think the ‘100’ is ready.”

You never had to march in the band to feel the pride that swelled in your heart with every show. You didn’t have to fret if the football team was getting clobbered on the field. As a Rattler, you just hold your breath and wait for the hundreds of young men and women in green suits, orange capes and white hats to wind onto the field. Then, it's lights, camera, action. The performance of a lifetime. Every time.

It was the joy of fall at FAM. It was a gift bequeathed by Doc Foster -- a legacy to treasure for generations to come.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Keeping anti-Islamic irrationalism in check

It’s not uncommon in my neighborhood to see a woman draped in black, from head to toe, with all but her eyes revealed. My aunt jokingly dubbed such women “spooky Muslims,” because in some cases they do, in fact, appear to be dark apparitions, floating – sometimes wobbling – down the street, usually with a child in tow, sometimes a few feet behind a man. And he may have on flood pants under a dress-length tunic, with a scraggly beard and a kufi on his head.

Her comment may seem insensitive until you consider that my aunt is a faithful, practicing Muslim, one who has raised her children in the faith. In fact, in the United States, blacks make up about a third of the nation’s Muslims by conservative estimates – and scores of females in that mix do not accept the spooky garb as uniform.

One person’s Islam is driven by sincere belief in instruction from God; another’s, by man’s sincere lust for power. Too often, the street-level interpretation seems to be more about propelling a man to a position of authority – understandable given the damaged psyches of some who adopt it after a prison bid or some other quest for grounding – than about God and peace in the world. I have yet to find in the Qu’aran a misery test for women to prove faithfulness. Yet, that often seems to be the order of the day among the spooky set. Especially given this sweltering heat.

And if black people still cast wary eyes toward loved ones in the faith, what’s to be expected of the majority of the country whose introduction consisted largely of deranged men claiming Allah while bent on a path of destruction one sunny September day?

It’s a question that has been swirling around my mind since the latest outbreak of anti-Islam fever has broken out nationwide, sparked by the concept of building a mosque and Islamic gathering center near the site of the former World Trade Center, hallowed ground in the United States since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001.
There were people of all colors, ethnicities, and faiths murdered that day – including Muslims. Those facts often are glossed over in the anti-Islam hysteria, one fanned, sadly, by opportunists within the GOP. Some perspective, though.

It’s doubtful many would howl about placing a Mennonite Church near the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was felled. Yet that faith spawned a pastor, Robert G. Millar, who went left and began espousing unadulterated hatred and whose doctrine took disciple Timothy McVeigh to new heights of infamy.

Likewise, eyebrows would arch at the thought of shuttering celebrations of Mass at any of the 22 Roman Catholic parishes in Birmingham just because that faith was the grounding for the Rev. Donald Spitz. He’s the brain trust and spiritual guide of the Army of God, whose anti-abortion tear in that town, and across the country, has claimed the lives of medical professionals. Spitz also has inspired followers like Eric Robert Rudolph, whose crimes include bombing the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

No one blamed these religions for these twisted interpretations. Yet, scores stand ready to scorn all of Islam and its adherents due to the inflamed madness of a few.

“I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion,” Diana Sarafin told The New York Times. “But Islam is not about a religion. It’s a political government, and it’s 100 percent against our Constitution.”

Uh, no. That’s not what the Qu’aran is about, any more than a demand for spooky Muslims. Or any more than the Torah or the Bible.

Part of America’s irrational fear of “Islamo-terrorism” comes from the blatant ignorance about what Islam is – and isn’t. In that vein, a center dedicated to education and understanding – what has been proposed for the Cordoba House at 45-47 Park Place – is an apt prescription.

Muslims – simply meaning one who submits to God in Arabic – have as many different cultural codes they follow as part of their faith as do any Christian. What usually remains consistent is that peace is premier in Islam, much like most world religions. How one manages to achieve that tends to be the area of consternation, and the ground ripest for pollution. No one faith has cornered the market on sinners or saints – something we’d all do well to remember.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A recent hit by your friendly-neighborhood browngirl

So sorry. Been caught up so that I neglected to post this little nugget from yours truly that posted on regarding President Obama's birthday, our Leo-in-Chief.

It's cool to take a break from the ultra-serious to having a little fun here and again. But I think I'd like to report live from the 50th birthday party shin-dig.

Here's hoping that the president had a great birthday! Did you join the lift-his-spirits campaign and wear any Obama '08 gear to help celebrate?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

South Carolina, not Bollywood, offers a new Indian star

Photo credit: Brett Flashnick/AP
South Carolina politics long have been considered a cess pool that could rival Chicago or Louisiana in terms of dirty tricks. A skim of recent juicier national highlights range from accusations in 2000 that then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain fathered his adoptive Asian daughter out of wedlock (saying she was instead the product of a black prostitute) to rumors just a few weeks back that not one, but two, men claimed to have had affairs with state Rep. Nikki Haley.

Yet, even against this backdrop Haley – a historic figure in many ways – succeeded this week in her quest to secure the GOP nomination for the governor's mansion after a contentious run-off, beating her opponent like he stole something.

There’s a broader context to place this story, one that received some considerable hype beforehand, but whose culmination was lost amid the McChrystal flap.

One, she’s a woman, and this country, while advancing, has yet to elect women to office in proportions equal to their population. You don’t have to be a woman to represent one, but having actual experience with things sometimes beats plain empathy. Ask any woman who pops Midol or who has birthed a baby.

Of the governors serving the nation and its territories, just a half dozen are female – Jan Brewer of Arizona, Jodi Rell of Connecticut, Linda Lingle of Hawaii, Bev Purdue of North Carolina, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Chris Gregoire of Washington. In fact, Haley would break the tie and add the fourth female Republican governor to the mix, should she be successful, and odds are good that she’ll take the win.

Two, she’s young. Even among her would-be female colleagues, she’d be the only under-50 member. At 38, she’d bring a perspective shaped not by Baby Boomers and their incessant culture wars, but that of the Sesame Street Generation, with a global twist.

Three, she’s not white. Repeat: she’s not white. In South Carolina.

In the whole of the south, there have been two nonwhites elected governor since Reconstruction, the first being Virginia’s L. Douglas Wilder in 1989. With the whole entrepreneurial, up-by-the-bootstraps story Republicans love to tout, expect every effort to catapult her to the top of the media heap upon securing the governor’s mansion. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s star dimmed after his disastrous delivery of the GOP response to the president’s early 2009 address to a joint session of Congress. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin alienated as many as she galvanized during her run as the GOP’s 2008 vice president candidate, reveling in winks and wiles during public presentations . Haley represents the best bet for GOP boosters who have been crossing their fingers for a Great Brown Hope to counter the Man of Hope and Change.

Haley is far from a Repuba-liberal. Her platform is run-of-the-mill GOP: fiscal conservative, anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-Obama-led healthcare reform. But she’s also pushing more statehouse transparency. Her stance on immigration (no undocumented folks desired) is tempered by a sober view that since industry plays a role, it should also share in the pain and punishment, not just the people scrapping for a better way of life.

Her conservative bonafides won her Tea Party allegiance, for better or worse. That she has the backing of Palin and FreedomWorks also may raise eyebrows. Where she’d wind up on the partisan spectrum upon entering office is yet to be revealed.

Some have hailed Jindal and now Haley for not focusing on “identity” politics, but instead furthering “conservative” values. Of course, that has never stopped even fellow “conservatives” from injecting “identity” politics in the mix. If elected governor, it’ll be interesting how she’d work with fellow Republican, state Sen. Jake Knotts, who referred to the would-be governor as a “raghead” – not to mention fend off additional rumors, slights and slurs from her own party due to her difference.

Just as interesting is whether in office she’d simply smile and present a you’re-so-Anglo-I’m-so-Anglo front or if this daughter of immigrants will speak honestly about what it means to rise above the taunts and obstacles hurled her way, just because. She says she’s focusing beyond points of gender or ethnicity, but it hasn’t stopped the former underdog from using them to her advantage.

She may be a woman. She may be Indian-American. But it’s clear she’s a politician with chops.