Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Sizzle Fizzled

I've been mulling over the Paula Deen disaster for days now, amazed at how much attention it is getting and how little people seem to understand about it. So many are saying things like "How can we condemn her for something she said 27 years ago?" Or, "Who hasn't said something they regret 30 years ago?" Paula herself asked, tearfully playing the victim, "If you can say you've never said anything wrong  then throw the first stone, please, as hard as you can." As if one word spoken several decades ago were the problem...

This is not about one word spoken in the past. This is about the whole private persona of Paula Deen, wealthy southern white woman from a slave-owning plantation heritage with consequent social beliefs, versus the genial, down-home, warm fuzzy Paula Deen of commercial success: the real woman versus the marketable commodity. Paula Deen is a product, a brand, a commodity on the market. Her empire is vast and lucrative, her marketing is intense, she is in it to make money and she is the sole face of her brand. That is what her sponsors and publishers and TV producers are banking on: her smiling, genial persona selling her product with southern charm and grace. The lawsuit against her and her family has brought to light behavior and attitudes that are far from her projected public persona. Because of this, the Paula Deen brand has been damaged, perhaps irreparably. 

Some of the things brought to light in the court documents are very disturbing. No one wants to be associated with such behavior. It is alleged that in her restaurants, and with her knowledge, her brother refers to their African American kitchen staff as "monkeys," and once told a supplier who sold them game for the restaurant, "You don't have to go out to hunt. I have a whole kitchen full of coons you can shoot." It is said employees of color are not allowed to use the front door or bathrooms commonly used by whites. Paula Deen admitted in her deposition wanting to have a slave-themed wedding for her brother with black waiters dressed up in short pants and bow ties "like slaves." She stated on camera that she does not know if using racial epithets is demeaning or insulting to African Americans, but admits having used them more than once, and far more recently than the 27 or 30 years ago her supporters allege. All of these things together have tarnished her brand to the point she is damaged goods and many of her sponsors have dropped her. Her publisher has also pulled out of a 5-book contract. They were selling the sizzle, not the steak, and the sizzle has fizzled. 

Her tearful appearances on TV have not helped. The opportunity to apologize and move on has been lost and she has damaged herself further by claiming to be a victim. It isn't pretty. 

People, this is 21st century America. In the midst of this "Is Paula really a racist" bruhaha, the Supreme Court has overturned the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  No one is paying attention to that, possibly the most racist legal ruling that has come down in this country since 1965,  but instead we are devoting all our time and attention to an aging southern bell who has besmirched her own reputation and is drowning in bad publicity. Martin Luther King's legacy has been overturned by the courts and we are too busy gossiping about a fading TV personality to notice this serious damage done to the social fabric of our nation.  

It's time to wake up and really do something about the persistent racism in this country. Stand up and make your voice heard on this issue! 

Link to the original complaint document:

Link to Paula Deen's deposition:

Photo Credit CBS News

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Family of Cooks

This is my grandmother, Florence Leeper, and her sister Leota, known as "Aunt Otie".  Nannie was a cook par excellence and made a living as what in the grandiose parlance of our day is called a "private chef" but then was simply called a domestic cook. Her food was unforgettable and I learned my love of cooking from her. Nobody could make a pie like hers. 

Her daughters Alice (my mother) and my Aunt Lucy ran the restaurant end of my father's nightclub during the 1940s. I learned to cook from some highly skilled women. Nannie favored the southern-style cooking of her Indiana heritage. My mother was more classically trained, with a strong French influence.  My aunt favored seafood and not only made the best clam chowder I have ever had, she dug those clams herself. She also taught me to fish and crab. My own cooking is a blend of what I learned from them and an Italian and Mexican influence from having grown up and spent most of my life in California. 

All our gatherings were centered on food. Some of my best memories are from those times.  Unforgettable feasts, like the time our family friends Clara and Louie Sala came over and cooked the most delectable chicken cacciatore with polenta that I have ever eaten. -- one of those taste memories that you keep forever. We all stood around the pot tasting the sauce, saying "It needs something. Let me taste that again..." and laughing. It was  . It's a wonder there was any left for dinner after we got through "tasting" it!

All my kids cook, too. One, Madelyn, is a professional, but the rest are very competent in the kitchen on their own, sons as well as daughters. There is a rich heritage in that, and a lot of love goes into it. it makes me happy to see them carrying on that tradition. No prepared foods for us. We're all scratch cooks using fresh ingredients. Bon Appetite! 

Miss Emma 's Triumph

Emma Alice is 8 years old. There was a time we weren't sure this would ever be. She had ALL, childhood leukemia, and went through years of chemotherapy and hospitalizations and stuff no child should ever have to endure, but today, Miss Emma, Warrior Princess, has triumphed and her doctor says we may now use the word "cured" to describe her. 

Since her diagnosis when she was barely 4, her family has had quite an adventure. When she had been in treatment for a few months, the family's insurance company, United Healthcare, decided she had a pre-existing condition and not only refused to pay for her care, they demanded the doctors and hospital pay back every cent they had been paid to that point. If anything would help you appreciate the Affordable Care Act, this should. Insurance companies can no longer get away with such stuff. Her parents were in that awful bracket where they made too much money to qualify for aid, yet could not in any way afford her care. Chemo costs $10,000 per treatment, and Emma was in for 2 1/2 years of it. They held bake sales, they did whatever they could to find resources. Beckstrand Cancer Foundation came to the rescue with much help and support. 

She got the very best care at Children's Hospital of Orange County (California) where they make very sick children as comfortable and happy and well as can be done. Her family did everything in their power to see that she and her brother got all the love and care and fun that was humanly possible. And they have triumphed. 

May Miss Emma have the very best life possible from now on, with the very best health and the biggest scoop of happiness that can be served up. She has proven herself to be a Warrior Princess of the first rank. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bye Bye DOMA

What's a nice dragonfly like this doing here? I put him here because dragonflies have a special meaning to me. They represent awakening to and overcoming self-deception. This particular dragonfly was photographed by my son-in-law, John Kereny, who has a gift for capturing wonderful images with a camera. I really love this image. I am hoping we can, as a nation, overcome our destructive self-deception and recognize that being gay is not a sin, a compulsion, or some abhorrent deviation from the norm, but is simply a normal variation of human existence, like having blue eyes or red hair. 

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States did something that took me by complete surprise. They overturned DOMA, the Defense of Marriage act which had narrowly defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. I really did not think they would do that. When I heard the news, I burst into tears and it was hard to stop the flow. A lot of us did. I can't begin to express the depths of my gratitude to the court for doing that. That scared little girl who knew she was too different to even tell anyone about it back in the 1940s felt a big hug from the Universe when that happened. I hope this will go a long way in helping the little girls and boys who are discovering they are different today to understand that they are exactly who they are supposed to be and that they will be loved and accepted, and that it helps them to grow up whole and healthy and strong with the possibility of living up to their full potential. Bigotry and homophobic hate have exactly the opposite effect. Lives are destroyed by it. 

This decision means a lot to same sex military spouses, who are now eligible for the same benefits their straight counterparts have been receiving. There are thousands of legal benefits straight married couples take for granted that are now also available to gay married couples. Inheritance tax relief, social security survivorship, joint filing for income taxes, no longer being taxed on spousal insurance benefits, just a host of relief for everyone.

Unfortunately, for the most part, these things only count in the 12 states (and the District of Colombia) that have legalized marriage equality. Those of us in states that have not legalized it are still stuck with second-class status. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called our situation "skim-milk marriage." The southern state we live in is so backward that I don't see an enlightened attitude toward marriage equality happening here in my lifetime, but I was wrong about the Supreme court overturning DOMA, so maybe I am wrong about that, too. The tide is definitely turning. 

In an ironic twist, we are legally married in our religion, Reform Judaism, but not recognized as married by the state. That's the exact opposite of what one might expect. There's something truly hopeful and comforting in that irony.