Archive for February, 2010

>Four books

February 26, 2010

>There are four books that should be required reading for anyone interested in learning why Alabama is the way it is.

You could add the 1901 Alabama constitution to the list of required reading also. I’ll have something to say about that in my Western Tribune column next week.

First, though, some housekeeping.

To the left you will see a button where you can donate to Bessemer Opinions. While you will never be required to pay to read what is on this site and my others, it does take time to research and produce the content that you see. So if you feel generous from time to time, and appreciate my effort to get the progressive blue message out in this red state, click on the button and make a donation. Thanks.

Carry Me Home, Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, by Birmingham native Diane McWhorter, is a must read. Published in 2001, Carry Me Home is both a personal memoir and a historical account of the fall of segregation. If you are from Birmingham, you will recognize family names of the your friends and co-workers and you might be surprised by what you learn.

Alabama in the Twentieth Century by Wayne Flynt was published in 2004. Flynt is a Distinguished University Professor of History at Auburn University, and this book outlines the issues by topic rather than chronologically. The books is divided into three parts: Alabama’s Political Economy (starting with the 1901 Constitution), Alabama’s Society, and Alabama’s Culture (with a chapter titled What Would Jesus Do? Religion).

Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon was published in 2008. “Shocking…Eviscerates one of our school-children’s most basic assumption: that Slavery in America ended with the Civil War” is how the New York Times described this book. There was an article about it in the Birmingham News recently, but many of us heard the author during interviews on NPR or read of this story in the Wall Street Journal.

As if our history of slavery is not bad enough, what is exposed in this book should make very American look to the ground in shame. The photographs are particularly disturbing.

The book tells the history of a post civil war systematic re-enslavement of blacks in our state under the guise of law enforcement and justice and deals of human labor trafficking. It is a difficult book to read because the personal stories of the individuals are so tragic and so, unfair.

Trying Times, Alabama Photographs, 1917-1945, by Michael V. R. Thomason, was published in 1985. This book may be difficult to find but I might let you borrow mine. Or look at it over here.

This book is a photo-essay of the social and economic history of our state during those years. There is an introduction and a short commentary, and each photograph is accompanied by a paragraph explaining it.

Near the middle of the book, opened to pages 152 and 153, are two photographs. On the left hand side is a picture of a tenant farmer family in Greensboro in 1941, in their newspaper lined cabin, with a black and white cat curled up on the floor. On the facing page is a photo of a white family taken in 1939. The children have hookworm and the woman has pellagra. “Neither affliction was uncommon,” the caption informs us. Unexpectedly, under the bed in the photo, is a black doll, presumably belonging to one of the little white girls in the photo.

There are other good books about our history and society, bu these four can catch you up. What better on a cold winter evening than to turn off the tv (once the Olympics are done) and crack open a book that may do more than just educate you. It might lead to some self-discovery, and that means being honest with yourself and your feelings and beliefs, and that is always a good thing.

>Newspapers have a responsibility

February 25, 2010

>During the years after World War I a wave of antisemitism swept the country, and some newspapers printed articles or opinions that fueled hatred against the Jews. An example would be the automobile manufacturer Henry Ford’s reprinting of Protocols of the Elders of Zion in a series of articles in the Dearborn Independent.

This action was widely criticised and Ford later apologized.

In the late 1800’s the Birmingham News warned that the Negroes in Birmingham be restrained lest they “develop into human tigers and give vent to their hatred of some white men.” The ‘restraint’ which ensued included banning Negroes from the front of streetcars, public parks and white-zoned neighborhoods. (Diane McWhorter – Carry Me Home)

During the mid 20th century in Birmingham, a newspaper (the Birmingham Post) fueled racial hostilities with its support of Bull Conner with an article headlined “Commies Sponsor Negro Youth Meet.” (McWhorter)

I give these examples to show that newspapers sometimes choose to act in irresponsible and harmful ways. They sometimes allow debate where there is clearly not an issue that is debatable. They sometimes allow rhetoric that is clearly hateful, that is clearly meant to inflame, and that clearly crosses the boundaries of decency.

Always society looks back in amazement if not disbelief at the hatred that was allowed or encouraged by the media. Henry Ford was forced to apologize. The Birmingham News sort of apologized years…many years, later.

Now the media thinks it is ok to allow smears against the gay community in the form of debate or opinion. Terms such as “sodomite” might be used, which immediately gives an impression of a Higher Power giving disapproval, and thus influencing the reader toward disapproval.

The Western Tribune has allowed a reader to respond to my writings in that paper and in the Birmingham News in hateful ways on more than one occasion.

“It is well known that there are biblical injunctions that prohibit the crime of sodomy, so sodomites must overcome this injunction.

“They do it by several means.

“First, they ignore the bible or pass it off as an antiquated and irrelevant document because it prohibits what a sodomite desires to do.

“Other sodomites claim the biblical passages – and there are many – are unclear and therefore they obfuscate the arguments opposing their acts of sodomy.

“Some sodomites have made this argument null and void by producing their own version of the Bible and omitting those scriptures that condemn sodomy, therefore exposing their knowledge that the injunctions exist.

“To give you the right to legally engage in sodomy (marry another man) is to grant you supra-rights (rights above and beyond the rest of us).”

Aubrey “Snuffy” Garrett” Western Tribune 10-14-2009

The letter writer repeats the term “sodomy” in an effort to defame, with God’s blessing, the gay community.

Would the same newspaper, or any other, allow a letter to be printed that defamed the black community in the same way?

Imagine reading a letter in your paper calling for suppression of blacks using biblical references. (this is not a real letter)

Dear Editor,

The blacks are getting too much power. The Bible instructs us

“Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

“Slaves are to be submissive to their masters in everything, and to be well-pleasing, not talking back .” (Titus 2:9)

“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel. ” (1 Peter 2:18)

We would never stand for such to be printed in the newspapers. Why, pray tell, can the Bible be used to degrade gays? Why would a newspaper allow it?

What really gets me is that this is a newspaper that I write for!!!

In this week’s Western Tribune Mr. Garrett continued his biblical assault on the gay community.
In a letter Mr. Garrett responds to my recent letter in The Birmingham News supporting marriage equality, in which I used the terms “loving relationships” and “sacred.”

“You must ask yourself the question: If God condemns an act, how could He consider it sacred or holy, the answer is of course, He cannot. A man could so love his horse that he commits sodomy with it and then calls it a loving relationship but God would still call it sodomy!”

Aubrey “Snuffy” Garrett Western Tribune 2-24-10

So loving relationships between gay men or women are compared to having relations with a horse, with the premise that the Bible, and God, back up this comparison.

Just as using the Bible to support the enslavement of blacks is a form of spiritual terrorism, using it to slander the gay community is spiritual terrorism as well.

This egregious example is from the Western Tribune, but the same thing happens every day in newspapers and on radio and TV across the country.

This will continue as long as we allow it. A good start to putting an end to this would be to contact the Western Tribune. Contact information can be found here.

>Western Tribune column February 24, 2010 Hate Crimes

February 24, 2010

>My Western Tribune column for today, Wednesday, February 24, 2010.

I wrote this because another columnist wrote a homophobic column degrading gays and using religious based bigotry in denouncing hate crimes legislation.

This person is the former owner of an ambulance company and often brings to our attention his ties to the medical field. One might think that he would be aware of, or even seen, victims of hate crimes (beaten and bloodied that he made money off of by transporting them to receive medical care) and that his heart might have been softened a bit.

Apparently not. I’m not going to copy his column here, you will have to find a Western Tribune to read it. Or come over.

He doesn’t do any name calling re gays but he falls back on that old tired hateful use of the bible and that classifies as homophobia in my book.

At the end of the column I have inserted a video of the 12th annual Hate Crimes vigil in Montgomery on Sunday, including excerpts of Ox Freeman’s moving and powerful speech.

I am also sharing a couple of exclusive photos of the event.

Western Tribune column:

It bothers me a bit when someone claims, for whatever reason, that hate crimes laws are not needed. Maybe they’ve not had a son or daughter or friend attacked because of who they are.
In 2004 Christopher Gaines tightened the rope around 18 year old Scotty Joe Weaver’s neck as he cried in anguish, “Chris, please stop.”

Christopher didn’t stop, in spite of Scotty’s cries. Chris hated gay people so much that he felt it was OK to kill an 18 year old boy, then urinate on the body and set it on fire.

Some claim that homosexuality is a sin, and that the Bible backs them up. Yet Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, instead he preached about heterosexual relationships and divorce. If one really studies the Bible, instead of just memorizing the talking points, they would recognize that the verses that mention same-sex activity are not at all critical of homosexuality as an orientation, but rather against specific immoral acts involving abusive relationships or improper worship.

Yet just last year I saw Christians holding signs that say “sodomites are vile, unnatural and worthy of death,” here in Birmingham. I saw Baptist minister Fred Phelps in town a few years ago holding signs that said “God hates fags.” Phelps was here to protest a memorial for Billy Jack Gaither, another gay man who was murdered and burned in 1999.

When I see Christians actively promoting the death of gay people and others who claim to be Christian looking for reasons not to enact protections against such crimes, I am disheartened.

All crimes are not based on hatred, as some think. A mugger does not attack and kill his random victim because of hatred of the individual he has chosen. But a man who chooses his victim because of his race or his sexual orientation has allowed his hatred to dictate his actions.

Speaker Ox Freeman and Equality Alabama board members at the rally

On Sunday the 12th annual Hate Crimes Vigil took place on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery. The event remembered Scotty Joe Weaver and Billy Jack Gaither and others, and awareness of the need for a state law was raised.

Adam and Steve (yes, God did make them) at the vigil

You may not be gay, but you might have a child or sibling or other relative or a friend who is.

Let’s stop using religious based bigotry that endangers them and pass a state law that helps to protect them.

Here is the video of the event . Thanks Lori!

Here is a documentary about Billy Jack Gaither. There are interviews with family members and there is a homophobia questionnaire that I think some acquaintances of mine need to take.

Frontline documentary

The interview with Charles Butler is particularly fascinating, as he speaks about Steve Mullin’s likely sexual relationship with Billy Jack, and why he thinks he turned on his friend and killed him.

Such self hatred is very dangerous, and religious based bigotry only fuels the fire.

>Cleophus King announces

February 23, 2010

>Cleophus King has announced his intention to run for Bessemer City Council district 7 with the creation of a facebook fan page where he has listed some of his priorities for the city and the district.

District 7 includes my neighborhood as well as other areas including Jonesboro.

Here are some highlights of his priorities:

  • Support neighborhood beautification and revitalization of downtown district.
  • Stimulate economic growth in under served areas in the city.
  • Seek to develop a more effective relationship with school board officials to provide our youth with keys to success, implement things that will cultivate their talents for a higher education.
  • Fight for better police protection in our neighborhoods.
  • Expand the neighborhood watch program all over district seven.
  • Hold district meetings to ensure Pubic Safety is Priority One.

I have spoken with Cleophus about his candidacy and about working with the current or future leadership in the city. I plan to meet with him to learn more specifics about the issues.


February 19, 2010

>Tiger Woods is speaking to a hand full of hand picked reporters now. He chooses the middle of the Olympics to bring back up an episode that we had been able to forget.

Good timing or bad timing?

A young person close to me was listening as Tiger was talking about being a role model for young people out of concern that his infidelity would drive young people away from golf. But this person said that he might have just made a boring sport more interesting to many young people, and the sport might grow rapidly.

The deal to use stimulus money to build the Norfolk Southern intermodal hub in McCalla is being announced today or soon. Cynics say its just a ploy to prop up the stimulus (for which there is tons of evidence if they would just take the time to look).

Good timing or bad timing for the announcement?

Actions speak louder than words, as the republicans say, regarding the stimulus.

Speaking of the stimulus and the economy you have probably seen this graph, but if you are a republican you may have ignored it. Its a chart of job losses during the Bush and Obama years.

Notice the trend. So jobs were trending “loss” during the previous administration, and are trending “gain” during the current administration.

Republicans either ignore the truth, bend the truth, or make up the truth to promote their “Waterloo” agenda. Decent Americans respect the truth.

Olympic Update

Not really, just a couple of photos.

Johnny Weir may have been robbed a little in scoring, but he has a style unlike any other male figure skater.

I made a comment last night that maybe he was just a little too flamboyant for the judges and the same young person reminded me that this was male figure skating. Enough said. But congratulations to Evan, gold medal winner! And Johnny, we love you!!!

This is for those of you who said curling offers nothing, including no good lookers.

Canadian curler John Morris

There is some concern among readers both in the comments and in person that I will not be able to live up to my Lenten promise. Here is part of my strategy.

During the Olympics I am not watching Keith or Rachel or Bill O or Glenn or listening to Rush. I get my news from the newspaper and from the news shows, mainly channel 13 for local and NBC for national. So I miss a lot of the worthless chatter (of which I realize I am a part) that most people don’t hear anyway.

When the Olympics are over I’m not sure what I will do. Maybe keep watching regular news and turn the TV off and read like they did in the 1940’s or watch more “Cougar Town” and “Modern Family ” and “Amazing Race.”

It’s all part of the new and improved Joe.

>39 days

February 18, 2010

>Lent has begun, and I have decided to give up…

We’ve already been eating healthier and exercising, giving up the slovenly lifestyle. But that happened a while back. Heck, it wasn’t even a New Year’s resolution, it began around Halloween.
I wanted to give up laundry, but it’s just been one day and there are three loads waiting already.

No, it’s going to be abstinence, of a sort. I am going to abstain from snarky criticism of political figures.

Now that doesn’t mean I will not be reporting on and setting things straight on issues.

But no Sarah Palin, Bob Riley, Jeff Sessions, Michael Steel, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck criticism by me.

My son and my partner say I can’t do it.

39 days. I’m counting.

These first couple of weeks will be easy. I’m avoiding lots of issues while I watch and focus on the Olympics. How ’bout that run by Lindsey Vonn as she won the women’s downhill by .56 seconds.

Here’s a recap video of the day’s medals for the US and others.

Men’s figure skating long program tonight. Maybe Johnny won’t get robbed like the other night.

I’m almost as excited as Buck (What the Buck) reporting on the Olympics, I try to watch every minute. Well, not as much caffiene here, but even curling, love it!

>Western Tribune column February 17 2010 Olympics

February 17, 2010

>My column focuses on the Olympics.

What could be more fitting than a day of snow prior to watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics? Never mind that snow was lacking in Vancouver, British Columbia, the host city.

Those watching the event quickly learned that a Georgian athlete, luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, had been killed in a training accident earlier in the day. The ceremonies were dedicated to the young man and the festivities went on. The Olympic and Canadian flags were lowered to half staff.

Nodar Kumaritashvili Photo AP via Huffington Post

Some sports writers have said that the opening ceremonies should have been canceled or delayed or that luge events be canceled.

As one who has watched both winter and summer Olympics since 1964 I look at the games as the pinnacle of sporting events and as tragic as the death of a competitor is, the games must go on.

Although we don’t like to admit it, all sporting activities involve some degree of risk, including death. In Olympic history, death is nothing new.

Just prior to the 1964 games the deaths of a British luger and an Austrian alpine skier occurred prior to the opening ceremonies. Several other deaths have occurred in both winter and summer games. The games go on.

If one looks back to the ancient Olympics in Greece, death was sometimes a part of the competition in the sport of boxing, and possibly in other sports. In those games if a competitor died he was immediately declared the winner.

While competition and rivalry rightly exist in Olympic competition, a spirit of diversity, acceptance, and cooperation is one of the things most appreciated about the games. For two weeks during Olympic summers and two weeks during Olympic winters we can forget about politics, wars, and skirmishes, even though those things certainly are going on and even affecting the games.

Uncertainty is another factor in sports, and this is not the first time that a lack of snow in the host city has been a concern. In fact, for those same 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, the Austrian army brought in ice for the bobsled and luge runs and snow for the alpine events.

Let’s remember Nodar Kumaritashvili as an athlete who died doing what he loved to do, but let’s not let this or unpredictable weather hinder our enjoyment of sport.

“Shine in the momentum of noble contests,” the Olympic Hymn commands.

Shine, indeed, Vancouver and every athlete.


Medalists in men’s singles were Felix Loch (Gold), David Moller (Silver), and Armin Zöggeler (Bronze)

Gold medalist Felix Loch

Here’s Moller completing his run.

Armin Zöggeler preparing for a previous run.

Here are the three medalists.

>Happy Mardi Gras

February 16, 2010

>Kathy posted this video on Birmingham Blues and I thought my readers might enjoy it too. It’s titled “Silent Monks Sing Halleluia” (but it’s actually some high school kids (who need a spelling lesson)) and has gotten over 4 million hits. If you need a laugh, here’s your chance.

Today is Fat Tuesday. Here’s a link to Parade Cam from the Fat Harry’s building on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Parades should be rolling at 10:00, but I’ve never been there when they began on time. During the parades there will be narration hosted by

Here’s some video of the Orpheus Parade last night, just so you will know what we are missing.

Have a happy and safe Mardi Gras!

Orpheus Rolls Down Uptown Parade Route

>It’s gone

February 15, 2010

>Live 100.5 is no more.

Now there’s just automated music. No more Reg. No more Chris. No more Dru.

And for Birmingham no more Adult Alternative music once the station switches to un-original talk radio format.

One of my favorite songs they ever played was the Avett Brothers “Murder in the City.” I’ve posted this video before, in view of the death of decent radio it makes sense to re-post it.

Live 100.5 brought top notch musicians to the city. Brett Dennen was one that we saw. Here’s an interview with Brett from Billboard, where he explains his song “Heaven.” It’s not exactly about what you think.

People say Brett’s voice when speaking reminds them of Truman Capote.

Here you can listen to Brett and Natalie Merchant singing “Heaven.”

Adele is another artist that we might not hear on any other station. What a voice. and what a style.

Finally, my friends at Left in Alabama noted the demise of decent radio with this video of the Fleet Foxes “White Winter Hymnal.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be back. I do know that I’ll probably be the last human voice you’ll hear on Live 100.5.”

With that Scott Register ended his gig yesterday. I’m sure he’ll land somewhere else. Until then, I guess it’s Pandora on my blackberry for decent music in the car. At least until I replace my satellite radio.

>Prodigal Sons and A/X ads

February 12, 2010

>Today begins the Great Backyard Bird Count. Get out your checklists. birds are easy to spot in the snow. Oh wait. Misled again, it seems. Maybe we’ll still see some. But we know we will see birds.

You can count birds today, tomorrow, Sunday, and/or Monday.

Prodigal Sons

Well Oprah was not off base, the show yesterday featured the former high school quarterback standout Paul McKerrow, who is now Kimberly Reed, and is indeed a lesbian, and in a relationship with her partner Claire.

Kimberly has produced a documentary, described as “Superb” (San Francisco Chronicle), “Jaw dropping” (The Independent), “Exceptional” (the Village Voice), “Amazing” (Variety), about her and her brother, called Prodigal Sons.

Here she is in an interview taped during the 2009 Florida Film Festival about the movie.

Prodigal Sons is not yet scheduled for viewing here, but there are screenings in Atlanta and other cities. Dates can be found on the web site.

A/X and Valentines Day

Valentine’s Day is this weekend, and advertisers are trying to target the LGBT market, it seems.

I have a few comments about the Armani Exchange ad, which appears as a 10 foot poster in the window of their stores.

1. Nobody I know is celebrating Valentine’s Day with anyone who looks like any of these people.

2. We’ve seen more skin and sex than this in many hetero ads for clothing, perfume and beer. Abercrombie, Marky Mark…to name a couple.

3. A mother’s support group is claiming the ads “poison children with 10 foot posters that are nothing but soft porn.” No, not teaching your children about the diversity of humanity is poisoning them with bigotry and in some cases, hatred.

4. One of the comments about this poster at the link above: “Posters like the AX ones are needed, to help us remember that people are not made of society – society is made of people. And people, in all their combinations, must come first.”