advice from a fake consultant

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On The Question Of Virginity, Or, “Starter? I Can’t Make Her Stop!” December 11, 2011

I got a weird little story about my friend Blitz Krieger to bring to you today.

He’s had a crazy car problem, he has, and over the past few months he thought he had found a solution – in fact, he thought he had found the solution of his dreams – but in the end, he’s discovered that the things you dream about often don’t go according to plan.

The way it’s worked out for him so far, it’s been a lot of anticipation followed by a sudden wave of frustration, but I feel like he’s a lot better off having his particular problem with his car…because if he’d had cancer instead, he’d surely be dead by now.

The community is always embarrassed by the drag queens because straight society says, “A faggot always dresses in drag, or he’s effeminate.” But you got to be who you are. Passing for straight is like a light-skinned woman or man passing for white. I refuse to pass. I couldn’t have passed, not in this lifetime.

–Sylvia Rivera, describing the founding of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), quoted in the book Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America

So here’s what happened to Blitz: he waited forever to buy his first car because he wanted, more than anything else in life, to drive his “perfect” car: a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

It’s a wild car: it was designed as a small hatchback…with a V-8 engine…and “switchable” 4WD…which allowed it to travel easily in snow in a way that virtually no other passenger car at the time could manage.

So he waited all this time, and two years ago, in California, he literally found a little old lady from Pasadena who sold him his “Dream Car”, which, ironically, was the same brown color as Al Bundy’s Dodge.

It drove great for about six months, but it’s been suffering from a strange malady that presents as a horrible grinding noise when he tries to start the car. He has no idea what to do – and standing in the way of a solution is an obsession that I find a bit strange:

He is absolutely determined that he is not going to go to just any mechanic.

Instead, Blitz told me that since it’s the first time the Dream Car needs to be repaired, he intends to go to a mechanic who has never worked on any car before his – and he says he wants to do this because he feels the experience of having the work done this way will make it more “special” for the both of them.

It took him almost a year to find someone, but when he did, it was truly perfect: he met a woman named Jenna Talia who wanted more than anything to be a mechanic.

She’d been studying through one of those “learn at home” programs, and, amazingly, she had an attitude similar to my friend Blitz’s: she knew about how to fix a car from what she’d read in a book, but she refused to actually repair one until she got the chance to work on her Dream Car – and even more amazingly, her Dream Car…was a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

They actually met on the bus (Blitz, naturally, refused to drive any other car except the Dream Car), and after a few months of knowing each other, Blitz proposed that Jenna might work on his car in his garage, and she agreed.

Fun Fact I Just Made Up: In a recent poll, 32% of voters thought the Iowa Caucuses were a country located near the former Soviet Georgia.

So we’re going out last Saturday night, and I get a call from Blitz asking if I could come by and pick ‘em both up there at his house, and I’m OK with that, because with two drinks in a night being a big evening for me I’m more or less a permanent designated driver.

I was wondering how it was going with the car, and what I saw was stunning: the upper half of the engine was sitting in the living room, entirely disassembled. There were rockers and rods and all kinds of stuff there, neatly arranged for easy reassembly, and it looked like they had really put a lot of effort into the thing, but it was clear that they just couldn’t get it quite figured out…which isn’t surprising, considering it was the first time for both of them.

And you could see, in just that first second, that the two of them were some kind of frustrated. But it gets worse: Blitz told me that this was her third “diagnosis”, and that, now that she was actually face-to-face with a real car, she seemed to be entirely confused about exactly what to do.

Apparently things had gone so bad that Jenna wouldn’t even leave his house at night to go home until she could get things figured out…and, from what he’s telling me, he’s ready to throw her out, buy a different car, and get that car fixed by a mechanic who’s been there and done that – a lot.

To put it another way, he’s ready to dump his virgin mechanic…for a slut.

Now here’s the really crazy part of the story: I’ve had a bit of experience with cars breaking down over time, and I knew what was wrong from the beginning, as many of you probably did, too: the starter was bad – and that’s located on the very bottom of the engine, not the top, which means everything they’d been doing was pretty much pointless.

But I couldn’t tell them that in the beginning…because, again, it would’ve just spoiled the experience…and I sure wasn’t gonna say “I told you so” now…so even though I could have offered them both useful advice about how ignorance ain’t bliss, they surely didn’t want to hear it.

So look, folks, we could have a lot more fun following out this comic premise, but there’s a bigger point: I don’t want a virgin mechanic, and surely not a virgin doctor – and they don’t even allow virgin pilots to carry passengers.

What is it about sex (and politics, for that matter) that makes people think they’ll be able to simply “get it” with no experience at all? What is it that makes them think that celebrating their own ignorance is the best way to show they’re ready to take on something that, frankly, requires a bit of trial…and error…before you really get it right?

I don’t know the answer, but the next time someone tells you how their ignorance makes them a lot smarter about something, do me a favor and think about Blitz and Jenna and the Dream Car – and the living room full of engine parts – and if that person’s running for office, run the other way. Quickly.

I’d appreciate it; so will you – and if I know Blitz, he will, too.

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On Being Bumped, Or, Let’s Have Another Roundup July 4, 2011

So I thought I was going to have another Jay Inslee story for y’all today, but it turns out that I’m going to have to do more research before we can “come to press” with that one.

But that’s OK, because the world’s been busy doing a lot of other things – and while many of them get media coverage, some don’t get a lot of notice at all.

And of course, there are also those stories that look one way at first glance…but look a lot different when you dig a bit deeper.

We’ll hit a few of those today, have a bit of fun doing it, and get ready for what promises to be another busy week of strategically not doing things in Washington.

To make things even better, some of the stories will be real, and some won’t.

We’ll see if you can tell the difference.

Wat baten kaars en bril, als den uil niet zienen wil?
(“What use are candle and glasses, if the owl does not want to see?”)

–Traditional Dutch saying quoted in Peter Tate’s book Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition

Let’s begin by closing out some business from our last story: I mentioned that I received a parking ticket from Seattle Parking Enforcement Office J. Hell, on Republican Street, while attending an event hosted by a Democratic candidate for Governor, and I suspect that some of you think I made all that up.

For proof, I was going to copy the ticket and post it for folks to see…but, instead, check this out: Officer Hell actually made the “Seattle Times” back in June, and you can see her hard at work in that story booting a car, which Seattle does after four unpaid parking tickets.

And now, on to the new business:

Have you seen the Viagra commercial where the guy is driving his horse trailer, and it gets stuck in the mud, and he uses the horses to pull himself out?

Well, think about it just a minute: he’s a guy, and he already has a great big pickup truck, a cowboy hat, and horses…which he’s actually using to pull his great big pickup truck…and you’re telling me he doesn’t already have a boner?

If he can’t achieve an erection at that point, what the hell good is Viagra gonna do?

And speaking of erecting new things…

In what I consider to be one of the best things to happen to politics (and the financing of television productions) in years, Stephen Colbert has been given permission to form his own SuperPAC.

Colbert indicates that he intends to use any money donated to the PAC to produce certain campaign commercials, among other things – but according to the FEC advisory opinion, he is not allowed to expend any of his unlimited corporate contributions to run another effort like 2008’s “Hail to the Cheese” Campaign, which was intended to merge corporate money and politics in an obvious and highly visible way.

By the way, that FEC advisory opinion is available for viewing, if you’re so inclined – and in a most fascinating footnote, it unintentionally explains the existence of Fox News as a legitimate press entity:

A news story, commentary, or editorial that lacks objectivity or is satirical can still be considered part of a press entity’s legitimate press function, even if that news story, commentary, or editorial expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for Federal office.

And speaking of unlimited corporate money…

Monaco was the location of a Royal Wedding this weekend, with Monaco’s Prince Albert, resplendent in his military uniform, taking up the role of groom.

Military uniform?
Monaco?
Really?

As it turns out, tiny little Monaco actually does have a military, and the Prince represents 1/113th of the entire force – which means if they ever try to invade the Vatican, the Swiss Guard will outnumber ‘em by about 19 guys.

(By the way: the Prince is reported to have some DNA testing in his near future to determine the paternity of what could be his third and fourth illegitimate children…which is presumably going to make for a bit of a frosty honeymoon.)

What else is going on?

Well…I was watching CNN and they suggested that people bearing retirement age should try making a budget that would reflect how they’ll be living after retirement and try living on that now.

And I though to myself: “I should try that”.

So I did…and now I’m wanted for bank robbery in four states.

Thanks, CNN.

And finally…

In a story that is exclusive to Your Erstwhile Reporter, I am now able to report that Ohio Governor John Kasich, in an effort to simultaneously reduce unemployment and “send the proper message” to his workforce, will announce on Tuesday that he intends to hire 6,000 new state employees who will have only one duty: to travel around and visit all male State employees, at random, once a month…and kick them in the balls.

In order to help female employees really “get a feel” for the new work environment, former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann has been brought back to reform and “restock” the Dannettes; he’ll then be employed as the “Charlie” overseeing Ohio State Government’s newest “Angels”.

So there we are, with this weekend’s Roundup, and we should be back shortly after Tuesday with either the Jay Inslee story that was supposed to be here today – or a substitute, depending on how our research goes.

 

Campaign Manifesto #1: In A World Of Phonies, It’s Time For A Fake Candidate February 18, 2011

We have spent the past two years watching as insanity has gripped Congress, and even more so with Republicans now running the House.

We have a wavering President, far too many feckless Democrats, and Republicans that have decided to dive headfirst into total “insane mode” in a full-blown effort to destroy this country just as fast as possible.

To give but one example, in my own District, WA-08, we are represented by the absolutely useless Republican Dave Reichert, whose best-known legislative achievement is that he has virtually no record of any legislative achievement whatever.

Now we’ve had a very interesting relationship, you and I, over these past few years; in my efforts to “bring you the story” I’ve been a fake political consultant, a fake lobbyist, even a fake historian…and now, I think it’s time to try to bring our relationship to a new level.

And that’s why, America, I’m announcing my fake candidacy for Congress.

It was almost too good to be true. Richard Milhous Nixon, the main villain of my political consciousness for as long as I can remember, was finally biting that bullet that he’s been talking about all these years. The man that not even Goldwater or Eisenhower could tolerate had finally gone too far—and now he was walking the plank, on national TV, six hours a day—with The Whole World Watching, as it were.

That phrase is permanently etched on some grey rim on the back of my brain. Nobody who was at the corner of Michigan and Balboa on that Wednesday night in August of 1968 will ever forget it.

Richard Nixon is living in the White House today because of what happened that night in Chicago. Hubert Humphrey lost that election by a handful of votes—mine among them—and I had it to do again I would still vote for Dick Gregory.

–From Fear and Loathing in the Bunker, by Hunter S. Thompson

So let’s start with the obvious question: why a fake candidacy?

Well…why not?

Obviously, I can be just as fake as any real politician, and, as we discussed before, we have years of history together to prove it.

Can I be more useful to the District than Reichert?
Hey…even a fake me can do that.

After all, it’s not like there’s a high bar to jump over or anything.

It was four years in office before he actually got anything passed…and according to Congress.org, by 2008 he was ranked number 401 out of 435 in terms of how much power he exerts in the House…and that’s 9th out of 9 for the Washington State delegation. (Reichert’s own Congressional website reports he was ranked 166th out of 435 in 2006—and that means he fell more than 250 spots in a single term.)

So basically, all I have to do is take the Oath of Office…and we’re pretty much tied.

Now Dave tries to some extent to “ straddle the middle ”, as a result he supports environmental legislation but he’s against “card check”; he also voted to extend children’s health care coverage. He supported the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

His stance on Social Security?

Do a search for Social Security on his Congressional website, and you get “No documents matched your query”. Look for Social Security as an issue on his site and you can find this:

Congressman Reichert has fought to protect seniors’ Medicare and Social Security benefits, preserve their access to needed health care services, and make prescription drugs more affordable

(You have to look under “ Seniors ” to find it…but at least it’s there.)

According to FreedomWorks, Reichert had no position worth reporting on Social Security when they attended his April ’05 Social Security workshop…although another attendee reports he had this to say about removing that “tax cap” that represents a giant tax dodge for the richest among us:

Raising the cap was portrayed by all three as a tax hike, which they oppose because “the government shouldn’t be taking any more out of families’ hard earned budgets.”

OnTheIssues has this to say about his Social Security record:

No issue stance yet recorded by OnTheIssues.org.

By the way…did I mention that Reichert is currently serving on the House Subcommittee on Social Security ?

That’s a pretty high level of useless, and it’s exactly this kind of “get up and go” that explains how Reichert managed to fight his way right on up to number 401 in effectiveness among those 435 Members of Congress.

Me, I support the “Rich People Pay, Too” approach: no matter what your wage income might be, you gotta pay Social Security tax. No more “once you get rich, it’s a free ride”.

And guess what? If we just made all wage income taxable for Social Security purposes…the problem is actually solved…and it might not even require that much reform.

Law and order?

Reichert is a former Sheriff, and a man who cultivates the image that he personally caught the Green River Killer. When a bill came up to get the Justice Department off the backs of medical marijuana users, Reichert voted “ no ”.

I am most assuredly not a former Sheriff…and as a fake candidate, I would propose a different approach:

If you elect me, and we can get the bill passed, once a week I will personally dose up Members like Louie Gohmert and Michelle Bachmann and Joe Barton with large amounts of LSD…and I will then transport them right back to the House floor…and then one hour a day we’ll set up something like the obstacle course on MXC and then have them run it…and I will introduce a bill to set up a special “Premium Content” partnership with C-SPAN that charges $14.95 a month so that you can see the uncensored “GoDaddy” version of the video, with the money to be used to lower the Federal deficit.

I support medical marijuana—but I would limit the co-pay, by law, to $10.

Civil rights?

Reichert opposes same-sex marriage, and only gets a 50% rating from the NAACP…and I’m one of the only people you’ll ever meet who was officially notified he was gay by email…and if one of my family members had a “homosexual relationship”, unlike some Members, I wouldn’t keep it on the “ down low ”.

I’m more or less broke, just like you—and they tell me that, if you win, there’s pretty good health insurance —but I’m not looking for donations, from any source…with one exception:

At the moment this is a fake candidacy, but I’m thinking about asking a group to consider underwriting this as a comedic art project—and if they do, that would be the only money the “fake campaign” would accept.

So there you go: from here on out, there will be more “Manifestos” from the fake campaign—and in the next one, we’ll be talking, once again, about how you can support a candidate like Reichert, who’s basically a joke…or you can support a candidate like me, who really is one.

 

On Respect, Or, How To Avoid Mispronounciation July 26, 2009

For today’s story, we will travel far afield from the typical domains of politics or science or law that have so often provoked our thinking into an often overlooked area of human relations:

To which gender do you belong?

It’s a simple question, or so common sense would tell us—either you’re male, or you’re female.

As it turns out, things aren’t quite so simple, and in today’s conversation we’ll consider this issue in a larger way. By the time we’re done, not only will we learn a thing or two about sex and gender and sexuality, we’ll also learn how to offer a community of people a level of respect that they often find difficult to obtain.

Do you get off casting hexes?
Assuming forms of either sexes
And oh…are you a boy or a girl?

–Imperial Drag, Boy Or A Girl?

The best place to start today’s story, I suspect, is with a story.

Regular visitors to this space will recall the recent conversation we had regarding the life and times of Gladys Bentley. The kind folks at the Bilerico Project (“daily experiments in LGBTQ”) asked me to repost at the site, and it was there pointed out to me that I was confusing gender and sexuality at various times in the diary.

It occurred to me that education was the solution here; to that end I located Lifelines Rhode Island’s TGI/Gender-Spectrum Terminology Guide (which, unless indicated otherwise, will be the source for the material you see here today). Tobi Hill-Meyer, who also posts at the Bilerico Project, was able to confirm to me that the information here “covers a lot more than most terminology lists I’ve seen”…and with a confirming source in place, I think we’re ready to move forward.

Actually, before we do that…a caveat. Everything that will be presented today is “in flux”. Terminology and attitudes and thinking evolve rapidly in this area, and Ms. Hill-Meyer would tell you to worry less about exact terms and to pay more attention to the general concepts that this discussion incorporates.

The first thing you should know is that biological sex, gender, and sexuality are three completely different things, neither associated with the other. What I mean by that is that an individual might be male, or female, some combination of the two (intersex persons)…or none of the above—but that has no bearing on whether that same person might find themselves sexually attracted to males, or females, or intersex persons…or no one at all.

Let’s start with biological sex.

The human body expresses sex in four different ways, the first being genetic. Genetic males carry an X and a Y chromosome, genetic females two X chromosomes. Intersex persons might have a single X chromosome (known as XO) or some combination of three or more X and Y chromosomes.

“Gonadal” males possess testes, gonadal females possess ovaries; intersex persons might possess undescended testes or streak ovaries.

Those persons who possess testosterone or DHT in the body are “hormonal” males. Estrogen and progesterone are found in hormonal females, and intersex persons might have levels of any of these hormones that are either high or low…or they might not have the “receptors” that allow the body to recognize the hormones that are present.

Morphological sex is expressed by the presence, in males, of the Wolffian duct and a penis. Females will possess a Mullerian duct and a vagina. Intersex persons might possess both a Wolffian and a Mullerian duct or incomplete internal sexual organs—or none of the above—and an enlarged clitoris, a “micro-penis”, or a shallow and fused vagina.

Perception, the folks at Lifelines would tell you, exists in two parts: gender, which is derived from the perception of whether you appear to others to be male or female, and gender identity, which is based on your own perception of yourself as male, female, neither, both, or whatever other label you might choose to attach to your gender identity. The “take-away” from this line of thought is that people are entitled to make their own choices regarding gender identity.

Sexuality, or sexual orientation as it’s used by Lifelines, can be a bit tricky, but it works like this: start with an individual’s chosen gender identity, then proceed to whom they are attracted to. For example, if your gender identity is female, and you are attracted to females, you would be a lesbian. Options include straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual…and pansexual, a term used by those who see more than two sexes—and genders—within the rich tapestry of human existence.

I ought, therefore I am.

–From Immanuel Kant’s Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Everyone still with me on all this?

Good, because now we get to the heart of the matter…the “how to show respect” part…and if you’ve been keeping up, what’s coming next will be fairly simple to grasp.

Mispronounciation is the act of referring to someone with the incorrect personal pronoun—in other words, incorrectly referring to a “he” as a “she”. To avoid this, all you need to do is refer to the individual using the pronouns that match that person’s appearance.

If the person to whom you are speaking is visually expressing their gender as female, that person is referred to as “she”, and vice versa. The fact that the person might not be “passing” in a manner that you find entirely convincing is irrelevant, as is the fact that the person may or may not have had sexual reassignment surgery.

If that same person were to express their gender, on another occasion, as a male, you would refer to the same person as “he”.

In keeping with the admonition to not worry so much about every single term, but instead to make an effort to grasp the concepts presented here, we will not endeavor to define everything on the list; instead touching on just a few terms and explaining why they are important.

“Tranny” is considered offensive and should be avoided.

A “crossdresser” is someone who does not associate their clothing choice with a desire to express as a different gender. In other words, when Rudy Giuliani dresses as a woman—even as he views himself as a man while doing it—that’s crossdressing.

Drag Kings and Drag Queens are entertainers who express themselves in an alternative gender. If the person with whom you are speaking is not on stage at the time…these terms are probably inappropriate.

Transsexual persons are taking hormones and have had sexual reassignment surgery…most of the time. (Some people use the term to describe themselves even though they have not had surgery.) This term is often used within the medical community.

There are some people who do not prefer this term, either because it implies that a mental illness is somehow involved, or because it implies a change of sexuality, as opposed to a change of gender. (You should know that the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, also known as the “DSM-IV-TR”, does in fact describe Gender Identity Disorder as a mental illness.)

The word transgender, which has been in common use to describe people who are expressing any number of gender options, is considered offensive by some people because it is sometimes used to describe a person’s gender choice, instead of the preferred “he” or “she”.

Androgyne persons do not wish to express a single gender choice, instead choosing to present themselves in a way that blurs the line between male and female. Someone who expresses their gender in this manner might or might not also express their sexuality the same way.

Trans is the currently preferred term to describe people who are…well, trans.

Someone who fits into any of the categories we have described here would be considered a trans person. A trans man would be someone who was female at birth, but is now expressing the gender choice of male; obviously a trans woman would be someone who was designated male at birth and is now expressing the gender choice of female. (“Trans” is a prefix defined as “across, over, or beyond”)

If you fit into none of these categories, but instead are always expressing yourself in the same gender as your birth gender, the term cisgender or cissexual is in current use; this derived from the prefix “cis”, which is defined as “on this side of”.

So what have we learned today?

We learned that there is a community of people who do not find the two gender choices “man” and “woman” representative of all the options available…and we learned that, within that community, there are people who might wish, from time to time, to vary their gender role.

Beyond that, we found out that gender and sexuality are separate and not interrelated, and that a person can change one while not changing the other.

We learned that addressing someone using the gender they have chosen is the best way to show that person respect—and the other thing we should be taking away from this discussion is that terminology changes rapidly, but the larger concepts presented here have more permanence, and over the long term I would expect those concepts to change less than the terminology.

So go forth and have some summer fun…and should the occasion arise, apply these principles, and summer will be more fun for those you meet up with as well.

And who doesn’t love that?

 

On A May-December Romance, Part Two, Or, Las Vegas, Integrated May 12, 2009

Moulin Rouge.

The mention of that name, in the right circles, brings back a flood of associations.

Among them: a famous cabaret in Gay Paree, a Nicole Kidman movie rich in costume and set design and…well, a movie, anyway; or, if you really know your films, perhaps the association is with the 1952 John Huston “biography” film of the same name.

The one association that might not quickly come to mind, even though it should: ground zero in a battle that led to the desegregation of Las Vegas.

Today’s story will fill in the blanks that you might have regarding that association—and by the time we’re done, we’ll have covered, just as we promised last time, the 55-year history of a place that began in 1955, lasted for not quite six months, and ended just last week…maybe.

It’s another one of those American history stories you never heard before, and it’s well worth the telling…so let’s get right to it.

“Last year people won more than one billion dollars playing poker. And casinos made twenty-seven billion just by being around those people.”

–Samantha Bee, The Daily Show, March 10, 2005

For those of you who missed Part One, we better take a moment to catch up:

Las Vegas, as World War II came to an end, was very much a segregated city, with blacks, who by that time were roughly 3000 of the city’s total population of 20,000, literally forced to live on the Wrong Side of The Tracks (a problem that continues to create headlines even as recently as 2008).

(Irony number one: “The Tracks”, or at least 60 acres of the land upon which they used to sit, are now the site of an upscale redevelopment effort (“Union Park”) that Westside residents note has the potential to leave them even more geographically isolated than they were when The Tracks occupied the site. To further the irony, far more redevelopment money is being spent on the Union Park project then is being spent in the severely economically disadvantaged Westside.)

As the casinos began to become the major driver of the local economy, blacks were allowed to work on the properties, but they could not patronize the segregated casinos in which they worked.

This extended to the highest levels of worker, as even the entertainers who were brought in to work the showrooms were forced to seek accommodations in the Westside neighborhood…which is why the neighborhood’s rented cottages and hotels, such as the famous Harrison Boarding House, could count among their many famous guests Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jack Benny’s “valet” and sidekick Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

By the middle of the 1950s there had been unsuccessful efforts in Nevada to pass laws mandating an end to segregation in the casinos and elsewhere (oddly enough, there had never been a law requiring segregation); and it has been suggested that casinos were resistant because their customer base at the time was mainly Californians who had settled there from the Southern states, and who presumably brought their racial animus with them.

And it wasn’t as if blacks were not allowed in bars or casinos: there were several on the Westside that catered to a black clientele.

(Irony number two: it’s reported that among those were Jewish-owned properties, including the Brown Derby, the Cotton Club, and the Ebony Club.)

Want to see a product of Strip segregation history with your very own eyes? The New Town Tavern, who once hosted Redd Foxx and B.B. King on its now-closed showroom stage, has remained open on the Westside from 1955 to the present day at the corner of F Street and Jackson Avenue.

Which brings us to Frank Sinatra.

By 1953 Sammy Davis, Jr., and the other members of the Will Maston Trio, of which he was the featured player, were splitting $5,000 a week for their services…but they could not stay at the place they played. By 1954, Sinatra convinced Sammy to open for him at The Sands; and in November of that year The Will Maston Trio was not only making $7500 a week at the Frontier, the hotel “comped” their room, board, and drinks, and allowed them the run of the casino, making them the first black act to receive that sort of treatment from a Strip casino (although others report that Nat King Cole was actually the first, in 1955).

Later that same month, Sammy lost an eye in an automobile accident, and was offered $25,000 a week to play The Sands, along with what are described as “Sinatra-like accommodations”.

In May of 1955, in an effort to “change the rules of the game”, Alexander Bisno and Lou Rubin opened the Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino on a site in between the Strip and the Westside.

Bisno and Rubin opened the property as a completely integrated facility, bringing blacks and whites in as guests and staff…and even as management and owners. Boxing great Joe Louis was both the official greeter and a partner in the venture. The great Benny Carter was brought in as musical director.

(Fun Fact: the distinctive neon signage for the Moulin Rouge was designed by one of the few women in the business at the time, Betty Willis, who also designed one of the most recognizable signs in advertising history, the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.)

The hotel was an immediate and massive hit with visitors, who were treated to the best entertainment available anywhere: Sammy, naturally, played the room, along with The Platters, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Eartha Kitt, to name but a few.

But here’s the thing: a major reason the place was so popular was because Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack would head over to the Moulin Rouge, either to put on impromptu performances or to just hang out in this newly swinging atmosphere—and suddenly, the Moulin Rouge, after the other shows on the Strip had ended for the evening, became possibly the hottest joint in the world; with everybody, and I mean everybody, heading over to see and be seen with Sammy, Sinatra, Dino, and the rest of the Pack…and of course, the “Tropi-Can Can” girls.

Things got so crazy that the Moulin Rouge added a 2:30 AM “Third Show”—but within six months, the Moulin Rouge had closed its doors; possibly the victim of mismanagement, possibly the victim of an oversaturated market, possibly the victim of policies designed to make blue-collar black patrons feel less welcome…and possibly the victim of “The Mob”, who had a hand in several of the Strip hotels that were suddenly losing significant amounts of gambling business to the new hotel.

“We don’t think that we, or any other hotel, should give away a $30,000 show for a Coke and two straws.”

–Former Riviera Hotel Chairman Morrie Mason, in Time Magazine, September 19, 1955

And with that, you’d think the history of the Moulin Rouge had come to an end.

In fact, there was quite a bit more history yet to come.

Throughout the ‘50s, Sinatra had been busy working to eliminate what he called the “national disease” of bigotry. He wrote this in a July 1958 “Jet” Magazine article, The Way I Look At Race:

“A friend to me has no race, no class, and belongs to no minority. My friendships were formed out of affection, mutual respect, and a feeling of having something strong in common. These are eternal values that cannot be racially classified. This is the way I look at race.”

By 1959, the Rat Pack was in town filming Ocean’s Eleven and going after segregation in their own unique way. They would show up at a casino, and if the casino would not admit Sammy Davis, Jr. to the gaming floor, then they would move on to the next one. Since no one wanted the bad publicity…Sammy usually got in. (That same year, blacks and whites in Nevada were legally allowed to marry.)

Because so many people were pushing for integration, segregation was beginning to be bad for business, and something had to be done.

Even Nevada’s Governor, Grant Sawyer, was trying to change the culture of segregation…and as 1960 rolled around, the NAACP was applying its own pressure.

Dr. James McMillan, leader of the local NAACP chapter, announced that he would organize a series of “sit-down strikes” in the restaurants of the Strip casinos. The day before the strikes were to begin, Oscar Crozier, representing the hotel interests, met and negotiated with NAACP representatives, Hank Greenspun, the publisher of the “Las Vegas Sun”, and some assorted politicians at…wait for it…the abandoned Moulin Rouge, where the Moulin Rouge Agreement was struck, which immediately desegregated the patronage of casinos on the Strip.

“When these fellows realized that they weren’t going to lose any money, that they might even make more, they were suddenly colorblind.”

Dr. James McMillan

(The new colorblindness, oddly enough, did not extend to the Downtown casinos, and Binion’s Horseshoe was among of the last of those casinos to desegregate.)

Over the next few years, employment on the gaming floors was also desegregated, and in 1971 the State Legislature passed a law barring racial discrimination in the housing market.

Even after all that, the Moulin Rouge wasn’t through making history. The property and buildings and…casino license…passed from one owner to another, and eventually one of those owners, Sarann Knight-Preddy, became the first black woman to hold a Nevada gaming license.

The property did operate as a sort of “apartment-motel” for a number of years, and even reopened as a casino during the 1990s, but a 2003 arson fire destroyed the casino/showroom building and removed it from Preserve Nevada’s list of 11 most endangered historical sites in the State.

Even then the remaining “hotel” buildings became low-income housing…until they became too dilapidated for that purpose.

And even then plans continued to float around, including an effort that seemed to be gaining momentum in 2008 to build an entirely new project on the old site…until a bad economy and bankruptcy brought that momentum to a crashing halt.

In an ending reminiscent of something that might have happened in the movie “Casino”, on May 5th of this year, Olympic Coast Investments of Seattle took ownership of the Moulin Rouge through foreclosure…and on May 6th, another fire took out the remaining buildings on the site. Olympic Coast reports they intend to sell. (Luckily, the neon sign had been removed in the weeks before the fire to the Neon Boneyard.)

We have come a long way with this story, but here we are at last.

Las Vegas, we’ve learned, has had to deal with a history of racial segregation, was able to break the back of that segregation through the efforts of people as diverse as local neighborhood organizers, Jewish financiers…and the Rat Pack.

That history was forever changed because one casino, for not quite six months, showed what Las Vegas could be—but as we said at the beginning of Part One, even though the casino was only open for those few months, the history it represents continues to unfold, more than 50 years later.

What happens next, no one knows…but in Las Vegas, with a piece of land and an available gambling license to work with…I wouldn’t be too quick to bet that the history of the Moulin Rouge is over just yet.

Warning—commercial message ahead: I’m competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I could use your support. Just head on over to the Democracy for America website, click on the “Add your support” link under “Grassroots Supporters”, and offer a word or two…and with that, thanks very much, and we return you to your regular programming.

 

On Assessing Risk, Or, Swine Flu: Is It Time To Panic? April 30, 2009

We are going to be talking a lot about swine flu over the next few weeks.

The conversation about the politics of the thing is already well underway, engulfing those who sought to remove funding for infectious disease control out of the “stimulus” bill.

We are lacking, however, an examination of the science of the thing, and that’s the point of today’s conversation.

How dangerous is this infection?
Why is it killing people in Mexico but not here?
Exactly what is a pandemic?
Do those facemasks really serve any purpose?
And what about closing the border?

They’re all good questions; and they are all questions we’ll try to answer today.

“I’ve always been a hypochondriac.
As a little boy, I’d eat my M & M’s one by one with a glass of water.”

Richard Lewis

Why don’t we define a pandemic first, then move on to the “what we knows”?

A pandemic is a global event characterized by the emergence of a new virus that readily spreads from human to human. When humans are exposed to new viruses, the lack of previously developed antibodies means we lack biological defenses, making new viruses the most dangerous to human health.

(Vaccines are designed to safely expose humans to diseases. The body makes antibodies based on that exposure, making it better prepared for the next exposure.)

So here’s what we know: a swine flu outbreak that seems to have begun in Mexico has claimed more than 150 lives and sent more than 2000 to the hospital in that country as of Tuesday morning.

As of Wednesday, there are 91 laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States, with 81 of them occurring in New York, California, and Texas. There has been one confirmed death in the US as of Wednesday, a child who had come to the US from Mexico to be treated for this infection.

In an ordinary year, the CDC reports, about 36,000 people die from influenza in the United States (during the 1990s, the number varied from 17,000 to 52,000).

There are a smaller number of infected individuals in numerous other countries.

The World Health Organization had, early this week, declared a Phase 4 alert, meaning that we have:

“…verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza…virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic…Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.”

As of Wednesday that has been raised to a Phase 5 alert, which:

“…is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”

We also have suspicions about a number of things.

We suspect that a pig farm near La Gloria, Mexico was the source of the outbreak.

We suspect (with very high confidence) that the number of confirmed infections will grow substantially as labs are able to complete the testing that changes probable and suspected cases to confirmed ones.

We suspect there will be additional deaths in the United States from this infection beyond the one that has already been confirmed.

Because at least 45 of the confirmed cases in the US are associated with a group of spring breakers just back from Cancún, we are suspicious that they might be the group responsible for introducing the virus into the country….however…the CDC reports that cases were first seen in San Antonio, Texas, and in Southern California in late March and early April.

Because the health authorities in Mexico might not have been tracking minor infections, it is suspected that the very high death rate currently associated with this infection in that country is overstated.

There is, as you might imagine, an entire list of things we cannot as yet explain.

The question of why young and presumably healthy Mexicans are dying at an alarming rate while citizens of other countries are not is first on that list. There are several possible explanations besides the potential statistical problems we note above, and one of those is the question of air quality in Mexico City.

The amazing level of air pollution in Mexico’s capitol city has created a childhood asthma problem of such long standing that it has now also become an adult asthma problem. It is known that people with compromised respiratory systems are predisposed to become victims of opportunistic respiratory infections, lending credence to this supposition.

It is possible that nutritionally compromised individuals in Mexico are becoming targets for more severe infections than individuals in the US who are getting sick but have more robust overall health due to better nutrition.

There is confusion due to an inability to accurately track the infection in Mexico. It is possible that new infections are still occurring, that the virus is in regression, that it is has mutated in new ways, or that another, as yet unidentified virus is now circulating; but due to a lack of reliable information it is impossible to tell which, if any, of these events are actually taking place.

The US public health authorities seem to be better able to respond to this health event than Mexican authorities have been. For example, there are reports, confirmed by Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordoba, that people who had close contact with individuals who have died from swine flu have not had access to medical or epidemiological follow-up…or access to antiviral drugs.

There have been questions as to whether border screening should be intensified to prevent infected persons entering from Mexico. In testimony before Congress Tuesday it was pointed out to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison that infected persons might not show any symptoms while crossing the border, rendering such screening techniques as temperature monitoring ineffective.

Now let’s talk about this virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, in the same hearing room, gave us a lot to worry about. He points out that this is an almost unique virus, in that it has, within its structure, genes from bird, pig, and human influenza viruses (the process of these genes combining themselves in new ways is called “reassortment”); and seeing a “triple reassortment” is highly unusual.

The H1N1 virus that is the basis of this new virus is inherently capable of human-to-human transmission, he tells us, which is particularly problematic.

We will talk about what drugs might be effective in a moment…but first, a word or two on uncertainty.

There is no way to know if the virus we are dealing with today will mutate into new forms, nor can we predict if the virus will become relatively more dangerous if and when new populations are exposed. (It is also possible that the virus might mutate into a less harmful form).

We have no way to predict whether this virus will return, even stronger, in the fall, which would not be uncommon.

We cannot predict what other influenza viruses might appear, or if the two other currently circulating “seasonal” viruses might mutate in ways that cause greater concern.

We cannot predict the potential for further reassortment caused by the current seasonal flu viruses that had been circulating before the emergence of swine flu interacting with this new virus.

We cannot predict where the virus (and its antecedents) will crop up.

We cannot say for certain that the virus will not develop resistance to currently effective antiviral drugs.

These are problems associated with influenza management every flu season, and they are not particular to this virus.

“Excessive calm…may be a symptom of swine flu.”

Stephen Colbert

Because things can change on literally a day-by-day basis, some of our comments on drugs will be correct as of today, but not necessarily correct in the future.

There are four antiviral drugs available, and two of them are rather ineffective in dealing with certain strains of influenza due to the fact that those strains have developed resistance to those drugs.

That leaves two useful drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza.

When deciding what drug to prescribe for someone who shows up at the doctor’s office, the doctor needs to have an idea what kind of flu you have. If you show up with swine flu, today, a doctor might be inclined to offer you Tamiflu…but if you showed up with an infection caused by the “seasonal” Type A H1N1 virus from 2007-2008, Tamiflu would be the wrong choice, as that virus is resistant to Tamiflu.

Why not just dose the entire US population with Tamiflu or Relenza right now, you might ask?

It’s partly a question of side effects and the damage they can cause, multiplied by 300,000,000 patients.

In the case of Relenza, there are significant side effects for those with respiratory diseases, and the drug is not normally recommended for those patients. The FDA recommends that patients who do use this drug have ready access to a fast-acting inhaled bronchodilator at the time it is administered. Some patients have experienced “transient neuropsychiatric events” (specifically self-injury or delirium) after using the drug.

Roughly 10% of Tamiflu users experience vomiting, and there are also patient reports of transient neuropsychiatric events with this drug (“confusion, paranoia, anxiety attack, nightmares” were among the listed symptoms). The use of this drug by children under one year of age is not normally advised, but on Wednesday an Emergency Use Authorization was issued for such use.

It’s also, to some extent, a question of uncertainty about this flu: will this virus turn out to be less harmful than the impact of those side effects? Will it, in other words, “just fade away”?

Beyond that, to try to prevent these viruses from developing resistance, we need to use these drugs as sparingly as possible; with that in mind, if we can avoid mass administration of these drugs it would be to our advantage.

The preferred approach would be to vaccinate…and it is hoped that by this fall a vaccine will be available…and it is hoped that the virus that is in circulation this fall will be roughly the same virus that was “designed into” the vaccine between now and summer.

Now a quick word on facemasks and respirators:

The CDC recommends facemasks for those in crowded settings…but they strongly suggest limiting the time in which you are in those settings more than they do the use of facemasks. They also strongly emphasize handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough, and washing hands after shaking hands.

It is also noted that airborne droplets can get around the edges of facemasks, rendering them fairly ineffective.

Respirators, on the other hand, can be effective, and are currently recommended for people who cannot avoid contact with infected persons. The “all-day” use of these respirators, however, is a challenge simply because of the increased effort involved in breathing while wearing such a device.

An artist asked the gallery owner if there had been any interest in his paintings on display at that time.

“I have good news and bad news” the owner replied. “The good news is that a gentleman inquired about your work and wondered if it would appreciate in value after your death. When I told him it would, he bought all 15 of your paintings.”

“That’s wonderful!” the artist exclaimed. “What’s the bad news?”

“The man was your doctor.”

–From Doctor Jokes at “Resources for Attorneys”

So what good news, if any, is there to tell?

As of right now we have no reason to believe that this flu is more likely to cause fatalities than the seasonal influenzas that we would normally see. (Keep in mind, however, that this could quickly change.)

If the pattern we have seen so far were to continue (and there is no particular reason to say it will or it won’t) we could end up with a virus that is widely transmitted but no more dangerous than what we are used to seeing in normal years.

Ironically, the virus’ wide dissemination would itself be good news; as it would expose more of us to this new virus, enabling us to develop antibodies to the infection even before a vaccine is developed for the fall.

We have covered a lot of ground today, so let’s wrap it up:

An influenza caused by a nearly unique virus is moving through the population of Mexico, that infection has spread to several other countries, and so far the number of fatalities worldwide has not exceeded 200. (We expect more than 35,000 deaths annually from influenza in the United States, by way of comparison.)

Because it is a virus to which humans have not been previously exposed, there is heightened concern among The Experts.

There is no reason, at this moment, to believe this influenza will be more lethal than the seasonal influenzas currently circulating among the US population.

This flu can currently be controlled by administration of either of two readily available antivirals. (By the way, don’t forget all that handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough…and handwashing….is pretty helpful as well.)

This type of virus (H1N1) is generically known for its ability to transmit readily from person to person, and not for its inherent lethality. (It is not yet certain, however, if this specific virus will follow that pattern.)

It is possible that a useful vaccine will be available for fall—and it is also possible that this virus will have morphed into a form that will be resistant to the newly developed vaccine.

Closing the borders isn’t logical, facemasks don’t really work, respirators do, but they’re not the sort of “all-day” accessory that a lot of us will enjoy…and avoiding crowded places is what the CDC today feels will work best.

There are a host of unknowns that could change all of this, and there are no predictive tools that can reliably give us reasons to be either sanguine…or scared to death.

All of this can and will change rapidly—sometimes on a day-to-day basis. In the time I spent putting all this together, the WHO raised the alert to Phase 4, then Phase 5, the number of US cases doubled, and the CDC has changed their recommendations for antiviral drug administration twice.

Put it all together, and at the moment things are nowhere near as bad as they could be, with a whole lot of uncertainty ahead.

Warning—commercial message ahead: I’m competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I could use your support. Just head on over to the Democracy for America website, click on the “Add your support” link under “Grassroots Supporters”, and offer a word or two…and with that, thanks very much, and we return you to your regular programming.

 

On A May-December Romance, Part One, Or, Las Vegas, Segregated April 15, 2009

There may be no more recognizable icon of “Retro-Cool” than that photograph of the Rat Pack standing in front of the marquee at The Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

They’re right there, lined up in front of their own giant names on the marquee: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop.

Night after night they would gather with friends such as Shirley MacLaine, Angie Dickinson, and Johnny Carson, to deliver some of the greatest nightclub performances in entertainment history.

Today’s story, however, focuses on what happened after the show: when four of those five could leave the showroom, drink at the bar, gamble at the casino, and go upstairs to their rooms.

In a town sometimes known as the “Mississippi of the West”, however, one of those five performers could not do any of those things.

Our Journey In Two Parts literally crosses over to the “wrong side of the tracks”, tells a story of segregation overcome, and recounts the six-month history of a Las Vegas hotel that has a 55-year history: the Moulin Rouge.

“…We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow-citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of “equal” accommodations…will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.”

–Justice John Marshall Harlan, from the dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)

So let’s start with the “literally” part: Las Vegas’ “Westside”, which was the original Vegas townsite, was located across the “Cement Curtain” of railroad tracks from “new” Las Vegas, and it was the only place the black population was allowed to live.

This was not a new situation in Nevada, or unique to Las Vegas: when the Six Companies built what became Hoover Dam in the ‘30s, some say only 30 blacks are estimated to have been employed on the entire project. (Others put the number nearly 50% higher, suggesting 44 out of the workforce of 5000 were black.)

World War II had swollen Las Vegas’ population, and the “new” Vegas—the white Vegas—included the land that would eventually become The Strip. While blacks were allowed to work out of the Westside, beyond that area they could not own property…and they most assuredly could not be guests of the hotels and casinos in which they worked.

In fact, blacks who owned businesses beyond the borders of the Westside were “motivated” to move them there during the ‘40s.

By the early 1950s the Thunderbird, the El Rancho Vegas, and “Bugsy” Siegel’s Flamingo, among others, were drawing big crowds from Los Angeles and points beyond for the floor shows, lounge entertainment, and casino gambling.

With the exception of Josephine Baker’s performance at the El Rancho, blacks were generally not allowed among those crowds; and performers such as Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis, Jr. were forced to stay in rooming houses or other accommodations on the Westside.

“In Vegas for 20 minutes, our skin had no color. Then the second we stepped off the stage, we were colored again…the other acts could gamble or sit in the lounge and have a drink, but we had to leave through the kitchen with the garbage.”

Sammy Davis, Jr.

At this point, a few words on Rat Pack history (and if you only click on one link in this story, this might be the one…).

Humphrey Bogart was the founder of the first Rat Pack; then called the “Holmby Hills Rat Pack”, after the Los Angeles neighborhood in which he and Lauren Bacall lived following their 1945 marriage. These Rat Packers included Judy Garland, “Swifty” Lazar (still considered one of the most notable agents in Hollywood history), and, eventually, Frank Sinatra.

This members of this group were not “Hollywood Society” types; as a result the Rat Pack spent a lot of its time up in the Holmby Hills…laughing at Hollywood Society over cocktails…making the odd trip to Vegas to spend a night out…and occasionally adjourning to fellow Rat Packers Mike and Gloria Romanoff’s restaurant…where the Hollywood Society types vied to be seen with them.

Upon Bogart’s death in 1957 Sinatra, partly because of his friendship with Bacall, was able to continue the Pack (at one point called “The Clan”; a name that was quickly dropped) with new members (and old friends) Dino, Sammy, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford (Not-Yet-President John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law), while still keeping continuity with Bogart’s Rat Pack. (Some might also describe Sinatra and Bacall’s romantic relationship following Bogart’s death as another part of that continuity.)

We’ve come a long way to get to this point, and we have a long way to go—which makes this a perfect “rest stop” between Parts One and Two.

A Barstow, if you will.

Way back at the beginning, we learned that blacks in Las Vegas really were living on the wrong side of the tracks, that separate was in no way equal; and that even if you were Louis Armstrong, or Lena Horne, or Sammy Davis, Jr., you might be allowed to work in white Las Vegas, but you weren’t going to be allowed to eat there, drink there, or sleep there…and you weren’t going to be allowed to gamble your paycheck away there, either.

In the meantime, Las Vegas was attracting entertainers—black and white—who would chafe at these rules. The group that would become the new Rat Pack was going to be at the heart of that change…and in our next installment, we’ll talk about six months of Las Vegas history that ultimately, despite great resistance, forced that change to happen.