Friday, December 31, 2010

Charlotte's Stupidest Thing of the Year

Posted By on Fri, Dec 31, 2010 at 3:20 PM

There were a lot of contenders for this prestigious award: Harold Johnson vs. Tim D'Annunzio was a no-brainer, as were a variety of shenanigans by city and county "leaders." However,  a mundane, but all too typical, firing of an employee who dared speak her mind took the cake, in this writer's opinion.

In May, a controversy provoked by the rise of online social networks brought national attention to Charlotte, but not in a good way. It was all about the firing of a gabby Facebook-posting waitress. Ashley Johnson, 22, had to work late one day at Brixx Uptown, when a couple having lunch stayed for three hours and then stiffed her with a crappy $5 tip for her trouble. Johnson went home and, via a Facebook post, told her friends her tale of woe about the inconsiderate couple, whom she called “cheap piece of shit camper(s).” Hey, it’s a free country, right? Well, apparently not, because the folks at Brixx soon told Johnson to hit the bricks for violating the company’s policy against speaking disparagingly about customers, and against “casting the restaurant in a negative light on social networks.” That move by Brixx, along with the restaurant’s ongoing defense of their actions in the face of widespread criticism, is the winner of our Stupidest Thing to Happen in Charlotte in 2010 Award.

We were particularly concerned about the violation of Johnson’s free-speech rights. At the time, we wrote:

If Johnson wants to talk about customers once she is away from her employer’s premises, what right does her employer have to tell her she can’t? . . . just because Johnson used “new media” to lodge her gripe, how is the new media’s long reach her fault? — and, more importantly, how does it nullify her right to free speech?

In the past 20 years, American employees have seen an increase in employers’ attempts to control their speech, to the point that the practice has become old hat at many businesses. . . . Contrary to what many corporations think, employees are not company possessions, and businesses are not our parents. They are also, most certainly, not above the U.S. Constitution. . . . Any rule against making disparaging comments about customers away from company property is intrusive and offensive. And if a worker casts her employer “in a negative light” while she’s away from work, that, too, is her business. . . . Sure, Johnson’s Facebook post could conceivably, albeit slightly, affect Brixx’s bottom line. But here is another, more critical, bottom line: Employers are neither feudal lords nor plantation owners, and employees are not company possessions.

gagged_woman

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Ignored Story of the Year: U.S. taxes pay for Afghani child sex slaves

Posted By on Fri, Dec 31, 2010 at 2:52 PM

I know, I know, there are too many godawful things going unreported to name just one award “winner.” But one true story, which received pitifully little coverage in America despite the whole thing being funded by U.S. taxpayers, needs to — at the very least — be given some kind of Shame Award.

While the government and our happily compliant press were busy calling for the head of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, a shocking revelation from one of the released diplomatic cables was blithely ignored. DynCorp, a government contractor providing training for Afghan security and police forces, gets nearly all its money from you and me. The company used some of that money to throw a party for a group of Afghan police trainees. The evening’s “entertainment” consisted of “bacha bazi boys,” whose pimps were paid so the boys would sing, then dance, then submit to anal sex with the police recruits. Read all about it here, along with more info on DynCorp doing the same kind of thing in the '90s when we paid them to train people in Bosnia.  The leaked cable also makes clear that our government put pressure on journalists to not report on the "party." See the leaked cable here.

So there you have it: your tax dollars at work, fighting terrorism by trafficking in little boys as sex slaves. Tell me again why it’s a bad thing for WikiLeaks to expose this kind of grotesque corruption? And the insanity just keeps going and going ...

If you'd like to tell DynCorp what you think of this issue, just go here.

Scene from documentary on bacha bazi in Afghanistan
  • Scene from documentary on bacha bazi in Afghanistan

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bill James says he's 'good press for Charlotte'

Posted By on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 12:09 PM

In response to yesterday’s post about his latest anti-gay slurs, County Commissioner Bill James responded, in CL’s comments section, that “I just say what everyone else thinks and believes.” Which is true, if what you mean by “everyone else” is “other bigots,” or maybe “those on the losing side of social progress.” In James’ latest slam against gays, triggered by a proposed letter of support for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, he claimed that  homosexuals are all “sexual predators.” The story was featured on Huffington Post yesterday, and, amazingly, was the lead story on MSNBC yesterday afternoon. James sent us an e-mail touting his TV appearance, which he claims “should be good press for Charlotte.”

Yeah, really good press — like the “good press” Charlotte received in 1996. That’s when James and other County Commission homophobes pitched a fit over a theater production of Angels In America, exposing the city to national ridicule and justified charges of gooberish provincialism. Yep, that’s really good press, all right. It just screams to the nation, “Hey, we’re still wearing overalls down here, and we’re dumber than stumps — come on down and enjoy the good life!”

The County Commission should censure James for making such blatantly ignorant, hateful statements against a specific group of citizens. It probably won’t happen, considering the Commission’s shortage of real leadership, but it certainly should. In the meantime, while we’re waiting for someone in power to do something decent for a change, let me point you to a piece from BlueNC poster fritzpardue, in which he nails the absurdity of the right’s newest idea of separate showers for gays and straights in the military. Here’s an excerpt:

I just can't quite get my arms wrapped around this policy. It is okay for a homosexual man to take a shower with a heterosexual man, and just fine for a lesbian woman to be around when a heterosexual woman washes herself off, just as long as those homosexuals haven't told someone openly that they are gay.

But, on the other hand, if everyone knows that that homosexual man is the way he is, and that woman being a lesbian is common knowledge, then the military of the US is in danger of crumbling into a pile of ineffective rubbish that can no longer protect our country. . .

Personally, I like the view of Gen. David Petraeus’ senior aide Marvin Hill, who told the press that if there are troops who can’t deal with the repeal of DADT, they should leave the service. Amen. If you can’t serve in the military without discriminating against other troops, then get the hell out. Once and for all, enough of this homophobic crap.

We'll discuss this further in the shower, sir
  • We'll discuss this further in the shower, sir

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You're just now noticing gas prices?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Amazing. Gas prices have been creeping up for months, but because they finally roll over the $3 mark, numerous articles about gas prices start circulating. Wake up, folks. Gas prices have been on the rise for a while and no one's muttered a complaint, at least not in the media. And, gas prices are going to continue to rise. This shouldn't be any surprise; we've known this was coming. Neither should it be any surprise when oil and gas companies boast about record profits in a few months.

Of course, everyone wants to know why? Why? Why? Some of the most basic answers are the most obvious: There are more drivers in the world than ever before and there's less oil beneath our feet. What that means in economic terms is the supply is dwindling while demand is up; that equals higher prices. Also, some of the countries we get our oil from — Venezuela, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Angola — aren't exactly our best buds. Plus, petroleum is in tons of consumer products — plastics to name one major oil sucker upper. Again, a supply and demand issue; when we demand more and suppliers have less to offer, prices rise.

The new reality is that cheap gas is a thing of the past. But you can protect your wallet by purchasing smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles and by driving less. Also, keep up with area gas prices at CharlotteGasPrices.com so you won't get shocked at the pump.

Here's a video from three years ago, explaining why oil prices are rising. Again, this isn't new news ... we just tend to forget what's up.

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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Waste less food in 2011

Posted By on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 10:55 AM

The News & Observer published a great article yesterday with a challenge to all of us: Waste less food in the New Year. We all do it, even though many of us don't mean to be wasteful. But, in a country where food is easy to come by, plates are overflowing and there are no penalties for wasting it, it's no wonder that millions of dollars worth of food ends up in landfills each year. Collectively, we waste enough food to sustain the majority of the world's hungry. It's a sad, sad shame ... but it's a trend we can reverse with a little effort.

There are some very simple things you can do to waste less food in 2011. The bonus: Wasting less food will also help you waste less money. In fact, many of the tips in Andrea Weigl's article are centered on organization and don't cost a thing: Be a thoughtful buyer, keep a tidy refrigerator, get creative with your leftovers ... (read more here).

Further reading: "The Year in Food"GOOD magazine

Here are a few more tips for you from GOOD magazine to help you learn to waste less, along with some additional insight into why wasting food is something to avoid:

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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Professors to rich: Donate your tax cuts

Posted By on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 10:51 AM

A few professors have set up a website for rich folks, GiveItBackForJobs.org. They'd like the people who will benefit most from the extension of the Bush tax cuts to invest what they've saved in their communities through charitable donations.

Here's more from MSNBC.com and the Associated Press:

"Extending the tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans is frankly unconscionable," Yale Law School professor Daniel Markovits said Wednesday. With the website's help, "donors can pledge their money to support the kinds of programs that will help families, create jobs, and set the country moving toward a just prosperity," the professors said in announcing the initiative.

Markovits, Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, and Cornell law professor Robert Hockett started the campaign. Hacker is co-author of "Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class."

The three recommend giving to groups such as Habitat for Humanity, Children's Aid Society and Salvation Army that they say promote fairness, economic growth and a strong middle class. They say the contributions could replicate good government policy and, in effect, draft the government as a funding partner when the donation is tax deductible.

Read the entire article, by John Christoffersen, here.

Good effort, guys. I'd like to be hopeful for you, but this is America where greed rules and politics bend with the wind.

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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Today's Top 5: Thursday

Posted By on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 10:38 AM

Here are the five best events going down in Charlotte and the surrounding area today, Dec. 30, 2010 — as selected by the folks at Creative Loafing.

Ryan Saranich at Double Door Inn

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Holiday Lights at the Garden at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

The Balsa Gliders at Visulite Theatre

Open Mic Night at The Comedy Zone Fort Mill

Unfiltered exhibit at The Light Factory

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Catching up with our angel Levines

Posted By on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 9:56 AM

2010EchoPremie

Whether it’s a cheery children’s hospital, a cancer center, a brand new cultural campus, a branch of Central Piedmont Community College, a lifesaving challenge grant to Charlotte Symphony, or the unique Museum of the New South, the influence of Leon and Sandra Levine on the health and cultural life of Charlotte reaches far beyond your local Family Dollar. Of course, the cash that flows toward all these invaluable philanthropies originates at these latterday five-and-dimes, but Charlotte would be a markedly poorer place if the Levines kept it all to themselves.

As 2010 slinks toward its inglorious end, we can take solace in knowing that local organizations did something right in recognizing the excellence and variety of the Levines’ enlightened generosity. Although the signage remained on back order until only recently, the Mint-Bechtler-Knight-Gantt complex Uptown was formally renamed the Levine Center for the Arts in time for the holidays. That came on the heels of several honors showered upon the Levines this past fall.

On Sept. 21, as The Echo Foundation presented A Night to Remember with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, Leon and Sandra Levine were Echo’s 2010 Award Against Indifference Honorees. Additionally, in a well-kept surprise, The Echo Foundation established the Sandra and Leon Levine Medal for Life, to recognize “those around the world whose generous spirit has made a substantial impact in the lives of others.” Date and winner of the first medal have not been announced, but the presentation will coincide with the New York premiere of Echo’s new documentary, In the Footsteps of Elie, first screened at the Knight Theater preceding the award ceremonies.

Then on Dec. 2, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture took over the main ballroom at the Hilton Charlotte Center City Hotel for the 30th Annual Jazzy Holiday Luncheon. Somewhere between chicken and dessert, Mayor Anthony Foxx came to the podium and presented the 2010 Harvey B. Gantt Center Award to the Levines, lauding their philanthropic exploits. Also honored at the celebration were Dr. Spurgeon and Loretta Webber, cited for their civic leadership and arts patronage, and artist/curator/scholar/art historian David C. Driskell, the Afro-American artwork guru for The Cosby Show.

There are good reasons to be awed by Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars, and MacArthurs, but there are also occasions when the people who are honored add prestige and luster to the very awards they’ve received. Because they’ve now honored the Levines, we can look at the laurels bestowed by The Echo Foundation and the Gantt Center with increased respect.

So congratulations, Sandra and Leon Levine, on honors well-deserved! And don’t put away your checkbooks just yet – there’s a struggling theater outfit or two that I’ll be pointing in your direction within the next week.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'What the hell is wrong with Bill James?'

Posted By on Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 3:53 PM

I received an e-mail from a friend this morning who, referring to Bill James’ latest round of outlandish gay-bashing, wrote, “What the hell is wrong with this guy?” What my friend (who is a straight male, in case you’re wondering) was talking about was James’ refusal to sign on to a county commission resolution from chairperson Jennifer Roberts, praising N.C. members of Congress who voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. James didn’t just say, “Thanks but no thanks,” though; he grandly declared, to all and sundry who may give a rip what he thinks, that he is against “endorsing immorality and allowing military recruits to be preyed on by homosexuals.” In other words, to James, all gays are, by nature, sexual predators. (Fellow GOP commissioners Karen Bentley and Jim Pendergraph also refused to endorse Roberts’ resolution.)

As for my friend’s question about James, I don’t know what’s wrong with the guy except plain old-fashioned homophobia. At times, as I’ve written before, the commissioner reminds me of guys in high school whose jokes and put-downs often revolved around homosexuality: mocking queers, insinuating that others were queer, laughing at someone's shirt, shoes, haircut, whatever, because it was somehow, in some vague, unexplained way, queer. As a clueless adolescent who wanted to fit in, I often laughed along with the jokes, but the truth is, I never quite understood why others' sex lives should hold such interest. And I still don't.

Those guys in high school were doubtless going through the common, well-documented male teenage phase of defining their sexuality by acting macho and mocking feelings they’re terrified of finding in themselves. The real question here is why, for people like James, that type of insecure homophobia lasts past adolescence, eventually evolving into a bizarre, hateful obsession. We once named Bill James “the Generalissimo of local homophobes,” and if you’re relatively new to the city, now you know why.

The one good thing that comes out of this latest flare-up of gay-bashing is that it’s obvious that homophoic bigots are on the defensive these days. They may never give up, but nevertheless, these bigots are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as life passes them by. Let them wallow in their pre-‘60s, Ozzie & Harriet fantasy world; the rest of us will be busy getting on with life in the 21st century.

images

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ECO Center for Women benefits from one woman's birthday

Posted By on Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 3:48 PM

When Letha Taylor turns 44 this Sunday, she’s going to celebrate by giving back.

It’s been this way for Taylor, a well-known figure behind the scenes of Charlotte’s urban entertainment scene, for the last three years.

While most folks make their birthday about themselves, she makes it about people in need. She finds a charity and organizes an event to benefit that organization. This year, she’s helping the ECO Center for Women, which offers employment and family support opportunities proven to reduce recidivism such as encouraging educational opportunities, creating a community support system, providing opportunities to grow spiritually, and assisting with issues of transition back into the family.

Executive director Myra Clark said the center is a re-entry center for women who are in prison.

“The women there are near the end of their state prison sentence," she said. "They go out and work in the community, they have time where they can reintegrate with their families. Some of them are going to school. It’s a program that helps them make the transition from being incarcerated back to their home and their community."

Taylor wants to give these women something extra as she celebrates her birthday.

“What I’m doing for them is supplying each woman with a phone card, a book of stamps and some other toiletries and items that they need,” Taylor said. “I will go over there and provide them a brunch. There are different catering companies and restaurants providing food. I have some people who will be doing mini manicures and mini facials.”

Taylor said deciding to give back on her birthday was an easy decision because it’s a wonderful way to celebrate another year.

“It feels good and it doesn’t take a lot of money and time to put it together. You just find an organization and set up and provide an event for them on your birthday,” she said.

Clark said Taylor’s birthday celebration comes at the right time because non-profit organizations are often the last to recover after an economic downturn.

While Sunday’s event at the Eco Center For Women isn’t open to the public, if you want to make a donation to the center, which needs women’s hats, gloves, coats,  toiletry items and other things, call the center at 704-494-0001 to set up a time to drop off.

“We need some bookcases, because we have a learning center and we need to be able to put our bookcase up so we can get our books set up. We need some chairs for our conference room,” Clark said.

For more information about the center, log on to www.centerforcommunitytransitions.org

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