Saturday, October 8, 2011

Overdue Same-Sex Marriage Law Grants Equality to NY's Gays (June 30, 2011)

Less than three weeks after we celebrate our nation’s independence this weekend, the long-term inequity against homosexual and lesbian couples will come to an end in New York State.
By a slim margin of 33 to 29, the GOP-controlled State Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill last Friday, with only four Republicans supporting it. The Democratic-controlled Assembly already approved the measure, so when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law minutes before midnight, it opens the door on July 24 for gay men and women across the Empire State to lawfully marry and enjoy the same privileges and benefits as heterosexual couples.
This landmark legislation does not grant any special status to gays — just long overdue privileges. When the announcement came, carefree revelry erupted on streets of Greenwich Village, where many in the gay community live and interact, as they danced and embraced to celebrate a major victory for which they’ve struggled for the last 42 years.
New York joins five northeastern states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut — and Iowa that had previously sanctioned same-sex marriage. From time to time when in my teens, friends and I would utter anti-gay slurs among ourselves, which is not uncommon within a closely-knit group seeking camaraderie about something that they have misconceptions and no awareness. To ‘macho’ guys, homosexuals were ‘queers’ to be ridiculed because we were unfamiliar with their world, so we engaged in verbal stupidity. But, as my perspective matured, I recognized that gays were entitled to equal rights.
My first — conscious — encounter with gay men occurred when I worked as an usher one summer at the Loew’s State movie theater in midtown Manhattan with five other ushers, including three homosexuals.
One day, an usher named Wesley came to work and was eager to show me a photograph of himself from a transvestite revue at a club in Greenwich Village. He was dressed in a gown similar to one Audrey Hepburn wore in “My Fair Lady.” I honestly told him he looked stunning. He hugged me and invited me to see the show. I declined and admitted I would feel uncomfortable, which he understood.
My fleeting rapport with those three ushers to some extent opened my eyes to their lifestyle. Despite their sexual orientation, we shared a love of old movies and the ability to poke fun at each other without resorting to bitterness.
As you would expect, in the days leading before the marriage equality vote in Albany, Christian groups, including the Catholic Church, Bible thumpers and others, lobbied legislators against supporting it and chimed in that same sex marriages would “spoil the moral fabric of our nation.” Archbishop Timothy Dolan said marriage equality constituted an “ominous threat” to all that is good and decent.
Condemnation of gay marriage, especially by the Catholic Church, smacks of a double standard. Has the archbishop forgotten that his Church has yet to duly atone for overtly ignoring and covering up decades of priest pedophilia? Surely, the thousands of young men physically abused and psychologically scarred have not.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the new law is “a historic triumph for equality and freedom” and comes at the ideal time.
On this July Fourth in New York, it’s gratifying that same-sex marriage has been sanctioned — though some Americans will never accept the homosexual way of life and the Defense of the Marriage Act denies federal recognition of same sex marriages. When the milestone legislation takes effect, every New Yorker, regardless of gender, will be entitled to the cherished equality sought and attained by our Founding Fathers 235 years ago.
For a country proud of its freedom and independence that repeatedly pushes those principles on other nations, some Americans are awfully discriminatory, particularly when it comes to homosexuality that is merely an individual choice with which they disagree.
The Marriage Equality Act ends discrimination against gay men and women in New York and adds more meaning to the phrase: Liberty and Justice for all.

Discovering Dangers of the Sun’s Rays—The Hard Way (June 23, 2011)

Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the streets — as well as lying out in the sun and getting a tan. While the former may be exhilarating and the latter may be a good idea for a short-term cosmetic enhancement, it increases your chances of getting wrinkles, and it can be harmful — even lethal.
Those who crave a seasonal tan may not realize that the sun’s rays could eventually cause skin cancer. The disease may not show up for few years, but there’s a chance it’ll develop in your lifetime.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), sun exposure is the biggest cause of skin cancers, but early diagnosis and treatment increases the survival rate from advanced melanoma. However, in the later stages, treatment may be too late.
I learned that a few years ago when I was diagnosed and treated for low-level skin cancer. The dermatologist told me my condition was likely due to prolonged exposure as a child. Before I reached my teens, I spent many summer days on the beach at Bay 18 in Coney Island with friends, family and neighbors. Wearing bathing suits and covered with liberal amounts of suntan lotion to prevent sunburn, we swam, played games, built the occasional sand castle and had lots of fun. But, at the time, the public was generally oblivious to the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.
In high school, I spent many more than a few summer vacation days with friends at Manhattan Beach or Riis Park. We usually went to the Queens beach after a few hours of 18-hole three-par golf — in the sun without sunscreen. So, before the dangers of skin cancer were widely known, my body absorbed dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays that gradually transformed cells in my body.
Since I was diagnosed with skin cancer and conscious of it, I regularly inspect myself for new cancer growths.
Did you know it is the most common of all human cancers? Some form of skin cancer is diagnosed in more than one million Americans each year, according to the American Cancer Society. The number of cases has spiked in the last decade, which may be attributed to the increased use of tanning beds.
My first genuine awareness came about 25 years ago when a co-worker, who had taken a day off for a “minor medical procedure,” returned and said she had a small cancerous lesion removed from her face. She explained that her doctor advised her from then on to wear a wide-brimmed hat whenever she went out in the sun. After that I began to take more care when I exposed myself to the sun. I stopped sunning on my terrace. I often wore a t-shirt at the beach or a pool, even with a substantial dose of sunscreen. Yet, until my skin cancer was detected, I still didn’t use adequate protection.
Skin cancer can also be fatal. My condition really sunk in 2008 when Danny Federici, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, died three years after he was diagnosed with melanoma. However, like many cancers, when treated in their early stages, the survival rate is high.
Last week, after a 33-year delay, the federal government issued new, safer guidelines for sunscreen manufacturers, who apparently had been making false claims about their products and ingredients. Nevertheless, they don’t take effect until next summer; most likely to give sunscreen makers time to alter formulas and containers.
The best way to prevent melanoma is to avoid excess sun exposure because a tan is only skin deep, but cancer starts below the surface and may not be detected until it’s too late.

Palin the Patriot Has Her Own Version of U.S. History (June 16, 2011)

  Listen my children and you shall hear…the dopiest revision of American history you’ll ever read.
Sarah Palin, the folksy ex-governor of Alaska and former vice presidential candidate, was recently on a bus tour of historic east coast locations — with her family and the media in tow — possibly trying to gauge her chances of becoming the GOP’s candidate to run against Barack Obama in 2012. She has yet to formally a commit, but as she mingled with the masses on this trip, and other signs, including hiring a staff of advisors, it indicates Palin may be weighing a decision to join the growing slate of potential Republican candidates.
Democrats may be salivating over the latter option, even though Palin polls near the top in recent surveys, because with her as the GOP or possibly a third party challenger, it would easily allow them to remain in the White House for another four years if Palin was the Great Right Hope.
Promoted as the “One Nation Tour to educate and energize Americans about our nation’s founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America,” Palin did little to educate anyone when she was in Boston two weeks ago. When asked about Paul Revere’s famous “midnight ride” to warn of approaching British forces, the former Alaska governor’s response left historians dumbfounded and made her the butt of jokes, although it kept her in the media spotlight — something she seems to crave — for a day or two.
A few loyal supporters even rushed to Wikipedia — the Web Site where anyone can write whatever they damn well please, regardless of truth or consequences on any person or subject — to edit the Paul Revere page to justify Palin’s mangled explanation of the silversmith’s famous 1775 ride. The new version read that Revere did not say “The British are coming” because most people at the time considered themselves British. The edit was reportedly quickly reversed.
Incidentally, this trip is an obvious self-promotion tour — as she employs her talent for media manipulation — and a possible prelude to a Palin presidential run next year. However, her daughter Piper seemed to scold the media when they questioned her mother during a stop at Gettysburg. The girl said something like, “Leave us alone, you’re spoiling our vacation.”
A conscientious mother should have turned to the girl and said, “Honey, this may be your summer vacation, but it’s not mine, so please be respectful to reporters even when they are mean.”
Now that she’s defended her revisionist history remarks, if the former governor, who studied political science in college, abstains from presidential politics this time around, maybe she will teach a course aptly titled, “Sarah Palin’s Revised American History 101.”
When the subject of The War of 1812 comes up, maybe she’ll inform students it should actually be known as the American Revolution Part II, since the enemy was still the British.
The Civil War, in Palin’s assessment, may not have primarily been about ending slavery, but rather about making cotton the official American fabric.
And, in her mind, the internment of Japanese citizens in WWII was justified to avoid sushi from becoming a national favorite, instead of hamburgers, hot dogs and mom’s apple pie.
She might tell students we only lost the War in Vietnam because we pulled out when we figured North Vietnam had a better chance of reuniting their own country than we did by prolonging the war.
Public speakers and politicians have sporadic gaffes, but Sarah Palin’s blunders are too frequent — especially for one who aspires for the highest elected office in the land. As a vice presidential candidate in the 2008 campaign, her recurring misstatements became regular fodder for liberals, comedians and talk show hosts. In 2011, her slip ups are still a source for jokes.
To satisfy her inflated ego, Palin the Patriot might also twist the words of the 35th president’s most familiar quote: “Let me remind you what President John Fitzgibbon Kennedy told every American: Ask not what I can do for my country, but what I can do for myself. You betcha!”
Talk about America going to heck in a hand basket, if someone with the apparent lack of aptitude of Sarah Palin can emerge and remain an influential figure, it draws attention to the sad state of American politics.

Obama in Border War Over Out-Of-Context Quote (June 9, 2011)

   The furor about Israel returning to its 1967 borders has quieted down in the last few weeks, but it came to mind Sunday as I watched the Celebrate Israel Parade march up Fifth Avenue and listened as onlookers along the route debated the issue.
Naturally, the dispute remains a critical concern for Israel — and for a degree of peace in the region — even as the uprisings of the Arab Spring look like they’ll last into summer.
The debate cropped up after President Barrack Obama recently made references to the borders and not only caused a ruckus, but also unwarranted criticism. In the first place, what he said was previously accepted by two predecessors — Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — and never resulted in such an uproar. Secondly, the knee-jerk reaction was based solely on a portion of Obama’s remarks that was taken out of context. When you read the entire quote, it clearly includes words that did not imply that Israel should cede territory it won in its 1967 victory over Egypt.
The President said the borders of Israel and Palestine “should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” (Emphasis is mine because this is the part most people overlooked or refused to acknowledge.) That point has been understood for years by both parties in these negotiations and by anybody who has kept abreast of these talks. Obama clearly realizes Israel’s security is paramount and articulated it in his remarks and reiterated that after he was criticized.
Israel has been asked to negotiate, compromise and trust a regime that has constantly refused to recognize its right to exist. Nonetheless, those who support Israel and also feel the Palestinians deserve a state know that for Israel to accept a Palestinian state, which many Israelis now favor, in order to achieve practical coexistence, must come with guarantees for the Jewish state’s security and its unconditional right to exist.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially appeared outraged over President Obama’s suggestion that Israel and Palestine borders should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, but in his congressional address the next day, he actually made the same suggestion.
When interviewed on NBC the day after Obama’s speech, Netanyahu pointed out, “If you listened to (Obama’s) statement, he said that the line would be different from the 1967 line. And I think that was an important emphasis on the president’s part.”
The PM also noted, “…the reason we don’t have peace is the Palestinians have refused to accept a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state… “Two years ago, I told my people I would accept a Palestinian state. Now, President Abbas has to say these six words to his people, ‘I will accept the Jewish state.’ I’ll give him a break, five words — ‘I accept the Jewish state.’”
That is the crux of the dispute and Israel will not make any concessions until the head(s) of the Palestinian government acquiesce on this matter.
If Israel agrees to the borders that existed in 1967, it should only do so when the proposed state of Palestine agrees to keep the new boundaries secure and promises to condemn any one or group that attempts to disturb whatever peace results from these tricky negotiations.
Mark Twain once remarked, “No…nation occupies a foot of land that was not stolen.”
As the ongoing talks between Israel and Palestine proceed, it is vital that both sides — and the United States — remember that or they will perpetually be engaged in a state of war. And that would not do either side any good.
Some of Israel’s allies and supporters may prefer the borders that existed in 1967, but that would not be the shrewdest option and would only delay any chance for giving peace a chance — not replace the current, defensible boundaries.
Israel must make some painful compromises and detours on the road to a pragmatic peace. But, for that to happen, Israel must have absolute guarantees that whoever governs a Palestinian state will abide by security of the borders in any agreement that is accepted.
And, despite what his critics think, that was the heart of President Obama’s remarks and crucial to his unwavering support for Israel.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dissenting Speech Must Not Be Silenced-Even Now (October 11, 2001)

 This column was awarded Honorable Mention in the National Newspaper Association’s 2002 Contest for “Best Serious Column” for a small, non-daily newspaper.
Within days after a stunned nation responded with an outbreak of patriotism to the horrific September 11th terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, few seemed to care about political correctness.
For several days it seemed inappropriate not to mention un-American to take pot shots at or denounce political leaders who were trying to guide the nation through the devastating trauma. Nevertheless, there arose a few small pockets of criticism and protests that were swiftly rebuked.
While there was scant attention paid to these insensitive remarks and minor protests as the nation was awash in red, white and blue, it did, however, underscore the nation’s revered right of free speech. Televangelist Jerry Falwell and talk show host/comedian Bill Maher used their respective forums to express personal opinions that were as unwelcome as they were untimely in the aftermath of such tragic events.
When Falwell, a staunch conservative and Christian fundamentalist, addressed an audience and listeners on a nationally syndicated television show, he blamed certain groups — homosexuals, the American Civil Liberties Union, pro-abortionists and Hollywood liberals, among them — by implying that terrorist attacks was some kind of divine retribution for the nation’s corrupt culture. But, even some of his most loyal supporters joined the subsequent storm to condemn his remarks.
As smoke and ashes still fill the air at Ground Zero a week after the Twin Towers collapsed, Maher said on his late night network show, “Politically Incorrect,” that it was “cowardly for the U.S. to be lobbing missiles from thousands of miles away,” while condoning the terrorist hijackers for remaining faithful to their cause.
The comedian later clarified his comments, which he said were directed at politicians, not the military, but the explanation came too late. Two corporate sponsors withdrew national advertising and several network affiliates refused to carry Maher’s show, which was eventually canceled.
Despite the clarification, and whether or not you agree with Maher or Falwell, they each had the absolute right to express their opinions.
A White House spokesman obviously ignored the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech when he denounced Maher and warned Americans “to watch what they say” in these critical times.
Last week, before the first bombs were dropped on Afghanistan, small groups, holding signs with the familiar peace symbol of the 60s antiwar movement on them, began sprouting on college campuses — time-honored centers of antigovernment opposition — across the country to express dissatisfaction with the anticipated retaliation and to blame American for its current woes due to decades of misguided foreign policy.
While most Americans undoubtedly sneered at these demonstrations, as well as Falwell and Maher’s remarks, it would be terribly unjustified to prohibit or even limit their statements, as well of others of that nature, now or in the future. We are, after all, defending that and other freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights.
Actually, some of our guaranteed freedoms have already been subtly — and not so subtly — curtailed as we are subjected to a coast-to-coast lockdown in anticipation of more attacks.
In and around New York City, and in or near government buildings and airports nationwide, security is as tight as hard-to-open over-the-counter bottles of pain killers — as it should be for the present. For days, National Guard troops have been posted at bridges, tunnels and transportation hubs across the city as officials said this week New Yorkers  — and all Americans  — should get used to living in an atmosphere of heightened security.
Martial law, dusk-to-dawn curfews, street closures, random searches of vehicles and personal effects have yet to be introduced, but strategic checkpoints manned by military personnel or law enforcement officers may become commonplace in Manhattan to thwart additional threats.
Yet, even as we accept our freedoms being curbed — in order to preserve them — we cannot question the right of a few to express their opinions.
Right now, halfway across the world our military forces are engaged in a campaign to protect the American way of life that recently suffered a shocking setback.
In our dogged determination, as we revile and condemn minority voices opposed to majority views, they must never be silenced. If that’s sanctioned, victory in the war against terrorism will not only be hollow, but would adversely affect the fundamental rights our forefathers deemed crucial to this nation’s foundation.

Monday, October 3, 2011

DMV Eye Exams: No You See ’Em, Now You Don’t; Now You Do (September 30, 2011)

After a chorus of disapproval over safety concerns, New York swiftly reinstated vision tests for more than two million drivers who renew licenses each year; at least until a medical advisory board determines the best way to check drivers’ eyesight, according to New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara Fiala.

That announcement came less than 48 hours after a statement about a plan to end the tests would have taken effect on October 5th and given individuals the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their vision.
Under that set up, drivers applying for renewal would essentially be permitted to self-certify that their eyes were fine. Regardless of whether or not the exam is abolished, those applying for the first time or for a commercial license must still get their eyes tested.
The DMV initially defended its proposal citing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for shaking up state government waste. But I doubt the reforms include jeopardizing public safety.
To think that this almost happened seems strange after state legislators toughened seat belt laws and enacted regulations in recent years that curb distracted driving. Safety was a paramount concern when those rules were passed, so why take a step back to eliminate something that, in some cases, might put pedestrians or other drivers at risk? Besides, the eye test at a DMV or doctor’s office only takes a few minutes.
In any case, I’ve don’t think there’s any data that demonstrates one’s eyesight improves with age. And deteriorating vision may be one of the factors why some older drivers, and perhaps younger ones, get into accidents.
According to statistics gathered in a five-year study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, accident rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65. Furthermore, from 75 to 84, the rate of about three deaths per 100 million miles driven is equal to the death rate of teenage drivers. For drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate skyrockets to nearly four times higher than that for teens.
Despite that data, teens, who, as a rule, get more attention when they’re involved in accidents where the cause is distracted driving, alcohol or excessive speed, have been targeted by lawmakers in the form of increased restrictions. However, elderly drivers tend to be overlooked, thanks in large part to powerful lobbies, like the AARP, which has more than 35 million members nationwide.
Nevertheless, it is time to address the issue for America’s graying population.
When it was first announced that drivers would no longer be required to take eye exams for a license renewal, I was surprised, but a little thrilled since my license is up for renewal in November. I was prepared to have my eyes examined and wasn’t too worried that my vision deteriorated since my last eye test a year ago. Fortunately, my basic vision problem is farsightedness, so I don’t need no stinkin’ glasses when I drive. The state requires a driver to have 20-40 vision or better with or without corrective lenses.
I‘ve worn glasses to read for the last 20 years, yet I don’t need them for watching television, when I go to a movie, a concert or a sporting event. Or while driving. Behind the wheel, I see road signs clearly enough from a distance to be forewarned about an approaching exit or route or alerted about a hazard.
If eye tests are eventually abolished, let’s hope it doesn’t raise a red flag on road safety at car insurance companies that might give them a new reason – not that they ever need one – to raise rates for New York drivers.
Despite nearing my “golden years” with concern over health and safety, I strongly support AARP’s efforts not to allow states to impose explicit rules for older drivers. Some seniors relish the independence that comes with getting behind the wheel to travel, visit relatives and friends or just to relax. As long as they obey the  rules of the road those experiences should continue to be safe and sound.
On the other hand, seniors who are involved in accidents more frequently as they age should be required to undergo more scrutiny to insure our streets and highways are as safe as possible for everyone; whether or not they’ll be required to take regular eye exams.
There are dozens of unnecessary government operations the state needs to reform or eliminate, DMV eye tests is not one of them.