Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Terrance Breaks It Down On Money, Marriage & Race

In a piece of writing which is destined for wider recognition, TerranceDC of Republic of T posts a diary to entitled "Money, Marriage & Race" where he clearly and forcefully articulates why the impact of the denial of equal marriage rights is a pressing issue for people of color.
And before you start in on "legal documents," remember Lisa Kebreau and Mikolle Mozelle spent $6,000 on legal documents to give them just a few of the rights that heterosexuals can get for the cost of a marriage license and a short wait. The cost of a marriage license is $55 in my area of Maryland, and the wait is about three days. That and a blood test gets you about 1,040 federal rights and protections in addition to whatever you get from the state. And those rights, the federal ones at least, will follow you anywhere you go. Marry in Maryland, and you're married in Mississippi, Montana, Mexico, and Moldavia. And no matter what happens, you don't even have to draw up so much as a will, because your spouse will automatically inherit a portion of your estate. (Business licenses in your name are inheritable too, as part of those 1,040+ rights and protections you got for $55 and a 3-day waiting period.)

By contrast Kebreau and Mozelle spent something like 109 times the cost of a marriage license, for legal documents that get them a tenuous hold on maybe three of the 1000+ benefits and protections of marriage, and the process of drawing up their documents probably took more than three days. And even then there's no guarantee those documents will be recognized or honored when presented at the hospital, as happened to Bill Flanigan. And the few rights you may secure at a much higher price, you must leave at the state line if you so much as take an overnight trip or a vacation, because you can't take them with you. So, if you're gay, you pay more, wait longer, and get less. And what you get may turn out to be nothing, but you won't know that until you really need it. Nevermind that some states have tried to nullify even those few meager, shaky legal protections. Meanwhile, you keep contributing to Social Security, pensions, and health insurance your partner can't share or inherit; basically subsidizing heterosexuals who do get all the rights and protections of marriage, at a discount compared to what the "gay tax" gets you.

You really should go read the entire thing. Right now.

REVIEW: Little Children

Todd Field's Little Children is a fascinating little film. This is his first film since his debut In The Bedroom which was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture five years ago. What both of Field's films have in common is that they are highly emotional, intricately plotted movies built around relationships between a few main characters. Field wrote, directed and produced both films and has been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for both films. In the Bedroom featured tour-de-force acting from Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei. Sadly, the acting in Little Children is not as spectacular.

However, Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley both earned Oscar nominations for Field's latest cinematic outing. Patrick Wilson's cheekbones, cleft chin and full lips sadly were sadly not recognized by the Academy, though well appreciated by this reviewer. Jennifer Connelly (Best Supporting Actress, A Beautiful Mind) is consistently alluring as Wilson's working wife who doesn't suspect her studying-for-the-bar, stay-at-home husband may be wandering.

In fact wandering is a central theme of the film. Both Winslet's and Wilson's character wander through life somewhat aimlessly, and eventually fall into each other. Another theme is voyeurism. The audience is encouraged to be voyeurs (literally) as we watch the beautiful bronzed body of Patrick Wilsom couple with Kate Winslet's pale pulchritudinous form. A comically booming narrator enhances the sense that the audience is o n the outside looking in on these curious sububraban characters. The main subplot of the film involves Haley's character, who is a convicted child molester , goes to the municipal pool with a snorkel and mask so he can ogle little children under the surface of the water.


Monday, February 26, 2007

REPORT: Williams Institute's National Update on Sexual Orientation

The Los Angeles Times reports about the Williams Institute's 6th Annual Update on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy in today's edition with an article coyly entitled "UCLA to establish unique law chair." The story is about a 1-million-dollar gift to the UCLA School of Law to establish the McDonald/Wright Professorship in Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy by a well-known gay philanthropic couple. John McDonald and Rob Wright had previously given $100,000 to the Williams Institute to support its judicial education and training program and years ago in 1996 had given $1.5 million to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center to refurbish its headquarters building, which was renamed the McDonald/Wright building.

MadProfessah attended the cocktail reception in the Darling Library of the UCLA Law School at which the announcement of the establishment of the nation's first endowed academic chair in sexual orientation law and public policy was made. Also in attendance were many of the nation's leading scholars in the field: Yale Law's William B. Eskridge, UCLA Law Professors Brad Sears, William B. Rubenstein and Russell Robinson, USC's David Cruz, Williams Institute benefactor Charles R. Williams, Lambda Legal's Jenny Pizer, Alphonso David and Jon Davidson as well as Freedom To Marry's Evan Wolfson.

Also announced at the reception were the winners of the 3rd Annual National Sexual Orientation Law Moot Court Competion, the final round of which was judged by two sitting Justices of the Washington State Supreme Court (Barbara Madsen and Susan Owens) and members of the "infamous" Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals (Raymond Fisher). MadProfessah had been a volunteer judge in the first two rounds and took the picture above of the final round on Friday February 23rd.

2007 Oscars Results

MadProfessah correctly predicted 7 out of 8 of the top 2007 Academy Awards.

Best Picture: The Departed
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Best Original Screenplay Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
Best Adapted Screenplay William Monahan, The Departed

Films winning multiple Oscars were:
The Departed 4 Oscars (Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Editing)
Pan's Labyrinth 3 Oscars (Art Direction, Cinematography, Makeup)
An Inconvenient Truth 2 Oscars (Song, Documentary)
Dreamgirls 2 Oscars (Supporting Actress, Sound Mixing)
Little Miss Sunshine 2 Oscars (Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay)

The biggest surprises of the evening were Arkin's win over Murphy (Norbit, anyone?), Germany's The Lives of Others win over Mexico's Pan's Labyrinth and Dreamgirls loss in Best Costume Design to Marie Antoinette.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dreamgirls Producers Apologize to Motown!

MadProfessah has been following the story of tension between Dreamgirls and the legendary Motown record label for weeks, which was recently fueled by Smokey Robinson's comments. The studio behind the hit film Dreamgirls is David Geffen's DreamWorks Pictures (which Geffen sold to Paramount Pictures last year). A few days ago the studio took out full-page ads (hat tip to blogger Clay Cane for the image above) in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter essentially apologizing to Smokey and Motown:
"Dreamgirls is a work of fiction. It is also an homage to Motown.

"For any confusion that has resulted from our fictional work, we apologize to Mr. Gordy and all of the incredible people who were part of that great legacy.

"It is vital that the public understand that the real Motown story has yet to be told."
The response from Berry Gordy, founder and driving force behind Motown, was magnaminous in victory. "I applaud DreamWorks and (parent company) Paramount Pictures for doing their part to clearly differentiate the fictional movie Dreamgirls from the real Motown. I wish them all the best in the forthcoming Academy Awards."

What is curious about the producer's apology is that it came out after all Oscar ballots had been returned so it could not have had any impact on Oscar voting. Although Dreamgirls has 8 Oscar nominations, it is only up for awards in 6 categories, since it has 3 Best Song nominations (which actually may hurt its chances of winning in that area). However with Jennifer Hudson the prohibitive favorite to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar tonight for her portrayal of Effie White and Eddie Murphy my pick for Best Supporting Actor it is very likely that Dreamgirls will be certified an Oscar-winning classic tomorrow.

On another note, tongues are wagging about E! Television's decision to invite Jennifer Holiday, the singer who originated the role of Effie in the Broadway version of the musical over 20 years ago and who won a Tony and Grammy for her stunning rendition of "And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)", to perform the song on the red carpet hours before the Oscars are given out later on today.

REVIEW: Letters from Iwo Jima

I finally got around to seeing Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima last Sunday night after the film I was going to see (Rag Tag, a British film about a romace between a Nigerian boy and a West Indian boy in London) at the Pan African Film Festival got its screening time postponed from 7:10pm to 11:10pm suddenly.

Anyway, although I am generally a fan of Clint Eastwood's films (I agreed with the Academy two years ago that Million Dollar Baby should win Best Picture ahead of The Aviator, Sideways, Ray and Finding Neverland (or as the other half likes to call this last one, "the pretty mommy dying of cancer movie.") However I completely disagreed with the kudos heaped upon Mystic River since I think it's a bad adaptation of a pedestrian novel. I just saw The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for the first time last weekend on television and although some people think that's the Best Western ever made I would put my money on the Eastwood-directed Unforgiven. It can't be denied that three Best Directing (and Best Picture) nominations in four years is pretty impressive. However, again I must dissent from the kudos showered upon an Eastwood picture, this time it's Letters from Iwo Jima.

The premise sounds promising, especially after stinking up the joint with Flags of our Fathers, Clint decided to tell the story of the famous World War II battle from the perspective of the Japanese combatants. For me the script (by newcomer Iris Yamashita and Paul "the man" Haggis) is predictable and sloppy. The audience goes into the film with the knowledge that almost all of the Japanese soldiers must die, but it is very clear that one particular soldier must survive since the film follows him so closely. The screenplay loses credibility and reduces verisimilitude by saving the life of this soldier not once, not twice, but three times through too-neatly timed coincidental interventions.

My other complaint is that the film is quite bloody and explicitly violent, which, yes, is an unusal complaint for war movie. We already know "war is hell" and we don't need images of bloody body parts and badly mauled corpses to confirm this.

The most interesting aspect of the film to me was the depiction of the different mental states and psychologies of the Japanese. They ran the gamut from the officers who desperately wanted to kill themselves with their "honor" intact, to soldiers who were just mindlessly following orders to soldiers who just did not want to die.

Although it is refreshing to see a World War II movie where Americans do not play the central or starring role Letters from Iwo Jima still disappoints on other levels.



I finally got around to seeing Babel this long weekend. It was the last of the Best Picture nominees that I saw and this may have influenced my impressions of the film. I am generally a fan of the director Alejandro González Iñárritu's work. I loved his films Amores Perros and 21 Grams, which were also both written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed and produced by González Iñárritu.

Babel has the now-familiar structure of seemingly unrelated stories following a particular theme with characters whose relatedness the audience has to figure out during the course of the film.

The four stories are: a member of a bereaved American couple (played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett)visiting Morocco gets hit by a stray bullet, two young Moroccan brothers who try to alleviate their goat tending boredom by firing a long range rifle at a faraway tourist bus, a deaf-mute Japanese teenaged girl (played by Best Supporting Actress nominee Rinko Kicuchi) who is estranged from her recently widowed father and desperately seeking intimate (male) attention from strangers in Tokyo and two very young white children who live in San Diego go on a road trip with their Mexican nanny/housekeeper (played by Best Supporting Actress nominee Adriana Barraza) to her son's wedding across the border in Tijuana with her irresponsible nephew (played by hottie and González Iñárritu favorite Gael Garcia Bernal) at the wheel.

As you may have noticed, one of these stories is not like the other: the Japanese teen angst story. The other arcs follow the travails of innocents who are put into mortal peril due to circumstances beyond their control (a stray bullet through the tour bus window hits Cate Blanchett's character, the two boys are caught up in an anti-terrorist militaristic response by the investigating Moroccan authorities and the two kids and caregiver are abandoned in the deadly Mexican desert due to some questionable behavior by Garcia Bernal's character. I am pretty sure the fourth story was included so that the director and writer could include Japanese sign-language as a mode of communication displayed in the film, enhancing it's multicultural bona fides by supplementing the more prosaic languages of (American) English, Spanish, Japanese and Arabic which had already been included.

The score by Gustavo Santaolalla (Best Score Oscar for Brokeback Mountain) is quite interesting and inventive with a sonic palette which includes Mexican hip-hop, Japanese disco, Moroccan vocal pieces as well as his own signature evocative string arrangements. I particularly mention the music because there are many significant scenes of the film without dialogue where the score communicates the emotion of the moment.

All in all, though it's hard to say what Babel means in the end. I believe the inclusion of the fourth story dilutes the narrative impact of the film. I sort of agree with what one wag said on public radio: "Babel should get an award for most directing in a film" (and that's not really a compliment).


Saturday, February 24, 2007

REVIEW: The Departed

I saw Martin Scorsese's The Departed in mid-December at the second-run Regency Academy Theaters in Pasadena.

The first thing I noticed about this film is how overwhelmingly white (some would say aggressively racist) it is. The very first lines of voice-over dialogue by 3-time Academy Award winner Jack Nicholson casually includes the word "n-gg-r" and other racially derogatory epithets (I think "sp-c" and "w-p" were also included). It's difficult to recall a single Black face in the entire movie.

One of the central themes of William Monahan's Oscar-nominated adaptation of the Hong Kong action thriller Infernal Affairs (2002) is tribalism. This theme manifests itself in a variety of incarnations. Just some of the examples which leap to mind are cops versus robbers, "good guys" versus "bad guys," crooked cops versus decent cops, college-educated versus street smart, Irish versus non-Irish, "us" versus "them."

The story follows Billy Costigan (Leonardo Dicaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) as two South Boston boys who join the Massachusetts State Police and follow parallel but divergent career paths. Damon's character becomes a rapidly rising star of the department and joins an elite Special Investigations Unit led by Alec Baldwin while secretly reporting to Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello, the all-powerful neighborhood mob boss. Dicaprio's character takes on a special deep undercover assignment in Costello's crime syndicate under the aegis of two decent cops, Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignan (Mark Wahlberg). Queenan and Dignan are the only people on the Massachusetts State Police Force who know Costigan's true identity as a police informant.

The symmetric nature of the two main characters, a cop who is undercover with the mob (Dicaprio) and a cop who is undercover for the mob (Damon) is fascinating to watch. Of course the two characters are connected via common acquaintances: mob boss Frank Costello, and police psychiatrist (and love interest) played by Vera Farmigia. Farmigia's role is particularly shallowly written. As the other half put it, her character is not really a person, she is a trope for the notion that "women can see through into the core of a man's soul." Farmigia's character's understanding of the nature of her boyfriend's character is a barometer of the film's choice between the Costigan (Dicaprio) and Sullivan (Damon) characters.

The acting is excellent throughout with particularly outstanding performances by Wahlberg (he actually grew up in South Boston and has the most authentic accent in the entire large cast, because it's absolutely real), Damon, Dicaprio and Nicholson.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Situation in Nigeria Appears Grim For Gays and Lesbians

Rod 2.0 and Doug Ireland have been doing excellent work covering the ongoing story of draconian, homophobic legislation winding its way through the Nigerian Parliament. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2006 (pdf) would not only prohibit same-sex marriage but any expression of pro-gay sentiment in the country. As Doug Ireland calls it "the world's worst anti-gay law" on his blog:
Homosexual conduct among consenting persons in Nigeria is already a crime
punishable by 14 years in prison, a 19th century penal provision that is alegacy of British colonial rule. But the new legislation goes much, much further in terms of curbing fundamental rights of expression, association, and communication. Among the proposed new law’s many noxious provisions, it would, under penalty of a stiff prison term of five years:

— outlaw membership in a gay group, attending a gay meeting or protest, donating money to a gay organization; or even advocating gay equality in any way, shape, or form;

— outlaw hosting or even visiting a gay Web site;

— outlaw expressions of same-sex love in letters or e-mails;

— outlaw attending a same-sex marriage or blessing ceremony, screening or watching a gay movie, taking or possessing photos of a gay couple, and publishing, selling, or loaning a gay book or video.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has issued a report documenting the response by Nigerians to this proposed anti-gay legislation. The blog Political Spaghetti has particularly detailed coverage of the response of activists to the proposed law.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Oh Canada!

Oh, Canada! I just love that progressive country to the North. Here's another reason: Canada's conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates announced a multi-million dollar commitment to HIV vaccine research this week. The Canadian government will invest over 111 million U.S. dollars matched with $28 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a facility in Canada to test HIV vaccines. “This collaborative effort between Canada’s New Government and the Gates Foundation will contribute to the global effort to develop a safe, effective, affordable, and globally accessible HIV vaccine,” said the Prime Minister.

Wimbledon Announces Equal Prize Money For Men and Women

The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon issued a press release today announcing that they have agreed to offer equal prize money to men and women starting with the 2007 Championships.

Announcing the decision, Tim Phillips, Chairman of the All England Club, said: “Tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete in the same event at the same time. We believe our decision to offer equal prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognises the enormous contribution that women players make to the game and to Wimbledon. We hope it will also encourage girls who want a career in sport to choose tennis as their best option. In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon.”

Phillips continued: “When Wimbledon pioneered Open Tennis in 1968, the Men’s Singles Champion, Rod Laver, won £2,000, while Billie Jean King, the Ladies’ Singles Champion, won £750, only 37.5% of the men’s prize.

“Over the years, we have progressively increased the ladies’ prize money, so that last year Amélie Mauresmo, the Ladies’ Champion, received £625,000 – 95% of the money received by Roger Federer, the Men’s Champion.
The reaction from the players to the news of Wimbledon's decision to end explicit sex discrimination in prize money has been swift and uniformly positive. Venus Williams (Ladies' Champion 2000, 2001, 2005) said "The greatest tennis tournament in the world has reached an even greater height today. I applaud today's decision by Wimbledon, which recognises the value of women's tennis. The 2007 Championships will have even greater meaning and significance to me and my fellow players."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

UCLA Law School's Williams Institute Hosts Moot Court Finals Today

As careful readers may recall from a few weeks ago, MadProfessah was a guest judge at the 3rd Annual National Sexual Orientation Moot Court Competition run by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School. The finals will be held today, Friday February 23rd at 4:30pm in Room 1327 of Dodd Hall. The two teams competing will be from New York University School of Law and University of Connecticut Law School. The case involves a constitutional challenge to the hypothetical state of New Texico's adoption statute which provides a fatal disadvantage to same-sex couples who have lived together for at least six months.

The finals will be held as part of the Williams Institute's 6th Annual Sexual Orientation Law Update also happening today at UCLA Law School.

2007 Oscars Predictions

MadProfessah's Oscar nomination prediction accuracy rate in the Top 8 categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay) was an impressive 29 out of 40, or 72.5%. has a very cool Flash-powered game where you can enter EW's Oscars prediction contest. The awards ceremony will be hosted by Ellen Degeneres and broadcast next Sunday February 25th at 5pm from The Kodak Theater in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

Best Picture

Of course the major story here is what I like to call in my classes the Wideman question, i.e. "What's not here?" or "What's left out?" The answer is Dreamgirls! In my opinion, it was the Best Picture of the Year. Although I have seen a lot of movies in the last year, I only saw Babel and Letters from Iwo Jima in the last week but I can't say that I was overly impressed with either of these films enough to endorse their Best Picture worthiness.

If I go with the film that I enjoyed the most while watching it I would have to vote for Little Miss Sunshine though I must admit that I felt that there were moments of "Damn! That's good film making" while watching The Departed (for the intricacy of William Monahan's script), Babel (for the impact of Gustavo Santolalla's heart-tugging score) and The Queen (for the amazing Helen Mirren's transformation into Queen Elizabeth II). Sadly, I felt no transcendent moments while watching Letters from Iwo Jima ("Oscar voters snubbed Dreamgirls for this?" this weekend.

Anyway, many Oscar prognosticators have forecast a win by Babel for Best Picture on Sunday while others have gone for The Departed or Little Miss Sunshine. Anyway, Oscar ballots had to be in by Tuesday February 20th. Here are my picks:

SHOULD WIN: Little Miss Sunshine
WILL WIN: The Departed

Best Director

  • Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Stephen Frears, The Queen
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel
  • Martin Scorsese, The Departed
  • Paul Greengrass, United 93

    SHOULD WIN: Stephen Frears, The Queen
    WILL WIN: Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Best Actress

  • Penelope Cruz, Volver
  • Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
  • Helen Mirren, The Queen
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
  • Kate Winslet, Little Children

    SHOULD WIN: Helen Mirren, The Queen
    WILL WIN: Helen Mirren, The Queen

Best Actor

  • Leonardo Dicaprio, Blood Diamond
  • Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  • Peter O'Toole, Venus
  • Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
  • Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

    SHOULD WIN: Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
    WILL WIN: Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Supporting Actress

  • Adriana Barraza, Babel
  • Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
  • Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
  • Rinko Kicuchi, Babel

  • SHOULD WIN: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
    WILL WIN: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Best Supporting Actor

  • Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jackie Early Haley, Little Children
  • Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
  • Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
  • Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

    SHOULD WIN: Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
    WILL WIN: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Best Original Screenplay

  • Guilllermo Arriaga, Babel
  • Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis, Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Peter Morgan, The Queen
  • Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth

    SHOULD WIN: Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth
    WILL WIN: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Sacha Baron Cohen and Anthony Hines and Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer and Todd Phillips, Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Todd Field and Tom Perrota, Little Children
  • Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal
  • Alfonso Cuarón and Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, Children of Men
  • William Monahan, The Departed

    SHOULD WIN: William Monahan, The Departed
    WILL WIN: William Monahan, The Departed

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

101 Must See Movies For Gay Men

Outfest is presenting a program called "101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men" Wednesday February 21 at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood at 7:30pm.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Do Gay Men Tip Better Than Others?

Kevin Drum at Political Animal one of my favorite blogs I have been remiss in keeping up wth recently (damned day job!) takes note of the phenomenon of attractive straight guys getting large tips from appreciative gay guys:

If you're a good looking straight guy in need of easy money, find a gay restaurant or bar and become a waiter or bar-tender. Gay men are great tippers, and they're even better tippers if you're hot. (Don't even think of getting tips from lesbians. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, look elsewhere.) I have a straight friend who made a small fortune as a deck-chair dude on the beach in Rehoboth. As so often, capitalism is the true corroder of prejudice

Sadly, the original post for Kevin's thought is from the execrable Andrew Sullivan, whose blog was the first one I ever found but haven't been back to since I found and the real liberal blogosphere.

Smokey Responds To Dreamgirls Criticism Reports

As Mad Professah blogged about last week, Smokey Robinson has been quoted in the press recently "dissing" Dreamgirls. In Sunday's Los Angeles Times Mr. Robinson has a letter to the editor published which reads:
MY comments in Chris Lee's Fast Tracks column ["Smokey Puts Film Under Fire," Feb. 4] made it sound as though I have particular issues with the cast of the movie "Dreamgirls." In particular Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx. I don't. I love and admire all of them. They are some of our brightest young stars. My prayer for them is that they continue to shine and reach orbital heights. I consider them to be my friends. I am very proud of what they have accomplished and wish them only continued success.

My issues have always only been with the creators and the makers of this film. Motown is an institution all Americans can be proud of and to see it distorted by someone who wasn't even there and who had nothing to do with it disturbs me.


Los Angeles
So, basically Smokey is saying that he's not speaking ill of fellow Black entertainers, just the evil White people who are behind the scenes exploiting them!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Amelie Beats Kim To Win $1.3M Diamond Racquet

Poor Venus Williams. It was just a mere two years ago that she was a mere four points (on her own serve!) away from winning the ultimate tennis bling statement, the Proximus Diamond Games Trophy in Antwerp, against Amélie Mauresmo. Venus had previously won the tournament in both 2002 and 2003 and so if she had won the title in 2005 she would have taken home the trophy encrusted with 108 diamonds and valued at over $1.3 million.

However, fast forward to 2007 and Amélie as won the 2005 and 2006 titles in Antwerp. She again played in the final, this time against local favorite Kim Clijsters playing her final professional tennis match in her home country of Belgium. Mauresmo defeated Clijsters 6-4, 7-6(4) to win her 3rd consecutive Proximus Diamond Games title (and thus the diamond trophy) in Antwerp. It was Mauresmo's 24th Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title.

The End Of A Heterosexual Protestant White Male Privilege?

Many high profile bloggers have been commenting on the results of this USA Today/Gallup poll about the electability of people who not heterosexual, christian white males:

Conducted 2/9-11; surveyed 1006 adults; margin of error
+/- 3% (release, 2/16).

If Your Party Nominated A Generally Well-Qualified Candidate
For WH '08 Who Was ___, Would You Vote For That Person?

Yes No
Catholic 95% 4%
Black 94 5
Jewish 92 7
A woman 88 11
Hispanic 87 12
Mormon 72 24
Married for third time 67 30
72 years old 57 42
A homosexual 55 43
An atheist 45 53

Comfort- With Would
able Reserv- Not
ations Vote

Black 84% 9% 5%
A woman 78 10 11
Mormon 58 14 24
72 years old 43 15 42
Married for
third time 54 13 30

Clearly what this means is that being Black is more electable than being female,
which means that Hillary Rodham Clinton's run for the presidency is more groundbreaking than Barack Obama, not that I'm ranking oppressions hierarchically or
anything. However, I do believe that the percentage of respondents who would approve of a President from a certain historically subordinated group is a reasonable measure of societal acculturation and assimilation of that group.

Another interesting conclusion from the poll is that prominent Republican presidential hopefuls like Mitt Romney (A Mormon), Rudy Giuliani (Married 3 times), Newt Gingrich (Married 3 times) and John McCain (Born August 29, 1936) begin their campaigns with significant electoral deficits.

I believe this is the first poll where a majority of Americans polled said they would vote for a gay ("homosexual") presidential candidate. Of course, what voters tell pollsters and what they do in the privacy of the poll booth do not always correlate. Regardless, at least the little boy Justin (played by Mark Indelicato) from Ugly Betty and other kids like him can follow his dream of being President one day!

Note also that a majority of Americans still would not vote for a declared Presidential candidate who doesn't believe in G-d. Sigh.

REVIEW: Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

On Valentine's Day the other half and I went and saw Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) in at the Edward's Renaissance Theaters in Alhambra. The film has been nominated for six Academy Awards (Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Makeup and Best Art Direction) and is one of the most highly regarded films of 2006. It won BAFTA Awards on Sunday February 11th for Best Costume Design, Best Hair & Makeup and Best Film Not in the English Language.

The story is set in 1944's Spain, during the civil war against Franco's fascist regime. A young child and her pregnant mother have come to visit the mountain outpost of a brutal captain in Franco's Army and wait for the birth of the girl's brother (and the captain's son). The girl's name is Ofelia and she likes to read fairy tales.... Outside the outpost lies an ancient labyrinth which Ofelia is led to explore more frequently as life becomes more and more difficult living under the same roof with the man her mother says she should call 'father' who is fighting an increasingly desperate struggle with the guerilla rebels in the surrounding hills.

Guillermo Del Toro, the director, screenwriter and producer of Pan's Labyrinth has been giving interviews to multiple media outlets. He is one of a trio of Mexican directors (Alfonso Cuarón of Children of Men and Alejandro González Iñárritu of Babel are the others) who have Oscar-nominated and widely acclaimed films in theaters right now. In one interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation with Del Toro I heard today he admits that he believes in monsters and explains that the character of Pan (El Fauno) in Pan's Labyrinth is ambiguous: it can be interpreted as both good and evil, gurdian angel and personal demon. Del Toro also says "The movie is a fable, and adult parable really between choice and disobedience, and how disobedience is the threshold of responsibility. And how it is necessary for all of us to assert disobedience, socially."

Some of the images in the film are indelibly etched on the mind's eye: the grotesquely huge frog, the creature with eyes in its palms, the beautiful thrones in the penultimate scene and the way the Faun moves throughout this amazing film.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Official NYC Condoms available...

As I blogged about earlier, New York City is branding the millions of free condoms it distributes to its residents each year. Bernie over at has the image of the condom package, just in time for VD, ummm, I mean Valentine's Day.

I think they are sort of cute. By going to the website you can order free condoms to be delivered to you, as needed. :-)

Friday, February 16, 2007

California Governor Says He'll Veto Marriage Equality Bill

Well, that didn't take long! February 11-17 is National Freedom To Marry Week and there have been many public events throughout the state and country raising the profile of the concept of marriage equality, i.e. the idea that single sex couples should have access to the rights and responsibilities of marriage. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger responded to a high school student's question yesterday asking about his position on pending legislation in the California legislature (AB 43) authored by Assemblymember Mark Leno which would end marriage discrimination in the state by saying:" "No. I wouldn't sign it because the people of California have voted on that issue." The Sacramento Bee report explains that "Schwarzenegger was referring to the passage of Proposition 22 in 2000 to limit marriage to a man and a woman." Unfortunately, neither the Governor nor the media seem to understand that the idea that the rights of a minority should be decided by majority vote is inherently unfair. Currently, the question of whether Proposition 22's passage and/or state law constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage is currently being litigated and is pending before the California Supreme Court, with a final decision to be released by the end of 2007.

MadProfessah believes that neither Proposition 22 nor current state law can withstand a constitutional challenge on the basis of California state constitutional jurisprudence which has a much stricter standard of prohibition of sex discrimination than the federal constitution provides.

However, even if the California court follows the lead of the Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey highest courts and acknowledges that discrimination against single sex couples in state-provided rights and responsibilities is wrong, heterosexual supremacists will place a constitutional amendment on one of the three statewide ballots in 2008 (February Presidential Primary, June Legislative Primary and November Presidential and Legislative Elections) to nullify the decision.

REVIEW: Notes on a Scandal

Went to the local multiplex at Edwards Renaissance Theaters in Alhambra, CA and saw Notes on a Scandal this past weekend. The movie stars Academy Award winners Dame Judi Dench (Best Supporting Actress, Shakespeare in Love) and Cate Blanchett (Best Supporting Actress, The Aviator) in an adaptation of Zoë Heller's Booker Prize-nominated novel What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal by Patrick Marber (Academy Award nominee for Closer). These principals are all nominated for 2007 Oscars, as is Phillip Glass for his evocative score.

The story is of a toxic friendship between first-time art teacher Sheba Hart (played by Blanchett) and teaching veteran Barbara Covett (played by Dench) at a gritty, urban public school in North London. The plot follows a tragic personal mistake made by Sheba Hart to begin a sexual relationship with one of her 15-year old male students. The performances by the two leads are riveting to watch, and even the supporting roles are a pleasure to behold. The veteran British actor Bill Nighy (Love, Actually and more recently Pirates of the Caribbean) plays Sheba Hart's husband (and former professor). The young (born January 1, 1989) actor who plays Sheba Hart's romantic interest Steven Connolly who is an active and willing participant in the illicit affair is Andrew Simpson. He does an excellent job of portraying a boy who is mature enough to be involved with an adult much more than twice his age but not mature enough to know how to react when the situation becomes complicated. And things DO become complicated!

The movie has a visceral emotional impact and is compelling to watch, not unlike watching a car crash in slow motion involving people we care about but do not necessarily like. The audience knows what Sheba is doing is wrong, but Blanchett does an amazing job humanizing her character. Dench's character is such a repressed, self-deluded misanthrope that her job is more difficult: to get the audience to continue to watch and attempt to understand Barbara's motivation and actions without disgust. Both actresses succeed at their tasks magnificently. However, the end result is in the service of material which tends to sully the human spirit, not dignify it. Not that there's anything wrong with that.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reaction To Openly Gay Former NBA Player Intensifies

John Amaechi, a member of the NBA's Utah Jazz (2001-2003)and Orlando Magic (1999-2001) basketball teams has made headlines recently by coming out of the closet as gay and signing up to be a spokesperson for HRC's Coming Out Project. The 6'10" (November 26, 1970 in Boston, MA) Amaechi has a recently released autobiography entitled Man in the Middle detailing his childhood growing up in England and the path he took to playing professional basketball in the United States despite not picking up a basketball until age 17!

Black, gay heavy hitter blogs Rod at Rod 2.0, Pam at and Keith at have been following this story pretty carefully. A few days ago billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, issued a comment to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram where he claimed that an active NBA playing coming out of the closet would be a good career move.
"From a marketing perspective, if you're a player who happens to be gay and you want to be incredibly rich, then you should come out, because it would be the best thing that ever happened to you from a marketing and an endorsement perspective. You would be an absolute hero to more Americans than you can ever possibly be as an athlete, and that'll put money in your pocket.

On the flip side, if you're the idiot who condemns somebody because they're gay, then you're going to be ostracized, you're going to be picketed and you're going to ruin whatever marketing endorsements you have."
Yesterday, the plot thickened when another former NBA player (Miami Heat) Tim Hardaway gave an interview to a sports radio station where he said:
"First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team. And second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him. I don't think that he should be in the locker room while we're in the locker room. I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. Yeah, I'm homophobic. I don't like it. There shouldn't be a [place] in the world for that or in the United States for it. So I don't like it."
"Oh no he di'n't!" Oh yes, he did! The reaction to these blatantly homophobic remarks has been swift. Keith Boykin has said that Hardaway's "broadcasting career should come to a screeching halt. No apologies, no excuses, no rehab. Just fire his ass anywhere and everywhere he works with the media."

Hardaway issued a semblance of an apology to the Miami Fox affiliate WSVN later, saying: "Yes, I regret it. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said I hate gay people or anything like that. That was my mistake."

The National Basketball Association itself has stepped into the fray. NBA Commissioner David Stern cancelled all of Hardway's appearances on behalf of the basketball league which were set to happen this week around the All-Star Game in Las Vegas, Nevada this weekend. "It is inappropriate for him to be representing us given the disparity between his views and ours," said the NBA head in a statemement released to the media.

Gee, I guess GLAAD knew what it was doing when it created that position to monitor homophobia in sports that Mad Professah highlighted two weeks ago, eh?

Amaechi will be in Los Angeles soon, at the Santa Monica Barnes & Noble bookstore on Saturday February 24th at 2pm signing copies of his book.

California Senate Votes To Move Presidential Primary To Early February

The 2008 Presidential race is getting closer and closer. The California Senate voted 31-5 yesterday to send a bill authored by State Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) to the California Assembly. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he supports the measure.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Antonio Wants A Bigger One Than Gavin

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, fresh off his short-lived but much-noticed post-Grammy Award summit with Paris Hilton, yesterday announced plans to create a citywide free wireless internet service by 2009, called the L.A. WiFi Initiative.

"By giving every resident high-speed access, we will transform Los Angeles into a cutting-edge city across every neighborhood and every economic sector.


"LA WiFi will help us meet the technology needs of our world-class media and creative industries, give a leg up to small businesses, plug every neighborhood directly into the knowledge-based global economy and make computer training programs for students an after-school reality."
The plan, which the Los Angeles Times estimates would generally cost $125,000 per square mile per year to cover the 498 square miles of our fair city (for a grand total of $62 million annually), would be paid for by a public-private partnership between the City of Los Angeles and the network operators.
Of course, the part that Antonio likes is that his (city's wireless network) will be bigger than Mayor Gavin Newsom's (proposed wireless network, the implementation of which was delayed yesterday by a vote the San Francisco Board of Supervisors). So there!

Sci-Fi Channel Renews Battlestar Galactica

NBC Universal's SciFi Channel announced today that they have renewed Battlestar Galactica for a 4th season. The decision was generally expected, due to the widespread critical acclaim and multiple prestigious awards has received but ratings have always been modest. For the 3rd season SciFi moved the series to a new time (Sundays at 10pm) which is usually a signal that a television network's ardor towards a particular show is fading.

This is good news for science fiction fans who have been hit hard recently with SciFi's announced cancellation of Stargate SG-1.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Grammy Award surprises

Despite the surprising sweep by The Dixie Chicks in the Song, Record and Album of the Year categories, some Mad Professah faves did manage to take home Grammy awards on Sunday night. Jill Scott won in the Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance category for a collaboration with George Benson and Al Jarreau entitled "God Bless The Child." Madonna won for Best Dance/Electronic Album. Van Hunt won with John Legend and Joss Stone in the Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals category for covering "Family Affair" by Sly & The Family Stone.

As usual, the most common emotion I felt while watching the Grammy's was confusion, as in "Who are these people?" I doubt I will even know or care what happens at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards next year.

Monday, February 12, 2007

REVIEW: Blood Diamond

I saw a screening of Blood Diamond starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Jennifer Connelly (Best Supporting Actress, A Beautiful Mind) and Djimon Hounsou (Best Supporting Actor nominee Amistad, In America) at a private residence Saturday night. The audience, which was nearly 30 people, was also overwhelmingly African American and gay.

I had heard one extremely positive comment from a relative stranger in mid-December when the film first opened but I had seen somewhat lukewarm reviews and some negative rumblings about Connelly's performance. The film has grossed more than 50 million dollars domestically and a total of nearly 100 million dollars internationally, so it will likely make money for the releasing studio, Warner Bros. The film garnered a surprisingly strong five Academy Award nominations (Best Actor for Dicaprio, Best Supporting Actress for Hounsou and three technical awards) last month.

So, I was unprepared for how gripping and enjoyable I found Blood Diamond. I believe it is well-directed by Ed Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai) who I respected from his thirtysomething days. The script (by Charles Leavitt) is a slightly fantastical (to save Hounsou's character from near-certain death at the hands of unpredictable and violent rebels there are two improbably propitious coincidences in a very short period of time). However, generally I found the film very suspenseful as well as disturbingly violent (harrowing scenes of maiming and mutilation).

The most compelling aspects of the film to me were the amazing African scenic landscapes and the dramatic portrayal of the training, living conditions and violent activities of the child soldiers.

I agreed with the overall political project of the film (drawing attention to the horrific price in human suffering of what have come to be called "conflict diamonds") and I believe it is more effective at incorporating entertainment and exhortation than last year's African film The Constant Gardener which won Best Supporting Actress for Rachel Weisz (who happens to be married to The Fountain's Darren Aronovsky.) I heartily recommend the film to others and look forward to seeing The Last King of Scotland (set in Ghana) to see if I can make significant comparisons.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

3rd Annual National Sexual Orientation Law Moot Court Compettion

So, Mad Professah spent nearly 5 hours at UCLA Law School Saturday morning judging the first two rounds of the 3rdANSOLMCC (quite a mouthful as an acronym). The experience was a whole bunch of fun!

All the student competitors were well-prepared, smart and eager. Some spoke too fast, some not fast enough. Others were very responsive to the judges' questions, some not responsive enough. My fellow judges were practicing attorneys, retired attorneys, recent law school graduates and academics like myself.

Although my personal sympathy was with the Petitioners (the side asking that the statute effectively banning adoption in the state of New Texico by same-sex couples who have cohabited for at least 6 months), the Respondents had current law and precedent on their side and it was fascinating to listen and appreciate the skill and creativity of all the advocates as they tried to argue the same sets of facts in their favor.

The finals of the Moot Court competition will be on Friday February 23 at the William Institute's 6th Annual Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy Update, judged by The Honorable Justices Barbara Madsen and Susan Owens of the Washington State Supreme Court and The Honorable Judge Raymond Fisher of the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The State of New Texico Rests...

Mad Professah is judging in the Third Annual National Sexual Orientation Moot Court Competition at UCLA Law School tomorrow organized by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Public Policy.

The problem involves a statute passed by the state of New Texico (sic) which has the effect of preventing single-sex, cohabiting couples from adopting children in that state. To wit, the questions that will be argued are:

The questions are limited to:

1. Does Amendment 1A to Section 23 of the New Texico Family Code violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by drawing a distinction between persons in a “domestic homosexual relationship” and all other persons?

2. Does Amendment 1A to Section 23 of the New Texico Family Code impermissibly infringe on Petitioners’ constitutionally protected liberty interests under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?

Although, this is simply a moot court competition question, the controversy over restrictions on same-sex adoption is ongoing. In particular, the recent 11th Circuit Decision in Lofton upholding Florida's ban on gay or lesbian people adopting children comes to mind.

A Top 10 List You Don't Want To Be On

Today the Los Angeles Police Department and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released a list of the Top 10 Most Violent Gangs in Los Angeles:
  1. Canoga Park Alabama
  2. Avenues
  3. Mara Salvatrucha
  4. La Mirada Locos
  5. 18th Street Westside
  6. Black P-Stones
  7. Rollin' 30s
    Rollin' 40s
  8. Rollin' 60s
  9. Grape Street Crips
  10. 204th Street
There are actually eleven gangs on this list. Some gang experts and community experts disagree with the notion of releasing a ranking of gangs because they claim that gangs will 'compete' (by committing more crimes) to get on the list, which will end up in more gang crimes, not less.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is Today

February 7 has been declared National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day by the state of California in a resolution which passed the State Assembly 74-0 last week. The Black AIDS Institute It's All About M.E.E (Mobilization, Education & Empowerment) Sistahs Getting Real About HIV Conference is at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles February 7-11. Openly gay, Black Director of CDC's National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention Kevin Fenton, MD, PhD will be the keynote speaker at the Awards Gala and Dinner on Friday February 9th.

The National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition today sent out resources to its members summarizing its policy agenda for 2007.

Another Hot Muslim Villain on TV

The actor Haaz Sleiman appeared in a few episodes of Season 6 of the hit Fox television series 24 recently as one of the suspected Muslim terrorists who are rounded up by the federal government in response to an ongoing terrorist bombing campaign. I had noticed the handsome actor before in Maurice Jamal's uneven gay, black film The Ski Trip, where Haaz plays the incredibly attractive object of desire named Tyson. He has the kind of look which makes you go "Dayummmmmmmmmmm!"

Mad Professah has blogged before about the portrayal of improbably handsome terrorists in recent television shows like Showtime's Sleeper Cell and Fox's 24. I suspect that there is some kind of mitigation efforts by producers going on who are trying to make amends for stereotypical portrayals of Arabs and Muslims as involved in terrorism by casting above average looking actors in those roles.

Smokey Robinson Condemns 'Dreamgirls'

Motown legend Smokey Robinson is not happy about the Dreamgirls movie. In recent interviews to National Public Radio and MSNBC, the 66-year old singer has said that he finds the Oscar frontrunner contains "false information and negativity." He claims that Jamie Foxx's character in the movie is based on Berry Gordy, famed creator and manager of the Motown label and that the venal portrayal by Foxx is an assault on Gordy's integrity.

Mad Professah's response? "Well, duh!"

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Black 'Pro-Life' MIT Professor Begins Hunger Strike To Protest Tenure Denial

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Associate Professor of Biological Engineering James Sherley has announced that he will begin a hunger strike to protest what he claims is his denial of tenure at the university due to race. The 49-year-old African American academic has long been a controversial figure in his field, stem cell research, because he opposes using human embryonic stem cells, claiming that is akin to destroying human life.

The 5-foot 8-inch, 254 pound preacher's son had his "last meal" of two bowls of Chex cereal Monday morning and vowed to spend three hours outside MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif's office every day and ingest nothing but vitamins, water and electrolye supplements until the institution acknowledges its racist practices.

MIT currently has 740 tenured professors, 27 of whom are members of an ethnic minority. In 2005, when this case first came to prominence, Sherley was one of 28 African American professors at MIT, and the first to ever be appointed to the Department of Biological Engineering.

Last year, Sherley was awarded a prestigious Pioneer grant worth $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to support his research. What most people don't realize about fights over tenure is that a "denial of tenure" is academic speak for "employment termination."
So, this is really an employment dispute.

Noted MIT Professor Noam Chomsky and 10 other professors are circulating a letter in support of Professor Sherley:


MIT, Sunday, February 1, 2007

Two years ago, in January 2005, Professor James Sherley, the only African-American faculty member ever appointed in the Division of Biological Engineering (BE), filed a letter of complaint about the division-level evaluation that resulted in the denial of his tenure in BE. Prof. Sherley’s complaints include charges of conflict of interest and racial discrimination. Provost Rafael Reif has now decided that, given the findings of the grievance review committee, Sherley’s tenure denial should stand.

Because charges of conflict of interest and racial discrimination cut at the very core of MIT’s community values, it is imperative that they be thoroughly pursued, wherever they lead. We are writing this letter because we believe that there remain several issues related to Prof. Sherley’s grievance process that need to be further examined. Our concern here is not, and could not be, about the scientific merits of Prof. Sherley’s tenure dossier, which is not available to us and about which we as a group would be in no position to opine. Our concern in this letter is with the integrity of the grievance process. We would like to highlight a sample of evidence that might help decide whether Prof. Sherley’s complaints were given fair, diligent and thorough consideration. The evidence surrounds the following topics:

+ conflict of interest in tenure review;

+ various sorts of unfair treatment to Prof. Sherley as a junior faculty member vis-à-vis:

- space allocation,

- space-related impediments and misinformation during recruitment and hiring,

- problems related to mentorship and tenure review,

- failure to acknowledge achievements;

+ mishandling of complaint of racial prejudice.

Conflict of interest:

The BE Division Head is married to a senior BE faculty member whose relationship with the candidate has been openly contentious. Given this relationship, it would have been appropriate for the BE Division Head to recuse himself from assembling and deciding Prof. Sherley’s tenure case. However, not only did the Division Head fail to recuse himself, but he solicited an internal letter from his wife to be included in the tenure file.

The Provost, in his 12/22/06 letter to Prof. Sherley, summarizing the Review Committee’s report (to which we do not have access), states: “The Committee found that it was appropriate for [the BE Division Head] to solicit an internal reference from [his wife], given the overlap in your research areas and the fact that you had not asked that she be excluded from the list of referees.” In other words the Provost here places the burden for identifying and preempting the conflict of interest on the candidate himself.

This seems to us highly problematic. A tenure candidate should not be expected to openly challenge the judgment of a senior faculty member who will play a key role in deciding the candidate’s tenure status. MIT’s Policies and Procedures (7.2) states: “While general responsibility for assuring adherence to these policies must rest with those responsible for appointments and assignments (principally academic and administrative department heads and laboratory and center directors), a particular responsibility for sensitivity to the potential conflicts falls on those whose family or personal relationships may give rise to them.” This makes it clear that the burden of action lies on department heads and on parties whose relationships may compromise (or give the appearance of compromising) due process in professional decision-making. Thus, as Head of BE and as spouse of a senior BE faculty in open conflict with the candidate, the BE Division Head was, in two distinct ways, responsible for avoiding any appearance or potential of conflict of interest. The BE Division Head failed to fulfill his responsibility. As a result, Prof. Sherley was not duly protected from the appearance of, and the potential for, conflict of interest.

Unfair treatment:

Space allocation and space-related impediments and misinformation during recruitment and hiring

In July 1998, Prof. Sherley was hired into a faculty slot reserved for under-represented minorities as established by a special Provost’s initiative to promote minority recruitment. Such a slot came with certain restrictions on laboratory space: any minority recruited in such a line would have to be given space that is already available from the hiring unit---not additional space by the Provost. As he was being recruited, Prof. Sherley was never told that he would be hired into a special-initiative minority-faculty slot or that such a slot came with restrictions on how space would be allocated to him. This was confirmed in exchanges both with Prof. Sherley and with senior BE faculty involved in his recruitment and hiring. These space restrictions have continued to plague Prof. Sherley throughout his career at MIT. We believe that these facts concerning Prof. Sherley’s recruitment and lab space raise a variety of questions, including questions about Prof. Sherley’s fair treatment as a new recruit and a junior faculty member, and questions about the reliability of the grievance committee’s findings vis-à-vis the size of Prof. Sherley’s independent laboratory space and how much control he could actually exert over this space.

For example, space loaned to Prof. Sherley by a senior faculty in BE has been listed as part of Prof. Sherley’s “independent” lab space. Yet Sherley’s dependence on others for lab space has been used to intimidate and pressure him. On July 3rd, 2006, Prof. Sherley received an email message in which the afore-mentioned senior BE faculty threatened to “formally request return of [this space] to [him].” The senior BE faculty wrote to Sherley: “Remember that it was I who gave you access to that lab.” In that email exchange, the senior faculty’s threat was explicitly stated in response to Prof. Sherley’s handling of a complaint by one of Sherley’s assistants who was feeling harassed by one of the senior faculty’s assistants. As far as can be gathered from the corresponding email exchanges, Prof. Sherley was handling this complaint in the most appropriate fashion, according to the relevant MIT guidelines.

Problems related to mentorship and tenure review

Various concerns also arise in the context of Prof. Sherley’s pre-tenure mentorship and subsequent tenure denial. In question here are descriptions in the Provost’s letters of the role of one Department Head in the School of Engineering, outside of BE, who according to the Provost’s 1/23/06 letter, was asked to “review” Prof. Sherley’s tenure case. As it turns out, this Department Head who was claimed in that letter to have “agreed with [the BE Division Head’s tenure-denial] decision” was subsequently identified as the Head of Aeronautics and Astronautics [Aero-Astro], and the sole African-American Department Head at MIT. The Aero-Astro Head is also the very mentor whom senior BE faculty had recommended to Prof. Sherley and whom Prof. Sherley had consulted about his tenure dossier, before and after the tenure-denial decision. On December 20, 2006, the Aero-Astro Head categorically stated that all he saw of Prof. Sherley’s tenure dossier is what Prof. Sherley himself had shown to him in his capacity of mentor. On that same occasion, the Aero-Astro Head unambiguously stated that it would have been “inappropriate” for him to “review” Prof. Sherley's case. Then and on another occasion (on January 4, 2006), he emphatically denied having done so. Be that as it may, in light of the identification of the Aero-Astro Head as the other Department Head who “reviewed” Prof. Sherley’s case, the Provost’s summary letters dated 1/23/06 and 12/22/06 display obfuscatory statements vis-à-vis the committee’s findings about the Aero-Astro Head’s role in Prof. Sherley’s tenure denial. In his 12/22/06 letter, the Provost states: “The Committee confirmed that [the Aero-Astro Head] did not see the tenure case for you that was presented to the BE faculty.” Whether he did or not, one is left to wonder if the integrity and fairness of Prof. Sherley’s mentorship and/or tenure review were in any way compromised by the Aero-Astro Head’s role therein.

An important aside is in order here with respect to MIT’s commitment to minority recruitment and retention. The above inconsistency in the Provost’s letters is all the more troubling, given the Aero-Astro Head’s stature in the minority-faculty community and the need for reliable mentorship therein. Any mishandling of these issues may have long-lasting effects on the quality of mentorship for younger minority faculty and on the recruitment and retention of minority faculty.

Failure to acknowledge achievements

Prof. Sherley charges that his stature, contributions, and awards have not been duly acknowledged by his senior colleagues and that, even when he demanded acknowledgment, this was denied. Sherley has provided a variety of examples of this pattern. But there’s one that is clearly documented, which relates to Prof. Sherley’s status as the first new faculty appointment in BE.

Prof. Sherley has complained to the Provost that the BE Division Head has never acknowledged his (Sherley’s) distinction as the first new faculty member hired into the newly formed Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health in July 1998. In response to this complaint, the Provost, in his 12/22/06 letter, states: “While you [Sherley] feel that you should have been acknowledged as the first faculty member hired in BE, the Committee found that you were in fact hired in the Toxicology division, prior to the formation of BE.” However official MIT documents (e.g., Prof. Sherley’s initial appointment letter dated July 1st, 1998) contradict the findings of the committee vis-à-vis Prof. Sherley’s initial appointment at MIT. Prof. Sherley’s very first letter of appointment from MIT is dated July 1st, 1998, and lists his affiliation with Bioengineering and Environmental Health, and not with the Toxicology Division. The latter no longer existed as of July 1st, 1998: by then the faculty from the former Toxicology Division had become part of Bioengineering and Environmental Health. This simple fact, as straightforwardly documented by Prof. Sherley’s initial appointment letter from MIT and by the history of BE, raises questions concerning the reliability of the Review Committee’s findings as summarized by the Provost.

Prof. Sherley has asserted that such documented discrepancy about his MIT appointment--- in spite of his (and the BE Administrative Officer’s) attempts at correcting it---is one instance of a larger pattern of discrimination in BE. Statements to the effect that Prof. Sherley was not “the first faculty member hired in BE” do not simply downplay the significance of the facts, but they take away his place in the history of BE and his legacy to that Division. Though it may seem insignificant to some, Prof. Sherley’s place in BE’s history, especially given the fact that he’s still the only African-American faculty member in BE, is powerfully symbolic in the context of race relations at MIT and elsewhere. It is thus unfortunate that the Provost's 12/22/06 letter furthers the slight: it suggests that Prof. Sherley's “feel[ings]” are the source of the error rather than close attention to the facts whose documentation lies within the purview of the Provost’s office.

Mishandling of complaint of racial prejudice

Racial attitudes, as is well known, are usually complicated and deeply nuanced. When complaints about racial prejudice arise, every possible angle ought to be pursued to reach a reasonable understanding as to influence and impact. Committee members ought to be well versed in the problems involved through experience, knowledge and/or deep reflection and sensitivity. With these caveats in mind, consider the following statement from the Provost’s 12/22/06 letter to Prof. Sherley: “Although one personal opinion differed, the Committee found strong evidence that racial prejudice did not affect the evaluations of your tenure case among the BE faculty, and found no evidence (as opposed to that opinion) to the contrary”. The Provost’s statement that the committee found “strong evidence” that racial discrimination did not occur in this case leaves us wondering. While a committee could reasonably state that they uncovered no evidence of racial discrimination, for them to claim to have “found strong evidence that racial prejudice did not affect [said tenure] evaluations” strikes us as highly implausible, especially in this case. And what about that “one personal opinion” in opposition to the committee’s conclusion? Is that an opinion of a senior BE faculty? If so, it would plausibly be based on first-hand observations of two crucial sorts of data: interactions between Prof. Sherley and his BE colleagues, and comments about Prof. Sherley by his BE colleagues. Such “personal opinion” should not be so readily dismissed.

Taken all together, the above evidence calls into question the grievance committee’s findings and, by extension, the Provost’s decision to conclude Prof. Sherley’s tenure case on the basis of those findings. Furthermore the above facts suggest that it is impossible to separate the specifics and eventual resolution of Prof. Sherley's case from the “barriers that may exist for under-represented minority faculty members and [...] effects that race may play in the hiring, advancement and experience of under-represented minority faculty” (this is a quotation from the last paragraph in the Provost's 1/29/07 message to the MIT faculty about Professor Sherley’s grievance; this message is posted at ).

In conclusion we are left doubtful as to whether the grievance review committee exercised due diligence in investigating, ferreting out, and interpreting evidence, and in distinguishing fact from opinion. We therefore believe that the following measures are in order:

All aspects of the grievance process should be reviewed by a committee composed of members from inside and outside of MIT to determine the adequacy and fairness of the process. Details of this review should be reported to the faculty in full and in a timely fashion.

Should the committee determine that the process was flawed or inadequate, then appropriate redress should be made to Prof. Sherley.

Last Friday (2/2/07) President Hockfield rehearsed the Provost’s announcement on 1/29/07 of “plans to undertake a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic study of the impact of race on the hiring, advancement, and experience of minority faculty at the Institute” and “to take a position of leadership on this important issue.” Unfortunately, given the above and related evidence pertaining to Prof. Sherley’s grievance process, we feel obliged to point out that, while such an initiative is essential and long overdue, it appears to run counter to the administration’s actions vis-à-vis Prof. Sherley’s grievance.


Noam Chomsky

Institute Professor

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Michel DeGraff

Associate Professor

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Junot Díaz

Associate Professor

Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies

Sally Haslanger


Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Jonathan Alan King


Department of Biology

Melvin H. King

Senior Lecturer Emeritus

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Helen Elaine Lee

Associate Professor

Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies

Ceasar L. McDowell

Professor of the Practice of Community Development

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Chi-Sang Poon

Principal Research Scientist

Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology

Phillip J. Thompson

Associate Professor

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Elizabeth Wood


History Faculty

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pictures from India are up!

I have finally completed selecting pictures from my 17-day, 7-city trip to India (December 26 to January 15th) and made them available at my flickr site:

There are just under 100 pictures available, I recommend going through them one by one, since I have also included informative captions, which you might miss if you just look at the images in slideshow mode.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Serena Says She's Bootylicious and Insatiable

Serena Williams has been running her mouth to lots of people after her stunning win in straight sets at the 2007 Australian Open final over World #1 Maria Sharapova last week, but even for her this quote (See #9 in Jon Wertheim's "Parting Shots from the Australian Open") is pretty amazing:

“I’m definitely in better shape than I get credit for. Just because I have large bosoms and I have a big ass. I swear my waist is 29-30 inches. I swear I have the smallest waist. And just because I have those two ‘assets’ it looks like I’m not fit. I was just in the locker room staring at my body and I’m like, ‘Am I not fit? Am I really not fit? Or is it just because I have all these extra assets that I look not fit.’ I think if I were not to eat for two years I still wouldn’t be a size 2. No matter how slim I am, I always have this [points] and that [points]. We’re living in a Mary-Kate Olsen world. I’m just not built that way. I’m bootylicious and that’s how it’s always going to be.”

She also then goes on to say
“This definitely goes down as one of my good matches. I'm insatiable. I think I could have done better. That's just my character."
Does that word mean what Serena thinks it means?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Senator Boxer Announces Re-election Campaign for 2010

As reported on Calitics and DailyKos yesterday, United States Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has announced that she is indeed running for re-election in 2010. This is significant because this is the next election where statewide constitutional officers (i.e. Governor, Lieutenant Governor, et cetera) will be decided. Currently Arnold Schwarzenegger is termed out and can not run for re-election. The next available higher office he can seek is Boxer's United States Senate seat. However, Boxer by announcing so early is channeling Jennifer Hudson by saying "And I Tell You I Am Not Going":

I want you to be the first to know: I'm running!

No, not for President, but for re-election to the United States Senate when my term expires in 2010. The Senate is so important, and I am so proud that the people of California have sent me there three times.

Why I am starting now? Because there are already many rumors and reports that my Republican friends still can't believe I'm in the Senate and are just waiting to force me out of the race or, failing that, overwhelm us with resources.

So we are doing what we must -- declaring early and starting the fundraising work that is an absolute necessity to hold on to this critical California seat, a Senate seat which has been a constant voice for peace, the environment, and all the priorities that keep the American dream alive.
By announcing early, Boxer is putting potential primary challenger sand Republican opponents like the Governator on notice that "there's no other place [she] wants to be."


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