Saving Gospel Music

The accolades to Aretha Franklin in numerous obituaries and tributes made note of her early years singing in her father’s church. Ms. Franklin was possibly the most famous of many popular artists who learned their craft in church: Little Richard, The Staple Singers, Sam Cooke and hundreds – literally, hundreds – more. The conflict between the sacred and the secular, has been an undercurrent of many careers. Performers whose formative years were rooted in the black church carried the craft learned there to a wider audience but with a twinge of guilt for taking god’s music and making it profane.

Unfortunately, much of this roots music is lost forever, recorded on vinyl and tape and never digitized.

Continue reading Saving Gospel Music

A (Too Short) Life, Well Lived

Ulises Valdez was born in 1969 in Los Cuachalalates, a tiny village in Michoacán, Mexico. At age ten, he quit school and went to Mexico City to work in his cousin’s flea market. Two years later, he went to work cutting sugarcane. At age sixteen, on his third attempt, he crossed the border and joined his brother in Sonoma County. Ulises lied about his age and was hired to prune vines in the Dry Creek Valley.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress passed and the President signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The law, referred to as the Reagan Amnesty, gave illegal immigrants the opportunity to become legal residents. Valdez took advantage, obtaining temporary, then, ten years later, permanent resident status. In the interim, he went back to Mexico, married and brought his new wife to Sonoma County.

Valdez progressed from vineyard worker to vineyard manager to partner in a vineyard management company to sole owner of a vineyard management company. In 1996 he became a U.S. citizen.

Over the years Valdez also began leasing and purchasing land and planting vineyards. He supplied premium grapes to high-end wineries. The Valdez businesses employ 100 people and manage more than 1,000 acres of vineyards. In 2004 Ulises Valdez produced the first wines for his own label. Six years later, with 100 acres owned or leased, the Valdez Family Winery opened. His daughter Elizabeth became the winemaker in 2016. Her sister and two brothers also work in the business.

Ulises Valdez died of a heart attack September 12, at age 49, in the midst of harvest frenzy. Sonoma County vintners and longtime clients are showing their respect, supporting the family, helping in the fields, winery and offices.

Don’t Know Much About Herstory

The state of Texas is doing something about all those women cluttering up history books. After years of fighting the battle against left-wing bias in classrooms, the State Board of Education, acting on the recommendation of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills committee, voted to eliminate some non-essential historical figures from its curriculum. The committee said the state required Texas schoolchildren to learn about too many historical persons.

Purged from Texas textbooks is the first deaf-and-blind person – of any sex – to earn a Bachelor-of-Arts degree (Helen Keller) and the first woman to run for president as the nominee of a major political party (you know who).

So who cares what Texas does?

The Texas Board approves textbooks for use in all the state’s schools. The Texas market is large enough for textbook publishers to accede to their requirements. Local districts in other states do not have the Lone Star State’s leverage of volume purchases. Thus what publishers make available to your school district has already been decided by Texas.

Plus ça change … Anita Hill edition

With all the noise lately about Federalist Society protege Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, let’s reminisce about the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas fiasco. (This was originally published December 6, 2017.)


Anita Hill, a professor at Brandeis University, grew up in Lone Tree, Oklahoma, a speck on the map, about a hundred miles east of Oklahoma City, and thirty-some miles west of Muskogee. She graduated as valedictorian from her local high school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree with honors from Oklahoma State University. She earned her law degree with honors from Yale Law School in 1980. In 1989, she became the first tenured black professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Anita Hill – 2015

Three years later, after a nationwide fundraising campaign initiated by a feminist group, and matching state funds, the Anita F. Hill professorship was endowed at the University of Oklahoma Law School. Oklahoma legislators promptly demanded Ms. Hill’s resignation and introduced a bill to prohibit the university from accepting out-of-state donations and even attempted to close the law school. School officials attempted to revoke her tenure. After five years of this, Hill resigned. The law school defunded the professorship in 1999, the position having never been filled.

Clarence “Long Dong” Thomas

What could a person have done to provoke such reaction in her home state? Anita Hill had the temerity to testify before the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Joseph Biden, considering Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, for whom she had worked when Thomas was in charge of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The FBI had previously questioned Hill. When that interview was leaked, the Senate committee called her to testify. She told the committee that Thomas had asked her out several times and she had always refused. His work conversations regularly addressed such topics as women having sex with animals, pornographic movies about group sex and rape, and “his own sexual prowess,” referring to himself as “Long Dong Silver,” an homage to a contemporary porn star. She also famously related his examining a can of soda on his desk and asking, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”

The invective directed at her came quickly and forcefully. Thomas, of course denied it and went further, saying it was “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said , “Hill was working in tandem with ‘slick lawyers’ and interest groups bent on destroying Thomas’ chances to join the court.” Contemporaneous opinion polls showed most people believed Thomas.

Ms. Hill took and passed, a polygraph test; Thomas refused to take a test. Four other women were waiting to testify but the committee chose not to hear them. Thomas, with all of one year’s experience as a federal judge, was confirmed. He has since distinguished himself as the least-inquisitive justice, often going months without asking a question or making a comment, and its most predictably conservative voter, including his dissent against affirmative action, something from which he benefited during his education.

A documentary film, “Anita,” about her experiences was released in 2014. HBO presented a dramatic film, “Confirmation,” starring Kerry Washington, in 2016.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

“17 years since September 11th!”

Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York … that their air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink.

– Christine Todd Whitman, E.P.A. Administrator

The air quality is safe and acceptable.

– Rudy Giuliani, New York City Mayor

Since the E.P.A. head and the soon-to-be-declared “America’s Mayor” made these comments the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund has nearly exhausted the money allotted to compensate first responders, cleanup workers and close-by residents. Thousands of claims are still coming in from victims who developed respiratory ailments and cancer. All of the 400 tons of asbestos used in constructing the World Trade Center twin towers was released into the air during the 9/11 attacks.

Almost 90,000 have registered with the World Trade Center Health Program. About 10,000 of them have cancer. To date, an estimated 2,100 have died. By the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, more people will have died from related illness than died in the attack.

Fun Giuliani fact: Against all advice, the Mayor sited the city’s emergency communication center close to the World Trade Center, which suffered a bombing in 1993. The center, an easy walk from City Hall, also served as a convenient trysting sanctuary.

Giuliani’s office had a humidor for cigars and mementos from City Hall, including a fire horn, police hats and fire hats, as well as monogrammed towels in his bathroom. His suite was bulletproofed and he visited it often, even on weekends, bringing his girlfriend Judi Nathan there long before the relationship surfaced. He had his own elevator.

Who Is Tommy John and Why Are So Many Having His Surgery?

Dr. Frank Jobe never played an inning of professional baseball. Nevertheless, his effect on the game is enormous. The Baseball Hall of Fame honored him in 2013 at its annual induction ceremonies. Dr. Jobe performed ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery on Major-League pitcher Tommy John’s elbow in 1974. The procedure re-attaches the two arm bones at the elbow that have come apart from overuse. As the baseball season winds down and you get ready for playoff and World Series excitement, there is a one-in-three chance the pitcher you’re rooting for or against has undergone Tommy John surgery.

Tommy John had played eleven seasons with the White Sox and the Dodgers. After surgery, he was named Comeback Player of the Year in 1976. He played fifteen more years with the Dodgers and Yankees, was named to the All-Star team three more times and won 288 games. The surgery that has resurrected many a pitcher’s career became known by his name.

Major-League pitchers throw fewer innings than in John’s day, have longer rests between starts and rarely pitch a complete nine-inning game. It’s not likely we’ll ever again see a pitcher reach benchmark numbers of 300 strikeouts or 300 innings pitched in a season or record 300 – or 288 – wins in a career. Yet Tommy John’s eponymous surgery is common. Big leaguers and amateurs alike proudly show their scars on their pitching arms. The human arm is not designed for throwing baseballs overhand, especially breaking balls.

Tommy John as a Dodger

These days, more than half of the surgeries are performed on athletes younger than nineteen years. Youth sports are big business and kids are pressured to commit to one sport and play it year-round to the exclusion of others. The number of UCL surgeries on young elbows has increased every year for the past two decades. The reason: too many curve balls thrown too young with little, if any, rest between seasons.

And what does Tommy John say about this?

“What does bother me is that my name is now attached to something that affects more children than pro athletes. I was in my 30s and playing major league ball for nearly a dozen years before needing the operation. It’s hard seeing so many kids being pushed the way they are today, and getting hurt as a result.”