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    Ann Rostow: The Pre-Game

    By Ann Rostow–

    The Pre-Game

    I’m not really working on this column because it’s not due until tomorrow, but can I just make one small complaint about Nicolle Wallace, one of my favorite MSNBC anchors? Wallace chairs a two-hour block of cable news every afternoon, and every day after her first hour, she tells the audience to stick around because: “We’re just getting started.” 

    But that is a flat out lie. Nicolle isn’t “just getting started.” With one hour done and another hour to go, she’s precisely halfway through her scheduled airtime. Why not say something like, “There’s much more ahead!” It’s even more annoying because, aside from the obvious misstatement, Nicolle seems to be a trustworthy voice for integrity in Washington. Am I making too much of her choice of words?

    I’m also getting ready to dump several items off my list before I start writing. I was going to report on some connection between Andrew Cuomo, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, and lesbian activist lawyer Roberta Kaplan. I have just been glancing at headlines over the last week or so, and it’s been enough to suggest that these two community leaders helped the Cuomo cause before it became clear that perhaps things were more serious than they originally seemed.

    Cuomo wasn’t just a roll-your-eyes handsy Baby Boomer as some of us thought. He was a full-scale nut job complete with expletive-filled temper tantrums and cray cray ego mania. Ooops! What exactly were Roberta and the Fonz doing on his behalf? It seemed like a good story, so I scurried off to read all the articles and figure out what was what in Cuomo land and you know what? I couldn’t keep it up, if I may borrow an analogy from the men in our lives.

    Oh, I’m not saying that it was too complicated and that I couldn’t come up with an intelligent overview. I’m saying that most of the time, when something is complicated, it becomes more and more intriguing. Research is fun! But sometimes, as in this instance, the underlying situation is not interesting enough to warrant making the effort to dig deep. What exactly did they do? David helped with a victim-bashing opinion piece? Or maybe not. Kaplan did some legal work for Cuomo’s top aide, who herself was working on the not-so-nice op-ed.

    It’s not clear who wrote the letter or what happened to it, since it was never published. And it’s not at all clear that David or Kaplan did anything untoward. Ergo, I will just cross this story off my list. Normally you’d never know about such deliberations, but here I am, revealing my process.

    Sui Culpa

    And here we are for real on deadline day. We should start off with a nice juicy legal story, namely the July 28 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in favor of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Amazon. (Cue: cheers and applause.)

    The SPLC put the far right Coral Ridge Ministries on its list of antigay hate groups, and by doing so caused Amazon to drop Coral Ridge from its charity program. Coral Ridge promptly sued the SPLC, Amazon, and the AmazonSmile Foundation, losing first at the district court level, and now before a unanimous three-judge panel that included a Clinton appointee, a Trump appointee, and a Ford appointee. 

    The panel ruled that the SPLC did not stick Coral Ridge on the hate list out of malice, a requirement for a successful defamation charge. As for Amazon, the judges relied, in part, on the famous 1995 Hurley case that allowed Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizers to ban a formal gay contingent from their event. Although some gay activists were mad at the time, San Francisco Bay Times legal analysts noted that the same First Amendment rights enjoyed by the Boston parade organizers would also protect San Francisco Pride from being forced, for example, to allow an official float from the Westboro Baptist Church. Based on the principles underlying Hurley, the panel ruled that Amazon had the First Amendment right to pick and choose its charity recipients and was under no obligation to include Coral Ridge.

    Oh my God, you guys. I have the TV on mute and I see Andrew Cuomo at the podium surrounded by various flags and seals. Pause! Let’s check it out. (My grandchildren yell out “Pause!” now and then as if their real lives are governed by voice-activated apps. It works, so I do it too.)

    Well, that’s that. He did the right thing, although I could have done with a little less self-serving babble. As for those accidental bumps and pats, if I have ever inadvertently gotten a little too physical with anyone over the years, and if they are reading this column, I’d like them to know that it was just my special way of saying: “I see you. I appreciate you. I thank you.”  

    Domo Arigato

    I think I promised to report back on the Tenth Circuit’s friendly ruling in favor of Colorado’s right to enforce gay civil rights law. You remember the lengthy opinion that appeared on my radar just as I was signing off last issue? Well, detailed coverage on that may or may not lie ahead. 

    But first, I was all set to write about the missing $5,800 bottle of whiskey that Japanese diplomats gave to Mike Pompeo, when all of a sudden, every website in the country had an article posted on the mystery of the lost or stolen present. I like extracting arcane bits and pieces from the news dregs and presenting them to you, like a cat bringing a dead mouse to its owner, as a special gift. But there’s no fun in rehashing a tired topic. 

    And yet! I still like the story. Because I live with a whiskey aficionado. My wife drinks single malt scotch, but she’s not going to turn up her nose at a fine Japanese whiskey. Yet some of the Japanese options at the liquor store are so expensive I’d need a layaway deal in order to buy a bottle, so it’s not a common option at our house. Let’s just say that if I were an aide to the Secretary of State, and if a $5,800 bottle of whiskey was handed over to me with vague instructions to put it in a remote storeroom with a bunch of other junk, well, that bottle might appear under the Christmas tree with Mel’s name on the card “from Santa.” 

    Because who else is going to drink it? Is it just going to sit on a shelf for a few decades until some other enterprising assistant takes it under their wing? I’m actually glad that the bottle is missing, because it means that someone actually enjoyed it. And for the record, I am sure that even though it was technically given to him, Mike Pompeo would have been the last person to steal the booze. 

    Say It Ain’t So!

    So, before we return to the Tenth Circuit, here’s an absurd headline from (sorry) I forget which website: “Lesbian, gay and trans politicians still face electoral discrimination, eye-opening study finds.” 

    Oh, really? Readers, you can’t see me, but let me assure you that my eyes are open! Wait! What? Discrimination? By the voters? Against us? Since when?

    “Published in The Journal of Politics,” I read, “authors Gabriele Magni and Andrew Reynolds asked participants [from the U.K., the U.S., and New Zealand] to vote for hypothetical candidates who differed based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and other factors.” After analyzing 4,000 replies to the 2018 questionnaire, our boffins came to the shocking realization that voters continue to downgrade GLBT candidates based on prejudice and stereotyping. 

    I know, I know. Hard to believe. 

    By the way, have I mentioned that I researched some cool-looking sneakers that Meryl Streep wore to the Cannes Film Festival and that somehow the internet picked up on this cyber-window shopping and has sent pictures of the sneakers, in all ten colors, to follow me from link to link? They look like Keds. I don’t know what annoys me more: the fact that I am being stalked by this footwear, or the fact that I am increasingly tempted to buy a pair because I see them so often.  

    Tenth Circuit, right? Of course, yes. But before we go there, let me mention another story that I was vaguely aware of before my deadline arrived. And that was the insane super spreader COVID horror show that was (cue: scary music) Provincetown! I never checked the details, but I kept seeing that hundreds of people had gotten COVID-19 through gay parties and what sounded like irresponsible shenanigans in the famous GLBT vacation town. 

    So, it turns out that lots of people got the coronavirus, but they were all vaccinated and nobody died. Are you kidding me? Why are we covering COVID as if COVID was still the same COVID? Who cares how many flu-like “cases” there might be? 

    We didn’t stay home for a year because we might have gotten sick. We did so because we might have died. Is that still the case? Do we need booster shots? Is there a new variant around the corner that might blow through our antibodies? Media people? Please focus on these issues.

    Tickle Me, Carlee

    Yes, I’ve been making an extended joke about the Tenth Circuit case, but I’ve been doing so with the full knowledge that (I think) this is one of those subjects we’ll be returning to again and again. I know I’m not going to let you down in the long run. 

    And meanwhile, let me pass along this quote from an article in The New York Times that also commands our attention:

    “It’s generally not a good time to be a rodent in Australia … . But at one lab in Canberra, the nation’s capital, a select group of lab rats has had quite a different experience. Researchers have tickled them every day for a month to see if it will improve their emotional well-being, and perhaps make them better models for research.”

    I think I’ve mentioned I’m a sucker for happy animal stories. And is there anything happier than a much-loved lab rat? I know what you’re thinking, and I was thinking the same thing. Lab rats. Hmmm. Nothing good is going to happen to these little critters in the end. And yet! According to the article, these rats are part of experiments to improve the lives of domestic animals. 

    I can see you rolling your eyes. And, now that you’ve asked, yes, my childhood dog did, in fact, go live on a farm with friends of my parents because it was better for him than the city and these friends really loved him. And no, we never did visit the farm. 

    But as I was explaining, there are three “proper ways to tickle a rat,” specifically “dorsal contact” (rubbing the rat’s back), “flipping” (flipping the rat gently from back to front), and “pinning” (pinning the rat on his or her back while tickling the chest). These techniques reportedly mimic the “play-fighting” enjoyed by juvenile rats. There is even an online course in rat tickling so that technicians like Carlee Mottley can become certified in the practice. “By participating in this behavior with our rats,” said Mottley, “we aim to lessen the impact of handling and increase positive associations with human interaction.”

    According to the article, the rats get used to the attention and come running up to their new human friends when the clock strikes Tickle Time. Oh, and they also make a particular squeak that you can only hear with a high-tech gizmo, which, of course, these scientists have in their lab. There’s a video.

    Well folks, it looks as if our in-depth review of the Tenth Circuit case will have to wait. (Cue: two sad trombone notes.) As our last issue went to press, the appellate court ruled that a one-woman web designer, 303 Creative, could not refuse to serve gay and lesbian weddings without violating Colorado state anti-discrimination law. That case is heading to the Supreme Court, which recently rejected a somewhat similar review in the case of a Washington state florist. Will the justices agree to hear this latest wedding dispute? Or will they continue to duck the issue? Too bad we are out of time and space!

    Published on August 12, 2021