Master of HIS domain

Ben Starr, the recently out Dallas cheftestant on Fox’s ‘MasterChef,’ camps it up on Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition series

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor


Airs Tuesdays on Fox (Ch. 4) at 8 p.m.


When Lewisville-based travel writer Ben Starr auditioned for Fox’s MasterChef, he doubted they’d be interested in his style of home cooking. But not only did he make the cut, he’s been one of the more memorable cheftestants — just this week, he had the judge’s favorite dish.

The series is only halfway through, but for Starr, it’s already made a huge difference in his life: It forced him to come out to his parents just last month. We talked to him about the experience and his favorite meals.


You’ve been struggling since you wowed the judges at your audition. The audition kinda set me up to expect that I would do well in the competition, but we spun pretty quickly into an emphasis on gourmet cuisine, which is not my thing at all. My street tacos were a little bit spiffy, and I am extremely well traveled, but I tend to eat peasant food even when I travel. I was seeing all these people around me making restaurant quality cuisine and trying to compete on their level. Nice to make a good ol’ catfish in a skillet.

What was the hardest challenge for you? The biggest challenge has definitely been psychological. I’m competitive by nature and I want to feel like I’m competition, but I was surrounded by chefs that were a little more connected to the Food Network that I am. They’d use words like umami [a Japanese word for a savory flavor] and I had to go look it up. There was a common lexicon among the contestants about what these famous chefs I’ve never heard of are doing in their restaurants. I felt like an idiot stumbling around in the dark. That started to leak into my cooking and I began to question, “Is this sophisticated enough? Is this even sophisticated?” The episode this week was a turning point. I felt like for the first time I’m back in my own element.

You certainly have made an impression with your outfits. I don’t wear those hats at home, though I do wear an apron, just for practicality. But [the show] has started this storytelling legacy — people expect me to wear them when they come over. My mom made me the pumpkin hat and apron. Actually, she made me five or six pairs to wear. That’s why you always see a different one on me each episode. I was going through them.

Was wearing them part of a conscious effort to stand during the auditions? I am fairly myself, though I had to set myself apart that wasn’t just about food. I needed to be someone [the judges] remember when they go home at night. That’s why I talked about my rural upbringing, because I thought it would generate a memory.

Had you watched the show before? Did you know what to expect? I don’t watch much TV, but this is not my first time being on TV, which is ironic because I abhor reality television —it brings out the worst in our culture. But I did Rachael Ray’s So You Think You Can Cook in 2007. The audience there was much more caring and nurturing than the machine on MasterChef, but I was a little bit prepared for the frank judgment.

I did not watch the first season of MasterChef, but my friend Karen Rutherford said, “I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t audition [for season 2].” So I watched them all on Hulu. I just sweated my way through them. I knew how intense and stressful it is to cook on TV, and saw how brutal Joe Bastianich and Gordon Ramsay were with the contestants. I thought: Screw this. Then a few weeks passed and the terror faded [and I went through the lengthy audition process]. It was a lot of work — the most difficult full-time job I’ve ever had that doesn’t pay.

What’s your favorite kind of cuisine? While my DNA wants to say Mexican food — I had it in the womb six times a week — I am most intrigued by Thai food. It is so complex, yet so much of it is cooked on the street in a tiny little cart. From the richest to the poorest, everybody eats on the street.

How about a favorite meal? One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was in Egypt on New Year’s Eve in 2001. I spent it on Mount Sinai and hiked eight miles back down to the car for the drive back to our resort. [The driver] fell asleep at the wheel and we plummeted into a canyon. Eventually a camel train of Bedouins came by the bottom of this canyon. They took us onto the camels and rode four or five miles to their camp. All the women came out, killed a goat and started cooking while the men tried to pull our car out of the canyon.

It was a humble meal — just a goat stew and some flat bread — but the flavors were really intense and felt they came right out of the desert. I could not even communicate with these people who live in abject poverty, but still they were willing to kill one of their last goats and throw a big feast for us because it’s in their nature to be hospitable. I realized it was important to me to use food to nurture people in my life — I could never be a chef and be in the back. I need to be with the people. My partner is one of the main reasons I cook — we’ve been together eight years and I want to marry him one day.

Did you plan to be “the gay guy” on the show? When I was on [Rachael Ray] it was not addressed and I didn’t talk about it openly. At that point my family didn’t know I was gay — in fact, I didn’t come out to my parents until about five weeks ago. They were totally shell-shocked — they didn’t have a clue.

Maybe mom should have guessed since she made you all those hats. Ha! Maybe.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Letting it REGISTER • Pride Weddings & Celebrations 2011

Gift registries can be intimidating. Dean Driver makes them easy

FASHION. PLATE. | Dean Driver knows how to make a tabletop pop — and how to make it easy on you to choose your gifts. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)


Perhaps the one wedding tradition same-sex couples might waffle on is signing up for that beg-a-thon, the gift registry. Forget whether to do so (you should); the real question is, where can you find that particular china pattern you once saw in a magazine?

The answer to that question is probably Dean Driver. With his new company, Consilium Lifestyle Collections, Driver makes what could be a daunting (even intimidating) task for same-sex couples possibly the easiest  job out of all the wedding planning.

“I don’t know if the average gay couple feels comfortable going into stores,” Driver says. “They may, but many retailers just aren’t reaching out to gay couples.”

Teaming up with Consilium Creative Marketing, Driver created what may be the first by-appointment source of its kind in Dallas to provide a wedding gift registry for same-sex couples. While the services are for everyone, Driver believes that this personal touch can bring comfort to any gay newlyweds hesitant about how to sign up for gifts. It also gives them a home field advantage when looking for fine tabletop products and more.

“The way we do business is changing, and this has afforded me the ability to do in-home consultations and also wedding registries,” Driver says. “I come to the client with samples to get an idea of their lifestyle and suggest products and can see what will work with what’s already in the home.”

The affable Driver knows his stuff. After working with tabletop industries for years in large markets like New York, he has access to many luxury brands and even unique home products. The usual china and crystal items are no problem, but items like linens and household accessories are more easily available through him.

Driver’s first piece of advice on getting started with a registry: Don’t be intimidated.

“I demystify all that for you,” he says. “That’s what I’m here for. I’ll make it easier for you. And people shouldn’t think that everything offered in a registry costs so much. We do have some unique options that are moderately priced.”

Consilium has only been around for a few months, but it has burst out of the gate with a selection of up to 50 brands, some exclusive to them. And with Driver’s knowledge and background, he can pretty much get anybody anything they want.

“I’m a sort of an expert in tabletops, and I have my finger on the pulse of the industry,” he says. “I go to Paris, to Milan and see all the new patterns. And if you saw a plate in a magazine and brought it to me,  I could pinpoint what it is. When I say anything, I mean anything — and you may be only person in the country to have it.”

Something his company can guarantee is the death of that most dreaded wedding tradition: The return. Once items are selected for the registry, gift givers don’t have to worry about buying an item that’s already been purchased. Instead, the company does gift cards only, which are beautifully packaged for the giver to present.

“This prevents exchanges or duplicates,” he says. “Plus, clients may change their minds and gift cards give them an opportunity to get something else. And it’s a little more green without all that wrapping paper and shipping to worry about.”

Driver and company seems to have gotten rid of all the excuses couples can make to partake in registering for gifts. Being that a wedding is a life-changing event, Driver mostly wonders why not go all out?

“Couples shouldn’t shy away from getting nice things,” he says. “This is the one time to get the nice stuff, so why not? Anything you want, I can get.”

The only caveat — Driver encourages people to use the nice stuff everyday.

“Yeah, don’t pack it away in a cabinet like our parents did,” he says.

Of course, if there’s one thing gays know how to do it’s merchandise.

For more information, visit

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Obamas open conference on bullying at White House

President and Mrs. Obama at White House anti-bully conference

President and Mrs. Obama welcomed educators, parents and students to the White House to discuss bullying this morning. The First Lady made the opening remarks followed by the President.

MRS. OBAMA: Good morning.  Thank you. (Applause.) Everyone, please.  Good morning, and welcome to the White House.

I want to thank all of you for joining us here today to discuss an issue of great concern to me and to Barack, not just as President and as First Lady, but as a mom and a dad. And that is the problem of bullying in our schools and in our communities.

As parents, this issue really hits home for us.  As parents, it breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, or on the playground, or even online.  It breaks our hearts to think about any parent losing a child to bullying, or just wondering whether their kids will be safe when they leave for school in the morning.

—  David Taffet

White House bullying conference set

According to an e-mail sent this afternoon from the office of the White House press secretary, President Barack Obama, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services will be hosting a Conference on Bullying Prevention at the White House on Thursday, March 10. The conference will include “students, parents, teachers and others” from “communities from across the nation who have been affected by bullying as well as those who are taking action to address it.”

The announcement said participants will have the chance to talk to the president and “representatives from the highest levels of his administration” on how to work together to prevent bullying.

—  admin

COVER STORY: Larry and KC Jansson found love in the midst of anti-gay ‘reparative’ therapy

How counseling by unqualified therapists and distorted use of a 12-step program brought a young gay couple together at an ‘ex-gay’ camp

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

KC Jansson came out to his parents in ninth grade. His parents sent him to counseling. Then he came out to them again as a high school senior.

“My dad’s a Southern Baptist pastor in Missouri, in a small southern town.” he said. “They said I was either going to be on the streets or do it their way. They were going to pay 10 grand for me to go to this camp.

“I didn’t have a choice but to go there,” he said.

Jansson described the camp as a sort of drug rehab center for being gay. He said he was raised to believe that if he was gay he was going to become an alcoholic and a drug addict and get AIDS and never go to college or love anyone.

INSEPARABLE | People who know the Janssons call them the most perfectly matched, in-love couple they know.

Larry Jansson, on the other hand, lived in Southern California and had very accepting parents.

“I never thought I’d marry a small-town guy,” he said. “There was no God in my family. No church.”

But when he was 18 and still struggling with his identity, Larry started doing theater with a Christian group.

“They started doing their work on me,” he said.

He “got saved,” he said, by a group called Harvest Crusade. But from then until he was 26, he lived a double life.

“I was either hanging out with these people who thought that I was a Christian or I was out totally doing the gay thing without them knowing,” Larry said.

Then he found out about Love in Action, a group in Memphis, Tenn., that does “reparative therapy.” He decided that he was going to figure things out and so spent his entire $10,000 savings to attend.

Larry said he convinced himself, “If somebody says that God is the answer and this can be changed, I want to know for myself.”

So Larry’s parents drove him to the program. But his mother kept telling him he didn’t have to go.

KC and Larry arrived at the facility at the same time. This was KC’s first time away from home and his first time to be around other gay people.

The camp

The two described the restrictions: No cologne. No clothing by Calvin Klein.

“I had a Nintendo Gameboy. I couldn’t keep that, because it would keep me from being focused on God,” Larry said.

“I played piano,” said KC. “I couldn’t play because they said it would distract me from my therapy.”

And although they described the therapy as based on recovery programs used for addictions, the 12 steps they followed were a very distorted version based on shame, the two men said.

For the first three days, they were not allowed to talk and always had to look at the ground. Each person was assigned a “house brother” who had gone through the program. That person, who was gay, had made it through the first three months to the next stage.

“My big brother was more flamboyant than anyone else in the house,” Larry said. “But he was so about Jesus and getting through this.”

The first night there was a meeting with the four new house members and their “big brothers.” Although they weren’t supposed to look at each other, Larry and KC kept making eye contact.

There were no doors on the rooms and each room had three beds. Larry and KC were assigned to share a room.

Bathroom time was limited to 15 minutes. They had to set a timer to make sure no one was spending too much time locked in there doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.

The next day they went to church. Larry and KC described the church as Prestonwood Baptist-sized, and said all of the members knew who they were. They were escorted to the first row and felt the condemnation of the crowd as they took their seats.

Each morning they would drive down to the church. They would sit in a circle for “Courage, Honesty and Respect” group.

“You would call someone else out for something they did,” said Larry, and the person being accused couldn’t respond for 24 hours.

“I would say something like, ‘KC, you didn’t set your egg timer this morning and we have rules here and I want you to think about that,’” Larry said. “And KC would get fuming red — but he couldn’t say anything.”

KC regarded the rules as a joke. Larry took them very seriously. He wanted to know if these were the rules that were going to turn him straight.

They had group and individual counseling sessions. A woman in Larry’s group said that she was raped and that she didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to a man.

No one there could help her.

KC said his “counselor” was in college but worked at this house unsupervised. Two others were former drug addicts who had gone through 12-step programs themselves. None was a licensed therapist.

“In individual sessions, I was asked to open up about certain things that only a real counselor could deal with,” Larry said. “I now am seeing a true counselor because they opened up these wounds and never closed them.”

At night, the counselors would discuss the group. In the morning they would come to the meeting and tell each one what they could no longer do.

Larry was a dancer and today teaches two dance classes in Plano. He said when he was nervous he’d begin to tap. One morning he was told he could no longer dance.

“That was one of the most devastating things they could do to me,” he said. “It was like waking up one day and finding out I was paralyzed.”

In order to turn the group into “men,” at 6:30 each morning they had to go to the gym because gay people don’t go to a gym.

But they had Larry play basketball.

“We’re in a gym full of hot bodies and muscles,” said Larry. “One day, they had me play basketball. Just because I’m 6’-2” doesn’t mean I can dunk a damn ball.”

But he did it because he wanted the program to work.

LET THEM EAT CAKE | KC, left, and Larry became the Janssons when they married in Connecticut. They later held a ceremony at Cathedral of Hope, followed by a lavish party at the W hotel, complete with a 5-tiered wedding cake. (Photo courtesy Jessica Adkins/Aravaggio Photography)

Building a friendship

During the first three months of the program, KC and Larry developed what they both called a genuine friendship.

Whenever they went anywhere, they had to go in groups of three and always had to be within eye contact of each other. Larry said that if one person needed to go to the bathroom, they all had to go.

After three months, Larry and KC graduated to the second part of the program. Their parents attended an actual graduation ceremony, but they simply continued to the next phase of the program.

KC said he had no choice but to stay because his alternative was to return home to rural Missouri. Larry was still determined to see the program through.

During this period, they were allowed to get a job. Larry went to work for the church, and KC got a job at Radio Shack. But the program still tried to monitor every movement.

“But they’re constantly calling you, constantly e-mailing you,” KC said.

“You have to call your house manager when you leave work and they time you to make sure you get home at the right time,” Larry said.

In this part of the program, they had to work on “trigger trips.” They sent the group of four who had started together to places that might trigger sexual feelings.

Their first trip was to the mall — their first shopping trip in three months.

“I remember walking into that mall and hearing angels,” Larry said.

Larry was given a clipboard and had to write down what triggered them.

One member of the group wanted Godiva chocolate but the other three restrained him because apparently only gay people eat Godiva chocolate.

But the biggest test was when the four walked by Abercrombie & Fitch. Larry said that when the four saw the huge poster of the ripped model in the window, they stopped short and fell on top of one another.

Larry and KC had become best friends and once they graduated and were given more freedom, they began doing things together.

“Any time we were allowed to be alone together, we started doing crazy little date things,” Larry said.

They went to a drive-in movie; “We told them we were going to go to the batting cages,” KC said.

But still nothing happened between them. They were just enjoying each other’s company.

“I never even told KC that I thought he had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen,” Larry said, “because I thought God wanted something else for me.”

Over the next five months their friendship developed, but without physical contact between them. “No kiss. No hug. No touch,” Larry said.

Then the church secretary was going out of town and asked Larry to walk her dogs and water her plants. KC began to tag along.

“All of a sudden we had this place to go that was a little more intimate,” Larry said.

Then on the way back one evening, they stopped at Sonic.

“I had my leg propped up where the gearshift was and he put his arm on me,” KC said. “And from that point forward, I knew I was in love with him.”

A few days later they were at the church secretary’s house. Larry could tell something was wrong with KC.

When Larry finally convinced him to talk, KC admitted he had feelings for Larry and both agreed that it was wrong.

KC turned his back to Larry, and Larry put his arms around him. And as they sat on the couch with their arms around each other, they told each other that it was wrong.

They drove back to the house where they were living, conflicted and in silence. But later that night, they had to let the dogs out again, so they went back. And that’s when they had sex for the first time.

Larry said KC told him he loved him before they had sex. KC thought it was after.

But KC said he told Larry, “I love you. I want to be with you. We’ll do whatever it takes.”

Leaving the program

They were in the last month of their program. Larry needed to decide what he was going to do. He thought he might return to California, but whatever he did, it would be whatever Jesus had planned for him.

He knew he loved KC also, but couldn’t say it.

“I was the brainwashed one trying to make this work,” Larry said. “I wouldn’t let myself say it.”

He wondered if he should tell someone what they had done.

On the third day after they had sex, they drove around Memphis looking at houses. Larry drove up to a mansion that he had seen and stopped.

“What are we doing here?” KC asked.

“I’m going to get you that one day,” Larry told him and KC started crying.

They said that was the point they knew they would build their lives together.

“We just needed to find a way to get out of there together,” Larry said.

KC had planned to move to Dallas, live with his brother and go to college. Larry signed up to go on a short missionary trip to Dubai.

At the end of the six months, KC left for Dallas and Larry left for Dubai. Larry had spent all of his savings on the program. KC had some money. He took enough to get to Dallas and left the rest in a drawer at the house for Larry to get when he got back from Dubai.

When Larry got back from the Middle East, he returned to Memphis, gathered up his belongings, collected the money KC had left for him, got in his car and headed to Dallas.

He packed and snuck out of the house at 3 a.m. No one from the program ever called him to find out where he was or what happened.

KC’s brother was married with three children and Larry was not welcome there. So KC rented him a room at a cheap extended-stay motel. KC told his brother that Larry was his accountability partner. Accountability partners are friends that help each other not be gay.

Larry drove into Dallas and met KC at a gas station at Frankford and the Tollway.

“We were excited about beginning our life together,” Larry said.

Larry had already gotten a job in Carrollton with Washington Mutual, the company he had left six months earlier in California to enroll in the program.

After three days, KC couldn’t stand being apart from Larry and he moved in with him. He told his brother, he said, who was more extremely religious than his parents.

“Thanks, con man,” his brother told him. “You better get out of my house before my wife gets home.”

Happily ever after

Larry and KC lived in the extended stay hotel, changing hotels several times until they could afford an apartment. Then three months after moving to Dallas, Larry proposed.

For KC’s birthday, the two drove to Galveston. After checking into their hotel, they went to the beach and walked out onto a rock pier.

Larry got down on one knee, took out a ring and said, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

But before they were able to get married, Larry got a call in the middle of the night that his mother had been killed in car accident. A drunk driver hit his parents and his father was seriously injured as well.

KC recalled the last time he saw Larry’s mother.

“As we were leaving, she said to me, ‘Promise me you’ll take care of him for the rest of your life,’” she said to him.

They waited for the trial of the drunk driver to be finished before getting married. In September 2009 they legally married in Connecticut and then held a ceremony for friends and family at Cathedral of Hope in December. They had 14 attendants and a lavish reception at the W Hotel.

They invited everyone they knew, and a few they didn’t, including the Obamas and Larry’s favorite TV host, Tyra Banks. While the Obamas didn’t respond, Banks sent her regrets but invited them to participate in a show on same-sex marriage, which they did last June.

By the time the wedding in Dallas took place, KC’s brother had divorced his wife. The brothers had become closer and he served as KC’s best man.

The couple took a honeymoon cruise, and now own a house in Frisco and a little Maltese dog. They decided they wanted the same last name. Because they liked the way KC’s sounded better, with the help of attorney Lorie Burch, they legally became the Janssons.

KC is finishing his degree in accounting at UT Dallas and works full-time managing a salon. Larry is the director of marketing for Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County.

Mention the Janssons to Dawson Taylor, the pastor who married them at Cathedral of Hope, and he just laughs.

He said he’s never met two people who are so perfect for each other and so in love.

And despite having gone through reparative therapy camp, Larry said, “I want everyone to know we’re good with God.”

Taylor agreed and said that their wedding was as much a worship service as a marriage ceremony.

After dealing with Larry’s mother’s death and the subsequent trial, Taylor said, Larry’s family needed a celebration. Family members came from all over the country and Larry and KC reveled in being the source of joy after so much sadness in the family.

Now, life for the Janssons has settled into a normal routine.

In addition to their jobs and school and a happy suburban life in Frisco, both have returned to activities taken away by Love In Action. Larry teaches dance classes. KC plays the piano.

And once KC finishes school, they’ll begin seriously looking into adoption.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Johnny Mathis brings class act to Bass tonight

A voice as smooth as silk

Yes, Johnny Mathis might be the stuff parents or grandparents are made of, but give him another  listen. He hasn’t been at this for more than five decades because he’s a slouch. The quietly out Mathis is a crooner and class act right up there with Tony Bennett, but without the retro appeal and MTV specials. He must have some appeal because we hear this show is sold out.

DEETS: Bass Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth. 8 p.m. $29–$80.

—  Rich Lopez

Boston Archdiocese adopts policy that may end discrimination against kids with gay parents (or not)

Seriously, the Archdiocese of Boston is the last institution that should want attention for how its treating children, given its prominent role in the child rape scandal. But, after a Hingham, Mass. Catholic school wouldn’t admit an 8-year old kid with gay parents, the Catholic leaders in Boston were once again thrust into the spotlight over how they were treating children. A new policy has been announced:

The Archdiocese of Boston, under fire from all sides after a parochial school withdrew an admissions offer to the child of a lesbian couple, yesterday released a new Catholic schools admissions policy that said parochial schools will not “discriminate against or exclude any categories of students.’’

However, the policy, which was distributed to pastors, parishes, and school administrators by e-mail, said school parents “must accept and understand that the teachings of the Catholic Church are an essential and required part of the curriculum.’’

Now, it’s unclear if that new policy would actually block the expulsion of kids with gay parents. And, one wonders if it means that kids would have to listen to their teachers rail against gay marriage and gay parenting.

In fact, it’s possible that the Hingham school could reach the same conclusion even under the new policy:

Because the new policy said admissions decisions should be based in part on “the best interest of the child,’’ it remains uncertain whether the Hingham episode would have occurred had the new policy been in place. The specifics of that case remain unclear because the pastor involved, the Rev. James F. Rafferty, has declined interviews.

“The situation at St. Paul’s in Hingham may have taken a different route, but it might have come to the same conclusion,’’ said the Rev. Richard M. Erikson, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Boston. “Father Rafferty still today has the authority to make these decisions as the pastor. But the expectations of the diocese and the guidance the diocese gives in those judgment calls is clearer today than it was then.’’

So, there you have it. The Catholic Church claims to be fixing a problem, but not exactly.


—  admin

State Department Changes Forms to Include Same-Sex Parents

As reported over the weekend, in late December, the State Department will modify applications for passports and birth records for children of U.S. citizens born overseas to reflect that both parents may be of the same sex.  The forms, which formerly asked only for information on a child’s  “mother” and “father,” will now request “mother or parent 1” and “father or parent 2”.  We applaud the State Department and Secretary Clinton for taking this important step to recognize the many different family structures in our nation, including those headed by same-sex couples.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

Loughner’s parents may issue public statement shortly; plus the MSM and its ‘expert’ interviewees

Since the elder Loughners have not been accessible to the media since the tragedy, so this would be the first time the public would hear the family’s reaction to their son’s arrest. This WSJ article paints a strange portrait of the Arizona shooting suspect’s parents, perhaps unnecessarily negative since, as usual, the MSM has to hunt around for neighbors to talk to to fill space on a hot story.

Even in normal times, many on his block describe the elder Mr. Loughner as a reclusive man who had little time for neighborhood niceties…The parents told investigators they didn’t realize the severity of their son’s problems, say people familiar with the matter.

…Residents interviewed on the block said they barely knew the Loughners. Stephen Woods, who lives next door, had run-ins with Mr. Loughner over uncollected trash that he said were vituperative and hostile.

Once, Mr. Woods said, Mr. Loughner spotted him from a distance in a Wal-Mart parking lot and repeatedly shouted “Trash people!”

Speaking of filling space/air time, I saw a pathetic interview the other day on MSNBC. I don’t recall the anchor, but she was interviewing some young woman who “knew” Jared Lee Loughner.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the person didn’t know anything about the suspect that was worthwhile — she last saw/interacted with him in 2007! All she could convey is that he told her that he said he wanted to “change the world.” Of course that only led the anchor to try to ascertain what that meant, which led nowhere. The whole segment was a flush down the crapper. I know producers want to book “experts” but this was so pathetic I just had to turn the channel.


PLUS: Interview with Tucson’s mayor

There was an interview with Tucson’s Mayor Bob E. Walkup by Gwen Ifill of PBS Newshour about the attempted assassination of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She asked about the tragedy’s effect on Tucson, and his thoughts on the political discourse that may have fueled the rampage. The transcript is below the fold.

GWEN IFILL:  Now, for more on the tragedy in Arizona, we turn to Mayor Bob Walkup.  He joins us from Tucson.

Welcome, Mr. Mayor.

You are quoted at saying this weekend that this was a tragic lesson.

For whom?

ROBERT WALKUP, Mayor of Tucson, Arizona:  Well, it is a tragedy.  It’s a tragedy for the city of Tucson clearly.

But it’s also a tragedy for the state of Arizona, and I think it’s a national tragedy that something like this has occurred.  It is a time for learning and it’s a time for prayer.  And it’s a time for understanding how something like this could really happen.

GWEN IFILL:  As an elected official, as a lawmaker in Arizona, in Tucson, what is it that you think you could have, should have, should be done to avoid something like this?

ROBERT WALKUP:  Well, I can tell you that since I got word of this on Saturday morning, and I went directly to the hospital, and then late in the evening participated in the candlelight vigil outside the hospital, I think it’s becoming very clear that the citizens of the city of Tucson believe that it’s time for us to get back to civility.

It’s time for us to start caring about each other.  It’s time for us to be kind to each other.  And we really need to start the process, so that all of us don’t have to fear an event like this that takes the lives of six people and injures another 14 people.  That’s what I’m hearing from the citizens of Tucson.

GWEN IFILL:  Are they asking you to do anything in particular, rather than pray and hope that things get better?  Is there anything specific they’re asking of their elected leaders?

ROBERT WALKUP:  Oh, absolutely.

And I think that they’re — not only what they’re asking, but we really need to take a look at the issue of security and how did something like this happen.  And a lot of people are trying to figure that out.

But what I think that we need to do is, we really need to — as a society, we need to establish civility, a pledge that all of us are going to get back to how we treat each other and kindness.  That does not mean that we can’t debate issues.

But we don’t have to target people.  And we don’t have to deal with people in great anger.  I — this is a time for caring.  This is time for understanding.

GWEN IFILL:  Mr. Mayor, you’re making a link between people caring for each other and civil discourse and a person who allegedly is unstable, mentally unstable.

In fact, we hear tonight late reports that his family has built a barricade and won’t let people in the house, the FBI in the house.  How do you make that link between those two kinds of behavior?

ROBERT WALKUP:  Well, I think this is something that society has really got to work with, because mental illness is not just a local issue.  This is a national issue, where we really need to put more emphasis in really understanding mental disease and mental issues.

This individual had, apparently, a considerable history that we should have begun to understand.  And we really need to — we in the political jobs in support of the people that have elected us, we get that kind of e-mail all the time.  And I think that it is time for us to say, you know, these are serious threats that we get.

We just cannot dismiss them as being somebody that cannot effect damage within a community.  We need to take it seriously.

GWEN IFILL:  You have been to the hospital.  And you have met with Gabrielle Giffords’ husband and also relatives of other victims.  How are they holding up?

ROBERT WALKUP:  Well, we’re down to a total number of the — total number of 14 people that were injured that were treated.

We’re down to 10 people, and it looks as though another three have been released today.  So I think we’re going to be starting tomorrow with about five to six people that are still — maybe seven — still remaining in the hospital.  

They’re doing well.  Gabby is doing as well as we could expect.  Her husband and I had a chance yesterday to go to her bedside and just stand and kind of look at her and kind of talk to her, even though she couldn’t hear us, and just pray for her recovery, which we all believe is essential and a great possibility for her to come back and do the job that she was elected to do.

GWEN IFILL:  You obviously worked closely with the congresswoman in her years in Congress.  She’s been there for a few years.  You have been mayor for a while.

What kind of a colleague was she?  What kind of a congresswoman was she, is she?

ROBERT WALKUP:  Well, I — yes, is she.

And it goes back to the time before she was even elected to the state legislature, back in the late 1990s, when she was a businessperson in the city of Tucson.  I knew her then.  But, interestingly enough, in the 2000-2003, she was a legislator and we worked on what we can do in Tucson to ensure that the University Medical Center had a very high-tech, functional, world-class trauma center.

She was involved in that process back in 2003.  And we have one of the best.  And, as I looked down at her, I was reminded of how we worked together to provide the trauma center that is saving her life.  And it was — for me, it was a very moving event.

GWEN IFILL:  Are there any plans so far for a public memorial or observance?

ROBERT WALKUP:  Yes, there is.

As a matter of fact, we haven’t scheduled it yet, but we believe that we’re going to try to get everybody together, bring in all the people that would like to — in a public way to be able to say we’re praying for all of the victims, the people that have died.  Funerals are scheduled for this week and next for all those people that just want to come together.

I believe that it’s going to be some time this Friday that we will have a public memorial service in the city of Tucson.  For all of the people that want to come and say, boy, we’re sorry, and we’re praying for you, and we’re praying for gabby to recover and get back on the job.  We love her dearly.

GWEN IFILL:  Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, thank you so much for joining us.

JIM LEHRER:  The aftermath of the Tucson massacre unfolded on two fronts today.  The accused gunman was in court, while Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords lay gravely wounded in a hospital.

“NewsHour” correspondent Tom Bearden begins our extended coverage.

TOM BEARDEN:  Mourners gathered again today at a makeshift memorial in front of the University Medical Center in Tucson for wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of the shootings.

Inside, her doctors continued to express guarded optimism.

DR. G. MICHAEL LEMOLE JR., Chief of Neurosurgery, University Medical Center:  With regard to Congresswoman Giffords’ recovery at this phase in the game, no change is good.  And we have no change.  That is to say, she is still following those basic commands.  On top of that, the CAT scans are showing that there is no progression of that swelling.  We’re not out of the woods yet.

TOM BEARDEN:  During the evening, a steady stream of well wishers came to add to the memorial, leaving flowers, lighting candles.

WOMAN:  I mean, it’s just an absolutely profane act.  It’s shocking.  It’s been surreal.  And, you know, it really has, you know, obviously taken a toll on everybody here in Tucson.  It’s very, very saddening, deeply saddening.

TOM BEARDEN:  Giffords remains sedated three days after being shot in the head at point-blank range.

She had been greeting constituents at a supermarket in her Tucson area district when a lone gunman shot her, then opened fire on the crowd.  The suspected shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was apprehended at the scene.

Six were killed and 14 others were injured, including Giffords — among the dead, Gabe Zimmerman, Giffords’ director of community outreach, who had organized the day’s event, federal Judge John Roll.  He had just left church and stopped by to support Giffords, a good friend.  Phyllis Schneck, a retired librarian, Dorothy Morris — her husband is also among the wounded — Dorwin Stoddard, a retired construction worker, and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, recently elected to her school’s student council.  She was there because of her interest in government.

In Phoenix, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer pronounced her state grieving, but strong.  She appealed for unity in her annual state of the state address.  And she praised the young intern who applied pressure to Giffords’ head wound soon after the shooting.  The young man used his bare hands on a spot where a bullet entered her head and applied pressure to stem blood loss.

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), Arizona:  Daniel Hernandez, a University of Arizona junior, showed no fear in the face of gunfire.  His quick action in going to Gabby Giffords’ aid likely saved her life.

Daniel is here today.  And I’m going to ask him to stand and receive the thanks of a very grateful state.



Arizona is in pain, yes.  Our grief is profound.  We are yet in the first hours of our sorrow, but we have not been brought down.  We will never be brought down.


TOM BEARDEN:  In Washington, President Obama led the nation in a moment of silence to remember the victims.

Down Pennsylvania Avenue, members of Congress and staff filled the steps of the Capitol, and, at the Supreme Court, justices paused between arguments on two cases.  And in Earth orbit, Giffords’ brother-in-law, Commander Scott Kelly, led NASA ground control in a moment of silence from his position aboard the International Space Station.

SCOTT KELLY, NASA Commander:  As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful.  Unfortunately, it is not.

The crew of ISS Expedition 26 and the flight control centers around the world would like to observe a moment of silence in honor of all the victims, which include my sister-in-law Gabrielle Giffords, a caring and dedicated public servant.

TOM BEARDEN:  And, at the White House this afternoon, President Obama again expressed remorse.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States:  Obviously, all of us are still grieving and in shock from the tragedy that took place.  Gabby Giffords and others are still fighting to recover.  Families are still absorbing the enormity of their losses.

We have a criminal investigation that is ongoing, and charges that no doubt will be brought against the perpetrator of this heinous crime.

TOM BEARDEN:  The shopping center where the shootings took place partially reopened this morning, but the crime scene itself is still surrounded by yellow tape.

FBI agents used metal detectors to comb through the gravel in the parking lot median looking for more evidence.  The accused shooter is maintaining his silence, according to police.  He made his first appearance in federal court in Phoenix.

Loughner made no statement, but answered questions from the judge and said he understood the charges against him.  He was ordered held without bail.  Authorities filed five counts against Loughner yesterday, including attempted assassination of a member of Congress.  More charges are expected.

Meanwhile, more details emerged about Loughner’s life before the shooting, with friends and fellow students painting the picture of a disturbed and paranoid social outcast.  He had a history of drug use and was rejected by the Army for failing a drug test when he attempted to join after high school in 2008.

This fall, he spiraled deeper, dropping out of community college after being cited for multiple disruptions and receiving a suspension in September.  Loughner was told he would need a mental health review before returning.

In a June 14 e-mail, a classmate wrote: “We have a mentally unstable person in the class.  He is one of those whose picture you see on the news after he has come into class with an automatic weapon.”

Prosecutors also said a letter found in a safe at the home where Loughner lived with his parents indicated he planned the rampage ahead of time.  The note contained the words, “I planned ahead, my assassination and Giffords’.”  There was also a letter from the congresswoman thanking Loughner for attending an event at a Tucson mall in 2007, indicating they had had previous contact.

?MDNM?CAITLIN ANN PARKER, Friend of Jared Lee Loughner:  He asked her some question that made absolutely no sense to me.  But he said: “I can’t believe she doesn’t understand it.  Politicians just don’t get it.”

TOM BEARDEN:  Also providing clues, several YouTube videos posted by Loughner featuring rambling text against a dark background.  In one, he described inventing a new U.S. currency and complained about illiteracy in Giffords’ Arizona congressional district.  And versions of MySpace page since pulled from the Internet included a mysterious “Goodbye friends” message published hours before the attack.  He also added, “Please don’t be mad at me.”

Saturday’s deadly shooting spree was not a surprise to one of Loughner’s neighbors.

MAN:  I told my mother I thought he was a serial killer the first time I saw him.

TOM BEARDEN:  Back in Washington, congressional business was postponed, including a vote scheduled this week to repeal the president’s health care law.

Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York said she planned to introduce legislation in the coming days to limit access to the type of gun Loughner legally purchased, a Glock .9-millimeter handgun.

Nine-one-one calls released from the scene describe that weapon.

CALLER:  Looks like the guy had a semi-automatic pistol.  He went in.  He just started firing.  And then he ran.

CALLER:  She’s hit.  I do believe she’s breathing.  There’s multiple people shot.

911 OPERATOR:  OK.  Oh, my God.

TOM BEARDEN:  There was beefed-up security at Giffords’ office today, and federal law enforcement officials are planning a security briefing for members of Congress on Wednesday.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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U.S. Passport Applications To Acknowledge Same-Sex Parents

PassStarting in February, passport applications will start to recognize gay and lesbian families:

The State Department has decided to make U.S. passport application forms "gender neutral" by removing references to mother and father, officials said, in favor of language that describes one's parentage somewhat less tenderly. The change is "in recognition of different types of families," according to a statement issued just before Christmas that drew widespread attention Friday after a Fox News report.

The announcement of the change was buried at the end of a Dec. 22 news release, titled "Consular Report of Birth Abroad Certificate Improvements," that highlighted unrelated security changes.

Sounds like progress to me, but the usual suspects have vocally opposed the changes. Wingnut Tony Perkins said the following in a press release:

"Only in the topsy-turvy world of left-wing political correctness could it be considered an 'improvement' for a birth-related document to provide less information about the circumstances of that birth. Yet that is the result of the State Department's decision to remove the words 'mother' and 'father' from Consular Reports of Birth Abroad."

He continued:

"This is clearly designed to advance the causes of same-sex 'marriage' and homosexual parenting without statutory authority, and violates the spirit if not the letter of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). But it does so at the expense of fundamental biological reality – and social reality as well. The State Department's abolition of motherhood and fatherhood would be almost comical, if it did not fly in the face of the mounting social science evidence that children are most likely to thrive when born into a family led by their own married biological mother and father."

Towleroad News #gay

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