I’m not generally a fan of celebrities doing commercials, and have a lot of respect for the ones who won’t, like Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young. But I don’t mind Oprah doing commercials for Weight Watchers. It’s something she’s used herself, and if she finds their products and services helpful and wants to lend her star power to their promotion, fine. I don’t even mind her doing commercials for other stuff, should she chose to, because I suspect any money she receives would be used for great purposes, like supporting her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

What I do mind is Oprah using the same set that she uses for journalistic interviews – that beautiful spot under the trees – to do fakey-fake interviews with weight loss clients for her Weight Watchers’ commercials. Maybe they’re different trees, but it sure looks like the same set she uses to conduct those profound interviews with transcendent spiritual, cultural and political figures like Maya Angelou and Marianne Williamson.

To do these commercials in the same style as her interviews feels like a betrayal of journalistic ethics, and diminishes the integrity of those interviews. And there was no reason to do the commercials that way! Her mere presence in the commercials would have been sufficient to get across the message that she digs the product. There was no need to bastardize her own work in the process. Way to besmirch your brand, Oprah!

Under the Trees with Iyanla – An Excerpt from Super Soul Sunday

Under the Trees with Kylei – Weight Watchers Commercial


“There’s no hope, but I may be wrong.”
 Pete Seeger
NPR: Weekend Edition, 2 July 2005


“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

A beautiful piece on death, dying and grieving written by a friend of my poet friend Adam’s wife Lee, who passed away a few days ago, way too young, way too soon:

Saying Kaddish

I’m sorry I never got to meet Lee, and I’m heartbroken for Adam and their children. I cannot help but think of my mother, who passed away when I was 16, and of all the children who grow up missing their mother, for so many reasons. I’ve spent my whole life searching for my mother. The other day, for the first time I saw some old home movies of my parents and grandparents playing with my sister and I when we were very young. It was amazing to see my grandmother smiling, something I don’t remember her doing much, and most especially to see my mother, young, beautiful and alive…. I know I’ll be watching that DVD again many, many times.

This is a letter I recently sent to the folks at the Knight Foundation regarding the Knight Arts Challenge. If you agree with anything I’ve written here, or have thoughts of your own on how to improve the Knight Arts Challenge, please share a comment here, and let them know too!


An Open Letter to the Knight Arts Challenge
Why I Didn’t Apply This Year

March 31, 2011

Dear Folks at the Knight Arts Challenge,

First, thanks for all you have done for our community, both through the Knight Arts Challenge, as well as your other generous funding. I have personally benefited from this funding as an employee of the Broward County Libraries, teaching computer classes on a grant from the Knight Foundation throughout much of 2010. I know our students greatly benefited from these classes as well – they really made a difference to a lot of formerly computer-illiterate people! I also appreciate the funding the Knight Foundation provides in a multitude of communities throughout the US.

I was thrilled and interested when I first heard about the Knight Arts Challenge, attended several information sessions, and eagerly prepared and submitted my ideas for multiple arts projects. And I have submitted multiple ideas every round of funding, until the most recent round.

What happened? I got discouraged. Not one of my ideas ever even made it past the first round. This has been disappointing, but that’s not what really discouraged me. What discouraged me the most was observing that very few individual artists have received any funding whatsoever in the Knight Arts Challenge. I am not the only person who has noticed this imbalance, it’s something a number of applicants have brought up in conversation over the past several years.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and concluded that this imbalance could be a result of one or more of these factors:

1. A majority of applications are submitted by non-profits and few by artists (though I doubt this is the case).
2. Non-profits submit more polished applications, due to having paid staff and grant writers available to prepare applications.
3. An institutional bias may exist at Knight Arts Challenge favoring non-profits, based on a belief, conscious or sub-conscious, that non-profits are more credible.
4. Individual artists are not submitting good, credible ideas and applications (though I doubt this is the case).
5. An institutional bias may exist at Knight Arts Challenge favoring non-profits, based on Knight staff being more familiar with and having long-term working relationships with non-profits and their staff.
6. Other factors which I have not thought of yet.

I don’t know what the real reason is that you’re funding very few individual artists in the Knight Arts Challenge. You have gone out of your way to solicit applications from artists and encourage artists to apply. And I know many, many artists who have applied, with great enthusiasm. Whatever the reason, I appreciate the fact that you allow individual artists to apply – many grantors don’t – and I would like to see a more level playing field here, one that results in more grants to individual artists.

While you are clearly devoting a great deal of funding to the arts, it seems to me this funding tends to benefit arts audiences and organizations more than artists. While these things are not entirely separate, and developing greater appreciation for the arts among audiences, and building audiences for the arts does benefit artists, I encourage you to find ways to directly support and fund artists. Because without working artists, there will ultimately be no arts for audiences to appreciate.

To quote your application: “We are seeking projects that strive to create good, high quality art in our community.” Other priorities for your funding include arts that bring the community together and create a sense of community. Perhaps your focus on community has obscured the fact that artists, those who actually create the art that audiences and organizations are consuming and promoting, are one of the most important parts of that equation.

I’ve seen similar situations with a lot of arts funders, who often fund non-profit organizations but not individual artists. This creates an environment where artists are either pressured to turn themselves into non-profit organizations, even when this may not be the most appropriate business model for their work, or towards compromising their artistic integrity and vision for the sake of commercial viability. While some artists do find ways to achieve commercial success without that kind of compromise, more direct non-commercial funding for artists would make a difference in artists’ working environment, and allow more artists the time and resources to create great work.

So I would encourage you to ask yourselves why it is that so few individual artists are receiving funding from the Knight Arts Challenge? I suggest that you consider designating a certain amount of funding for organizations, and a certain amount for individual artists. Perhaps this has already occurred to you, as you do ask applicants to indicate whether we are applying as an individual or an organization.

Or if you discover any factors affecting grant decisions such as the ones suggested above, I strongly encourage you to work to remedy them, so that more individual artists can receive funding for their excellent projects.

I would be happy to discuss this issue with you, and to engage with you in a revision of Knight Arts Challenge procedures, in order to create a more level playing field for individual artists. I would also be happy to recommend other outstanding artists in our community who may be interested in assisting with this revision.

Again, thanks for all you do, and I hope this feedback will be meaningful and helpful to you in your work to enhance the arts in South Florida and other communities!

Sincerely yours,
Laura Sue Wilansky
The Silver Nightingale
Creative Economy Committee – Broward County’s 2020 Cultural Plan
Vision Broward – Creative Industries Task Force

Let’s see, where was I? Oh, yeah, in shock! I wrote a voluminous blog after the election, which is still sitting in my drafts folder waiting to be finished. And then, I just kinda… was in shock for a while, and stopped blogging. It was GREAT that Obama got elected, but I couldn’t believe it actually happened. To tell the truth, it’s still hard for me to believe it. He’s not perfect, and he’s not doing everything I want, but I’m still happy Obama got elected. President Barack Obama. No one can ever undo that.

From reading other people’s blogs, it looks like blog pauses are pretty common – people just stop for irregular periods of time, usually with no explanation. So maybe we’ll just call that my little Sabbatical, leaving the fields fallow for a while. That’s something we’re all supposed to do every once in a while anyway, planned or spontaneous!

But for a while now, I’ve been thinking alot about things I want to say in this forum again, so stay tuned! More posts coming soon, including something that I hope will stir up some conversation in the South Florida Arts Community (and maybe even beyond!)

“All of us, we all have a responsibility. You have to get your news from news sources, not just one, ’cause they’re all biased, especially the cable channels: MSNBC – very liberal; Fox News – very conservative; The Animal Planet – always meerkats, never badgers.

“You know what bothers me is that every election year as well, you get the voter registration drives aimed at the young people – Rock the Vote, Think the Vote, Music the Vote…. Are we so lost we have to be sold our own democratic right?!…. We have to sexy up the vote for young people?

“Here’s what I would say to you: ‘If you don’t vote, you’re a moron.’ I know what you’ll say: ‘Not voting is a vote.’ No it isn’t. Not voting is just being stupid!

“Voting is not sexy. Voting is not hep. It is not fashionable. It’s not a movie, it’s not a video game. All the kids ain’t doin’ it. Frankly, voting is a pain in the ass! But here’s a word – look it up. It is your DUTY to vote!

“The foundation in this democracy is based on free people making free choices. So young people, if you can’t take your hand out of your bag of Cheetos long enough to fill out a form, then you can’t complain when we wind up with President Sanjaya.

“We have two patriotic candidates. They both love this country, they have different ideas about what to do with it. Learn about them, read about them, question them, listen to them. Then on Election Day, exercise your sacred right as an American and listen to yourself.”

– Craig Ferguson, The Craig Ferguson Show, 9/11/08


“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
– Josef Stalin


Best Campaign Season Song:

They Lost My Vote by my dear friends Ellen Bukstel and Nancy Wuerzburger
Watch it on the YouTube: They Lost My Vote
(I actually appear in this video very briefly!)


Best Number to Call if You See Something Funky Happening at the Polls:

866/OUR-VOTE – that’s 866/687-8683


Most Satisfying Campaign Violence:

David Alan Grier pulverizing an Obama-to-McCain vote-flipping electronic voting machine with a baseball bat – Chocolate News, 10/25/08


Best Campaign Season Commercial:

Video collage of people ordering at the drive-thru, followed by: We know you have a voice. We hear it every day. Use it November 4th. VOTE. Have it your way ’08 – Burger King

Best Way for Broward County Voters to Check Your Voter Registration:

You can now check your voter registration status online. This is a great thing to do, especially for people who just registered for the first time and want to make sure they’re on the voter rolls, who have moved, or who have any questions whatsoever about their registration status.

Go to Broward Supervisor of Elections Office and click on “Check Your Registration Status” in the middle of the page. You’ll enter your name and date of birth. Please note: enter just your first name, even if you registered with your first and middle name like I did. When I entered my first and middle name, the system could not find my registration, however when I entered just my first name, it came right up.

Based on my experience as a Broward County pollworker, the earlier you register and/or make changes in your registration, the better. Changes made close to the election often create problems at the polls.

I highly recommend you check your registration status before going to the polls, and take your voter registration card to the polls with you! (even though having your voter registration card with you is not required to vote) In the current election environment, many, many voters are being wrongfully removed from the voter rolls without their knowledge. So it is up to us to make sure our Constitutional right to vote is not compromised or denied. Those of you not in Broward County, check with your local county Supervisor of Elections Office and hold them accountable!


Best Way for Broward County Voters to Get Involved in Election Protection:

1. Vote for Ellen H. Brodsky, NPA for Broward County Supervisor of Elections
2. Join Broward Election Reform Coalition

or: Are We There Yet?

“New Rule: Stop saying we can’t impeach George Bush. We still have two months!” – Dennis Kucinich, DNC New Rules, Real Time with Bill Maher, 9/08

“Mo [Rocca] used to host a TV show called ‘Things I Hate About You’. I’m sure I’ve seen that program, only I believe it’s now called Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” – Dick Cheney, 2008 Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner

“We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” – John McCain, Presidential Debate the Third, 10/15/08

“It reminds me a little bit of what Mary McCarthy once said about Lillian Hellman: ‘Every word out of her mouth is a lie including and and the.’” – Jonathan Alter of Newsweek on McCain’s lies about Obama, The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/10/08

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Gov. Palin brought up Joe Biden’s quote [re offshore drilling] about us raping the ocean floors this evening. Does Gov. Palin support the ocean paying for its own rape kits?” – John Oliver to Senior McCain Advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin on the Vice-Presidential Debate – The Daily Show, 10/06/08

“Keith, I’m going to be as restrained and measured as I possibly can about this, but this is the most mindless, ignorant, uninformed comment that we have seen from Gov. Palin so far, and there’s been a lot of competition for that prize.” – Richard Wolffe of Newsweek on Gov. Palin’s ridicule of scientific research using fruit flies during her first policy speech, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 10/24/08

“There’s no doubt that what Sen. Edwards did shows a serious lack of judgment. But just because a married man cheats on his wife with a younger blonde he met in a bar doesn’t mean he’s not a patriot. Just ask John McCain.” – Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, 9/08

“This bailout does feel like trying to pull a car out of a ditch and finding out it’s out of gas. You’re making progress, but you’re still not going anywhere.” – Craig Crawford of CQPolitics.com, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 10/03/08

“It’s a good idea to save your money. One day it might be worth something again!” – Alfred E. Neuman

“This campaign… began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as ‘The One’. Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him ‘that one’. He doesn’t mind at all, in fact he even has a pet name for me: George Bush.” – John McCain at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, 10/16/08

“I was thrilled to get this invitation and I feel right at home here, because it’s often been said that I have the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Neuman.” – Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, 10/16/08

“How come we choose from just two people for President, and fifty for Miss America?” – Alfred E. Neuman

“The reason why Absurdist plays take place in No Man’s Land with only two characters is primarily financial.” – Arther Adamov, Russian-born French dramatist

“In our time of lies and hate it seems appropriate to be reminded of the beauty of saying yes to the chaos of truth….” – Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses

I have, until now, refrained from commenting upon Republican Candidate for Spokes-Vice President Sarah Palin and her oh-so-many commentworthy characteristics. I do have my opinions about Palin, but so does everyone else – and as far as I could see, everything I’d been thinking was already being said by someone else.

But now I feel I must speak up, being uniquely qualified to comment upon one particular facet of this multi-faceted candidate: Sarah Palin as Flautist.

This is in my bailiwick.

By now you may have seen the video of Palin playing “The Homecoming” during the Talent portion of the 1984 Miss Alaska competion (Though her name wasn’t Palin then, she was Sarah Heath.)

In case you yourself are not a professional flautist or music journalist like me, please allow me to give you the benefit of my expertise in evaluating this performance.

The MC introduced Ms. Heath, saying the piece she was going to play was arranged by “Sarah’s favorite artist, James Galway”. Unfortunately, the Galway influence was in no way evident in her performance.

Palin’s posture was good, and her flute position was generally good as well, but not her finger position. Among other things, she makes the classic rookie mistake of moving her fingers way too much, and most especially, sticking her left pinkie way up in the air. Good flute technique dictates keeping your fingertips close to the keys at all times, and using the absolute minimum amount of movement required to play each note.

It’s easy to see Palin’s stage presence, self-possession and charm in this video, as she smiles unwaveringly despite her generally horrid playing. If you watched the video with the sound off, you would probably think she was feeling good about a very successful performance. Her ability to put the best face on things in this way has obviously served her quite well over the years.

But with the sound on… well, that’s another story. Her breathing is shaky and uneven – like many amateur flautists – making her phrasing short and choppy, and her tone shrill and unsteady. More experienced flautists learn how to breathe through the stage fright everyone gets, so it doesn’t affect our playing.

There’s no passion or genuine artistic expression in her playing; what we hear here is a pretty rote delivery of (approximately) what’s written in the sheet music. Worst of all is Palin’s pitch – really, really bad pitch.

In all fairness, I must say that the live house band accompanying her is also pretty bad, especially in the pitch department, and the whole lot get progressively more out of tune as the song wears on. Unfortunately they’re all off-pitch in divergent directions, resulting in a painfully dissonant ensemble, rather than the sweet, slightly chaotic disharmony of, say, Lisa Simpson’s school orchestra.

All in all, I’d have to place Palin’s performance on a level with an okay grade-schooler, or a not very good junior high student musician. That said, as far as I know, we haven’t had any decent musicians among our Presidential candidates for quite a while now. Ah, for the days when politicans valued the arts!


“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”
– Pres. John F. Kennedy, honoring Robert Frost, October 1963


The Campaign Gets Personal – Episode 1

Great Words from Great Wordsmiths

“I am the strings, and the Supreme is the musician.” - Carlos Santana

“What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner.” - Collette

“I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” - Rabindranath Tagore

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” - Maya Angelou
June 2023