Thursday, February 28, 2008

Open Letter from Barack Obama to the LGBT Community

The full text of Senator Obama's open letter to the LBGT community follows. I have felt that Obama and Clinton both were offering too little too vaguely and too late to gay Americans, but this letter offers some evidence that Obama, unlike any other viable Presidential candidate of either major party, now or ever, is stepping up to advocate for and commit to issues of equality and justice that major national politicians have ignored in the nearly 40 years since the Stonewall riots.

Questions still remain, of course, about whether Obama can pull the strings of power, the major shapers of the economy, media, and policy, as smoothly as he stirs the hearts of regular American people--but we now know that at least he is resolved to make the effort and we must accept the fact that certainty about any candidate's future conduct and effectiveness is impossible.

I wish Barack Obama were not so earnest in mixing the rhetoric of politics and religion. I'm suspicious of politicians, of either party, who equate the Constitution and the Bible or American and Judeo-Christian values, as I heed Sinclair Lewis's warning that, "when fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross."

However, the interests of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people have never been as strongly addressed by a Presidential candidate with Obama's chance of a victory.

Until the competition makes a better offer, without waiting to see first how Obama's stance affects his polling results, I'm persuaded that Senator Obama may well represent our best hope of pulling America towards a more enlightened, mature view of sexuality and human rights.


I'm running for President to build an America that lives up to our founding promise of equality for all – a promise that extends to our gay brothers and sisters. It's wrong to have millions of Americans living as second-class citizens in this nation. And I ask for your support in this election so that together we can bring about real change for all LGBT Americans.

Equality is a moral imperative. That's why throughout my career, I have fought to eliminate discrimination against LGBT Americans. In Illinois, I co-sponsored a fully inclusive bill that prohibited discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, extending protection to the workplace, housing, and places of public accommodation. In the U.S. Senate, I have co-sponsored bills that would equalize tax treatment for same-sex couples and provide benefits to domestic partners of federal employees. And as president, I will place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act to outlaw hate crimes and a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

As your President, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws. I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment. But I also believe that the federal government should not stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples — whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage. Unlike Senator Clinton, I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does. I have also called for us to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and I have worked to improve the Uniting American Families Act so we can afford same-sex couples the same rights and obligations as married couples in our immigration system.

The next president must also address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When it comes to prevention, we do not have to choose between values and science. While abstinence education should be part of any strategy, we also need to use common sense. We should have age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception. We should pass the JUSTICE Act to combat infection within our prison population. And we should lift the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. In addition, local governments can protect public health by distributing contraceptives.

We also need a president who's willing to confront the stigma – too often tied to homophobia – that continues to surround HIV/AIDS. I confronted this stigma directly in a speech to evangelicals at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, and will continue to speak out as president. That is where I stand on the major issues of the day. But having the right positions on the issues is only half the battle. The other half is to win broad support for those positions. And winning broad support will require stepping outside our comfort zone. If we want to repeal DOMA, repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and implement fully inclusive laws outlawing hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace, we need to bring the message of LGBT equality to skeptical audiences as well as friendly ones – and that's what I've done throughout my career. I brought this message of inclusiveness to all of America in my keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention. I talked about the need to fight homophobia when I announced my candidacy for President, and I have been talking about LGBT equality to a number of groups during this campaign – from local LGBT activists to rural farmers to parishioners at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King once preached.

Just as important, I have been listening to what all Americans have to say. I will never compromise on my commitment to equal rights for all LGBT Americans. But neither will I close my ears to the voices of those who still need to be convinced. That is the work we must do to move forward together. It is difficult. It is challenging. And it is necessary.

Americans are yearning for leadership that can empower us to reach for what we know is possible. I believe that we can achieve the goal of full equality for the millions of LGBT people in this country. To do that, we need leadership that can appeal to the best parts of the human spirit. Join with me, and I will provide that leadership. Together, we will achieve real equality for all Americans, gay and straight alike.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Here are some songs that belong on the soundtrack of my biopic. I’ve refrained from simply picking favorites, attaching another criterion: that they conjure up the ghosts of my life at various key points—and my particular life, not only an era I lived through.

I’ve tried to use each artist only once (even though some of the artists, of course, are favorites and have been over several decades).

I’ve also refrained from simply picking songs that will make me look hip (or, more accurately, make me look like I’m trying hard to look hip).


The Cowboy Church Sunday School—Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sun Shine In
Shelley Fabares—Johnny Angel
Ray Charles—Busted
Petula Clark—Downtown
The Supremes—Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart
Lulu—To Sir With Love


Dusty Springfield—Son of a Preacher Man
The Rolling Stones—Gimme Shelter
Mary Hopkin—Goodbye
Peggy Lee—Is That All There Is?
Louis Armstrong—We Have All the Time in the World
Melanie—Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)


T.Rex—Get It On
Lou Reed—Walk on the Wild Side
Elton John—Daniel
John Lennon—Whatever Gets You Thru the Night
David Bowie—Golden Years
Paul Simon and Phoebe Snow—Gone at Last


The Bee Gees—Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)
Emmylou Harris—One of These Days
ABBA—Dancing Queen
Gerry Rafferty—Baker Street
Talking Heads—Heaven
Queen—Another One Bites the Dust


Peter Gabriel—Shock the Monkey
Frankie Goes to Hollywood—Relax
The The—This Is the Day
Bronksi Beat—Smalltown Boy
The Smiths—Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
The Style Council—Promised Land


White Town—Your Woman
Eels—Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues
The Dandy Warhols—Bohemian Like You
Tilly and the Wall—Bottoms of Barrels
Amy Winehouse—Back to Black
Grizzly Bear—Knife

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I just read a reader's response to a Towleroad article on the February 12th murder of 15-year-old Lawrence King in an Oxnard, California, junior high school--shot by a classmate because King had recently announced he was gay.

The reader complains about how everybody, in particular Democratic candidates Clinton and Obama, with no doubt good intentions, is calling for more tolerance in our society.

He replies that what gays and lesbians need is not tolerance.

Damn right.

Ask King if he wants tolerance. What about life? as in a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

American society has already proved its "tolerance" for gays and lesbians--hell, in the entertainment media we are even rather well liked.

Well, almost.

If you discount the fact that, quality award-winning entertainment that it was, a movie like Brokeback Mountain garnered sneers and wisecracks from the start, even before it was released.

And some bloggers and reviewers have even decried only vaguely homoerotic elements in 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as vaguely dangerous and disingenuous developments in a post-Brokeback world.

Fox News host John Gibson mocked Heath Ledger's death, calling the actor a "weirdo" for even playing a fictional character who is gay.

But they, most of them, are willing to "tolerate" us.

To tolerate means to put up with ... as in put up with something or someone obnoxious or detestable.

To tolerate means not actively to oppose, prohibit, or exterminate--but it does not necessarily mean to embrace, to accept as deserving of the rights and ordinary privileges of citizenship.

Some people can tolerate poison or extremes of heat or cold.

I hear toleration when right-wing Christians claim to hate the sin but love the sinner. They tolerate sinners, but condemn, persecute, even physically attack the sin. Tough love.

Of course, we know that "tolerance" also means to respect the dignity of those who are different ... but, even then, it's mainly a show of respect for someone who ordinarily doesn't deserve respect.

Perhaps, if anything, America now has too much tolerance ... for repression, stupidity, meanness, and injustice.

What we need is not so much tolerance as liberty, intelligence, kindness, and justice.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Buddy in Ukraine

In Konstantin's second and latest project for YouTube, he pushes the limits of the traditional "workout" vid, eschewing the usual neorealism of shrugs, curls, and extensions (that is to say, an actual workout) to focus instead on the spiritual question of existence.

Keeping his winsomely expressive omphalos as the central and therefore dominant aspect of the frame, he reminds viewers that eternal essence inheres to the transient instant.

His staggered exhalations ("grunting huffs" I might call them) refer us to the possibility, even the promise of jouissance in physical motion and skin-to-skin contact.

The "V" hand sign at the end, referencing not "victory" or "peace" or "'zup," but rather the vaginal nurture and healing power of the earth, is in obvious contrast to the sky-god phallos signified in his smooth, stripped-bare torso so magnified and yet so clearly objectified in the early moments of the work.

Konstantin subverts idealization, affirming the negative capability of the artist to accept the metaphysical hegemony of the "now" over mere language and reason ("logos").

It is a profound and indeed thrilling performance.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscars: Favorites, Bets, Worst Cases

Best Picture

Favorite: There Will Be Blood
Bet for: No Country for Old Men
Bet against: Michael Clayton
Worst Case: Juno
Winner: No Country for Old Men

Best Actor

Favorite: Johnny Depp
Bet for: Daniel Day-Lewis
Bet against: Johnny Depp
Worst Case: George Clooney
Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress

Favorite: Laura Linney
Bet for: Julie Christie
Bet against: Cate Blanchett
Worst Case: Marion Cotillard
Winner: Marion Cotillard

Best Supporting Actor

Favorite: Casey Affleck
Bet for: Hal Holbrook
Bet against: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Worst Case: Javier Bardem
Winner: Javier Bardem

Best Supporting Actress

Favorite: Amy Ryan
Bet for: Ruby Dee
Bet against: Amy Ryan
Worst Case: Ruby Dee
Winner: Tilda Swinton

Best Director:

Favorite: Paul Thomas Anderson
Bet for: Joel and Ethan Coen
Bet against: Jason Reitman
Worst Case: Jason Reitman\
Winner: Joel and Ethan Coen

Saturday, February 23, 2008

First Baptism

jesus knocking

I have been baptized three times. The first, I am now convinced, was the one true one; if any one of them worked, then that was it.

The other two stemmed, to varying degrees, from questionable impulses. The second, because I was struggling with my sexual feelings for other boys, which, without even knowing what they were, persuaded me that my soul might be lost. The third, a calculated dodge, because the minister of my church, of all people, had walked in on me in bed with a swimmer/basketball player at the Christian college I then attended--over four decades later, I still blush at the memory.

My parents were Baptists. Baptists believe in total immersion--a minister bends you backwards into a vat of water (filled up to the waist) until you are entirely underwater and then pulls you back up, while saying, "I now baptize you, my brother, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Usually an organist quietly plays a hymn, as in a funeral service.

I was five when I was first baptized. My parents belonged to a church in the small Gulf Coast town close to the Air Force base where my father was stationed. My father was a deacon in the church; my mother was the best friend of the pastor's wife; the pastor's son, my age, was my best friend.

I had accepted Jesus as my personal savior one sunny Sunday morning. I walked up to the altar, knelt down between two bosomy old ladies who prayed with me, as I confessed that I was a sinner (already, at age five, fearful of an eternity in a burning hell) and asked Jesus to come into my heart.

I was a literalist. I had seen the picture of Jesus knocking on the door (of a sinner's heart) and imagined he entered one's heart as simply and literally as a vacuum-cleaner salesman enters one's living room.

How was I to know better?

As I recall it, I was baptized that same day--though it doesn't seem possible now that that was really so--surely, I must be condensing two different Sundays.

The church was located near a stream or bayou leading into the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of using interior plumbing to have indoor baptisms, usually in an evening service, as most Baptist churches do, this church practiced baptism immediately after the Sunday morning worship service. Interested church members, which included nearly them all, would walk from the sanctuary to this stream, which was deep enough to perform Baptist-style dunkings.

I remember that someone, possibly one of my parents, explained to me that baptism was a "picture" of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My five-year-old mind understood this to mean that while I was underwater I would see a little movie about the last days of Jesus. Of course, the ritual is symbolic, but how was I to understand symbols?

As I was dipped into the water, I opened my eyes--the water stung them (there must have been a backwash of saltwater or something) and I saw a little flotsam--but no Technicolor Life of Jesus.

I was disappointed, but I did not let on. It was only as an adult that I began to tell this story to others. I remember this event as my first disillusionment, but my response to it was matter of fact.

As a child, I had already noticed that a lot of things that were supposed to work (or I had thought were supposed to work in a certain way) often failed to work. For instance, I remember once breaking open a carton of eggs onto the kitchen floor because I was under the impression that the refrigerator turned them into hard-boiled eggs.

So the symbol of my entrance into the true faith was perhaps really my entrance into a life of irony and skepticism, based on life's disappointing tendency not to be the way it is supposed to be. And my response back then, nonplussed in both senses of bewildered and unimpressed, continues to be my response to life's anticlimactic surprises.

Cue the deejay to play Miss Peggy Lee, singing "Is That All There Is?"

Friday, February 22, 2008


I think the case against Fidel Castro has been overstated.

To be sure, the eight years following the revolution were bloody. Thousands of people were executed under Castro's newly established government. Many others were imprisoned, accused of being CIA operatives or counter-revolutionaries.

There's no point in denying the ugly truth of this harsh and unjust past--no more than in denying America's past of forced servitude in the South and mass slaughter of native peoples in the West.

In his own defense, Castro has claimed--much as Bush now claims of Guantanamo detainees--that those incarcerated back then were not mere political prisoners, but violent combatants at war against the government and people of Cuba.

Today the biggest political detention center (i.e. concentration camp) on the Cuban isle is US operated.

Beginning in 1965, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses were jailed in Castro's Cuba for soliciting sex and converts in public places (as dramatically portrayed in films like Improper Conduct and Before Night Falls), a practice presumably ended in 1967, in response to international protest.

Keep in mind that Jehovah's Witnesses were incarcerated, as conscientious objectors, also in the US during World War II--and in the same decade Cuban homosexuals were being jailed, big city cops in America were raiding known hangouts of homosexual men and arresting and jailing the patrons of gay bars.

Same-sex relations for consenting adults (over 16) have been legal in Cuba since 1992, a full 11 years before the US Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, overruled anti-sodomy laws in all 50 states in the USA.

For the economic hardships the Cuban people have suffered under, post Batista, Castro is less to blame than the US embargo against Cuba, from Eisenhower's 1960 blockade on food and medicine to Bush's 2004 measures to reduce the flow of money and tourists into Cuba.

If the Cuban people suffer, and they do, it is not because of Castro's policies; it is because of American policies.

The charge that Fidel Castro has accumulated vast personal wealth (greater than Elizabeth II's in the UK, according to a 2003 Forbes magazine article), while his people starve, has been repeatedly rebutted by Western visitors to Cuba, who have commented on Castro's austere lifestyle.

Cuba has erected no statues of Castro, his face appears on none of the currency, and his private life receives little to no coverage in Cuban media--unusual modesty in a purported Latin American dictator. His customary military garb is certainly not expensive or flashy--considerably less so, in fact, than Bush's 2003 Top-Gun masquerade aboard the USS Lincoln.

With the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Cuba poses no security threat to the US. Its population is a bit less than the combined populations of NYC and LA, roughly equal to the number of British citizens who have taken illegal drugs ... or the reported number of illegal immigrants currently in the USA.

The demonization of Castro and his Cuba is a bit ridiculous, especially in the present day. He has outlived all the US presidents who tried to depose him or have him assassinated. In retrospect, he seems like a reasonably respectable leader of a small island nation.

He retires after almost 50 years in power--not falling to a military coup or brought down by black ops (though not for lack of the CIA's trying) or swept from power by an outraged populace ... but voluntarily stepping down at age 82, 11 years older than John McCain.

He has managed to keep his country afloat on fewer resources than are spent on US presidential elections, while (according to the film Sicko) offering universal healthcare to the Cuban people and maintaining a lower infant mortality rate than in the US.

Compare this to the legacy of George W. Bush. Bush entered office with a projected $5.6 trillion surplus for the next 10 years, which he promptly squandered; he proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, initiated an expensive and unjustifiable (even in terms of costs vs benefits) war, lost $9 billion in Iraq without even a trace, and will leave office with a national "balance sheet that's starting to look more and more like a third-world country," according to NYC mayor (GOP) Michael Bloomberg.

By comparison, Fidel Castro has been a statesman of rare integrity, humanitarianism, and finesse.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


What to make of today's New York Times story raising suspicions that Republican Presidential candidate John McCain may have been cozying up too close with lobbyist Vicki Iseman.

Well, my first response is to state, unequivocally, I couldn't care less. Even if it's true, fine. If it's false, just fine with me. I do not care.

Of course, more troublesome than a possible romance, denied by both McCain and Iseman, is the more lurid and more likely possibility of influence peddling. About this matter I do care ... especially as it involves a politician who has wrapped himself in a mantle of integrity and independence.

My second response is to wonder why the NYT should consider this story newsworthy, apart from (1) its apparent sources are McCain's own advisers (whuh?) and (2) its echoey relevance to the Bill Clinton melodrama 10 years ago.

On the first count, that McCain's own advisers should delve into innuendo that might hurt their man in the eyes of righteous Americans everywhere is mystifying enough to deserve a story.

What could their motive be?

But, surely, there must be an ugly underbelly to this story, after all the Bushes (George H.W., George W., and Jeb) have jumped on the McCain-for-President bandwagon, and, more ominously, Karl Rove is now looking for a place on the wagon to park his own ample butt. And these are not men known for being, let us say, undevious.

And, moreover, last month the New York Times endorsed McCain among the Republican contenders ... and Hillary Clinton among the Democratic. It seems unlikely then that the Times is motivated by an anti-McCain bias, unless, of course, a scandal could benefit Clinton, their true darling, perhaps. But could it? A scandal at this level could do nothing except open old wounds for the Clintons....

Though, I suppose, there is a possibility, a remote one, that a scandal like this (if tinted in the illicit colors of adultery) could raise attention, even some sympathy for McCain and, by analogy, for Clinton. At the moment, McCain doesn't need the bump--not this type of bump, anyway--but Clinton could possibly find a way to capitalize on the situation--perhaps by nobly showering McCain and his family with compassion, in this dark hour, while subtly reminding the world that she, too, has known sorrow and suffering at the hands of unjust media.

Hard to read. Really really hard.

My third response is this: Could it be Huckabee? Not necessarily the amiable yet devout, purpose-driven creationist himself, whose name so warmly evokes Mark Twain and a chain of family restaurants. But his supporters?


Is the religious right capable of falsely smearing a former military hero like McCain in order to give a boost to their boy Mike?

Short answer: You bet.

And I'd be surprised if the religious right has NOT been cooking up something right along this line ... even if not this particular scandal.

So if the simplest explanation is the best (which it so seldom is, by the way), then I would say supporters of Huckabee are lurking in the shadows of this new revelation.

But with Rove and the Bushes circling around in McCain waters these days, it's hard for me not to imagine that somehow this is a maneuver to help McCain (if indeed he is their man), though the "how" may be as elaborate and slow to unwind as the marketing campaign for Cloverfield.

Careful readers may notice that I have not considered the possibility that the story is, true or not, simply a thing of chance and coincidence--that the Times is pursuing only solid, straightforward reportage; that McCain's advisers have spoken up in the spirit of sincere, if perhaps mistaken, civic responsibility; that Rove and/or the religious right are in no way involved in an elaborate conspiracy to (once again) spoil the democratic processes of free election.

My friends could say I watch The Wire too much, but my doubts about the transparency of American power and the American "way of life" are much older than The Wire.

Can the system really be as corrupt as I automatically suspect it is? Can media and/or political power brokers really be as contemptuous of the truth and history as my knee-jerk suspicions hint that they are? Are we now alive in a place and a time that put the Medicis' Florence to shame?

Short answer: You bet.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. A


Eleven years ago today I got to wish director Robert Altman a happy birthday while he was shooting The Gingerbread Man in Savannah.

I was teaching at Savannah College of Art and Design at the time, and catching sight of the film crew assembled at Forsyth Park after class one day, I stopped at home and picked up my puppy, Ripley, for a walk in the park and a look-see.

Half of the park was cordoned off for the day's shoot, but one of the security people saw Ripley (cutest puppy in the world) and let us slip by the yellow tape. Successive circles of human insulation gave way to the charms of the puppy, and before long I was up close to the action, where Altman was directing Kenneth Branagh and Robert Downey Jr. in a scene.

The assistant director approached me and asked whether Ripley could catch a Frisbee, as two teens playing Frisbee were background extras in the shot. Sadly, my dog was not ready for a screen appearance, but I asked whether I could hang around for a bit more because I was a big big big big big admirer of Altman's films. She said, no problem; Ripley and I could sit right behind the director's chair.

Just then, Altman ambled by, and geeky fan that I am, I said, in as matter-of-fact a voice as I could muster, "Happy birthday, Mr. Altman." He turned to look at me, said thank you, and we shook hands. I said, "Your films have meant a lot to me." He smiled and thanked me again, and moved back to Branagh and Downey.

For another hour or so, Ripley and I sat in the grass behind the director's chair and watched the rather boring process of shooting a scene.

It was a moment I will treasure forever.

"Your films have meant a lot to me." With a word change, it's the same thing I said to Don DeLillo a few years ago: "Your books have meant a lot to me." But the compliment was sincere in both cases.

Robert Altman's 1975 film Nashville changed my life in ways that I cannot possibly count. It is the only movie I ever saw more than five times while it was playing at theaters. Admittedly, it loses a lot of its impact on TV; even the DVD version is a bit disappointing, but the DVD is the only reason I now own a DVD player (though I do have a fairly ample collection of other films now).

Why do I think so highly of Nashville? Let me, in honor of the late director's birthday, at least offer a few of my reasons.

I love Nashville because it seamlessly combines disparate genres: musical, documentary, epic, social critique, political prognostication, and comedy.

I love Ronee Blakely, Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Chaplin, Barbara Harris, Gwen Welles, Shelley Duvall, and Barbara Baxley, each deserving of the Supporting Actress award only Blakely and Tomlin were nominated for (losing to the equally marvelous Lee Grant for the nearly as marvelous Shampoo).

I love the songs in Nashville, much reviled though they were by Nashville music people and critics at the time. They were composed by the actors who sing them (one, "I'm Easy," won Keith Carradine an Academy Award, the film's only win). Ironically, today the soundtrack album is held in some esteem by performers and fans. Particular favorites are Blakeley's "Dues," "Tapedeck in his Tractor," and "My Idaho Home."

I love Nashville because it captures a specific moment in time (what was then the present, of course) more faithfully and critically than any other movie I have ever seen. Every detail is not only perfectly accurate, which, I suppose, is equally true of any documentary and of many other documentary-like story films, but also clearly judged for what it says about American culture, ca. 1974/75, and integrated into a complex, coherent whole.

I love that Altman set up this complicated narrative (scripted by Joan Tewskesbury) by asking his actors to take up residence in character-appropriate suburbs of Nashville and shot the movie with virtually a documentary film crew. Local non-actors add to the authenticity of the film--the leering crowd of men who cajole Gwen Welles into a strip tease were, in reality, members of the city's Chamber of Commerce. Altman pulled in Elliott Gould and Julie Christie (who appeared in some of Altman's earlier films) to play themselves as disheveled, somewhat callow Hollywood types slumming among their less-hip Nashvillian counterparts.

Of course, when I first saw the film, I was unaware of the techniques behind it, but I certainly felt the effect.

I love the vulgarity of Nashville--which is the vulgarity of American commerce and hype.

I love Nashville because it captures a key moment in American history--post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, pre-disco, pre-neocon--when American show biz was converging with American politics. A time when I was coming of age.

Monday, February 18, 2008

13 Snappy Comebacks (This Morning with my Students)

"But everything does fit. Of course, it does. Why would so many people find such maddening pleasure in it, if, as you say, the parts don't fit together?"

"The hell if I know. Like it worked such wonders for women and blacks to be born that way. So we prove it's all genetic, it really really can't be helped, and suddenly we're going to be allowed human rights? In, what, another two hundred years?"

"OK, what if it is a choice. So what? Choices are bad?"

"So the worse you and Dr. Dobson can say, slippery slope-wise, is if we let homosexuals get married, the way will be paved for polygamy? Polygamy? What kind of bible thumper makes this argument? Weren't Abraham, Jacob, and Solomon polygamists? Sodomites were stoned to death in the Old Testament, but today they're a gateway to the sort of marriage enjoyed by the patriarchs of old?"

"Do you really believe procreation is the sole purpose of sex? So, like, once we get this whole fertility thing down to an exact science, you would vote for having sex only three or four times total in your entire life?"

"How many of you (and I'm not asking for a hand count here) honestly believe that you could command your body to adjust its sexual desires? Let's say you wanted to eradicate the desire for tall blondes. Sure, you could marry a short brunette, even have some short brown-haired kids, but you believe you would never think about tall blondes again?"

"Maybe in the sense that men serving time in prison or on submarines are gay for life, I could perhaps believe that the so-called ex-gays are now straight."

"Do you realize that, when I was a kid, teachers and parents were still forcing left-handed kids to write with their right hands? Why? Because they thought to write with the left hand was not the correct way to do it. Does this position make sense to anybody today?"

"OK, so Dad spends more time with Junior, who is a little sissy. Junior learns baseball, keeps his hands off his hips, talks in a lower register, and throws away his paper dolls. Making Junior more masculine does not make him less likely to be homosexual when he grows up. Making Junior more masculine only makes it easier for him eventually to attract men."

"For the ancient Greeks and the Restoration English, effeminacy was a heterosexual perversion. The Theban Band, the so-called 'army of lovers,' those guys were the real he-men--they fought the hardest because their lovers were standing right beside them."

"Might it not be the opposite? Might it be that a mother becomes over-protective of her son when she realizes he is different than the other little boys? That he might (just might) enjoy going with her to the beauty shop? That, because deep down in some part of herself that she perhaps doesn't know how to understand, he may need her protection more?"

"Homosexuals have been getting married for centuries, but only to people they weren't physically attracted to."

"Why does the government have a vested interest in policing marriage? Marriage and baptism are both sacraments, but would any church want the government telling it who could be baptized? Why not? OK, marriage and baptism are two different things. But why do we let the government legislate the one and not the other? And why does the government link tax benefits and health care to being married anyway? A driver's license or a fishing license can be argued for, but a marriage license? Sure, we would want to stop forced marriages, wouldn't we? But on what grounds does the U.S. government stop two consenting adults from being as 'officially' married as any other two consenting adults?"

Sunday, February 17, 2008


When I was a wee Christian child, mildly traumatized at the thought of lost sinners plunging towards a burning hell and saying grace over my Chef Boyardee pizza, I was told (and therefore I believed) that this was an age of unbelief. We Christians were the light, however feeble, in a godless world.

But already this was not true.

Perhaps an age of unbelief had existed a hundred years earlier, when Darwinism and higher criticism in biblical scholarship opened a chasm of doubt and skepticism that good Victorians tried to pave over with stoical duty and reserve. Perhaps the century of Nietzsche, Arnold, Hardy, James, London, Crane, Twain, and Dreiser had been an age of unbelief, but not now.

Today unbelief is such an alien concept that, according to popular perception, even atheism is a belief system. (In a recent paper, a student argued that the "a" in "atheism" should be capitalized, as with the "names of other faiths.")

What restored belief in the twentieth century, after it flagged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?

One. The electronic mass media were significant tools in conditioning (or reconditioning) the public's Pavlovian response-patterns. Advertising taught us to trust brand names, to respond optimistically to logos (I mean the totem-like symbols, not of course the Greek word for logic), and, in a radical redefinition of "seeing is believing," to value image over substance.

Two. Collectivist and totalitarian forms of social management also revived the age of faith--as the herd mentality was cultivated via the assembly line of factories, team spirit in public schools, boot camp in the military, and teamwork in corporate culture, we came to define ourselves statistically, on the bell curve of highly publicized polls and opinion surveys, to believe in the morality of consensus and "fitting in," and to regard criticism, dissent, and classical argument with suspicion.

American culture, rowdy with an independent spirit in the nineteenth century, was brought into line by the Great Depression and two World Wars, followed by phenomenal economic growth in a business environment modeled on military chain of command.

Three. Sentimentality, the stale leftover of Romanticism which the Victorians repackaged for God, country, and hearth, became, in the twentieth century, a cheap, vulgar substitute for philosophy. Bumper-sticker platitudes and daily affirmations came to replace analytical thought and personal responsibility. Happy Consciousness (see Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man) convinced us that "whatever is" is rational and the system works in our best interests.

Entertainment and amusement (deftly satirized by Aldous Huxley as the "feelies" in Brave New World) consume greater and greater shares of our attention, money, and passion.

This year, of course, Democrats and Republicans are looking for candidates to believe in.

Obama's website urges, "I want you to believe," and the would-be inspirational-speaker-in-chief conducts gospel tours to reach out to the black folk of South Carolina.

Clinton weeps before primaries, causing flurries of concerned attention like those surrounding tears of blood on a statue of the BVM.

McCain stands behind and next to George W. Bush, impervious to reason but the kind of guy people (reportedly) would like to have a beer with, and asks us to trust that, with his medals and hawklike physique, he can protect us from terrorism ... and perhaps also from hurricanes, stock market crashes, and the nagging sense that everything is bullshit nowadays.

Huckabee, more than the rest, comes from a place of belief--the former Baptist minister still believes that God created the universe in six days and that the devil is a real, living being. His amiable schtick (even political opponents praise his "likable" personality) is to pretend to argue for what people already want to believe, including their prejudices--that homosexuality is like bestiality (only with, um, humans) and immigrants are stealing jobs right out of the hands of hardworking white people.

America has become a con artist's paradise because we Americans have let ourselves become gullible. Who can count the times America has "lost its innocence"? We are easy prey to flattery (even self-flattery is not beyond us) and smooth talk.

As a nation we believe in God more than any other Western nation does--the closest point of comparison would have to be Islamic theocracies. We believe in ourselves. We constantly search for things and people to believe in, often with a sad sort of desperation--from Santa to astrology, from diets to sports teams. We seek our role models--we, in fact, usually wear them out with our cloying attentiveness.

We believe in the power of belief itself. And yet, most bizarrely, we believe that we still live in a culture of disbelief.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Truth and Lies

Listening to a BBC interview with retiring Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, I'm reminded that, evident even in Burns's dispassionate evenness of tone (not to say "soullessness"), politicians do more than simply lie, they actively malign the truth.

In response to challenging, direct questions on the scandal at Abu Ghraib, rising incidents of terrorism, Iran's debatable emergence as a newly prominent Middle Eastern threat, and the United States' fall in esteem in the world, Burns responded by blithely asserting America's love of liberty and struggle against injustice, by ignoring clear parallels between the growth in international terrorism and the American war on terror, by appealing to fear of Iranian Islamicism while failing to remember that in the early 1980s (when Burns's diplomatic career began) America's counter to Iran was to strengthen Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and totally ignoring the fact that America certainly has won no new friends in the past seven years and has deliberately alienated its old friends.

Instead of engaging in a reasoned defense of U.S. actions, Burns chose to blame "recalcitrant" European nations (Britain, of course, excepted) for their failure to support Bush's predictably ham-fisted (and ham-headed) efforts on the world stage and to pretend that the alarming rise in violence (corresponding with limping and collapsing economies--anomalies for neo-cons so optimistic about globalization) has occurred mysteriously, unlinked to anything America or the West in general has been doing.

Such obfuscation is not a mere slight to the truth; it is a search-and-destroy mission against the truth.

Increasingly, American politicians, and here Republicans are fairly easy to single out (fairly or not), seem offended by the truth. For them their own authority and credibility are more important than hard evidence and valid reasoning. They seem shocked, even disgusted, by recalcitrant journalists, like the BBC's Carrie Gracie, who insist on challenging political euphemisms by pointing out inconsistencies with known facts.

At one point in the interview, Burns denied that he fully supported Bush's foreign policy by explaining that, according to the "ethics" of diplomacy, he fully supported Bush's foreign policy only in his public statements--though in his heart may have questioned a few of them (unsurprisingly, he refused to elaborate).

We live in an era when truth has no importance, except as an abstract word that vaguely appeals to the public's sense of itself as still having values. Long gone are the days when people cared about truth in advertising; as long as it's entertaining, minus sex and violence, no amount of magical thinking in mass communication is impermissible. Oprah's was possibly the last cry against willful falsification by memoirists. And it's been five years since diplomat John H. Brown (like others) resigned his post, saying, “I cannot in good conscience support President Bush’s war plans against Iraq.”

We all know that politicians lie and always have lied. Nothing new there. But today the bullshit rises higher than the mushroom cloud Condoleezza Rice ominously anticipated in 2003 as the ultimate "smoking gun" supporting the case against Iraq (perhaps the same cloud now overshadowing Iran).

H.G. Frankfurt's little book On Bullshit suggests that bullshit is ethically worse than a lie because a lie contradicts truth while paying the idea of truth the compliments of lip service and a bad conscience, while bullshit denies any importance whatsoever to truth, with no pangs of conscience.

I realize that a capital "T" Truth is an abstract value, not a real possibility, but now even Stephen Colbert's compromise term "truthiness" seems insufficient to account for leaders' and would-be leaders' disdain for fact-based reasoning and accountability.

History shows us a world of deception and illusion. Now we live in a world of mendacity and bullshit.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Beauty, Youth, and Excellence

uffizi wrestlers
Uffizi Wrestlers, The Louvre

The Greeks considered beauty, youth, and excellence as virtues. That Christendom ultimately defaced these virtues, as its minions vandalized the majority of the holy sites and artwork of pagan antiquity, is an unerasable blemish upon Western civilization.

The debasement of beauty in favor of drab obligation, the denial of the glow of youth, which bears the only real glimmer of a heaven, in favor of a static eternity, and the elevation of humility over excellence are crimes against humanity and nature alike.

The English Romantic poets, especially Shelley and Keats, saw beauty as the virtue it is--imperfect here on earth, as neo-Platonic Shelley asserted again and again, and yet, then, so are all virtues imperfect here on earth.

Shelley felt that pleasure and beauty are the only way, given the absence of God, to approach the Ideal--humanity's sublime nature, perhaps unrealizable at all, but if at all possible, possible because of the human imagination's capacity for perfecting nature and morality.

For Shelley, only the Ideal transcends the mutability or constant flux of earthly existence.

Shelley's higher moral code is based on beauty--"intellectual beauty," the ideal and thus unchangeable essence of beauty. "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" because it is the poets or artists who implicitly criticize the present by showing us the possible futures. Or, as Blake nimbly and simply puts it, "What is now proved was once only imagined."

By seeking perfect beauty and perfect pleasure, poets and artists recreate the world, make it a better place in reality, by raising the standard higher.

Keats's humbler claim is that "Beauty is truth; truth, beauty"--like Shelley affirming that the object of beauty or art contains the truest metaphysics (a truer truth than philosophy, religion, or science can provide), but perhaps, unlike Shelley, denying the existence of an Ideal above and beyond reality.

At its heart, Keats's concept of "negative capability" is the acceptance of What Is, as opposed to Shelleyan or Platonic idealism, an acceptance of reality, he felt, only the highest geniuses (like Shakespeare) can attain--this too is the presence of mind or mindfulness of Eastern philosophy.

Keats teaches us that the beauty that is, the real and transient beauty of the real world and of real people, and the real but fleeting pleasures of living, are the only truth and transcendence we need to hold on to our humanity.

Art is for art's sake. Beauty is for the sake of beauty. Youth is for youth. Excellence is for excellence. No loftier moral is needed.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fine, Feathered, and Getting Busy

Valentine's Day has really nothing to do with St. Valentine, neither of them, as two rather innocuous St. Valentines claim this holy day on the church calendar.

Valentine's Day is really all about the birds, as Chaucer pointed out over 600 years ago in The Parlement of Fowles. By tradition, February 14 is the day when birds select their mates in preparation for spring.

Birdwatchers should be able to catch some avian porn today. Or at least some foreplay. And apparently the birds are screamers.

"For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
Of every kinde, that men thenke may;
And that so huge a noyse gan they make,
That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake
So ful was, that unnethe was ther space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How to Come Up with an Idea of Your Own

⎯ Read more. Read widely.

⎯ Mull over what you have read, what you have seen and heard in the media, and what you have experienced in actual life.

⎯ Develop some curiosity about the world. Ask “how” and “why” questions about your daily experiences. Don’t immediately decide whether you like or dislike something, but try to understand it first. Don’t be quick to dismiss or condemn ideas that don’t obviously fit into your existing world view.

⎯ Imagine more. Consider the possible alternatives to the way things are.

⎯ Analyze more. Develop the habit of mentally breaking things down into their parts in order to understand how the parts relate to one another and to the whole thing.

⎯ Think “against the grain.” Look for the serious side of a comedy and the ridiculous side of a tragedy. Consider the value of the opposite of what the majority seems to think is true.

⎯ Move. Take walks, pace the room, or sway to the rhythm of your own thought processes. Think with your whole body.

⎯ Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV and the stereo. Drive with the radio off. Find a quiet, lonely spot to think. Go to the library.

⎯ Browse the Internet. Pick a topic or a site and explore it. Compare and contrast the different sites and pages you encounter. Or browse the book or magazine section in a library.

⎯ Cultivate friendships with people with ideas (and not just those who think similarly to you or share your background or worldview).

⎯ Work puzzles. Play intellectually challenging games.

⎯ Try to understand the “big picture.” Look for connections between things that are apparently far apart from or unrelated to each other.

⎯ Take an interest. Commit. Decide what is important to you, if for no other reason but to define yourself for yourself.

⎯ Participate. Ask questions and make observations in class. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Make recommendations to the manager of the supermarket where you do most of your shopping. Strike up a conversation. Bounce back when the responses are not what you hoped for.

⎯ Frustrate your critics. Occasionally develop opinions that appear to be out of step with what others have come to expect from you.

⎯ Question authority. Even if you choose not to be a rebel, question the motives, reasoning, and communication strategies of those who have authority over you.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Note on Blogging

Capote accused Kerouac of typing, not writing. Today there is a middle ground: blogging.

Blogging is not writing.

At its best it's a notch above copying and pasting. At its worst it's ... well ... at its worst it is copying and pasting--the continuum stretches just so far.

Writing demands responsibility, coherence, and a clear sense of purpose, as well as a theoretical sense of the reader.

Blogging is spontaneous and off the cuff, usually to the point of irresponsibility and incoherence. The purpose of the blog is just a notch above simple venting, and if the blogger has a reader, it is himself above any other.

Automatic writing, by which analysands track the stream of their consciousness, is the closest to writing that blogging gets ... but automatic writing is meant for close analysis; blogging is not.

The Latin poet Horace urged poets to wait nine years before publishing their work. The goal of the hiatus was to give the writers time for second thoughts and opportunity to revisit the work from time to time to ensure that it holds up to the test of time.

Blogging has no test of time. Next to text messaging, it is the most immediate, thoughtless, and slapdash of all forms of written communication. Its use-by date is immediate--it has no posterity--but then it doesn't have the burden of a tradition either.

Such is its charm, though. The blog is to the essay as the snapshot is to the painting.

I type my scattered impressions, wait nine seconds, and press "post."

My message in the bottle. My scribbling in the sand. My snap judgment. My blog.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Seven Seventies Studs

Thirty years ago I was still in the closet at age 25. But I knew I was gay, though this was the last year--as a grad student in English at Marshall University--that I dated girls.

I was in the closet through almost all my twenties and getting more cock than a fundamentalist Christian boy should ever see.

In 1976, the Bicentennial year, my mother was active in Anita Bryant's anti-gay initiative in Dade County, the same year I came to terms with my sexuality--but it was 5-7 years before I was completely out ... to friends, parents, work, the works.

In the late seventies my tastes were guided by GQ and After Dark magazines. My idols were mostly models-- David White, Jeff Aquilon, Scott Webster, Michael Ives, Tom Tripodi, Bill Curry, Rick Edwards--in the first and last golden age of the GQ male model.  

Though I was loathe to associate myself with the G-word, I was relatively uninhibited in my tastes--letting people around me draw their own conclusions--and only outright denying the facts of my life to few people, most notably my parents.  

And back then the facts of my life were that I dated girls and fucked boys, usually when the both of us were sufficiently shit-faced to ensure memory loss ... or, at least, deniability.

My friend Luis used to tease me--with a touch of awed respect--about the fact that in Christian college (one of several I bounced in and out of) I stacked my Bible atop my After Dark magazines, and spent many an evening with straight boys stripped to our briefs wrestling to the point of hard-ons or lying naked under a blanket and jerking off.

Though the decade of the '70s saw the blossoming of gay rights, the popular media had little by way of enticements for me.  

It was, to be sure, the age of the "buddy film," but the potential for homoeroticism was consciously squashed with a spoonful of homophobia--usually in the form of slurs and bashings--and Hollywood usually resolved the suspect nature of the buddies' relationship in sex scenes with totally peripheral female characters who served no other purpose but to prove our heroes' heterosexuality.

Still, TV and movies offered the occasional chiseled physique and curly hair that rocked my boat back then ... and this evening's blog is a small tribute to seven men who did their part in shaping my fantasy life, even if, regrettably, they never play-raped me while wrasslin'.

bekim fehmiu patrick wayne james taylor MARK SPITZ Kevin Von Erich richard gere michael beck
Bekim Fehmiu--I missed seeing him in 1970's The Adventurers but I thrived on the stills of this Bosnian actor; Patrick Wayne--the Duke's son was the most sexy and most wooden of filmland's Sinbads; James Taylor--in my dreams Sweet Baby James sang "You Got a Friend" to me; Mark Spitz--when first I realized that Jews were "my type"; Kevin Von Erich--his pro wrestling debut at age 19 was the beginning of the end of the fat, sweaty school of American wrestling; Richard Gere--still the sexiest part of the 1970s' sexiest guilty pleasure, Looking for Mr. Goodbar; Michael Beck--yep, Swan in The Warriors--"Can you dig it?"

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Nature versus Nurture

For me the nature-vs-nurture debate, though theoretically interesting, is kind of a dead end.

I mean, who cares?

That women and blacks are so by nature did nothing to ensure their full equality in society for hundreds of years.

And even if homosexuality were just a free and arbitrary choice, like which brand of toothpaste to buy, who is to say I don't have the right to make that free and arbitrary choice, provided it doesn't hurt anyone? (I know, I know, a lot of people will say I have no right at all to make that choice.)

My only concern is that one day I may be forced to choose whether I want the Christian evangelicals or the Islamo-fascists to condemn me to death as either a genetic defect or a flagrant libertine--both have their appeal, but (call me perverse) I would rather go down as another Casanova than as the Elephant Man.

When I first started teaching at a college in Savannah, a colleague left an article in my mailbox questioning whether homosexuality is psychologically normal.

Later, he asked me whether I had read the article and what I thought of it, and I responded, "I have never considered normalcy a particularly high aspiration."

He smiled and took my point.

And I would say the same thing to this day.

By the way, this same colleague, an ex-hippie turned Limbaugh ditto-head, later shared an office with me and hung a poster that read, "Straight People Have Rights Too," and carried a loaded gun with him around campus--which he later used to kill himself ... so much for the psychological debate, eh? (RIP Lloyd.)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Gone Wild

joe francis
humanitarian and public servant Joe Francis

My students in Argument-based Research are writing a values argument on the topic of civic responsibility. They've been asked to write a 5-7-page argument in which they take a position and support it with clear criteria and proofs.

First, they have to identify the criteria for making such a values judgment in the first place, and then apply that criteria to the individuals they feel have contributed the most to society.

For background, they read JFK's inaugural address ("Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country"), along with comparable essays by Barack Obama, the head of the Brookings Institution, and the editor of Christianity Today magazine, among others.

We spent all of class on Wednesday discussing the concept of the "common good."

Today we went over their rough drafts in class. Unsurprisingly, Oprah Winfrey has been mentioned a lot, perhaps because I used her repeatedly as an example while explaining the assignment--and, contrary to my goal of shaping young minds into independent, critical thinkers, half my students followed their herd instinct to write on O.

Other subjects include Bill Gates, Al Gore, Bono, and Mikhail Gorbachev. My Christian school grads appear to be gravitating towards Billy Graham, James Dobson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Warren.

But one young female student boldly announced her choice of Joe Francis, creator of the Girls Gone Wild series.

Francis, she argues, is a smart entrepreneur who could be every young person's role model.

She refutes Francis's detractors by noting that the girls are all "of age" and not "all that drunk" when they agree to appear in the GGW vids, and that the contract they sign gives them a full week to opt out if they change their minds. In compensation for showing their tits to the world, the girls get a free T-shirt.

At first I thought the student was pulling my leg. The jocks in the back row snickered.

But no. She further pointed out that Francis contributes a lot of money to charitable organizations--such as for Hurricane Katrina relief. How much she couldn't say, since Francis likes to keep his charity work a bit of a secret.

She is taking this seriously, so, so did I.

I asked whether she was qualifying her claim--say, by stipulating that Francis is her choice just among "entrepreneurs under 40" or among "businessmen in adult entertainment." I thought perhaps there is reason to believe that Francis has been more charitable than, say, Guccione or Hefner, whom she seemed never to have heard of.

But, no, apparently she is ready to put the Girls Gone Wild guy right up there with Oprah and Bob Geldof.

She defends her choice by saying that Francis has made a lot of money, while managing to spend very little up front.

Pun intended, and point taken.

But in what context was she ready to prove Francis more civic minded than other rags-to-riches entrepreneurs or amateur softcore porn producers? She didn't get my point.

I explained the problem with "dangling" superlatives and comparatives, as when advertisers or propagandists say their products or ideas are "better" or "best," without actually answering the questions "better than what?"

"Our toothpaste gets teeth cleaner," OK, but cleaner than what? Cleaner than they would be if you used a different brand? Cleaner than they were before you brushed them? Cleaner than dirt?

Even if we're willing to go with the concept that Francis is indeed a better citizen than the average profiteer off women's mammary glands, some knowledge of what others in the field (e.g., Hefner, Flynt, and Guccione) have paid back to the community would be crucial to the argument.

I think (I hope) by the end of the class, she had a clearer sense of the logical challenges she faces. But the next student to volunteer to share her argument with the class, another young female, named Tyra Banks as her choice as the great contributor to humanity.

Her proof?

Tyra wore nothing but a bikini for an entire episode of her talk show to demonstrate that her body, while incredible and worth more in one hour than most English teachers will see in a lifetime, is not, after all, "perfect."

Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year

year of the rat

Today's the first day of the year of the rat, the first of the twelve animal symbols in the Chinese horoscope. Not that I put much faith in these things, but I do like that the Chinese named their signs after animals, not deities. I learned this horoscope when my father was stationed in Japan, and we military brats took required courses in Japanese Culture, which included Chinese astrology.

Being the first sign, the RAT reportedly likes to be first in everything, so she is a natural leader and innovator. She has energy and charm, but tends to seek control, to manipulate others, and to exploit situations for everything they're worth. The rat year is usually associated with both material prosperity and war or other atrocities, so it's safe to say most of 2008 is going to be a mixed bag.

As one might guess, the OX is a strong, hard worker, ever dependable, ever sincere. Unfortunately, he is slow to try new things and tends to have little imagination and hardly any sense of irony, though these deficiencies do not mean the ox is necessarily dumb, cliche notwithstanding.

The TIGER is magnetic and authoritative, with a penchant for spontaneity and adventure. Her enthusiasm can be a bit exhausting to those around her, and she can unintentionally maul you while merely wanting to play--so let the weak beware. Needless to say, you most definitely will not want to push her into a corner.

The RABBIT is detail-oriented and conservative, with a tendency towards perfectionism. He avoids risks and always chooses to be safe rather than sorry. Fairly conventional in his tastes and traditional in his life style, he is a sentimentalist, who likes everything to be "just so."

The DRAGON is flamboyant and charismatic. Supremely self-confident, she is also a caring, generous friend, in a time of need. However, she has little patience with ineptitude or weakness. And her natural megalomania inhibits her ability to comprehend why everyone is not exactly as she is.

The SNAKE, my own sign (born 1953), is a lover of provocative conversation, but easily bored with small talk. He is a bon vivant, a lover of beauty and luxury, who either attracts money or doesn't need it and either attracts friends or doesn't want them. His mind is analytical, but he is easily distracted and stubbornly resistant to criticism.

The HORSE is independent and intuitive. She is someone people like to confide in, even though she cannot keep a secret--not out of malice, but out of sheer enthusiasm and high spirits. She likes being center of attention. Her rambunctious nature too often leads her to fall in love (repeatedly) with the worst person for her.

The SHEEP is artistic or mechanical and naturally fashionable (wool is always "in"). He seeks approval from others, so he is sheepishly unwilling to break from the herd and stand up for an unpopular position which may alienate him from others. He also tends to control the conversation and overstay his welcome as a guest.

The MONKEY, unsurprisingly, is witty and mischievous. She goes with the flow and is flexible to the point of being unprincipled. She knows how to keep a secret, though. But she is vengeful and petty--a difficult pet to domesticate, she throws an awful lot of shit around.

The ROOSTER is feisty and obsessed with keeping up his appearance. He is romantic, extroverted, and courageous, a real party animal. Flattery is his Achilles' heel, as he never tires of hearing how great he is, and his admirers may find it fairly easy to manipulate him.

The DOG is a frisky and loyal friend. She is generous, affectionate, and straightforward. She does not hide her feelings. Unfortunately, she can be a bitch, too, quick tempered, self righteous, and territorial. She also tends to worry too much, and she seems to thrive on her own neuroses and anxieties.

The PIG is honest and straightforward, too. A bit shy, he makes friends slowly, but he gets acquainted with you, he is easy going and quietly affectionate. He tends to be materialistic, though, and spends money like there's no tomorrow. He's also a bit naive and simple, so sophisticated humor usually goes right over his head.

Dust of Oblivion


"The having spoken of myself with unaffected freedom will need little apology with the candid; and let the uncandid consider that they injure me less than their own hearts and minds by misrepresentation. Whatever talents a person may possess to amuse and instruct others, be they ever so inconsiderable, he is yet bound to exert them; if his attempt be ineffectual, let the punishment of an unaccomplished purpose have been sufficient; let none trouble themselves to heap the dust of oblivion upon his efforts; the pile they raise will betray his grave which might otherwise have been unknown."
--Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound, 1820

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Joe's Deca-lounge: 10 Recent Favorite Movies

There Will Be Blood--for its profane and immensely satisfying ending; for Daniel Day-Lewis's chewing up the scenery; for Upton Sinclair's foreshadowing of the key issues of the early 21st century in America; for Jonny Greenwood's jarring and sublime musical score; for its evocation of capitalism's severe Old Testament past; for its courageous literariness

No Country for Old Men--for the Coens' channeling of Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston; for the eerie sense of narrative implicit in the desert crime scene, achieved through fluid camera movement and evocative mise-en-scene; for Tommy Lee Jones's dark and unsentimental closing monologue; for the best motel sequence since Psycho

Zodiac--for the creepy opening sequence, haunted by Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man"; for the other equally haunting murder scenes; for Jake Gyllenhaal and for, in scene-stealing cameos, John Carroll Lynch and Brian Cox; for its dry police-procedural intelligence

Across the Universe--for the young lovers played by Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood; for "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"; for "Let It Be"; for Joe Cocker in multiple incarnations; for Joe Anderson's vintage sixties good looks; for the army induction sequence

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford--for the performances by Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, and Paul Schneider; for the idyllic homoeroticism of late 19th-century America; for Roger Deakins' exquisite cinematography

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street--for Tim Burton's deftness in translating opera to cinema; for Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter; for Jamie Campbell Bower's pre-Raphaelite prettiness

Into the Wild--for film as a spiritual experience; for nature, sublime and terrifying, without a single cute or sentimentalizing frame; for Kristen Stewart; for McCandless's selfless and touching goodbye note

2 Days in Paris--for an utterly believable story of romance; for utterly believable parents (played by Julie Delpy's actual parents); for the use of taxis as chapter headings

Hairspray--for Nikki Blonsky; for Michelle Pfeiffer's "Cruella" turn; for the dance numbers; for the John Waters cameo

Eastern Promises--for Vincent Cassel (for any movie, even Ocean's Thirteen, that offers Vinz work)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Do I Need God to Be Good?

The ancient Greeks, inventors of democracy, had immoral gods.

Zeus and his brothers, sisters, wives, and children lied, committed adultery, raped, misrepresented themselves (as swans and eagles, among other things), murdered, and responded to even minor slights with exaggerated vindictiveness and heinous violence.

They were a mess, so much so that the Greeks themselves hardly considered the gods worthy of imitation.

To be fair, Greek deities were poetic inventions designed to represent the forces of nature in human psychological terms. The Greeks never claimed that their gods were nice, no more so than natural forces, which to this day benefit and destroy humanity indiscriminately ... by flood, fire, earthquake, and plague.

Unlike the Greek gods, the god of the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is holy and good.

Apparent inconsistencies in his high moral character (e.g., jealousy, demand for human sacrifice, nonchalance in answering the prayers of his people, even when they were faced with desperate circumstances) have been painstakingly justified by his priests and apologists or dismissed as "non-literal" attributes.

For Christians, for instance, the question "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is important, if hard to answer--because earthly injustices appear to contradict the existence of a God who is all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving. The typical orthodox answer to this question is (1) such injustices are ultimately somehow the result of human sin and (2) who are you to question God?

Despite the fact that Islam has been at work for 1400 years, Christianity for 2000 years, and Judaism for 3800 years, and still human beings kill one another in the name of God (even kill other worshippers of their own God), the popular perception remains, in America at least, that humanity needs religion to be good.

In 2006, Barack Obama, speaking to Call to Renewal, stated that government and politics can and should restrict access to firearms in inner-city neighborhoods, but the young man who fires an automatic weapon into a crowd of people because he feels that he has been disrespected has a "moral" problem beyond the reach of secular reasoning--"There's a hole in that young man's heart--a hole that the government alone cannot fix."

Obama neglects the fact that religious morality, though, has had roughly 19 times the history in which to fill that hole as the U.S. government has had, and still we have young men who kill innocent bystanders--some of whom do so because they feel that their God has been disrespected.

Do we then need religion to be good?

The Greeks didn't. Their religion was a ritualized attempt to explain the ways of nature (pre-modern science) and to persuade their fickle gods to lend them a helping hand now and again.

Greek morality was unrelated to religion. Morality, the Greeks believed, is a matter of reason. Human beings need to behave themselves in order to ensure the peace in society. Humans are capable of reason, and reason alone is capable of instructing us that we personally benefit by seeking the benefit of everyone else.

A simple syllogism in which nothing supernatural is needed:

Major premise: What benefits humanity in general benefits humans individually.

Minor premise: I seek my own individual benefit.

Conclusion: I may benefit myself by seeking the common good (what benefits humanity in general).

Out of this simple trust in human reason, and deduction, the Greeks (specifically in Athens) invented Western democracy.

Democracy, some 1300 years younger than monotheism, emerged from a pointedly secular tradition.

Monotheism, on the other hand, grew out of tribal patriarchies, constantly at war for territory and survival, which eventually evolved into monarchies, emirates, and empires, which justified slavery, imperialism, terror, and the "divine right" of tyrants.

Our democracy then derives from a culture that chose to disregard the bad example of its own badly behaved gods and to embrace secular reason as the basis of ethics and morality.

So, in short, I'm not convinced, despite the rhetoric of Obama and hundreds of thousands of others, that we need religion to be good.

We need reason. We need justice. We need peace. We need the hope of happiness.

But we don't need God.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pre-Super Musings

I'm fresh out of words of wisdom about the Democratic nominees. It's down to Obama and Clinton, either of whom could win or lose to McCain in November.

All the balls are up in the air.

From one hour to the next, like a pendulum, I favor a different candidate. I'm getting bored with it, to be dead honest. (Besides, we NCians don't get a primary until May.)

I'm told that a large number of non-Democratic Americans won't vote non-white or non-male under any circumstance. It's not hard for me to imagine that that number is large enough to make a difference, politically, but harder for me to imagine that a large majority of Americans can really still feel this way in the 21st century.

Hillary seems the candidate most likely to have the political savvy to get something done in Washington.

I picture her as pretty adept in getting politicos to pull together.

My main problem is that I suspect she lacks the will to move things very far from the status quo.

It hurts, too, that another Clinton presidency would mean that, for 20-24 years, only two families will have "ruled" America--sounds un-American to me, somehow.

At the moment I favor Barack, but I'm troubled by his messianic posing.

He doesn't believe in two Americas, red states and blue states, whereas I would like to see even more colors in the spectrum.

He sees a connection between faith and politics that worries me, even though I realize he's not a Dobson/LaHaye/Robertson type of Christian like Bush.

Unlike Barack, I think a blending of the rhetorics of religion and politics, however expedient right now to the left, however alluring a counter to the rise of Islamo- and Christo-fascism around the world, ultimately compromises the integrity of religion and politics alike.

More troubling to me, such a blending opens the door further to demagoguery--a powerful (too powerful) alignment of political systems of control with mass passions triggered by religious prejudices, however well meaning and ostensibly "liberal."

Obama's website proclaims, "I'm asking you to believe." I'd be happier if it said, "I'm asking you to think," even "I'm asking you to question."

The same message was easier to swallow when I was being asked to "keep hope alive."

I'm troubled that in a pinch, despite the rhetoric of bringing people together, Obama the politician tends to favor the mainstream.

Last fall, he claimed that he was the only candidate trying to pull together the religious right and the GLBT communities--but what his SC "gospel tour" in fact accomplished was to give a platform to the "ex-gay" movement and, when certain members of the gay community cried foul, to accuse them of being "divisive."

Frankly, I don't see anything radical in invoking God to get votes--it's been going on for as long as America's existed. It works, and it doesn't surprise me that somebody on the left has figured out a way of perhaps pulling some votes away from Bible-thumping Republicans.

And I don't see anything progressive in asking gays and lesbians to tread softly around the tender sensibilities of God-fearing homophobes. It wasn't the gays who locked themselves out of the churches in the first place.

And calling the bashers, victims, and the victims, bashers, is merely a red herring that diverts attention from and damages the cause of equality, justice, community, and liberty.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


joe strummer
Joe Strummer

Of the arts, music and architecture are my weakest areas of knowledge and appreciation.

I suppose that, given a media-saturated culture such as ours, music in bars, restaurants, department stores, car stereos, etc., has become environmental, like architecture, and less subject to conscious regard--unlike painting and sculpture, or even high fashion.

I like music--the Supremes, Mahler, Nine Inch Nails, Peggy Lee--but I am not its biggest fan.

Hasn't someone--haven't several people--said that the man who doesn't appreciate music is dead in his soul?

I hope I'm not too far gone, but I have to say that I feel the allure of music less intensely than most people I know.

I'm not one to play a lot of music at home alone, for instance. I'm fine with silence. I don't need music to settle into a good book or unwind at the end of a hard day.

I usually drive to and from work with my car radio off. And I don't use my iPod, so I've found it a new home with one of my friends, who seems astounded that I would just throw away such a valuable object.

And I'm not at all confident in my "taste" in music. I'll admit it: my tastes are shallow.

Too often I can be accused of picking music for reasons other than the quality of the music. A good-looking artist catches my attention--I like Jeff Buckley, Liszt, Paul Weller, Chris Martin, Jake Shears, and Gene Pitney for altogether suspect reasons.

Or I simply associate a particular song with a moment in my life, regardless of its significance in art and culture--for example, I will always be able to have good sex to Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street or the Bloodhound Gang's The Bad Touch, even if you do think it's pop pablum.

A lot of music in film seems, to me, overdone, distracting. I admire directors who pull away from underscoring every emotion in the film with a musical motif. I respect Alfred Hitchcock's decision not to use a music score in The Birds. The absence of music in many key scenes of the Coens' No Country for Old Men demonstrates that it is unnecessary for building suspense or conveying complex feelings.

In film, 90% of the music can be dropped, I think--just as in prose you can usually dispense with most adverbs.

Jonny Greenwood's score of There Will Be Blood is an exception--its harsh and intrusive modernism acts like another actor in the film--big and chewing up scenery like Daniel Day-Lewis. It is an indispensable part of the experience of watching that movie.

But often a musical score diminishes the impact of other qualities of the film. Bette Davis once asked a director, "Will it be me or Max Steiner walking down the stairs?"

I would be unhappy to live in a world without music, but still on most days I wish my neighbors would turn their fucking stereo down. And I'm often, but not always, put off when I'm in the car with someone who insists on turning the radio up to full volume.

The worst college roommate I ever had was a classical bassoonist. Nice guy, on the whole, but he breathed a different air than I did. And, besides, and more to the point, he wasn't very good looking.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Guy

I'm sort of in love with a retarded guy. I don't know why. This has been going on for almost ten years now. Works at the supermarket as a bagger. Slow guy. Good worker, apparently. Well liked by everyone at the HT. Tall gangly guy with prominent knobs for key parts of his skeleton--cheekbones, shoulder blades, elbows. Too many teeth in his mouth or else all the teeth in his mouth have moved up front. Dark, close-cropped hair. His lazy eye is what makes me think he's retarded--that and his 10+ years as a grocery bagger. Unfair. I may be drawing an invalid conclusion. I don't even know the guy. I know his name, but I'm not telling you. He's mine. Many have been the moments, while I stood behind my cart in checkout, that I imagined his skinny torso, slim hips, crane-like legs hairy as hell, undressed. He'd look good soaking wet, I sometimes think. In the movie of all this, I'd give the role of him to Ryan Gosling, though the Goz doesn't look anything like the guy, but he is the actor to convey on film his essence. I can imagine the clumsy pass my guy would make at me, given the right moment, slurred mmm's, and rrr's that roll around in his cheeks like a jawbreaker. Long mantis-like arms surrounding my shoulders. His hot, slightly damp retarded breath against my forehead. If we, by some chance, became a couple someday--unlikely, since he may well prefer women--or men his own age--I would let my guy keep his job. I would even drive him back and forth to work in my father's car--that is, grammatically, "back and forth to and from work." Evenings, he would stand up close behind me in the kitchen, while over our tiny stove I pour a jar of Ragu over steaming spaghetti, bought at the HT, aisle four. His arms around my waist, fingers locked atop my belt buckle. I inhale the garlicky vapor, he purrs like a pinwheel, I feel his hard cock against the base of my spine.

Friday, February 1, 2008

In Love with a Wonderful Boy

roosterboyred brian kenny
Brian Kenny, Rooster Boy Red

On the outside I'm a crumply English instructor, well past the middle of middle age, but in my heart I'm a neo-decadent art fag.

I've lived this double life since childhood--on the outside a good Protestant boy living on U.S. military bases hither and yon, but secretly listening to Nonesuch African field recordings instead of the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five, reading Lovecraft and The Painted Bird, photographing (at age 4 or 5) a baby doll with a syringe in its neck, renaming myself "Manyn Blyn," fantasizing (mild) s/m scenarios beginning at age 9 or 10, and despising work, family, and good taste.

From roughly 1962 until 1971, I wished I were a Negro. I even declared my wish to elders--of my own and other races--none of whom knew what to make of me.

In my early thirties, I thrust myself as far into the world of my fantasies as an English teacher then living in South Carolina could--mostly by drinking in Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Derek Jarman, J.-K. Huysmans, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Robert Mapplethorpe into my secret self--but largely acting out these fantasies upon startled, albeit intrigued and compliant former high-school jocks and interior decorators visiting or residing between Charlotte and Savannah.

Any brushes I had with authentic tattooed Soho skinheads were passing and usually disappointing--in their eyes, I might as well have been Andy Griffith.

They could not see through the Perry Ellis shirt to the blackness of my heart.

I've never been drawn to Broadway musicals (though a few of them are OK, I guess--I did enjoy Hairspray). I'm not an opera queen. You'll find the Supremes in my stack of CDs, but not one Barbra, Madonna, Celine, Judy, or Britney.

I have no wish to enter respectable matrimony or civil union, adopt children, join the Metropolitan Community Church, collect teddy bears, or spend a month on a gay cruise.

I like rough trade--so long as he's clean and sober.

I tried heroin once at age 20, but it wasn't for me.

Sex, I believe, should be dangerous, spontaneous, and shocking. It should induce unhealthy hallucinations and unauthorized absence from work.

In appearance I'm as far from heroin chic as a person can get, but in my hipster soul, I love epater le bourgeoisie.

In my dreams, I hang in an exposed-brick loft with lumbering air ducts and no furniture. Taut, skinny, shirtless boyz skateboard to my place to smoke weed and take giant Polaroids of each other masturbating. We all get naked in order to give each other buzzcuts under the sunroof. My best friends are Slava Mogutin, Matthew Barney, and Larry Clark. I have pen pals on death row, who send me poems about God, water sports, and Speed Racer. I am best known for butt-fucking Tony Ward in a Bruce LaBruce trilogy.

My version of heaven would be a vanilla-scented toilet stall, where I'm handcuffed to Vincent Cassel and Ricardo Meneses.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...