Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Saints Day

I must begin with the patron saint of my trade. Even though he probably never picked up a brush or pencil in his life, I don't think he'd mind sharing himself with the artists as well as the physicians.

Here's a sample from my completely unofficial calendar of personal saints. This list should include Father Charles Bewick, though I have no picture of him.

Bartolome de las Casas

Father Mychal Judge

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Saint Benedict

John Wesley

Jonathan Swift

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Martin Luther King Jr.

Mahalia Jackson

Julian of Norwich

Mary Magdalene

Francis of Assisi (Francesco Bernadone)

I apologize for the dearth of theologians here. I'm simply not qualified and not literate enough in the field. Suggestions are welcome.

But for the fact that I'm sticking to the technicality of Christian allegiance, this list would be a whole lot longer.

Who's on your completely personal and unofficial calendar of saints?

Happy Halloween!

Is there anything scarier than a smiling Jack Nicholson?

Here's the same song recorded off an original 78 without Stanley Kubrick's creepy reverbs:

Poor old Al Bowly! killed in the Blitz just as his career was beginning to take off internationally. Then, his voice gets revived in the late 70s as part of a horror movie.

And nobody did schmalz like Ray Noble.


Don't miss Meet The Press, the special Halloween edition, with host David Gregory, Senator John McCain, Count Dracula, Frankenstein, a zombie, the Mummy, and the Wolfman.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some History Made Yesterday

President Barack Obama signs the Matthew Shepard/ James Byrd Federal Hate Crimes Bill into law.

Hat tip to Ann at Friends of Jake.

Toujoursdan in Great Pain

Our French Canadian friend in Brooklyn is suffering from a painful infection that requires some painful treatment. Go over to his blog Culture Choc and wish him speedy recovery so I can continue stealing material off his excellent blog.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Paintings

Here are my new paintings from the past year. They were photographed by Steve Bates of Art Documentation. Steve Bates has been photographing my work for about 12 years now.


Orpheus, detail

Orpheus, detail

Here are two paintings completed from a projected four painting series on Theseus.

Theseus Discovers His Father's Sword

Theseus and Procrustes

Theseus and Procrustes, detail

Theseus and Procrustes, detail

The remaining two paintings will be Theseus and the Minotaur (already begun and expected to be finished sometime this summer), and Theseus Founding Athens.


Apollo, detail

... and finally, a rather frumpy self-portrait

David Wojnarowicz and Francis Bacon

This is my last post on this subject, I promise.

I went back and reread what I posted about Francis Bacon in June, and I was struck by the remarkable parallels in the lives of both Bacon and Wojnarowicz, and more struck by the different conclusions they reached from those experiences.

Both men were cast-aways from their families. Bacon was thrown out of the house by his tyrannical father when he was 16. Wojnarowicz ran away from his violent alcoholic father when he was 12. Both spent their youths wandering, scrounging, and hustling. Bacon wandered across Europe. Wojnarowicz hitched across the United States. Both lived much of their lives outside the law and respectable society. Both had very limited formal educations. Both were fans of anarchist gay writers like Genet and Rimbaud. Both were anarchists themselves, regarding all claims to legitimate authority as ultimately bogus. Both saw history as nothing more than a squalid competition among predators. Both were themselves repeatedly and violently victimized.

I think the big difference between them is one of generation.

Francis Bacon was from those generations of gay men who went through the Depression, World War II, and the post war witch hunts. For his generations, survival was accomplishment enough. The Nazis and the Fascists hunted down and murdered gays and lesbians on an industrial scale, but not before using them as favorite subjects, along with twins and Jewish and Gypsy children, for sadistic “medical” experiments. The Allies hunted out and imprisoned gays and lesbians, but not before taking advantage of their talents (see the case of Alan Turing). Bacon saw gay men as but rabbits between two rival wolf packs. Bacon in his later years (like a lot of gay men of his generation including WH Auden and Quentin Crisp) rejected the whole idea of Gay Liberation. He accepted, and even welcomed, the designation of “criminal” and “degenerate” by conventional society. He believed that genuine homosexual love was impossible (never mind Bacon’s own secret grief over George Dyer’s death behind his cold public persona).

David Wojnarowicz was from the generations of gay men who went through Stonewall and the AIDS epidemic. Their attitude toward their situation and their history was a lot less passive. Why should they accept arbitrary designations of their sexuality as “criminal” and “degenerate” from a society that countenanced everything from slavery to segregation to imperialism? Maybe the problem wasn’t them, but the context in which they lived. Why should gay folk accept that context and live always on the run like frightened rabbits? These generations grabbed history by the horns and wrestled with it, and ended up making history. Wojnarowicz did not share Bacon’s nihilism or the historical passivity of those earlier artists and writers. The tone in Wojnarowicz’s work is that of an outraged moralist, something we almost never see in Bacon’s art, or in the writings of authors such as Genet or Burroughs (although it does come up sometimes in Ginsberg’s poetry, see “Moloch” in Howl). Wojnarowicz was a radical and revolutionary. His anarchism was about kicking down the existing order so a new world could be born.

Bacon, in my opinion, was definitely the superior artist, though I don’t think Wojnarowicz deserves the oblivion into which his memory has recently fallen.

I am not an anarchist, though I have my anarchist moments. I believe there really is a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate authority. Laws and institutions may well be grim consequences of human fallibility, but they are necessary in order to make life bearable for all of us. Perhaps the truly revolutionary act is not to abolish them, but to take them over and transform them into something less self-serving and more serviceable.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Should Religion be Ethical?

Randy Cohen of the NY Times has a very insightful and novel take on the Pope and the Anglican Communion, perhaps one that only an outsider can make.  He points out that if two major corporations like Microsoft and Exxon came to a similar agreement at the expense of women executives and gay employees, there would be a huge public outcry over the bigotry of the decision.  He uses this as the pretext to ask a bigger question; should religions and religious institutions be held ethically accountable?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Passion of David Wojnarowicz

Put the kids to bed. Here's another post on David Wojnarowicz.

Ten years ago, I did a series of paintings about Wojnarowicz based on his writings. It turned out to be a practice run for The Passion of Christ begun 2 years later. I organized them using the Hebrew Alphabet like the reading from Lamentations in the Tenebrae service for Holy Week. If you look carefully, you can find each Hebrew letter from the title in each painting. I'm not sure how Wojnarowicz would react to being liturgized. I don't care much for the idea myself these days. He might actually have liked being turned into a kind of martyr figure, however.
If I was to do something again about Wojnarowicz, I would do it very differently. I'd make him much less of a martyr, and a little more of a radical hero.

This series was a big success for me on the exhibition circuit. These paintings brought me my first press notice and an enthusiastic review (in a small art rag that doesn't exist anymore).
This series got me a solo show with the Organization of Independent Artists in their Gallery 402 downtown in Tribeca. I'm told that was quite a coup, that they rarely give solo shows. Not many people showed up for the opening. September 11th happened a month before. Ground Zero was just blocks away, the fires were still burning, and there were still lots of access restrictions in the neighborhood.
I sold the whole series to a single collector for not much money at all (gave away might be more accurate).

I recently made scans from my old slides of the whole series, and here they are with the texts from Wojnarowicz's writings that all but 2 of them illustrate.



For me, it gives me strength to make things, it gives me strength to offer proof of my existence in this form. I think anybody who is impoverished in any way, whether psychically or physically, tends to want to build rather than destroy.


When I put my hands on your body, on your flesh, I feel the history of that body, not just the beginning of its forming in that distant lake, but all the way beyond its ending.


What is this little guy's job in the world? If this little guy dies, does the world know? Does the world feel this? Does something get displaced? If this little guy dies, does the world get a little lighter?


Entered the underground of man/child sexual connections...Dropped out of school and lived on the street full time. Was almost murdered twice more in ratty hotels and side streets of Times Square. Was drugged once and raped and beat up while unconscious.


And I'm carrying this rage like a blood-filled egg and there's a thin line between the inside and the outside a thin line between thought and action and that line is simply made up of blood and muscle and bone and each T-cell disappears from my body it's replaced by ten pounds of pressure ten pounds of rage and I focus that rage into nonviolent resistance but that focus is starting to slip my hands are beginning to move independently and the egg is starting to crack...There's certain politicians that better get more complex security alarms and there's religious and health care officials that had better get bigger fucking dogs and higher fucking fences and queerbashers better start doing their work from inside...tanks because the thin line between the inside and the outside is beginning to erode and at the moment I'm a three hundred foot tall eleven hundred thousand pound man inside this this six foot frame and all I can feel is the pressure all I can feel is the pressure and the need for release.


If I die it is because a handful of people in power, in organized religions and political institutions, believe that I am expendable. And with that knowledge I lie down among the folds of my sheets and dream of the day when I cross an interior line. That line is made of a quota of strength and a limit of pain. I know those institutions are simply made of stones and those people are simply made of blood and muscle and bone, and I know how easily they can go, how easily I can take them with me. My thoughts consist of wondering if the earth will spin a little faster when my thoughts become action.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

David Wojnarowicz: Down and Out in 1980s New York

This is a post on the late David Wojnarowicz. Be warned that the imagery and the language may be strong and offend some readers. This post is definitely NOT for kids to read.

He wouldn't have had it any other way

David Wojnarowicz photographed by Peter Hujar

When I arrived in New York in the fall of 1991, the Eighties East Village art and punk scene was coming to an end, if not over already. It still strikes me as remarkable how so many of the big stars of that art scene died together with the decade. Keith Haring died of AIDS in 1990 at age 31 (my age at the time). Jean Michel Basquiat died of an overdose in his studio in 1988 at age 27. Another star who died with the decade was David Wojnarowicz. He died of AIDS in July, 1992. His raucous and noisy funeral procession passed in front of the door of my building where I lived on East 10th street. ACT-UP and what was left of the militant East Village gay scene gave him a big outdoor funeral in Tompkins Square Park.

The 1980s in art was a very strange phenomenon that I still can’t quite figure out. It was probably New York’s last hurrah as anything like an art center attracting new and developing talent and making careers. The art scene then was over-hyped and over heated with suddenly rich parvenus looking to put their money into contemporary art, any contemporary art. They were eager to polish off the rough edges of new loot. There was a lot of sudden stardom in the art-world driven by the sudden Wall Street wealth. The grand Hegelian historical vision of old Marxist critics like Clement Greenberg and Meyer Schapiro was turned into an intimidating sales hype that went by the name of “zeitgeist” (the Spirit of the Age). No one wanted to be left out of the next trend or missed by the “zeitgeist.” It all came tumbling down after the 1987 Wall Street crash, and has never been quite the same since. The East Village gallery scene vanished over night.

Soaring real estate prices have effectively killed off New York’s historic role as an art capital. The real estate market was already strangling New York’s artists’ colonies to death in the 1980s. Today, city planners and civic leaders genuinely regret the end of New York’s historic role as an incubator for new talent in the arts, but they’re all too greedy to do anything about affordable living and working space for artists, musicians, dancers, and actors. David Wojnarowicz died with that last bizarre flowering of art, pop culture, and commercialism in 1980s New York.

As conservatives like to say about themselves and the Episcopal Church, Wojnarowicz was in that scene, but not of it.

Eighties New York art was a weird mixture of Reagan-Thatcher era sudden stock market wealth and self-congratulatory hype. It was a pop culture fixated on recent memories of suburban childhood kitsch, art school parties, the last of punk rock, a little bit of serious art, and the abiding New York underworld. In 1980s New York, John Galt and Howard Roark rose up out of the pages of Ayn Rand and kissed each other. David Wojnarowicz was an outsider who stumbled in on the whole show. He was unlike others such as Haring, Schnabel, and Basquiat who were tireless self-promoters who made a point of going to the right parties and meeting the right people. Wojnarowicz spent much of the earlier part of the decade working as a janitor and bar-back at a lot of the East Village clubs where the art world and Wall street strivers partied together, and at gay bars where Howard Roark and John Galt did a lot more than kiss.

Wojnarowicz began as a street kid. He was the son of a violent alcoholic sailor father and an Australian mother growing up in Red Bank, New Jersey. His family was very poor. When he was a small boy, they sometimes worked as migrant farm laborers picking apples in upstate New York and in Michigan. He ran away and hustled around Times Square when he was 12. He hustled through most of his early life with limited success. He was definitely not a striking beauty as a young man, though he had a number of regular clients, all older men, some of whom looked after him from time to time. He went to school only intermittently. A couple of his teachers at the Famed Performing Arts High School in Manhattan recognized his talents in art and in writing and encouraged him to continue. But, he had a hard time attending classes regularly and dropped out. He was a regular at the river docks at the end of Christopher Street where he cruised and did most of his hustling. He also did some of his first painting there. He frequently hitchhiked back and forth across the United States. He traveled extensively throughout the continental US and had a serious affair with a man in Texas. He began making artworks, first as graffiti, and later as paintings on boards and garbage can lids. He met the photographer Peter Hujar who encouraged him in his art, and who taught him photography and darkroom techniques. Hujar and Wojnarowicz were on-again-off-again lovers for the rest of Hujar’s life. Hujar made his living as a commercial photographer, but he is best remembered for his highly polished and professional photographs of the gay East Village bohemia of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The self-absorbed and temperamental Hujar was the father Wojnarowicz never really had, encouraging him in his art and getting him to drop all the drug habits (including heroin) he picked up over the years living on the streets. Hujar also kept the perpetually down and out Wojnarowicz fed and sheltered. Wojnarowicz had a very chaotic and improvised early life.

Among his earliest recorded works from his years on the West Side docks:

Science Totem, 1983

A wall painting in the old West Side Dock warehouses long ago destroyed with the buildings; photographed by Peter Hujar.

Fame and fortune came suddenly to Wojnarowicz. He wrote about having lunch in a soup kitchen one day, and then walking around with $9000 in his pocket the next day. He was an overnight darling of the art market, though a hard one to embrace. He really was what Basquiat was hyped to be, a creature of the mean streets (Basquiat, in fact, came from a comfortable and stable professional class family and went to good schools). Wealthy collectors and their dealers at that time were in love with the idea of the uninhibited young savage from the urban jungle. Dealers were always on the lookout for artists who fit that preconception, or could be fitted into it (brutally and fatally in Basquiat’s case). Like Basquiat, Wojnarowicz was not particularly savage, though he was very independent and prickly. Where Wojnarowicz fell short in the eyes of dealers was in being white. They liked their urban savages black.

Wojnarowicz was part of that second wave of ‘80s artists that was much more serious and combative, making art that addressed current social and cultural issues such as AIDS, gay rights, and feminism. The first wave of 80s artists was mostly lightweights like Kenny Scharf, Rodney Allen Greenblatt, and even Haring. There were some other lightweights who had grand historical pretensions with not much substance behind them, artists like Julian Schnabel, David Salle, and Robert Longo. Perhaps only Basquiat, and Cindy Sherman emerged from this first wave with durable reputations. The second wave of artists was earnest and angry. The press at the time routinely dismissed them as “politically correct” crybabies. It turns out the some of the most enduring reputations from the ‘80s came from this angry second wave (Kiki Smith, Nan Goldin, Elizabeth Murray, Ilya Kabakov, Christian Boltanski among others). Wojnarowicz saw his work included in all the big shows including the Whitney Biennial. He had a solo show at the New Museum. Collectors eagerly bought his work.

His big moment of broader fame was not an exhibition, but a lawsuit. He successfully sued right wing evangelist Donald Wildmon for copyright infringement after Wildmon used strategically edited versions of Wojnarowicz’s work as part of a lawsuit against the National Endowment for the Arts for funding an exhibit of Wojnarowicz's work ("Tongues of Flame") at the University Galleries at the State University of Illinois. The NEA pulled funding for the show. The court ordered Wildmon to publish an apology and a retraction.

In his later years, Wojnarowicz became very politically active, and his art took an angry political slant. He was a regular at ACT-UP actions and demonstrations. Unlike many in the earlier ‘80s art scene, Wojnarowicz’s politics were very left. The United States and its capitalist ideology were predatory in his view. Religion and patriotism, in his view, were nothing more than figleaves covering a cold will to dominate and exploit. In his art, he explicitly compared American imperial ambition with predatory animals like snakes and spiders; an inversion of the old Social Darwinist metaphors.

Anatomy and Architecture of Desire, 1988 - 1989

Peter Hujar died of AIDS in 1987. Wojnarowicz came down with the disease and died in 1992 at age 37.

Among Wojnarowicz's last and greatest works was a series of untitled photomontages from 1988 - 1989 he called the Sex Series:

These are among the most powerful works of art to come out of the AIDS crisis, in my opinion. They show random settings with circular scenes of homosexual sex acts planted in them, as though we are looking through some kind of monstrous surveillance device that hunts out same-sexual activity going on in any given place. These collages have the look of night vision scopes. The photo-negative prints give the sexual activity and the surrounding scenes an ominous radioactive quality. These very powerful works of art will never be included in any popular surveys of the art of the period, or in textbooks. They are too sexually explicit. For that reason, they remain unknown to broader audiences.

I count myself as a fan of Wojnarowicz’s work, but my feelings are mixed. At its best, it is very powerful witness to a life lived boldly beyond the edges of respectability with its adventure and risk. At its worst, his work is strident and preachy. Wojnarowicz lived and died as an artist in the collage aesthetic, part of that whole culture of “sampling” which has been with us now in popular culture and in fine art for almost 40 years. His career began with painting and collage, and ended with photomontage. The collage aesthetic had been around for almost 80 years by the time Wojnarowicz came to it, beginning with Picasso and Cubism. There are times when he had a great sense of the rhyme and reason of form. He had a powerfully poetic sense of images bouncing meanings and associations back and forth across each other.

Afternoon in the Forest, 1986

Earth, 1987, from a series of paintings of the Four Classical Elements. This is another remarkable work that will remain largely unseen and unknown because of sexually explicit content.

The material of his work was the material of his life that found its way into his work; comic books, gay porn, science textbooks, school maps, graffiti, news photos, advertising, and the works of gay authors like Rimbaud, Genet, and Burroughs.

He was himself a remarkably gifted and eloquent writer, especially for someone with so limited a formal education. His diaries and journals are still very rewarding reading.Through all the anger and alienation of his work comes a ferocious will to live and an indomitable spirit. There have always been legions of young men out there with the same bad luck to be driven out of abusive households into life on the streets. Most don’t survive it. He did, and he turned his experiences into powerful art and literature. There are times when I look at his art and read his journals, and I think he actually enjoyed that uprooted life.
That comes through for me most clearly in his series of photographs from the late ‘70s titled Arthur Rimbaud in New York where either he or a friend would wear a mask made out of the one known photo of the young gay French poet, and pose in a New York setting. Wojnarowicz identified with Rimbaud and imagined how wonderful it would be if the young poet could come back and share the life of the 1970s New York gay underground. Ah, to be young and gay and outside the bounds of all law and respectability in New York! Wojnarowicz in some ways was a manifestation of a homoerotic romanticism that goes back to Walt Whitman and the Calamus Poems.

Here is a sample of photographs from the 1978 - 1979 series Arthur Rimbaud in New York. They are a rare first hand glimpse into the gritty underground life of 1970s New York.

Wojnarowicz was a gay radical who believed, not in assimilation into a dominant culture which he felt was corrupt to the root, but in liberation. He believed that gay men should positively embrace those very things which the rest of society finds hardest to accept, their sexuality and the culture that comes out of it (he was light-years apart from Andrew Sullivan's idea that the whole point of gay politics is assimilation and the end of gay culture). Wojnarowicz saw the fact of same-sexuality as a challenge to a masculine order all about power and domination. Gays and lesbians were targeted for violence precisely because of this challenge. Marginalized status in a society that was fundamentally predatory and hypocritical was something to be welcomed with gladness in his eyes. He saw gays and lesbians as prey in a predatory capitalist world, and he believed in striking back at it. The bashers were only doing the bidding of their owners. He did not advocate violence, but sometimes visions of violent retribution against the Oppressor found its way into his work, especially his writing. He certainly would not approve of the tendency of some gay folk today to mistake becoming a valued marketing demographic for genuine acceptance and liberation. Unlike earlier gay artists and writers like Bacon and Genet, Wojnarowicz did not accept the criminal designation assigned to homosexuality by conventional society. He was not a nihilist. His was the vision of an outraged moralist. He wanted to overthrow the conventional society that those earlier writers and artists implicitly accepted.

"Fuck You Faggot Fucker!" 1984. The title of this painted collage comes from a piece of homophobic graffiti embedded in the lower part of the picture. For Wojnarowicz, such crude utterances were a rare public slip of the mask of civility that concealed the predatory savagery of modern society.

Was he a great artist? No, certainly not in the sense that Arshile Gorky or David Smith were great artists. But then, none of the stars from that time on this side of the Atlantic will likely survive the Trial By Time and Familiarity (perhaps only the work of the late Elizabeth Murray, a wonderful painter, will survive). He was a good artist, and a heroic soul in a time and place that famously had no soul. For some gay men, he remains a kind of romantic figure; all the unconstrained adventure of characters like William Burroughs and Jean Genet, without the nihilism.

I think he might have grown into a major photomontage artist and writer had he lived. We will never know how he might have matured or handled maturity. Like so many from the AIDS years, his was a life cut terribly short. I missed his fighting spirit most during the long years of George W. Bush. Though he was very much an atheist (“when you die, you’re fly food.”), I wonder how he would have reacted to the growing thaw in Christian attitudes toward homosexuality.

Wojnarowicz went into eclipse after his death, unlike other artists. He is now mostly the object of a cult following, especially among gay men. He barely gets a mention in official histories of 1980s art. The last major show of his work was a retrospective at The New Museum in 1999, seven years after his death.

The Grand Inquisitor's Offer

Oxford professor of church history Diarmaid MacCulloch takes a very jaundiced view of the recent Anglican excitement from Rome in a full page article in the Observer. Here is a sample from the essay:

This much broader struggle within Christianity at first sight appears to be about sex. Throughout the world, the most easily heard tone in religion(not just Christianity) is of a generally angry conservatism. Why? I hazard that the anger centres on a profound shift in gender roles traditionally given a religious significance and validated by religious traditions.The conservative backlash embodies the hurt of heterosexual men (or those who would like to pass for being heterosexual men) at cultural shifts which have generally threatened to marginalise them and deprive them of dignity, hegemony or even much usefulness. What they notice amid their hurt is that the sacred texts generally back them in their assumptions, and they therefore assert the authority of sacred scripture.They fail to hear other voices in scripture, just as two centuries ago those who perfectly rightly believed the Bible legitimised slavery failed to hear the Bible's other message – that freedom is a universal Christian value. Self-styled "traditionalist" Anglicans and the Curia both emphasise ancient authority in their efforts to outface the inexorable realities of modern life, which some others might style new workings of the Holy Spirit. King Canute's courtiers would have signed up to Pope Benedict's proposed new jurisdictions.

Hat tip to Simon over on Thinking Anglicans.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Traditional" Americans

In their lifetimes, they have seen their Christian faith purged from schools their taxes paid for, and mocked in movies and on TV. . . .They have seen trillions of tax dollars go for Great Society programs, but have seen no Great Society, only rising crime, illegitimacy, drug use and dropout rates. . . .

They see Wall Street banks bailed out as they sweat their next paycheck, then read that bank profits are soaring, and the big bonuses for the brilliant bankers are back. Neither they nor their kids ever benefited from affirmative action, unlike Barack and Michelle Obama.

They see a government in Washington that cannot balance its books, win our wars or protect our borders. The government shovels out trillions to Fortune 500 corporations and banks to rescue the country from a crisis created by the government and Fortune 500 corporations and banks.

America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.

That was Pat Buchanan recently. What some folks on the left see in this guy, I'll never know. Buchanan articulates the feelings of a lot of downwardly mobile white folk that "their" country is slipping through their fingers.

I must begin with a confession.
I am white, as white as white can get. My French ancestors probably came down from Quebec into eastern Kentucky in the early 19th century. My most recent immigrant ancestors are from Germany, refugees in 1849 from the collapse of the 1848 revolution. I have sterling WASP credentials including English ancestors who took Manhattan from the Dutch, and who fought at Saratoga in the Revolutionary War. Another was a Baptist preacher who rode the circuit between Long Island and New Jersey, and was a pioneering Abolitionist in the late 18th century. During the Revolutionary War, he was jailed because he refused to swear loyalty to the new republic because it tolerated slavery. My ancestors were all northwest European from France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands.

I do not feel particularly privileged by any of this. As far as I am concerned, these are accidents of history, biographical details of interest only to me, and not cause for any extra points. I've never felt that this was "my" America to lose. I don't feel like I'm "losing" anything these days. If anything, quite the contrary. Of course, there is that little detail of my sexuality and the experiences that come with it certainly affect how I look at things. If anything, so many of the transformations that Buchanan and his readers fear, I welcome. I've waited for so many of these changes for a lifetime. The rapid demise of legal and religious segregation against my kind, though far from complete, is already much more than I ever expected to live to see. Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite made dramatic strides in my lifetime. Why should I feel nostalgic for the days when some professions were for "women" and paid "women's wages?" Why should I miss the childhood experience of cafeterias with signs that said "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone?" And we all knew who "anyone" meant. Why should I regret whole new populations entering into public life and history to leave their mark and to make their contribution? Segregation wasn't just wrong, it was a waste of talent. What was there to miss? That white man's paradise of the 1950s was a house built on the sands of segregation.

Was this country ever really anyone's to lose? I think we should refer that question to people like Red Cloud, Chief Joseph, Cochise, Crazy Horse, Quanah Parker, and Geronimo. They did indeed lose a country.

I've always thought it appropriate somehow that the founding myth of New York City is a real estate swindle. And who were the first people to settle in what would become New York? The Dutch, Africans (free and unfree), and Jews from Brazil fleeing the Inquisition. The Anglo Saxons didn't arrive until much later. Who were the first people to settle in Texas? They were all people like Jose Antonio Navarro.

During the first Gilded Age, the Spanish American War was fought by an all volunteer military made up primarily of immigrants. In this second Gilded Age, the two current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being fought by an all volunteer military made up of a lot of immigrants, including non-citizens.

And who was among the first American soldiers to die in the Iraq War? From the website "Honor the Fallen":

By Martin Kasindorf
USA Today

LOS ANGELES — One of the first U.S. servicemen killed in combat in Iraq was not a citizen of the country for which he sacrificed his life.

Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22, a rifleman with the Marines, died in a firefight March 21 near Umm Qasr.

Born in Guatemala, Gutierrez held permanent U.S. resident status, which he obtained in 1999.

At 14, with his parents dead, Gutierrez followed the path of 700,000 of his countrymen to California. He made the 2,000-mile journey from his Guatemala City neighborhood without entry papers. He hopped 14 freight trains to get through Mexico. U.S. immigration authorities detained him.

Fernando Castillo, Guatemala’s consul general in Los Angeles, says the United States doesn’t deport Guatemalan minors who arrive without family. Gutierrez was made a ward of Los Angeles Juvenile Court. He was placed in a series of group homes and foster families. He learned English and finished high school.

When he reached 18, he got residency documents, Castillo said.

Marcelo Mosquera, a machinist from Ecuador, and his wife, Nora, were the last couple that sheltered the lanky teenager. They cared for two younger foster children, as well, at their home in suburban Lomita, said Hector Tobar, a family friend.

Neighbors told the Los Angeles Times that Gutierrez acted as the big brother, taking the younger kids to the nearby McDonald’s.

Tobar said Gutierrez talked of becoming an architect but put college plans on hold to join the Marine Corps a year ago. Jackie Baker, the Mosqueras’ adult daughter, told Spanish-language KVEA-TV here that Gutierrez “wanted to give the United States what the United States gave to him. He came with nothing. This country gave him everything.”

The U.S. Embassy notified Gutierrez’s older sister, his only surviving relative, of his death. He will be buried in Guatemala at her request, Castillo said.

_ The Associated Press contributed to this report

My French ancestors left Quebec fleeing poverty. They certainly didn't have any immigration papers. My German ancestors were kids, barely 19 years old on a ship from Danzig, unmarried with an infant son. They arrived to hostile neighbors and the kindness of Methodist missionaries at the South Street Seaport in New York in 1849. One of my English ancestors was a ne'er-do-well fleeing gambling debts in London.

Today's immigrants from Asia, the Americas, and Africa all have similar, but even more dramatic, stories to tell about overcoming worse hardships and greater hostility (see the obituary for Jose Gutierrez above).

Let's face it fellow white folks, none of us are royalty. Our shit stinks like everyone else's. Our ancestors' stories aren't much different from theirs.

Some History Gets Made

Beyond all the hype about the Roman Catholic's not-so-new offer to disaffected Anglo-Catholics upset about having to share altars with women and gays, and the spectacle of teevee news people trying to pronounce the word "ordiniate," an important bit of history was made the other day.
For the first time, the Senate passed legislation that would make violence against gays, lesbians, and transgendered folk, a federal hate crime.

The measure, attached to an essential military-spending bill, broadens the definition of federal hate crimes to include those committed because of a victim’s gender or gender identity, or sexual orientation. It gives victims the same federal safeguards already afforded to people who are victims of violent crimes because of their race, color, religion or national origin.

“Hate crimes instill fear in those who have no connection to the victim other than a shared characteristic such as race or sexual orientation,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said afterward. “For nearly 150 years, we have responded as a nation to deter and to punish violent denials of civil rights by enacting federal laws to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens.”

This bill was introduced more than ten years ago in the wake of Matthew Shepard's murder. His mother campaigned tirelessly for it in the face of all kinds of abuse hurled at her and her late son. The bill was held up in committee and scuttled on several occasions because of the political clout of the homophobes during the Dubya years. Their clout apparently is no more. President Obama will sign the legislation.

The bill contains a provision to finance states and localities investigating and prosecuting these crimes. It also provides for the federal government to act when localities refuse to investigate or prosecute these crimes.

I agree with Senator Leahy. What makes hate crimes distinct is their intention to intimidate entire communities. Individual assaults and homicides may add to the intimidating influence of high crime, but no particular set of people is singled out. A hate crime targets not just one person, but an entire community. As Matthew Shepard's death demonstrated, gays and lesbians suffer from particularly violent attacks since their very existence threatens some men's tenuous sense of masculine superiority.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Third Man

I watched Carol Reed's classic movie The Third Man on the TeeVee last night for the first time in a long time. I really like it, though I don't think it's the greatest movie in the world. That could be because I'm just not a big Graham Greene fan. Jospeh Cotten does a great job with the Graham Greene bumbling dimwit American role. Orson Welles is great as the charming, and menacing villain. I like it because the cinematography is spectacular.

Some people (like me) love the Anton Karas film score. Other people can't stand it.

Here is the spectacular chase scene through the sewers of Vienna. A surprisingly athletic Orson Welles runs like frightened rat.

And A Little Swede Shall Lead Them

The Swedish Lutheran Church voted in synod for gender-neutral weddings. Now everyone, gay and straight, can have a church wedding in Sweden.

Once again, Sweden leads the world.

As usual, the inexhaustible Simon Sarmiento has the most comprehensive coverage over at Thinking Anglicans.

Hat tip to Goran, our favorite Swede.

Our Good Friends

Here is particularly moving testimony from Maine:

LGBTs have very good friends like the gentleman above. A lot of our hetero friends have sometimes been bolder and more courageous in our cause than we have been.

The one thing I've always asked our antagonists to do is to look around at the company that they are keeping on the lgbt issue. I ask, does it give you any comfort to know that the likes of Robert Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahadinejad, and Fred Phelps agree with you on this issue? Don't you think that company says something about that particular position on this issue?

Right wingers always complain that "inclusivity" seems to end with them. Well, on issues of arbitrary discrimination it does. It has to by definition. It cannot include those who would exclude for entirely arbitrary reasons on the basis of determined characteristics like race, gender, and sexual orientation. Those characteristics may be determined, but opinions and attitudes about them are chosen.

Hat tip to Toujoursdan at Culture Choc.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On the Recent News Out of Rome and Westminster

The Pope's announcement that he would make a place for conservative Anglo-Catholic clergy in the Roman Catholic Church stopped the presses around the world yesterday. It was headline news in the NY Times.

I am absolutely underwhelmed at the news that La Tedescha Vecchia ("The Old German Lady" as the Italians call him) created a place for right wing Anglo Catholic clergy (terrified of contamination from anything female) in that vast club for confirmed bachelors known as the Roman Catholic clergy. To all those misogynist closet sisters I say, "Don't let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya!"

As to for the anticipated complaints "How dare you diss the Holy Father and righteous traditionalist Christians!" I say, "Tell it to the Ugandan Parliament!" (see previous post).

Onward Christian Soldiers to Uganda

Apparently, Evangelical Americans played a decisive role in inspiring, if not actually creating, the proposed draconian new anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Here is an impassioned mea culpa from Warren Throckmorton of the Christian News Online.

What does that proposed legislation consist of?

The bill would impose the death penalty on some offenses, maintain life imprisonment for other offenses, and make it a crime to fail to inform the authorities if you know a homosexual. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, but imprisonment is rarely enforced. If this become law, one may expect a change in policing policy.

American Evangelicals have created a Frankenstein, and among those who bear a large share of the blame are our old friends at Exodus, the ex-gay, it's-all-a-learned-behavior folks.

Most recently, in March of this year, three Americans were recruited by the Uganda-based Family Life Network to speak at workshops on ways to change people from gay to straight. Two of the Americans, Caleb Brundidge and Scott Lively, spoke in favor of keeping homosexuality illegal but giving those convicted an option of therapy to cure them of their gayness. Both Brundidge and Lively spoke to the Ugandan parliament regarding their views and reinforced the idea that homosexuality is learned and curable. Their ideas took hold. The proposed bill bases the need for stronger regulation on the concept that "same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic."

The other American who spoke in Kampala, Don Schmierer, is a board member with Exodus International, the leading Christian ministry which helps same-sex attracted people affirm traditional Christian doctrine regarding homosexual behavior. However, just yesterday, Exodus International denounced the legislation as "horrible legislation" and "hateful public policy." Critics of Exodus complain that the organization should have denounced the original trip to Uganda. At least Exodus has spoken out against the Ugandan proposal; Brundidge's International Healing Foundation and Lively's Defend the Family International defended the Ugandan mission and have been mute regarding the proposed law.

Even Rick Warren had a hand in all of this:

Another American Influence in Uganda has been the American war on AIDS. Specifically, Rick Warren's Saddleback church has invested heavily in Uganda and declared it a "Purpose Driven Nation." A major figure in Uganda endorsed by Saddleback is Martin Ssempa. Ssempa has been quoted as being opposed to homosexuality. He has been accused of publishing the names of suspected homosexuals in local newspapers, sending homosexuals into hiding. Mr. Ssempa has three email addresses on the Internet and I tried them all three times in order to ask his view of the proposed legislation. However, he has not replied.

So, there you go. American money and initiative played a role in the creation of this proposed new draconian law.

And the reaction of Christian bishops of all kinds to this outrage?

La Tedescha (the Italian name for the current Pope) creating a home for all those Anglo Catholic misogynist closet sisters in Rome dominates the news, but this hardly appears at all.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Love Colorado

Dear United States Senators,

As Colorado's elected officials and concerned Americans, we urge you not to filibuster the public option.

A public option is a crucial part of real reform. It would inject choice and competition into our health care system, both of which are lacking now. Moreover, it is backed by a majority of Senators, Representatives, and the American people.

Even if you oppose a public option, we urge you not to hold it hostage with the threat of the filibuster. Stand up for the people, not the insurance industry, and give the public option the up-or-down vote it deserves.


Sen. Michael Bennet, Gov. Bill Ritter, Sen. Mark Udall and the Undersigned

And you can sign that letter HERE.

Thought for the Day

As the Maine referendum draws near, and the polls show that Proposition 1 to repeal gay marriage rights is running neck and neck with its opposition, I have to ask;

Would the rights of straight middle aged white men survive an election?

American Civil Wars

Photograph by Alexander Gardner, "The Harvest of Death" showing the recovery of Union dead after the battle of Cold Harbor, 1865

I do not share the popular nostalgia for the Civil War, especially among Southerners. I see it as a long drawn out catastrophe that destroyed a generation of young men in the United States. It very nearly destroyed the United States. Countries like Britain and France, whose industries depended on Southern cotton, were all too willing to intervene on the side of the planters and slave-holders, perhaps breaking the Union naval blockade, sending arms and supplies, and perhaps even sending troops to ensure Southern independence. Abraham Lincoln (and Karl Marx) rightly saw such an outcome as the end of the American Revolution in failure. Only the hard won Union victory at Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation prevented that from happening. An independent slave-holding Confederacy would have meant a radically different world from the one we live in now; a world with no United States and a large segregated, and perhaps still slave-holding, nation in the Americas determined to expand.

I hear the yearnings for a new civil war from extremists in this country with horrified alarm. How could anyone in their right mind wish that upon their own country and their own people?
And yet, there are times when I think that the truly amazing thing about the United States is that it had only one civil war. This has always been a deeply and bitterly divided country along lines of race, class, region, religion, gender, you name it.
The central problem of American history from the beginning of the republic is who gets to be included in that opening phrase of the Constitution, "We the people of the United States..."? How do we reconcile a very egalitarian constitution with a deeply anti-egalitarian society? Those questions remain unsettled. The old question debated famously by Daniel Webster and John Calhoun over whether we are citizens first of our states or of the nation was settled in the Civil War and the 14th Amendment. Only the very far right wants to reopen that discussion.

If this country broke apart again, it would be into probably 4 or 5 separate countries, not 2. It would hardly be a clean break either since factions are no longer quite so confined to geographic areas. But then, the first break up in 1861 was hardly as tidy as the historical maps would lead us to believe. There were large populations in the North that were very sympathetic to the Southern cause, especially in border states like Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland, but also among the business classes of major cities like New York (whose mayor Fernando Wood entertained the idea of seceding from the Union and throwing in with the South). There were also large populations of Union sympathizers in the South, especially in western Virginia (which split with Virginia over secession and became West Virginia), in Texas, and even in deep South states like Mississippi and Alabama.

I look at the corruption and dysfunction in our political system, a rapacious corporate plutocracy plundering the public treasury and the national economy, the rising anger and frustration of a squeezed and shrinking middle class, the expanding and ever more desperate ranks of the poor, the prospect of a global climate with no Arctic ice cap and rising sea levels, and a clueless and tone deaf mandarin class explaining it all to the rest of us, and I am not optimistic for the future. To those who would see the opportunity for revolution in all of this, I would say that the radicals in the best position now to exploit a crisis are those on the very far right. Their vision is one of militarism and supremacy, endless wars around the world and punitive social and political policies at home.

I fear that these words spoken by Abraham Lincoln in 1838 may turn out to be prophetic:

From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia...could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.