Sunday, October 31, 2010

Our Next Guv?

Kristin Davis, the Madam who brought down Eliot Spitzer, is running for Governor of New York. She's campaigning heavily in the gay community. I must admit, she does have her appeal. At least she's honest about herself, more so than any of the other candidates. Would anyone even notice another whore in the Governor's Mansion?

Albany is definitely up there running with the big dogs in Baton Rouge, Springfield, and Trenton for most freakishly sleazy state politics.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Daft Covenant

Malcom French over at Simple Massing Priest recalls Aesop's fable about the frogs who desire a king for all of those who so yearn for an Anglican Covenant. He illustrates it with the above. It's going on my sidebar with a link.

A tip of the Anglo -Catholic biretta to Mimi.

I see no point to the Anglican Covenant except to punish the North American Churches for acting on their consciences. The proposed "Daft Covenant' (TM Tobias Haller+) will be the most radical and divisive thing to happen to Anglicanism since Oliver Cromwell first rode into London.

I once heard an Irish Catholic priest remark that in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Church always plays the role of the Older Brother.

*Just a reminder of my comments policy, NO anonymous comments will be posted. No exceptions.

Jon Stewart on Sanity

I must admit to being very skeptical about this rally, but this speech wins me over:

Great signs at the rally.

My Favorite World Series Joke So Far

"If Texas wins, they get to secede from the Union. If San Francisco wins, then Texas has to secede from the Union." -- Peter Sagal, who also said about tonight's game in Dallas, "It's the first time 40 people from San Francisco ever voluntarily went to Texas."

My Cracked and Cloudy Crystal Ball

I gaze into my crystal ball and I see very low voter turnout in Nevada and Senator Angle. I see a close race in Pennsylvania with a high turnout. I see Christine O'Donnell losing big in Delaware and turning out the Dems in all the surrounding states. I see a close race in Kentucky and Senator Rand Paul. I see another four years of Governor Jerry Brown in California. I see a close governor's race in Texas with Governor Perry barely winning another term in the face of voter anger over his Texas School Board and their textbook decisions. I also predict a death penalty scandal in Texas with lingering doubts over a couple of past executions and new evidence coming to light.

Andrew Cuomo should probably feel confident about shopping for new drapes for the Governor's office in Albany. Senators Schumer and Gillebrand will easily win another term. Carl Paladino will probably go back to being just another bitter old racist in the construction industry.

I see the Republicans taking the House, but not the Senate. I see at least 2 years of political stalemate with plenty of incentive on both sides not to cooperate on anything. I see the Republicans holding up unemployment insurance payments for months, and even years. I see endless House investigative committees looking into scandals cooked up on Fox News with White House officials subpoenaed and paraded before gleefully prosecutorial Republicans. I expect to see nothing done about the economy or the deficit. If anything, I expect to see the Obama Administration entirely on the defensive trying to preserve its agenda and to keep the situation from getting worse. I see a government shut down initiated by newly elected Republican rank and file over the objections of the party leadership. I see it lasting for a long time.

I expect the economy to continue to stagnate and the unemployment rate to hover around 9% or 10% for years to come. I see a Japanese malaise of deflation in our near future that may last for a decade or more. I could see it leading to an end to the Afghan War and to the closing of overseas military bases because we can no longer afford them. No one will be interested in doing anything serious about global warming until Florida is under water (which may happen sooner rather than later; by the time fish are swimming through the streets of Orlando, it will be too late). I see the Chinese ready to step into the power vacuum we leave behind. I see a future of declining wages, growing poverty, and growing conflict, in an ever more inward-looking, backwards, and isolated country no longer able to compete (or even to participate) in the global economy or on the world stage.

I'd be delighted to be proved wrong, and to see the Cleavers keep their house. I hope to see Ward and June gainfully and happily employed with good careers. I'd like to see Wally having to decide between Princeton and MIT, between the rowing team and football. I'd like to see Beaver signing up for soccer without having to worry about employment and supporting the family at the age of 14. I'd like to see the Cleavers as happy, secure, and prosperous as they once were, but now with sustainable living habits and technology so they can ultimately save money, save a comfortable way of life, and save themselves from catastrophic droughts or floods in the future. I'd like to see them proud to live in a country that conscientiously takes its role as a world leader, and not as a world ruler.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Please remember my good friend David Kaplan in your prayers and your thoughts. He goes into the hospital tomorrow for an angiogram.

Thank you.


DKNY is now out of the hospital. They found some blockage in his heart and put in a stent. He is now home resting comfortably, though he's very tired and the doctors told him to take it easy for a few days.

An Ugly Winner

Is the Obama Administration truly a failed presidency? Rolling Stone doesn't seem to think so. Their article interviews, not pundits, but historians who point out that so far, Obama's is the most successful progressive presidency since LBJ. They also point out that Obama has accomplished more and shaped the agenda in his first 2 years than even Reagan did in his first two years. Unlike both LBJ and Reagan, Obama faced much more powerful opposition to his legislative agenda. While the jury is still out on whether or not the original stimulus package was big enough, without it, economists say that we could have been facing not intractable 9.6% unemployment, but intractable 16.5% unemployment with wage and price deflation.
They also point out that while the Healthcare Bill is less than the Medicare for Everybody that dirty hippies like me would like, it remains the biggest reform in the system since Medicare in 1965, and may prove to be even bigger in the long run. For the first time, insurance providers are brought under regulation with some real consumer protections in place. By the end of the decade, 95% of Americans will have health insurance under this plan.

I think what makes things hard for us Progressives is that we are so used to beautiful losers, people who cling to their agendas, die nobly on the political battlefield, and ultimately accomplish nothing. Obama is an ugly winner along the lines of LBJ (and lest we forget FDR), willing to do the ugly horse-trading necessary to get anything done in a democracy. As I've always argued, democracy is ugly. It's not saviors riding in on white horses. It's quarrelsome committees and shaky coalitions of competing claims and interests looking for a way to go forward. Meeting minutes get lost, phone calls get missed, feelings get hurt, and sometimes boneheaded mistakes are made and corruption flourishes, but what really matters is that the opposing sides feel no desperate compulsion to shoot each other. Rival political factions and ideologies can compete for power without killing each other. Not a small thing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I read about the waves of protests and strikes sweeping France as the population resists austerity measures that are aimed, not at the health of the nation, but at paying off the banking industry, and I notice enormous numbers of students participating. The very idea of American students taking to the streets over raising the retirement age and over economic austerity measures is just unimaginable. Ours are way too self-absorbed, and like all the rest of us, they've become as passive and fatalistic as Chinese peasants.
Which is curious, because Chinese peasants are no longer quite so passive and fatalistic anymore. They are now much more combative and eager to challenge local corruption, and at much greater risk, than most of us these days.

Americans appear to be making the transition from citizens to peasants just as the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction. The Teabaggers are today's sans culottes gone crazy, rioting in the streets on behalf of Queen Marie Antoinette and her royalist absolutism shouting "We want cake! Spit in our faces! Treat us like shit!"

Our overlords (who've done nothing over the last 30 years but loot the economy for fun and profit) now openly expect deference as society's "winners," and the rest of us very meekly give it to them. They've fucked us all over so contemptuously, even more than the French or the Chinese peasants, and we just roll over for more.

A scullery maid would spit in disgust at such servility.

I remember Digby once said that there was a time when rich, middle class, and poor all had a sense that they share the same country. Now Ayn Rand tells us that the remaining 99% percent of us who saw our take-home pay drop by 7% (and still dropping) over the last 30 years (while our 1% owners got a 23% income increase over the same time period) should count ourselves lucky that our overlords just don't fire us all and get new help.

I remember recently telling my friend David Kaplan that a society that divides itself between "winners" and "losers' can forget about having a middle class. He replied that such a society can forget about having a country.

But, as they say, time only moves forward. Let's hope we can eventually recover our self-respect and our courage.

Sorry about the coarse language, but I'm through being nice about this.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Christianity is like the world. The world is more than 200 nations who all hate each others' guts. They are all lead by more or less corrupt governments who use their people's fear and hatred of outsiders to legitimize their claims to rule. So also Christendom is broken up into hundreds of churches, denominations, congregations, etc. each claiming to be the One True Church founded by Christ Himself, and that all the others are frauds of the devil. Despite all the diplomatic bloviating every few decades about "ecumenism" and "dialogue," these churches aren't really interested in talking to each other at all. They are all interested in exterminating their competition. Each one claims the Key to the Kingdom, and each expects to be sitting at the Right Hand of God laughing at all their competitors going down the gullet of hell in the end times. Like everything else in the world, Christianity is about winning. Maybe that's what folks mean by "muscular Christianity."

Jesus wept.

I've always liked Paul Tillich's thought that the absolute worst thing we could say about Jesus is that He came into the world to found a new religion. He did no such thing. He came into the world to end religion. That burden He promises to lift from our shoulders is not the burden of life, but the burden of religion; no more purity codes, no more tests and initiations, no more sacrificial regulations, no more chosen priesthoods, no more doctrinal purity tests, no more catechism pop quizes, no more law codes, no more celestial jurisprudence, no more moral or spiritual supremacy, no more apotheoses, no more holy heroism. All that is required for salvation has already been done for us. No matter how brilliant or base we are, it doesn't matter. We are all equally beneficiaries.

Your 15 Authors

Over on Facebook, my favorite socialist revolutionary and friend Jason Chappell has started a little project, name your 15 favorite and most influential authors.
So, I'm sharing the challenge with you my vast readership (all 5 of you). Who are the 15 authors who shaped your outlook the most?

The Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who've influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

Mine in no particular order:

Hannah Arendt
WH Auden
Thomas Mann
Rheinhold Niebuhr
Mark Twain
Paul Tillich
Martin Buber
TS Eliot
Walt Whitman
William Blake
Blaise Pascal
George Orwell
Albert Camus
Martin Luther King Jr.

Quite a spread. A lot of these folks I couldn't imagine in the same room together.

Right Wing Intellectual Life

Rightwing scholarship consists of trolling through libraries looking for quotes or facts (it doesn't matter which) to support a preconception.
This is the Real American alternative to the gay liberal socialist method of testing an idea against evidence and argument to see if it is true.

Rightwing scholars dredge up the writings of long dead and forgotten paranoid obsessives with massive conspiracy theories involving everyone from the Jews to the Freemasons to the Illuminati to the Scots to the Melanesians, and then go on Fox News to declare them to be the greatest historians since Thucydides.

Rightwing argument consists of waving bloody shirts, waving red flags, pressing emotional buttons, and calling people witches. It has nothing to do with what anything really means or if it's true. Throw a name at somebody like "Socialist!" "Nazi!" "Communist!" "Terrorist!" "Totalitarian!" and see if the crowd goes for the red meat.

The Rightwing approach to anyone who differs is to beat the bloody shit out of them, and if the little whiny punks complain, beat some more bloody shit out of them. If that faggot has the nerve to hit back and bloody your nose, run crying to the Assistant Principal and then go on Fox News to cry copious public tears about how much you are bullied and victimized by your too powerful enemies.

You got a problem with this?

Why do you hate America?

Why do you support the terrorists?

Cranky this morning.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fascinating As Watching Paint Dry

And it really can be fascinating.

Here is The Man himself, Picasso, performing on camera for us in Henri-Georges Clouzot's La Mystere Picasso from 1955.

In this scene, Clouzot informs Picasso that he only has a few minutes of color film left, and Picasso with perfect sang froid assures him "sa va."

Here's one of my favorite paintings Picasso made for the film:

I don't know about you, but I think he destroyed it in the end. The finished picture is not nearly as compelling as some of the stages it went through.



Speaking of "determined to win through intimidation and violence what they cannot win through evidence, reason, and decency,"

The violence is starting in Uganda.

I'm becoming convinced that Africa now plays the role of proving ground for the American religious right with all of its massive reserves of money from crazy Texas billionaires and from the Ahmanson fortune. They have every intention of bringing similar legislation and pogroms here to the United States.

Perhaps The Most Successful Gay-Positive Message Project Ever

Terry Miller and Dan Savage

I remember back in my retail days, employees getting together in the break room at Border's, World Trade Center and reading Dan Savage's weekly column, Savage Love, aloud. We would howl with laughter. We wondered who the hell would seriously write this guy for sex advice, but a lot of people did. We loved his in-your-face-and-spitting approach to the religious right and social conservatives, calling them out on all of their abundant hypocrisies. I like his less-than-reverential attitude toward what he calls "the gay establishment," the HRC cocktail parties at The Pines in summer circuit.

Now, he's suddenly taken on a whole different role as a gay activist. Together with his husband Terry Miller, he supposedly came up with the idea during an anguished conversation over the recent spate of highly publicized gay teen suicides (I should point out that there were always legions of such suicides that went unnoticed for decades). He said in a recent radio interview that he was frustrated for so long that there was no way he could talk directly to gay teens. No high school would ever consent to have him come speak, and the gay teens themselves are usually too intimidated to identify themselves by showing up at a Dan Savage event. Then it occurred to him that now he could speak directly to gay teens through the magic of the Internet and YouTube. And so, It Gets Better was born.

This may well be the most successful gay-positive message project ever. Aside from the celebrities cashing in on the bandwagon, thousands of gays and lesbians of all ages and from all backgrounds have contributed. I'm hearing stories of parents watching these posts with their gay kids.

Most amazing of all to me are these 2 contributions:

When I was a bullied gay teen thinking about killing myself, I only had Nixon to turn to. I can't imagine any previous President even touching this issue, let alone participating in a project initiated by gay activists. I certainly have my complaints about Obama from choosing to rescue the mortgage industry over saving homeowners to enforcing and defending DADT while still pledging to end it. But, there are times when he reminds me of just why I voted for him, and this is one of them.

And then there's this contribution which I find breath-taking:

Teen-aged suicidal me couldn't imagine in 1974 a sitting Secretary of State speaking to me as a suicidal gay teenager and telling me that my country needs me. I am amazed.

An acquaintance of mine said that this whole project and the suicides that inspired it should be a wake-up call for older gays and lesbians. We've complacently assumed that things have improved for gay kids since we were gay kids. Clearly they haven't. It could be argued that things have gotten worse. The Received Wisdom on Homosexuality is now not only challenged, but discredited. The Defenders of the Received Wisdom are striking back all over, determined to win through intimidation and violence what they cannot win through evidence, reason, and decency.

The Talmud famously declares that whoever saves one life saves the world. Thanks Dan and Terry for saving the world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Cleavers Today

After 20 years of faithful service, Ward was laid off from his managerial job. His employer got bought out by another company which in turn was swallowed up by still another holding company. In order to pay for the leveraged buy outs, the company eliminated senior staff and either moved the jobs overseas, or replaced them with younger and cheaper employees. A young man almost half Ward's age does his job and two others for about half of his old salary and benefits. Ward was unemployed for about a year and a half before he found part time work as a store clerk at WalMart for almost minimum wage and few to no benefits. The humiliation and the stress of his situation caused Ward to start drinking, and he's gained weight and lost hair.
June works full time as a grocery check out cashier at Piggly Wiggly making most of the money that pays the family's bills (those that can be paid). She gets up at 4AM so Beaver can start his paper route and to make breakfast for Ward and Wally. She gets home from work at about 7PM, makes dinner for Ward and the Beav (Wally usually is not home for dinner since he works after school). While at work, she calls Beaver every hour on his cell phone to make sure he's at school or at home, and to keep the doors locked while he's home.
Wally goes to school, and then works full time as a fry cook at Denny's for the dinner shift. June has the car, so he has to take the bus to school, and then it's an hour long bus ride to get to Denny's out by the interstate. He's frequently late, and has been reprimanded many times. Eddy Haskell always makes fun of Wally's second hand clothes while concealing the piles of delinquency notices from the credit card he used to pay for all of his pimped out bling. Wally had to give up school sports after Ward lost his job so that he could go to work. What little free time he has, he spends getting stoned with all the skateboard kids down by the municipal pool, which is now drained and permanently shut down because of budget cuts.
Beaver rides with June at 5AM to do his paper route every day. With all the foreclosures and people moving out, crime is up in the neighborhood, and so she fears for his safety. She drops him off at school on her way to work. Beaver takes the school bus home after class with strict instructions to stay in the house. June fears for his safety, but tells him that it's his responsibility to look after Ward, who is usually passed out on the couch with the TV going when Beaver gets home.
They are still in the house, though their mortgage is now worth more than the house. Wally looks forward to a future of community college or military service. Unless he can get some kind of a great scholarship, college is out of the question. His grades are good, but tuition and other expenses, even with scholarships, make college just too much. When Ward lost his job, they lost their health insurance, so now they rely on visits to a clinic and to emergency rooms. They usually have to go without something to pay for meds (like Beaver's anxiety medication). They are already getting foreclosure notices on the house, and the city is sending lien notices because they cannot afford the property taxes anymore. June lies awake at night worrying about having to move into a small apartment or rental unit in another cheaper part of town and having to take the boys out of school in mid-semester.

October 20

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Saint Luke's Day

Saint Luke, the patron saint of artists, draws the Virgin and Child from life in Rogier Van Der Weyden's great painting for the chapel of the artists' guild in Brussels, circa 1435 - 1440.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Transformational President After All?

President Obama may well be the centrist politician he always said he was. And yet, his may well prove to be the most transformational presidency since Reagan's. While his staff, as well as the Democratic establishment, regularly diss the liberal-progressive grass-roots activists who try to help them as well as criticize them, Obama is much more sympathetic to broadly progressive causes than the last Democratic President ever was. We shall see if Obama will try Clinton's 1994 strategy of "triangulation" by appropriating conservative positions after the election and expected gains by the Republicans. I doubt he'll be able to even if he wants to. They are all "bloody and extreme like the Holy Ghost" these days, and their constituents are baying for blood. If the Republicans manage to capture one or both houses of Congress, then expect endless investigations and subpoenas concerning scandals real and imagined. I'm expecting at least two more years of political deadlock to emerge from this election.

I think the ferocity of the reaction Obama has stirred up is testimony to the transformative nature of his presidency. Although his race is part of that ferocious reaction, it's not all of it, or even most of it. This is a decisive reversal of 30 years of political orthodoxy that said that government must be reduced in size and that business must be given more of a free hand. Another reason for the ferocity of the reaction is fear of demographic, generational, and cultural change. Obama is the living embodiment of that change, a black man born too late for Vietnam and the generational pre-occupations of the 1960s, a man comfortable with changing technology and cultural mores.
This is one of the few issues where Andrew Sullivan and I actually agree. Sullivan describes himself as a conservative and a Catholic (less and less convincingly these days) as well as a gay man. In my heart of hearts, I'm an Internationale-singing Anarcho-Syndicalist, and in my head, an unregenerate liberal progressive. I'm an antinomian Christian universalist heretic in my religious sympathies, though I can say the Creeds without fingers crossed. On the gay issue, Mr. Sullivan and I are worlds apart. He's an assimilationist, and my sympathies are closer on the spectrum to the late Harry Hay. And yet, I think he's right to describe Obama as a centrist whose presidency has been much more effective than most in its first two years. While the healthcare bill is much less than the universal public care I'd like to see, it's a huge step in the right direction that will improve the lives of millions of people.

But, don't take my word for it. Here's a little anecdotal evidence sent in by our friend in Wyoming, Ann Fontaine (shared with her permission):

re: health care.

I ran into my friend last weekend at our diocesan convention -- she used to work in a high powered job for a big company with great benefits and health care. She got some degenerative disease and could not work. She carried her insurance for awhile but then they dropped her - she could not get the treatments she needed as she could not make enough to pay herself but had too much to go on medicaid -- under Obama she has regained insurance and is doing well -


He saved her life.

I suspect that there are other such stories out there. Again, this reform is so much less than I would like, but it is a step in the right direction, and every journey and every enterprise begins with a step. We've already taken several.

Before we get too discouraged heading into November, take a look at these poll numbers on the question of which is preferable, government spending cuts or tax increases. The results might surprise you. I'm less worried about the Prez than I am about other spineless Democrats talking about Social Security benefit cuts or raising the retirement age in the lame duck session because the Conventional Wisdom says they should (regardless of what the facts say).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Did Anyone's Neighborhood or Family Really Look Like This?

I doubt it.

Mine certainly didn't.

I don't know anyone around from that time whose family was even close to this, and yet we all felt then that this was what was expected from us. This is what was presented to us as "normal."
Ward worked at some unknown managerial job and was always the steady benevolent ruler of the household. June stayed home and cooked and cleaned, always immaculately dressed with pearls and never looking exhausted or vexed. The kids were both uncomplicated, uncomplaining, and managed the minor temptations of the world (usually in the person of relatively harmless Eddy Haskell) with relative ease and confidence, always turning to wise and benevolent parents whenever there was something they couldn't understand.
This show presented so scrubbed up and uncomplicated an image of family life that it made Norman Rockwell's sweetest Saturday Evening Post cover look like brutally honest realism in comparison.

Wally Cleaver

Fess up gay boys! You watched Leave It to Beaver religiously, especially in the show's later years, because Tony Dow was so hot, and so unselfconscious about it.


Here he is in 2004, still a good looking gent.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Thanks Mrs. Cleaver!"

Barbara Billingsley, 1915 - 2010


And who could forget this famous moment in cinema where Barbara Billingsley broke with her "Mrs. Cleaver" persona:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thought for the Day

The world is so arranged that greed, malice, and stupidity will always win out. But, it is reason, justice, and charity that always saves everyone's bacon in the end.

Bishop Robinson Gets Better

Jesus is not in front of us LGBTs blocking our way forward, He's right beside us on our journey, and when He's not there, He's behind us to push us forward and to catch us when we fall.

I Love Fort Worth

City Council member Joel Burns:

The Inmates Really Are About to Take Over

Robert C. Welch, the secretive and dictatorial founder of the John Birch Society

Sean Wilentz documents in great detail the impending triumph of the 50 year old secretive right wing fringe movement known as The John Birch Society through the Tea Party and Glenn Beck. The fringe is about to become the mainstream.

You'll be amazed at how closely the John Birch Society parallels in its structures, and even in its message, the very Communist Party it professes to oppose.

As George Orwell once said to a prominent British conservative thinker, "I don't think you fear the Communists so much as you envy them."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Insomnia and Insomniac Musings

Another night with very little sleep. My asthma has really been acting up lately, especially at night. I've been spending most of my Fridays with doctors lately.

I wake up this morning with a despairing feeling that stupidity and malice will enjoy yet another overwhelming triumph over all things reasonable, just, and charitable with crowds cheering and bells ringing.

There are times when I think our future is 17th century Spain. A globally dominant power is too proud and arrogant to adapt to changing circumstances (in the 17th century, Spain was slow to adapt to changing patterns of global commerce and naval technology). Its rivals take advantage of its short-sightedness (England and the Dutch Republic quickly undid Spain's dominance of the seas). This former power becomes more and more turned inward, focusing on internal conflicts (17th century Spain saw a successful rebellion by Portugal, and an unsuccessful rebellion by Catalunya, the end of the Spanish Hapsburg Dynasty with a war for the succession). Spain began the 17th century as the dominant imperial power in Europe, and ended the century isolated, backwards, and poor, a condition that would not begin to change until toward the end of the 18th century, and would not be fully overcome until the end of the 20th century.

All empires go bankrupt. Rome went bankrupt in the 3rd century. The British Empire emerged from World War II to find itself bankrupt. Perhaps this is the moment for our empire. Decline is the price of empire, and if you don't want decline, then don't create an empire. I couldn't care less about the American Empire, but I'm worried that the American Republic might disintegrate with it. I'm worried that we are about to march cheering into a future of growing isolation, increasing division, falling wages, falling living standards, and perpetual war in unresolvable conflicts. I'm not exactly rejoicing at the prospect of China stepping into the power vacuum we leave behind as we leave the world stage.

Pardon the bad morning anguish.

Claudio Coelho, La Sagrada Forma in the Escorial, 1685 - 1690

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Joan Sutherland 1930 - 2010

For her legendary performance of "Let The Bright Seraphim" from Handel's Samson, go here.

Grazie per tutto.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Birthday of the Global Economy

Happy Columbus Day.

And in honor of Columbus' employers, here is a Spanish march.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, religious fanatics, bigots, and shameless opportunists, two people for our own time.

Ever since, it's been 5 centuries of cashboxes, account books, cargo ships, guns, chains, whips, and disease so that some could get rich while many others toiled.

The day when Earth Mother became real estate. The day when the Family of Man became the War of All Against All.

The Spanish Colonial government in Mexico replaced the religious concept of the Family of Man with the Sistema de Castas, a legal classification and ranking of the whole population in terms of race. Group could be set against group, and therefore easier to control and exploit. Here are 18th century paintings from Mexico explaining the system.

Ad Guys

Mad Men

I've started following Mad Men on the teevee, and I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. I must admit that I don't follow the show religiously, but I try to keep up with it. The characters and their stories are fascinating with some great office drama. I can't think of a more compelling character on teevee these days than the brilliant ad man with a mysterious past, Don Draper.
The excruciatingly correct period details for me are a little unnerving. Most of the demographic (to use an advertising term) who watch this show see it as a historical period piece. They were all born at least 10 years after the period (early to mid 1960s) where this drama is set. It is living memory for me, though I was a small child at the time. I grew up in a very different place and a very different class from what's shown on Mad Men. My parents in the early 1960s were struggling young petit bourgeois moving from one small rent house to another, both working to pay expenses, and to create some vague semblance of that "normal" family they saw daily on teevee, and which they believed was expected of them. My father never even visited any of the circles Don Draper moves in. But, I do remember the clothes, the hair, the furniture, and the cars from that time.

One of the things that I've come to appreciate about the show is the very skillful way the writers weave actual history into the narrative. Instead of referencing the huge social transformations of the time, they are woven into the story, sometimes in strikingly intimate and personal fashion. The writers stick to the social ethos of the time. The ad firm is very much all white and male dominated, true to the era. Also true to the era, they are trying to reach only one racial and social demographic, the once vast and dominant white middle class. Also true to the time is the fact that no one on the show questions this order of the world until that order comes into question around them. The show deals with the burning issue of race in the 1960s, not with earnest conversations about race relations around the water cooler, but through one character having an affair with an attractive young black woman. His father beats him violently with a cane after he introduces the girl. I thought that was a great way to show the power of taboo around that subject at the time.

My! how things have changed since I was young. A show like this would have been unthinkable when I was young. Ad guys were the butt of fun at best, and seriously despised as tools and sell-outs at worst. Back in my art school days, contemplating a career in advertising was tantamount to contemplating a career in prostitution. Even folks in design and applied art departments had no desire to go into advertising (including those who wound up in the business).

I've always had a complicated relationship with advertising.
When my students (especially in studio classes) ask me what's the difference between advertising and fine art, I always answer "purpose." All advertising no matter how crude or sophisticated has only one purpose, to sell us something, no matter what it is. Fine art has any number of real and intended purposes.
I almost always use print ads from magazines when I teach basic design studio courses. I'm always amazed at the formal sophistication in those ads, composition, rhythm, color, everything used so incredibly well and effectively. In terms of pure form and technique, the best minds are all in the ad business and not in fine art. Some of the most amazingly brilliant pieces of film making technique are in one minute ad spots on teevee. They create atmosphere, tell a story with pacing, editing, suggestion, evocation, and all in the space of 60 seconds. Eisenstein and Orson Welles would be amazed.
Although I accept advertising as necessary to keep the economy moving (things have to be sold), I've always thought that it had a dark influence on our culture, and a disastrous influence on our politics. So much of selling these days is a kind of subtle coercion, the idea that we must buy something or buy into an idea, or risk losing something, or end up isolated and marginalized. Selling has less and less to do with the merits of what's being sold than the consequences of not buying it. We are not so much buying a product as buying a ticket to the Valhalla of the Elect. The modern cult of the cool plays right into this, and not just with the younger demographic. To be in on the joke is the very definition of cool. No one wants to be the poor sap at the party who just doesn't get it.

Market research is vital to advertising. Producers have to go out there and find their customers. But, it seems to have unwittingly taken over our culture. Focus groups began as a market research technique and have now taken over everything including religion ( I suspect that everyone from the evangelical megachurches to the Roman Catholic Church uses focus groups).
What could be more dehumanizing than to be reduced to a unit among other units in a category? What could be more insulting than to have one's views, opinions, and experiences reduced to indicators of a type? Political parties, corporations, governments, educators, and churches view the world more and more in terms of market research, in terms of ever smaller demographic units until we at last come down to the inconvenient and irrelevant individual.

Advertising has changed a lot in my lifetime. It is now so much more sophisticated than it was when I was young (and it was changing back then). Here is a sample of ads from Don Draper's time. This is what he and his firm would have produced in the mid 1960s.

Here is what I would consider a major landmark in both advertising and in politics from 1968:

And nothing has been the same since.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Flash Mob in Grand Central Against Homophobia

Seems like old times.

I don't know if this is related to the Bronx hate crime or not (I doubt it, this event seems to have been in the planning for days), but a flash mob suddenly lay down in the middle of Grand Central Friday night and blocked traffic. They unfurled a big yellow banner that read "End Homo - Transphobia Apartheid!" One person read the names of people killed recently by hate crimes or driven to suicide by bullying while the others shouted back each first name. The whole thing lasted about 3 minutes.

Our side doesn't need money from the Koch brothers, or from the Chinese or the Saudis laundered through the Chamber of Commerce, or need the help of Murdoch's media empire, to pull these things off.

Also, I'm struck by the wide range in age and ethnicity of the people participating, very different from those largely monochrome gatherings regularly featured on TV and so well funded.

Onward Christian Soldiers

I'm waking up this morning to news of a monstrous anti-gay hate crime out of the Bronx this morning.
Three young men were beaten, robbed, and tortured over a whole night for being gay.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Birthday John Lennon

The picture of John Lennon from the White Album that adorned the bedroom walls of a lot of my old friends a long time ago.

He would have been 70 tomorrow October 9.

I've always had mixed feelings about him. Like everyone else born between 1940 and 1960, his music and his image were a big part of my growing up. Us precious few and lonely counter-culturals in 1960s and 70s Texas cherished Lennon's every note and every Liverpuddlian speech peculiarity. Lennon unwittingly promised us a better more congenial world waiting for us somewhere beyond the Red River. He encouraged us to have courage and grace while we were still stuck with the rattlesnakes.
That combination of perceived depth and provocative affectlessness seemed so brave to us, and we tried it out ourselves. To a certain extent, it worked, not to improve things around us, but to protect ourselves from all the malice we attracted for standing out (I had a friend of mine in high school days who was regularly stopped and interrogated by cops from the Dallas PD for his hair length; perhaps it was my budding gayness, but it was certainly my hair length that caused clerks to occasionally address me as "Ma'am;" I knew others who were refused service and forcibly ejected from some stores.)

I'll leave it to greater musical minds than mine to comment upon the relative merits of his music.

I think he did his best work (like all the other Beatles) when the band was together. His later work sometimes takes on a preachy or solipsistic tone to my mind.

At his worst, John Lennon could be vain, spoiled, and self-absorbed. At his best, he could be fearless while remaining self-possessed. He could be a real visionary ("Imagine" was never one of my favorite songs, though its antinomian vision always appealed to this antinomian) He was like all the rest of us, perhaps more than we care to admit.

And now that his 70th birthday is passing with him long ago snatched away too soon by violence, I feel old and sad. I can't decide if I really miss him or if I miss what he stood for (or the hope and expectation that we all projected on to him at the time). Both he and that are long dead and buried. Strawberry Fields is now a memorial in Central Park.

Here's my all time favorite Lennon number. Keep Imagine, I'll take this one.

Golden Norman

Norman Rockwell, The Golden Rule, 1961

It seems to me that our mean little small-minded selfish age traded this in for "Winner Takes All!"

Freedom of Worship

How are we supposed to know which is the right way to worship Jesus if no one tells us?

Freedom of Speech

Should this whining dirty hippy just sit down and shut up and stop wasting our time?

Freedom From Fear

Should this family really worry about paying protection money for their town's fire and police forces?

Volunteer fire departments?!! What the hell is this, Russia?

A Light Still Shines in the Dark

Just when I thought that the sun was setting on the very idea of human freedom and dignity in the name of profit and expediency, I wake up this morning to see that Liu Xiabo has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The leaders of our prospective replacement as global hegemon are very pissed off.

Freedom From Want

Does Grandpa look like he's worried about who's freeloading at his table?

Thanks to JCF.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I never thought I'd miss old Norman Rockwell, but now that the Raging Right has discarded him for something more like the Leni Rieffenstahl aesthetic set to Country and Western music, these really look good now.

Dwight Eisenhower, New Deal Socialist

How far to the right has the political center really shifted over the past 30 years?

That (former) hero of American conservatives, President Eisenhower either initiated or supported the following policies:

--The Interstate Highway System
--The creation of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
--A 90% tax rate for income above $250,000
--Meaningful limits and reductions in military spending.

I can't imagine Barack Obama even privately suggesting comparable policies. I don't think even Kucinich would propose these. All of those things would be unthinkable today. Fifty years ago, they all had bipartisan support and a majority of public opinion behind them. Fifty years ago, those policies helped create the huge middle class prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, whose like we may never see again.

I never thought I'd miss old Ike.

Class War

“There’s class warfare, all right. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” -- Warren Buffett

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"A Place Where There Isn't Any Trouble"

I've noticed that the latest spate of young gay suicides have really struck a nerve with LGBTs. I think the reason is clear, we've all been through this. Michael went through it. I went through it. In mid 1970s Texas, I was a very lonely and suicidal gay teen. Michael was badly bullied in mid 1980s Long Island. We all go through this, and most of us survive, but some of us don't. Each loss is irreplaceable, a life that might have been and now never will be. Each loss is another victory for the haters who would love to see us removed in one way or another from the face of the earth.

On the one hand, there really has been a lot of progress, I would never have dreamed of seeing an openly gay and an openly lesbian Episcopal bishop with the support of their church thirty years ago.
On the other hand, in some fundamental ways, we are still stuck right where we were on that steamy night in June of 1969 when the riots started at the Stonewall Inn. This was demonstrated forcefully in a discussion of the legacy of Stonewall staged by Brian Lehrer and the local Public Radio station, WNYC between some Stonewall veterans and a group of LGBT youth. What was so striking was not the differences, but the similarities in the experiences of the veterans and the kids. Really little had changed in how hard it was to come of age as gay between then and now.
The historian David Carter, who wrote what will probably stand as the definitive account of the Stonewall riots, pointed out that gays and lesbians still enjoy no legal protection on the federal level. There are no federal laws forbidding discrimination against LGBTs in housing or employment. What legal protections LGBTs have are a hodge podge of state and local laws that vary considerably from place to place. Cities and states frequently have conflicting anti-discriminatory laws (like between New York City and New York State). Some cities are legally gay friendly in the middle of gay hostile states (Austin). There are numerous states and communities that openly desire to re-criminalize the status of LGBTs despite the Supreme Court and Texas vs. Lawrence.

Homophobia remains the last socially acceptable bigotry. The idea that being gay is the worst possible thing in the world for men is still a staple of very machismo oriented contemporary youth culture and the industries that profit from it. Our culture is soaking in it. It is inescapable. It has gotten particularly nasty since it is now openly challenged and called to account. Churches are leading villains in this struggle. Pulpits create that sense of spiritual permission for the haters by singling out gays and lesbians as either creatures from hell, or as God's mistakes. Indeed, what comes from the pulpits is basically an apologia for extermination, either in the extreme and literal form advocated by the likes of Fred Phelps, or more commonly through "reparative therapy," the idea that gays can be "changed."

These suicides are a brutal reminder that our struggles are far from over, both our political and our personal struggles. There is no Glinda the Good Witch to help us out. We aren't wearing any ruby slippers. The Emerald City isn't any friendlier to us than Kansas was. The Wicked Witches are legion, and they really do want to kill us all.
But, they really will melt with a bucket of cold water thrown on them. It is our courage, our hearts, our brains, and above all our friendship and solidarity that will get us all down the yellow brick road together.


There were 2 bashings here in New York in what are supposed to be safe neighborhoods for gays. One of them was right in the Stonewall Bar. Apparently 2 palookas from Staten Island had no idea what kind of bar they walked into, yelled homophobic curses, and then tried to rob and beat one of the patrons.

As usual Joe.My.God had all the dirt and details.

And speaking of apologias for extermination coming from the pulpit, Dan Savage, as usual, minces no words:

My good Christian friends, I think he is spot on about this. I think our proper response should not be to complain about Dan Savage painting all Christians with the right wing brush. There's a much bigger and more desperate issue involved than the reputation of our faith . Our Lord can take care of Himself, with or without our help. The Christian Faith will survive even those who ask "What Would Jesus Do?" while dragging that very faith through the mud of bigotry. Those who do need our help (as well as Our Lord's) most desperately are those very people who Dan Savage rightly describes as seeing nothing but despair in their futures. It is our responsibility as Christians to those kids, to the rest of the world, and to ourselves to dispel all the obsolete and bad science used in bad faith to demonize and pathologize sexual minorities, to dispel the really toxic heresies that proclaim parts of God's Creation to be exceptions to His declaration that His Creation (ALL of it) is Good, and to dispel the monomaniacal and downright psychotic obsession of Christian leaders and institutions with matters of sex and control. It is up to us to present to the world an alternative vision of church as a community grounded in love of God through love for each other and the world instead of as spiritual buttress for the prevailing hierarchy and spiritual enforcer of social convention.

Perhaps it's time to think about replacing the image of Christ the King (kingship is obsolete, even as a metaphor) with Christ the Liberator. Deus Optimus Maximus et Christus Liberator.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Libertarian Paradise ...

... is in reality a Hobbesian hellhole.

Take a look at what happened to a local family in Tennessee that didn't pay the "voluntary fee" for fire protection.

We all pay taxes for a reason, folks. Otherwise, just give everyone a gun and fire extinguisher and tell them that they're all on their own; and that includes defending yourself against foreign invasion as well as against crime and catastrophe. If you can afford your own private army, no problem. If you can't, tough shit.

Thanks to Paige Baker over on Facebook.

"If Happy Little Bluebirds Fly Away Above the Rainbow, Then Why Oh Why Can't I?"

From a vigil here in New York in Washington Square held for the recent teen suicide victims:

Alas, I was not there. I was home grading papers.

Thanks to Joe.My.God

Kirkepiscatoid out in North East Missourah wrote this beautiful Litany:

A Litany for children who have died from bullying
--by Kirkepiscatoid

O God of justice and mercy, we pray that no more daughters and sons in this world die as the result of bullying simply because of who they are; be it race, religion, sexual orientation, or social awkwardness. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That our schools become places of nurturing and hope rather than shame and derision. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That our teachers instill values of charity and acceptance in all children so there is no need for one child to feel superior over another. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That parents can put aside what they were sometimes taught, in order to promote tolerance and diversity at home. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That our communities support children who feel “different from the others” and show them lives that are theirs to claim, lives they cannot begin to imagine to see at home. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That all children can grow up feeling self-empowered and truly loved simply as themselves, and not suffer beatings and psychological abuse at home or school. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

O Lord, you understand this above all others, for your only Son hung among thieves on a rough wooden cross on a barren hill, just as Matthew Shepard hung from a rail fence on a lonely road. Be our light in the darkness, Lord; protect our children and fill them with the love of your Holy Spirit; hold them in your Son’s loving arms in their most fearful hours, and be with them always.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bad Ass Jesus

Bishop David Anderson concludes his letter with a call for a return to "muscular Christianity," and for muscling +Jefferts-Schori and sympathizers out of the next primates' meeting in Dublin.

Father Mark Harris has a good essay on this letter. Daniel Weir observes that the Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross are incompatible. Indeed, Super Jesus is breaking his cross in the picture above, about to do the very thing everyone from Saint Paul to Luther said that Jesus would never do, come down off His cross and bend the world to His will.

"Fuck Your Feelings!" Dan Savage Responds to a Good Christian

Here is Dan Savage's reply to LR who wrote to him complaining of an anti-Christian bias in his "It Gets Better" campaign and in his comments about the recent spate of gay youth suicides. The letter is reproduced in full. It asks for a measure of civility and respect for Christians who oppose gay marriage. Dan Savage tells LR what to do with that civility.

To my mind, the best and most interesting part of Savage's reply is in the PS:

The religious right points to the suicide rate among gay teenagers—which the religious right works so hard to drive up ... as evidence that the gay lifestyle is destructive. It's like intentionally running someone down with your car and then claiming that it isn't safe to walk the streets.

Which is why I argued that every gay teen suicide is a victory for the religious right. Because, you see, your side does use those suicides to "perpetuate [your] agenda." Tony Perkins and all those other oddly effete defenders of "Chrisitian values" and "traditional marriage" will point to this recent spate of gay teen suicides to argue against gay marriage, anti-bullying programs, against allowing gay people to serve in the military—basically, they'll gleefully use these tragedies to justify what they like to call the "Christian, pro-family agenda."

I've always found it striking that the apologists for gay segregation have such tender feelings, that they do not like being publicly identified with those who do their dirty work of enforcing a dying social norm through intimidation and violence (the very things they would like to see police powers do). They remind me of other segregationists in the past who furiously rejected any accusation that they would have anything to do with lynchings and church bombings.

To LR and all like him/her, the mad mullahs, Ahmedinajad, the Phelps clan, and legions of bullies are on your side and agree with you on this issue. Look around at the company you are keeping and think hard about the rightness of your cause. The guns, the money, and the fists are all on your side. You are hardly in any position to be complaining about being bullied yourselves.

While it is fair for all of us LGBTs (and friends) who call ourselves Christians to complain about being painted with the same brush as the far right, Savage's complaint and his feelings are legitimate. Let's face it. We've all felt this way ourselves. Perhaps our task is not to complain to Dan Savage, but to reclaim our faith from those who want to take out a copyright on it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sagi Musume (Heron Maiden)

Somehow appropriate for Sunday:

Here is a kabuki dance in its entirety performed by the great Tamasaburo. There is English narration and translation. It is a deeply Buddhist religious reflection.





Michael and I are both suffering from insomnia these days. He's very stressed, which adds to my stress. My asthma has been acting up and hitting very inconveniently at night shortly after I go to bed. I've always tended to toss and turn in my sleep, and that makes things hard for insomniac Michael.

I wish I could sleep as still and soundly as this guy has since 1924 (without being dead of course).

It's Saturday morning, the one day of the week where I don't have to be anywhere (though I have a lot to do today), and I feel like ... well, I feel like this:

"Is it dead or alive? human or inhuman?" indeed.

Many of Us in New York Prefer to Walk, Thank You

Babe Ruth may no longer be trying to get to Yankee Stadium, but Harold Lloyd is still out there somewhere driving a cab.

Friday, October 1, 2010