Thursday, July 30, 2015

Coming Soon to a Gay Pride Parade Near You ...

An orthodox man goes berserk and starts stabbing people at Jerusalem's annual Gay Pride parade today.  There were no fatalities*, but there were some very serious injuries.  This is this same man's second attack on a Gay Day Parade.  He did this once before in 2005.

The man who will eventually go berserk and attack a gay event in the USA will have a gun, I can guarantee it.  What is more, it is likely that the gun will be legally purchased.

The question is not if, but when, as far as I'm concerned.  The phobes are frothing out there, and some of them are bound to blow a fuse.

Let's be careful out there.


*Shira Banki, a 16 year old straight ally of the LGBT community, died of her wounds.
Here she is playing the piano in 2009:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Boy Scouts Come Out (Sorta)

 A painting by Norman Rockwell that was in my edition of the Boy Scout Handbook

A photo from this year's Pride Parade in San Francisco that is making the rounds of the Internet today.

Yesterday, the governing council of the Boy Scouts of America voted to lift the last ban on gays from Scouting, the ban on gay adult scout leaders and employees.  The ban on gay scouts was lifted in 2013 and the ban on gay adult leaders was lifted yesterday.  But this is only a partial victory for inclusion in American Scouting.  The bans on atheist and agnostic scouts remain and troops affiliated with religious congregations (about 70%) may still ban gay scout leaders though not gay scouts.
While this does not go quite far enough for me, apparently this is too far for the Mormon Church which is threatening to quit Scouting all together.  As far as I'm concerned, good riddance, but the Mormons are the biggest single church organization sponsoring Scouting with the Roman Catholics a close second (My! how things have changed since I was a Boy Scout!  Scouting used to be very mainline Protestant with Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches all having Scout troops on their premises).

I should admit that I was a bad Boy Scout.  I did not join.  I was drafted along with my brother.  My dad was determined that one of his boys was going to be the Eagle Scout that he always aspired to be but never was.  My dad who spent his youth stealing hubcaps and lawn furniture, and who vandalized Dallas trolley cars and buses became a true believing and determined square in his adulthood.  A man who barely avoided reform school was going to hatch an Eagle Scout no matter what.  That he didn't was probably his biggest disappointment in life.  From 1969 to 1972, I got as far as First Class and my brother I think made it to Star.  My dad served a brief term as scout master of my troop putting my brother and I in an awkward position.  Fortunately, my dad was very popular and well respected by the scouts in the troop with a reputation for kindness and especially for fairness.  Whatever his other faults, my dad was no homophobe and would have been thrilled at yesterday's announcement.

I loved and hated being a Boy Scout.  I loved going out into the countryside for a weekend, though in the hot Texas summers and the surprisingly bitter cold winters, that love could be sorely tested.  I hated all the quasi-military ritual and discipline in the organization.  It's hard to keep a scout uniform clean in the red dirt of East Texas (or the dust of West Texas which is talcum powder when dry and quicksand when wet).  Scouting, like Texas itself, was paradise for those who fit in and hell on toast for those who didn't.  I did and I didn't.

One thing Scouting did for Texas kids in particular was to teach them a measure of conservation consciousness and ecological awareness; no small accomplishment.  Eco-friendliness is easy on the Pacific coast.  Nature there is spectacularly beautiful and abundant.  In Texas, nature is mean, stingy, and ugly.  There's not much scenery.  There's mesquite thorns 2 inches long and poisonous, prickly pear cactus, painful sand burrs and grass burrs, fire ants with painful stings, big red ants with painful stings, wasps, hornets, black widow spiders, scorpions, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, coral snakes, blistering heat, bitter cold, violent thunderstorms, tornadoes, etc.  Nature is hard to love in Texas.  Most kids in Texas shared their parent's attitude toward nature as more "search and destroy" than "preserve and protect."  Scouting gave many of these kids their first experience of being in nature without a gun.  Scouts taught them that maybe instead of a rattlesnake roundup, they should leave the snakes alone.   The varmints really weren't mean and evil, but wanted to be left alone, and if they were mad at us, then maybe it's because we were trespassing.  Texans regard tossing beer cans out of a speeding pickup as another God-given right.  But our troop was always very careful to leave as little trace of our presence as possible when breaking camp.  Not even a gum wrapper got left behind.  Maybe we didn't have Mount Rainier and Yosemite, but we did have fossils, wildflowers, medicinal plants, and all kinds of flourishing animal life big and small in Texas.  Scouting showed kids the beautiful flowers blooming over those nasty thorns, and taught them why flowers and thorns belonged together and why they mattered.

In my experience, the kids who did best in Scouting and who appeared to get the most out of it were those from very precarious situations where life was always a struggle and always one emergency away from catastrophe, where family life was not a refuge but just one more battlefield, and whose daily reality was alienation and loneliness.  Scouts gave them a sense of fellowship and belonging that they might otherwise find only in gangs.

I know a lot of gay men who had their first sexual experiences in the Scouts.  That was not my experience.  Mine was a very by-the-book strict observance troop.  There was very little time that wasn't supervised.  If anything like that happened in my troop (where would they have found the opportunity?), it was kept very discreet and I never knew about it.  Nonetheless, I found out many years later that I was definitely not the only gay boy in that troop.

The gay ban was a disaster for the Boy Scouts.  In the name of preserving Scouting tradition, the organization began to morph into something that Baden-Powell would not have recognized and never intended, into a very sectarian right wing jugend organization dominated by evangelicals and right wing Catholics.  It became ever more so as civic, secular, and more liberal religious organizations began to bail out of Scouting because of its discriminatory policies.  Kids from poor inner-city neighborhoods who benefitted a lot from Scouting either no longer had access to it, or had it only available through evangelical and Catholic churches who were looking for loyalty to the party line (no gays, no Muslims, no Hindus or Buddhists, no atheists, no Democrats, no labor unions, and women should stay in their place in the Ladies' Auxiliary).

What a change from what Scouts were at the beginning of their history.  Since the beginning, the Boy Scouts of America opposed discrimination on the basis of race or creed (though Southern states kept separate troops for white and black scouts).  Baden-Powell valued religious faith, but he wanted a non-sectarian organization open to non-Christians.  For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church originally forbade its members to join the Scouts.   The Catholic hierarchy later relented only when they were promised that Catholic scouts would have only Catholic adult leaders.  The Mormons initially opposed Scouting for the same reasons, but were allowed a similar arrangement to the Catholics.  The Boy Scouts for all of its militaristic rituals opposed military training for its members and resisted efforts to militarize the organization in both world wars.  A marksmanship merit badge was introduced around 1914 only under considerable pressure from the Remington Rifle Company and in the face of considerable resistance from Scout leaders.

Internationally, Scouting was associated with Western liberalism and banned in both left and right wing ideological states.  Scouting was banned in all Communist states and replaced with Young Pioneer organizations created to cultivate regime loyalty.  Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy also banned Scouting (though it flourished as an underground organization in both countries).  Scouting flourished in Imperial and Weimar era Germany growing out of the Wandervogel youth movement.  Hitler banned Scouting in 1934 and made membership in Nazi youth organizations compulsory for all kids 10 years old and over.  The Hitlerjugend was explicitly a party organization and preparation for the military, everything that Scouting opposed.  The former South African apartheid regime banned Scouting for its racial policies, and created an alternative Voortrekker scout movement for white Afrikaner South Africans.  Muslim states from Saudi Arabia to Iran ban Scouting associating it with Christianity and Western liberalism.

I hope this partial but very significant lifting of the ban on gays will be followed by a lifting of the ban on secularists.  I'd love to see the Boy Scouts of America follow the lead of the Dutch Scouting organization that does admit secularists and allows them to opt out of all the God stuff in the Scout oath.  Such changes would return American Scouting to something like the original universal vision of its founders.

I saw a vision of the future a few months ago posted on Facebook.  An old friend of mine from art-school days, an ethnic Chinese native South African living in the USA who is an atheist, posted pictures of his son's Eagle Scout ceremony complete with beaming very proud dad posing with his very proud and happy son.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Two Allegories

I recently finished (or stopped working on) a pair of allegories that I've been working on for months.  They are meant to be a pair, even if they don't quite work together.

Here they are in my studio.  All of these photos are mine, and since I'm an amateur at this, the color relationships in both paintings are very distorted in these pictures.

 Apollo and Dionysos

Two figures who may or may not be the two gods appear with a musician together with women who play the role of audience, muses, and judges.  All of these figures could be real and visible to the musician, or they could be unreal and invisible to him.
I set them all in an over-grown ruin, a ruin created not by time but by warfare.

Apollo and Dionysos were never in conflict.  They are partners in a common enterprise.  If they are in conflict with anything then it is death and entropy, not each other.

 The other allegory; The Terrible Simplifiers (After Felix Nussbaum)

This painting was meant to be the companion of the Apollo and Dionysos painting and its antithesis.  It was inspired by Felix Nussbaum's last painting completed 2 days before his arrest and deportation to Auschwitz.  I reproduce that painting below.

Felix Nussbaum's Death Triumphant that inspired my painting.  I saw it last summer in the Felix Nussbaum Haus in Osnabrück, Germany

And here is a life drawing from a couple of days ago.  It's for a future painting in the Wojnarowicz series.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Persecuted Christians

Persecution is a word freely thrown about these days in some religious circles.  A rapidly secularizing USA plus a string of major judicial and political victories by LGBTs since 2012 causes certain people who once dominated political and cultural conversation in this country to now feel marginalized.  The evangelical and fundamentalist right wing and right wing Catholics who enjoyed a hegemony in politics and religion in the USA for almost 40 years are in the novel position of finding themselves on the losing side of political struggles and demographic trends.
People who are used to being in charge and who once expected deference -- people who could fill stadiums with supporters and could swing elections, who were respectfully deferred to by the press and courted by mayors, senators, and Presidents -- are now mocked and vilified regularly and with impunity.  The religious right is unaccustomed to finding itself in this position.  It is not used to being mocked, or even worse, ignored.  It is not used to spending money, rallying supporters, lining up politicians on their side and losing.

Those claiming the copyright to the designation "Christian" are now crying "persecution!" as though a wave of pogroms is about to break over them like Jews in Eastern Europe after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II or on the eve of the Holocaust.  Joe Jervis at JoeMyGod regularly shares examples of the feverish dramatic paranoid rantings of religious right wing extremists on his blog.
Here's another from Glenn Beck:

And yet, no one in this country is charged an extra tax, denied housing, barred from certain professions, segregated into designated areas, watched by the police, refused service by businesses and barred from public transport, regularly threatened with violence, or attacked by mobs for being a Christian.  All of those things did happen (and still happen) to gays and lesbians.  A self-identified Christian in the USA can take it for granted that she can walk, ride a bus, or drive a car to church on Sunday morning in safety and count on arriving at a church that is intact and well maintained with no mobs outside threatening the congregation during divine service.

These claims of "persecution!" ring especially hollow in the face of very real persecution of Christians in the Middle East.  The Christian population throughout the Middle East is in rapid decline in the midst of the long bloody war between Sunnis and Shiites that is tearing the region apart.  Religious fanaticism threatens the ancient religious diversity of the region with Jews, Bahais, Yazidis, Druze, and others joining Christians as they leave the region in droves.  Some of the world's oldest Christian communities in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine are on the verge of extinction in their native countries.  You are now more likely to hear Aramaic, the historic language of Jesus, in a suburban Chicago supermarket than you could in Syria or Lebanon.  Christians are targets of mob violence and legal persecution from Egypt to Pakistan, and they are routinely massacred by Daesh.

 A Coptic Church in Egypt destroyed by arson.

A Protestant church in Syria destroyed by a mob.

Daesh about to execute Egyptian Christians in Libya

Lest we forget on this 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre, Christians as we all know can dish it out.

When dealing with people who are not Us, we have a choice between the Golden Rule and the Iron Rule; between treating other people as we would want to be treated, and doing to others before they do to us.  No religion or philosophy has any copyright on either of those two Rules.

If people decide to ever refight the wars of the 12th and 13th centuries, then count me out.

Even in the midst of so much despair, there are little flickers of hope and decency.

Muslims guarding a Catholic church in Lahore, Pakistan

Christians guarding Muslims at prayer in Egypt during protests in Cairo

Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom...

Your God-given right to be a pious asshole, and to feel superior while treating other people like shit.

Here is a portion of the now famous video of a couple in Kentucky being denied a marriage license even though they are legally entitled to it under the recent Supreme Court decision.

As far as I'm concerned, county clerks like this are on the same legal and moral grounds as those who continued to deny racially mixed couples marriage licenses after the Virginia vs. Loving decision in 1967.  God's curse on Noah's son Ham, so I was told over and over again by Bible believing Christians in 1967 who said segregation is God's will.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sight Seeing in Lower Manhattan

I did something yesterday that New York residents rarely do.  I went sightseeing in Lower Manhattan.  I took my newly repaired trusty little digital camera and visited the 9/11 Memorial for the first time ever, and the World Trade Center site for the first time in over 10 years.

All the photos except for a couple of historical pictures are mine and are freely available, especially to educators.

1 World Trade Center, now mostly open for business with long lines waiting to pay some absurdly high price to visit the observation deck on the top 3 floors.
I see this building almost daily from a distance in Brooklyn or from the Lower East Side.

What little is left of Kenneth Snelson's original design for the top of 1 WTC.

Tourists around the North Tower Memorial.  The memorial pits were even bigger in real life than they appear in the photos.

The North Tower Memorial and the base of 1 WTC

The North Tower Memorial; the two pits contain the largest manmade waterfalls in the world.

The North Tower Memorial

The South Tower Memorial

The South Tower Memorial

The South Tower Memorial

1 WTC from the South Tower Memorial

The Museum entrance pavilion from the south

The Museum entrance pavilion from the north; I did not go into the Museum for a host of reasons, among them the very long line you see here.  The design of this building is very striking suggesting a fallen World Trade Center tower.

Santiago Calatrava's spectacular entrance skylight for the new Transit Hub is almost finished.

Another view of Calatrava's giant skeletal bird from Greenwich Street, open to Cortlandt Street for the first time in about 50 years.

The Calatrava Bird from Saint Paul's Chapel church yard; I used to work in the Borders Store that was located just to the right in this picture.  Where that giant bird now stands, Borders employees used to go smoke.

#4 World Trade Center

Liberty/Zucotti Park today

The same spot photographed by me October 6, 2011 when it was the hub of Occupy Wall Street.  In the foreground is the improvised lending library that they set up.  They also had a functioning clinic, canteen, broadcast facilities, and a press office in this square.
Some of us haven't forgotten.

Saint Paul's Chapel with its spire under scaffolding, the oldest church building in Manhattan and a little bit of London in Downtown.

Saint Paul's Chapel is the oldest church building in Manhattan and still one of the best in my opinion.

One of the oldest paintings of the Great Seal of the USA from 1781 over Washington's pew in Saint Paul's.

Wall Street

Well of course they fly the flag.  They bought it.  The Stock Exchange.

I remember sitting on the steep steps of the Federal Hall Memorial looking at this flag in the weeks that followed the September 11th Attacks wondering just how patriotic it really is to keep overseas tax shelters in a time of national emergency.

The Federal Hall Memorial, site of Federal Hall, the first Capitol of the United States, and this site of the Inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the USA.  The present building was built in 1842 as the US Customs House designed by Alexander Jackson Davis and is a very exact Greek Revival Doric order on the outside.

The original Federal Hall was built in 1700 and demolished in 1812 on this site.  The giant bronze statue of Washington supposedly stands on the very spot where he took the oath of office.

Inside the Federal Hall Memorial, a not so exact Greek Revival interior.  This is one of my favorite rooms in the city.

Supposedly the very paving stone upon which Washington stood to take the Presidential oath of office.

A 19th century painting in Federal Hall of Washington's Inauguration with Trinity Church in a previous incarnation in the background.

This very small unremarkable little pocket park marks the site of New York City's slave market, one of the biggest in the USA.

Trinity Church, the masterpiece of architect Richard Upjohn who designed numerous churches in New York City and all along the Eastern Seaboard.  Completed in 1846, this is the third church to stand on this site.  The first church was built in 1698.

Trinity Church is the wealthiest church congregation in the USA.  The people who attend regularly are not much different in income than any other church-goers in New York.  The average incomes of regulars at Saint Thomas on Fifth Avenue or Saint Bartholomew's on Park Avenue or Saint Ignatius Loyola (RC) also on Park Avenue are certainly much higher than those of Trinity's congregants.  What makes Trinity so rich is all the land that it owns, among the most valuable in the world.  When the church was founded in 1696, William and Mary granted the church most of the west side of Manhattan and much of the land underneath the Financial District.  The church remains one of the largest and wealthiest property owners in Manhattan funding most of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and much of the rest of the Episcopal Church.

Trinity Church remains a major monument of 19th century Gothic Revival architecture influencing church design around the world.

The grave of Alexander Hamilton in Trinity Churchyard.

An old 18th century grave stone in Trinity Churchyard; thousands upon thousands lie buried in Trinity Churchyard.  Only a few of all of the graves are marked.  Vibrations from traffic and construction frequently force bones to the surface.  The bones are collected in a bone box in the church that is then ceremonially reburied when it gets full.

A pew's eye view of Richard Upjohn's splendid interior for Trinity Church.
The reredos and altar are later additions from 1876 to 1877.  Trinity was originally a very low church parish that forbade Upjohn from designing anything like an altar for the apse of the church (to his great frustration).

The magnificent window above the altar.

The very beautifully designed arcading in the church

More aisles, clerestory, and Upjohn's splendid variation on English vaulting

Our City Hall completed in 1812, magnificently restored and completely inaccessible to anyone except the City council and city employees with clearance.  I can't help but contrast this over-secured building with the Texas State Capitol that is wide open to everyone, especially when the state legislature is not in session (which is most of the time).

A lot of history took place on the steps of New York's City Hall.  Here is a historic photograph of City Hall during President Lincoln's funeral in 1865.

Horace Greely who told all the young men to go west, and who hired a foreign correspondent in London named Karl Marx to work for the New York Tribune.

The Potter Building completed in 1886
This is one of the last elaborate newspaper palaces left on Park Row across from City Hall.  The New York World, The NY Tribune, the NY Times, and others all had big elaborate headquarters along Park Row.

The Woolworth Building finished in 1913, the masterpiece of Cass Gilbert.  So far as I know, this is the only major commercial building paid entirely with cash.  This building began the skyscraper race in Manhattan from about 1913 to the end of the 1930s.  FW Woolworth wanted Gilbert to design the tallest building in New York to get back at Metropolitan Life for some personal slight, and for having the temerity to build such a tall elaborate tower on Madison Square Park.
The unprecedented height of the building caused a lot of widespread anxiety about future buildings of similar height blocking out light and air from the streets below.  The 1916 zoning laws requiring buildings above a certain height to be setback from the street was a legacy of this building.  Today this once tallest building looks like a midget compared to the buildings around it.  Perhaps the anxieties of the early 20th century were not unfounded as the sky-high investment towers going up on Billionaire's Row on 57th street threaten to cast mile long shadows into Central Park and to put the entire southern quarter of the Park into perpetual twilight.

The Tweed Courthouse behind City Hall.
This building was under construction from 1861 to 1881 and cost $11 million to $12 million in 19th century dollars (so many billions now).  The building was never really completed.  It was supposed to be topped by a tall dome that was never built.  Due to all the graft and so many people stealing the building's funds, it took longer and cost more money to build this comparatively small and modest building than to build the British Houses of Parliament in London, a far larger building.


Chambers Street with the Tweed Courthouse on the right and the Municipal Building at the end of the street.

The tower of the Municipal Building completed in 1914, designed by William Kendall of the historic McKim, Mead, and White firm.  This was the first building to incorporate a subway station in its base (it's still there and still functions).  This magnificent piece of Beaux-Arts wedding cake would inspire other buildings from the Terminal Tower in Cleveland to the Wrigley Building in Chicago to Moscow University.

The African Burial Ground Memorial.  New York City buried its African inhabitants both slave and free in a separate cemetery outside the city walls beginning in the 17th century.  It was long thought that the cemetery was destroyed during the leveling of Manhattan to construct the 1811 Commissioner's Plan for New York.  Workers in 1991 accidentally rediscovered the cemetery during the construction of a new federal office building under fill from the 1811 leveling.  Archaeologists excavated 419 graves here out of an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 burials in the original cemetery. The Memorial marks only a small portion of a once large cemetery.

Inscription on the African Burial Ground Memorial.

From the African Burial Ground Memorial

From the African Burial Ground Memorial

The courthouses on Foley Square

The Haughwout Building built in 1857.
This is the best of the surviving cast iron buildings made by Daniel Badger's Architectural Ironworks in Lower Manhattan.  These cast iron buildings in Soho, Tribeca, and other parts of Lower Manhattan were precursors to the steel frame construction invented in Chicago in the 1890s.  This one was modeled on the Sansovino Library in Venice by the designer John P. Gaynor, and once housed a very posh department store frequented by Mary Todd Lincoln.
The Haughwout Building also had the world's first successful passenger elevator built by Elijah Otis.

Corner of the Haughwout Building

Frontispiece for Daniel Badger's catalogue

The great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan's only building in New York City, the Bayard-Condict Building completed in 1899, one of his most elaborate.  It was one of the first skeleton-frame buildings in New York covered with a surface of glass and terra-cotta.

Detail of the terra-cotta work on the Bayard-Condict Building.  The ornament is all Sullivan's design and as in all of his buildings is integral to the entire building.

Detail from the Bayard-Condict Building

Detail from the Bayard-Condict Building

Detail from the Bayard-Condict Building

A salute to our friends on the Left Coast on Houston Street.  I have no idea what this is about or why it is here.

Self-portrait in the glass of the 9/11 Museum