I spent the day at the Gay Pride Parade on Market Street and Celebration in Civic Center. As last year, I focused on taking photos, mostly candid people shots, but I spent more time with friends ... bumped into a bunch of people, and spent some time with old and new friends at the Faerie tent. (For those of you who do not know who the Radical Faeries are, google it or wait until I explain some time ... one of the advantages of vowing to post thrice weekly is that I have to keep a bunch of easy topics that I have pre-prepared in my mind at ready hand.)
Gay Day is at bottom a lonely and nostalgic time for me ... I think it's that for a lot of old gay activists, although perhaps I am on the tedious, self-involved end of the maudlin/giddy continuum.
But I don't want this to be about my moping around snapping pix of hot guys and odd beings and the occasional out-there dyke. So ...
It was my impression that this year was bigger and more enthused than last year. It also felt less political. All this is decidedly impressionistic, and the evidence is only my own observations as I wandered up Market Street and then around Civic Center for five hours.
Last year we had a victory that was exhilarating but felt ephemeral. Couples were married on the square, and the celebration seemed to focus on that. We did not yet know that Obama would be President, and we had not yet experienced the crushing defeat in the Prop campaign. But we had also not experienced the palpable juggernaut that the last months have been. The mass acceptance of gay people is moving forward at a staggering rate after four decades of glacially slow increments in polled percentages.
We are at a tipping point, and the celebration reflected that.
I noticed many more young gay men than last year. In fact, Civic Center was crawling with them. It was broiling hot today, and so many were semi clad. I do not know why there were so many more ... perhaps the celebration has become the place to be and be seen. The young dykes were there in force as they were last year. They are tribal and defiant and out there. The young gay guys notice my camera with a little disdain, but the young dykes don't seem to even see me. Maybe some time I will try to discuss the generation gap among gay folks, but I increasingly do not think it is very important. Because young gay people accept their rights as given and undeniable. They did not originate in an era when we were hidden and rightly afraid. I love their native defiance.
But beyond the young gay folks, the most obvious phenomenon is how broadly diverse the audience is. Drag queens, folks in wheelchairs, families of every descriptions, countless young straight folks digging a festival tht is as native to them as it is to us. And there are faeries, leather folks, nude people and lots of folks in nothing but briefs. Diesel dykes by the boatload ... I still get chills hearing the Dykes on Bikes roar up Market Street leading off the parade as they have for many years.
Our movement is at a tipping point. We are on the verge of a cascading set of victories. There are no guarantees, and the condition of our brothers and sisters in other places ... Iran and Iraq and the rest of the muslim world, Russia and Poland, Africa ... is something we cannot forget. But in the rational part of the western world, our humanity is increasingly the property of everyone ... religious bigots and troglodytes excepted.
I did not hear a lot of the speeches today. I do not even know if there were any because the umpteen musical performances scattered at all corners drowned everything out. But, what was lacking today anywhere ... in the parade, the signs, the buttons, the mood ... was acknowledgment that the biggest proximate obstacle we face in these United States in taking advantage of this historical tipping point is Barack Obama. His old-fashioned low-bore anti-gay revanchism provides comfort to our enemies and it impedes the break out. Everybody wants it to be a feel good era, a feel good day. But reality intervenes. DOMA and DADT should be blown up. Post haste. Get it over with. But with the powerful, whenever it is gay people at issue, suddenly everything gets quiet. Gay and quiet never mesh.
So it was a great day, a loud day. But we missed an opportunity. Our great day, no matter how broad and diverse it as become, is a day when we speak to power. We did not do that. So here's my bit
Obama, get in the game!
Gay Rights Now!
Photos by Arod, all taken today. More to come on Flickr, and I will let you know.
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Sunday, June 28, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
The New York Times spit it right out, albeit only at the bottom of the article - Iran has been the victim of a slow moving coup in which a coterie of quasi-Islamo-military-fascists have taken over the key institutions of the state. I note that they do not mention the army, and given the role of the armed forced in abandoning the Shah in 1979, that is a key omission.
The best take would be that a small coterie around Ahmadinejad, which increasingly isolates itself by its intransigence and extremism, is setting itself up for a cataclysmic fail. That would take a long while and many, many lost lives and horrible torments. The worst take is that that coterie consolidates its grip on power by a sustained campaign of torture. heard on TV news today that the scabrous Khatami has called for extreme punishments, and specifically capital punishments for the leaders of the opposition.
The Iranians have held mass executions before ... it only takes a little googling to find some horrific images. They will do it again. They lust after blood. They have no shame. There are not words to describe how horrifying is a theocratic regime, especially in its military-fascist phase.
But maybe, just maybe, these obscene excuses for human beings are themselves on the way to a gallows of their own construction, much as the hapless and venemous Saddam.
But to get back to my point ... this is about the state. The state is decrepit, and eventually it must fail spectacularly. But eventually can be a month or a year or a decade. If it is years, the cost will be staggering.
It is all up to the army. That's the way I see it.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
What does one do when the mind is awash .. awash with what will have to wait for subsequent recollection.
That's what I feel like.
On the train this morning as we arc-ed down that same well-streaked path, I glanced up from Bottero's Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia to notice a tallish, dirty blond middle aged man in dumpster-diver couture pissing into the bushes some 20 feet from the tracks. Imagine if you can ... the entire right side of a train full of office workers on their way to still extant if not secure employment gazes briefly in passing as you piss in public. Some people do not have the sense to step 5 feet into the bush so that no one sees them.
Perhaps he thinks like this ... I'll give all those office workers a little thrill of self-satisfied disgust and piss for them in plain view. Maybe this was the highlight of his week.
See ... I want to blog something meaningful, but all I can think about is folks like me ...in the broadest sense ... who live in Tehran. So all the meanderings and observations pale when we know in our guts that there are people just like us being cut up and tortured and killed for merely suggesting that they ought to have the simple freedom of saying that I do not agree.
I loathe religious bigotry ... and all of religion is a sort of immanent bigotry ... but contemplating it in the context of lives lost and the terror of even waking up in a society like Iran. Wow.
Remember folks that the hell of Iran is what the fundies have in mind for us. No ... not remember ... never forget that religion in power kills and maims and tortures.
Meanwhile, the pisser referenced above will live on oblivious. Trains will still run, derelicts will urinate on bushes. But things happen, and lives are destroyed.
Perhaps that is why I prefer to spend my commute time in ages past. The pain of the present, unlike the pain of the past, is that it does not need to be this way. Even so, it still is.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
As I write this, the sun has set in Iran. Chants of "Allahu Akbar" ring out across the rooftops in conscious imitation of the 1979 revolution. The bloodlusting basij re dragging people from their homes, beating them, killing some, kidnapping others to prisons and dungeons. it is not yet clear if the climactic moment has passed, if the protests has been subdued, or if tomorrow promises further action. The thugs apparently were fought to a standstill today, but that is not predictive of how it will turn out.
Of course, I do not actually know what is happening. To do a little pos and neg credentialing ... I am not an expert on Iran. I have read extensively about the Elamites, the Achaemenids, the Sasanids, the Safavids, and the coursing of Islam across Persia in the first Islamic centuries. My doctoral (Cal, 1998) research concerned premodern Malay Muslim manuscripture, and I have read widely in Islamic and Central Asian history. But not an expert in the modern Iranian state.
We hear little from actual experts. We hear a lot of self-credentialing from Twitter, and certainly Twitter has been a key source of information from inside Iran. I see no evidence that it has played a role in the events other than, perhaps, to embolden people to action knowing that the whole world knows. Most of the Twitter posts simply repeat in one form or another how important Twitter is; some of the posts propound rumors, and these posts are often retweeted; a few of the posts point to web footage or photos or analysis.
But nowhere have I seen a lot of analysis of the key issue at stake ... what is the state of the Iranian state, and how does its present composition portend for current events and future possibilities?
So, let me start by proposing a series of deductions, assumptions, and evident or apparent facts; I will try to credential them as I go along.
I would propose that there are five broad categories of actors in the current state, two in power, one contested, and two out of power. Those are the mullahs, the military and paramilitary forces, the Presidency, the legislative branch, and the people. None of these are simple or without contradiction.
The mullahs are actually a broad layer of society that crosses class, region, economics, ethnicity, political outlook, and involvement. It is an error to assume that the mullahs are supportive of or even corporately linked to the Guardian Council. I believe it is also an error to assume without proof in the events that the Guardian Council or Khamanei is in control of events.
The military, or as I will call them, the agencies of repression, are actually at least four forces: the army, the police, the Revolutionary Guard, and the basij. How they cooperate and by whom each are led is not clear to any of us on the outside. I think the key issues all come back to these facts.
The Presidency is obviously what is at issue. But we should note that Ahmadinejad is evidently not a toady of the mullahs. I do no think that is proven. There is good evidence that he represents a turn in the state towards the primacy of the repressive instruments and away from the primacy of the clerics, notwithstanding that often all of them at least on the surface appear to have the same interests.
The legislative branch is impotent and deeply divided and, if history is a guide, cowardly. But at any ripe moment it could begin to play a role.
The people, as always in history, are a cipher, everything and nothing by turns.
I believe that the state is increasingly dominated by a competition among agencies of repression acting largely independently, if also interdependently ... in other words they have some kind of communication and coordination of action, but their interests are not identical and they each reserve the right to independent initiative.
The one thing that mullahs, agencies of repression, and presidency share is that in this situation they want a return to the status quo ante, even though the status quo is obviously in flux irrespective of the popular movement that challenges all of them.
Who runs the army, and who makes the decisions? I suspect that the army is the most afraid of the current movement because its soldiery is representative of the population that is getting very tired of the slow militarization of society. There are numerous reports of troops refusing to fire, none confirmed. But in any revolutionary situation, the attitude of the troops is key ... look at how the troops slaughtered their innocent brothers and sisters in Burma and the movement was crushed.
Does Khamenei actually control the Revolutionary Guard, or is he slowly becoming a monarch in palace captivity? If Ahmadinejad indeed represents a turn to the military organizations, then curiously Khamenei could actually benefit from championing Moussavi who is an old ally; if he managed to trump the agencies of repression, he could establish himself as a Caesar figure, transcending and overshadowing competing class and political forces. But his pitiful speech at Friday prayers showed no inkling of any independent basis of action. He almost begged for everybody to return to the Iran of a week previous, and to forget all the unfortunate stuff. Sure, he threatened repercussions, but what specifically did he threaten? Which of the agencies of repression can he actually command? He can certainly order any of them to do what they already want to do. But can he rein any of them in? Can he coordinate them? Can he expertly craft a middle path? I don't think so.
I think he is a captive of the Revolutionary Guard and the Guard's more extremist supporters among the high-ranking mullahs, and I think they could topple him in a thrice. I have no actual evidence ... but history is filled with late dynasty monarchs who live at the pleasure of their imperial guard and the guard's allies in the bureau. Theocracy is always short lived ... the guys with the swords, or in the modern world the machine guns, eventually assume power for themselves.
Think of the Revolutionary Guard as the SS (from Nazi times) and think of the basij as the SA, the brownshirts, the semi-organized, anarchistic thugs, young underemployed males lusting to break heads in favor of an idea greater than them but beyond their ability to fully grok. Who actually controls the basij? More to the point, does anyone have the ability to rein them in? In the case of the Nazis, when it came time for the state to be in indubitable central control, Hitler unleashed the Night of the Long Knives, and slaughtered the SA without mercy.
No one in Iran, I would assert, has the power to slaughter the basij. And yet they are capable of independently determining the course of events right now. What is the coordination between the Revolutionary Guard and the basij? Who determines where they strike and who they beat up or kill and who they bust? Will it occur at some point that the Revolutionary Guard will have had their fill of these thugs?
Most importantly, if the popular movement overcomes the brutality now being unleashed, and if they manage to overturn the election, how does a revitalized legislative side deal with a self-entitled militia of thugs and killers?
Just to close the circle, I think the police are followers and not leaders. The dynamics of repressions play out among the army, the Revolutionary Guard, and the basij. The cops can hurt people, but I do not think they decide the issue.
The next days will probably see a lot of blood. But if the movement presses forward in a mass and peaceful manner, I think there is a possibility that the army pulls back from the brink. That is the only way that this does not turn into a colossal bloodbath. At that point, however, the captive palace (Khamenei and his band of mullah toadies) and the captors (the Revolutionary Guard and the overtly fascist wing of the mullahs) are threatened, and they have common cause with the basij. In that event, there is a real challenge to the status quo.
Remember that Moussavi is not a revolutionary. If Ahmadinejad represents a movement in the direction of a consolidated, statified militarism, Moussavi represents only a state which seeks to rule in its own name. The goals of the popular movement appear to be nothing more than the promise of the state as described by the constitution. But such a movement presents intolerable contradictions among the agencies of repression who operate with impunity and apparently independently of the authorized state agencies. So defeat will occur only in an epochal bloodbath, but victory promises another bloodbath of uncertain characteristics.
It is not a pretty picture. None of it portends the end of the world's most notorious theocracy. None of it portends freedom of the individual. Iran has decades of suffering to free itself from the curse of its modern history and ancient, martyr-obsessed and bloody religion.
All that said, every lover of freedom the world around admires and yearns for the success of these noble men and women who have stared vicious brutality in the face and said no to repression, yes to freedom.
Photos from around the web, but especially the Tehran Bureau which has excellent coverage, and boston.com which has an excellent collection of truly heart-rending photos.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009
My good friend Ian, back from Borneo and documentary film making, notes an excellent analysis that increasingly it is apparent that the theological rule is a cover for a society run by the military and the militia. This would hardly be the first time in history that the palace has been seized by its soldiery. Khamenei never particularly struck me as a man whose command is law, but rather as a perfunctory monarch who nods and waves and issues obvious orders. Ahmadinejad, notwithstanding his little contretemps with the mullahs, represents a new step in the development of a tinpot fascism, one that is ahead of the clerical wave.
So, if that is true, the question for the revolution is how to prevent the incipiently fascist regime and its official and unofficial muscle from unleashing an epochal massacre. It's hard to imagine that the whole thing does not end up that way. But I do not believe that the initiative is in the hands of Khamenei. It is possible that the leadership of the military/militia is insufficiently unitary, and that a move is made that fails by reason of its breaking ranks withe other sectors. In other words, it is not always he who moves first who wins. Sometimes, the first one out of the trenches takes the first bullet.
Obviously impossible to predict. But we are not hearing any speculation on the moves of the actual power-holders who can move or restrain the forces that have the ability to kill a million people. Because in any theology, or leastwise any regime which draws it authority from gawd, it is always a matter of how many die and how and by whose hand.
But if the military/militia analysis of the state is valid, then agian and once again it comes down to whether soldiers obey orders to kill civilians. Assume that the militia can never be won over. But soldiers are form the same strata as the protesters, and they can be turned.
Nonetheless, this will end in blood. The question is whose blood. I am not optimistic. But I know only what I read on Twitter. Perhaps the underlying forces are ripe.
What can I say. I love Twitter. Follow me at arodsf. Being so close to the literary action in Iran via Twitter has been compelling. The role of social media in out world in the future is still to be written ... but given the ominous signs and the forces at work, will Twitter become the obituary column for human hopes ... ooops, don't mean to be a downer.
Obama and the Gays
Funny how the DOJ brief to the court on DOMA seems to have been a tipping point for understanding that the Obama administration is a disappointment at this point. Bill Maher, MSNBC's Ed, and chorus of the blogosphere ... everybody is suddenly wiling to say it out loud. This guy's soft shoe is now a sellout. We're not convinced any more.
What an obscene dog and pony show when Obama, his body language exuding annoyance, signed the ludicrously limited and untested benefits for federal employee domestic partners. Talk about crumbs from the table ... leftovers for the uninvited guests who just wouldn't leave no matter all the not-so-subtle hints. I don't buy it ... not for one second.
But say this much ... the wave of revulsion at that DOJ brief forced the White House to put that dog and pony show together mighty fast. Remember the law of unintended consequences. Obama's little flick of the wrist in our direction may be a tipping point. I detect virtually no public outrage ... the 'publicans, of course, are busy clamming up about the latest family-values-fascist caught with his penis out of his pants. SO when legislation comes up for votes, I think it becomes increasingly obvious that the penalty for a pro-gay vote may be nothing.
Still the stink of complacency hangs about the White House. I do not want to think that it is too late for him to become a game changer. But the present evidence is not inspiring.
I Love Animals
But the notion that PETA is mad because Obama expertly killed a fly is beyond ludicrous. We are a society where any fixation devolves into madness instantly. But defending the rights of house flies ... isn't that the last straw?
No pics today ... just want to bang out a post and chill ... work is building up ... four major web sites to go live before classes start in September. Wow. Kinda thrilling; I guess I actually get some kind of charge out of deadlines.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009
There are two questions here: Why do I think that the Obama administration is anti-gay, and what are the reasons behind the Obama administration's anti-gay politics, policies, and actions?
I like to make a clear distinction between the homophobic and the anti-gay. Homophobia is psychological, social, cultural, personal. Anti-gay refers to the realm of politics, policy, and action. Either can refer to attitudes or notions. In most instances, the homophobic and the anti-gay overlap, but not in every instance. In arguing that the Obama administration is anti-gay, I do not argue that it or any of its members are homophobic ... there is no evidence on that, though lots of us are starting to have some suspicions.
The term anti-gay was common parlance in the gay liberation circles in which I traveled in the 70s. We commonly used it to describe the politics, policies, and actions of the majority of liberal and left groups who were at best openly embarrassed by us and thought that we provided fodder to their enemies. They most assuredly didn't like the loud, swarming, irreverent, open fags that we were.
The Obama administration shares this attitude: they want gay people to sit down, shut up, and wait. "It's not time, yet." "We support you, but there are bigger issues now that we have to attack." Just leave it to us, we will do the right thing when the time is right.” The one difference is that our liberal opponents in the 70s were not quite as nice about it as that. But nice and a DOJ brief will get you a DOJ brief. We don't care about nice.
The success of gay liberation arose wholly because we did not sit down, shut up, or wait. We viewed those who told us to do so then as enemies of our movement, and we should have the same attitude now. (That includes the HRC whose leader complained to Obama in a recent letter of the "pain" the DOJ brief caused ... hey, dude, it's not about some vague feeling of discomfort. It's about the blatant breach of our civil rights.)
That is why the Obama administration is anti-gay.
So, question number 2: what are the reasons behind the Obama administration's anti-gay politics, policies, and actions? I think the answer is obvious, and it is deeply disturbing. Just as Obama's failure to lead on gay rights at this tipping point for our movement is a signal of his now undeniable general reluctance to lead, so the reasons behind the anti-gay politics of his administration signal a larger and depressing fall back to the most retrograde characteristics of American politics.
So let's start with the anti-gay attitudes that we should just wait, that Obama is a "fierce" (yawn) defender of gay civil rights, that he is wisely picking the right time. This sort of argument relies on a zero-sum game political arithmetic. Obama only has so much political capital, and he needs to spend that on the big priorities.
This is reactionary and defeatist.
Political capital is not some storehouse in which gray-complected minions tote up the points scored and spend them parsimoniously; political capital exists only in its exercise. Obama shows in his political arithmetic an almost exclusive orientation to his right. Notwithstanding that the Republicans have given him nothing, nada, zip, he continues to court them. In the meanwhile, as many note, the public political dialogue centers almost exclusively on the madness of the far right against cool hand Luke Obama.
This attitude of engaging his opponents as friends and ignoring his friends as if they were opponents reveals a mechanical calculation rather than a dialectical approach ... arithmetic over calculus ... counting up rather than mobilizing ... electoralism against social change. Obama is looking to the next election, and that is the manner in which he most apparently resembles his predecessor.
In that context, think this through: Obama announces that he has ordered the military to suspend all activities surrounding DADT. The policy will remain in place as the brass figures out how to move forward; but not a single wooden nickel is to be spent on enforcing it. Rush Limbaugh goes into a frenzy ... and Obama makes a joke about it and invites a group of military Arabic translators, two of whom are gay, to the White House and praises the intelligence of the soldiery. The whole thing would be over in a flash.
So why doesn't he do it?
Imagine this, if you will: instead of slobbering like a sycophant about DOMA, the administration issues an opinion that DOMA raises the issue of the breadth of the 14th Amendment. We invite the court to comment. Rush Limbaugh goes into a frenzy .... and Obama makes a joke about it and invites a group of foster parents, two of whom are gay, to the White House and praises the commitment of ordinary Americans to do the right thing and raise children to be good citizens. The whole thing would be over in a flash.
So why doesn't he do it?
I think he doesn't do it because his political calculations are already focused on winning the next election. That is to say, Obama does not actually believe that he can be a paradigm changer like Roosevelt; he does not actually believe that a decade from now we could have a society in which as many accepted commonplaces changed as did from, say, 1930 to 1940, or 1940 to 1950. Obama is an incrementalist, not a radical.
His approach to gay civil rights in this seems to be a very exact calculation. Self-identified gays represent perhaps 3% of the electorate, and Obama gets 90% of those votes come hell or high water. But if evangelicals represent 20% of the electorate, and if he aspires to lock down 40% of them, then we are looking at 8% of the electorate. I figure that Obama figures that the 40% of evangelicals he can lock down are not fixated on the old culture war nonsense, that they are more focused on the activist side of christianity including a rising commitment to social justice especially among young evangelicals. But sin is still sin for them, so there is no upside from this arithmetic in goading them by openly supporting gay civil rights. This is why we are now hearing the highest ranking gay toadies on the Democratic side (including, sadly, Barney Frank) refer us to the second term in office!
So Obama is anti-gay because the arithmetic is bad, and he does arithmetic not calculus in his inner circles of political calculation. If that is the case, then the lie of his presidency is deeper than most of us thought, and the chances that this is a turning point in US history are dashed.
Depressing. The only answer is opposition. This president needs to feel the heat from his left flank. Gay people should lead the way.
Photos by Arod of the San Francisco City Hall demonstrations after Prop 8 passed, November 15, 2008.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009
This has ended up being a very long ramble. I take a risk here because I engage in what I like to call "pure speculation" about heterosexuality ... by "pure speculation", I mean speculation unencumbered by fact or reference or proof, and founded upon the ramblings of my own mind. I do not want to offend anyone. But dynamics that we all experience deserve playing out and talking about. I believe in transparency, and I believe in making mistakes, especially of interpretation, in aid of finding your way forward. So here goes.
I spent the afternoon with my excellent friend Roy Ortopan at the American Conservatory Theater's production of Edward Albee's new and not so new At Home at the Zoo. So, spoiler alert, I plan to reveal anything I feel like, so those of you who might want to see this exquisite production should consider bookmarking these scribblings for future reference.
The play is a combination of two acts: the first act is new writing and concerns a discussion about matters of relationship and sex between a long-married couple Peter (Anthony Fusco) and Ann (René Augesen), both long-time regulars at ACT. It has the form of a prequel to the second act which is Albee's iconic first playThe Zoo Story, written in 1958. So a little criticism to start ... the first act exhibited the exquisite writing of a , each line crafted and yet natural. Augesen and Fusco oozed the comfortable relationship whose very smoothness is its own threat. The second act, Pinteresque in writing and in staging, is rougher, even coarser, with a long monologue in which Jerry (Manoel Feliciano) recounts to Peter a murderous story about a dog and works himself from accidental interlocutor to incarnate violence.
The unsettling nature of this production is in its interconnected but stylistically and emotionally distinct one-act plays. The challenge is to find the resistances that flow from the one to the other.
In the first act, set in an exquisite modernistic living room, white and sterile and clean, the exchanges between these comfortably married middle-aged Manhattanites expresses what I would call the inner dynamic of heterosexuality. That is, the dominance of the female irrespective of the power relationship, and therefore the alternating current of resistance and attraction to the female that is the dynamo of male heterosexuality. Let's lead by noting that there's a lot in that that is probably bullshit ... I mean that. But as a lifelong gay guy (notwithstanding an earnest and meaningful heterosexual relationship of 18 months at the end of my teenage years) I observe male heterosexuality as a sort-of alien force in the kitchen of my being. It is there, it is clearly real, and yet it is hard to quantify. It is passing difficult to quantify how the female principle drives straight men even as they alternately dominate it and submit to it.
I never fully accepted the inside game of feminism's more abstruse ideological perambulations. The obvious and ineluctable force of women demanding equality is not feminism ... I call that women's liberation, and I separate it from the ideological prescriptions of the high priestesses of feminism, especially in the 70s and 80s before they slowly faded from relevance in the face of rising female equality. So, a play like this throws light on our present post-feminist era. Women and men may continue to spar as they have done for centuries, but women have a better block from which to jump off than ever before, leastwise in Western society.
Ann presses her complacent husband to be dangerous. It is he who resists, who tells a story of the one time in his youth he was dangerous, and how it was terrifying and almost destroyed his life. This is a flip from stereotypes, because it is the female who is supposed to crave the secure and the predictable. But it is Peter who argues that he thought that they had agreed before marriage that theirs would be a peaceful and predictable journey where excitement was not at issue, but the pleasures of the long and the assured were in the fore.
There is no one heterosexuality, of course, any more than there is only one homosexuality. But one thing that distinguishes heterosexual men from exclusively homosexual men is that one way or another they must encounter the female principle in all its permutations. Gay men ... and this describes me to a T ... love women for the intelligence and wit and, most emphatically, their non-maleness. But the female principle "in all its permutations" we can take or leave. We don't live with it and we don't go home with it. Straight men do. The notion of the traditional chauvinist is that he pedestalizes women in order to wall himself off from those permutations; in other words, chauvinism is a way of isolating and crystalizing femaleness so that it can be used without interfering in the more fundamental and more powerful maleness which the chauvinist prefers.
There is another kind of chauvinist ... I call them "true heterosexuals." These are the men who are focused exclusively on women, and who hardly notice men at all. There are curiously few of these men. I had a lecturer in college who was a great influence on me and with whom I had many excellent conversations. But if there was a single woman present, I ceased to exist for him. I invited him once to my home for a slide show of a recent trip to Indonesia and we were having a rollicking conversation until a then temporary roommate, female and young and pretty, stopped by. He was gone; I never got him back.
But nowadays, notice how most coupled men ... and the more so the more urban or younger or more middle class they are ... foreground the female. Things as simple as walking a half step behind while girlfriend wife gabs on the cell phone (this drives me nuts), or as complex and laudable as the immersion in childcare or domesticity. It is that new convergence that Albee was expressing in his first act. But he is not afraid, as so many commentators are, to express the discomforts of the new prominence of the female in heterosexuality.
Peter found in his female approach to his marriage the comfort of taking the sting out of his masculinity. He complains at length ... and this gets plenty good laughs from the audience ... that his circumcision is retreating. Not that his foreskin is growing back, but that the glans of his penis is ever so infinitesimally disappearing under what foreskin was left by the surgeon's long-ago snip. Meanwhile, Ann complains that from time to time she wants Peter, whom she describes as a great lover and lousy fuck, to be dangerous, in essence to rape her with consent ... though she does not put it exactly that way.
So here we have the male principle slowly shrinking simultaneously happily and nervously, and the female principle casting around looking for the excitement that its very dominance precludes. Nice dialectics ... I love conundra like these. And as with the real world, there is no denouement, there is resolution. Life goes on, uneasily. You wonder if after this conversation they can return to the sweet satisfying lovemaking that Ann both accepted and rejected and that was all that Peter cared to do.
"Cared to do" ... because in the most violent portion of the conversation, Peter relates the one time when he was dangerous, when he had anally penetrated a woman and injured her, caused her to bleed sufficiently to send her to hospital, during a fraternity-sponsored initiation orgy long beforehand. Just that one brush with danger was enough for him, and the idea of role-playing violence with his gentle-voyage wife was thereby abhorrent.
Remember this ... it was blood and penetration forced upon Peter by the other that haunted him.
So the act wraps up with Peter leaving awkwardly to go for a walk with his book, to take a read in Central Park
Remember that the second act was written in 1958, and the language and staging is coarser. I would argue that this is both by reason of Albee's youth and by reason of the writing occurring before the rise of women's liberation. Jerry, a drifter, strikes up a conversation with Peter. From its inception, this conversation bristles with the implied violence of male-to-male heterosexual relations. That Jerry reveals in the course of the conversation that he has sexually hustled men only adds to that unexpressed violence. While in the first act, the audience is satisfied in a conversation that starts and ends essentially nowhere and travels from one indeterminate to another, in the second act, the audience knows that this cannot end well. Blood will be spilled; someone will die.
When straight men are together, they always bristle a little. It can be nice bristling, it can be humorous, vigorous, laidback. It can be any kind of bristling you want, but there is always at least a tiny charge. Perhaps it is almost as if everyone wants to put out a positive electrical charge to make sure that they all equally repel if they get too close. I think this is what explains the tendency to violence under the influence of alcohol, because the tiny positive electrical charge fades and suddenly, unexpectedly and most unwelcome, two men may find themselves too close.
I think that most men actually prefer the company of men ... notwithstanding my notion that the modern defusing of the male/female relationship leads to greater comfort between men and women. Because when men are together, the female principle no longer threatens or demands; it becomes a kind of icon for waving or saluting or acknowledging or, mostly, ignoring. That is why gay men, and I include myself in this, are always vaguely unnerved by being the lone gay guy with a bunch of straight guys. Again, this is meant to express underlying subcurrents, not some supervening agenda. Keep that in mind. Gay guys are unnerved because we do not output that tiny positive electrical charge. To turn the metaphor on its head, we are more AC with each other than DC ... we play by flipping from positive to negative charge, pushing and pulling, alluring and demanding. So the electrical pressure of all those positive charges we experience around a bunch of straight guys is demanding.
It is in this sense that Albee's depiction of the confrontation between Peter and Jerry is so successful. He plays with what I would describe as the AC/DC thing ... alternately repelling each other and attracting each other. But each submission, each attraction makes the subsequent repulsion the stronger. At one point as the denouement approaches, Jerry starts to tickle Peter who laughs and enjoys himself. That rapidly devolves into a fight over territory that leads quickly to Peter picking up the knife that Jerry threw to him, and Jerry impaling himself on the knife as Peter holds it as warning that Jerry must not approach further. The knife which Jerry provided is like the penis which the sorority girl had demanded in Peter's previous encounter with the dangerous. But where his youthful danger was male/female, and ultimately resolved itself, his adult danger was male/male, and death was the result.
Albee's genius here is in the way he flips back and forth. Remember that the earlier part of Peter's life was written recently, where this terminal encounter was written 50 years ago. I wonder how long Albee has been thinking of the prequel.
So I have rambled on as is my wont. These are irresolvable questions, in constant flux. The names of the principles may be eternal, but the practice of them is always changing. Whenever you hear of an eternal principle, keep that in mind. The name may be eternal, but nothing human is eternal. Nothing is solid.
Photos by Arod from a lengthy series I call "Flat Faces" ... pix of men on billboards or posters out and about.
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Friday, June 12, 2009
You know the old saying: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more the change, the more the same thing.
I do not like that saying because it is more than pessimistic, it despairs. That this express some underlying truth ... that there is something grim and gloomy about human existence no matter the age or the conjuncture ... does not excuse its refusal to look at the dynamics of change.
But when one is confronted by the intolerable, the intolerable that has an ancient history, one is tempted to retreat into it ... Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
As I write, this, a commercial for EA Sports on the boob-tubery that uses Beethoven's Ode to Joy ... where are the ultra-expanded copyright laws when you need them. That's change you can believe in, albeit with cynicism ... change where everything, no matter how sublime, turns to crap soon enough.
Obama's turn to crap has been far too fast. His Department of Justice submission to a federal court in favor of DOMA yesterday is the last straw. It is an obscenity. They used all the most reactionary arguments against us ... comparing gay love to incest, squealing that it would cost money, refusing to acknowledge that the Loving decision that ended bans on interracial marriage has anything to do with the civil rights of the last minority that is officially, institutionally, and legally proscribed.
The Bush administration could not have been more vicious. So we are left with this: should we thank the bastards for smiling while they stab us in the back just because they are not the same old scowling bastards who knifed us in the stomach before.
Screw you, Obama. We are pissed right off.
There is rising rage in the gay community, and we are only two weeks from Gay Pride in San Francisco. We should change the slogan right now: Obama, Are You For Us or Against Us.
What a weasel ... more to the point, this is a naked betrayal. When he said that he was a "fierce" supporter of our rights, he lied.
For those of our brothers and sisters who gave him comfort when he appointed a virulent homophobe, the Warren bigot, to give his little prayer at that inauguration that I gushed over ... you were wrong, and we know that now. He appointed Warren because he does not give a flying fuck about gay rights. He used us and he dumped us. We should have protested loud and long on Inauguration Day, and I regret that we did not. He was winking then, but he is lying now.
The more I write, the more boiled I get.
We have to face it: on other fronts, Obama has been as flat as the vision of the earth of the Christians to whom he panders. We are no closer to closing Guantanamo, he seems like a muddle in the face the attacks on health care, there is no timetable in Iraq, new financial regulations are the stuff of fairy tales, and who has heard anything about climate change.
But absolutely nowhere has his failure to lead been more clear than in the case of gay rights.
We are pissed, Obama, and we blame it on you.
To my good friends who never took the koolaid, and who stuck with Hillary right to the end of that colossal primary season - you were right. He is a homophobe.
Or at least he is anti-gay. I promise to write on the distinction between homophobe and anti-gay shortly.
Tonight I am wondering how to express my rage on Gay Day.
What a weasel ... no offense to weasels who at least do not lie about who they are or what they do.
Photos by Arod: the first one is a woodshed which is where Obama and his tawdry advisers belong; the second is my Lesser Siren ... I don't have a picture of a weasel. BTW, AmericaBlog has had excellent coverage on all of this.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I spent all day Saturday at BADCamp ... the bay Area Drupallers periodic big meeting of code. I am not actually a techie, I just play one on TV. They held an all-day introduction to Drupal about half of which I already knew, half of which was indeed new, and half of which was seemingly pointless credentialing. That's three halves, but then again it was a long day. Enjoyable, but long.
When techies get together, the two biggest issues are power outlets and wifi. My colleague Eric arrived with a backload of video and audio recording equipment which he proceeded to set up very professionally ... I should know because I was married for a decade to my sainted ex who is a lighting and video pro. More importantly, Eric arrived with a massive power bar which made him instantly popular. I will never go to a conference again without a power bar. I want to be popular too.
As for the wifi ... well, the SFSU MBA program where the event was held had a very efficient wifi situation, and all was peaceful in the kingdom of geeks.
Good thing there was wifi because four long sessions had their slow moments. The first session was a little unorganized, and that led to peppered questions from those in the audience impatient for the truth. Any good presenter knows that every audience is littered with those whose greatest enjoyment is hearing themselves interrupt the good flow of information. The second and third sessions were excellent and informative, but the fourth and final session concerned matters not relevant to my own need to master this medium.
So I slid into Twitter world. When you are in a room full of geeks, replete with power bars and wifi, you are never more than a micro-second from the new universe of social media. And I have begun to Twitter.
On one hand, Twitter is a wonderful and rather enigmatic aggregator of links to information. I have three accounts, one associated roughly with this blog, another associated with work, and a third rather more unfocused one that follows feeds as my fancy strikes. I don't really look at the third one very often, but the other two are constant friends. You have to garden and prune your Twitter feed both actively and passively if you want to get the most out of it. On the professional level, I am looking for resources, contacts, and perspectives. So I am pretty brutal about who I follow.
But my personal Twitter feed, arodsf, is for the more expansive purpose of being involved in the galaxy of social media, so I can be free and fanciful. In the fourth Drupal session, I started checking out the #FollowFriday tweets. FollowFriday is a convention whereby people advertise Twitter feeds that they like or find useful. You can click on the feeds and find people you want to follow. I read the bio and check the most recent tweets. Two much mindless nonsense about shoes or where you are having lunch, and I ignore it. But some pith and some references get me to follow.
And so I found @arjunbasu. And he changed my whole approach to Twitter. He writes Twisters, 140 character short stories. And he does it really well.
The water tasted bad. He was thirsty but not desperate. So he opened the drawer and found his emergency flask and began the day with bourbon
And the car came straight at them, pulled in by their gravity, and in the moment before it hit, he thought of all the porn on his computer..
I couldn't wait to get home and start writing a few myself. It is harder than you think, but I just relaxed and let it come.
Tweeting on the front steps when the neighbor walked by and glanced. A little smile. They still ignore each other at the bus stop.
That was the first one. I stick to 130 characters so that anyone can retweet them and not cut off the end. The following was the first one I really like:
Two men at the intersection, one facing west, the other south. They see the flash and start. One reaches the far side, looks back.
I think these Twisters are essentially syllogisms, and occasionally enthymemes. There are two premises, though one can be unspoken, and then there is a conclusion. The success is in invoking an unexpressed emotion, or a doubt as to meaning or import and consequence. They can express an unformed bitterness ...
He lay awake night after night trying to figure it out. His lover slept through it all. They kissed in the morning, left for work.
... or the banality of everyday life ...
The soup was cold on delivery. The waiter said they do not have a microwave. He left a short tip but returned a week later anyway.
... or a vague and unexplored sexiness ...
Toto's Africa plays as he coffees, watches the waiter. Later, they cross paths at the opening, agree that they like ephemera best.
ArjunBasu gets downright sexual from time to time. I may go there sooner or later. But what I really want to do is play with history. So this one I have not yet tweeted, but I am actually proud of it:
Antoinette mounted the scaffold with scorn. My head in a basket is finer than all of you. She sighed at the basket's coarse weave.
After the final session at BADCamp, I went down to the food court with the other attendees on the promise of free booze from Sun Microsystems. But I had to wait too long and grew impatient. I wanted to get home and start writing my Twisters. I think I have found a new hobby.
Is that the waiter? Heads turned without a moment's pause in the conversation. No, not the waiter. What are we still doing here?
Photo by Arod, from a storefront on Haight Street. Twisters by @arodsf except for the first two by @arjunbasu.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
I live with a bunch of animals. One dog, Loki, and a bunch of fish and amphibians. Many fewer than in years past, but still there are a lot more frogs and salamanders in this house than most people have.
The last few days have seen the slow demise of a very old gold gourami. It is the last of three that I got over five years ago ... I never keep any records of my critters, so I am never quite certain how old they are. I thought I had two females and a male, which works out much better than two males and female. But sexing gouramis, especially young ones, is a bit of an art. I think we made a mistake, because one of the three rapidly declined under pretty steady assault by the one that is now in its death throes. Once the third one was gone the remaining pair quickly mated and produced three or four crops of fry. I took those that I could net to my vendor, a fine Burmese/Chinese couple who have a hole in the wall place off Polk Street that is a temple of the aquarium arts. It's called Ocean Aquarium, and any aquarist in San Francisco would be well-advised to check them out. Tell them Stephen sent you.
I don't really care to breed fish, and I was happy to know that some of the fry made it to adulthood. But the effort appeared to exhaust the female, and she only lasted a few years. I figured the other guy would soon follow, but he has hung on for years and years. Now he is at the end. I want him to die soon; I do have a method for euthanizing fish when it is necessary, which is when their incurable disease could harm others in the tank ... I put them in a container of their own water in the freezer and let them slowly fade away. But how can I take this creature from the home it has graced for so long and make its last few moments on earth a trauma. I know, it's only a fish. But it has been a sweet presence in my life. It has been looking at me every day for many years in the vestibule as I arrive and as I leave.
I started keeping fish and 'phibs in the late 80s. I love being around animals ... I would have many more if I could. I do not have cats because I am allergic, and that is a big bummer. I started keeping fish and amphibians under the influence of my great friend Kurt who died on May 10, 1992. I remember the date of his death by looking at the first page of any of the books he willed me because I marked each one with that day. To check again today ... I always forget the day ... I pulled Marvels of Insect Life, edited by Edward Step, F.L.S., with no publication date, but with a signature on the front page "Ethel Eaton, December 1945." The book is a treasure.
I revel in the old. I love living surrounded by thousands of volumes of books, many of them old and cranky, not used as much as they might prefer, but waiting for the moment when they are cracked anew. I am their guardian, ensuring that when I, like the gourami, pass on, they will be ready for another stage in their longer than my life. Book should outlive us, just as we should outlive our animals.
Yes, this is maudlin. But I have a pass on indulging my inner-maudlin. I am at the end of the first day of a three-day weekend, one in a series designed to slake some of the tension of the upcoming two and a half months of stress in my job, notwithstanding that I spent this first day off at an all-day Drupal training session. I have three major web sites to go live between now and September 1. The first two will be a new course and class search site and the course catalog for which MRU the major research university where I stack shekels in aid of higher education and my own sustenance; the last of the three will be a new Drupal-powered replacement for the Registrar's site for which I am webmaster. I have worked my whole life to hard deadlines, and I do enjoy the electric stress more than is healthy. But facing the looming period of madness ... I pause.
The big boss, whom I admire, set up a little half hour meeting with me for Tuesday. I asked him what it would be about. He said with a laugh he did not want to tell me because it might give me a heart attack. Now I write this knowing that he might, or at least could, read my blog. I do not think that he does read my blog, not because he is uninterested, but because I keep him apprised in person of my latest speculations on history and happenstance and the ludicrousness of life. But if you do read this, dear T, remember that I say it fondly and drolly. It did give me a heart attack. I truly, honestly hope that the announcement is more work ... I can always handle more work and more responsibility. What I dread is the notion that I might be reconfigured to somewhere less felicitous. Given all the water under the bridge, and my assessment of the situation, I have come to the conclusion that the announcement will be more work, of a very specific sort which it would pointless to adumbrate here. If so, I am ecstatic, because the key to mastering work is to know how to take on more work and make it work. I am game for that.
Aside ... I always misuse the word "adumbrate" but this time I do not care. I am not even going to look it up as I do 4 or 5 times a year.
So this is the three-day weekend so far ... dying gourami, day-long session at a Drupal conference in downtown San Francisco, wondering what it is that the big boss thinks would give me a heart attack. And a re-encounter with the Marvels of Insect Life.
I could ramble on, and I intended to do just that. But this is surely enough.
For those of my dear friends who keep accounts, this is the Friday post; I owe you a Sunday post, and I will repay your diligence with yet another excursus into old Sumer. Given that I have Monday off, and that I am late with the Friday post, the Sunday post may not happen until Monday. I checked with my internal oversight committee and got an okay. FWIW, we have no Internet in the house, so that explains my lateness on the Friday post. I finally managed to connect up via an unprotected WIFI from next door ... but I do not want them to know about it since their inattention has saved me more than once from the horror of being offline.
Photos by Arod of my sweet friend, Loki. I do not have the heart for photos of the dying gourami.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
So I promise to end up at some point with the Internet. In my professional web 2.0 cruising ... or social media work as the Tweeters would have it ... I learn that mblog will be more popular if I use buzz words like Twitter and Internet and Flip camera. But I keep thinking about the men who for three thousand years made wedge marks in clay in what we call the Near East.
I've finished the rather quirky History Begins at Sumer by the quirky scholar Samuel Noah Kramer ... I say quirky because his fastidious self-credentialing becomes almost comic after a while. Kramer is the paragon of dedication to his arcane but essential specialty, and he is the sort of scholar that I admire without reservation. But he must have been quite a crazy guy.
All that said, I cannot agree with his take on heroes and heroic ages. Kramer delineates three accepted heroic ages ... the Homeric, the Indian, and the Teutonic ... and then argues that Gilgamesh and Enmerkar and Lugalbanda are a fourth and the earliest heroic age. Kramer posits a number of common elements in heroic ages ... a concern for individual heroes, and the tendency of the poets who celebrate the heroes to embellish the historical with the mythical. It is here that Kramer brushes against the truth of the heroic, but marches on. For the heroic ages are not in the eye of history but in the eye of the writer.
What is so amazing about re-reading ancient history at this point in my life is the degree to which all my thinking focuses on the scribes. Since I last read The Epic of Gilgamesh as a 30-something freshman at Cal in the mid-80s, I have written a doctoral dissertation that attempted to extract the consciousness of the writer from 15th-century Malay manuscripts which obscured as a matter of course the hands that created them.
So too with the clay tablets, the thousands upon thousands of them, which inform us of the life and times of some portion of life in the millennia before the Greeks transformed writing once again. We have to remember a few things about these writers. To begin with, we remember them, while we do not remember the story-tellers and neighborhood wags who have been the purveyors of traditions and knowledge in societies around the globe since before Sumer and into our own times. We also have to remember that the scribes were not a flat class of equals, but that they must have embodied hierarchy and structure in parallel with the society that they both served and created. In a chirographic society (that is, a society in which the most people both high and low were not literate, but in which literacy was the craft of a caste of trained specialists), writing was a precious object, indeed a fetish object, the possession of which marked power and charisma. So the scribes, both high and low, were in contact with power even if they did not hold it. And they no doubt sought to influence power, both secular and religious, sometimes at risk to their own safety.
Kramer makes the mistake of failing to understand that the "minstrels" and the scribes co-existed, and that they had a reflexive relationship, albeit one which we can only infer given that the sources we have are almost exclusively in the form of cuneiform. So when we think of the first great epic, that of Gilgamesh, we have to assume that there were popular versions, recited by bards in fire-lit villages far from the hubbub and glamor of urban Uruk. But those bards were influenced by the existence of writing. And I would aver that the chief influence is to focus the mind on the question of supervening authority.
Everyone enjoys a good yarn. And good yarns come with a moral, more often than not. The moral tells you something not just about how you should act but more so about the structure and meaning of the society in which you live. When I read Gilgamesh ... and remember that the main source for the popular version that most of us read is a Babylonian interpretation that largely but not exactly mirrors the Sumerian version that predated it by a millennium of more ... when I read Gilgamesh, I see the construction of a worldview that is deeply pessimistic, but that still posits the necessity of a king who is in contact with the divine. The Gilgamesh epic is thrilling, certainly. It is dramatic, and it seemingly contravenes expectation. But this is what modern people miss when we read the highly redacted version that most of us experience: no one who heard this text 3,000 years ago would doubt its authenticity. What they would feel from it is a re-affirmation of the real, not only the visible, but the ethereal which envelopes and contains and determines everyday life.
So I come back to this dialectic that bothers me all the time ... authority versus authenticity. We moderns are bedeviled by our legitimate concern with authenticity. We want to know if the story is real, if the scribes got it right, if the tablets are whole, if the translation is valid. But we forget at our peril that the concern for the authentic was not primary in the minds of the ancients. They wanted to understand the basis for being, for society. That something was authentic was guaranteed by its being there ... that is what I mean by arguing the primacy of immediacy in the pre-modern mind. But did the thing that was there reveal something about the structure of reality? Was it authoritative?
That was the job of the scribe: he was charged to produce authoritative texts, and these primarily went into the collections of monarchs and temples where the act of possessing them conferred the authority of the text to the owner.
Writing is so different now. It is no longer the province of a caste of the highly trained. The Internet, paradoxically for a time in which television had been threatening to create the first post-literate society, has created the greatest explosion in widespread writing in the history of humanity. You do not need wet clay, or a lifetime of training, or a kiln. Anyone can write. When we think of the impact on social relations of a society of active writers, we should also think of the impact on ancient social relations of a society in which writing was the most specialized activity.
People loved then, and they love now. People ate and drank then and now. People lived and died just as we do. But it is not the commonalities that reveal. It is in difference that we find out who they were and who we were, even if it is arguable that we are more similar than different. And the differences in the meaning and role of writing are an excellent place to start.
Photo by Arod from the Louvre, generally believed to be a representation of Gilgamesh, but also called "The Hero Overpowering a Lion", Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Sargon II (721-705 BC)