Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Disco Nite on AI

Listening to superannuated disco divas ... and divos, as it were ... on the kick-off show on American Idol. It makes me nostalgic for the sweet years of my youth when I spent countless hours dancing. I like to point out ... damn it, it's the truth ... I was an exceptional disco dancer in the gay male style. I am riveted with nostalgia.

So let me bring you down ... I compare that to the fate of our brothers right now in Baghdad. Do not click on this link if you have a weak stomach. It is horrible. Our brothers are being horribly slaughtered, and no one cares. Imagine if this were happening to Christians in Baghdad. It is still a fact that killing fags is not nearly as contemptible as killing dogs. Witness the difference between the Michael Vick story and the slaughter of the innocents on our watch in Iraq right now.

Being a gay man means both remembering disco life and remembering how religious bigotry kills. Don't trust the bastards, brothers and sisters. They kill whenever they get the chance. We have two millennia of history to prove that.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday Night

Had a weird week ... sore throat kept me home Tuesday, then a wild ear ache Wednesday, and a doctor's appointment Thursday ... so three sick days, each of which actually produced about a half-day's work. So got totally out of sorts, out of routine. The doctor is actually a nurse practitioner whom I chose when my previous Kaiser doctor, whom I affectionately called Doogie Howser, moved on to other career opportunities. Quite a character, my NP ... but I believe in primary care from NPs so I went with him.

He gave me a steroidal inhalant because he said my earache was from allergies and there was no infection.

He also put me on Zocor, so I am now officially on the other side of some kind of line because I have a pill that I will take daily for the rest of my life. Huzzah for modern medicine.

All of this is completely uninteresting.

What kept my interest last week was Herodotus ... I am reading the fabulous Landmark Herodotus because I figure it is the best way to submerge oneself in the consciousness of the ancients prior to my project of re-reading ancient history. Since I am being mildly maudlin in introspection ... it was in the Cluny in Paris in 2006 that something moved my consciousness and made me realize that it was time to return to the reading habits to which I subscribed before graduate student life beat the joy of reading out of me. Since then, I have read history period by period ... especially revolving around my favorites, to whit, Central Asian, early Islamic, and medieval European. I want to go back to the Cluny as a pilgrimage of thanking.

But I digress ... I digress from digressing ... reading Herodotus makes one remember that history was created by people whose perspective on the functionality of reality does not match ours. You have to keep that in mind in thinking about history. Yes, of course, there are human universals ... eating, stealing, screwing, war, aging ... I mention only the first five things that come to mind.

Aside ... it is all flowers tonight in the Saturday evening libation department ... we started our cocktails with an Aviation with violet and now we are on a Petit Prince ... both with organic sweet violets floating in the glass.

So in the midst of my physical travails, and the pressures of work ... Herodotus wrote this ... more to the point, I read what Herodotus wrote two and a half millennia ago:

Amasis [king of Egypt] retorted [to those who reproached him for spending a part of his day every day in drink and banter with his companions]: "when archers need to use their bows, they string them tightly, but when they have finished using them, they relax them. For if a bow remained tightly strung all the time, it would snap and be of no use when someone needed it. The same principle applies to the daily routine of a human being: if someone wants to work seriously all the time and not let himself ease off for is share of play, he will go instance without even knowing it, or at least suffer a stroke. And it is because I recognize this maxim that I allot a share of my time to each aspect of life.

Of course, we all know that is true ... ancient wisdom and all ... my mother tells me the same thing. But here's the difference ... we pay lip service to it today, that all work and no play makes Jack a dull person, but we have so industrialized our play that the seams between work and play no longer exist. Whether I work or play, I am in front of a computer. My one escape ... dog walks ... always have the option of the iPod, but never the iPhone which I would no more answer on a dog walk than I would deliberately bang myself in the shin.

In the ancient world, and in most of the world until very recently and only among the self-anointed, surviving occupied the better part of every day and every life. When things went awry, the world went to hell, and that meant death and misery. Play, then, was more deliberate and apportioned. A festival is for us a dalliance by choice ... shall I lounge about in my pjs or shall I rouse myself to go to the park and listen to the music while littering and feeling superior. But in the ancient world, the festival was a communal compulsion, an exit from the brutality of every day life.

They did not have kooky NPs to cure their momentary ills. They did not work remotely. They knew the sharp boundaries between survival and play ... life was overwhelmingly survival with a little bit of intense play.

We have the play in the midst of our self-absorption, and they had play as a rare fruit of having survived.

Oh well ... will I regret this in the morning. Dinner is ready. I will add photos if I get to it before the move to write moves again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Love for All ...

The perfect riposte to religious homophobia ... from Bjorn Borg!

Worth repeating that anyone interested in the actual history of same-sex marriage must read John Boswell's myth-shattering Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fear and Loathing ... and the Storm a-Coming

photo of street art in san francisco featuring underwear on a clothesline
So to set the scene ... beautiful Sunday afternoon. I am preparing to add 4 koi to the pond in the back yard. Skipping a meal each of yesterday and today because I have slipped above the limit of what I am prepared to tolerate ... not that I am technically overweight, but I do have a limit and I am not going over it! Wee Timmie Lincecum looking merely mortal pitching against the Padres ... the stuff is there but the killer instinct seems a little soft. I figure he needs a bit of time to get over the off-season celebrity and get back into the desperation for winning that undergirds every great athlete. Went through my closet and tossed a pile of clothing roughly three feet high to Community Thrift. And I am preparing to devote a few of these declining hours of the weekend to The Company, as I sometimes like to call MRU, the major research university where I stuff m&m's into tiny boxes in exchange for enough candy to support my heathen lifestyle.

So life goes on ... even as our christian friends are dressing in strange colors and weird fruity hats in order to celebrate this high holiday of their death cult. Yes, death cult. One does not have to be a historian these days to understand how much this religion is a death cult ... one need only review the ludicrous and bizarrely amateurish new ad that the curiously named NOM has created ... A Storm is Coming.

First off, har-dee-har, we have the bizarre experience of a week in which the extremist fundies start a campaign called 2M4M (2 Million 4 Marriage) AND the extremist wingnuts start a campaign called teabagging. Do these people live in some cellar somewhere immune to everyday life? But ya gotta laugh!

So, there are plenty of critiques of the ad ... for reference, a bunch of actors mouth short lines in front of a montage of the dark clouds of a gathering storm replete with lightning. The actors look fearful, almost weak. You can search for it on YouTube ... I don't want them to count my site as a link.

Or you can watch all the parodies here. I think this is the coolest one:

So much has been written about the dishonesty of the ad ... that the performers are actors, many of whom tried out for multiple parts. That the ad primarily addresses civil rights cases in which church organizations and religious individuals offering public accommodations were required to offer those accommodations to all comers. Yawn ... it is such a problem for bigots living in a free country.

But I think the darker side of the psychology of this ad has received insufficient attention. The storm predicted gets us coming and going. It is a direct reference to the apocalyptic vision of end times, the gathering storm of all these evils terrifying the good souls faithful in Christ. But the storm is also a direct call for action against gay people. This is a longtime subtext in christian homophobia ... the love the sinner, hate the sin is a giant lie, and those of us who suffer from these bigots know it in our bones. This ad gives cover to those who would physically attack us, and it is an unmistakable call for violence.

The bigots make much of their being a rainbow coalition founded in love to protect traditional marriage. What a crock. We do not want their love ... history is replete with how painful their love has been.

History, too, plays a role here. I think this is yet another attempt by the extremist fundies to put the medieval back into christianity. And by that I mean the superstition and the fear and the death.

photo of streetart in San Francisco on 16th Street featuring an eye and thornsThe regular reader of my musings will know that I am a voracious history reader, and that the Middle Ages is a favorite period. Among the fascinations of history is the idea of trying to imagine the mindset of an era who assumptions and modera operandi are, at bottom, utterly alien to our own. So ... not to put too fine a point on this ... the medieval mind accepted the notion of an active god and an active devil who intervened directly and personally in all affairs. Evil was incarnate, in the flesh. Now, the Middle Ages were not a monolith, and as the church developed its power to command souls, it did so in large part by augmenting its role in direct intervention in personal life. The church always railed against a rising tide of evil, and blamed all reverses upon the sordid nature of human error.

But it was only in the 11th century that the Church changed its mind about the meaning of the Sodom myth. It never liked homosexuality ... it never liked sexuality ... but there are few homosexual purges before the Crusades. That said, the entire era groans under the mindset that human affairs are the active battlefield between the divine and the diabolic incarnate.

We ... rational, secular society ... find that nonsensical. Most of the religious see God as vastly further away, more ethereal, less corporeal than did our medieval predecessors. Heaven may still be for the righteous, but righteousness for most of us is honesty and hard work and goodness. We just do not believe to the same degree in the notion of incarnate evil ... pope Ratzinger's handwringing fulminations notwithstanding.

Now, that may not be as true for the fundies ... but I would argue that even fundies, and especially the young, share in this notion of the distant God. Their nearly erotic love of Jesus as personal intercessor is a way of bridging the distance between an ethereal God and everyday life. (As an aside, this is not what Constantine had in mind when he signed off on the Trinity in 325.) But there is a danger here, because the personal relationship with Jesus is fungible, individual. It threatens to allow individuals to decide for themselves what Jesus means to them. It might even allow homos to decide that Jesus thinks that gay is okay.

So these ads are an attempt to put the Jehovian God ... and the fear and the superstition ... back into the conversation. I think it is a feeble attempt ... but that is the subtext. Jesus may love you, but Jehovah of the flaming sword and gathering storm is an angry God who slays and brings torments and plagues. Love Jesus, but fear God.

Fear God ... fear the homos ... fear the government.

Fear. There is a storm coming, and it is a storm of fear. The righteous will fear god ... and the faggots will fear the righteous.

Yes, the campaign is laughable and it has fallen on its face. But we must remember what it meant to mean, and what it speaks to and about our implacable enemies who still actively fantasize our corporeal destruction.

photo of some easter eggs in a basket
Happy Easter ... in the strictly pagan sense of that greeting. And long live the multicolored egg-laying Easter Bunnie ... the perfect riposte to the death cult that still threatens our lives and happiness.

Photos by Arod, the first two are street art on or near 16th Street in San Francisco, the last is a pic of Easter Eggs at Le Zinc Café on 24th, one of my favorite eateries.

... p.s., here's another riposte, a kick to the ribs ... with all due deference to Genesis ...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

American Idol

Top eight ... gonna write as I watch and take some pix off the tube.

Danny Gokey, 1980, sings Mickey Gilly's Stand by Me. He's murdering this thing ... missing notes, and the same earnest rasp. The judges always seemed to like him, but he is a one note orchestra to me. And so earnest. Yeah he's got rhythm, but that was just a routine day in a dumpy bar. There's something about this guy that really annoys me ... but the judges all seemed to like it. Harummph.

Kris Allen, 1985, All She wants to Do is Dance. I thought that was flat and uninteresting, and it just missed the deep tones of his voice that makes him so fascinating. Really boring after the way he blew us away the last couple of weeks. That said, he is the sexiest thing this year by a long shot. Simon hated it. He'll survive, but that was disappointing.

Lil Rounds, 1984, What's Love Got to Do with It. She's showing a little more voice, but this song is so much bigger than her that it puts her in a shadow. I think she underperforms every week, and it is very disappointing. Because you figure that under there somewhere is a breakout performance. This one is not that one. Competent, but not nearly big enough. Even Paula agrees. Simon was meaner but exactly right. We're still waiting, Lil.

Anoop Desai, 1986, True Colors. Those big brown eyes, and a voice you can hardly remember. Not ridiculous or anything, but nothing special. Straining a little at times. I just don't care. Randy says a nice vocal, but still "so what"? Simon seemed to like it, and notes that "we can be horrible to you and you can be horrible back."

Am I just being cranky, but I am underwhelmed tonight. Last week had 3 or 4 knockout performances ... so far, none this week.

Scott MacIntyre, 1985, The Search is Over. The vocals are a little more up, but there are all the flat notes. This may be the end of the line for him. Sometimes, there are notes that hurt, but there is a quality to his voice that makes him good enough for wedding singing, and that sort of thing. He's behind a guitar this week, and he does not seem comfortable with it. Probably a mess, but you keep hoping for the guy. Will they finally call things by their real names. The judges ... commend, give credit ... hmmm.

Allison Iraheta, 1992, I Can't Make You Love Me. Out of the park. Wow. This girl is a star ... Bonnie Raitt is cheering ... what a handle. Man. That is what we watch for. 16 years old, and just the most amazing singer. She is a star right now. "One note and you know it is Allison" says Paula. Yes.

Matt Giraud, 1985, Part Time Lovers. Theatrical and jazzy and sexy. I thought he topped that song. It was fascinating and enthralling. And he finally got everything out of his voice. Whoddathunkit. The guy has soul ... he needs a coach and an agent, and he could be a very successful niche singer.

Adam Lambert, Mad World. He's on another planet. That is so far away from anything anyone else could do. Simon gives a standing ovation. This guy could be as big as Bowie. I am blown away.

Photos by Arod from the tube.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Birthday Ramblings

Yes, it's my birthday ... and to spare any suspense, it would be #56 ... gawd.

I took a four-day weekend ... spent Friday touring West Marin and Sonoma counties with Roy and Jim ... got some pix here. My friend Tony put together a little dinner party on Saturday ... very pleasurable. And then today I did something I have done many times on my birthday ... wandered around town, stopping at cafes and reading, ended up in North Beach at City Lights Books and then a black-and-blue filet mignon at a sidewalk table at Calzone on Columbus.

The beef ... I try to eat beef rarely, and when I do I want it to be sublime ... was accompanied by Herodotus. That Herodotus. After another dalliance in late antiquity, I have decided that I should re-read ancient history systematically for the first time since my freshman year at Cal. My friend Ian gave me The Landmark Herodotus for Christmas, and that seems like the perfect way to get back into the ancient mindset. First off, this volume is all of what is great about the new academic history. It is well-produced, critical, and lavish in its resources, and it starts from revisiting all of the commonplaces and shibboleths that have bedeviled history for two centuries. Virtually all of history has been rewritten in the last three decades, so much so that one must very wary when reading old scholarly works.

But Herodotus in this magisterial translation is new.

I am in the early stages, and this concerns the story of Croesus and fall of Lydia. There is a story which concerns one Adrastos; his name means "no escape." He ends up, quite by accident, being a double murderer, and he kills himself on the tomb of Croesus's favored son, Atys, his second victim. The episode is useful psychological situating because Herodotus reminds us through the words of the grieving Croesus that Adrastos is not a murderer, but rather a victim of fate and merely the vehicle of the gods' whims and fancies.

Reading history always requires a certain psychological empathy with mindsets that are utterly foreign to one's own. Again, that is why reading Herodotus is such an excellent re-introduction to reading ancient history. Of course, there is also some sense in which the predilections of the past inform the present ... not in the sense of some coarse rhetoric of crass relevance, but in the sense that nothing human is alien.

So, to be coarse, I got thinking about the notion of being named "No Escape." I tried to tie it to the heartsick undergirding of current era, to whit the fear that somehow the crisis will find me too. Adrastos could not outrun his fate, and I will only know at the end if the fate I am running from will find me ... and whether that will be good or bad. Which again ties us to a moment in Herodotus ... ancient literature is like that ... in which he depicts s meetings of Solon and Croesus in which Croesus more or less demands that Solon accepts that Croesus is the happiest man. Solon's retort, so exquisite, disgruntles Croesus, and puts him in his place. It is a place where we enjoy seeing so many of the greed-riven monsters who have destroyed the world economy:

The man who has great wealth but is unhappy outdoes the fortunate man in only two ways, while the fortunate man outdoes him in many ways. The former is more capable of gratifying his passions and of sustaining himself in adversity, but the fortunate man, although he does not have the same ability to sustain himself in adversity or passion, avoids those by virtue of his good fortune ... but the man who goes through his life with the most blessings and then ends his life mot favorably, he is the man, sire, who rightly wins this title [of most fortunate]. We must look at the end of every matter to see how it will turn out. God shows many people a hint of happiness and prosperity, only to destroy them utterly later. [Strassler, pp22-23; Herodotus 1:32:6 - 9]

Herodotus sees an "end of every matter" ... in the postmodern world we admit of no endings. Instead, I like to talk of pivots. I am actually uninterested in who might be considered the most fortunate, because the most fortunate in our world so often, if not always, are so undeserving and so ungrateful ... some time I will write in a crankier mood than this one of the contorted faces of entitlement and excess that I see in the tonier parts of Menlo Park and Palo Alto when I bicycle around for lunch. And certainly in the current earth shattering crisis, there is evidently no shame, no shame. As the unfortunate burn, the privileged bemoan that they have to cut back on caviar.

Greed, loathing, comeuppance ... nobility, courage, honesty ... eternal themes.

So back to eating filet mignon on Columbus in San Francisco. Earlier I was in a cafe I occasionally frequent ... the Cafe Abir on Divisadero at Fulton ... and there ws a man whose laptop was emblazoned with a sticker that read:

blah, blah, blah ... good point, but fuck you anyway

I laughed, but that is as much a psychological outpost of the era as Herodotus' notin of fate. And as Herodotus' notion of fate made me wonder about the shape of our world to come and my place in it, so this tinpot jerk's finger to the world makes me wonder what happened to my city.

When I arrived here in 1981, and when I visited three times in the late 70s, there was a different odor to San Francisco. Yes, there was a different odor to the world. But San Francisco was still the place that people came to create new tribes, to challenge orthodoxy, to make new realities and to rub out old ones. It's not like that now ... I don't want to be too cranky ... it is now a city of the smug, it is a city of people who like to model for themselves with the city as nothing more than backdrop. "Aren't I cool ... I live in San Francisco ... doesn't my Hummer look good." Well, I am being obnoxious. That said, the city is palpably more shallow. That the electronic revolution happened here is, we assume, natural. But where for many decades the genius of the place was to be found in the irrelevance of the business cycle, San Francisco is now the temple of the business cycle.

And the odor is gone. It seems like everywhere else, only cooler. It seems like what I like to call spaceship tourism ... a real place where a spaceship has landed to suck out the organics and leave behind a mall.

I think I will leave it there. It was a good birthday ... I enjoy wandering alone and speculating more than almost anything else. Tomorrow's maelstrom in the job which I have left aside for four days is amply worth the reflection of wandering and wondering. I do still have that pit-of-the-stomach feeling that things are really bad out there. My fate, to be decided, will be whether it ends up sweet for me. I hope so, and I dedicate myself to making it so. And that is what I learned from this birthday.

[Postscript ... I have had the NCAA final between North Carolina and Michigan State in the background, but the Tarheels are creaming the boys in green; it's boring. Only investment I have is that it is the last time we see the monstrously gorgeous Tyler Hansbrough in college. Never thought I would miss the archly egomaniacal Billy Packer, but his replacement, Mr. Kellogg I think, is the worst of sports color men ... loud but uninformative, repetitive and obvious.]

Photos by Arod, all taken today ... the top is on Columbus in North Beach, San Francisco; second it the Palace of Fine Arts; bottom is from the interior of the Cafe Abir.