Friday, August 31, 2007

De Young

I too the day off work and went to the de Young museum today. It is a little embarassing that this is my first visit since its new facilities opened almost two years ago, the more so because I deeply admire the architecture. But such is the life of the incipiently agoraphobic downfall of a man who spends too much time working and not enought time pleasuring.

I had breakfast at some place in the Haight ... even at 10 a.m., the famous Pork Store Café had a line-up for their infamously greasy but still finger-lickin-good offerings. Still ploughing through that work on Albert the Great. Ended up at the museum around 11:30.

The architecture of the place absolutely dazzles, and I determined to focus the bulk of this first visit on experiencing the angles and textures and idiocyncracies of this edifice. I monkeyed around the vast lobby, and then headed upstairs to the American art galleries, and later to the Papuan art galleries.

The stuff is pretty impressive, but the gallery makes you want to lie on your back and view the place as you push yourself along with your feet. I tried to take a gallery-wide photo, but it was too motion-blurred to permit of uploading.

I love museum stores, even if I am loathe to part with my money. I almost bought the catalog to the evocative retrospective on Peter Max's graphic work that represented the Summer of Love, but thought better of it. I was 15 that summer, and my consciousness was much more involved with the events in Paris and Prague than San Francisco. Poster art is cool, but you always feel like you should have it for free, so I let the volume lie, and thought only once about whether I should come back for tonight's advertising book signing by the now 70-year old artist.

I had a beer in the courtyard ... strange for me to drink with the sun up, but perhpas I am entering my happy dotage ... and had a lovely long read about Albert. And I was ready to leave when I glanced down a long staircase and caught a view of a mysterious black and white photograph.

And so I stumbled on the transfixing work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, a still active and iconic Japanese photographer who works in huge formats, typically black and white, and specializes in, using my own words, changing the vision conceits of his viewers. The series of a dozen or so seascapes, dedicated to the notion that we might try to see things as are ancient, per-historic ancestors might have viewed them, are still and silent and they take your breath away nont by reason of exhilaration but by reason of their ability to encapsulate in one moment millennia of time. His series of movie screens, in which he opened the shutter at the beginning of the movie and closed it at the end, have the same stillness in the face of motion, even if the time frame is considerably more restricted. Click on either photo to go to his site ... buy the book. I did, and I hope to write some more about it in the future.

Museums are temples for me. I am never so calm or so complete as when I am padding around one. I believe in moving slowly, picking the pieces you examine and looking at them long ... up close and far away, front and back, right and left. Every museum I have ever been in is a representation of the oneness and the totality of the human experience. Any object which ends up in a museum has been liberated from the particularity of its creation. It is free now to belong to all of us, and each of us, one and the same.

Photos by Arod, except, of course, for the two Hiroshi Sugimoto images. Click on either of my photos for more photos of the de Young.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Three Deaths in Vancouver

Had a chat with CS, a friend at work, yesterday in which she revealed that she had found an article I wrote in 1993, Three Deaths in Vancouver. So click on the link if you want to read it. I re-read it just now, and still endorse its persective. CS told me she liked it, better than anything she has read here.

The article was an early part of Bad Subjects which has continued and changed. I haven't read it much in the last decade or so, but it is inspiring just in that it has soldiered on.

Played semi-hookey today ... that is I worked at home this morning and then went with four work colleagues to a Giants game. We sat in the baking sun, a rarity in San Francisco, and watched a lifeless Giants 8-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies' Jeff Francis, a Canadian. Had a great time, including chat, relaxing, and a Stella Artois beer ... I prefer ales, but they ran out of the ale for which I had queued just as I reached the head of the line. Stella Artois is light and perhaps a better choice for a boiling midday game. TF bought me a Ghirardelli chocolate sundae ... we hadn't even thought of one till RL bought one ... we couldn't resist.

How to sew this together ... the best part of being human is the casual warmth of hanging out with people you like and love. The worst part of the epidemic is that we are denied all that casual warmth. Not to forget the striving and creativity and lost time. But just chilling with friends ... nothing beats it.

Photo by Arod.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Larry and Drew, a Witches' Brew

So another Republican is caught in flagrante, this one with his pants up. Remember foolish, horny Mark Foley who wrote suggestive emails and had private sex with a consenting adult male. And then there is the McCain Florida campaign manager, one Bob Allen, who attempted to pay twenty bucks to a reportedly rather large black guy who turned out to be a cop for the opportunity to proffer attentions (click on the link and find the Jon Stewart video ... priceless) ... he claimed he made the offer in abject fear of all the black guys milling around. And who can ever forget the inimitable Ted Haggard (late a "reverend") who admitted to paying a muscular 40-something dude for speed and a massage. Even richer was the hastened verdict by a cabal of church elders who examined him (sounds salacious in and of itself) and averred that, verily verily, he is not gay. He went into psychology ... seriously, from the pulpit to the couch.

The sex is a "so what" for me; it's the hypocrisy that merits the snarls and curled lips and snickers.

So Senator Larry Craig wiggling his foot under a lavatory stall wall is not the worst of the lot, but really hilarious. He claims that he has an unusually wide stance when going to the bathroom ... presumably pissing ... and that he pled guilty just to get it over with. Idiot. Yeah, hypocrite, but idiot.

So CNN drags the creepy Drew Pinsky onto the set ... I suppose all original ideas in psychology are exhausted, so you are stuck with a man who was a washed-up warhorse the first day he emerged from his cellar. Do you get the idea I can't stand the guy. He is a professional addiction whore ... everything is addiction. What really creeped me out about his TV show Loveline with Adam Carolla was that the only sex of which he seemed to approve was marital coitus. Everything else is addiction. Well, I'm a 70s sexual libertine ... to misappropriate a certain holy book ... enjoy the pleasures that gawd has given you, while you have the time and inclination.

So there is the bubbly Soledad O'Brien dishing out fat questions like a soda jerk with an ice cream scoop, and the professionally dour Dr. Drew is floggin what appears to be his latest piffle ... "acquired narcissism" ... famous people get "acquired narcissism" because, well, they're famous. Some people start out with "severe narcissistic tendencies" and then get "acquired narcissism" as well. I'm not making this lunacy up. Didn't they ever see the great Saturday Night Live skit about OPD ... obnoxious personality disorder? Psychology being, by and large, a bunch of bilious babble, it seems to need to invent stuff to keep it in the news. Dr. Drew has made a career out of that .. and his vaguely good looks which are more like the sickly makeup of a cadaver ... but perhaps I am being cruel. Maybe I am addicted to making fun of creepy psychobabblers. Maybe I should pay him a pot of money to make me better. Not likely.

Then he implies that the skanky Senator Craig is not actually gay (making out like he's defending us, as he is wont to do) but is, and I quote, an example of "men who have sex with men which is a clinical category". What? Say what? The guy is queer. Frustrated, a liar, but queer. He just made a choice to pretend to be a straight fascist ... well the fascist part is real, but the straight part is a charade.

But old Dr. Drew, protecting gay guys from the accusation that we like sex and have a lot of it, decides that this guy is sick and we are a bunch of prudes just like him.

Gay liberation asserted that gay sex is good ... and by extension that consenting sexual relationships are healthy and pleasurable and creative. And that loosing sexuality from the straightjackets of religion and conformity and fear and embarrassment would make people free. Do what you want to do with those who want to do it with you.

A pox on psycho-babble. Call the senator what he is ... a desperate old man who gave up a life of pleasure and satisfaction for power. That's his psychosis, one that torments the planet. But it is his self-denial of pleasure that makes him a monster, and by extension, that causes him to torment those who seek nothing more than the pleasures of which they are capable.

Image from Wikipedia Commons: Narcissus in the Louvre. Click on the image for the Wikipedia page.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Season

Flipped on PBS and there is Barry McGuire singing Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man. His encore is To Everything There is a Season, which he credits to Pete Seger and the Book of Ecclesiastes.

I like this music. It is a bit of a revelation that these two songs which resonate in my mind were sung by some soul named Barry McGuire, but the names of pop type idols never really infiltrated my consciousness over the years. More to the point is just hearing them again.

What is even more important right now is understanding how in such a context one might seek to parse the inscrutable boundary between religious idiocy and spiritual sense. When I hear the Ecclesiastes song ... "to everything there is a season" ... like most people, I am suffused with a sense of the wisdom of the ages. There are moments of that in every religion, in every mysticism. But the proof of wisdom is not in ownership grabbing, but in standing back, in surrendering to what the sum of human experience bequeaths to anyone who chooses to subscribe.

Ah, religion, curse and foil.

I have been reading about the career of Alfred the Great who overcame his inertia and responded to treachery by organizing that which was within his grasp and creating something that had not existed before. More prosaically, he was ousted by a palace coup, so he retreated to the wilderness and from there organized those forces of his community and realm who had nothing to gain from a a new order, and overthrew his opponents. In doing so, however, he did not merely restore what he had lost, but rather he created a new paradigm, once which, famously, became England.

"This is your land" could be an old paradigm that creates a new one. We are being undermined by the forces of a consumerism which perhaps we unleashed by the aftermath and heedless misuse of a hedonism in the 60s (which, as I like to note, actually occurred in the 70s). The new pseudo-hedonism is not erotic but simply greed and self-absorption. When we say now that to everything there is a season, we can call on the wisdom of the ages to say that the time now is not for greed but for the warmth of bodies and living together ... that we have lost our way, and the way to find it again is to look back to what made us survive and thrive ... that there is another hedonism that we must regain and remake.

Arthur hid in a marsh and made a kingdom. Maybe that should be our model. Stripped of any silly Christian revanchism, maybe Eccelsiastes has something to say to us.

Are we listening?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

We're going to hell ...

From the SF Chronicle today:

Their troubles began in April 2006 when they refinanced the remaining $207,000 on a 30-year fixed loan to a two-year adjustable rate mortgage so they could pay down hefty obligations on their SUV and pickup truck.

You can read the whole article on Mortgage Mess Hurts Main Street, Beyond which describes the nightmare of thieving and lieing in the mortgage industry, but that little quote is an eloquent metonymy for the cultural hell into which we are descending. They had a secure fixed loan mortgage on "their three-acre property in the middle of horse country, with its swimming pool and fish pond." But they needed monster cars galore to match the excess, so they bankrupted themselves ... and along with all their "steroidal" counterparts, they aim to bankrupt the country. These people, by the way, have two teenagers, and the wife works in an elementary school and the husband lost his job in a mobile home factory. Why are people like this in debt so vastly beyond their means that they have no prayer of ever getting even. Have they even thought about college for the teenagers?

We are all on steroids, an economy of junkies who cannot say no to any excess. How much happier would those folks have been in a home they could afford with two compact cars? How much better off would our economy be if they spent the excess money they would have on local products and services?

I suppose one might accuse me of being idealistic. I reject that. The idealism (i.e., a philosophy that arises from positing pure forms or ideals) is in viewing the economy from the perspective of high finance. Perhaps we need a dose of materialism (i.e., a philosophy that arises from the study of material relations) in which we build an economy based upon material security and happiness, and focus the economy on the vast middle rather than upon the airless upper strata. Call me an ex post Marxist, whatever.

We're going to hell ... in an about-to-be-repossessed Hummer-SUV-monster-truck.

Meanwhile, I am going to spend the rest of the day installing my brand spanking new iMac ;-}

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gods' Warriors

Christiane Amanpour has always been impressive, especially before she got discovered by CNN. She had guts about Islam long before anybody else did. She is the impressario of a new CNN series called Gods' Warriors. Naturally it is a little disappointing by reason of the phony balance that is required ... that is, in the case of religion, pretending that these people are not all a bunch of total whack jobs. Remember, this is not a series about people who want to use religion for good, but rather about people who want to use religion for war against anyone who does not agree with them and, more significantly, submit to them.

(Aside ... as I write this, with Keith Olbermann in the background ... or rather the suspiciously pretty young woman who replaces him when he is taking the week off ... my sweet dog curls up beside me and sighs. He is happy that we are on the bed ... he does not like it when I play on the desktop computer, and he likes it when I spend an evening mired in the laptop. Dogs are so conservative.)

Disclaimer: I could not possibly waste six complete hours to watch the entire Gods' Warriors series. As I write and read and clean my aquariums and mosey about my business, I have various news programs and baseball games on the boob tubery. I catch what I catch. BTW, I also know that I misplaced the apostophe ... when will our holy friends admit that they are talking about multiple non-existent deities.

So a couple of vignettes ... at one point they had a Larry King talkfest and the admirable Amanpour asserted that religion, and specifically Islam, is about peace. Oh dear, who first invented that piffle. Religion is always about covering all the bases. From society to society, or from era to era, the bases may vary. So the "great" or world religions have to contain all the potential contradictions. Even Buddhism has room for warriors, and Islam was created by a man who led troops into battle and who ordered the slaughter of local Jews who ridiculed him. Jesus led no troops but alternately preached death upon the non-believers and mercy for all. Religion is about bamboozling the masses into accepting their lot, and about justifying the grandeur and self-promotion of religious leaders. Certainly there are the genuine ascetic types, and the self-abnegating types, and the earnest and the sincere. But they are, frankly, sideshows. Religion is about power. Sometimes power wants peace, and it finds it in religion. Sometimes it wants war, and, sure, there it is in the holy book. But power always wants to perpetuate itself through irrefutable myth and ineluctable submission, and there again religion provides with the mutterings and prayers and processions whether with banners or incense or little metal whips.

I missed most of the program on Jewish religious warriors, but there was a fetching scene of Zionist settlers pouring noxious brown liquids on Jewish soldiers. Everone knows what the eventual settlement will be ... two nations, bound at the hip ... the only question is how to get there. And that question marches through the thickets of two sub-populations of god-crazy maniacs. I thought it was salutary for Amanpour to teach Americans that Jewish god-nuts are just as dangerous to Mid-East peace of Muslim god-nuts. Not as deadly, frankly, but just as dangerous.

In the Islam piece, we were treated to some sturdy intellectual middle-class Cairene devotees of Hassan al-Banna ... I mean the Muslim Brotherhood, breathlessly described as having left violence behind it. Hassan was assassinated in 1949 in the midst of a campaign of assassinations against political figures of whom he disapproved. The man in the documentary, vested and suited against a backdrop of books in a fine personal library, avers that there is no question of Shariah being imposed until, and I paraphrase, "everyone has a home and proper transportation." Then, he gurgles, a thief will have his hand cut off and an adulterer will be stoned. Egawd, how little it takes for radical Islam to get to its fantasies of murder and mutilation. Here was this elegant middle class man, coiffed and Western-dressed, promising that once everyone has a car, then the stonings will begin. Cold.

And, of course, any sane rationalist would never believe his protestations that the time is not right for Shariah, nor would they believe his protestations that the Muslim Brotherhood in power would respect the democratic right to throw them out. Amanpour was mildly skeptical, but the evidence was plain of how bloothirsty religion in power would be in Egypt.

So tonight was Christian night, and the chilling part was the naked brainwashing of the battlecry teen mania cult. The impressario of this, one Ron Luce, is the latest in a millennia long tradition of self-aggrandizing charlatans using the desperate for their personal benefit. Amanpour focused at one point on a young woman wandering under the stadium where battlecry was staged ... she was singing to herself. She cried on camera about how real god was to her ... "real", my dear, is that which can be demonstrated, not that which must be experienced innardly but cannot be shown outwardly. Amanpour obviously saw this as emotional rather than rational. Still chilling.

More chilling though was the fascist style taunting by the brainwashed at their demonstration in front of San Francisco City Hall. Gay people need to remember that this was the locus of the murder of Harvey Milk, the spontaneous protest against that murder, and later the White Night riots when the murderer got a slap on the wrist. That these fascists would reclaim that space from us is a signal of the bloodbath that their cynical leaders contemplate. They complained about how we label them "bigots" ... hey folks, own your bigotry ... we know that you know that we know what you want to do to us. You've done it before, you're still doing it in Iran and in Wyoming and in Moscow. We're wise to you, and so is Amanpour.

It is no surprise that I distrust all religion. The earnest religious are not harmless because they are used by the cynical. And it is the cynical and the desperate who formed the subjects of Amanpour's documentaries. She did an excellent job of returning that aspect of religious revivalism to the conversation about the worldwide religious revanchism that is choking the planet.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Walking with Loki

I have a sick fish, a Rotkeil who lost a battle for supremacy with his mate in a 40 gallon community tank. He is now exiled to a 10 gallon holding tank until the 60 gallon tank finally has an acceptable ammonia level. I don't want to discuss that. But this fellah keeps getting ill in his isolation tank ... not eating well, all that. So I had to take the dog down to the Polk area where my aquarium dealer of 15 years, Justin and Ady of Ocean Aquarium, hold court. Justin says not to worry, just watch and wait. No meds.

But that means that Loki and I get to walk in the Polk area ... along Polk to Pacifc and then back via Hyde to California.

The Polk area is just plain filthy these days, and the city seems to ignore it. It has always been a pretty scummy area, but it is getting worse in a lot of ways. Back in the 70s and 80s, it was one of three known gay areas of town ... probably the oldest of the three, though not the original in any sense. When I moved here, it was famous for its hustlers who pretty much lined the street ... always on the east side. Back in those days, long before the Internet, and even before pagers and ads and all that, there was every kind of whore ... from the real skanky drug addicts to nervous amateurs testing the waters. Now it is only the real desperate drug addicts, and it is hard to tell if they are really whores. Walking down the street at 6 in the evening on a weeknight, you really don't want anybody to touch you.

Once we left Polk Street and went east to Hyde Street, we're in an extension of Chinatown, and not the upscale part at all. Cheap restaurants and what feels like wall-to-wall nail shops ... nail shops ... call me out of touch, but I missed the memo on nail shops. And how a neighborhood can support a couple dozen of them escapes me. Need to spend a little more time thinking about that.

Wide array of folks walking the groceries home ... Asian of all ages, young white guys, middle aged office worker women, plenty of rough looking types. The usual mad traffic of the incompetent tank-driving types running stops signs and roaring around tight corners. Still, an eyeful.

We find a mural on the side of an African restaurant at California and Hyde. Seems like a metaphor for global warming and all the fun flooding we will get to swim in. Had to step around various garbage and organic compounds to take the pic. One of lots of crazy eateries hidden in the back streets ... a couple of French type bistros, one Italian place that looked good, and lots of cheap Chinese places that allure for romantic reasons but probably would deliver more heartburn than hearty good eating. This African place is right on California, so probably gets some foot traffic. You get the sense that most of these places, though, survive off locals in this dense urban mélange.

Down the road is the John Barleycorn pub that will probably be closed because it lost its lease. Click on the link for the save the place site. They write: ”The John Barleycorn, one of San Francisco's hidden gems for nearly 40 years, is being forced to leave. Luisa Hanson, the new owner of the property at 1500 California Street, the building which houses the Barleycorn, refuses to discuss any renewal of the lease, which expires in June. At issue is not only the continuance of the Barleycorn, a center of the community and an asset to the city as well, but the economic future of the neighborhood of Lower Nob Hill. The Barleycorn, with its cable car benches, church pews from Old St. Mary's and other historic furnishings, is the right size and scale for this neighborhood. Its replacement will be resented, and perhaps shunned, leading to the economic demise of any subsequent business, particularly for a proprietor who turns a blind eye to neighborhood tradition."

Just down the street is a boarded up place ... that is what happens when you kill John Barleycorn and put in a fly by night restaurant bound for failure. Growl.

Barry Lyndon

Couple of notes on Barry Lyndon which I watched because I have been rereading some material on the Seven Years War ... what my American compatriots call the French and Indian War.

This is a curious movie because it does not appear to be concerned that none of its characters are in any sense worthy of empathy. I am not well versed in criticism of Thackeray, although the Wikipedia article notes that the film substitutes an omniscient, impersonal narrator for the books's highly unreliable first-person narrator. Pity that. Not sure how he handled the warmth of his characters.

I enjoyed the movie, especially the scenery and cinematography. It seems to center around a number of episodes of corporal punishment, unconvincingly acted and, again, not eliciting any sympathy or even emotion. In the scene depicted below, I could not determine if I was more unconcerned about the brutish Barry Lyndon or the insipid Lord Bullington.

So, unconcern can be amusing especially if the scenery is pretty. This is not one of the pretty scenes.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Had a nice walk with Loki this morning, and a sweet concatentation of some of my favorite voices on the iPod shuffle. So here is a little stretch of music which accompanied us (well, Loki couldn't actually hear it, but let's say he picked up on the groove) through the Golden Gate Park stretch of the walk:

Alison Krauss: Oh Atlanta
Rosemary Clooney: Brazil
Incubus: Just a Phase
Old and in the Gray: Victim to the Tomb
Ray Charles: This Love of Mine
David Bowie: Song for Bob Dylan
Joni Mitchell: Barandgrill
Red Allen, Jim Buchanan, David Grisman, Herb Pederson: Love Please Come Home
Dixie Chicks: Baby Hold On
Joni Mitchell: You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio
Neil Young: After the Gold Rush
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Be Wafa

My ability as a music critic is pretty limited ... the "I know what I like" sort of criticism. So pardon the obviousness of this: I like the foregrounded voice more than the arranged voice. So that Rosemary Clooney song is almost my national anthem, and the early Ray Charles does a lot more for me than the later. I love bluegrass voices, whether the rough and ready traditional stuff or the sweet clarion Alison Krauss.

No point to this post other than that ... some voices that I love to hear in the early morning, a cold wind blowing, the dahlias in bloom, the dog leading and following by turns.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


In the course of the day, I ran across a couple of odd references to idiocy. No point here, really, but I like this little poem:

The idiot greens the meadow with his eyes,
The meadow creeps implacable and still;
A dog barks, the hammock swings, he lies.
One two three the cows bulge on the hill.
--Allen Tate (1899-1979), U.S. poet, critic. "Idiot."

RL and I, as we drive to work, look for the cows in the field on the road into MRU. I like to think that it's a good day when we see them, but I am sure that RL attaches no more significance to them than that they are fine to look at. I also like to "green the meadows" of the parched yellow landscape around here, but RL certainly does not. Perhaps I, then, am the idiot.

If so, I will hang my hat on Ralph Waldo Emerson's thoughts on the idiot notwithstanding the obvious bad cultural translation over a couple of centuries:

The idiot, the Indian, the child and unschooled farmer's boy, stand nearer to the light by which nature is to be read, than the dissector or the antiquary.

I am more than a bit of an antiquary myself, so I am evidently trying to stand on both sides of Emerson.

Photo by Arod, in Paris, in the back of the Ecole des Beaux Arts ... graffiti, I suppose

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


More on the Presidential election. The Democrats appeared on a "debate" on gay issues sponsored by Logo TV. (The 'publicans are too chicken to appear before a gay audience ... might catch something ... perhaps they might catch a little sense ... bunch o' fascists.) I say a "debate" because each was questioned separately for 15 minutes. I have not seen the debate, but I read that poor Bill Richardson, a liberal's liberal, got hung up on the question of whether or not homosexuality is a "choice" or "biological." He quickly chimed in that it was a choice.

Oooops, you're not suposed to say that. He later appeared before some editorial board at the Advocate, the granddaddy of gay mags and tried to get himself out of the jam. None of it matters much because he will not be the nominee.

That said, it was a trick question, and a shibboleth. It is one of those silly leftoid dichotomies where you have to pick the right answer or you are a hopeless "racist, sexist, anti-gay, now we've had our cant for the day." Like saying black instead of African American, or wondering aloud if unlimited immigration will drive down the price of unskilled labor.

It's a trick question for two reasons. Firstly, obviously homosexuality is a combination of predilection and decision, that is of biology and choice. I'll return to that below. Secondly, the notion that we deserve rights because we are biologically gay plays right to the notion of sickness. Even if homosexuality were a pure choice, we argue that it is good in and of itself, a positive boon to the individual and to society. The muling reactionaries hate us whether it's inbred or cultivated. They don't care, they just plain hate fags ... dykes too, but they hate fags worse.

In gay liberation, we used to argue that there were three interlocking but inherently contradictory homophobic paradigms ... the criminal, the psychological, and the moral. The biological notion rarely came up in those days. The criminal and the moral shared the notion of choice ... one chooses to commit the crime and one chooses to be immoral. The psychological implies sickness. The bigots circled around the three ... a bunch of filthy criminals, immoral devil worshippers, sick and pustulent ... who cares as long as we lock 'em up.

Now the inheritors of our movement have decided that we are biologically fore-ordained, and that is that. Any argument of choice implies we have the ability to choose otherwise and this, they argue, plays to the hand of the enemy.

Well, that is nonsense. Some of us are obviously gay ... I was gay from my earliest memories, I just didn't know what it meant until I was 13. Lots of gay folks say that. Some people are straight from day one, never vary, can't even imagine a same sex involvement. The difference between those natively strictly straight and those natively strictly gay is that the straight don't have to make a choice ... no one comes out as straight. But every gay man and woman who has ever lived has to "choose" whether or not to come out. Until our movement that exploded in 1969, coming out could easily mean ostracism, danger, physical harm, imprisonment, or death. I constantly harp on the fact that the religious fascists want us to go back there.

But in the current world where we have carved out our space, coming out is the ever-present issue. It is a choice. For every proud gay man living an open life there are two or three or how many we will never know unhappy unfulfilled men living lives of lies. For every dyke living free there are a dozen women squelching themselves for family and appearance and normalcy. That too is a choice, and I do not begrudge such a choice. I think it is a wrong choice, but freedom is the right to make wrong choices.

So even for out gay men and women, our outness is a choice ... a choice that was, and every day is, fraught with anxiety and fear and risk ... a choice that has lost people friends and family and livelihoods and homes. The biological argument belittles the choice of coming out. I choose to be gay ... I choose NOT to be in the closet. (That, by the way, is the locus of error for the bigoted black preachers who have so publicly made common cause with their so recently racist white preacher bro's ... I'll wait for another outburst to address that sorry phenomenon in greater depth.)

But none of this takes into account the vast middle of sexuality of those folks who are not obviously and totally gay or straight. They too have a choice, and it is not the choice to be straight. Being straight is given. The choice at issue is whether to be gay whether for an evening or a week or for years, or off and on, or forever. So there is a predilection, but it is not exclusive, and the choosing is whether to exercise it to some degree.

This is where the frothing religious really live. They don't care about us died-in-the-wool fags ... the biological ones, if you like. We're gonna rot in hell ... they'd like to send us to our date with Beelzebub a little earlier than we plan to go. We are useful to them in the current configuration because they can fulminate and purple-faced-glare and wag their fingers ... oh, and raise money from scared old ladies and cynical Republican operatives. But the notion that the "sexually middle," if I can call them that, might choose to be gay even temporarily fills them with terror ... for their stock-in-trade is to prey upon society through the fear of sexual freedom. When we make the biological predictor argument, we play right into their hands.

Look, every gay guy whose has ever been "on the make" knows about the "sexually middle" ... guys who are gay enough to play around but live a straight life and are very likely to end up married and as monogamous as any other straight guy. I think that the sexually middle outnumber the purely gay ... they might even outnumber the purely straight. And every aspect of their sexual being is tied into choice that revolves around the panopoly of possibilities predicted by their predilections. Biology, for human beings, is just the broad framework. Everything we do is involved in choice.

It is curious on the left that choice in abortion is the right thing, but choice in homosexuality is the wrong thing. Our movement has to eschew the simple slogan and embrace the fullness of life in its complexity and diversity.

I'll close this post with a reference to the great plague that decimated gay men because that too relates to choice. Certainly there was the choice of safe sex once we knew. But also there was the choice to come together as a community, to help our brothers. How we responded to AIDS was the proof of gay liberation. Personally, the low days of the deaths were the most moving in my life. I'm sure I will write about that more in the future.

In Golden Gate Park, there is a National AIDS Memorial Grove. Loki and I walk there pretty much every Saturday now. At the back end is a circle with these engraved words by my old friend, the now deceased poet, Thom Gunn:

walker within this circle pause • although they all died of one cause
remember how their lives were dense • with fine compacted difference

That is about choice, people, our choice. My friends' choice. The choices of our heroes and victims and the ones who lost where we have yet won.

Photos by Arod. The top one was in the store window of an AIDS charity second hand store at California and Polk

Monday, August 13, 2007

Half Full Half Empty

Ah, Monday the thirteenth ... blue Monday.

Thinking some more about Hillary and liberal defeatism. There is a certain poignancy in such thoughts on this day when Karl Rove announces his strategic retreat to the private sector of cashing in. No surprise, I think he is one of the lowest curs ever to occupy an office in the White House, and that takes some doing.

But "no surprise" in another sense ... a Karl Rove presents no surprises. Conservatives, by and large, don't present a lot of surprises. That is in the nature of what Kenneth Burke calls an "occupational psychosis." The affect of the conservative is to defend the indefensible in the sense that hanging on to the past, on any level, tends to be a fruitless occupation in the long run. But conservatives have not been conservative on that level for some time, and the Dubya-ites are vastly more radical than they are conservative. So their method is to snow the out-there conservatives who support them in order to advance a radical agenda. Same methods ... no surprises ... just lie your way to the bank, and keep a big smug smile up front and center.

Doesn't work that way for liberals. What I called liberal defeatism in yesterday's post is as often as not simply balancing the half empty and the half full ... looking at the upside and the downside at the same time.

Now there are plenty of kneejerk liberals. I remember an episode in the 70s when I was in gay liberation. We had managed to sponsor a couple of showings of Word is Out, a pioneering film in which a variety of men and women talked about their lives in the closet and their experience of coming out. We showed it at the Vancouver Art Galley on Georgia Street (not in the same location as now). It was three blocks from my apartment. We had a gala opening night, and then I skipped the second viewing the following night until I got a call at home that a bunch of christians had shown up to protest carrying signs mounted on 2 x 4's. I raced down ... the moment is burned in my mind because I knew the young pastor who led this group from other events, and as I walked by him, I said, "Here spreading hate again, are ya?" I think he was taken aback. But the point of this story was that outside the ring of these micro-fascists was a bunch of PC dykes of my acquaintance who did not want to cross the picket line. I had to convince them that these were our enemies. They never bothered to read the signs or anything rational like that. They saw a picket line, they honored it.

But all that is an aside however annoying the pc-er's (p-seers, I like to call them) may be, their influence on politics is at an ebb in these days, notwithstanding the firey idiocy of Chris Daly, San Francisco supervisor ... gotta leave that to another occasion.

The problem in the larger zone of liberalism is that we are occupationally prone to look at both sides of the coin. So in the dinner debate I described yesterday, I was accusing my interlocutors of being pointlessly pessimistic, but half an hour later I was rambling on about how the housing crash is going to bring us all to our knees. So, I was clearly violating my own pronunciamento. This is not uncommon. And it is not entirely without justification. I think one has to be unusually blind ... or a Republican ... not to realize that the sum of the issues confronting our species is more daunting than anything we have ever faced. The colossal imminent climate catastrophes are looming even as we have dragged the most volatile parts of the world to the edge of a holocaust. And the economy is puffed up on steroids, unusustainably.

But, then again, a couple of days ago I was bemoaning the bad time we give to the seemingly steroidal Barry Bonds.

No clarity, no simplicity, no one answer. That is the curse of liberalism.

So at bottom, increasingly as I get older and more cautious, I take solace in what might ameliorate things ... in the art of the possible. And that is why I have begun more and more to be convinced that Hillary is the best answer out there. She has the best shot to get elected, in my view, and she has the best shot of not self-destructing in some kind of earnest Jimmy-Carter-meltdown, or, on the other hand, getting snowed by reactionary thought like the hapless Lyndon Johnson. The latter, alas, is more likely. I think she is also the one who understands best what a paradigm shift is, having lived through the one that her husband created for eight too-brief years. No guarantees, but she is the best shot.

Enough of this ramble ... not all that sharp a ramble ... but a ramble nonetheless.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Terms of the Debate

Curious discussion at dinner last night. We were having a third birthday party for my old friend and upstairs neighbor TF. This is not a significant birthday for him ... just one of those nameless numbers between 40 and 50 ... but the particular flow of friends was such that he has ended up having a party in his honor for three successive weekends. Lucky guy.

After a lot of liquid lubrication, and all of us well sated with fabulous homemade American food, we turned to politics. All tended to agree that we are being won over by the Hillary momentum, and that Obama seems a wee callow if more impressive than one might think by reference only to his thin resume.

But then I averred that the Republican I fear most is Giuliani by reason of the possibility that he might snow the middle. And then came what I call the liberal defeatism. "The Midwest hates Hillary ... People are too stupid, and she can't win ... No one is going to vote for a woman." I was quite annoyed, the more so as sundry accused me alternately of being too intellectual and too disconnected from reality. It is always curious when San Francisco liberals accuse each other of not being in touch with Iowa.

It crested on a discussion of Katrina. I tried to point out how Katrina had turned Dubya's politic credentials upside down, and my interlocutor pointed out that New Orleans is still a mess. I don't get the logic there, but perhaps I missed something.

It annoys me when liberals accept the terms of the debate provided, via the mass TV media, by the right. It's like bad generalship that sets out to fight the previous war when every war ... military or political ... provides the opportunity to change the terms of conflict, the opportunity for a paradigm shift. Never has such an opportunity been more obvious than right now, and it seems to me that the greatest danger is for liberals to resist the paradigm shift lest we lose, and thereby guarantee a loss on the opponent's chosen battlefields.

I think many liberals cannot quite fathom that we won the last election ... perhas they miss the comfort of losing and not being responsible. For that matter, notwithstanding all the grumbling, we have not understood that we arguably won both the previous two presidential elections. If we should have won them, but didn't, then the problem is with the process not with our arguments. Hillary appears to have understood, at last and to her credit, that she has to play to the discontent and to the ideas even as she makes great play of acting presidential. I am one of those who applaud her statement that someone running for president should not say everything that they think because there are consequences.

It is certainly a long journey for an old radical to say that because I continue to think that state secrecy is the source of great miseries in history. But Clinton needs to make the volatile 10% on the buble between red and blue think that she can do it, that she has the moxy and the intelligence, and the guts to pull it off, to be a president. Those standards are not applied to Republicans ... witness the Fred Thompson phenomenon which appears to be based purely on how he looks and the fact that he has been on TV ... well, also on the fact that he does the angry male thing well.

So Hillary is doing the "acting" part well. But more importantly, I believe she is, perhaps cautiously, trying out the new paradigm ... that healthcare matters to everyone including business, that the war is a disaster but there is no quick fix, that climate change is for real. The majority of Americans are on the liberal side of each one of those questions, and the job is to translate that into victory.

By the way, she did very well in the gay debate on Logo, by report (I have not seen it). She pointedly would not cave to any kind of apology on the marriage part of the partnership debate. She said as directly as she could that marriage is not now, but civil unions are. We don't like that, but the political reality is that the marriage battle has moved us forward ... has forced the issue ... but we need to win some battles now. If we win a battle here or there called "civil unions", it's still a win, and we can change the semantics in due course. But if every battle has to be hara kiri, then we are begging for defeat. Liberal defeatism. We don't need it ... we should not be comfortable with it.

Again, weird feeling for an old radical to say such things ... for somebody who cut his teeth in the gay liberation movement of the 70s. But, right now, the nation and planet and our species needs us to win, not to becontent with splitting hairs at dinner parties.

That is a little self-congratulatory, of course, and I am actually not satisifed that I made my points last night to any good effect ... such is the problem with dinner parties of course. Their joy is in the camaradery, not necessarily in intellectual accomplishment. Perhaps my disappointment is only that I did not win the argument. We arguers are like that ... and all the more ready to get back to the fray next time up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

We are all Barry Bonds

[As noted repeatedly, suddenly I am free of my huge project. The 744-page course catalog has gone to press. I sign off on bluelines tomorrow or the next day. I'll have a bunch of ACs ... author's corrections ... but the madness of all the decisions and editing and processing and emails and all that ... well ... it is over, and my life can finally slowly decompress back to a quotidien reality of exchange and involvement. Every year, these days after the fact are a little weird, unreal, hard to fathom. But I know what it means, and I am, under the fatigue, happy and relieved.]

Meanwhile, Barry Bonds is at the plate ... now 0-2 after a long foul ball that Belliard could not field. Now 1-2, outside and low. And outside and low again ... they always get squirrelly when they go 0-2 on him. And outside and low again. And on a fastball low and down the middle, he screams a double to triples alley. Kuip says, "For guys over forty, doubles alley."

We're on the Bonds watch, of course. He is tied with Hank Aaron for most home runs ever ... 755. And we are waiting on 756 while America watches and kvetches about whether or not ... mostly whether ... he did steroids. And whether or not ... mostly whether ... his having done steroids invalidates the record.

I love how they say, "Bonds will make history." History to the sports fan, not to mention the casual consumer of news entertainment, means a record. It is not the totality of how we got here, it is not the interplay of competing forces, it is not the third principle of historical observation that anything given long enough turns into its opposite. No, it is the simple record itself. As if the instant transforms to history and can be clipped and stowed and we can move ... back to consuming and stuffing our faces and purchasing our way to oblivion.


Yes, ouch ineed. This is the problem with all the kvetching about Bonds' record. Why have we chosen Bonds as the whipping boy for the steroids era? Why is he the villain? Is he the only one? ... why no. Is he singular in his excess? ... no again. We live in a society which worships excess. We live in a society in the grips of the most cataclysmic paroxysm of greed in the history of our species. Nothing is too big or too obscene. No standards of decency apply (except, of course, to the freedom to have sex how you please ... that little contradiction I will try to address on some other occasion).

Anyone who drives an SUV is on steroids. Anyone who lives in some monster home where they are heating or air conditioning empty space while no one is present ... you are on steroids. Anyone who munches down Big Gulps of high-fructose-corn-syrup laden soft drinks is on steroids ... bottled water is steroids, energy-sucking high-def TVs are steroids. I walked past the Randall Museum for little children up the hill today, and hundreds of discarded boxed meals were piling out of the garbage pails all over the parking lot that was itself strewn with monster trucks. Steroids. Cheap this at WalMart, cheap that at Target ... all steroids, folks ... all excess, unnecessary, unsatisfying, just plain suckin' down whatever you can get yours paws on. Steroids. We are all on steroids.

Why is Bonds the guilty one when we consume like there is no tomorrow?

Bonds is the king of his era. He played by the rules that others played by. It is not ironic, but rather emblematic, that the pitcher who served up the ball for home run number 755 had himself been suspended for steroids when he was in the minor leagues ... the guy is 5'11", 190, hardly a muscle-bound android.

We are Barry Bonds, and when we hate him, we hate ourselves. Maybe we should learn something from that, and clean up our act. But it is nauseating to hear all the sanctimonious holier-than-thou crap from a bunch of monster-truck-driving, bottled-water-drowning, over-stuffing-yer-face, proud, never-say-no-to-more steroidals.

Physician, heal thyself.


An hour or so later ... he did it. He hit 435 feet of home run to the deepest part of the deepest yard in baseball. A sublime home run. And then, more sublime especially for those of us who worship words above all things, an eloquent congratulations from Hank Aaron whose sweet Southern turn of phrase leant more class to the event than the normally crass Mr. Bonds could reocgnize or expect or subsequently deliver.

So happy are we all that it is over at last. I look forward to unencumbered Giants baseball next year. In the meanwhile, though, I think he deserves it. History is what it is, not what we wish it were. Bonds did what he did in the terms of the era in which he did it. That is what history is. The rehashing and the kvetching are nothing. The arc of the ball, towering, that is what is it is about.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gone to Bed

I went to press with the big book last night at 1:01 a.m. I took until 1:30 for the upload to finish. Got home at 2:30, didn't get to sleep until 4, and then dreamt the whole night about trying to make changes on pdf ... that is madness, and so is dreaming in the midst of high stress.

Anyway, I am fried. Got a post in my head about Barry Bonds, and I'll get back to life tomorrow and write it up. Meanwhile, tonight is a Lincecum start at home and Bonds is gunning for 756. Hope I can stay awake.