Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Ancients Whisper: Enlil and the Wind

I've been reading Samuel Noah Kramer's History Begins at Sumer, published in 1956. My edition was the first Doubleday Anchor paperback published in 1959, sold for $1.95, and one of those classic old paperbacks that the bibliophile loves to fondle. Alas, like so many old paperbacks, the spine did break despite my best efforts. None of the folios have slipped out, though.

Preserving an old book is what Kramer did, of course, though his books were in the form of tens of thousand of broken clay tablets. Kramer does not lack for pride in his work, but he did put together many previously separated chunks of fable and myth. I am not sure what his reputation is now in the field; the Wikipedia article is certainly laudatory.

What I know about Sumerian religion entirely derives from Kramer, and something like six readings over the course of my life of the Babylonian epic about the Sumerian Gilgamesh; I am going to tackle that again once I am done with Kramer. So what I write here is pretty impressionistic, meant more to illustrate where my mind is going in trying to imagine for myself the nature of consciousness in the earliest civilization about which we have written evidence.

Written evidence, of course, is what defines civilization if only because we know a great deal of what we know from written evidence. Cuneiform was a remarkably long-lived and relatively stable form of writing; it was in active use for a longer period of time than the time that separates us from Homer! And, of course, because its medium was clay, we have an enormous resource of fragments and remnants.

I am interested in the scribes; I am always interested in the classes to which I might have belonged had I been born into another era. The earliest writings about Sumerian civilization in Uruk (in modern southern Iraq), the biblical Erech, include descriptions of the intense curriculum and strict corporal punishment provided to prospective scribes. The graduates stood to inherit high position in society, at the cusp between the religious establishment and the political power. Most of what they wrote was bureaucratic, and this provides us with a deep look into economics and social relationships at the dawn of history. But there is enough writing on myth and attitude to give us great insight into the mind.

Kramer points out that the Sumerians did not write what we might call meta-prose ... speculative supervening prose that situates and explains. I would say that this reflects what I called the immediacy of myth and speculation when I discussed Herodotus. The Sumerians were very good at lists, as were their inheritors, and those lists have provided not just enumerations and chronology but also great sources for translation and deciphering. Lists and the immediacy or unmediated quality of reflection are characteristic of chirographic society ... that is a society in which writing is produced by experts for consumption by a society which remains radically oral.

So in the case of the myths which Kramer outlines, we see the repetitive style and textual chunks typical of oral texts, but we see them in written form. By chunks, I refer to stock phrases ready at hand for an oral storyteller; the most famous is the Homeric "wine-dark sea". The storyteller has these elements, preformed with rhythms and measure appropriate to the genre, at ready hand so as to make easier the task of putting a story together in performance. BTW, Kramer makes an error typical of his era (see page 137) when he says that the scribes are the "heirs and descendants of the illiterate minstrels of much earlier days" ... first of all, I prefer "non-literate" rather than "illiterate" because you can only be illiterate in a society which is radically literate, in other words in a society in which the vast majority of people read and write. This was not the case in Sumer, or indeed in any society until much later. But more importantly, we can have little doubt that the "minstrels" were contemporaries of the scribes, as evidenced by the oral techniques with which they wrote, but also by induction since storytellers have been characteristic of all radically oral societies. The "minstrels" and the scribes lived in the same lifeworld and they had exchanges and interchanges which we can only imagine since they apparently are rarely if ever depicted in the sources.

So the scribal arts, notwithstanding the literate caste that produced them, reflect the oral society in which the life world is immediate and unmediated. The gods are viewed as ever present, constantly going about their work, and living their lives, but invisible to humankind except in the effects that they produce. The four major gods are An (heaven), Enlil (the air god), Enki (god of the abyss and wisdom, and the organizer god), and Ninhursag (the mother goddess). But there are also hundreds of gods in charge of more or less everything and anything. It becomes a rather impersonal system, one fitting for a people unprotected against ill-fortune and bad fate, so they developed a system of the personal god who could serve as an intermediary to petition for or act on behalf of the individual with the other gods who, seemingly, were unconcerned with the fate of one person or another.

It is noteworthy that in a thought system where there is no evident conceptual mediation (i.e., where cause and event and consequence are seen as immediate and connected and inseparable), a mechanical form of mediation is invented in the ethereal realm to represent the possibility that cause and effect can be split apart. Compare that to our personal god ... Jesus ... who mediates between the very distant, unerring, and unchanging god the father, but in doing that, he himself is distant, unerring, and unchanged despite his dabble in history 2,000 years ago. There is something deeply revealing about this structure of divine portrayal, and the evident necessity to invite a mechanical means in the form of the personal god of breaching the divide between the immortals and us.

The unchangeability that we project to the immanent but distant god, the Sumerians found in their everyday life. It was a lifeworld that appeared as stable and immutable, and change was something that had to be entreated. Kramer writes, "The main thesis of our poet [of the first version of the Job myth] is that in cases of adversity and suffering, no matter how seemingly unjustified, the victim has but one valid and effective recourse, and that is to glorify his god continually, and keep wailing and lamenting before him until he turns a favorable ear to his prayers." That god is the personal god of the individual supplicant who, by this means, had some recourse against the immediacy of fate ... but a recourse of little effect and much wailing and bemoaning.

Again, this is pretty broad speculation based on a limited set of facts known by the writer, but it is how I try to imagine consciousness when people are in possession of a different set of not only notions but also explanations and facts.

I think this idea also explains why Enlil appears over time to have displaced An, the heaven god, as the primary god. Again, for us, the primary god is always in heaven, and heaven which is above us, unknowable and unimaginable, unreachable except through death and redemption. For the muslims, it is a layered above, albeit rather fully explained in their much more mechanical textual approach to religion, but admission is at the behest of the god who is without intermediary.

But for the Sumerians, the action was not in heaven. Enki, the god of wisdom and organization, ran the world. But Enlil was the wind, the air ... that is, Enlil was what mediated between heaven and earth, what caused change, what brought good and evil, what moved. Enki established the rules of culture and living, and ultimately ordered people as they died and went to the underworld. But Enlil, the wind, was the great god, most in need of sacrifice and appeasement. He was the divine representation of mediation, and thus appeasing him was of central importance in undoing the terible effects of change upon a world where immediacy was the coin of the realm.

Again, this is a mechanical way of representing mediation in a world in which mediation was not the default position.

I hope that this is not too obscure ... and I really hope that it is not utterly wrong. I'll try to return to this when I have re-read Gilgamesh.

Photos by Arod of the sky. Top photo taken at MRU, the major research university where I hold out my hands expecting a rain of heavenly delights; second photo is of the hill in the park behind my house in San Francisco. the third is the sky reflected in a window which, as I recollect, is on Haight Street in San Francisco.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shame Redux

So sundry official gay organizations have their knickers in a knot because the Olson/Boies legal challenge to anti-gay marriage laws appears, in their august considerations, premature and incautious. Allow me to be blunt ... screw 'em. You guys blew it; you are the ones who put on the ridiculously weak campaign that lost us an election that we should have won. So your moral high dudgeon is pitiful. You pissed away the initiative, and everything that is going on is ahead of you.

I like the Olson/Boies challenge because it blasts the issue into a new zone. He who does not compete always loses. These guys stepped up and decided to compete. They represent two gay couples who have the right to sue in federal court for their rights. Did our fattened bureaucrats .... I mean the ones who lost the Prop 8 campaign ... did they take into account that Americans have the right to sue for their rights? Are they telling two couples that they should shut up?


Whenever I hear people tell gay people that we should be cautious, that we should wait, that the time is not opportune, that gay people should shut up, it turns my stomach. The time was not opportune when I came out of the closet publicly and joined gay liberation as a 19-year-old in 1972. Everybody told me that. The time was not opportune when we won civil rights victories in the 70s, and then had to fight the vicious bigotry of Anita Bryant, who is the moral precursor of the pretend-to-be-nice fulminating, pustulant, hate-filled bigots who bankrolled the campaign against our rights last fall. The time was not opportune when Gavin Newsom supported us and raised the gay marriage issue to another level.

The time is never opportune for gay rights. But we have marched forward by ignoring the wagging fingers and knocking knees. Now the cowards are "our leaders". I say screw 'em. And I don't mean in that "nice, spanky way".

That major gay organizations discourage this bold step only proves how much they belong in the trash can of history.

Bravo to boldness. Bravo to the courageous couples who engaged Olson/Boies. Bravo to anyone who fights for our rights. Bravo to being open and out and forward and uncompromising.

Photo by Arod, recently, of the window of a muscle supplement store on Market a block and a half from Castro.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


So it's disgusting ... the wee 6 on the California Supreme Court could not bring themselves to understand that civil rights are not subject to a vote. There is much talk today that the decision is actually very narrow ... that it states that all rights of marriage are guaranteed to gays except that gay people cannot use the word "marriage." Some will say that that is an essential victory, and that the religious fanatics are left only with a word. One way (sorry, but I can't find the reference again) suggested that we should just take the word "mariage" ... one R, and cooler because it the French spelling.

All this is lovely, and everything, but it misses the point. The California supremes have made a classic "separate but equal" argument. And separate but equal is anathema not just to American law but more so to the concept of civil rights. It is not the place of judges to rule on theological questions, and the question of whether marriage is sacred or whether the Sodom myth actually has anything to say about homosexuality have no place in law or government. The issue is civil rights. No one is saying that religious bigots should be forced not to hate us. We are saying that this is about our civil rights.

The supremes did not see this. They cowered behind the idiotic argument that popular opinion defines civil rights.

I had a little excitement yesterday. I attended the largely student demonstration at MRU (the major research university that laid off my friend Kurt today), and marched with them as far the head of the circle on Palm Drive. They went on to a sit down in downtown Palo Alto, as I headed back to my duties. It was an exuberant, very lefto feeling event. Two professors whom I knew, and a few staffers. Perhaps a 100 or so people in total.

Later I had a silly exchange with some right winger on Twitter. Someone retweeted my tweet "It's a new Dred Scott decision - think how it will look in history - the 'justices' will be so ashamed". And then some evident right winger novelist wrote me to ask if I knew what the Dred Scott decision was. Of course, I do .. it was a decision that stated that a negro was not a person and therefore had not status to sue for his freedom. I think it is very a propos, but more importantly it is a decision that has come to define judicial cynicism. So a little later, this rightwinger tweeted "Yeah, imagine, they made a ruling based on the law and not on "empathy." Never would have expected it." So I replied to him "Dred Scott - 'a ruling based on the law and not on "empathy."'"

That's the way they are crowing ... they are seeing this as lawful, as opposed to empatheticc. They are wrong. This was a failure to see the larger principle of the law that all persons are equal. The decision substituted a specious and discredited theory that approximately similar accommodation is equality. That is bunk. One day the ludicrousness of this decision will earn the same derision we now shower on Dred Scott.

Another fascinating development ... Ted Olson and David Boies, opponents in the Supreme Court case of Bush v Gore, have joined forces to take gay marriage equality to the federal courts. This would have been unimaginable even a year or two ago. We have moved rapidly forward. But it is no time for complacency. Let us applaud and praise Olson and Boies. But let us also organize and prepare for the next battle against the bigots.

Photos by Arod of San Francisco art. Top photo a mural on Harrison (I think) around 20th; bottom photo is a sculpture on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market.

Monday, May 25, 2009

State of the Gay

So, three items ... American Idol, the California Supreme Court Decision, and something called ADAP.

Kris, the sweet christian married boy from down Arkansas way beat the glam rocker Adam who is distinctly if not openly gay. The fundies had picked Danny as their candidate of choice, but he was second runner up.

It was not surprising, and I did call it. I think the thing is vastly more about middle-of-road-appeal than about gay/straight or christian/secular. Adam's followers were not doubt a hard core, and his every performance solidified us; but Kris won people over as he visibly grew and assumed the mantle of stardom. So when it came down to one on one, the normal boy spoke to more people. I figure it this way ... if Kris were a quietly gay Christian from the heartland, and Adam were a loud booze and chicks rock star, Kris would still have won.

On the finale, there was a genuine affection between the two, and the LA Times published an article on the day of the final competition that argued that their relationship was emblematic of the rapprochement that is sweeping not just secular society but young christians as well. Ann Powers, pop music critic, wrote:

In this complicated climate, one painted thumbnail means a lot. Allen began decorating one of his black -- one of Lambert's favorite colors -- late in the season, apparently to dispel rumors that the pair, who were roommates in the show-sponsored mansion where the finalists reside, were feuding. Lambert reportedly later removed the paint from one of his thumbs in his own gesture of support.

The friendship between the two finalists suggests that tolerance can trump ideology, a powerful sentiment that echoes President Obama's suggestion that bridging differences could be more effective than trying to eradicate them.

I didn't know about the painted thumbnails thing ... I find it quite touching. It certainly is the sort of thing that one wants to be emblematic of "tolerance trumping ideology". But it is nothing to hang your hat on. Being nice, being nice and touching, only goes so far. Gay people know all about that.

So the wave of support for gay marriage in recent weeks and months has softened even the hard edges of a skeptic such as myself. There is a cascade of growing understanding that the arguments of the bigots make no sense, that there is no good reason why people should not marry whomever they choose, that the religious right has lied itself into a frenzy. It is not that people are suddenly righteous gay libbers ... it is, rather, a more American phenomenon, to whit that people figure they should stay out of other people's business and let them do what they want.

I still hold out hope that the California Supreme Court, by that original 4-3 majority, will understand that tossing out Prop 8 will spare the state from two more years of religious invective. The way it would work is that the right wingers would have to get 2/3 majorities in both legislative houses ... just like in Massachusetts. And the result would be the same as in Massachusetts, that the whole matter would rapidly become a non-issue.

Did the Supremes watch American Idol? Did they pay any attention to Iowa? Do they think that tolerance should trump ideology? Or are they thinking career? Are they thinking that the wingnut maniacs will never forgive them for voting for us? This, again and once again, points out the degree to which the bloody rump on the 'publicans is still driving the debate in America, still in the intellectual drivers seat, notwithstanding the now openly derided idiocy of their stance.

So here we are in this state of the gay waiting on a bunch of potential vacillators to see if we spend two more years, maybe four more years, proving that we are fundamentally human. I have been gay all my life, but the gnawing feeling of being publicly declared as less than human, it never gets less acute.

I think we are going to win tomorrow ... I was right about Kris, and I'm going to be right about this. If I am not right, then I am gonna be royally pissed. I think hundreds of millions will be royally pissed.

Civil rights is what it has always been about. But that is not all that is at stake in the current decline and fall of California. I could not summarize better the parlous state in which we find ourselves than did Paul Krugman yesterday in the New York Times. It's not state of the gay for him, it's State of Paralysis. And the entire crushing problem in what would be one of the richest countries in the world is the result of the deliberate strategy of the 'publicans to destroy the ability of government to govern. It is nihilism, just as their strategy against gay marriage is nihilism.

Nihilism ... it used to be groovy when we were hippies reading Dostoyevsky ... kills. And that is what the State of Paralysis plans to do as it threatens the Aids Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). Now, they plan to kill funds for children's healthcare as well, so we can't say they favor the cute babies over the fags. But what is a government that lets its people die for want of charity? Is that what Jesus would do?

Here is s case where it is pretty difficult to argue that tolerance is trumping ideology. The wingnuts would have a hard time to argue that if Jesus rather than the terminator had chased Gray Davis out of office, he would be in favor of killing babies and fags. But the scorched earth policy of denying everything leads precisely to that ... hatred, death.

I am aall for the painted thumbnails mode of expressing solidarity. But it is not going to save us. We need a bold Supreme Court, and we need a real government.

If you want to protest the possible end of the ADAP program, sign the petition at the SF AIDS Foundation.

Photos by Arod. Top two are from the tube; third photo is of Castro and market Streets, and the bottom photo is a detail from the mural on the Franklin Street side of the War Memorial Opera House.

Those of my good friends who still soldier through these ramblings may note that I did not meet my self-imposed Sunday deadline for a new post. So here is a codicil to my thrice weekly writing commitment ... on long weekends, I get until Monday to do the Sunday post.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Ancients Whisper

So, to set the scene ... and with no reference to the title of this post which, evidently like all my titles, breaks evolving rules of social media ... I took the day off to make a four-day weekend, cleaned two aquaria, ran around town and faced down the mad weekday traffic of downtown San Francisco in order to do my duty by recycling a bunch of old computer stuff. Now I am chilling with a beer that descibes itself as a "Handcrafted Ancient Ale". This would be a Midas Touch by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery who write this about the brew: "This recipe is the actual oldest-known fermented beverage in the world! It is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas. Somewhere between wine & mead; this smooth, sweet, yet dry ale will please the Chardonnay of beer drinker alike."

I picked the beer because I am re-reading ancient history. The regular reader of this scratch will note that my reading habits are a never ending peregrination through history, period by period as the mood strikes me. What I want to focus on, in reading ancient history for the first time in 25 years, is the mind of the ancient world ... how did people construct reality, what were the signposts of the mind, what assumptions of system and configuration informed perception and action?

One has to beware of this sort of thing because the tendency is to look for commonalities. That is what I like to call the tyranny of relevance ... what can I find in the mind of Sargon that is like me. No doubt that sort of thought is comforting, but making the assumption that relevance and an unrequited empathy is the purpose of the study of history predisposes us to project our own being backward. That would be at best idealism and at worst an underhanded teleology. In other words, the approach that starts and ends with commonalities across the millennia either postulates some prior universal humanity, which would be a religious concept, or it assumes that history is the process whereby the present drags the past behind it.

I am human, of course, and I want to know what it would be like to be in Uruk in the third millennium before the myth of the cross ... I want to know how those people are just like me. But that is a projection; it has to be balanced with an understanding of how they differ.

So, from reading the magnificent Landmark Herodotus ... there are two themes that I found constantly in Herodotus.

Firstly, at least in the written word, there is a familiarity with the immediacy of death that we have lost in the modern Western world. That is a subset of the immediacy of culture and habit and action. Herodotus explains things very plainly and forwardly, even when he speculates about underlying causation. He is plain with his audience as if they are at his side. This is partly explained by his writing for a world which was still radically aural ... aural is in the hearing side of a radically oral society. This was a world where, notwithstanding writing, people knew things by reason of their having heard them ... and speaking and hearing were formalized in a way that we have lost. Now, we lost that way only recently, and there are still many places where that way has not been lost, or at least not fully lost. But in a radically oral society, and especially in a radically oral society before the invention of a radically literate society, people thought differently than we do.

That difference ... and I reference my dissertation on this ... is the difference between the primacy of authority over authenticity. In the ancient world, authority spoke, and authority guaranteed authenticity; we, by contrast, are obsessed by the authentic, and afraid lest we have been conned into accepting something inauthentic. In that sense, for us, authority exists primarily to guarantee authenticity. Herodotus never thinks of the authentic ... notwithstanding that he often does not believe things he has been told. He wonders about the veracity of who told him about things, and he posits veracity based on that. There is a religious dimension to this. You never read him saying that some passage is the inerrant, uncreated, permanent word of god ... in other words authentic by reason of the text being authoritative. Rather, you read him speaking about the authority of various interpretations of oracles. It is curious in this world where science and religion were genuinely inseparable that the divine was revealed not through inerrancy but through interpretation.

So the immediacy about which I started this section is an immediacy of speech and person and authority. And that dovetails with a world view that is immediate. I noticed how flatly Herodotus explains culture ... this or that is the habit of such a people. He does not layer his explanation with any ideology of acceptance or non-acceptance. Difference inheres in peoples and locations, and that is the way the world is. We do not see universals in Herodotus. We see a wide-eyed explanation ... albeit with plenty of sly self-credentialing ... where he postulates an audience that will accept his revelation as true because he is an authority. Immediacy, authority, interpretation.

Note how that differs from the Christian world with its distant god ... a world of mediation, authenticity, and, paradoxically, inerrancy. So ... and I slide into the tyranny of relevance here ... there is an argument that in some ways liberals and our love of ambivalence share at least the notion of interpretation with Herodotus where modern christians share virtually nothing.

So, on to the second theme ... reciprocity, or balance. Not balance in the sense of equality, but reciprocity in the sense of the action assuming or predicating or predicting the unavoidable countervailing counteraction that will balance the scales. For example, pride always calls out a comeuppance. The gods are the agents of this phenomenon, but they as much as we are bound to it. Reciprocity, in that sense, is a characteristic of reality, an ether in which we live. It is inescapable in Herodotus. It can be complex, and sometimes the reciprocity is paid by subsequent generations ... that, of course, is another part of the ancient mind, the corporate nature of the individual's being. And again, that is something that has not disappeared in much of the world. But I would aver that these notions were unquestioned in the ancient world where even in a place like Diyala province in present-day Iraq, people are aware of the antithesis to their corporate notion of personality ... that's why they hate us.

Reciprocity in Herodotus exists on the grand scale ... the Athenians helped the Ionians to revolt against the Persians, and the Persians burned Athens to the ground. But the Persians profaned various temples, so they lost at Salamis and Plataea. Herodotus explains all of this, as above, flatly and plainly, if artfully. He explains it as my grandfather explained the birds and animals, and the way that you do things. He explains it as if it is plainly real, true because it is, not because it is authentic.

So immediacy and reciprocity. Not that those are exclusive to the ancients. I have to find a way to express what was different about the ancients, and those are starting points. That's why I read history. I have finished Herodotus ... I thought him an excellent way to start thinking about the ancient mind. Now I am reading the history of the ancient Near East. Let me say only this about that ... the time from the first writing that we have from Uruk until Alexander defeated the Persians is longer than the time that separates us right now from Homer. Pause, my friend, for a moment, and think about that.

In the meanwhile, I have finished the second of my ancient Turkish beers. It is full and honeyed and grained. I know it is ancient because the label assures me of its authenticity ... and that is a relief since I paid $13 for four of them. Authentic ancient beer in a modern bottle. The authority is a web site put up by the makers ... and that I distrust. Hmmm.

Photos by Arod of statues at Sans Souci, Great Frederick's palace in Potsdam, Germany.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Idol Performance

I guess I will blog this live ... at least a little. I'll take some TV pix and upload them sooner or later.

What the hell is a "guy-liner"? ... says Ryan with reference to Adam.

Adam 1: Mad World ... seemed too cool, no climax. Not sure why he picked that song. I think he has to play all the different chords. This was laid back and not the high vamp thing we have seen too much of lately. Maybe that is the strategy. Very nice, but I didn't think it was a blow-away.

Kris 1: Ain't No Sunshine ... not as good as the first time he sang it. Lacked a bit of edge, and maybe a little overthought. But a sterling performance, with full and rich voice. I love that song, and I love the way he does it.

First round is a tie.

Adam 2: Change Is Gonna Come ... big, over the top. Bluesy and hard rock. This is what he does, and what he blasts out of the park. Wow! Took a classic and made it something utterly new. And, yes, the emotion was raw and gutsy.

Kris 2: What's Going On ... Sweet voice, but it seems like he doesn't know what the song means. Still, rocking performance. I just love the richness of his voice. But, the performance betrayed a lack of depth. Sweet, not deep.

Round two to Adam.

Adam 3: Horrid song, by Kara et al ... not really designed for Adam, but he made what he could out of it. It might seem to be his genre because it is so over the top. But he actually can wrap himself around a good song, and this song had too many elbows for wrapping. Not his choice, but he did as best he could. Impressive, not a home run. Christ, he's wearing a crucifix!

Kris 3: Sam song as Adam ... No Boundaries. Wow, he had trouble with that. Just a crappy song. What a way to pull the air out of the tire. I thought he was pitchy and all over the map. Never quite figured it out. Way to high for his rich lower tones.

Round 3 to Adam.

So I think Adam won the night. But I figure that Kris will win the competition; he is just better designed for the broad middle. NO doubt though that Adam outsang Kris tonight and he deserves the prize.

Kris 3:

Monday, May 18, 2009


The play is called Boleros for the Disenchanted but I am not sure that I get it. I'm not sure who is disenchanted in this play by José Rivera, performed before my crying eyes at the American Conservatory Theater. By crying, I mean a little weepy as the thing proceeded.

The play has two acts, the first set in 1953 when the protagonists, not so loosely based upon the playwright's biological parents, met and married in Puerto Rico, and then in 1992 when they are aged and one dying in Alabama where, so it seems, a long road just ran out. The first act was sharply written, and it made the writer's point that love and happenstance and perseverance in the service of ideals can find fruition. The second act was probably a smidge overlong and indulgent, but it too made the writer's point that love and happenstance and perseverance in the service of ideals cannot protect us from pain and decline and death. I should note that, as usual, the ACT set people outdid themselves, especially in the first act where the environment of the village was indicated by a series of hanging models of tiny houses, and the simplicity of life is indicated by the porch of a small house occupied by a bitter anti-American old man and his long-suffering wife.

The play was thankfully free of the butter-not-melting-in-the-mouth ethnic purism that infects so many pieces like this. It was a piece about people struggling to be and succeed in a world pitted against them. Their ethnicity was a fact but not the moral center of the story. I am sensitive to that because there are aspects of my parents' lives that mirror what Rivera portrayed of his parents. My parents are not possessed of the retreat into ethnic identity to which so many so cloyingly cling in this era where the essential readily trumps the substantial. Rivera avoided the trap, and it made his piece more universal, more visceral.

It made me think of my own parents, and it touched me. It does not matter that this was not a play in the tradition of magical realism, because it simple reality and its unaffected dialogue left me unarmed in front of knowing what I know about how life turns out.

The first act was in 1953 ... that's when I was born ...

Not exactly certain when mother and father met, but they lived only a few doors apart during their teenage years, and they married in 1951. Dad was more adventurous than Mom in youth, but he soon founded a business and a family. Notwithstanding all the dross of everyday life, what my parents had in spades was ethics and honesty and a commitment to doing what is right.

So this is not meant to be a long rumination on what my parents went through, or how they sacrificed to bring us up. It is meant only to say that what Rivera wrote in the first act, notwithstanding how far away it was from my parents encountered at roughly the same time, spoke to me about what they experienced when they met and married.

And so cut to the present. Dad has had a stroke, mother cares for him, and all the dross of the past dissolves in the face of their irreducible commitment to each other. I could think it is sad, but life is not a circle but an arc, and eventually the arc comes to ground again. Like Rivera's parents, my parents have lived the arc, and now it approaches ground again. What marks them as honest people is not just that they are together, but that the fullness of the bond between them exhibits in its every moment the fullness of the lives they have lived.

So, Mr. Rivera succeeded. He set out to display the meaning of an old relationship, and he made me think of the best old relationship I have ever witnessed. So, to return to where we started, I am not really sure where we find the disenchanted referenced in his title. Because staring the fullness of reality in the face is not disenchantment ... it is the stuff of living itself.

Photos by Arod of my parents. The two sketches are of mother and father and they have long been on the walls of the various places they have lived; bottom photo taken at a family event about a year ago.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Somehow I missed the whole Eurovision thing ... not a bad move given the paucity of time. But for pure schmaltzy pop with that soupçon of fagginess that marks its as no-doubt European, who can top the cutest guy in the world with a violin, Alexander Rybak.

What a babe!

The event was in Moscow, and the grey and grisly Russian state could not restrain its medieval bloodlust even when the eyes of the world are on it. The thugs in uniform that are the Russian police violently broke up a gay demonstration.

It is noteworthy that Rybak condemned the Moscow police. He stated, "Why did they [the Moscow police] spend all their energy stopping gays in Moscow when the biggest gay parade was here [in Eurovision] tonight?"

Also, check out this documentary on being gay is Russia on Youtube

Most of the information in this post comes from the incomparable JoeMyGod blog. Must reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama, Adam, and a Bunch of Whores


When I think of Obama right now, I keep thinking of torture and gays, and he is off course on both. We have high hopes yet, of course. If he does manage to get a health care proposal in front of Congress, and if there is some movement towards financial re-regulation, both within the next few months, well we can consider that movement. But right now Obama seems a little bamboozled.

The torture thing, like the economy and the various wars, are not his fault ... but they are his problems, and problems trump fault. The constant chatter on torture, likewise, is not something he can do anything about. Both the 'publicans and the new aggressive left talking heads can't get their minds off it. And this is a problem for the agenda.

Yes, torture is horrible, and ... surprise, surprise ... the dubyaites lied and fudged and used torture to try to extract "proof" that the tyrant Saddam was in bed with the puritan al-Qaidah. But what does banging that drum get us right now? What it does is to make Dick Cheney relevant. What it does is to keep Bush in the conversation. What it does is give various troglodyte 'publicans a platform to call Obama a traitor. And what it does not do is to reveal the opportunity to break out of the old politics into the new.

I saw a piece ... can't seem to locate it now, but will substitute this note for a link if I stumble on it again ... today which noted that Obama seems to have been bamboozled by his generals. I think that is true in regards to his failure to pull any significant units out of Iraq. But Obama has to refuse to release more photos of torture. There is no upside for him, he hardly needs in any real sense a further proof of the immorality and anti-democratic ... indeed anti-American ... nature of the Bush administration. And the release of those photos would only serve to infect his efforts to re-orient American foreign policy with the very poisons he seeks to supersede. I am certainly for transparency, and Obama came to office on a platform of transparency. But this is no win for him. Or for us. Revenge traps us in the past, no matter how well-deserved; I think it serves the 'publicans if only because it feeds their ability to obstruct and delay and get in the way.

Oberman ... Maddow ... move on. Leave dubya behind. What about the agenda for the future?

Now gay rights works the same way, only Obama is here the one who is hanging on to the past to no good effect. If he killed "don't ask, don't tell" today, the news cycle would be two weeks long, and then it would seem like it had never happened. Gibbs, press secretary, had this to say "'To get fundamental reform in this instance requires a legislative vehicle,' Gibbs said. 'The president made a promise to change the policy; he will work with the Joints Chief of Staff, the administration and with Congress to ensure that we have a policy that works for our national interests.'" To use a word, what a pile of horseshit. Have some chutzpah, Obama ... just do it.

But ... and this is getting to be an eerie refrain ... he doesn't just do it. I understand the cool, the need for timing. But the enemy ... I mean the 'publicans ... are on the run. Gay marriage is sweeping the country. We are still spending scarce federal dollars chasing Arabic speaking faggots out of the army.

Have some goddamm balls, Barack ... just end the stupid policy.

But "no" ... because we are still living in the era of dubya ... and the torture and the gay debates prove it.

When do we move on?

American Idol

I am glad that Gokey is gone. He bugged me. I never really liked his voice, and the performances seemed carbon copied to me. But I suppose I did let my bias interfere with my critical faculties to some degree. He's probably better than I think.

He double-bugged me when I got wind of the christian conspiracy to win him. Hardee har, they didn't win ... oops, that is not nice. Regardless, it says something about the curiosities of American Idol voting, but because they do not provide us with any demographic data, we can only speculate ... badly. I hope they re keeping this data somewhere, because some enterprising doctoral student should make a great dissertation out of it some day. The Twittersphere was alive with Christians promising to hang with Kris ... but that stinks a little given that, christian though he may be, they gave him no succor last week.

I thought Adam was predictable on Tuesday. Two hard, hard rock performances. I want the raw, shocking creativity of his "Ring of Fire" performance; I want him again to do something that we have never seen from anyone before. I think if he does that, the sheer velocity of his talent makes him the winner.

That of course relies upon a notion that there is a large portion of the voting audience who vote from the performance rather than the prejudice. And that is good.

I really like Kris Allen too ... although he should stick to a lower register. In the return to Arkansas piece, he sang a folk song and kept the voice down low ... it is so rich and sweet not like candy but like molasses. He will be a luxuriant, velvety balladeer, and I love that schmaltz.

So in a sense, it does not really matter who wins, except that I want the fag to win. When I scratch myself, more often than not, my predilections devolve to this ... if it's good for the fags, then it's good.

So Adam, blow us away. Make it a romp. We'll all groove to the puppy a-croonin', but we will suffer spine chills when you make music no one has imagined before.

Whores redux

So Craigslist caved, and killed their Erotic Services in favor of something called Adult Services. Pretty much the same thing, as far as I can tell, except nobody speaks the nasty words, there are no naked pictures, and ... curiously ... they no longer categorize by m4m or w4m. What's that about?

When will we realize that people have sex? When will we realize that all of the bad that comes with prostitution is made worse by illegality? When will we realize that a service like Craigslist would allow a rational approach to public health to monitor disease, offer services, and protect people. Oh well. More idiot madness in the service of foot-stomping politics. I guess Craigslist had to semi-fold. But what a waste that we spend public resources on trying to prevent people from consenting activities.

Photos by Arod of street art around Florida Street. I took these photos in 2005. The third photo, near Harrison and 15th, has a legend that states that it is "De Frontera a Frontera," by Joel Bergner, June 2003.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Potentially Ephemeral

photo of the author's office in 2004 after he published the annual catalog
Tuesday morning we had an annual wrap breakfast meeting for the division in which I work at MRU, the major research university where I turn pirouettes in exchange for a sack of tutus delivered to my bank account twice monthly. Naturally there is a grim mood everywhere, and our division had its share of cuts and layoffs. But we soldier on ... I think I see a lot of that in higher education, soldiering on. Until that layoff actually knocks at your front door ... think grim reaper ... my job is to make the most of it, to rise to the challenge, to continue to shape my job.

Work is so utterly different now than it was when I first entered the work force in the 60s as a teenaged convenience store gnome. We all know that. Nowadays, very few jobs worth having are stable; there is constant change and pressure not just to grow and learn, but to move and re-orient, and most importantly to re-invent. Notwithstanding the stress and nerves, I really enjoy that part. I am not particularly adept at letting go, but I hold my breath and do it when necessary, and most often whenever I have let go of something at work, a week or a month later I can only wonder why I had an issue with it. You just have to roll, and when you don't feel like rolling, roll anyway and pretend its okay ... soon enough it will be okay.

The other aspect of modern work that drives us mad is that the workload constantly increases. It is like a giant snow-shoveling operation in which you keep pushing the stuff ahead of you. Yeah, I get a lot done, but I spend too much time managing the things I do not yet have time to do. Even that provides an opportunity ... the opportunity to play with new technology in search of better ways to stay ahead of the work that new technology produces.

A few weeks ago, facing the reality that even work that seems so solid is in fact potentially ephemeral ... I'll come back to that phrase ... I decided that a change is as good as a rest, and I resolved to ante-up the fashion statement. Since then, I have started to wear dress pants, dress shirts, and dress shoes. I always wear a tie to a meeting, which means a tie pretty much every day. Why? It just seemed like the right way to make a statement that I understand that I am committed to this work thing, notwithstanding that life as a gentleman farmer would be so much less stressful.

And, yes, I know that "potentially ephemeral" is an abomination of a phrase ... because the potential might only be exhausted long after the ephemeral had evaporated. But I wrote it, and blogging is about spitting it out, and I like it ... and it stays. Besides, work really is potentially ephemeral because once the ephemeral, the quotidien, is gone, so is the potential. That is how modern work differs ... before, jobs could go on and on relatively unchanged for decades. They were potentially immutable. Immutability dissolved into ephemerality at some point, and we hardly noticed. We were too busy flitting from one thing to another.

BTW, don't get me wrong. I love my job. It is the perfect job for me. I do really well. I do wish I had more power, I certainly wish I made more money. I wish I were 6 feet tall. But it is all pretty damn good. Certainly a hell of lot better than the alternative.

I guess that alternative would be the realized ephemeral, and that would be the grim reaper.

I meant to ramble on about something totally unconnected with what I have written ... but I'm going with this. I meant to think about stress and avoiding becoming an old scold. Oh well, there's another post in the closet ready to be dragged out when nothing else occurs to me.

photo of a sanstaone architectural detail at the university at which the author works
Top photo by my staff the day after I pulled an all-nighter to get the catalog to press in 2004. Bottom photo by Arod of an architectural detail from MRU, the major research university where I wander around with my digital camera taking pictures of architectural details.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

30 Minutes Free

photo of a TV screen showing the San Francisco Giants' pitcher Tim Lincecum
The photo above is from a few days back and is my favorite pitcher, the Giants' Tim Lincecum. I meant to spend the evening watching wee Timmie pitching against the hated Dodgers of Los Angeles, but the game was at one rather than five, so I have just tuned in to find that the Giants scored two in the top of the 13th and went on to win.

The Dodgers are without Manny Ramirez, of course, because he was caught with untoward chemicals coursing through his veins. Manny complains that he took something prescribed by a non-Dodger doctor, but he took the 50-game suspension anyway. Not much protest for an innocent man. Perhaps because the steroid in question is widely believed to be a female hormone which curiously restarts testosterone production after a run of steroids. The country meanwhile froths itself up into further shock that ... egads ... there are steroids in baseball. What ... "gambling at Rick's"!

All sorts of writers and pundits and persons on the street call for their ... heads. No punishment is too severe. Ban, 'em, jail 'em, spurn 'em, and most assuredly don't let 'em into the Hall of Fame. I'm with San Francisco's incomparable sports columnist Bruce Jenkins who wrote in yesterday's Chronicle: "Better to just drop the [Hall of Fame] integrity clause and make conspicuous note - right there on the plaque - of any inductee's transgressions. Here stands Barry Bonds: noted cheater, hell of a ballplayer. Judge him as you will."

No one calls for a rationale approach to steroids, one in which we research pros and cons, and look for ways to use the economic value of performance enhancement to provide medical value for all of society. No, better to just point.

Because we have a problem in this country ... I would call it a madness of blaming. We are a giant audience of finger pointers, slouching in our lounge chairs and digitating madly at all the bad folks out there, all the people who got caught, everyone we can feel superior to. Nyah, nyah, you got caught ... off to jail with you.

photo of a billbord displaying a pair of grim darj eyes and the words Armes Citoyens partially visible at the bottom
There's another story in the news, totally different and horrifying. It seems that some whack jobs outside Dallas deliberately shot four people whom they thought were trespassing. Only it turned out they weren't trespassing. And it turned out that one of the four shot people, a seven-year-old boy, died. These lowlifes shot and killed a seven-year-old for apparent, though not evident, trespassing. What is even more horrifying is that under Texas law, chances are good that there would have been no charges had the four actually been trespassing.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the shooters' property was protected with a sign that read "Trespassers will be shot. Survivers will be reshot!! Smile I will."

This too is a part of the madness of blaming, though in a different sense than the self-satisfied finger-pointing at Manny Ramirez. These are people who sit on their front porch, rifles in hand, waiting to find someone to blame, and shoot. Imagine them scampering around grabbing the hardware ... "there's trespassers, ma ... git yer gun." The stir-crazy rage of people whose focus in life is so narrow that even a hapless puncturing of their property line calls for bloody murder.

Blame and panic ... albeit, in this case, a carefully contrived and self-absorbed panic.

photo of street art in which an apparently Chinese woman is carrying bags of goldfish with a background that appears to be Hong Kon
Blaming and panicking. But it is typically a short cycle of blame and panic ... and thereby a kind of cheap panic. That is the tonic in these times for the overwhelming crisis that faces the species. Cheap panic. One day it is swine flu, then it is Manny, then it is a big-eyed girl child lost somewhere. Each of these items real and worthy of attention. But the short cycle of panic and blame reduces them by exploding them, turns them into bling when they are real events worthy of intelligence and reflection and examination.

Of course, we all know this. And we all know that there is nothing we can do about the permanent short cycle of cheap panic.

Rather, we are a society that is in the grip of a manic permanent state of recycling panic that is called the Republican Party. Not saying anything new here. They are proud of running around fowlly screaming that the sky is falling. Indeed, one terrifed opponent of gay marriage admitted as much in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle: "'We absolutely believe the sky is falling,' said Kris Mineau, a former Air Force pilot and pastor who is president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. 'But we believe it would be a generational downfall, not an overnight downfall.'" That's a change in tune, of course, but hardly a surprising one. Given that christians have been eagerly anticipating the apocalypse for 2,000 years, they have a lot of experience with stringing out their panic. They have, indeed, succeeded in grafting this theology of fear and panic ... and blame too ... onto one of the two quasi-state institutions that masquerade as political parties in this country.

photo of a billboard of a young man staring wide-eyed
So the 'publicans feed on and off panic. Big whoop. What annoys me is the degree to which our love of cheap panic in the hands of such commentators of Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow is having the effect of enabling Republicans to continue to dominate the national political debate out of all proportion to their shrinking base. Don't get me wrong ... I love those two. I listen to them most evenings as I go about my household duties after work. But they need to spend more time focusing on the debates within the dominant party about how to implement the perspective that accompanied Obama's great victory. Instead ... drub drub drub ... punish the torturers, lampoon the idiots, point fingers at the hypocrites. And, as the inimitable Talkingpointsmemo pointed out today, "Can it really be true that the list of Americans who will appear on the Sunday shows this weekend is David Petraeus, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain?" Folks, it is not getting the job done.

And it undermines Obama who seem too willing to use the racket as an opportunity to soft pedal the perspective. He came into office as a man of big ideas. He is operating right now as a man happy that things are still moving along. Permanent cyclical panic as a mode of national life makes it nearly impossible to break out of the trap of tiny ideas, of yesterday's assumptions.

In other words, pointing fingers at Manny is of a piece with clean coal. Both issues would benefit from rational analysis and the development of policies that point to a new vision of the future.

photo of a sign reading 30 minutes free
But I am not optimistic. We are, with a nod to my last post, a bunch of cheap whores easily bought off by cheap sugar, cheap fat, cheap panic, cheap gas, and cheapening of the self that is a national obsession with finger-pointing. As long as we have our cheap we just roll on to the next thing. Not a lot of room to break out into something different when we are stuffing our pudgy faces with the moral equivalent of Twinkies.

So, there's a post ... 30 minutes I will not get back. A cheap 30 minutes.

30 minutes free. See ... I like cheap stuff too.

Photos by Arod: top photo of Tim Lincecum taken a few starts ago from my TV set; second photo taken a few years ago from a poster on Haight Street advertising a televised soccer event; third photo taken today on Linden Alley of a new piece of street art that replaced one of my favorite Obama pieces; fourth photo taken today of a poster on Lafayette alley advertising some upcoming Fox TV show that I promise to ignore; and the last photo taken today from a Walgreen's store window also on Linden alley.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Whores or the Whores of Bablyon

Photo of morning skyline of San Francisco with low glowering clouds
It was a dark and stormy morning, and your faithful scribbler was walking the dog when a terrible thought occurred to him ... what if we treated the Whores of Babylon the way we treat whores.

So let's think for a moment about that original Whore of Babylon, who appears in the most laughably ludicrous book in the bible, Revelations. Now, the constant reader will know that I hold that religious history is endlessly fascinating, but theology is just bunk. So in that spirit, I offer an excerpt derived from the excellent and indispensable Skeptics Annotated Bible, and then I will offer a little freelance theology which, like all theology, will be bunk:

Revelation 17
17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
17:2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
17:3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
17:4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
17:8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
17:12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
17:13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
17:14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.

Obviously the text is talking about bankers. I mean they sleep with kings, they are the acknowledged abominations of the earth, and they feed the beast. And the kings are of one mind and give all their power to the beast, that is the bankers. Now the Lamb is obviously Obama ... I mean if you change the 'O' to 'L' and flip the 'b' with the final 'a' and then pronounce the resulting double 'aa' as in 'baa', you get Laamb ... bray it aloud, Laamb ... Obama ... Laamb ... Obama. See!

I defy anyone to tell me that the official theology of the whack job fundies makes any more sense than this. For crying out loud, the Jehovah's Witnesses say that 17.8 refers to the League of Nations and the United Nations. Surely it is no more far-fetched to take Lamb and make it Obama. That reminds me of one of the most hilarious of the old late night evangelists that I used to watch when I was a grad student ... Gene Scott, deceased these four years ... who used to scratch indecipherable nonsense on a blackboard that proved that he knew the inner dissection of the words of the Bible. He always styled himself Dr. Gene Scott ... he got his doctorate in education from Stanford, but he evidently lost any commitment to proof or rationality after he fled the hallowed halls. All skeptics miss the sublime comedy act of the late, ludicrous Dr. Scott.

But I digress.

photo of glass building in downtown San Francisco with reflection of an older building
So bankers are the whores of Babylon, and there is much ritualistic if not literal flaying of these whores in the public press. Everybody wants a piece of them. Well, that would be everybody but the Department of Justice who apparently wants no part of prosecuting them for obvious fraud and malfeasance. And everybody but the Congress who still cannot bring themselves to rein in the insane executive salary self-indulgence. And everybody but the stress test "doctors" who apparently took a page from the fat, tattered tome of the aforementioned Dr. Scott when the stresses to which they exposed their subjects were apparently somewhat less than the stresses under which the rest of us labor. And, well, everybody but our sainted Laamb, Obama himself, who appears to be slowly draining the air out of the big balloon of financial re-regulation. It is of a piece, alas, with a seeming slow deflation of everything in the Obama Laamb, and I shall return to that.

In other words, when it comes to bankers, the notorious and ubiquitous tough talk of American public life amounts to nothing. They steal what they want and all the fulminations and chalkboard antics and fevered press conferences keep adding up to nothing. They fornicate with kings and "the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of [their] fornication." Face it, we are a society in which millions figured they were millionaires because they were drunk with the worthless paper upon which their fortunes were based. And face it, we took the tainted wine and we drank it deep.

Well ... "they took the koolaid, we got screwed." By the whores of Babylon.

photo of a billboard in San Francisco with the image of a man looking down, and there are green leaves above the billboard
Meanwhile, there are other whores in the news. Several attorneys general, evidently taking a break from their breathless efforts to track down the whores of Babylon, have taken it upon themselves to close down the erotic services listing on Craigslist. The South Carolinian exemplar ... proving again some 149 years later that many of the worst ideas in American life originate in South Carolina ... has threatened criminal prosecution. Craigslist to its credit has declined, at least so far. They state that they have a legitimate business interest in keeping the services ads out of the personals area. But more importantly, they argue that what people post is not the responsibility of the service which allows people free speech.

But I do not want to argue about free speech here. I want to argue that the state has no business monitoring fornication. The reactionaries who have nearly destroyed the capacity of the United States to govern itself with the Reaganite obscenity that "government is the problem" never shrink from expanding the intrusion of government into private lives. Feel-good-for-themselves liberals too often chime in with support for the continued criminalization of prostitution by bleating, Laamb-like, that many prostitutes are oppressed by their pimps, or that many prostitutes are enslaved or trafficked, or that many prostitutes are addicted to drugs. But those are not arguments ... beating up your whore is illegal, and trafficking in human beings is illegal, and drugs perversely are also illegal. Making prostitution illegal only creates space in which to oppress that portion of whores who are beaten, trafficked, or besotted.

Of course, the vast majority of fornicating occurs in a gray zone. Isn't the kept woman a whore by the definition applied to Craigslisters? Isn't the wife who only screws the hubbie whom she hates in exchange for goodies a whore too? Isn't the hot dude who trades sex with the slick codger in unspoken exchange for clothes or bling a whore? You see, the difference between sugar and whores is the explicit statement. And our fatuous, preening, red-tied moral guardians ab-whore directness of speech. I mean, people have sex ... even 'publicans. But saying you have sex is just not allowed. And publishing it on Craigslist gets these tight-necked fulminators into a briny palpitating sweat.

To paraphrase the ghoulish Revelations, the whore is arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication ... in other words, the whore dares to be proud of herself. And dare to speak, dare to be open, dare to parade your joy in pleasure and service. Dare, and the nervous, beady-browed haters and revilers will bring their loathing upon you.

I say, leave the whores alone. Bring it into the open, and chase down the pimps and the traffickers. Let people who want to have sex have sex. And let those who want to, or have to, pay for it make an honest deal with an honest hooker.

photo of a reflection of a skyscraper in a pool in downtown San Francisco
You see, it is a world upside down. The banker whores of Babylon not merely survive the conflagration they have brought upon everyone else but prosper and pile up their riches even higher. And the little minds of South Carolinians decide to target again and once again the meek and defenceless, the painted women and barefoot men who do not have filthy lucre and do not have a "golden cup" in which to collect their fornications.

Now upside down worlds are hardly a novelty. But we are in this new era, and the seeming slow deflation of everything in the Obama Laamb zone is the more deflating thereby. We know he is "no drama Obama" but he seems to be turning into the "little slam Laamb" the guy who pops out when the bases are loaded and then says that is bipartisanship. They took down some of their "fierce" pro-gay language from the White House web site ... no announcement on that one, even though they have telegraphed that they are unwilling to spend political capital on the repeal of DOMA or the end of the anti-democratic don't-ask-don't-tell. No one expects Obama to fight every fight, but there is a sinking feeling abroad that his bipartisanship shtick is a cover for shrinking from any fight. Certainly this unexpected Supreme Court opportunity will tell us a lot.

I am not in despair about the Laamb, but I have my eyes open, and I am waiting. We are all waiting.

photo of a bronze statue of a horse's ass in downtown San Francisco
We are waiting to find out who will stand taller in this new era ... the whores or the whores of Babylon. Stand up for the whores. And screw the whores of Babylon. Otherwise, the era of the Laamb will be a horse's ass.

Photos by Arod of sundry sights from downtown San Francisco ... except the top photo which was taken in the street in front of my apartment.

Meanwhile, aside, something I notice about the Giants' pitcher Barry Zito this year is that he has the look and nerves of a guy who desperately wants to win ... gone is the cool. I gotta hand it to Brian Wilson ... I think he made the guy vulnerable, and the winners loathe defeat so thoroughly that it hurts. Scoreless through five against the Manny-less Dodgers.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Silence Equals Death

Tomorrow is an embarrassing day for gay liberationists. Somehow some "committee" ... and I use the word with some derision notwithstanding my long history on committees ... decided that they would name May 7 as National Day of Silence for gay people. The idea is so retrograde, so obviously out-of-touch and ignorant of gay history, so ludicrously out-of-touch with what it means to be a gay person in society today. Less significantly, it signals again and once again the degree to which the left has self-absorbed itself out of relevance to the movement.

So some history. The regular reader of my scratch will know that I was a gay activist through the 70s. The photo that follows is pure credentialing ... I may be an old crank now, but I were a yute once, and nobody is taking that away from me ... this is a photo of me addressing the National Gay Rights March in 1976 in Toronto ...
photograph of Stephen Arod Shirreffs addressing the Canadian National Gay Rights March in Toronto in 1976
I wrote a little more of my history in the movement here.

I can tell you that the notion of a Day of Silence for gay people would have been viewed as the work of double agents in those days ... if it had not been laughed out the door, it would have been the subject of a stream of those special 70s-style polemics. We were not about silence, and the gay movement was not about silence. For crying out loud, one of our most infamous tactics was the "zap" when a bunch of fags would go to a straight place and kiss and hold hands and queen it up. We had guts, and we knew that silence was the language of cowards. If silence had been our kit bag, my dear friends in the movement today, we would all still be in the closet.

Think about it. The history of gay people is nearly impossible to discern because of the silence which our enemies brutally, murderously, enforced upon us. Remember the phrase "the love that dare not speak its name." That is silence. Remember what they said about us in the 70s when we finally spoke up, they called it "the love that will not shut up." That's me. I am a faggot who will not shut up, even if a bunch of cloistered self-styled radicals came up with the lame idea that sitting around with tape on their mouths represented homosexuality and our struggle for freedom. Our movement is about making noise, and every success we have had is because we have not shut up, not because we wandered around in a daze pretending to have lost our voices.

The modern gay left needs to study the history upon which they are built, and they need to shed the blinders of post-gay-liberation apologies ... I'll explain that shortly ... and look at what really happened.

First though ... how can you have a day of silence when the slogan of our struggle against AIDS was "Silence Equals Death". Let me tell you that all my friends whom I lost in the plague, they are silent. And I can swear to you that if they could speak now, they would tell us to shout and make noise and never to allow anyone to silence us. Every Saturday morning, my dog and I make a pilgrimage to the AIDS memorial grove where I recite thrice the words of my friend, the late poet Thom Gunn, in memory of my silent friends in the stone circle where these words are carved:

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

Yeah ... that is what I am saying ... the notion of a Day of Silence dishonors their memory. It is as if all that we did has been pointlessly forgotten in favor of some half-baked idea that nobody with any sense questioned. Imagine what the committee meeting must have been like when this idea first reared its head ... was there no one with any sense of history, of the struggles which have made us what we are today? Did no one think to look at where we came from? I mean this idea has less consciousness than Boys in the Band ... no, the characters in Boys in the Band had the balls to be loud, but whatever committee came up with silence as a strategy could no more have led gay liberation than the Log Cabin Club.

You know, a year ago, I tried to write this post, and it made me so viscerally angry that I stopped. I am writing it this year because only a week ago I promised to blog thrice weekly, so I am stuck with having to spit out what I sat on before. I run my brain like a committee, and I keep commitments even if just to myself ... and my inner committee has enough sense that it tosses lousy ideas into the trash heap without a vote.

So back to gay history. In the 70s, a key debate in the movement, expressed in sundry ways, was between the notion of single issuism and the notion that the gay movement had to "link up" with other movements. The genuine gay liberationists ... I was one of them ... ignored multi-issuism because it obviously spelled the death of our demands. No one liked us. My friends in the movement today, listen to this ... feminism hated us ... the women's movement did everything they could to distance themselves from us. The reason why dykes boycotted the gay movement was the homophobia of the women's movement.

They wanted us to shut up ... they wanted us to be silent. We were inconvenient. They might nod to the fact that we ought to have rights, but it was inconvenient. It played, in their minds, to the bigotry of the opponents of the women's movement. So, better the fags should shut up and go back to their drag shows in shuttered bars.

We did not shut up. We shouted. We screamed. We invaded their precincts and we made them listen. And with reference to above, that is why we do not need to apologize to the myriad ex-post-facto "supporters" who chide us on overblown claims of racism and sexism in the most liberal community in the country. We made our own liberation, not only against the bigots of church and state and common sense, but also against such bigots on the self-absorbed left who still congratulate themselves on finding ways to dump on gay men for being free.

No excuses, no apologies, no silence.

A couple of stories from my past ... at a march for abortion rights led by a group called CARAL (Canadian Abortion Rights Action League) in Vancouver in the 70s ... we jumped into the lead of the march with our banner. The organizers tried to get rid of us, but we wouldn't leave. We wanted to speak at the rally at the end of the march, and they wouldn't let us. So, with the encouragement of my comrades, I simply walked on to the stage as if it was my turn, took the mike and gave a speech. That is one of the proudest moments of my life. There was silence through the speech, but at the end, I remember a rousing cheer. Why? Because we refused to be silent.

Hear this ... Silence is death. Get silence out of your lexicon.

Another moment ... in the 70s in Vancouver, there was a lot of left wing political action to prevent the deportation of the native activist Leonard Peltier. So, as a kind of object lesson to the scolds on the left who kept telling gay liberation that it had to "link up", we "linked up." The homophobia in the native movement was thick. I was at a meeting in somebody's house ... remember I was a 20s slip-of-a-thing hippie-esque gay guy ... and I got to playing with this 5 year-old. Later I found out that there was an angry meeting in the kitchen where the father of the 5 year-old was demanding that all the gay guys be kicked out of the meeting because he didn't want me playing with his kid. That happened. Link up be damned, faggots were last. But we still did not shut up. No silence for us.

So we went to the big march for Peltier. And again, we simply took the microphone when the committee denied us the right to speak. Their silence, our voice. I have this exquisite photo of that moment, and I promise to post it here some time when I find it ... there is this little girl looking right in my eyes when everyone else is looking elsewhere. Why? Because they wanted us to be silent.

We were not silent. And now we are free. Do the math.

Another example ... the Democrats were livid at Newsom because he took a public loud position on gay marriage. But look what happened. Now gay marriage is a prairie fire. If we, and Newsom, had been silent when our "friends" and "fierce allies" told us to be silent, would we be winning in Maine and Iowa and perhaps even in California? No. Because ... my young friends ... Silence Equals Death. BTW, don't forget the episode where Obama long ago refused to be photographed with Newsom ... he has yet to prove to be our friend. Are we going to be silent with him as some have advised?

Has the "silence" crowd seen Word Is Out? Do you have any idea how that film galvanized the movement when it came out? Came out. Because today, yesterday, tomorrow, the gay movement is about coming out and civil rights. Coming out is about being loud and open and speaking. Civil rights is about refusing to be silent in the face of oppression. Any committee who sponsors Day of Silence events should have the self-respect to do a showing of Word Is Out ... because it is the counterpoint that exposes the foolishness of this idea.

Dinner is ready. So let me conclude.

I am not going to be silent tomorrow. I am not going to be silent until they give me six feet of dirt. Silence is the wrong way to go. Kill this stupid idea.

Let's have a National Day of Screaming Queens. Gay pride, not silence.

Silence Equals Death. No excuses.

Postscript: FWIW ... here's a history of the National Day of Silence. Frankly, pretty bloody lame. They actually ask "what are you going to do to end the silence? ... well, how about organizing a National Shout-out to All Oppressed Gay People. That would actually make sense.

Photos ... top by Arod of a bus shelter on Church Street ... middle by unknown of me addressing the 1976 National Gay Rights March in front of Toronto City Hall in 1976 ... bottom by Arod of the AIDS Memorial Grove.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

American Idol et al

Just a few quick notes before all the fun begins tonight. I predict that Kris Allen is gone tomorrow. I see it this way. Adam's fans got the message and will vote until their tiny little fingers start to get numb. Allison is the only woman and that will carry her one more week. Don't get me wrong ... I think either Allison or Kris would make a perfect runner up.

But what goes around comes back to bite you. And that is Danny Gokey. I never thought he measured up ... I thought it was a one-trick pony and a voice that was not very pleasant even if he hit notes and had volume and all that. I admit that last week he nailed it ... his best performance yet. But he is no American Idol.

That said, it turns out he really does have gawd in his corner. One of the best AI blogs, mjsbigblog:American Idol - I Love This Cheesy Show, revealed there is an organized evangelical campaign for him. Check it out.

Like every election, American Idol is about who votes. And like every time a fag is up for election, beware the christians! If Adam doesn't win, well, it will be the work of the devil.

I was sitting alone and reading my Herodotus in the cafeteria of the school of business, an entirely graduate affair, at MRU, the Major Research University where I hull grains in exchange for a sack of the same, sufficient to keep me adorned in dress pants and clean shirts. I decided to grab a coffee and when I returned, a noisome spectacle confronted me. A deliciously bronzed, albeit stereotypically crass and straight, laddie of mid-20s vintage had occupied a seat at my table along with a tall, pale, and evidently supercilious female. He was supercilious too but in a coarse, overbearing sort of way. I nodded my approval at their arrival ... seats are rare, after all. He proceeded to loudly declaim on his many opportunities for work in London, and New York, and Austin. He scorned her for preferring London ... "you think I want to live in London just because I'm Australian." Yawn. She had no spine, and was apparently just happy to be with the big stud. And he was a stud.

We fags see a lot of heterosexuality, and it is always a little mysterious. But the young-stud-looking-afield-with-grateful-female-hanging-on phenomenon is one of the stranger expositions. To be blunt, I'd screw 'im if he nodded at me, but I wouldn't waste 15 minutes trying to lure him into my life. And as for her, what does he think she's gonna do for him? She was retreating before every one of his "excursions", but he was so wrapped up in himself that he did not notice.

This is where the "promiscuous" gay male pattern is so superior. If these were two gay guys, they'd screw around a bit and mutually realize that there is no there here. And then move on to the next trick until something eventually made more sense. But heterosexuality seems to move so slowly that such unlikely pairings as these get stuck rather more often, and to frequently deleterious effect.

I am being obnoxious, of course, and arrogant and all that ... but not one whit more obnoxious or arrogant than my big Aussie hunk. And, yeah, he was a hunk. Yessirreebob.

Photos by Arod from around town. Top photo from a year or more ago on a billboard in the Castro; middle photo recent from the Lower Hater store window on Haight Street; bottom photo recent from a window in the Castro.