Saturday, January 26, 2008

New Orleans Business Model

This is the way we do things here. [click to enlarge]

Note: This was taken on Saturday of the weekend of the BCS college football national championship game. LSU -- the home team -- vs. Ohio State. There were LOTS of tourists in town, eager to spend money and have a good time. The store was closed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


This is so depressing.

Heath Ledger [left], whose chiseled good looks made him a heartthrob to millions and who won movie fame for playing a tragic homosexual cowboy, was found dead in a Manhattan apartment today, police said.

The body of the Australian actor, who won an Academy Award nomination for the 2005 movie "Brokeback Mountain," was found hours after this year's Oscar picks were announced.

Ledger, 28, was found unconscious at 3:26 p.m. and pronounced dead minutes later by emergency medical personnel, said Det. Madelyne Galindo, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department.

The loss of a promising young talent is always tragic. Some of us feel even more pained because of the role he'll now always be known by, even though he should have grown and been known by even greater achievements. That is Ennis Del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain" for which he got an Oscar nomination.

Gays have had a tough time in how we're shown in the movies. (Read "The Celluloid Closet" by Vito Russo. Better yet, see the documentary made of it.) We bounce from monsters to freaks to tormented artists to comic relief to flighty faggots to psycho killers to whatever. After AIDS shook up popular perception, we became noble sufferers, the secondary character who would lead the star and main character from sneering scorn to grudging respect and finally admiring acceptance. Then the AIDS guy tidily dies off. See "Philadelphia Story." Most recently, the vogue has been for the affirmation of gay guys as full, if quirky, members of society, unless we want to get married or join the Marines. We've all seen the movies. We're here! We're queer! We're running for Congress!

"Brokeback Mountain" hit a nerve because it didn't fit the mold. Two cowboys out on the range tending their herds, icons of American masculinity, fall in love. Intense, passionate, sexual love, and no doubt about it.

But the point of movie is not the first part, where Jack and Ennis fall in love. It's not that these two cowboy lovers fuck each other, it's that they almost never can. They're too scared, and only dare risk getting together for the occasional "fishing trip," once a year or so. Of Ledger, Andrew Sullivan said, "his performance in Brokeback Mountain was a gut-wrenchingly under-stated evocation of the terror and pain of the closet."

I am fortunate that, mostly because of when I was born, I escaped much of that terror and pain. Not all, though. I went through all the usual terrified agonies of gay teenage self-discovery, but got through.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall gave two powerful performances of men who would never have the chance to get through what I got through, never get a chance to find themselves and a place for their love. It was a painful, tragic, agonizing -- yet wonderful -- love story, one that may have led a lot of people to rethink some assumptions.

That's an admirable achievement for the late Heath Ledger. There should have been more.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

That Tears It

One of the more ridiculous little memes of this election is the one about Hillary Clinton's tears. You know the story. During a campaign stop at a coffee shop in Portsmouth, N.H., she got a little emotional after being asked why she was running and how she stood the pressure. She got a catch in her voice as she told how very personal it was to her, how strongly she felt about moving the nation forward.

The reactions were predictable. In Maureen Dowd's widely criticized op-ed she quoted her male colleagues saying snarky things like, "Is this how she’ll talk to Kim Jong-il?” or "That crying really seemed genuine. I’ll bet she spent hours thinking about it beforehand."

Back and forth it went. “If she is breaking down now, before winning her party’s nomination, then how would she act under pressure as president?” “[This is] the oldest, dumbest canard about women: they’re too emotional to hold power.”

Isn't a huge point being missed here? Just look at that photo, for one thing. She was in a coffee shop, surrounded by women who were either committed supporters or sympathetic. It was "safe" emotionally, as much as any public appearance could be. I think something inside her knew that, and knew that if there was ever going to be a time and place to let a little out, this was it.

Note that I am not saying that this was all planned and calculated. How could it be? She didn't know she would be asked that question. What I'm saying is that emotions have multiple components, including what we feel inside and how much of it we let show openly. Every person with a normal emotional intelligence knows how to regulate the second part, knows from the moment and the context, from where you are and who you're talking to, how much of your feelings you can let show. It's not something you calculate, you know it instinctively.

We can never know how many times Hillary has felt strong emotions during this campaign and kept them in check. I doubt that anyone knows, not even Bill. But in this place, at a relatively low pressure event surrounded by sympathetic women, she could let a little show. She knew it instinctively. It wouldn't surprise me if she needed to let a little steam off -- I would, in her position -- but she didn't do it until she was in a place safe to do so. I think we can take it for granted that if she HAD been facing down Kim Jong-Il she would have been quite a bit different, pure Ice Queen, as she should be.

What this event says to me is not that she has no control over her emotions, but that she does. Perfectly.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Suicide by Faith

OK, it wasn't really suicide, as she didn't intend to die. It was an unintentional death, and tragic. What raises it to bizarre is that so many who loved and cared for her were forced to collude in her death. The reason: her faith.

New Orleans had a cold snap last week with overnight temperatures dropping into the 20s. On Thursday the body of a woman was found in a park on the West Bank, across the Mississippi from the main city. According to the report she was a homeless woman who had been sleeping on a bench there for two weeks. Cause of death: hypothermia.

The mind easily fills in the rest. Homeless, probably mentally ill, abandoned. No money, no friends, no family, probably barely knew where she was. Sad, yeah, but it happens, buddy.

But it wasn't so. Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis deBerry wrote an article about her today, giving the name he knew her by at their church on Sundays, Lovie Collins. He knew she had been on that spot not for two weeks, but for at least six months, and he sometimes would drive by on his way home from work just to see her. The church members saw her as one of their own and were deeply concerned for her, offering her food, shelter, clothing, blankets, medicine. She was not diagnosed as mentally ill, because for that you have to see a doctor, and she wouldn't. Her family, far from being distant and oblivious, was on the spot, and as the cold was moving in two of Lovie's sisters had come to beg her to please come indoors, just for a few nights.

Except for the food, she refused everything. God had told her to.

She believed that the ministry God had called her to was to live unprotected out in the elements. I suppose that it was a demonstration of faith, based on one or the other of those Bible verses that say "God will provide." She also was convinced she was physically safe because God had told her she would be raptured into heaven on the Day of Judgment, so she couldn't die before then. She told deBerry all this when he spoke to her to see if she needed anything and, he wrote, "I knew not to argue with her."

So she froze to death alone in a park, with good people all around the city safe in their homes, worried sick about whether Lovie would make it. Reading deBerry's piece, what struck me was how these things happen because our whole society and legal system has decided not to argue with Lovie. If the convictions or beliefs or fantasies that kept her out there had been more ... secular ... social services surely could have intervened at her family's request, as she had certainly become a danger to herself by refusing even blankets as the temp dropped below freezing.

Stay out in the cold in the name of Jesus, however, and society raises its hands and backs slowly away. Stand on a street corner downtown and berate strangers, and you're arrested as a public nuisance. Do it with a Bible in your hand, and the cops look the other way. That the leading Republican presidential candidate can say he doesn't believe in evolution and not get laughed off the stage is just another example of America deciding not to argue with Lovie.

Look where it got Lovie.