Saturday, December 30, 2006

More Bush Insanity

And I mean insanity. This is sheer raving delusion, and while it may not come from the Oval Office itself, it is being enabled from there.

There are many things I will never forgive Bush for, but high on the list is his trashing of science, like asserting the idea that evolution vs. creationism is just a difference of opinion, like whether a Mac or a PC is better, and trying to make that non-existent ambivalence policy for public education.

But every time I tell myself that they just can't get any more fucking batshit insane than they have, they prove that they can top themselves. Here we go again. The National Park Service is being required by the White House to refuse to discuss the age of the Grand Canyon in order to avoid contradicting the biblical account of creation:
Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is 'no comment.'"

So the Grand Canyon was carved by Noah's flood, and this is what Bush's fundamentalist supporters want to teach park visitors, with the support of the White House. This isn't funny. It's absurd, insane, ludicrous, mad, but it isn't funny. It's dangerous. That the most powerful nation in history has fallen into this kind of ignorance, fantasy, and religious fanaticism, right up to the highest levels, is not funny at all. It's terrifying.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Lickety Lick

You may not think you know who Boots Randolph is, but you do. He's an American saxophonist, born in 1926, who in 1961 made a 45 record that is deeply embedded in the psyche of all of us. To our benefit, I would add. It is "Yakety Sax," and you've heard it a thousand times. Basically, it makes anything funny. "Benny Hill" used it a lot, as have "South Park" and "The Simpsons". Even a pretty grim movie like "V for Vendetta" used it when the irreverant gay TV comic Gordon Dietrich (Stephen Fry) was mocking the all-powerful High Chancellor, though he got squashed like a bug for his trouble.

"Yakety Sax" is inherently funny. Other things are also inherently funny, one of the funniest being when you smear some peanut butter on the top of a dog's nose and watch him lick it off. Dogs adore peanut butter, but reaching the top of the nose requires pretty extreme tongue effort.

Put them together and the result is hilarious.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Done In Our Name

This is so infuriating I don't know where to start. Jose Padilla is an American citizen, to start with. Yes, he's a convert to Islam. Yes, it's possible that he had some ties to terrorist groups when he was arrested several years ago. Yes, it's possible that he was actually plotting something terrible, an attack against US civilians.

It's possible, but we don't know, because the Bush administration locked him away as an enemy combatant and refused to give any information about the charges against him. Not until the threat of a Supreme Court ruling forced them to. So they changed his status to an ordinary criminal defendant, with charges against him that -- tellingly -- include nothing about the terrible things they told us he was plotting to do when he was first arrested, in a very high profile bust.

Now the New York Times is finally giving us a glimpse of what he's been subjected to, since as an ordinary criminal defendant he -- finally!! -- is getting the right to proper legal representation, and his lawyers are finally getting some facts out. What's coming out is horrifying.

His lawyers have released photos from an incident when he was taken to the prison dentist for a root canal. Judging from his overall treatment, he must have been in agony before they would agree to such basic medical care.

To get out of his cell for this, he first had to stick his unshod feet through a hole so they could be shackled.

He then had to stick his hands out another hole to be shackled as well. Then military guards in riot gear, including full face masks, went in to retrieve him.

He was brought out, and by his lawyer's reports, and those of psychologists examing him, he is an utterly broken man, unable to tell between delusion and reality. He is also utterly passive, completely beaten down, with about as much initiative and aggression as a piece of furniture.

And yet they not only shackle him for a trip to the dentist within the prison, but blind him and block his hearing.

Why are they doing this? He's not the Incredible Hulk, he's a broken shadow of a man, and they know this better than anyone else because they're the ones who broke him. What justification can there be for this? And we know this much about Padilla because he is an American citizen. Just imagine what's going on at Guantanamo.

Besides, just look at the pictures of those military guards. Look at them! There have been many SciFi novels and movies about society degenerating into a dystopia of totalitarian terror, with government whipping us all into line in the name of keeping us safe. Safe for democracy! Safe for freedom! In those stories the rulers say that because of the emergency -- there's always an emergency -- they're taking democracy and freedom away for a bit and putting them both into cold storage, safe keeping you know, and they'll let us have them back once this is all over. Trust us. And do as you're told by the nice policemen.

The nice policemen in riot suits and masks who look just like the ones being so nice to Jose Padilla.

IF Padilla knew anything about terrorist threats to the US, the interrogators got it out of him long ago. Not only that, but whatever he knew is stale info, as the bad guys have changed plans and tactics a hundred times since he was arrested. There can be no justification for continuing to treat him this way, unless it's just an exercise in pure sadistic cruelty. The ultimate irony may turn out to be that they've damaged his mind so severely that he's legally incompetant and can't be prosecuted.

Maybe Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld just needed to prove to themselves that they're the meanest badasses on the planet. Can you imagine what sort of Gitmo torture-porn photos have crossed the desks of these people? I would shudder to think that they literally beat off in the john looking at such photos, but I can no longer put it past them.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bad Craziness

Weird, weird things you run across. Andrew Sullivan has noted, along with many others, how much Pope Benedict XVI has tastes in vestments that are far from sackcloth and ashes, running more towards Gucci and Prada, albeit within the strictures of how the Pope is to appear. As Sullivan puts it, for this pope, every aisle is a runway. For example, this lovely hat is quite correct, very tasteful, and no doubt very expensive.

I saw this when Sully referred me to a slide show of Benedict's taste for the fabulous in the Italian magazine L'Esspresso. What startled the hell out of me was seeing this image on the sidebar of ads, right next to Benedict:

It's promoting an article in the "Style and Design" section (yes they do it in English), and the caption is "Eros d'autore." I don't think that's hard to translate.

What a juxtaposition! Of course, Benedict didn't have anything to do with that. It was the magazine. Or somebody. But the snicker factor can only get higher so long as he keeps denouncing gays while surrounding himself with hunky young priests. Like Monsignor Georg Gänswein, his personal assistant who is described as "inseparable" from the pope, seen here exploring phallic symbolism.

Cummon, guys. Find a room.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Singing Engineers

My brother Don works for an Infamous Megamultinational Corporation, as he puts it. If he thinks it discreet not to identify it on his blog, neither shall I, though what he designs very likely has a lot to do with the computer you're using to see this.

But if megamulti it is, heartless it is not. They like to do a lot to help people -- they sure have the money -- and one project to promote a United Way fund drive was an in-house talent show competition at the facility where he works, near Sacramento. Actually, it may have been company-wide, for all I know, and maybe that's why it was videotaped. Looks like it was fun but -- believe me, I know -- the line in these cases between fun and terror can be a thin one indeed. Don put it succintly:

Risk-taking is one of the Corporate Values by which we are exhorted to live our work lives. Given that when it comes to public musical performance, the less the talent, the greater the risk, some of the performers truly took that particular value to heart.

He did good though. He and a few friends had been having a lot of fun in the last few years working up barbershop-quartet-style numbers, and they did a few for the show. Not bad for a bunch of engineers.

Did they win big? Don doesn't say, so I suspect not. He is, by the way, second from the right. You will notice that he employs by far the most extravagant and theatrical hand gestures of anyone in the group. So yeah, he's straight, but obviously we do share SOME genes.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dobson Insights

It's always interesting when Dr. James Dobson's in the news. Not necessarily good, but interesting. Recently, when Rev. Ted Haggard's little secret came out, Dobson quickly announced he wanted to be part of the team of clergy and experts who would set about "curing" Haggard of homosexuality. Not any more. He just told Larry King:

I was asked to serve on a three person restoration panel and I originally wanted to be of help and said that I would, but I just don’t have the time to do that. And I called my board of directors, we talked about it at length and they were unanimous in asking me not to do that, because this could take four or five years and I just have too many other things going on.

These are the people who urge us to put our trust in Jesus, because He will never let you down. I'd find that easier to believe if I saw that kind of faithfulness in those who claim to be His followers. They can't even stand by each other.

On the other hand, Rev. Ted may be better off in the end without this guy's help. Remember, Dobson has a Ph.D. in child development and is a licensed psychologist. He puts out a daily radio show and monthly newsletter both called Focus On the Family. While he will happily expound on the eeevil gay agenda at the drop of a tract, his main emphasis is on families and child rearing. I've seen his syndicated column in the local newspaper. He has published 31 books, one of them titled Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men.

And, from that newsletter, published with Dobson's approval, here is reparative therapist Joseph Nicolosi explaining how fathers should act to guide their young sons in properly developing a strong masculine identity, advice on how to guarantee your son grows up straight:

[T]he boy's father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son's maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son, in ways that are decidedly different from the games he would play with a little girl. He can help his son learn to throw and catch a ball. He can teach him to pound a square wooden peg into a square hole in a pegboard. He can even take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help but notice that Dad has a penis, just like his, only bigger.


That last sentence is just so disturbing I don't know what to say. And this reflects the thinking of the fundamentalist right's leading expert on bringing up kids? No wonder these people are so fucked up.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Helping Out

I had a pretty quiet Thanksgiving, no guests or anything, but I did go out earlier to help the NO/AIDS Task Force with its deliveries. They have a program, Food for Friends, for delivering food to HIV+ people in the New Orleans area who have trouble getting out and shopping for themselves. They needed a few extra drivers for an extra push getting some hot food to clients on Thanksgiving.

So I showed up at 11 AM at Covenant House on North Rampart St., at the edge of the Quarter. It's a shelter for homeless teenagers and young adults, and they were letting us use their kitchen facilities. It was an easy gig. I only had to make a few stops, dropping off some packages of stuff in plastic grocery bags.

Doreen, the Task Force volunteer director, was running the show. She was very concerned about the safety of her drivers, and there were about half a dozen of us. When I asked, she said it was not about lawlessness or violence, but just the physical hazards of this damaged city. It seems a lot of HIV clients who had nowhere else to go to have come back to places that aren't very safe. She told me of a nice old lady who is not only living in a condemned building, with a red sticker on the front, but on the top floor of a condemned building. Not the situation she wants to send a volunteer into. (FYI, with that old lady, she has her people yell up from the street that her delivery is ready, and the lady sends someone down.)

So as Doreen was marshalling her forces today, she said quite firmly, "At the top of your route sheet is my cell phone number. When you complete your route, you WILL call me. If you do not do so, if you do not check in, I will go one block down the street to the First Precinct office and report you as missing, and you WILL be on the Six O'clock News."

She got 100% compliance. From me, at any rate.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Excellent Question

One of my favorite opinion columnists is Leonard Pitts, Jr., of the Miami Herald. He's syndicated, so I get his columns here in the Times-Picayune a day after they run in Miami. Recently he did a column contrasting the experiences of the Rev. Ted Haggard and actor Neil Patrick Harris, star of Doogie Howser, MD, both of whom were involuntarily outed recently. The news about Harris was no surprise to gay folks, and when the issue was brought up directly on an online gossip site, he responded with a statement that included this wholly admirable sentence:
I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest.

Ted Haggard, in contrast ... well, I think you know what happened there.

Pitts also asks the following question, in reference to Haggard:
Between this guy, the late gay-bashing former Spokane mayor, James West, Pat Robertson biographer Mel White, and Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, leaders in the "curing homosexuality" movement until they fell in love with one another, can't we now safely assume that any conservative who rants about the homosexual agenda is a lying hypocrite gayer than a Castro Street bar?

Ah, Leonard, some of us have been asking that question for a verrrry long time.

Humor for a Good Cause

Speaking of Haggard (we were, weren't we?), while his actions are certainly a serious matter, they still can be nicely perked up with some ruthless sarcasm. One M. Spaff Sumsion provides us with some, based on Dick Van Dyke's big number in the old "Mary Poppins" movie.

Donald Lund performs it here.

* * * * * * *

I used to be a master of the anti-gay crusade
Until a butch disaster blew my pastor masquerade
But if it's true I'm pounding more than pulpits, don't blame me
It's 'cause I caught my hooker-tweaker-stud's infirmity

Supertelevangelistic sex-and-drugs psychosis
Worse than plague and bird flu crossed with osteoporosis
We were playing doctor and he gave this diagnosis:
Supertelevangelistic sex-and-drugs psychosis

Umm Haggard Bakker Swaggart umm Tammy Faye
Umm Haggard Bakker Swaggart umm Tammy Faye

I found the perfect therapist - the kind that gives massage
I like to drive my Escort and I park in his garage
I swear he only serves me crank when all his Coke is gone
And then he helps me straighten out my Peter, James, and John

Supertelevangelistic sex-and-drugs psychosis
That's my greatest guilty pleasure next to Guns N' Roses
Good thing there's no ban on it in all the books of Moses
Supertelevangelistic sex-and-drugs psychosis

Umm Haggard Bakker Swaggart umm Tammy Faye
Umm Haggard Bakker Swaggart umm Tammy Faye

It seems all pious public figures bugger on the sly
But Jesus loved republicans and sinners; so must I
Say "Holy moley, Mister Foley! That boy's underage!"
But I believe the congressman has turned another page

Supertelevangelistic sex-and-drugs psychosis
Next time, better cut me off at handshakes and Mimosas
No more meth and men for me - at least in overdoses!
Supertelevangelistic sex-and-drugs psychosis!

(Just a spoonful of crystal helps the prostitute go down...)

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Good Cause, dammit

I'm sure my hordes of readers, all five of them blood relations, know all about Ted Haggard, the evangelical superstar preacher who imploded so spectacularly just before the election. When a gay hustler spoke up and identified ol' Ted as a long time customer for meth-fueled fuck fests ("he's definitely a bottom"), it did raise a few eyebrows, hmmm? It may even have been among the final straws that helped tilt the opinion of the electorate against the hypocrisy now in power, tilting it towards Throw The Bastards Out.

But whatever you think of Ted, the guy who outed him is also worth being concerned about. He has found a blogger champion, Joe.My.God., who has this to say about him:

It was at this time last week that the last bell finally rang on the 2006 election, delivering the House, the Senate, and the majority of state governships into the hands of the Democrats. The map is blue again. And so is the sky. My face is sore from smiling and my feets are aching from all this happy dancing.

And playing a possibly vital, perhaps pivotal role in this triumph was not a politician. Not a party strategist. It was a private citizen. It was a gay man. A man who although he was risking his personal livelihood, risking his arrest, and surely risking his physical safety, he came forward and did the right thing at the right time.

That man is Mike Jones.

Regardless of your personal opinions regarding Jones' chosen field of work, you cannot ignore his unprecedented accomplishment of almost completely upending the Republican Party's last minute campaign to divert the nation's attention from the true issue of the election: the Iraq war.

Talking Heads: "The terrorists have just blah marriage referendum blah blah....stem cell legislation blah blah...millions of illegal immigrants blah blah. Um, wait a minute. We have a breaking bulletin: Pastor Ted Haggard! Head of evangelical movement! Homosexual! Prostitution! Crystal meth! Close to the President! More! More! More! More!"

Repeat on every channel.

Headlines on every paper.

For five days.

The five days BEFORE the election.

All the billionaire George Soroses in the world could not have more effectively eclipsed the Republicans' usual last minute diversionary tactics. It was pure delicious serendipity. It was kismet. And most of all, it was KARMA, baby.

Since then, Mike Jones has been getting death threats from all those good kindly Christians. He's unemployed and at least temporarily unemployable, and may even get evicted from his apartment. Oh yes, the cops are hassling him too. He lives in Colorado, after all, not in New York City. Not the friendliest place to be a nationally known gay prostitute.

What disgusts me the most is that all the gay rights political organizations are giving Mike the ten foot pole treatment. He did something very courageous, running a greater personal risk than any of these lobbyists will ever dare, and they snub him. They are assholes. Period.

Joe of Joe.My.God., however, has stepped up to the plate where those pretentious prisses would not. He has set up a way for anyone to send a donation to Mike Jones through PayPal. Joe's post on this is here, and gives you a link to help Mike out if you're so inclined.

And Joe says that in the few days this has been going forward, it has helped:

He tells me that yesterday's donations have allowed him to get caught up on his car payments, his utilitities, and even more importantly, as he put it to me, "I can eat again."

Holy shit. This man, who so many would dismiss as trash, a mere hustler, took a huge risk because he thought it was right. And he's suffering for it.

I have made a donation to help Mike get through this. He did good.

Update: Just learned something interesting about the timeline of this story, something I didn't know before. Mike Jones learned that the client he knew as "Art" was actually Ted Haggard when he saw him on the TV in August, campaigning for the anti-gay-marriage amendment on the Colorado ballot. That's what spurred him to action. Within a few days, he went to a local news radio station with the story, which sat on it for TEN WEEKS while their lawyers looked it over. Only when the election was dangerously close did Jones force the issue by going to a competing station. So Mike didn't just blow the whistle on Ted, he had to fight to blow that whistle. I like him even better.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hail, Overlord!

It's so good to have an inside connection. My brother Don, a mole with a position inside a company that I may not even hint at, lest he be whacked, has smuggled out confirmation of what we all suspected. Rumsfeld has dropped his pretence to being human, and is taking up his position as Galaxy Lord of Sector Seven, ruler of all within its precincts. That's us.

BOW to the Rummylord! BOW!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Still Deluded

Unbelievable. After getting vigorously kicked in the nads by the electorate, the [temporary] House Majority Leader Rep. Boehner still keeps spinning the web. After confessing to being "deeply disappointed" he actually has the gall to say things like this:
We made progress this year by instituting greater fiscal discipline,

Fiscal discipline???? They've run up record deficits, causing even their supporters to complain that they're spending like drunken sailors on leave.
rejecting some $45 billion in wasteful Democrat spending,

Really? Perhaps replacing it with several times as much wasteful Repub spending? [See above comment.]
enacting comprehensive earmark reform,

Oh, please. They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, pulled out a finger, and called it "reform."
and continuing to provide tax relief,

To whom, exactly?? The megarich and the corporations? Thank you for that honest answer. Which you didn't give.
but clearly we must do more and we must do better.

At least you've got that right.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Final Thoughts

One final comment before tomorrow, when it's Let The Games Begin. Look ahead to 2008, and consider how many presidential elections we've had in the last half century or so in which a sitting president was not running for re-election. Four. Three of them were because the president had served his two terms and could not run again:

1960 - Eisenhower
1988 - Reagan
2000 - Clinton

Then there's:

1968 - Johnson

who could have run, constitutionally, since he had served less than 50% of JFK's term after the assassination, but was such damaged goods from the Vietnam War that he bowed out.
For completeness's sake, the other races were elections where the incumbent was either re-elected (Eisenhower - 1956, Johnson - 1964, Nixon - 1972, Reagan - 1984, Clinton - 1996, Bush II - 2004) or defeated for re-election (Ford - 1976, Carter - 1980, Bush I - 1992).

For those four, the significant thing is that each one had a vice-president who was trying to get elected to succeed him. Namely:

Nixon to succeed Eisenhower (lost)
Humphrey to succeed Johnson (lost)
Bush I to succeed Reagan (won)
Gore to succeed Clinton (lost)

Each of those four outgoing presidents knew that after the final mid-term election of his second term, he himself would never again have to face the judgment of the voters. But each also knew that his closest political teammate, his vice-president, would. And that, furthermore, the fate of that vice-president would be a form of referendum on the legacy of the outgoing president. This had a certain restraining effect on the president's actions after that final mid-term.

But in 2008, for the first time in decades, the outgoing president will have no heir apparant. Cheney can't run, and isn't considering it. He's too old, he's got a weak ticker, and even a lot of Republicans consider him just a bit too creepy. There will be other Republicans vying for the nomination, but Bush has no close ties to any of them. It will be wide open.

So what restraining effect will there be on the Bush White House after tomorrow, however the vote goes? What will be the administration's attitude?

If the Republicans hold onto both houses of Congress, the temptation will be: "Woo hoo! We won! We can do anything we want now! BWA-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

If they lose either or both houses, the temptation will be: "Fuck it. We lost. We can do anything we want now. We have nothing left to lose."

I don't know which is more dangerous. Whatever happens tomorrow, we're in for a few years of interesting times.

OK, Comic Relief

On the theory that it's better to laugh than to weep, let's bring back Jesus and Mo. An old friend has arrived to pay a visit: Moses. Our guys share a bed as they seem short of furniture, but Moses just doesn't understand:

Or does he? And it's nice to see that the boys are keeping up with current events:

Truly Appalling

Every time I think those people in Washington can't top themselves, they pull it off. (I seem to be saying that a lot lately.) But this is truly shocking. From Edward Hasbrouck's travel blog The Practical Nomad:
The USA Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed that airlines, cruise lines, and operators of all other ships and planes -- including charter flights, air taxis, fishing vessels, etc. -- be required to get individual permission ("”clearance"”) from the DHS for each passenger on all flights or ocean voyages to, from, or via the USA. Unless the answer is "Yes"” -- if the answer is "no"” or "“maybe"”, or if the DHS doesn'’t answer at all -- the airline wouldn'’t be allowed to give you a boarding pass, or let you or your luggage on the plane.

In other words, prior restraint on foreign travel imposed on all free US citizens, whether or not they hold a passport. It's true this isn't likely to survive legal challenge, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held the right to travel to be a fundamental personal right. But that they should even want to do this is horrifying.

The most famous modern examples of such travel restrictions imposed on citizens were those of Nazi Germany and of the Soviet Union and its satellites. Indeed, those restrictions were the very symbol of the evil of those regimes, and everyone understood why. For what sane person who once got out would ever want to go back?

And Homeland Security wants to imitate those people?

Update: It gets worse. Google "Halliburton" and "detention" and you will find that Cheney's old company has been awarded an immediate contract to build "temporary detention centers" to be used in case of an "immigration emergency." Immigration emergency?? What the fuck is that??? Anything Bush declares it to be? Since he already has little problem with illegals wanting to get in -- as in a 700 mile fence to defend a 2000 mile border -- could it be he's worried about people wanting to get out??

This isn't just an Internet rumor. Halliburton has announced it on its website.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

One for the Record Books

I swear, every time I tell myself this election just can't get any weirder, it does. I was startled enough with the Mark Foley business, but now this with Pastor Ted Haggard is just unbelieveable. Except that it isn't. It's far too believeable. What a sad commentary that he seems to be more willing to appear to be a crystal meth user than a guy who likes to play on the other team now and then.

And what timing. By the way, I think it's disengenous of the evangelicals in damage control mode to try and minimize this by saying it's just politics. Of course it's politics! Mike Jones, the hustler who outed Pastor Ted, said he did it because of the upcoming election, and the antigay state constitutional amendment that Haggard was supporting.

You've heard of the film "Jesus Camp"? It's a current documentary about a rather chilling youth camp, in Kansas I believe, which indoctrinates children from a very young age to be political warriors for Jesus. "Indoctrinate" means just that. I heard a discussion on the radio about this, describing a child of about six saying how he had been searching for the meaning of life, and found it when he came to Jesus. Excuse me? A six-year-old losing sleep about the meaning of it all? Forget it. The poor kid was programmed to say what he did.

Pastor Ted has a cameo in "Jesus Camp," as it turns out. The filmmakers went to his church, the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. They filmed him preaching to his flock, saying, "We don't have to debate what we should think about homosexual activity. It's written in the Bible." Then he spots the camera, leans in close and says into the lens, "I think I know what you did last night." Then straightens up with a smirk and says, "If you send me a thousand dollars, I won't tell your wife." Shrieks of laughter from the crowd. You can see it on YouTube here.

How horrible. He was no doubt trying to stave off one of his own deepest fears, blackmail, by mocking it. Even worse than blackmail, of course, is exposure, which he is now facing. When you know his secret, the self-loathing on naked display in that clip is chilling.

And it's not as if this should have come as a huge surprise to anyone. Take a look at this painting by Thomas Blackshear:

Know where it's hanging? In the foyer of Pastor Ted's New Life Church. I don't know if he picked it out himself, but he certainly didn't object to it. And this is what the congregation sees when it comes in every Sunday. There are other Blackshears there too but this is the most homoerotic. Yeah, yeah, I know it's supposed to be Jesus lifting up a poor sinner weary with the evils of the world, but was it necessary to make it look like The Lord's starting to slip the guy's shirt off? Off of a guy who looks like he's thinking, if I just go along with this and don't say anything, it's gonna be really, really hot! Honestly, is this difficult for anyone to decode?

Man. I actually can feel some sympathy for Haggard, even though he brought it all on himself. But I feel terrible about his wife and kids. They didn't do anything wrong, except perhaps refuse to see the clues, but now their entire world has been torn to shreds. His kids were in the car for that agonizing TV interview Haggard gave, trying to sell that story about buying the crystal meth out of curiosity, but throwing it away before trying it. I can't imagine the misery of hearing your father try to save his skin with a pathetic lie like that. I expect any one of them could have come up with something more convincing if he'd just asked them for help.

What this whole mess, as well as the Mark Foley scandal, just goes to show is the horrible destructiveness of the closet. The damage it does to people and families when someone is forced to try and be someone he is not. It is a terrible place, the closet, and I'm so glad I got out of it as early as I did.

Mark Foley. Pastor Ted. Can't get much worse for the political and religious right than that. And at the top, a president so delusional he thinks he can still persuade us things in Iraq are going pretty well, and getting better all the time. Plus a Republican Congress that became so addicted to raw power that it abandoned all pretence of bipartisanship, even shutting Democrats out of committee meetings. It's not supposed to work like that. Not to mention the incredibly blatant corruption, just raking in the cash.

I'm with Andrew Sullivan on this. If all goes well this won't just be an election. It will be an an intervention.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Yes, not so sadly

Some on the left have complained for years that the righty folks can be just so much more entertaining. Funny, witty, incisive, and penetrating. You know, like Rush Limbaugh.

Ooohhh-kaay. So even a lot who lean his way find that mocking the desperately ill is not such a slap-the-knee happy-fest. Scratch that, start over.

I've found that a lot of folks on the left can be incredibly funny, witty, incisive, and penetrating, but it tends to be online, not on the air. I've found that a blog called Sadly, No! is hugely amusing, not just because of the guys who run it, but because of the fabulously clever bunch of commenters who hang out there.

I was delighted by their collective dissection of a column by this right-wing religious wingnut, talking about the Mark Foley scandal, and how it obviously means all gays are pedophiles.

The title of this article by a Dr. David Noebel is, "Will the Real Sodomy Party Please Stand Up?" The sodomy party? Really? Who do you think he's referring to? The party that for over ten years sheilded a ranking congressman with a hankering for young men subordinate to him? No?

But the Sadly, No! folks do have such fun with him.

mmm...lemonheads said,

Wasn’t that an Eminem song?

Will the real sodomy party please stand up?
Please stand up?
Please stand up?

Dr. Noebel starts his article with:

One has to shake the head violently to see if the neurons are still connected to believe that all of a sudden the Republican Party is the party of Sodom and Gomorrah.

What? Who is saying that? Has anybody been saying that? Not the Democrats, they don't have to say a word. It's more like the Repubs have been the party that condemned someone else as the party of Sodom & Gomorrah, the party that actually likes to have sex. Shocking. But now one of their guys got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Or his hand..... not gonna go there.

Moving on. I like Lalasnake's comment:

“One has to shake the head violently to see if the neurons are still connected. . . .”

Oh gods no! Please don’t tell me that Bertie Wooster has become a Wingnut!

Then Dr. Noebel comes up with this glorious statement:

Through this experience and a number of others also involving Tulsa, Oklahoma I have come to the personal conclusion that pedophilia and gayness go together like Mary and Mary’s little lamb.

One of the Sadly, No! bloggers added this bloody brilliant verse:

Gavin adds:

Mary had a little lamb,
They went around together;
While Mary played with little boys,
The lamb was into leather.

But I have to ask: Tulsa??

Friday, October 27, 2006

Wanted: Briar Cane

We just ordered a DVD set of the complete "Upstairs, Downstairs." If you don't know what that is, I'm not going to bother explaining it. Use Google. I've seen a lot of the shows, but never the whole thing, and working our way through that should pass the time for quite a while.

The two top spotlight reviews on Amazon had these interesting bits:

Before buying this set I would strongly encourage you to use a web search tool for '"Upstairs, Downstairs" US DVD' and see for yourself just how bad the picture is on these DVDs. . . . I own over 400 DVDs, have rented many more than that, and have never seen a worse transfer to DVD.

The next comment said:

I have no idea why some of the reviewers are complaining about the audio and video quality of these DVDs. . . . I suppose, if you are some type of audio/video expert you might find a few reasons to complain, but this is a 35 year old British TV show. If you expect special effects, buy Star Wars, not Upstairs Downstairs.

I am with the second guy. Jeez, these things were done in the early 70s on videotape, because it was a fairly new medium at the time and cheaper than film, and the people producing this for the BBC had very little money. I first saw these when I was in high school watching Masterpiece Theater, and later saw occasional reruns. The box set hasn't arrived yet, but I'm not expecting garish production values, just the terrific stories and acting that I remember. Yeah, I know about the limitations, and the need to use your imagination, since the doorways in this grand London mansion barely clear the actors' heads. But it's the human drama I want, not spectacle.

Which means I have reached the point where I can honestly say, "You damn kids just don't know how good you've got it." I am officially entering old coot-hood.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Will the Democrats Do?

This has certainly been one of the more ... interesting ... mid-term elections I've ever seen. I didn't comment on the Mark Foley affair before now because I was just too gobsmacked with astonishment at first. By now there's not much left to be said. Like Sullivan, I just hope that this will finally force the Republicans to confront their hypocrisy on this issue. Privately they've long had no problem with gays as friends and valued staffers, while publicly they vilify us and demonize us to attract the religious right and win elections. I don't think they're going to be able to pull that off any more.

Anyway, the big question is whether this will throw control of the House, and maybe even the Senate, into Democratic hands. There's a lot of glee in some quarters about how much will change if that happens, but there's one area where I think very little will change, and it's the area where so many people want change so badly: the war in Iraq.

The administration's unwillingness to see the disastrous mess in Iraq, its insistance that despite what we see on TV everything's going pretty darn good over there, has gone way beyond being a joke and is now just a tragedy. But if they do suffer an electoral setback in a few weeks, if the Democrats do take some measure of control, all they have to do to turn defeat into advantage is to just start noticing what everyone else has seen all along.

So if a Democratic Congress forces the withdrawal of so much as one platoon ahead of schedule and something bad happens, even at the same level it's already happening, look to see Bush on the news knitting his brows and shaking his head about how terrible it all is over there. One roadside bomb goes off, one dead civilian is found, and listen to the chorus of "WE TOLD YOU SO!!!" coming from the GOP. This of course would be rankest hypocrisy, but go back and re-read paragraph one.

This means that even if the Democrats do win in a few weeks, I think they'll be very cautious about demanding troop withdrawals. Surely they're not stupid enough to take control away from the Republicans, only to hand it back in two years. Then again, with these guys, you never know.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It CAN??

This bit from Jon Stewart's show on 10/05 is just too fuggin funny to not link to. And as many have gleefully noted about this clip, whenever rightie fundies say they have just too much respect for the divine sanctity of womanhood to let actual women do things like, say, control their own bodies, we should reflect on what Mr. Knight is quoted here as saying. Gives the game away, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Slow Kylie = George Michael

Monday, October 02, 2006

One Cheer For Me

Today is my fiftieth birthday. It's not really a huge achievement, as all I've done to attain it is keep breathing til now. But it's a nice little milestone.

My mother was here to share it with me, on her way to a scholarly conference on quilting somewhere back east. I hadn't seen her for far too long, so that was very fine.

I suppose I'll have to update my profile now.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Feeling Like Winners. Finally.

I'm not normally the biggest fan of professional sports, but for Monday's New Orleans Saints game on Monday Night Football I just had to make an exception. Boy am I glad I did.

Even if you didn't watch it, you've probably heard that the Saints methodically dismantled the Atlanta Falcons 23-3. Any home crowd would enjoy that, of course. But as I have gotten to know this city better, I have slowly came to realize just how much this team means to the local fans, despite the fact that it's usually been a pretty piss-poor team, with a dreadful win record. Despite it, or maybe because of it. This city just loves scrappy underdogs, and that's what this team has been for most of its existence. Hell, that's what the city has been for most of its existence.

And of course, Monday was the first time the Superdome was open to the public since the last desperate straggler staggered out during those days of horror a year ago to board a bus going God knows where. Many, many of those same people walked back in Monday evening, filled I am sure with a flood of emotion I cannot even begin to imagine. It was so important to the people of New Orleans to get the Dome, which had become a global symbol of misery and failure, cleaned up and reopened. It was an essential act of cleansing and renewal that would have been hugely powerful, win or lose the game.

And of course, we won. The moment that seemed to redeem everything, that had me gasping with shock as I watched on TV, is shown in the photo. To recap, Atlanta had won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, but had been unable to move the ball through three downs. Ninety seconds into the game and still deep in their own territory they had to punt, and one Saints defender blocked the punt, above, knocked the ball down and back right into the endzone, where another Saint fell on it. Saints touchdown.

I repeat, ninety seconds. The paper reports that Superdome staff -- the old hands, the beer vendors, the security cops, the ticket takers -- say they have never seen anything that came close to the volcanic eruption of jubilation when the crowd saw that play.

As usual, the Times-Picayune's Chris Rose tells it better than I could. Read it all, it's a pleasure.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Wicked Fun!!

I'm a big fan of humorist and sydicated columnist James Lileks. (There's a link to his blog on the blogroll under "Other Links.") He lives in Minneapolis and has a short daily humor column in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. A few weeks ago he did a column about, a fun service from Heinz where you can order Heinz ketchup and mustard bottles with customized labels. Within space limitations for various size bottles and jars, they will make you bottles with labels that say whatever you want, in the same style and font as their regular labels. Not too expensive either. A customized regular size glass or plastic ketchup bottle is only about six bucks.

Some ideas are obvious, like bottles for a family reunion or annual picnic, or for a child's birthday party or something. Lileks was much more creative than that. The one idea of his that I really, really, really like is having bottles made up with labels that read, "You're stoned, young man, and you're not fooling anyone," and sneaking them back onto grocery store shelves.

More Signs of Decline

Here's another article illustrating how political correctness is strangling our culture in its cradle. Jeffery Taylor is the dance critic of the London Times and a former dancer himself, and he gives an anguished lament about how few leading ballet dancers in Britain, or for that matter just members of the corps de ballet, are native born dancers:
"The top half of any British ballet company is now occupied by foreigners. Royal Ballet is going through a golden age at the moment, but the top dancers are Romanian, Spanish, Ukrainian, Danish and Cuban."
The reason he gives is one I would never have thought of, but it's so obvious once stated. As in much of the US, teachers in the UK are not supposed to have any physical contact with their students, all in the name of "protecting" children. But how can you possibly succeed in teaching ballet if you're not allowed to touch your students? You can't teach it just with words. Sometimes you have to show your student how to stand or move, by gently guiding his body with your hands. How do you teach when this is forbidden?

I never danced ballet, but I did play the violin, so I understand completely. Correct left hand playing position, while not as unnatural and artificial as classic ballet positions, is awkward and must be physically taught. Let me try and show you. Hold your left hand up at the level of your shoulder, about 14 inches straight out forward with your wrist turned around so your fingers are cupped towards your shoulder. Make sure you're sitting up straight and everything's aligned straight up and down. Now take your right hand and, without moving anything else, drag your left elbow to the right as far as you can.

Hurts, doesn't it? But without that position you'll never get full freedom of movement up and down the fingerboard. I started taking private lessons at about age nine, and if my first teacher, Gil Gleason, hadn't been able to touch me, to repeatedly move my elbow with his hand to where it needed to be, he would never have been able to teach me properly.

There's another thing Taylor touches on. Every student starts out thinking that the limits of his ability are less than they really are, and one of the biggest tasks of the teacher is to push the student beyond what he thinks he's capable of. And sometimes the necessary methods are not gentle.

When I was an undergrad at UCLA I played in the first violin section of the American Youth Symphony, composed of the best young musicians from all over Southern California, and conducted by Mehli Mehta, Zubin Mehta's father. Mr. Mehta (we would never have dared call him Mehli) was very old school, having grown up in Bombay in the 20s. He had a very distinguished international career as a concertmaster, conductor, and chamber musician, before coming to teach at UCLA in 1964. (He was also my violin teacher.)

In addition to his immense knowledge and skill as a musician and orchestra leader, he had one very effective tool for motivating us and getting the best out of us during rehearsals: screaming. He was perfectly content to be civil if things were going well, but if he thought we weren't giving him all we were capable of he let us have it, good and hard. Some resented this, but I knew from studying privately with him that this was not a sign of contempt or disrespect, but exactly the opposite. He cared deeply for all his students, much too much to let them settle for just being good enough. He would not let us be anything but the best, and he did what he had to do in order to meet that goal. It worked, too. We were the best.

But all that seems to be gone now. Taylor says that teachers are now supposed to be respectful of their students' opinions, and limit their demands to what the kids are willing to do. How do you push a child to discover his true abilities if you limit yourself to what he already thinks he can do? He recounts:
"When I was a child either they would scream at you, or sit and look at you, or say 'I am going out for a cup of tea; if you manage to jump let me know.' If a teacher did that today they would be arrested."
For the student, one of the most thrilling things in the world is when you do push past what you thought were your limits and can say to yourself, "Whoa! I didn't know I could do that!!" Is it really "respectful" of a child to deny him this epiphany? To deny him the chance to truly grow, by declining to demand of him more than what he thinks is his best? In my opinion, hell no.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Presidential Misconception

In a speech last April, President Bush said this:

One, I believe there'’s an Almighty, and secondly I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody'’s soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free. I believe liberty is universal.

The trouble is, he's dead wrong, and the reason our involvement with the Middle East is spiraling out of control is that the guy in charge has no idea what he's dealing with.

With Islamofascist terrorists, it's common for people to say, "I just can't understand people like that." That is pure bullshit, a rhetorical trope. They're easy to understand. If you really and truly believe that heaven and hell are real, and that each of us will spend eternity in one or the other, depending on the judgment of Allah after death, then no matter what Bush thinks, freedom is not your highest value and ultimate goal. Your ultimate goal is to get into heaven and avoid hell, and if you believe that freedom, yours our that of others, may stand between you and achieving that, then you will want nothing to do with it. This is not irrational. It is perfectly sensible and reasonable IF you really believe in heaven and hell.

Furthermore, suppose you believe that Allah's judgment will depend not just on doing good and avoiding evil in your own personal behavior, but in how you react to such actions in others? Fundamentalists, whether Islamic or Christian, really believe that if they see evil in the world and do nothing about it, God will hold them accountable. He will hold them complicit in the evil deeds, and this is almost as bad as if they'd done it themselves. This is why fundamentalists have such fury towards people they consider immoral. They believe the immorality of others endangers their own souls, and this drives them into a rage, whether it's Zarqawi blowing up Westerners in Iraq or Fred Phelps picketing Matthew Shephard's funeral in Colorado. The live and let live attitude most of us consider necessary to get along with each other makes no sense to them.

If this is your mindset, then hijacking airliners and flying them into skyscrapers is hardly an act of insanity, it's a sensible, rational thing to do. If we do not understand this, we will be unable to take proper measures to oppose them. That the Commander In Chief, despite being a bit of a fundamentalist himself, does not in fact understand this is appalling and scary.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Monday, August 28, 2006


Yesterday's New York Times arts section had a fascinating story about an internet mystery. About eight months ago a video started showing up on video sharing sites, including YouTube. It showed a young man in a blue t-shirt and baseball cap sitting in his bedroom by his computer, playing a hellishly difficult rock arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon, of all things, on electric guitar.

It quickly became an Internet sensation. On YouTube it has been viewed over seven and a half million times. If it were a commercial release it would have gone platinum many times over. One of the striking things about it was the guy's seeming modesty. There is none of the rock star histrionics that seem almost mandatory for guitar solos. He just sits there with his head down and plays his ass off for five and a half minutes.

It had all the ingredients to be a massive Net phenomenon. A bitchin arrangement, with background track supplied by the computer, an awesomely virtuosic performance, and that extra special touch, an air of mystery. Because what everybody wanted to know was, who the hell IS this guy?? The title card identifies him only as "funtwo." The cap visor covers his face almost all the time, and he's sitting in front of a window with blazing sunlight coming through, which obscures what little you can see the few times he lifts his head. All you could tell for sure from the skin of his arms is that he wasn't a black guy. Here's the video.

Of course, the Times ran the story because they'd tracked him down. So who was he? Click "read more" to find out.

Jeong-Hyun Lim, a 23 year old self-taught South Korean living in Seoul. The arrangement was actually by a Taiwan guitarist with the net name of JerryC. Lim decided to work up a performance of it, put it online, and see what everybody thought. As the article observed, it's a fascinating glimpse of a subculture I had no idea existed. Not Asian guitar gods, because I know one here in New Orleans, June Yamaguchi from Kyoto. No, guitar fanatics who make videos of themselves and send them to each other and post them online, so that everyone can critique each other. There are thousands of these things floating around, which is fascinating.

I think this has just become one of my favorite performances of an otherwise horribly overexposed piece.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lands Snakes!!

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is developing an entertaining habit of shooting itself in the foot with its web-based campaign commercials. The last one had to be withdrawn when the DSCC realized that millions of hispanic voters would probably not appreciate being linked to Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il.

Now we have another one. It's always amusing to see politicians trying to cash in on the lastest pop culture fad, especially those whose own kids probably see them as hopelesslly clueless. And so we have Snakes On A Senate, with animated snakes representing Republican Senators Rick Santorum, George Allen, Mike Dewine, and so forth.

I wonder how long this one will last? Probably as long as it takes the DSCC to realize that in its wisdom it has effectively adopted as its 2006 campaign slogan, "I'm sick of these muthafuckin senators in this muthafuckin Senate!!"

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Lewis Black on Quail Hunting & You Know Who

Let's see if I can make this linking to YouTube thingie work. If it does, you will get some choice words on quail hunting from Lewis Black, the angriest man in the world and arguably the funniest.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Fire: A Conundrum

I've got way too much time on my hands if this is what I'm worrying about, but here goes. We're in the realm of etymology, word and phrase origins, and this has been bugging me for a while: With cannons, artillery, rifles and pistols, why do we Americans say "fire" when what we mean is "shoot?"

As far as I know, ours is the only military tradition that does this, though the phrase has caught on just through the influence of American culture. But if you watch the classic movie Sink the Bismarck, all the British officers are shouting "Shoot!!" as a command. In German it's schiessen! or schiess auf!, derived from the verb schiessen, to shoot. In Italian it's sparare, shoot, nothing derived from fuoco, meaning the stuff with flames. Again, in French it's tirer or décharger, not feu or a derivative. And that exhausts the limits of my library's translating dictionaries.

I have a theory. Our first war, the Revolution, was against the British, a foe that spoke the same language and had the same military traditions. Hell, some of our officers had trained side by side with their officers.

On a battlefield of that time, the only way to get orders to your troops was to run or ride madly around shouting them at the top of your lungs, or have your junior officers pass the orders along in the same way. I'm no soldier, but I can't imagine anything worse from a commander's viewpoint than to have your troops uncertain whether they should be shooting or not. In the smoke, chaos, and terror of battle, with enemy officers at the other end of the field shouting, "Shoot! Shoot!" at their own artillerymen, it must have been critical to come up with a command to your men that could not be confused with the British officers' commands to their own men.

So why "fire?" Think about a cannon of the period. A cast iron tube open at one end, loaded with powder and ball, and with a tiny hole primed with powder at the other, closed end. To set it off, you touched a lighted torch -- literally fire -- to the hole, which carried the spark to the main charge and boom!

Since the American military is the only one that has its origins in such a unique moment in history, ours is the only one that uses "fire!" instead of "shoot!", and of course it's been generalized to all firearms, long past the time of cannons discharged with torches. It's interesting that with archery even we never talk about "firing" an arrow. We always shoot it. Bringing gunpowder into the equation seems to be where everything changes.

But, aha!, you say. What about the German military in the movies? What about, say, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with the big fight inside, outside, and around that outrageous tank, and the Nazi officer screaming "Feuer!!"

If there's one German word every American teenage boy knows, it's scheiss. It's a slightly different spelling from schiess, and a different pronunciation, rhyming with "shine" instead of "sheet," but it's too close for comfort. I think Spielberg must have known how disastrous it would be, how easy to change thrilling excitement into derisive laughter, if his target audience even suspected that that officer was, in effect, ordering, "Ready! Aim!! SHIT!!!" So it wasn't realistic or true to German tradition, but the change just had to be made.

Well, there's the theory, anyway. It's logical, and it holds together, but is it true? I'm well aware of the dangers of folk etymology. I've tried researching this on the web, but gotten nowhere. So if you're into military history, or, maybe, have a brother who is (you know who you are), maybe we can find out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Whistleblower

Via Andrew Sullivan, here's a story. Joe Darby was a military police officer stationed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in January, 2004 when another soldier gave him a CD with the infamous photos on it. After some serious thought he turned them in to the Criminal Investigation Division, and the rest is history. Literally. He's kept quiet about it since, but in the current issue of GQ, he finally speaks out.

What he says is both fascinating and disturbing. He says there was no conspiracy to keep what was going on from higher officers. They didn't know because they just didn't care. Couldn't be bothered to keep track of things, to actually supervise the soldiers and facilities they were responsible for. He tells how government agents -- obviously the CIA, but he's unwilling to actually say that -- could come in in the middle of the night, "interrogate" a prisoner to death, and leave it to the Army to deal with the body, clean up the mess, and take the blame, if any.

There's something else that's very clear, though Darby doesn't harp on it. Sullivan often says that SecDef Donald Rumsfeld is a bungling fool and should have been fired years ago. When Darby blew the whistle, CID went to great pains to keep his identity secret, especially after Abu Ghraib blew up into a global scandal. They promised him he would remain anonymous, but he was scared to death nevertheless. Awful lot of weapons around in a war zone, awfully easy to arrange a fatal accident. He was literally sleeping with a 9mm pistol in his hand.

He was eating in the mess hall one day with a couple hundred guys, with the TV turned to congressional hearings on the Iraq war. Rumsfeld was testifying, and actually spoke Darby's name out loud, identified him as the whistleblower. Every soldier within earshot just froze and stared at him. If he was scared before, he was terrified then, and told the Army they just had to get him out of the country. They did, and he's safe, but if that fucking idiot Rumsfeld had been trying to get Darby killed, he couldn't have done it better.

What a fool.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


An automatic mechanical dishwasher is an incredible luxury, you have to admit. For thousands of years, ever since we invented things to eat off of, we've had to clean them or get sick from the dirt. But now in our lovely modern world, when the thing breaks and we actually have to put water in a sink with soap and wash the plates with our hands ... we feel so affronted. So put upon. It's such an imposition!! We're such weens.

Yes, my dishwasher died today.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Restoring the Balance

OK, let's relax with some politics. (Tells you where I'm coming from, doesn't it?) Here's an intriguing article by a guy named Doug Muder called Ten Ideas for 2008. Muder is a New Hampshire politics junkie and unapologetic liberal. Not the cartoon liberal that Rush Limbaugh flogs on his show, but the real kind. He's posted a lot of articles on his website, and this one gives important food for thought for liberals and Democrats (they're not the same thing), about reframing the terms of the debate.

This ties in with something that's bothered me for years. The most infuriating thing about liberals is their willingness to let themselves be defined in the public mind by their enemies. (See: Rush) Muder says it's past time to change this.

Two examples. Moral values and codes of sexual conduct are not the same thing, but conservaties routinely use "morality" as a code word for sex becuase, hey, sex sells. Liberals should not be afraid to use the word "immoral" in their arguments. For the richest country in the world to let poor people die because they can't afford healthcare is immoral. For President Bush to break the law whenever following it would be inconvenient is immoral. Why not say so?

Second, Christianity is not fundamentally a conservative religion. It is a liberal faith that has been largely hijacked by conservatives. Since when was Christianity about following the letter of the law but not its spirit? Since when was getting as rich as you possibly can a Christian virtue? The Republican brand of Christians resemble, more than any other figures from the Bible, the Pharisees who heckle Jesus throughout his ministry. They certainly don't resemble him or his disciples. So there's a slogan for you: "The Religious Right; 21st Century Pharisees."

There's one issue Muder doesn't address, but which Thomas Frank does in an op-ed column in today's New York Times. That is conservatives' unshakable view of themselves as scrappy outsiders, fighting a brave but disadvantaged battle against an all-powerful Washington liberal elite. For many years this was true, of course, but it hasn't been for a long time. In the past quarter century there have been exactly two years in which the Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House, the first two years of Clinton's presidency. Look at Washington today, and you see conservatives dominating all three branches of government, backed by incredibly rich and powerful business interests, with individuals happily gaming the system and milking it dry, becoming insanely rich in the process. And they certainly are all about excluding those who are Not Their Sort Of People. If that isn't an all-powerful conservative elite, then what the hell is it??

Both pieces are worth reading, even if you're a Republican. Because the issues raised are all valid ones, and if the Republican Party does not address them, well, it may still be able to hold on to a degree of power, but it won't deserve to.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hitting Close to Home

A friend of mine, a very well respected photographer for the Times-Picayune, made the New York Times this morning, but not in a good way. John McCusker was pulled over not far from here in a traffic stop Tuesday evening and, despondent at his own losses and the misery he's had to witness, he tried to get the cops to kill him. He begged them to, over and over, and even pinned a cop between his car and a patrol car in an attempt to provoke them.

“He never stopped saying that, and made every attempt to hurt the police officers with his automobile because that’s the only weapon he had,” [NOPD crisis negotiator James] Arey said. “Our officers are well trained to recognize crises and attempts at ‘suicide by cop,’ and that’s what this was.”

He was eventually subdued with a Taser and is in custody under a suicide watch.

This is terribly upsetting to me. John is a passionate fan of New Orleans jazz and a researcher specializing in Kid Ory. He's been a guest in my home, and I have talked with him about jazz many, many times. In all the years I've known him he has never been anything but a cheerful, well-balanced man. And yet what has happened to him is now commonplace.

This city is slowly going mad.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Me: Beheaded and Going to Hell

I'm afraid that will be my fate after linking to these cartoons. You remember cartoons. Those ones depicting Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper, and led to murderous riots all over the place. Those.

Well, you can look at those elsewhere, but someone connected with the Freethinker magazine, "The Voice of Atheism Since 1881," apparantly decided, you want blasphemy? I'll give you blasphemy, in the form of Jesus and Mo. It's a crudely drawn cartoon whose two characters are Jesus and Mohammed. They're a bit bothered by how they're perceived by their modern followers.

They seem to be roommates and drinking buddies, and if they're not lovers they're skittering around the edges:

And when they're not playing video games, they're having arguments with the atheist barmaid at their favorite tavern:

Here's the link to the start of the series. From what I read in the papers, I can expect scimitar wielding avengers to show up here in New Orleans soon for my temerity in posting these. And once they lop my head off, well, down I go.

Mel's Meltdown

The New York Times Arts section has an article today about the fine art of celebrity damage control, focusing on Mel Gibson's attempts to recover from that infamous anti-Semitic tirade following a drunk driving arrest. The model for how to do it right is Hugh Grant, arrested in 1995 for what they discreetly call "performing lewd acts with a prostitute." He immediately went public with it all on Jay Leno's show, where his "bashful British contrition transformed the sheepish Mr. Grant from naughty to nice."

All true, but the author, Dennis McDougal, leaves out a very important difference between the two cases. I'm not surprised he left it out, as it's not a very complimentary thing to say about his readers. And that is the fact that getting a blowjob in a car from a Hollywood hooker is something millions of men secretly wish they had the nerve to do. Of course they went easy on Hugh. And I suspect that millions of women know this about their men more than their boyfriends and husbands imagine, and are willing to tolerate the fanstasy as long as it remains that, a fantasy not acted upon. So while they might be a little harder on Hugh for actually acting out the fanstasy, in the end they gave him a pass too.

But getting quoted say the "fucking Jews ... are responsible for all the wars in the world" is another matter entirely, one that inspires revulsion much more than sneaking admiration. Ol' Mel's going to have a really hard time of it, one he richly deserves.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How To Piss Off Dad

Refer him to this article.

(Well, maybe not your dad, but my dad.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Name That Ship

Alden told a story this evening that is in the category of "too good to check," a category that journalists don't want to admit exists. But it does. I'll check this sometime, but not tonight.

We went to a party tonight at a bar on Magazine Street called Alexander's, a farewell party for a dear friend we've known for over twenty years. Though a native Orleanian, Kelley is moving back to her ancestral homeland of Ireland this week and decided to throw a bash, complete with traditional jazz band. (She literally grew up at Preservation Hall.) When we walked in, the drummer and bandleader Barry Martyn, another old friend, was remarking on how she was not flying to Ireland, but sailing. This prompted Alden to take the mic and tell this story.

During the 30s and 40s Alden's father, being a moderately successful New York corporate real estate broker, served on a number of corporate boards. Mostly you were there to accept the luxurious lunch and the c-note in an envelope, and rubber-stamp what the company wanted to do. One board he was on was of the Cunard line, which has built and run the most extraordinary Atlantic liners that ever were. (Alas, they are now owned by Carnival.) So he was told this story.

In the 30s, Cunard was planning the largest and most luxurious liner that anyone had ever seen. They had a tradition of naming their ships with names ending in "ia," like Titania or Brittania. They had planned to name this glorious new ship the Victoria, but thought it would be prudent and good form to ask the permission of the current monarch, Victoria's grandson King George V. So they sent a delegation to the Palace, describing the project and asking permission to name the new ship after "England's greatest queen."

George V promptly replied, saying that permission was of course granted, and that his wife would be honored and delighted.

So the Queen Mary it was.

Fateful Race in Connecticut

As just about everybody knows, Senator Joe Lieberman is in serious danger of losing the Democratic primary election tomorrow to a guy named Ned Lamont, who has never held office but has a lot of money and a willingness to spend it. It would be nice if he had a brain. Here's Martin Peretz of the New Republic:

Here, for instance, is [Lamont's] take on what should be done about Iran's nuclear-weapons venture: "We should work diplomatically and aggressively to give them reasons why they don't need to build a bomb, to give them incentives. We have to engage in very aggressive diplomacy. I'd like to bring in allies when we can. I'd like to use carrots as well as sticks to see if we can change the nature of the debate." Oh, I see. He thinks the problem is that they do not understand, and so we should explain things to them, and then they will do the right thing. It is a fortunate world that Mr. Lamont lives in, but it is not the real one. Anyway, this sort of plying is precisely what has been going on for years, and to no good effect.

One of the signs of the immature and unsophisticated is the belief that if someone disagrees with you it just has to be becuase he just doesn't get your point. There's just no other possible explanation. And that the proper action therefore is to repeat yourself, a little more slowly, as many times as necessary. Why do we keep electing people who think this way?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Just sick of it

I am getting so fucking sick of the lawlessness of the current administration. Look, I've never liked Bush and never expected to like his policies. But in politics you win some, you lose some, and when you lose an election you can expect to see policies you wouldn't have approved of. Fact of life. But is it too much to ask that the President at least have some respect for the law? With this bunch, apparantly it is. Sometimes they seem to go out of their way to violate the law, even when it isn't necessary.

One current story is about the War Crimes Act of 1996. (There's an article about it in Salon here, though you may have to sit through an ad to access it.) Though the U.S. signed on to the Geneva Conventions in 1949, for decades there was no law requiring universal adherance to it by Americans. The military was required to follow the Conventions through the Universal Code of Military Justice, but not civilians. The War Crimes Act closed that loophole, allowing for the prosecution of any American, including any elected official, who violates the Conventions, especially those aspects regarding decent treatment of foreign prisoners.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, ruled that the US really and truly is bound by the Geneva Conventions, even in its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. It's amazing the court even had to make such a ruling, as it's been agreed for, oh, a couple of centuries that any treaty ratified by the Senate has the force of law. So now some of the folks in the administration are getting nervous, because they could be prosecuted under the Act. In fact, they've been nervous for some time. From the Salon article:
Publicly released memos show that as far back as Jan. 25, 2002, [current Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales, then the White House counsel, worried that the president's policies could trigger prosecution under the act.

Gee, they were set on a course of action that might mean breaking the law, were they? You and I, in such a position, would probably consider changing our course of action. At the very least, if we didn't and we got caught, we could not expect a judge to be lenient.

So what did they do? Next sentence:
That led the White House to declare, over the objection of the State Department, that al-Qaida was not protected by the conventions.

What a nifty solution!! You're in danger of breaking the law, so just declare that the law doesn't apply to what you intend to do. I'm sure going to use that argument next time I get caught robbing a liquor store.

I just wish this sort of thing were an aberration. Unfortunately, it isn't.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


This happened one year ago, but it has not stopped. These two young men were executed because they loved each other, no other reason. The following is an open letter from those who have to live with the fear of this every day. You and I, and those we love, do not. Think about it.

Homosexual Ladies and Gentlemen, transsexuals and transgender, the human right activists and peace lovers along with people who love democracy and equality, we have been informed of a creative protest of July 19th about the discrimination against homosexuals and execution of teenagers with homosexual interests.

With this letter and on behalf of the society of Iranian Homosexuals we declare our support for your act of protest on July 19 (28 of Tir) and wish you success.

Our dear Worldly Friends, 27 years passed form the Islamic revolution in Iran. It is 27 years now that the execution of homosexuals in Iran has been legal. It is 27 years now that women in Iran have been considered secondary citizens. It is 27 years now that the basic rights of students, workers, ethnic and religious minorities in Iran have been denied from them. It is 27 years now that in Iran oppositions and thinkers has been oppressed. For 27 years now the storm of censor has been affecting thinkers and intellectuals and our writers and journalists have been arrested, jailed or lost their right to publish their thoughts and ideas. Because of their ideas millions of Iranians left Iran and emigrate from their homeland. The Islamic Republic has isolated Iran and insulted our people’s intelligence, pride and honor. They have driven our country toward international crises, sanctions and war. Despite all this it has been 27 years that the struggle for peace, freedom, human rights and equality continues. It has been 27 years that we have tried to form various social and political parties and different organizations in order to recognize the rights of minority and stand against execution of children and homosexuals.

It has been obvious that Iranian government does not recognize homosexuals’ rights in Iran. They publicly declare that there are no legal limits for transsexuals and legally they can have a transgender surgery (which is very expensive). They use this as an excuse to deny existence of homosexuals and believe that every one should be a heterosexual man or woman. According to this belief every one that has a “problem” should have an operation and “transform” her/himself. In other words the government does not recognize the sexual diversity.

Let along that even for transsexuals no social prospect is provided after the operation and many of them have to fall into prostitution in order to make a living. Denial of homosexuals in the country, their oppression and complete ignorance of their rights has caused many homosexuals to live in the worst psychological and social condition which results in frequent suicides, depression and seeking asylum to other countries.

Today’s world is more like a village and unlike in the past, the governments cannot hide the oppression and refusal of the civil rights. When people’s battle to achieve democracy and freedom faces government’s oppression and resistance, they have the right to reach out to the rest of the world and reveal their government’s wrongdoings.

We, a group of homosexuals inside Iran, are glad and welcome the fact that the lack of democracy and human rights especially in treating homosexuals has come to your attention. Using this letter we express our appreciation and admiration for the united efforts of all the organizations, which support human rights and rights of the homosexuals around the world, in opposing the execution and the increase of pressure on sexual minorities in Iran. Together with you all we also ask the Iranian regime to put a stop to all executions, especially juvenile executions, change the regulations designed to punish homosexuals, guarantee equal rights for the citizens, stop censorship and accept rights of different groups and NGOs to create independent organizations.

Together with you all we also express our opposition to any military offensive against our motherland and believe that any such action will turn Iran into another Balkan will destroy the current dynamic movement for human rights and democracy in Iran.

To our friends all over the world once more we send our support and appreciation for your protest on July 19th and we believe that freedom and democracy in Iran is achievable throughout efforts and struggles of the Iranian public and actions of different social groups. The Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization attempts to join its efforts with other social movements of the country in order to create a strong social right movement. We need your support and the support of all other groups and countries and we highly value all international supports.

We are honored by your attention to the human rights situation and the issues around ignorance of homosexuals by Iranian government. We will try our best to publish your message widely and we will join you by all means on July 19th even if it is only a symbolic act of lighting a candle next to our window. The hope for the better world will be always in our hearts.

We hope for the day that we meet face to face in the first Gay Pride Festival in free and democratic Iran.

Delkade: The E-Magazine of Social and Literal of Iranian Homosexuals
A Group of Homosexual Bloggers in Iran
The Commission of Iranian Homosexual Rights and Gender Minorities
Cheragh: The Media for Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization
Raha Radio: The Radio for Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization
PGLO: Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization

Friday, July 14, 2006

Who really needs to get married?

New York state's highest court ruled this week that state laws preventing gays from getting married are not unconstitutional, and may stand. Whether the ruling is a setback for the gay marriage cause or not is debatable -- Andrew Sullivan thinks it's high time to move the emphasis from courts to legislatures -- but what strikes me as both pathetic and hysterically funny is the reason the court gave for its ruling: We're too responsible.

With stunning insight the court observed that a boy and girl vigorously going at it can wind up starting a pregnancy without intending to. (Amazing! Who knew?) They also noted that it's much better for children to grow up with a mother and father than in a single parent household. Therefore, they reasoned, the state has a compelling interest in promoting marriage between straights, an interest that doesn't exist with gay couples.

In contrast with these reckless and irresponsible heteros (we don't call them "breeders" for nothing), gay folks boinking away cannot start a pregnancy, intentionally or not, no matter how enthusiastically we try. Gays who really want to raise a child can do so of course, through adoption or artificial insemination, but it takes quite a bit of effort to do it. Gays can be presumed therefore to take parenthood seriously, as something we have to choose and pursue, unlike those straights who just sort of tumble into it. So we have no need of the encouragement towards responsible behavior that society bestows on straights by allowing them to get married. (See analysis by Yale Law prof Kenjio Yoshino.)

My my. We've come a long way since Pat Buchanan said we had "declared war on Nature," and that AIDS was Nature's terrible revenge. (Did no one tell Pat that, globally, most AIDS sufferers are straight?) Now it seems that Nature has endowed us with innate virtues of probity and restraint, reproductively speaking. Ol' Ma N. must think pretty highly of us. Never mind that while this argument may be a reason for encouraging marriage between straights, it gives no reason for dis-couraging marriage between gays, especially since having kids has never been a prerequisite for getting or staying married anyway. Never mind that while gay men used to be sneered at for our presumed promiscuity, the court now says that straight relationships are “all too often casual or temporary," and therefore need marital shoring up.

No, what's truly ludicrous is that this argument relies on what can only be called a demonstrably failed policy. While the numbers have declined in recent years, nearly half of all teenagers have lost their virginity by the time they graduate from High School. (Source: U.S. government.) If marriage is supposed to counteract that, it's got a hellishly high failure rate. Which, after all, stands to reason. How often does a horny 17-year-old with a ready and willing girlfriend stop fumbling with his belt buckle to think, "Wait a minute. Are we married yet?" Yeah, yeah, that's what he's supposed to think, but in practice? To us the Puritans are the prime example of sexual restraint and repression, and the word puritanical is the ultimate symbol of it. But historical studies have shown that in Puritan New England, up to 40% of brides were pregnant on their wedding day. Move up to our present hypersexualized culture and what do you expect? Please.

Whether the kids should be carrying on like that is another topic, one I won't go into now. But such a dubious rationale is a pretty flimsy basis for keeping a whole class of Americans second-class citizens.

Monday, June 12, 2006

In Memoriam

Sometimes it seems that there is little we can do, except to remember and remind. But if that is all we can do, we must at least do that.

Two teenagers about to be hanged in Iran on July 19, 2005, almost one year ago, for the crime of being gay. Do not forget them.

Update: I originally got the date wrong, but not the point.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Video Update: Nine Months

We sometimes wonder down here how much people elsewhere assume things must be getting back to normal in New Orleans. If they do assume that, I suppose it's understandable. The various news media are set up to report on what's happening, and when the big story is on what is not happening -- as is the case in New Orleans, where the issue is all the things that should have happened by now but didn't -- well, the media just aren't that good at letting people know.

So sometimes the local folks just have to do it themselves. And thanks to the internet, you can see it. Link to here and press the play button.

Just for perspective, I used to shop at the hardware store he's walking in front of, and I liked to eat lunch in that Chinese restaurant whenever I was in Mid-City at mid-day. Not great Chinese food, as there is none in New Orleans, but nice people, a nice atmosphere, very pleasant. The loss of these places is not hypothetical to me, not at all.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Disaster Timeline

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which has risen magnificently to the occasion ever since the storm, now has posted a fascinating animated graphic about the first few hours of the disaster. It's astonishing how rapidly everything happened. As the animation proceeds, watch the clock in the lower left corner. All of the critical levee overtoppings and breaches occurred within four hours. It took the flood waters over a day to reach their fullest extent and depth, but by 10:30 am on August 29, the city's fate was sealed. Link is here.

Note that the legend at the bottom of the page has a symbol, a jagged red dot, clearly indicating where levees were breached. Breached, not overtopped by high water, but where the structures crumbled and failed. What's striking is that there are so many of these failures, widespread throughout the area. These levees, and especially the 17th Avenue and London Avenue floodwalls, were supposed to stand up to a category three hurricane, which is what Katrina was by the time it got here, strongly suggesting system-wide failures of design and construction.

Like everyone else here, I know who I hold responsible: The Army Corps of Engineers. Since the storm, the T-P has been running a series of investigative reports about the Corpse and the levees it designed and built, and it gets worse with each story. For example, when they were designing those floodwalls in the mid-80s, they were basing their designs on elevation maps published in the 1950s, even though everyone knew there had been subsidence in the area since then, and that designs based on those land elevation figures would be faulty. Seems the Corpse didn't much care.

It continues to this day. They kept telling us that by the start of hurricane season they would restore flood protection in critical areas, the areas affected by levee breaches, to pre-Katrina levels. Uh, well, everyone says, since that clearly wasn't enough, couldn't we maybe aim to do a little better? Nunh-unh, says the Corpse, we can't do that because we're not authorized to do that. They seem determined to hide behind that word, "authorized." When you ask why they didn't revise the plans and build higher in the 80s and 90s when subsidence indicated the need, they reply, no, we can't do that, we weren't authorized to do that. Authorized by whom? By legislation mandating better flood protection for New Orleans that was passed by Congress in the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965. They want us to believe that in thirty years they couldn't go back to Congress and ask for an update to meet changing needs? And these are the people we're counting on to save our skins this season?

By the way, the Corpse now admits that it will not make that deadline for restoring flood protection. Absolutely nobody is surprised.