Saturday, November 29, 2008

Proposition 8

Of course, I'm disappointed that it went through, even though I probably would not have taken advantage of it. A and I have been together over 30 years, and throwing a wedding at this point would seem a little silly, and after the fact. For better or for worse? In sickness and in health? Been there, done that. Till death do us part? Don't rush things.

But I sure do understand the shock and pain, and it was quite a wake-up call to a lot of people. I particularly feel for the couples that got married during the window of opportunity. The uncertainty they're going through must be terrible. It's true that AG Jerry Brown says the existing marriages probably would not be invalidated, but you don't really know until a test case goes through the courts. And who wants to be that test case?

And it's worth remembering that the trends are not going against us. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out, Proposition 22, which banned same-sex marriage in 2000, passed by 61.4%. Proposition 8 passed by 52.3%. That's a big change in only eight years. Most importantly, it's the younger voters that are most positive on the issue, and they're the future. You just have to be patient and keep telling yourself, this too shall pass.

No, that wasn't the best choice of words, no it wasn't.

Laughter and ridicule are pretty potent weapons, remember. Nobody's doing it better than sex advice columnist and podcaster Dan Savage, appearing here on the Colbert Report just a few days after the election. Stephen Colbert is known for maintaining his poker face through anything. Anything but what he gets at about 4'55":

Monday, October 20, 2008

Brain Surgery Breakdown

Often in brain surgery the patient is kept conscious through the process. With anesthetic and mild sedation, his responses to the surgeon's probes can help to focus in on just the right spot in his brain for intervention.

Banjo player Eddie Adcock had been having trouble with a neurological problem causing a tremor in his right hand which interfered with his playing. So when brain surgery was performed to try and control this, it was only natural to have him playing his axe on the table to measure the success of the procedure.

Now, when I first heard of this, all I could think of was the possibility for comic dialogue:

"Mr. Adcock, sir, this is Dr. Bannerjee, can you hear me? Sir? Yes? Good good, very good. Now sir, we are ready to proceed and I want you to try something for me at this point. My assistant Dr. Kim has the probe in place, and what we want you to do ... [consults clipboard] ... is Foggy - Mountain - Breakdown. Did your hear me, sir? Good. Now ... begin.

Oh my goodness me, that is Turkey In The Straw. Remove the probe, Dr. Kim, we must try again ...."

Actually, as a lapsed member of the banjo community, I would not joke about this if Adcock wasn't doing very well. Here is the report from Adcock and his family, and here is some actual video from the surgery:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blog You Must

Andrew Sullivan has a good article, Why I Blog, in both the online and print versions of The Atlantic. It's a very good description of the blogging experience, a good introduction to the form for those who have never yet dared to jump into these hazardous waters, filled as they are with so many sea monsters.

When he compares the improvisational nature of blog writing with the more deliberate one of writing for print -- exemplified by that very same article -- I discern an interesting point. Writing for print really is different, and you take more time to weigh and balance various factors, reorder them just so. Bloggers just go. You just do it. No time to think and go back and redo it. Besides, what's the point? That sentence was so 1:49 pm, and now it's 1:50!

The implication is that if you want to have the experience of blogging, you just have to keep at it. Don't wait for inspiration, or you'll never blog at all! Get cracking!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No Questions, Please

Here's McCain campaign manager Rick Davis explaining why Sarah Palin isn't giving any press conferences.

So until at which point in time we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference, I think it would be foolhardy to put her out into that kind of environment.

Wow. I didn't realize she was running for queen.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This is serious

McCain seems to think his medical records are on a need-to-know basis, and that we don't need to know.

He's wrong. We need to know.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Off to Mississippi again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fucking Hell

Yet another hurricane? It's looking more and more likely that Hurricane Gustav is going to chase us out of uptown New Orleans. Again.

I mean, it's good, very good, wonderful even, that we were able to set up a place in Jackson, MS, we can evacuate to. But this running for your life thing is getting pretty tedious. If we have to do it this time, that will make three.

Or four, if you count the Northridge Earthquake.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Some Things Never Change

It seems that some battles have to be fought, some lessons learned, over and over again. Carl Schurz (1829-1906) was a German revolutionary who at 19 fled Germany after the unsuccessful Revolution of 1848. He wound up in America and threw himself into anti-slavery politics. During the Civil War he served in the Union Army, rising to the rank of major general, fighting in the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the battles of Gettysburg and Chattanooga.

After the war he was elected Senator from Missouri, served as Secretary of the Interior for Rutherford B. Hayes, and then retired to New York to write. He always had very strong opinions and no reluctance in expressing them, in letters, speeches, and articles that were forceful (if you agreed with him) or vitriolic (if you didn't).

Two things of his I've stumbled across seem worth quoting. The first is from remarks he made during debate in the Senate on February 29, 1872

The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, 'My country, right or wrong.' In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

The second is from the article, "About Patriotism" that he published in Harper's Weekly on April 16, 1898:

The man who in times of popular excitement boldly and unflinchingly resists hot-tempered clamor for an unnecessary war, and thus exposes himself to the opprobrious imputation of a lack of patriotism or of courage, to the end of saving his country from a great calamity, is, as to "loving and faithfully serving his country," at least as good a patriot as the hero of the most daring feat of arms, and a far better one than those who, with an ostentatious pretense of superior patriotism, cry for war before it is needed, especially if then they let others do the fighting.

Some things never change.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Prurient Interest..... gets me every time. McMurdo Station is the largest permanent outpost in Antarctica, and its purpose is scientific research. During the summer it can house around 1,250 residents: scientists and their assistants, station staff, the odd reporter.

When winter comes, everyone leaves except the core staff needed to keep the Station functioning and intact until spring, and a few scientists to look after the equipment, about 125 people. When the coldest place on earth starts blasting storms around, the Station becomes the most isolated place on earth. Nothing can get in or out, so the last supply shipments have to contain everything the base staff might need until the thaw. [Note: As this is the Southern Hemisphere, winter lasts roughly from March to September.]

I'm sure they have a large library of books and DVDs, and as much internet access as they can get from satellites during breaks in the storms. Still, this has to be the top hardship post on earth, and one has to wonder how the staff gets through the storms and the months of night and remain sane.

Well maybe we just got one big honking clue.

According to this news report from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, the last supply delivery this year was made in early June, so winter's coming late to Antarctica this year. If winter is short and ends sometime in September or so, that's 120-150 days of isolation before resupply can arrive. And included in the last supply shipment was 16,500 condoms. For 125 people.

Shall we do the math? 16,500 condoms distributed among 125 people comes to 132 condoms per person. Now, we know what condoms are used for, and nobody ever uses one alone. (At least, no one I care to know about.) This means that in each, mmm, incident in which a condom is used, it provides protection for both of the two participants. So, in effect, that 16,500 condoms amounts in practice to 264 condoms per person.

For 120-150 days. And nights.

How DO they pass the time? Do we know now, maybe? And just what IS the m/f ratio of the staff down there?

(h/t: Because No One Asked)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Truth Revealed

Do you remember the State of the Union speech President Bush gave in 2003 to justify his planned attack on Iraq? Actually you don't. My GP covert ops team has uncovered incontrovertible evidence that this supposedly live broadcast speech was a sophisticated media hoax, pulling the wool over all our eyes. Fortunately GPCO was able to recover a copy of the actual speech, though we lost two guys in the process. (Not sure how. They tell me it's best not to ask about such things.) Compared to the dummy speech it's surprisingly short. Revise history accordingly.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

To honor all mothers everywhere, here is Anita Renfroe distilling it all down for you. If you are actively parenting at this time, it might be useful to play this every morning at breakfast and get it all out of the way.

[Technical note: The subtitles, which are very helpful, are in English and Japanese because the English-only clip I found has lousy audio.]

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

No Sympathy

So the folks in Michigan and Florida are all upset that they aren't getting any delegates to the Democratic convention. Doesn't matter that it's their own stupid fault. Doesn't matter that their state party leaders were clearly warned that this would happen if they broke the rules by holding primaries too soon. It's just wroooongg, they say, for them to go to all the trouble of holding illicit elections and not have the votes count for something. My response is much the same as Sara Robinson of the Group News Blog: Boo Fucking Hoo. (Go read, it's funny.)

Like Mrs. Robinson, I am a California native now an expatriate. Though I've been a diligent voter since I turned eighteen, I have never - until this year in Louisiana - cast a presidential primary vote that meant a damn thing.

Because until this year, California always held its primary on the first Tuesday of June, and the nominations were always decided by then. So, although I always followed the primary contests avidly, I never saw a primary candidate so much as set foot in California except to raise money. Until this year the most populous state in the union, with far more people in it than Florida and Michigan combined, has always had to watch the nomination contests from the sidelines.

Hey Michigan, Florida, doesn't feel so good, does it?

In fact, I thought it would be interesting to see how close we ever got to making a difference, by seeing when recent presidents secured their first nominations. George W. Bush ended John McCain's challenge with the South Carolina primary, second after New Hampshire in February. In 1992 Bill Clinton had it sewn up by Georgia, March 3. George H.W. Bush had it in the bag on Super Tuesday, March 8, 1988. In 1980 Ronald Reagan had a commanding lead almost from the start.

And so it goes. California joined the crowd at Super Tuesday this year, and when that actually didn't decide the race, Obama showed up to give a speech at Tulane. His first big cheer line was when he noted that the St. Charles Streetcar was running again, the first time since Katrina. If you live in New Orleans, you know what that means.

And it was nice to cast a primary vote knowing that it meant something. If the folks in Florida and Michigan want to get that feeling back next time, they need to tell their party leaders, in a clear loud voice: Don't fuck up again.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

History tells

There's been talk about whether Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal might be under consideration as a running mate for John McCain. He's a very conservative Republican, an up and coming politico, and the first elected Indian-American state governor. That's Indian as Punjabi, not Comanche.

I don't think it will happen, as I think Jindal's far too smart a guy to fall for this. Why? Aaaaaand that gives me my lead to mention a really interesting site: My History Can Beat Up Your Politics.

Bruce Carlson is a history buff whose passion is taking current political issues and looking at American history to see if it will give us any insights. He then makes a podcast about each issue, talking it all through taking anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes. His thesis, which he supports with a lot of evidence, is that you'd do better to look at historical trends than current polling, if you want to know what's going to happen. It's very wonky, as he'll methodically go through, say, every single presidential election in light of his current question, but if you like that stuff (and I do) it's great.

About McCain, two of the podcasts I've listened to seem relevant. In Running From the President, Carlson notes that no candidate trying to succeed a president of his own party has ever done so without the enthusiastic support of his predecessor, which he cannot get if he repudiates or even just distances himself from his predecessor's policies. McCain has already tied himself to Bush's policies.

But in Presidential Pass-offs, he notes that nobody, starting with John Adams following George Washington, has gotten elected to succeed a president of his own party unless the outgoing president was very popular. Bush now is officially the most unpopular president since modern polling was invented around 1935.

That puts McCain between a rock and a hard place. He's handcuffed to Bush's hideously unpopular person and policies, which indicates he's sunk, according to history. But if he were to break away from Bush, Mr. Straight Talk Patriot Hero would look like a disloyal little fuck of a weasel, and history says he's sunk again.

This is why I think Jindal will pass. Think what you may of his policies, nobody thinks Jindal is stupid, and he's certainly not stupid enough to chain his Louisiana shrimp boat to a sinking ship called the USS John McCain.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cat Engineering

The thing about the beasts is that they never have come with a users manual. Somebody's trying to remedy that.

An Engineer s Guide to Cats @ Yahoo! Video

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Straight Talk Indeed

It's a pity that people who really care about this election turn to the media only to find blathering about lapel pins and bowling scores, rather than, say, how to fix the economy. Not helpful. But in this Internet age at least we can go to the candidates' websites and find out from them directly what we want to know. But sometimes that's not much better. I found this on John McCain's site, from his page on Iraq, section "Winning the Homefront"

If efforts in Iraq do not retain the support of the American people, the war will be lost as soundly as if our forces were defeated in battle. A renewed effort at home starts with explaining precisely what is at stake in this war to ensure that Americans fully understand the high cost of a military defeat.

Now wait just one damn minute here. For one, those two sentences don't really fit together. The first seems to be speaking metaphorically -- "as if our forces were defeated in battle" -- while the second seems to threaten the real thing -- "the high cost of a military defeat."

I grant the high cost. I believe there's a saying to the effect that while winning a war costs a huge amount of money, resources, and lives, losing one costs everything you have. But that's not what we're looking at.

A military defeat? Is there the slightest chance that American troops in Iraq will be compelled to surrender to superior force? No, none at all. And that is what a military defeat is.

No, a defeat in Iraq would be a political defeat. A defeat resulting from a failure to understand what the military can and cannot do, a failure to understand both the country of Iraq and the region, a failure to understand the resentment people feel towards a foreign occupancy and the risks of an insurgency, and so on.

But of course McCain mutters about the threat of a military defeat. A military defeat can be blamed on the military. The blame for a political defeat must be laid at the feet of the politicians who led us into this situation and supported it. Like John McCain.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our Robot Overlords

This is absolutely creeping me out:

I had no idea robotics had advanced to the point where a machine could do something like this. This thing - Big Dog, it's called - is amazing. It's easy to make a four-legged machine that just plods along in the direction you point it. There are plenty of toys that do that, so long as they don't bump into anything. But to navigate over a pile of bricks? Recover from being kicked? Get up after slipping on ice? That's uncanny.

What's unsettling is that the production models this may lead to will be, basically, delivery devices. But what will be delivered, and to where? In our military we already use drone aircraft, not just to spy but to attack targets. What might be done with drone ground troops? Imagine tens of thousands of these things, heavily armored and bristling with weapons, trudging into a city to take it. Terrifying, and the potential basis of a cool thriller sci-fi movie where we of course overcome the robots and win in the end. This movie may have already been made, even. But when they're on our side? Each one remotely directed by a US soldier from perfect safety?

That becomes profoundly disturbing. Throughout human history it has never been possible to wage a war without suffering SOME human casualties. If a war can be waged by drone air, sea, and land forces, without risking a single American life, won't it become terribly attractive?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'm In Love with TED

No, A and I aren't splitting up. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and it's the name of a conference held annually at Monterey Bay since 1984. It draws together over a thousand of the top people in a wide range of fields to meet, give presentations, talk, have a ball, and figure out how to save the world. What do I mean by top? I mean people like Bill Clinton, Paul Simon, Bill Gates, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bono. James Hong, co-founder of the website Hot or Not describes it this way: "It's brain candy on steroids." You've probably seen clips from TED on the news, since this is where Microsoft and Apple debut their latest big breakthroughs; the original Apple Macintosh was presented to the world here.

I wish I could go. Unfortunately, it's by invitation only, and even then the price of admission is $6,000. However, and very fortunately, they have a website that offers over 200 edited clips of presentations on an incredible range of subjects, like "Is There A God?", "How the Mind Works", and "What's Next in Tech." They're available to view for free, and I'm probably going to spend the next six months watching all of them.

They encourage bloggers to embed their favorite clips in their blogs. Here's the first one I saw. Watch to the end, about five minutes, cause you won't believe what that octopus does:

Then there's these guys. (About 15 minutes.)

That's from Worth a visit.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Or, how to keep a dachshund amused for hours and hours and hours...

Friday, March 14, 2008

David Paterson of New york

I'm fascinated by how David Paterson is going to do as the new governor of New York. I had never heard of the guy before the Spitzer governorship exploded, and I find that not only will he be only the third black governor since Reconstruction nationwide, but the first blind person in such a high office.

I think I'm a bit more interested in blind issues than most sighted people. My mother (hi, Mom!) was a teacher at a state run school for blind adults, teaching them the skills to live independently, among other things. She taught cooking, and a kitchen is a classic example of something which is easy for the sighted and a daunting obstacle for the blind. Since you can't read labels, your shelves and refrigerator had damn well better be organized. And a hot stove is a scary thing.

Paterson is not totally blind. He has enough vision in one eye to get about without a cane or a dog, and can recognize people close up. He also says he can read somewhat, obviously with magnification equipment. And he has a lovely sense of humor, evidenced in the New York Times's coverage of his first press conference as governor-to-be:
And when asked whether he, like Mr. Spitzer, had ever patronized a prostitute, Mr. Paterson could not suppress his trademark dagger wit.

He paused, gave a sly smile, and answered, “Only the lobbyists.”

Then there is this piece in the Times. The author, who like Paterson is functionally but not totally blind, writes about how blind people compensate for their disability. You have to develop a sharp and detailed memory, you have to get very good at "reading" the character of the people you talk to, and you have to be very, very patient. Also, I think, you tend to get underestimated, as people tend to think unconsciously that anyone who needs a little help just to get around in the world can't be all that bright.

A governor with these qualities is nobody to take lightly. Watch out, Albany.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We're Addicts. Or Cats.

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, about how addictive browsing the web can be. The word "addictive" may be closer to the reality than is comfortable.

Research suggests that humans get pleasurable feedback from encountering and processing new situations and new information, possibly even through the release of natural opioids in the brain. This makes sense. If our monkey curiosity is the key to our evolutionary success, and to our nature as humans, then it's logical that using that curiosity would be pleasing. Evolution rewards success, and sometimes directly in the now.

The question is whether this capacity can be overloaded by technology that evolution could not prepare us for. Could the flood of new data that the toobz feeds us be turning that pleasurable feedback into a permanent "on" rather than an occasional reward? Is this why people find it so hard to tear themselves away from the blogs, even when it harms their normal "meatspace" life? The article compares to a cat chasing the red dot from a laser pointer. It's natural hunt-and-kill instinct is overwhelmed by a stimulus outside its evolutionary experience. It can't help but keep chasing, even when there's no prey to catch.

Maybe what we all need is an internal SWAT team that will occasionally show up with serious firepower to say, "SIR! BACK AWAY FROM THE LAPTOP! NOW, SIR!!"

I mean, look at me. I read this article and what did I do? Blogged about it.

Spitzer: Isn't this what porn's for?

Oh, jeez, here we go again. Another high-flying politician, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, with presidential ambitions yet, a crusader for right and justice, the scourge of sleaze and crime, gets caught bumping a pricey hooker when he's out of town away from his wife. Worse, he actually imported her into DC for a little fun between daytime business. (Google the "Mann Act" please.) The only novelty is that for a change he's a Democrat.

This stuff is so unnecessary. It's not uncommon for middle aged men to desire some exciting sexual variety after years of marriage, even in a happy marriage. No, scratch "not uncommon." It's damn near universal. The question is what you do about it.

Cummon, despite its disrepute, this is where porn does a lot of good. If a guy can look at what turns him on in private when he can scratch that itch but good, it may not be quite as fucktastic as banging in person what you're looking at, male, female, or in between. But it can take the edge off, make the urge for in-person banging less urgent, more manageable, and has probably kept a lot of marriages sailing smoothly on an even keel. And okay, yes, me too. Been there, done that, cleaned up afterwards.

But Spitzer? No. It wasn't because he was horny. Anyone can take care of horny in five minutes in the bathroom. This is about arrogance, and entitlement, and an ego that thinks he's climbed so high nothing can bring him down. One blogger, the Rude Pundit, consulted a hooker friend of his about why anyone would pay so much for a hooker, up to $5,500. She said, "The same reason people buy ugly paintings by famous artists or stay in penthouse hotel rooms for a night. Because they can. Status, you know."

Status. I think Spitzer's lost a lot of that in the past 48 hours. I think he's lost all that he had.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another [yawn] Election

OK, this time it's Mississippi, just next door. It looks like Obama's winning this one too, which is fine with me.

But the relentless, nonstop, breathless coverage is getting damn exhausting, especially as it's covering what is more and more a non-story. ("This just in! Dog bites man, Obama wins primary. Film at eleven.")

The New Yorker ran a cartoon last week showing a team of these newsstars sitting behind their mockup desk, saying to the camera: "And now for three hours of meaningless speculation about a race we've already acknowledged is too close to call."

Damn straight. And getting so tiresome. HOW many months left to go??

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Got a complaint? Sing!!!

Oh man, this is wonderful.

In Finnish, there is an expression, "valituskuoro," which literally means "complaint choir." When a lot of people are griping about something, that's a complaint choir.

Then a few years ago a pair of performance artists, Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, thought, what if you took that phrase literally? So they began pitching the idea, community chorus performances with texts comprised completely of what local people were bitching about.

It was a slow start, but after a group in Birmingham, England, got excited about it the concept took off. (They had reason, and much to complain about, with Birmingham sometimes called the "arsehole of England".) After their performance, the concept has spread. And why not?

I think this is awesome, and the link to the main website is this: They offer many resources to help you in forming a complaint choir of your own, and so many have enthusiastially responded that, well, they've hit on something.

Their site has a lot of videos of complaint choirs all around the world. Go there and see, and maybe form your own. You know you want to.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We Are Lost

Oh, shit. When these two guys start teaming up, you know we're in trouble.

At least we know who his running mate will be.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Fat Tuesday

Well here in New Orleans it's not Super Tuesday, and all those elections are not even a blip on the screen. It's what you see above. Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras, ya know. Our primary will be Saturday, and I'll be a poll worker. It's likely to be a minuscule turnout, as the primary is unlikely to make much of a difference. Louisiana is one of those states who get to sit and watch every four years as other states decide who the nominees will be.

Democrats and independents can vote in the Democratic race, but the Republican race is Republicans only. The interesting twist is that in addition to the primary, the Republican party held a series of caucuses also about a month ago and didn't tell anybody. Even the paper just noticed it today. Those caucuses selected delegates who are not bound to vote for the candidate they promised to vote for, and the final delegate count may or may not be bound by the results of the Saturday primary. Those clever little Republicans, they're so cute when they get this way.

Too clever by half. The paper says the La. Republican party did this in a rather desperate bid to get a piece of the action before Super Tuesday. But their pitiful inability to publicize the caucuses to either the public or the candidates made it a wasted effort. Of course, if the candidates slug it out to the point of a brokered Republican Convention, all those uncommitted Louisiana delegates could find themselves very popular.

And how am I spending my Mardi Gras? At home, nursing a cold. Boo. [Photo is from 2002.]

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.