Friday, March 31, 2006
Sinai, 1358 BC. A Monday. 9 a.m. sharp.
God: Good morning, Moses, are you ready to get started?
Moses: Yes, Lord.
God: Okay, great. Well. Let’s see…where to start?
Moses: Might I suggest at the beginning?
God: Yeah…I suppose that makes sense. In the beginning, I created the heavens and the earth.
Moses: Just like that?
God: Well, actually there was this explosion of dust and gas that spread out in all directions and some of it clumped together in certain areas and started rotating around the sun because of the laws of gravity –
Moses: The laws of gravity? What are those? More rules to follow?
God: Oh, don’t worry about gravity. No, no, you already obey the laws of gravity, don’t you fret about that. It’s…eh…it’s complicated. You know, we’ll put it in Leviticus with the other laws, if there’s room.
God: Where was I?
Moses: The beginning.
God: Right. Anyway, one of these clumps of dust became the earth, and it spins around the sun.
Moses: You mean the sun spins around the earth.
God: Are you questioning me?
Moses: No, no, Lord, of course not. It’s just…well, I mean, I can see the sun moving around the earth.
God: It’s an illusion, trust me, it’s the other way around.
Moses: The people aren’t going to believe it. If I try to tell them the earth rotates around the sun, how are they going to take anything else I write down seriously?
God: Hmm. You have a point. Well, you know what, let’s just not mention it for now. Eventually they’ll figure it out.
God: Read back to me what we’ve got so far.
Moses: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
God: What? I hear a thought coming.
Moses: Oh, no, nothing Lord.
God: Moses, it’s God. Don’t lie to me.
Moses: Well…it’s just, um, forgive me, Lord, I’m not sure this is the most inspired beginning to your Book. I mean…”In the beginning…”…it’s just kind of, blah.
God: I see your point. But you know, I’m actually planning on using a lot of symbolism and metaphor in this thing, so starting out kind of simple and blunt may not be such a bad idea.
God: Okay, we’ll leave it for now and change it later if we get a better idea.
God: Right, so…we’ve got the heavens and the earth.
God: I kind of left it there for a few billion years.
God: Well, for a time I just left it this boring hunk of rock hurtling through space. It was dark…eventually I formed some oceans…
Moses: No, I mean, what was that number you said? Billions? I think you made that up.
God: No, trust me, it was a few billion years.
Moses: How many is a billion?
God: A thousand million.
Moses: I can’t even begin to comprehend that…
God: Eh, leave it out. Not much was happening, and we have a lot to cover.
Moses: Okay. So…the earth was without form and void, and it was dark, and you were just kind of hanging out?
God: Yeah, I basically hovered over the waters thinking about what to do.
Moses: For several thousands of millions of years?
Moses: Wow, you are patient.
God: Yes, I am. This plan I’m working on is really complicated, it took me a while to work it out. The time actually flew by. But I got tired of it being dark all the time, so I created light. But I still liked darkness, I thought it was kind of romantic and mysterious and relaxing, so I kept both.
Moses: (writing)…and the darkness He called…Night.
God: Right. Now then, for my plan to start working, I needed land in addition to water, so I gathered up the oceans and land appeared.
Moses: Okay. That’s easy. Is that all?
God: Yup. Well, I mean, first there was just this one continent? But that got kind of boring, just one continent, so I broke it up and moved some stuff around.
Moses: When was that?
God: You know what, it’s irrelevant, let’s move on.
Moses: You’re the boss.
God: And don’t you forget it.
Moses: So now the continents are the way you like?
God: Eh, for the time being. I still make little changes now and then, nudge things here, shift this. I can’t decide whether to keep California or not. Don’t write that.
Moses: (erasing) Yes, Lord.
God: So then I had this dry land, but that was not very interesting either, so I got started on the landscaping. You know, plants and stuff. I wanted my living creatures to be somewhere interesting and beautiful. I really put a lot of thought into it…and I got a great discount on the plants, since I ordered in bulk, doing a whole planet and everything.
Moses: Good for you.
God: So okay, we got the plants, and also there was the beginning of animal life.
Moses: Was that before or after?
God: I mean, well, the two processes were rather simultaneous, but for now let’s just say I did the landscaping and gardening first and then started on the animals.
Moses: Okay. So, was man your first animal?
God: Goodness, no. No, man didn’t come for several billion years.
Moses: You keep using this number. I’ve never heard anyone else say a “billion.”
God: I’m not making it up. There’s even a trillion…actually the numbers keep going.
Moses: A trillion? Is this going to be in Numbers?
God: No no, that will be genealogical stuff. You know, math is necessary but kind of boring, I don’t really want much of it in my book. Can we not worry about the numbers?
Moses: You don’t think people will want to know how long this took you?
God: Let’s just say a week.
Moses: That’s a lot of work for one week.
God: It was a lot of work for several billion years.
Moses: I’m just saying…
God: I know, I know. You know what? It honestly doesn’t matter how long it took me, the point is, I did it.
Moses: Fine, a week it is.
God: Okay, so, getting back to this. Anyway, life began in the oceans with single-celled organisms.
Moses: What’s a cell?
God: Oh, a cell is the basic building block of life. Everything that lives, whether it’s a plant or an animal, is made up of cells. Cells contain your DNA.
Moses: My what?
God: DNA…it’s an abbreviation for Deoxyribonucleic acid.
Moses: How do you spell that?
God: D-e-o…you know, never mind. This doesn’t need to be in the book, people can figure this stuff out on their own. The Bible is going to be for the stuff that only I can tell them. People don’t need me to explain the natural world, I’ve left a lot of clues as to how I did it, and I’ve given them imaginative, inquisitive minds capable of memory and analysis to sort through all this stuff. It will give humans something to do for a few million years.
Moses: But what if people actually then start insisting you did all this in a week?
God: Look, you’re the one, when it came to the earth moving around the sun, who argued that we shouldn’t include anything here that people aren’t ready to understand. The smart ones will recognize that we kept this brief to get on to the important stuff.
Moses: (skeptically) Okay…
God: Moses, I know, I thought about this a long time. But I was convinced that it was essential for me to endow humans with free will. That means I have to remain somewhat mysterious and ambiguous to them. I want them to believe in me because they choose to believe in me; if I become a concrete reality and explain to you now exactly how I did everything, then I become an incontrovertible fact, which would negate the necessity of the choice to believe in me. One does not choose to believe in rocks or trees or pigeons; you’d be crazy to question their reality. I insist people question my reality; that’s the only way they’ll find my truth.
Moses: Okay, how do you want me to write that?
God: Moses, you’re not listening. I don’t want you to write it.
Moses: Okay. I get it. So…if this is taking place over the course of a week – not really a week, but a metaphorical week –
Moses: -- then, where are we?
God: Umm…there you go with math again. You know, I gave mathematics rules so that once I’d figured it out I’d just be done with it. Some things change; not math. Anyway, so, creating the earth and day and night, that’s day 1, creating the oceans and separating them from the sky was day 2, then dry land and the landscaping were day 3, and the stars and the moon were day 4 –
Moses: Oh yeah, I’d meant to ask you, we skipped those. What are stars, anyway?
God: You know, let’s just not get into that right now. They’re pretty, that’s all you need to know for a few thousand years. So life began on Day 5.
Moses: With the single orgasms.
God: Umm…actually you’re not wrong, but for now just put “single celled organisms.” No, scratch that…we’ll get off track if I have to explain cells and DNA and mitosis –
God: Another time, Moses. Life started in the oceans, so let’s just keep it simple and say I did the fish first. I mean, it’s basically true, from a certain point of view.
God: So, yeah, let’s put fish, birds, cattle and creeping things all on Day 5.
Moses: You don’t want to list all the different kinds of animals?
God: No, if I do it here, then I have to do it again a few pages later when we get to Noah and the flood when he put two of everything on the boat.
Moses: Two of every living creature on one boat? It must have been huge!
God: Three hundred cubits.
God: We’re getting ahead of ourselves. So on Day 6 I created Man, and then on Day 7 I just lay on the couch in my boxers watching Bette Davis movies on AMC. But you are, Blanche! You are in that chair! (laughs)
Moses: What? Who are Bette and Blanche, and what’s a movie?
God: I’ll show you when you get to heaven.
Moses: Boy, you're worse than my mother! It was always, "You'll understand when you're an adult." Now it's, "You'll understand when you're dead."
God: You know what? Let’s take a break now. I think that’s pretty much the first chapter. Let’s get some coffee,
Moses: Fine with me. My hand’s cramping, anyway.
Moses: It’s okay, I don’t mind. Are you sure you don’t want to have more detail in this chapter?
God: It’s tempting, really, but I don’t think we have time. I mean, if I were going to explain DNA and evolution – did you know that you are descended from monkeys?
Moses: Right, and my grandfather was Sammy Davis, Jr.
God: Actually he’s your great, great, great, great, great, great…well, this involves math, forget that. No, I’m serious. Moses, I wouldn’t lie to you. I might not tell you the whole truth of everything, for now, but I never lie.
Moses: Yes, Lord.
God: Anyway, we can’t get distracted by details right now. There’s a time and a place for details. Like my tabernacle, I know just how I want it.
Moses: Maybe we can do that this afternoon.
God: I’ll think about it; right now I think we should go in chronological order. Anyway, the tabernacle, it’s going to be great. My designer and I settled on blue, purple and scarlet for the curtains.
God: Yeah, I think it will be nice. At first I thought that might be a bit ostentatious, but she said, “You’re God, if you can’t have an ostentatious curtain in your temple, who can?” and you know, I couldn’t really argue that point.
Moses: At least she didn’t suggest chartreuse with red sequins or something.
God: No no, I would have smote her.
God: No, Moses. Okay, let’s take 5, and I’ll meet you back here.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Actually, if you read this blog, they are probably not asking for your opinion. This is the organization that did a "poll" about same sex marriage a couple of years ago and promised the results would be sent to Congress (they make the same promise with this poll). When the results showed that a vast, vast, vast, vast majority of respondents supported same-sex marriage, they pulled it off the website and declined to share those findings with the government.
Personally, I don't really have a solid opinion on this issue because I'm not so well read-up on it -- I'll admit to that. So I won't endorse one position or another. You may register your opinion with them here.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The same is true today for those mythical Iraqi WMD's: back in 2003, I and pretty much everyone else in America believed the weapons were there, because George Bush and Colin Powell and everyone else said so. Now, having occupied Iraq for three years, during which two separate reports by Bush appointees concurred that the illicit programs ended in 1998 and our soldiers and inspectors failed to find anything at all, it's only the sad and scary Republicans who insist, all evidence to the contrary, that the weapons and ties to Al Qaeda were real.
We may not have found any banned weapons in Iraq, but we did find some documents. Thousands and thousands -- perhaps millions -- of them. Forty-eight thousand boxes worth. The government is now posting them on the internet in PDF format at the request of Congressional Republicans like Peter Hoekstra of Michigan and Pat Roberts of Kansas, with the idea that the American public might be able to find the links that our unreliable behemoth of a bureaucratic government (staffed by Bush appointees, one must point out) has been unable to uncover.
It's not a completely loony idea.
After all, it was the blogosphere that quickly and accurately blew apart Dan Rather's badly forged Bush National Guard records, and I don't think there's a liberal out there who wouldn't argue in favor of a little bit more government transparency. So no, not completely loony at all. Just mostly loony.
"If anyone in the intelligence community thought there was valid information in those documents that supported either of those questions -- WMD or Al Qaeda -- they would have shouted them from the rooftops," a Bush administration official told The New York Times.
Yes, documents have been found indicating weapons possession and programs and Al Qaeda links; but John Negroponte, the Bush-appointed Director of National Intelligence has posted the documents along with an official disclaimer: the government can't vouch for their authenticity. Indeed, intelligence officials told the Times that the papers "include hearsay, disinformation and forgery."
Even intelligence professionals can get things wrong: remember the document alleging Saddam's attempt to purchase uranium from Niger that had been signed by an official who hadn't been in power for ten years at the date of the letter? Now, according to Michael Scheuer, formerly of the CIA, anyone "with a smattering of Arabic" can access the documents and draw "all kinds of crazy conclusions."
To test that assertion, I looked at a couple of the documents myself. Now, my Arabic isn't perfect, but something in section 1075 on page 21 of document 2RAD-2004-600984, innocuously titled "Excerpt from a military training manual," caught my eye.
Again, I'm no fluent speaker of Arabic or any kind of intelligence expert, but this document clearly appears to indicate some kind of "Oil for Sheets" program in which Martha Stewart provided Saddam Hussein with high-quality fabrics that he in turn traded with Al Qaeda operatives in exchange for...well, I can't make that word out, but never mind...and those sheets were then tailored and sold in the black markets of Afghanistan as burqhas. I hope Martha liked prison, because if I'm right, she's going back. But this time, she might be having cell decorating contests at Gitmo.
Seriously, I doubt there is anything in these documents of any use at all. After three years in Iraq, if we haven't found anything there's nothing to find. Unreliable, unsourced, questionable documents aren't going to change that.
If the Republicans want to post some useful documents on the web for Americans to scour over in an effort to uncover long-hidden truths, maybe they could post the notes from Cheney's energy task force meetings.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
- "Relaxin' at Camarillo," by Charlie Parker
- "La luce langue," Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi, Leonie Rysanek, soprano
- "I Will Survive," by Gloria Gaynor
- "Son vergin vezzosa" (I'm a charming virgin), I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini, Beverly Sills, soprano
- "Frozen," by Madonna
- "D'amor sull'ali rosee," Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
- Thunder & Lightning Polka, by Johann Strauss, Andre Previn, conductor
- "Wohin?" Die Schöne Müllerin by Franz Schubert, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
- "O solitude," by Henry Purcell
- Sonata in C K.309 by Domenico Scarlatti, David Russell, guitar
- "Se a caso madama," Le nozze di Figaro by W.A. Mozart, Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone & Alison Hagley, soprano
- "L'altra notte," Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito, Renata Tebaldi, soprano
- "Amanti, io vi so dire," by Benedetto Ferrari, Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
- "Prendi per me," L'Elisir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti, Mirella Freni, soprano
Word of the day "SoulmatePod" courtesy of Biscuit.
Monday, March 27, 2006
At first there was a glimmer of hope: the tech discovered some little bit of foreign debris inside the hole-thingy at the bottom of the iPod where you attach the cord-thingy. (Look, I can extemporize at length and in detail on the way Verdi's compositional style matured during the course of his career, so I don't care that I'm a technical idiot.) This was very exciting as it made sense that this would be interfering with the re-charging and updating process.
Alas, that wasn't the problem...or at least it didn't solve it. The Genius listened to it and said, "You hear that clicking and whirring sound? The drive is busted." *Sniff*
They do have an iPod recycling program, so I tossed my old one in the heap and got the new 30 gig at a 10% discount. It's uploading now...
And NO, I am not going to put porn on it.
At least until Lent's over.
Well, that was a crappy ass weekend.
Friday after work I was in a not-very-good-mood. Nothing specific, just more of my usual malaise (I hate New York, but I'd love it if I weren't so poor...or so single...etc. wah wah wah) and so not feeling very sociable I went home to pout, and missed my friend's Molly Ringwald film festival. You know Andy's depressed when he skips a Ringwald double-header.
For the third weekend in a row, the A train wasn't running above 168th Street. I wasn't exactly stranded; I could walk the 20 blocks south to pick it up, or about a half-mile east to the 1 train. Still, it's hardly convenient. Saturday was crappy; cold and windy and dark. I was still depressed. Didn't want to face the world, but couldn't bear the thought of sitting at home, either, so I went down to Old Navy in Chelsea to refresh my t-shirt repertoire.
Stupid MTA. The #1, which makes local stops all along Broadway from one end of Manhattan to the other, was only running as far south as 14th Street. And it was making express stops from 42nd to 14th. If you wanted any of the local stations, you were supposed to connect to the #2 -- the express train -- which was making all local stops. This makes sense how, exactly?
Given the blustry weather, the rain, the subway inconvenience and my bad mood, there was no real point in going out Saturday night. So I decided I'd pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels' and just get reacquainted with an old friend called television.
Of course, I had given up alcohol for Lent. So I felt guilty, but...oh, the sweet, smooth taste...the warmth flooding into my toes, the gentle buzz of a whiskey soda. It helped.
A friend tells me that in fact I did not cheat, after all, because apparently Saturday was the Feast of the Annunciation and you don't have to fast on feast days. So I got off on a technicality. Phew. (Personally, I don't think Jesus does technicalities. Especially when it comes to symbolic gestures. Jesus is up there giving me His own symbolic gesture, His hand in the shape of a capital L held against His forehead.)
Sunday's weather was just like Saturday's, but wetter. I was going to spend the morning doing some housework (the plan was to organize the closets!), but I had just turned on my iPod when things started to go wrong. It was on shuffle and it came to a song I didn't feel like hearing, so I hit the ">>" and it went to the next one...and the next one, and the next one, and the next one, without playing any music. And it wouldn't stop. Turned it off, tried again. Same thing.
So I plugged it into the computer, and it said it needed to be restored. Okay. So, I wiped it clean. Then it said to plug it into the regular power cable to "flash" it or whatever it does. Okay. I decided I shouldn't detach it until it was fully charged up, but that took a couple hours. I can't clean without my iPod, so I sat at the computer and chatted with a friend in Texas until it was time to go meet my wonderful friend M.M. for brunch after her regular church gig, which was completely the highlight of the weekend.
When I got home the iPod was charged, so I re-attached it to the computer to reload the 3978 songs I have on it. And this is when things really went downhill. It crashed my computer like three times. Clicking on the icon to safely disconnect the iPod resulted in nothing. Twice I got iTunes to recognize it and start reloading, but after a few minutes it gave me an error message: "Cannot find device." Sigh.
I had some more Jack Daniels'. (Sundays don't count as Lent, either, I'm told.)
So I relaxed on the couch and enjoyed one of my favorite movies, The 13th Warrior, on SciFi. Now, that's my idea of a really great terrible movie.
Then, mourning what seems to be the death of my beloved iPod, I went to bed.
Then I woke up at 1:30 and had an anxiety attack (same old same old, why am I in NY, why am I alone, what the frack is wrong with me that I'm this old and this poor) and...well, I just laid there awake in bed until 4:30.
Strangely when the alarm clock went off at 7:00 I didn't feel all that tired. I cashed in my piggy jar at a Commerce Bank on my way to work: $56.86. After work tonight I'll head up to the Apple store in SoHo and ask if there's anything that can be done. (The warranty expired exactly one month ago today.) But I expect I'll just be coming home with a new one.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Friday, March 24, 2006
People might think they believe in what the Bible “literally” says, but I can assure you, they do not. Even the most extreme Christian fundamentalists interpret passages of Scripture.
In fact, it’s not even possible, or at least not intellectually honest, to believe that every word of the Bible is literally true, because the Bible frequently contradicts itself. I’m not even talking about the Old Testament passages that Jesus overturned. I’m saying that as a historical document, it doesn’t line up. The creation timeline in the first chapter of Genesis contradicts the second chapter. But that’s nothing. Just try reconciling the different Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth.
When pressed on timeline contradictions, Fundamentalists will (accurately) point out that the Gospels were written decades after Christ’s death, and suggest that in the various memories of the Evangelists certain details got bumped around, though what matters most is not the chronology but the events and messages contained therein. Well, that, my friends, is an interpretation. That’s putting ancient documents in historical context. I’d like to encourage that trend.
A rabbi explained to me once that in Jewish tradition, the Bible is regarded as the start of the conversation, not the final word.
Many Christians would react in horror to the suggestion that the Bible isn’t the ultimate authority on everything. They insist the Bible is the word of God, period. But even they don’t really believe it, and here’s why.
Recently in a post where I debunked the religious right’s myths about legalizing gay marriage, I pointed to the following passage from the book of Deuteronomy: "If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days.”
What the…??? Can you imagine a Christian arguing that a rape victim should be forced to marry her attacker as part of HIS punishment because the Bible says so? (The passage also suggests that the punishment only applies if he’s caught in flagrante.) Our modern sensibilities recoil in disgust at the notion. There is no way around it: our internal moral compass tells us that the Bible is just plain wrong here.
Putting this verse in historical context, as we do with the chronologically conflicted Gospel stories, we see plainly that Old Testament morality has much more to do with cultural practices of the ancient middle east than God’s will.
What about the New Testament, though? Paul writes in I Corinthians that “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.” Apparently that doesn’t include the Pope’s hat. He follows that by saying, “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” Who adheres to these rules? It seems to fly in the face of the Gospel message that God cares more about what’s in our hearts than any outward gesture.
There are other passages that most Christians and churches recognize as being in conflict with the core of the Gospel: I Corinthians 14:34-35 is a lovely example. Exodus 21:20-21 is another. I could go on.
Just as we no longer stone adulterers or declare women unclean for seven days every month, I am convinced that Christian society will ultimately come to accept the truth that the Biblical statements against homosexuality reflect ancient cultural prejudice and not divine will. Let’s let the Bible be the beginning of our conversation about faith, not the final word.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
I'm sorry, not possible.
If that is true, then George W. Bush is even more incompetent than even the most unhinged liberal has yet charged.
Travel back in time with me, if you will, to January of 2003. President Bush is giving his State of the Union address, in which he asserts that Saddam Hussein possesses the following: 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard gas and VX nerve agent, 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical weapons and several mobile biological weapons labs. Also, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production." Those last two statements have been soundly debunked, but I enjoy bringing them up again.
Now, let's look at this in practical terms.
Chemical and biological agents are not the easiest things to manage. Biological agents are literally living things; they need special conditions to be preserved. Chemical agents can be highly volatile. Transporting these items would require very careful preparations with specialized equipment. Now consider the quantity. Even moving just a fraction of the above amounts would require a massive, coordinated operation.
Did we not have satellites watching Iraq 24/7 in the weeks and months before the war? Are there not also presumably Russian, Chinese, Indian, Israeli, German, French and British satellites up there? We are not the only country with an intelligence service. Presumably we'd be carefully watching the country (and its borders!) for troop deployment to help plan our battle strategy; presumably also, worried about the threat of WMD's, we'd be watching to make sure it didn't appear that Iraq was about to use any of them on pro-American Kurdish forces, Kuwait, Israel or U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia.
So for this scenario to be possible, we'd have to assume that Saddam Hussein managed to move mindboggling amounts of volatile chemical and biological agents to a country we also don't like or trust right under our noses and we had no idea. None whatsoever.
I know a lot of conservatives espouse this theory. Do you have any idea how bad that makes George Bush look?
But wait, there's more. It's not just that more than three years into our occupation of Iraq we have not found a single droplet of any of the banned items listed above, two separate investigations led by Bush's handpicked representatives (David Kay, succeeded by Charles Duelfer) concluded that there was no evidence Saddam Hussein possessed WMD's.
Now, by "no evidence," I don't just mean the chemicals and bio-agents themselves. These aren't things you can keep in mason jars in your basement. They require ingredients and components, storage and manufacturing labs and facilities, documentation. We found nothing. Nada. We are supposed to believe that a country that possessed all these terrible things in such quantities managed not only to FedEx the weapons themselves to Syria without our noticing (or anyone else's), they got rid of every last trace of anything that would have shown a weapons program capable of producing and maintaining the alleged arsenal.
All of this while we were watching their country like a hawk planning an invasion.
Take your pick, Republicans. Either there were no weapons, or your beloved President let them get away. Now, which is it?
It’s not that I’m entertaining serious thoughts of moving. (Fantasies, yes.) It’s just that I’ve been in this apartment for ten years, and am contemplating renewing the lease for two more. And I can’t escape the thought: What am I doing here?
Not in the apartment, in New York. I came here with a plan, and for a long time it was working. The poverty, the boredom, the uncertainty…all of it I could handle because I was working toward something and seeing progress.
All that has changed now. It still seems sometimes like the decision to face reality and get a job was a recent one, but it’s been almost two years since my last public performance. The plan then was to get a corporate job, save money like hell, and move back to the West Coast where I’d…well, I’d figure that part out.
But the corporate world didn’t work for me. I was losing my soul, and I developed bizarre physical symptoms of stress: my hands were always ice cold AND sweaty. Very gross. And I started gnawing on the collars of my shirts. Weird. The money didn’t really compensate for it: I just couldn’t bring myself to work as hard as was necessary on a job I couldn’t care about.
So…I found a job I like. I enjoy it, I really do. Having temped for years in this city, I know what is out there, and I know not to mess with a good situation. But do you want to know something? The last year I temped exclusively, I made more money than I make at my full-time job. Okay, yes, now I have benefits and paid vacation. And my sweaty hands are not pawing at my own clothes while I eat them in fits of anxiety. But I have less money to spend.
I stare at that lease renewal and can’t help but think about the future. Sure the job is good, for now, but…what does it lead to? I don’t want to be an administrative assistant my whole life. Unfortunately, I have no answer for the question, “What DO I want to do?”
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
In the summer of 1990, I traveled to Japan as part of a homestay program in Shizuoka Prefecture. (That's me, floating down the Tenryu River. Was I a twink or what?)
Anyway, inspired by Glen (who is most definitely not an ugly American, woof!) and Barbara's comment below, I had to share a classic memory from this trip.
I was in a Daimaru department store in Tokyo strolling around having a wonderful time, when I chanced upon another American tourist at a watch counter. Now, if you've ever been shopping in Japan, you know that customer service is a little more formal than it is in America. Anyway, so this guy, with a belt buckle the size of my head, saunters up to the counter and the sweet faced young girl bows politely and squeaks, "Irrasshaimase!"
The man says, in a thick southern accent, "Hey, show me that purty one there, honey."
The girl blushes and says softly, "Excuse, no English."
The man sighs and pulls out a Berlitz book. "Okay, lemme see here..."
Now, I was relatively skilled at Japanese, and I considered helping him out. The phrase "Please show me that" is Kore o misete kudasai. For whatever reason, I decided just to watch.
"Um, ko-ray oh muhsetty cooter-sah," says the man.
The girl blinks and blushes. Gomen nasai, wakarimasen.
The man tries again, a little louder, "KO-ray oh MUHSETTY cooter-SAH!" Nothing.
"Christ, woman!" he says. "Don't you speak yer own gol'darn language?"
I was channel-surfing and landed on the President's press conference. I'll give the President some credit; it does take guts to stand up there on live television being shown around the world fielding random questions on a broad array of topics. His job, of course, is made harder still by his determination to put the best possible spin on a number of different disasters.
He was visibly distressed when a question about Social Security reform arose. This President should never play high-stakes poker: in 18 point bold Arial font, the words "Oh, crap, I thought we were done with this one...what were those arguments I used again?" appeared across his brow.
Anyway, I'm sure the press will have much to say and many statements to parse from this rare, hour-long appearance by the President, mostly on the subjects of Iran and Iraq. I wanted to focus on the disparity between two civil rights issues that Bush addressed.
Referring to the Taliban, the President said: "They rule by intimidation and fear, by death and destruction. And the United States of America must take this threat seriously and must not -- must never forget the natural rights that formed our country. And for people to say, Well, the natural rights only, you know, exist for one group of people, I would call them, you know -- I would say that they're denying the basic rights to others. "
For the moment I will let slide the irony that the Bush Administration does largely rule through intimidation and fear and has sought to promote "liberty" through death and destruction abroad. I wanted to contrast Bush's correct concern that the "natural rights" (presumably Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness) exist for all with another statement he made a few moments later.
A reporter asked, "Mr. President, two years ago, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, heard your State of the Union address, went back to California and began authorizing the marriage of gay men and lesbians. Thousands of people got married. The California courts later ruled he had overstepped his bounds. But we were left with these pictures of thousands of families getting married. And they had these children. Thousands of children. Now, that might have changed the debate, but it didn't. But in light of that, my question is: Are you still confident that society's interest and the interests of those children in gay families are being met by government saying their parents can't marry?"
Oh, snap! But the President punted: "I believe society's interests are met by defining marriage as between a man and a woman. That's what I believe. "
Monday, March 20, 2006
It is imperative (to her) that these items stay in the family. Many years ago she gave my parents a clock that we generally agreed was hideous, and we sold it off in a garage sale. After my parents divorced, she demanded the clock back from my mother.
When I was a child, I used to visit each set of grandparents, one in California, one in Colorado, for a few weeks each summer. Once as I was packing up and getting ready to fly back home to Oregon from Denver, Grandmother sat me down and gave me a very special gift.
It was a glass marble. She told me it was very old, that it had come over with the family when they left Scotland for America in 1773, and that in fact it had been with them when they arrived in Massachusetts on the last ship to enter before the British closed the port following the Boston Tea Party. I was about eight at the time, and this impressed me tremendously.
I thought the marble itself was rather ugly. It was big and scratched and dented and inside were some swirly patterns in yellow and pale green that I thought were kind of weird. But it didn’t matter. This was a genuine heirloom that had been in my family for over 200 years, and now it was going to be mine. I was extremely honored by this gift. I promised to take very, very good care of it. I went downstairs and placed it securely inside one of the pockets of my suitcase.
When I got home to Portland, I couldn’t find the marble.
I looked everywhere. I took out each item of clothing and shook it and shook it again. I looked inside everything where the marble could have gone. I looked under my bed. I looked every last place I could think of, but I never found it. I had lost Great Great Great Grandfather’s marble. I was so ashamed. I never told anyone, because I couldn’t bear for Grandmother to know that I had lost this special gift.
Last month when I was home visiting my family, my dad was telling me about a trip he took up to Alaska to visit my cousins, and was saying that he’d taken up some family gifts. He just happened to mention that Grandmother gave “Grandfather’s Marble” to my cousin Will’s little boy.
So after all this time, I can only assume that after giving me this present and making me promise to take extra special care of it, she changed her mind and took it back out of my suitcase without telling me.
And here I thought I was the one missing a marble.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
My company is expanding into a larger, better space in the same building. We're leaving a dark, cramped little hole with "views" of the airshaft and trading it in for panoramic views of the East River, all the way from midtown to Staten Island. This is the view from the Deputy Director's new corner office. My view is a little, how shall I say...less expansive.
Friday, March 17, 2006
For one thing, the First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The language for this amendment was based in part on Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 “Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which when read in tandem with Jefferson’s famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut shows the author’s firm belief that the Amendment builds “a wall of separation between Church and State.” The Supreme Court has upheld this principle in cases such as Lee v. Weisman.
Any suggestion that same-sex marriage ought to be illegal based upon religious objections would constitute a government endorsement of one particular view of marriage to the exclusion of other equally protected points of view, and represents a glaring breach of first amendment principles.
To prove that there is a clear distinction between civil marriage and holy matrimony, one need only look to the law as it applies (or rather, doesn’t) to two of America’s main religious traditions.
In conservative and Orthodox Judaism, divorce can only be granted by the husband (though he can be compelled by a rabbinical court). However, a Jewish woman wishing to dissolve her legal bond with her husband may do so in civil court, even without the consent and recognition of her family and religious community.
The Catholic Church does not allow remarriage for people who have been divorced, however there is no limit to the number of civil marriages and divorces a person can have that will be recognized by the government. Moreover, the government does not in any circumstance require that a marriage be solemnized by a religious official. The plain fact of the matter is, the government already recognizes marriages that are not approved by certain religious organizations. Extending the right of civil marriage to same sex couples changes nothing.
Lie #1: Gays Seek to Re-Define Marriage
The United Church of Christ’s resolution in support of gay marriage (yes, you read that correctly) begins, “Ideas about marriage have shifted and changed dramatically throughout human history,” and notes “the Gospel values of covenant do not come from the practices of marriage, which change and evolve throughout the history of the biblical story.”
Religious conservatives keep telling us that marriage is the basic foundational cornerstone of civilization that has remained unchanged for thousands of years, but this simply doesn’t bear up under historical scrutiny. President Bush has said he supports a “biblical view” of marriage, but the Bible says a man who rapes a single woman must marry her (Deuteronomy 22:28-30). Does he want to go on record supporting that?
In our own country in the last century, the legal understanding of the word “marriage” has changed radically. Courts have established that a married woman may possess property in her own name; courts have ruled that a woman can be raped by her husband; courts and legislatures have legalized “no-fault” divorces; and most notably, bans on interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional. The religious and moral arguments raised against miscegenation were word for word the same as the arguments against same-sex marriage.
Not only has marriage not remained unchanged for millennia, it wouldn’t matter even if it were true: a court is never going to rule that historical discrimination justifies itself in the present day.
Lie #2: Marriage is Fundamentally about Children and Procreation
That may be true for many religious denominations, but it is irrelevant to civil marriage. Heterosexuals do not have to affirm their intent to procreate in order to obtain a civil marriage license, let alone provide proof of fertility. There is no legal barrier to women who are past childbearing age for getting married. It is also not illegal to be a single parent.
The conservative ideal for child-rearing is a stable, married couple consisting of the biological parents of the children. But how many heterosexuals achieve that ideal? They divorce at a rate of 43-50%. Being married and heterosexual is no guarantee of being a good parent: countless married, heterosexual parents have abused their biological children emotionally, sexually, physically and some have even murdered them.
Being gay doesn’t guarantee you’re a good parent, either, but then gay people don’t tend to have children by accident. Presently there are around 700,000 children in America either waiting to be adopted or in foster care. Conservatives who want to ban adoption by gay people (single or partnered) find themselves forced to argue that it’s better for children “to languish in state custody, or bounce from foster home to foster home, than be raised by gay parents who want them.” Family courts, even in conservative regions of America like Virginia and Indiana, haven’t bought that argument.
Conservatives also like to allege that homosexuals are more likely to abuse children who are in their care, despite a total lack of scientific evidence. But guess what? Convicted heterosexual sex offenders can legally marry and have their own biological children.
Lie #3: There is Religious Consensus that Homosexuality is Immoral
Last month the Supreme Court of New Jersey heard oral arguments over whether same-sex marriage is required by the state constitution. A Friend of the Court brief was filed on behalf of the seven plaintiff couples suing for the right to marry that was signed by over 150 clergymembers and representatives from diverse religious organizations.
The letter states, “A growing number of religious traditions and faith organizations support equal civil marriage rights and regularly perform religious marriages for same-sex couples.” It then goes on to list the Reform Jewish Movement, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalists, the Episcopal Church and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) as examples of mainstream religions which recognize and solemnize same-sex marriages; further endorsements came from representatives of other traditions currently engaged in their own struggle to define the parameters of sacred matrimony, including the Lutheran, Catholic and Baptist churches, as well as Al-Fatiha, an Islamic foundation.
Right now, the Halakhic (law committee) of the American Conservative Jewish Movement is debating whether to allow same-sex marriages. What’s not on the table? Inter-faith marriages. That’s right: inside the conservative Jewish movement, there is wide support for two people of the same sex to have a religiously recognized marriage, as long as they’re both Jewish.
Lie #4: Same-Sex Marriage is Being Forced on People
Despite the sheer nonsense of the claim that marriage for heterosexuals would be affected in any way by the legalization of same-sex marriage, some conservatives are launching a Constitutional complaint that their right to the free exercise of their religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment is violated by government recognition of gay marriage. As has already been plainly illustrated, the law already allows marriages that are not recognized by some religious traditions. Furthermore, given that in fact many religious groups do support the full inclusion of gay people in civil marriage, the free exercise clause is actually enhanced by the expansion of this right.
Ultimately, as the Amici wrote in their New Jersey brief, “Different religious faiths will continue to come to various conclusions on the issue of religious marriage for same-sex couples, but this has no bearing on the issue of the right to civil marriage for these couples.”
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
The year was 1776 and the ink was barely dry on the Declaration of Independence when construction began on a pentagonal earthen fortification atop a bluff on Manhattan Island overlooking the Hudson River, across from another outpost in New Jersey, Fort Lee. Armed with canon capable of firing clear across the river, Fort Washington was part of a rebel strategy to secure not only Manhattan Island but the Hudson River and prevent the British goal of bisecting the colonies.
To this end, the Americans sank ships in the Hudson between the two forts, their tall masts studded with sharp iron spikes. Rising from the highest natural point on the island, Fort Washington was unapproachable from the west because of the steep cliffs and Fort Lee’s canon. Unfortunately, it was vulnerable from every other direction, and had no convenient water source.
General Washington recommended that the post be abandoned, but his comrade General Nathanael Greene had confidence in the sunken ships and believed in the necessity of the fort’s strategic position.
In early November, an American deserter named William Demont provided drawings of Fort Washington to British officers to help them plan an attack. On the night of November 5, under cover of darkness the British sailed three flat-bottomed ships (thus avoiding the spikes) and took up positions north of the fort, as other garrisons of British and Hessian troops moved in from the east and south.
On November 15, Colonel Robert Magaw, commander of Fort Washington, received an order to surrender from the Royalists, which he refused. After a delay caused by inclement weather, the British, outnumbering the Americans three to one, commenced an attack around noon the next day.
General Washington tried to cross the Hudson from New Jersey to help, but British naval positions fired on him and he was forced to retreat. By nightfall, 54 Americans were dead, and Magaw surrendered. Nearly 3,000 American soldiers were captured, and many of them died under horrible conditions onboard English prison ships anchored off Brooklyn.
Among those who fell at Fort Washington was John Corbin, who was shot while manning one of the cannon. His 25 year old wife Margaret, also inside the fort, rushed to his post and took over his duties until she, too, was hit with a shotgun blast which struck her in the shoulder, chest and jaw; she never regained the use of her left arm. For her valor, the Continental Congress in 1779 made her the first American woman to receive a military pension as a disabled soldier.
The British retained control of Manhattan until their defeat in 1783.
Let us never forget the blood that was shed for our liberty.
Monday, March 13, 2006
No, I'm not talking about his dire warnings of "human animal hybrids." I'm talking about this statement: "In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger and decline."
This phrase confused me, not least because it is, in fact, true. My question was, who the hell is he talking to? But he continued:
"America rejects the false comfort of isolationism."
"Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need. "
"American leaders -- from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan -- rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march."
Given that Bush doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with his foreign policy direction, I have to assume that he intended to criticize Democrats with these statements.
This is the same President who backed out of the Kyoto Protocol. The same President who views the Geneva Accords as archaic and non-binding. The President who believes he has the authority to exempt India from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The President who threatened to veto the anti-torture resolution which passed the Senate 90-9. The President who won't ratify American participation in the International Criminal Court. The President who used a recess appointment to install the U.N.'s biggest critic as our ambassador.
Speaking of the U.N., this is the President who only submitted a resolution to authorize the use of force against Iraq to the Security Council because Democrats insisted on it. The President who then withdrew said resolution when it became clear it had no chance of passing and invaded anyway.
The President whose supporters accused John Kerry of giving too much deference to international opinion, and mocked his ability to speak French, even as they praised Bush's much rumored, never heard, ability to speak Spanish.
Maybe the President has seen the error of his ways, and now understands that to move forward in terms of the War on Terror, the global economy, the environment and human rights, going it alone is much less effective than working cooperatively.
Fat chance, unless the President has also developed a new interest in compromise. What the President fails to understand is that we are isolated not because of liberal distaste for globalization, but because of his attitude. His arrogance, his ignorance and his willingness to lie to advance a private agenda has left America lonelier than a penguin in Greenland.*
The run-up to the Iraq war taught us everything we need to know about Bush's interest in working cooperatively. He believes diplomacy is bribing or threatening allies into doing our bidding. America needs allies, now as much as at any time in our history. But allies don't stick around if you refuse to listen to them.
* Thank you, KR.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
My favorite story about this particular diva involves a Metropolitan Opera performance of La Traviata a couple of seasons ago, where two pretentious old queens were standing against the railing of the
As with her frequent stage partner Robert Merrill, I was first introduced to her singing my senior year of high school when I picked up highlights of their classic recording of La Boheme. She specialized in opera's fragile heroines: Mimi, Violetta, Gilda, Lucia.
She was thin, beautiful, glamorous and an affecting actress but her early career was badly mismanaged (too much, too soon, too often) which resulted in a vocal crisis from which she never recovered. Fortunately several recordings were made during her brief but glorious vocal prime. The best of these is a spectacular Lucia di Lammermoor (sadly not presently available), partnered by a vibrant Carlo Bergonzi exuding exemplary Italianate dramatic interpretation and flawless bel canto legato, a robust and menacing Mario Sereni, and the amazing and much under-appreciated Ezio Flagello.
Her spectacular technique allowed for a warm, easy full lyric sound with tremendous coloratura agility, stretching easily up to high E-flat and beyond. Her top notes were brilliant and secure, including a sustained high F in "Ah, non giunge!" For a time she was the Met's reigning Violetta, combining Sutherland's technical proficiency with Scotto's dramatic insight and expressive power and a timbre all her own.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Consider the work of God: for who can make straight what He has made crooked?
On the day I realized I was gay, I threw up.
I was not an effeminate child, but I was different. I was chubby, I preferred books to sports, and I was extremely introverted. I didn’t relate well to other kids, and I only had one friend, faithful little Paul, who didn’t seem to mind the way I mercilessly bossed him around.
I was always teased. “Gayrod” was the usual epithet. I had to ask my mother what it meant. The kids at school liked to play a little game they called “smear the queer,” in which they would suddenly rush and tackle some unsuspecting unpopular kid. It was often me. In the polite suburbs of Portland, young kids just didn’t use dirty language. If you wanted to insult someone or something, you said he/she/it was “gay.” That was the derogatory adjective of choice. That was the worst thing you could say about someone.
Once I was dragged backwards through a pile of dogshit on the playground.
Puberty did me a huge favor: I entered seventh grade at 4’11” and 131 pounds. I left it at 5’6” and 116 pounds, and spent the summer before eighth grade two hours away from home at a camp in Eugene, Oregon, where there wasn’t a single other student from my school. I had a clean slate, and miraculously I fell in with the popular crowd.
They taught me all the stuff I had missed out on: it was like a cram session in popularity. I learned about popular music (I’d always listened to classical), I used hairspray and deodorant for the first time, and they sent me back to my mother at the end of the summer with a list of acceptable clothing labels: Bugle Boy, Generra, Guess, Swatch. I returned to school in the fall tall, skinny, with trendy long hair and a brand new wardrobe. Suddenly I was popular at home, too, sitting at the good table at lunch, going to the good parties on weekends.
My friends and I at camp had been inseparable. We did everything together. We often stayed up late talking in one person’s room and would all fall asleep together. We ate every meal together. And, we usually ended up showering in the locker room at the same time.
Sexually, I was a very innocent teenager. Though my parents had explained the birds and the bees to me (actually, they gave me a book and left it at that), I didn’t really understand much of the banter my friends tossed around. I thought a “blowjob” literally meant a girl blew air on your private parts, and that didn’t really sound all that exciting to me. (It never occurred to me that men could do it to each other.) I thought “buttfucking” was two people literally rubbing their butts together in a humping motion; I didn’t really see the appeal in that, either. (When it was explained to me, I nearly fainted from shock.)
That’s when my problems started. I would wake up in the middle of the night after having a dream – you know, one of those dreams that teenage boys get? – and realize I’d been dreaming about my friends. And it happened with my new friends in the popular crowd at school, too, who were beginning to experiment sexually. My best friend asked me if I’d ever masturbated, which I hadn’t. He explained to me how to do it, and recommended I use Vaseline. When I got home, I intended to think about girls, but ended up being more aroused by the thought of Matt smearing himself with jelly and the memories of my naked friends back at camp.
I felt guilty about all this, of course. I was very religious, attending services and Sunday school at a nearby evangelical Lutheran church every week – I was also a member of the handbell choir. Still, a few months went by before the concrete realization about my situation hit me with the force of a thunderbolt: I didn’t care about girls. Sexually, I was only interested in boys. Period. End of story. It was a sudden, awful flash of enlightenment: I ran to the bathroom and vomited repeatedly.
I sure as hell didn’t tell anyone. At school I was careful to comment about which girls I liked and I made a point of calling guys we didn’t like “fags.” (This is why all gay men suspect all rabid homophobes of being gay: we all tried that strategy.) Then I would race home after school and take out the Vaseline and massage my anxiety away with memories of stolen glimpses in the locker room. Afterward I would pray. I apologized regularly to God; I was sorry, I knew it was wrong, I begged for forgiveness, and promised to change. I asked for His help probably a thousand times a day. I did not want to be gay.
Three years later, the Lord answered my prayer.
Meantime, I had stopped going to church. I never gave up my faith, and while there was no specific incident, gradually I came to the realization that I was not welcome at my church: I felt like a fraud, a liar, an evil sinner in the midst of all these righteous people. I could not take the guilt anymore. Still, I prayed every day for help and guidance with my problem.
The stress meant I was having trouble sleeping, and a therapist I was seeing suggested that I take a walk at night. So every night I would disappear for an hour or so before bed, and walk around my quiet suburban neighborhood in the dark and talk to God. It was always the same: help me, God. Please, I’m sorry, God. Please. I want to be a good Christian. I don’t want to go to hell. I don’t want this, but I don’t feel I can help it.
The harder I tried, the harder I prayed, the more intense my same-sex attractions grew. Equally intense were my frequent fantasies about suicide. My dad had a couple of rifles in the closet. I knew where the bullets were. I used to go into the kitchen and take out the long, sharp knives and stare at them. And finally, I swallowed a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol.
I was living with my father at the time. My father the southern Baptist. My father who, upon seeing that I was reading The Scarlet Letter for school, commented, “They should make all homosexuals wear a big pink Q.” After I took the pills I panicked and called my mother, who came and picked me up in the middle of the night and took me to the hospital, leaving my bewildered father to wonder what was going on. When he showed up at the emergency room, frantic, his eyes brimming with tears, I refused to see him.
It was a year before I spoke to him again.
During that time, something happened I did not expect. I fell in love.
It was not requited; having endured a childhood similar to mine, my friend was not ready to admit that the bullies who used to beat him up after school had been right all along: he was a homo. Nothing physical ever happened between us, and that was the most important part of this life-saving lesson. I learned that homosexuality is not about sex. It’s about love. My feelings for him were so intense, so strong and, I swear, pure. Sixteen years later, I’m still waiting to feel that again. But the knowledge that it was even possible saved me.
I knew I did not choose to be gay. I felt and continue to feel it’s not something I have control over, any more than I could change the color of my eyes or grow to be eight feet tall by praying hard enough. I was born this way; why, I do not know.
I do know this: on Ash Wednesday, the prayer that opens the traditional Anglican rites begins, “Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made.” God does not hate fags.
Some people ask why we need “Gay Pride” since, after all, they like to point out, there’s no corresponding “Hetero Pride” celebration. Others, like a frequent contributor to the comments section on this blog, suggest that “Gay Pride” is merely “Anal Sex Pride.”
Ignoring for the moment that that doesn’t explain lesbian participation; ignoring for the moment that not all gay men have anal sex; ignoring for the moment that there are celibate gay people; ignoring for the moment that a LOT of heterosexuals practice and enjoy anal sex, I’ll tell you why we need “Gay Pride.”
I didn’t write this story for sympathy. My story is not remotely unusual. In fact, I’m one of the lucky ones. I had it easy. I mean that. For each gay person like me who didn’t have the guts to finish their suicide, there is one who did. I got smeared with dogshit, got called names, and was beaten up in the locker room in junior high; Matthew Shephard was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die.
We celebrate Gay Pride because we made it. We passed through the gantlet of torment that the heterosexual majority makes of our childhoods. Maybe a little bruised, maybe a little scarred, but alive. We escaped from the web of lies spun for us, lies that tell us there is something fundamentally wrong with us, that we are to blame for our own intrinsic qualities. We’re even sometimes blamed for hurricanes and failed heterosexual marriages. We’re taught that we are evil in the sight of God, that our only chance for redemption is a life spent rejecting the thing we want most, the thing that everyone else has: intimate companionship.
We celebrate Gay Pride because when millions of people around the world stand up and show they are not afraid of who they are, that they are happy, that they are healthy, that they are in love – and increasingly, when heterosexuals join us in these marches in solidarity – we make the world a safer place for ourselves and, hopefully, we spare gay kids the hell that we have endured for countless generations.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Monday, March 06, 2006
George Clooney: Oh...
Note to self: if I ever sing professionally again, I will have it written into all my contracts that I will not allow myself to be upstaged by a burning automobile.
Ben Stiller: what. the. hell. I'm not even going to put a question mark there, because I don't want to know.
Salma Hayek: You looked and sounded amazing. You made me question how gay I really am. But then the camera swung back over to George Clooney...and I remembered how gay I am.
DOLLY, YOU WERE ROBBED, I LOVE YOU!
Reese, I was rooting for you. I hope those rumors aren't true.
George Clooney: "I'm proud to be part of this Academy. I'm proud to be part of this community. I'm proud to be out of touch." God bless you. Jeebus Crispies, will people stop apologizing for being liberals already? Stop denying that Hollywood is liberal, as if there's anything to be ashamed about. Liberals ain't the ones ruining the economy, starting unprovoked wars and blaming the gays for it. Sheesh. Yes. I'm a liberal. Want to make something of it, you tax cutting, Constitution editing theocratic lemmingtard? (This word of the day courtesy of Spencer.)
Random Guy in the Kitchen at the Party with the Horrible Dye Job Who Said, of Narnia, "Yeah, isn't that, like, totally based on the Bible?": Clearly you are unfamiliar with both. Be gone.
Jon Stewart: No, you didn't bomb. Who said that? I wouldn't say bomb.
Jake Gyllenhaal: Aw...
George Clooney: Really, you should host the Oscars. You're the only one with real class. Actually...hmm, you kind of have that "gravitas" thing down, too. President Clooney...hmm, hmm...well, just a thought.
The Crash Song: I can't decide which awkward moment lasted longest. Ben Stiller, Lauren Bacall, or you.
Brokeback Mountain: You know, I never really thought it was that good. Honestly. It was brave. It was beautifully done. Some courageous performances. Emotionally, though, I got way more caught up in Narnia and King Kong. Still, I voted for you in the Oscar pool at work.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
I was all set to defend this year’s Oscar nominees against the charge that they were picked as part of some vast, left-wing conspiracy to “intolerantly [bash] America, conservatives and Christians,” as Ted Baehr of the Christian Film & Television Commission put it, and to argue in favor of their artistic merits. But when it came right down to it, I just couldn’t bring myself to say that TLTWATW wasn’t as good as these other films.
You could make strong arguments that TLTWATW deserved nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (Tilda Swinton). I’m not sure that it necessarily would have won, but the work is definitely of the same caliber as the other nominees. Where the Academy really missed the boat was in failing to nominate it for Adapted Screenplay; Brokeback Mountain will (and should) still win this category, but this was the one field where Narnia was especially competitive. Instead, it’s been nominated in technical categories like Visual Effects, where it will get properly stomped on by King Kong.
Back in December I wrote about whether TLTWATW could properly be called “allegorical” or even “Christian,” but I feel there’s still much more to be said on the matter. This was a beautiful, masterfully constructed, magical movie with timeless and universal messages about the nature of good and evil. A lot of intelligent people skipped it because the conservative Christian community kept loudly insisting it was a transparent, one-note allegory. Why should a non-religious or non-Christian person bother with a live-action cartoon about Jesus in a lion suit?
Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ stepson and a co-producer on the film, told the LA Times, “We never set out to make a ‘Christian’ movie. The book taps different veins in different people. If we overstressed what little symbolism there is, we would have thrown away the project.”
“My biggest fear, “ wrote Kris Rasmussen for Beliefnet, “is that in an overzealous attempt to use Narnia as some kind of special marketing tool, churches will deny others, who may not agree with a Christian interpretation of the story, their chance to discover for themselves the depth of meaning(s) in the tale.”
Adults will find a complex understanding of evil, said another Beliefnet writer, Devin Brown. “We don’t just see the actions of evil characters, we come to understand why they behave the way they do. Sensitive [viewers] will wonder to what extent in their own lives, they, like Edmund, are guilty of blaming others for their own failings. And at the same time, also like Edmund, they may wonder if they are totally blind to this fact.” One of the major themes is “no man (or woman) does evil in their own eyes.” Isn’t that the same point as Munich?
Just because the film is replete with talking animals doesn’t mean it’s for children. “It is here that the atheist and the believer meet,” argues The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, “exactly in the realm of made-up magic. Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences…just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes.”
Friday, March 03, 2006
Lent, the Christian season of penitence and spiritual introspection, began this Wednesday, when I participated in the tradition of being marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes, a symbolic reminder of our common origin and common destinies. This year I celebrated the holiday at Trinity Church on Wall Street, where one of my friends and fellow bloggers sings in the choir (though I think he prefers to keep his blog anonymous).
Yesterday morning I had my first test of the Lenten season. I failed spectacularly.
I was in a bad mood. I woke up feeling ill, with a low fever and an upset stomach, but I had no choice but to go into work, as I had a mountain of things to accomplish that could not wait and three appointments too urgent and too late to reschedule. I even left twenty minutes early to get a head start.
I had to wait a long time for the A train; when it finally came, I was able to get a seat but only by being more aggressive than usual about it and wedging myself in between two not-small people. It was a tight fit. Usually the ride on the morning commute is quiet: working people dozing off or reading. Today there was a large group of obnoxious teenagers having a loud, irritating, vulgar conversation.
At 168th Street, they announced the train would make local stops to Canal Street. So much for leaving 20 minutes early.
During the shuffle at 42nd Street, a woman accidentally stepped on a seated man’s foot. “Oh, I’m sorry, she exclaimed.”
“Fuck you,” he said.
“Well, I said I was sorry.”
“Fuck you, you’re lucky I don’t bash your fuckin’ face in, bitch.”
And I thought, I really pity that person, whose pride is so full that they can’t even let something inconsequential like having their foot stepped on slide by, and how much worse that they rejected the apology! People can be so terrible.
By the time we reached my stop, I was already five minutes late for work. It started to snow.
The line at Starbucks was so long it literally went out the door. I noticed a cart on the corner was selling “Filly Steaks.” It irritated me.
I finally got my coffee and headed into my office building, where we have to show ID to get past the security guard. A woman was digging for hers in her purse, and hadn’t moved sufficiently to one side. Just as I was passing her, she turned without looking and bumped into me, spilling some of my coffee down my coat.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
I turned. I scowled. I said nothing.
In the elevator I tried to rationalize it. Ordinarily I would have said, “No problem,” I told myself. But today I’m sick, I’m late, it’s cold and gross outside, and the world just sucks.
At that moment I recalled a passage from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:
“When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and so unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously have been worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.”
Thursday, March 02, 2006
- Box office figures show "Star Wars" is No. 1 among movies released in 2005, with a gross of more than $380 million. Next are "Harry Potter" ($287 million) and "Narnia" (passing Potter soon). "King Kong" is No. 5. "Brokeback" is No. 33 with $72 million, trailing "Chicken Little" (14), "The Dukes of Hazzard" (25) and "March of the Penguins" (26).* But which will win a saddlebag of Oscars on March 5? Hint: It won't be that Christian Narnia story. It will be a movie that sticks to Hollywood's politically correct script like bubblegum on a theater seat.
- The press notices would have you believe this film raked in money and bested The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in per theater revenue on its opening weekend. But that's only half the truth. Brokeback Mountain appears successful because of its popularity in liberal pockets of America, where it opened, but it isn't the blockbuster the boosters of buggery hoped it would be. After seven weeks it earned $42 million, but trailed behind Narnia, which collected about $272 million. Even adjusting for the number of screens on which the former was shown compared to the latter, 1,196 to 2,757, cutting the number of screens in half for Narnia would still produce a figure exceeding $130 million. Doubling the number of screens for Brokeback Mountain would generate $84 million. Walk the Line, the story of Johnny Cash, opened on fewer screens than Brokeback Mountain, 1,125, and in 10 weeks pulled in $102 million. Much as its promoters might hope, this Brokeback Mountain story did not "resonate" with America at large.
- Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, didn’t disagree, but said that these movies were “pet projects” of “media elites.” She noted that none of the three movies had done well at the box office. At the time of the Golden Globes, “Brokeback Mountain” had grossed $32.1 million. “Transamerica” had pulled in less than $1 million in limited release. “Capote” had earned $13 million. “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by contrast, had surpassed the $250-million mark.
- The Christian Film & Television Commission has just released the results of a survey showing that the public’s choices for their favorite films differ sharply from what gets honored by the Hollywood elite. Ted Baehr, chairman and founder of the group, said the survey showed that the most popular movies, in terms of ticket sales, have strong or very strong moral content and acceptability ratings.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, blitzed its way to the No. 1 movie slot on its opening weekend, grossing $67.1 million. This made it the second-biggest December release in history, after Peter Jackson’s epic, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003). Director Ang Lee’s homosexual Western, Brokeback Mountain, also premiered the same weekend in limited release. Showing in five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the film grossed $544,549, averaging $108, 910 per theater.
Two things bother me, quite apart from the out of context dollar figures, which don't account for the fact that the film's marketing strategy was to open in a few cities where it was expected to do well and garner critical acclaim before expanding into more skeptical markets. They also overlook the fact that Brokeback's total production cost was $14 million, and at this writing, it has grossed $127,078,000, so in terms of revenue as a percentage of production cost, it's one of the most financially successful films in history, and it hasn't even yet won any of the eight Oscars for which it has been nominated.
But let's leave all that aside. What is patently obvious is that all of these commentators -- who are supposedly approaching Brokeback with good, Christian righteous horror -- associate financial success with goodness. Never mind 1 Timothy or the Gospels, blessed are the movies which rank number one their opening weekend. (They also apparently think the only good art is art which makes money...but I already went there.)
In addition to the heresy that money has anything to do with righteousness, they're also displaying that fine old Christian virtue, Schadenfreude. Yes, that's right, paging Nelson Muntz! Here's a big ol' Christian "Ha ha!" to the little gay movie that made less than Herbie: Fully Loaded.
* Since this article originally appeared, Brokeback Mountain has surpassed both The Dukes of Hazzard and March of the Penguins in worldwide earnings.