Monday, December 17, 2012

the war on christmas

Sorry to disappoint you, kids, but this is not my favorite season. Many revel in comforting childhood memories of being snuggled close to the bosom of their families at Christmas - the drop in temperature immediately signaling a seasonal kindheartedness in them as they gleefully charge toward the holiday; jingle bells jangling, eager to fight holiday crowds and throw money at gifts soon forgotten. Unfortunately, this is not my experience. The implicit expectation of familial warmth and joviality coupled with the ubiquitous weight of a corporately manufactured ideology manipulating the masses to spend frivolously puts me in an uneasy disposition. In other words, 'tis the season and I'm irritable as hell.  

I've noticed this about myself in the past, but the feelings are especially acute this year. I don't believe it's a coincidence that exactly ten years ago, I was reaching the depths of my ultimate *please, God* bottom with drugs and alcohol. Memories are blurry - there are a few specific and painfully demoralizing recollections, but mostly just awash of feelings of misery and desperation. I used to not put too much stock into the whole concept of seasonal moods, but these last few years, I've experienced anniversarial mood changes that cannot be mistaken. Like rheumatoid arthritis, the season rolls around and my knuckles swell uncomfortably. 

Forgive me my humbuggery, but the carols, the lights, the rows of cut trees on street corners, those damned ringing bells; I simply don't like it. There is a certain muscle memory that fills me with foreboding. Maybe this is a useful thing; a warning of sorts, maybe it's the heightened intuition of my inner drama queen, either way, it's uncomfortable. 

Of course, these vexatious seasonal feelings are conflated with the family situation. The longer I stay sober, the more clearly I can see just how unwell my family is. The need to show up for others countered to my own need to keep a safe and detached distance in order to take care of myself presents a difficult, often painful holiday conundrum. 

There's also the heightened awareness of being single this time of year; having no "special someone" to shop for, or to snuggle with 'neath the twinkling Tannenbaum's boughs. It doesn't help.

As always, but especially so this season, I miss Nanny, my paternal grandmother, and my dog, Zeke. His absence is still so profound that I sometimes experience waves of a void so absolute that I have to catch my breath. The memory of their unconditional love for me fills me with an indescribable hope, and can oftentimes provide a conduit in me through which I might catch glimpses a Higher Power. 

Current events aren't helping matters much. The Connecticut school shooting tragedy brilliantly illuminates the shameful and perverted relationship this country has with guns. Don't worry, I'm not gonna go off on a gun control rant here, I'll just quickly note that these atrocities don't happen anywhere else in the world with the same regularity as they do here. My basket of holiday cheer is neatly tied with a ribbon of disgust at the twisted and ongoing American gun-toting dogma. I'm just star-spangled sick of it.

One more thing and I'll end this gloomy and prattling X-mas post. Just in case you feel the warm tingly need to toss a few clams into one of those bell-ringing Santas' red buckets, know what the Salvation Army actually does with its money. 

Gold bless us, every one. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

all the trimmings

This Thanksgiving was among the most pleasant in my memory. There were only five of us: my pop, my friends S, G, and L, and me. I did all of the cooking and I was happy to do it. We ate well, hung out, laughed, there was no drama (what? on Thanksgiving? you're kidding). A good time was had by all, even my grumpy old pop.

I went upstate Tuesday afternoon with pops; loaded down with shopping bags full of ingredients, and started prepping for the big meal. Pop had ordered a 17 lb organic turkey from the farm up the road from him in Red Hook, New York, and it was there in the refrigerator waiting to be dealt with when we arrived. Late Tuesday afternoon, I washed the bird, reserved the neck and giblets, and put it inside two heavy duty plastic bags to soak in a brine made of 28 cups of water, 1 1/2 cups of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a halved lemon, a handful of juniper berries, a couple tablespoons of coriander, a tablespoon or so of black peppercorns, and about 8 to 10 bay leaves. I made sure that it was submerged in the liquid, secured the bags, put it inside of a huge lobster pot, and then put the pot in the garage (it wouldn't fit in the refrigerator) where the temperature hung around the mid 30s. It stayed there until Thursday morning. I also cut up two loaves of freshly baked Pullman White Bread, removing the crusts, and two loaves of Challah for the stuffings I knew I would be making. I lay the cut-up bread, uncovered on parchment-lined baking sheets on the counter (the bread needs to get kinda stale and hard for the stuffings).

Wednesday I made a Spicy Cranberry-Apple Relish, a Cranberry Tart with a Polenta Crust, and a simple raw Cranberry Relish: One 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries, a cup of sugar, the zest of two oranges, and some grated ginger; pulsed in the food processor to desired consistency - delicious and easy. I also put together a luscious Sweet Potato Gratin, which has become a yearly tradition. I roasted, steamed, and pureed the vegetables for a Butternut Squash Spoon Bread, and blanched green beans for a recipe I'd seen in the Times earlier in the week: Green Beans with Ginger and Garlic.

Thursday morning I started making stock from the giblets and some veggies. I followed this recipe for the Roasted Turkey with Pomegranate Glaze. All that was left for me to do was assemble the Bread Dressing with Dried Apricots, Pistachios, and Mint (I used dried cranberries instead of pomegranate seeds), as well as the savory Challah Stuffing with Fresh Herbs, Celery, and Crimini mushrooms. My pop had already prepared his Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Gingersnap and Toasted Pecan Crust (sorry, I don't know where he got the recipe, but it involves pureed pumpkin, cream cheese, egg yolks, and heavy cream, and it is sinfully delicious), so I was able to turn my attention to roasting the Turkey. 

G, L, and S arrived at around 1:30 with boxes of delectable goodies from a Greek bakery in Astoria, and a selection of cheeses, olives, and cornichons! G and L brought their camping equipment with them, committed to sleeping outside despite the fact that it would drop into the low 30s at night (cray cray!). So G went outside near the river (it's not quite a river, really more of a large stream) and pitched the tent. We Started eating at around 3:30 and kept going until we left for a candle-lit gratitude gathering in Rhinebeck that was to start at 8 o'clock, then we returned to the house for seconds of dessert and several episodes of Tattoo Nightmares (Pop's TV suggestion). 

I had a great time, I loved cooking and eating, I loved watching my friends and my dad enjoy all the food I made. I loved filling my father's house with love and laughter. I'm grateful that I got to spend the holiday with some of my favorite people. I'm grateful that I was far away from any holiday drama. This was truly one for the record books.

L & G down by the river

Thursday, November 8, 2012

angry white guys

Republicans have now lost the popular vote five times out of the last six elections. This is especially inauspicious for the GOP considering that a black man, who many still foolishly believe to be a socialist not born in this country was reelected after the biggest national economic recession since the 1930s. This election should have been a shoe-in for almost any opponent. And while some blame could be laid on a smug, unlikable, out-of-touch, billionaire, Mormon candidate with suspiciously absent tax returns, the real onus belongs to a party unwilling to accept the inevitable changing demographic of the electorate or an evolving secular and modern-thinking public.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in Maryland, Maine, and Washington, and a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota failed. The Senate now has a record number of women-elect chosen to represent their constituents, among them Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and vocal proponent of Wall Street reform. Wisconsin has elected Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay Senator, recreational marijuana use (not just medicinal) is now legal in Colorado and Washington state, Tea Party-backed candidate Joe Walsh lost to Asian-American, disabled, Buddhist, female, veteran Tammy Duckworth, and Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (the rape guys) were easily defeated in their respective districts.

The results of this election should in no way imply that all of America is on board with the chosen trajectory of the nation. Take a look at the electoral map and note the broad red swathe up and down and side to side across this great land. A big portion of that big red pool is the America that clings to their guns and their religion and watches FOX News. More difficult to distinguish amid the extreme rantings of the Tea Party crowd are the other portion of that same red pool; sane and sober folks who honestly believe in fiscal conservatism and less government. Their party has betrayed them.

Surprisingly, I don't want the GOP to disappear; we need a two party system in this country. Hopefully these next four years will give Republicans a much needed time out. The party needs to reevaluate and regroup in a way that they've never considered. In recent history, the GOP's knee-jerk response has been to go farther right; to gratify the demands of the loudest extreme fringe of their base. But as long as Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Trump, Ted Nugent, and angry old men who argue with empty chairs continue to be the spokespeople for the party, they will fail. 

The once substantial and distinguished party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower has morphed into an unrecognizable and acrimonious coalition reminiscent of a truculent NASCAR rally. Social issues need to be removed from their platform if they are to maintain any relevance whatever. Unless the most divisive voices of the right are silenced, and until the party abandons its self-righteous, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic attitudes and makes room for the undeniable diversity of this great country, they will quickly retreat into obscurity. In a rare moment of candid clarity, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who to my thinking usually gets everything wrong, got something very right when he said, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

Sunday, November 4, 2012


A week ago today, New Yorkers were scurrying to prepare themselves for the superstorm that had already crippled parts of the Caribbean and was furiously barreling northwards to wreak havoc on huge swathes of the East Coast. Having anti-climactic memories of Irene from only last year being so crisply imbedded in our collective consciousness unfortunately proved a disservice to the region's preparedness. Sandy, dubbed "Frankenstorm" by much of the media, would demonstrate not only the awesome power of nature's forces, but also the profound vulnerability of humanity. Even to the advanced infrastructure of this major world metropolis. Even to us implacable and hardened New Yorkers.

All public transportation was suspended last Sunday evening; all the bridges were closed to all but emergency vehicles, and huge portions of the outer boroughs, as well as parts of Long Island and New Jersey, had imposed mandatory evacuations. Understand that for this "city that never sleeps" to have it's major arteries stopped creates acute restlessness, agitation, and worry. Thinking that these were extreme precautions put in place to make up for Mayor Bloomberg's much criticized unpreparedness during last year's freak October snowstorm, I went to sleep last Monday night listening to the tempest beat against my windows and the wind whip around the buildings, thinking it would all be over by morning.

Of course, you know what happened next.

Upper Manhattan sustained downed trees and was strewn with debris; store awnings, garbage cans, etc., but ultimately the northern half of the island remained unharmed. We never lost power. Six days later, some areas are still without power and remain in desperate need as the temperatures this morning were in the low 40s. Prayers and wishes for a speedy recovery go out to all who have been affected by the storm.

What was perhaps most interesting for me was waking up the morning after the squall to the news that Governor Chris Christie, key-note speaker at the recent Republican convention and campaign-trail super-buddy of Mitt Romney, was praising President Obama for his rapid response to the people of his state. It was as if I went to sleep in a storm and woke up in Oz.  To Christie's credit, when Steve Doocy of "Fox and Friends" asked if he thought Mitt Romney was going to tour the affected areas of New Jersey, Christie responded, "If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don't know me." Of course, since then he's been being blasted on Fox news as a traitor to his party. But it's heartening to see bi-partisanship and, dare I say it, even humanity in someone who, up until now, I've found to be a boorish bully. While I'll undoubtedly continue to disagree with his policies, I'll view him in a new light going forward.

Another interesting turn in the aftermath of Sandy was Mayor Bloomberg's decision to go ahead with the New York Marathon as planned. While everyone agrees that, as New Yorkers, our resilience is unparallelled, Bloomie's insistence that we're "back to work and open for business" seemed especially compassionless considering, among other things, that the marathon starts on Staten Island, one of the areas most severely impacted by the hurricane. Bodies were still being pulled from buildings as the Mayor was touting the importance of tourist revenue pouring into the city. Certainly, businesses that have suffered financial losses as a result of the storm and the city itself could benefit from added revenue at this time, but logistically, diverting police and city workers to handle crowd control and hand out bottled water to runners as entire communities struggle to survive seemed pointedly callous. Eventually, the mayor's hand was forced by an angry public outcry, much of it from the visiting runners themselves, and the race was cancelled. Bloomberg's original decision earlier this week to carry on with business as usual clearly illustrated both the reasons why a business mentality might be a benefit in government, but more pointedly and importantly, how governing from a strictly business philosophy might lead to insensitive and unsympathetic decisions where suffering constituents are concerned.

We are New Yorkers, however, and like a great cosmopolite phoenix, we shall rise stronger and more determined than before. Until we've all recovered though, please continue to donate, volunteer, and pray for the communities and families who have suffered unprecedented losses from this freak storm. Aside from having our attention diverted for a few days from this maddening and seemingly endless election season, as I see it, two potential advantages have resulted from the devastation of superstorm Sandy: President Obama has been given the opportunity to look Presidential for the past six days as Romney has desperately scurried for attention, and climate change can no longer be scoffed at or ignored as an illegitimate topic.   


Friday, October 26, 2012


It's not hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that there are people running for public office with whom I have greatly differing ideologies. Not only have we not yet fully recovered from a devastating recession, but having had a black man in the White House these past four years has rallied momentum in the extreme far-right edges of the Republican party, and has been the catalyst for some of the most offensive and divisive language in US political History. Leading up to a general election, heated discourse, impassioned rhetoric and loudly differing opinions have generally been how the two party system has worked in this country. No surprise. The information rolling in that shows half of the country supporting a candidate whose social policies would have seemed extreme to Herbert Hoover, however, is baffling to me. I'm not even touching on his glaring lack of foreign policy experience, his Cayman Island bank accounts, various foreign tax shelters, lack of tax returns, leaked videos, or his history of being on every conceivable side of any given issue.

While Willard 'Mitt' Romney has been spectacularly successful as a cutthroat titan of industry, a paragon of capitalist greed, dismantling businesses for profit and outsourcing jobs to other nations to the tune of billions, he's also been a failure as Governor of Massachusetts (look at his polling numbers in that state). He's a ruthless, ambitious, egomaniacal sociopath whose tenacity knows no bounds. Even so, we've somehow gotten used to seeing these kinds of men competing for positions of power. His arrogance is not anything new. His inability to hide it, however, is notable.

Romney is unlikable. His palpable smug Mormon superiority exudes in every interview, every television appearance, and every news photo. His demeanor shouts "I am chosen, you are not. I am above you, I rightly deserve to serve as your leader. And, I always get what I want." His entitled condescension to everybody, and his disrespect and insolence, even to (perhaps especially to) the President confirm this.

His wife Ann's media appearances, intended to soften his message and to appeal to women voters, have only seemed to backfire by reaffirming the Romney brand of supremacy and entitlement. Most notably when asked about the family's conspicuously absent tax returns by ABC's Robin Roberts, Ann responded, "We've given you people all you need to know about our finances." and again on ABC's "The View," when she likened Mormon missionary work to military service. Of course, there was also Mrs. Romney's convention speech when she nostalgically reminisced about how, as young marrieds, she and Mitt were so poor they were forced to eat tuna and spaghetti - never mind the fact that there are countless Americans living in poverty who dream of being able to eat tuna and spaghetti, but I'm sure that the Romney response would be their laziness and lack of personal responsibility are what prevents them that luxury.

Don't think the arrogance stops with Ma and Pa Romney. The night of the second debate, the town hall-styled shindig moderated by Candy Crowley where the President clearly whupped some ass, Tagg, one of the Romney boys, told members of the press that he felt like taking a swing at the President. Nice. Respectful.

Yes, the Romneys are unlikable; entitled, out-of-touch, arrogant, pompous, and all-around odious. Yet half the country plans on voting for this portentous prig anyway. I am confounded and infuriated.

"But I support his economic policies."

Bullshit. The only economic policy Willard is proposing is to continue Bush's pandering to corporate interests, further disassembling social safety nets, and mollycoddling the wealthy, namely his own personal investors. Additionally, Willard, ambitious blowhard that he is, has sworn that on day one of his Presidency he'll end funding to Planned Parenthood, initiate the end of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), approve the Keystone Pipeline, cut off funding for the United Nations Population Fund, reverse every single Obama regulation that attacks our religious liberty and threatens innocent life, begin turning the economy around with a plan for the middle class (though he hasn't said what that plan is), and stand up to China. (Sounds like a busy day.) He's also said he's going to create twelve million jobs, cut funding to PBS, and promises to sign a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

And while my civil rights get ripped away, while people go broke and lose their healthcare benefits and hospital visitation rights, while seniors struggle to eat and pay for their housing and medication, while public education continues to rank among the lowest of the world's developed nations, while young girls are forced to carry their rapists' babies to term or die from botched illegal abortions, while corrections facilities fill to capacity with poor, young men of color like the bellies of so many slave ships, half of the country believes these things are of little or no consequence because Romney has sound business credentials. Well guess what?


Today, I'm embarrassed for my country. I'm embarrassed by half of its population who will selfishly vote with their pocketbooks. I'm embarrassed by the slew of racially coded overtones that get repeated daily in the media. The President is a constitutional law scholar and was the president of the Harvard Law Review, yet somehow it's okay to insinuate that he's Muslim or socialist. Somehow it's okay to call into question his heritage and his patriotism. Somehow it's okay for Romney to joke: "No one's ever asked to see MY birth certificate." Somehow it's okay for a party platform to claim "he's not one of us," or for him to be called the "food stamp President," or for Republicans to want to "take our country back."

That President Obama is a moderate makes things even more confusing. Alas, Obama's brand of bipartisanship was never going to work in a congress whose sole motivation was to make him a one term President.

Please believe me when I say that I am not blindly following the great Obama into the sunset. He is not my personal hero. I disagree with any number of the things he's done, or hasn't done, since he's taken office (i.e., drone strikes, Guantanamo, etc.). He continues to be a key player in the overarching hegemonic machine that systematically keeps things the way that they are. But, he is better than most. He's certainly better than the immediate alternative. I'd like to take a moment to remember that on his first day in office, Obama signed the Lilly Leadbetter Fairpay act for women. He's also done more for LGBT civil rights legislation than any other president, possibly any other elected official, ever. 

So if you feel your taxes are more important than civil rights, I'd like to leave you with just a few words: rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape... fuck you, Republican party.

Monday, October 8, 2012

i'm still here

Concordant with the 30th anniversary of AIDS, there has been a renewed interest in the subject, especially in arts and media. Last year, Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" (1985) had a successful Broadway run and won the 2011 Tony award for best revival of a play. I didn't see it. Also last year, included in several film critic's Top Ten Films of the Year lists was "We Were Here" (2011), a documentary focusing on the impact of AIDS in San Francisco's gay community in the 1980s. I didn't see it. Released just a few weeks ago, "How to Survive a Plague" (2012) is a documentary detailing the formation of ACT UP, and the righteous anger and activism that this group of brave young people harnessed to create advances in AIDS treatment and legislation. I saw it.

The human mind possesses remarkable defense mechanisms - oftentimes I feel as if I'm remembering only parts of a bad dream, as if nothing bad has happened at all. Mostly, I walk through life with an unspoken understanding that I carry within me a history of loss and personal trauma, but those feelings are usually emotionally distant, remote. For many years, I used alcohol and drugs to anesthetize myself until I was unable to feel anything at all. Eventually, when I stopped drinking and drugging, feelings I'd been suppressing began to bubble to the surface. It was no longer possible to avoid the truth of my past or the implication of my health status. It became necessary to mourn, to make sense of all the loss I'd experienced, and to come to terms with  the significance of my condition. Even with the slow development of a few emotional and psychological tools that I use to cope with the challenges of my life experience, it is often easier to avoid or ignore the unpleasantries of reality. 
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a frequently debilitating psychological disorder stemming from experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. In a 2010 U.K. study published in the August 16 issue of AIDS Patient Care and STDs, one third of HIV positive men participating in the study met the criteria for an HIV-related diagnosis of PTSD. Numerous studies have examined whether HIV-related experiences, such as threat of illness or death due to disease, or threat of social rejection due to a person’s HIV status can increase the risk of developing PTSD. It is believed that rates of PTSD in people with HIV have ranged from 13 to 64 percent, depending on the group being studied.

I was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 or 96 (hard to pinpoint the exact year; memories of that entire decade reside in the recesses of my mind behind a drug induced haze), sixteen or seventeen years ago. It's hard to imagine how it has been possible for me to downplay and minimize the ramifications of my status for so long with all of the ensuing particulars necessary for long-term HIV treatment, but that is exactly what I've done. Regular blood-draws, doctor visits, insurance nightmares, handful after handful of pills: three pills two hours before meals, two right after, one upon awakening, refrigerated liquids, injections, growth hormones, anti-depressants, increased blood pressure and cholesterol, neuropathy, lipodystrophy, diet restrictions, et cetera, et cetera. Even with all of that, I'd managed to trick myself into believing that these treatments were mere inconveniences; that my life was perfectly manageable and was barely affected by my condition. Mostly, this was true. The exceedingly strict drug regiments of the late 90s gave way as newer, more effective and less toxic classes of drugs came on the market making daily living even more seemingly normal. The only times that I had to concede my utter dissimilarity to others was related to dating and sex. Most painful was the time I disclosed my status to someone I was romantically interested in, only to have him reject me because of it. Now, those hurt feelings and rancor only stir when I see someone on an online sex site use the word 'clean' to describe themselves as negative. This insensitive, ignorant language that implicates anyone being HIV positive as being 'dirty' has seeped into the online sex vernacular, and is a sharp reminder of my distinct difference.

While I have never received a medical diagnosis of PTSD, I don't believe I've ever been specifically tested for it either. Understanding that some of the symptoms include re-experiencing traumatic events through distressing thoughts or nightmares, excessive and prolonged emotional hypersensitivity (irritability, angry outbursts, insomnia, etc.), and avoidance of places, thoughts, or situations that may be reminders of traumatic events, it fits that I would be a candidate for a positive diagnosis having exhibited some or all of those symptoms at different times. 

What proved most difficult for me while watching the documentary yesterday (which I fully recommend as essential viewing for anyone concerned with HIV/AIDS or community activism), was the flooding back of memories that have been either bottled up or neatly circumvented for the past 30 years. Catching glimpses of people I knew who are no longer here - the rush of subsequent memories of others who are gone - seeing moving images of people I know now as they were then; young and beautiful, as I must've been too - the reminder, the evidence of loss and decay - it's almost too much for me to wrap my mind around.

I'm not suffering survivor guilt, I'm just sad. I miss what I never had; what could have been. I love my life and I'm moving forward as best I can. I'm grateful to have lived long enough to see the development of protease inhibitors and the subsequent classes of antiviral drugs that have made HIV a chronic yet more manageable condition rather than the death sentence it once was. I'm happy for the strides that have been made in regards to LGBT legislation, marriage equality, DADT, etc. We are living in a new century, and the luxury of hammering out civil rights issues without the urgency of a dying community is something emerging generations will never fully understand. But, the immeasurable suffering and personal loss; the historical context of people being sentenced to die because of their behavior, orientation, or social classification as academic modern history or contemporary anthropological study rather than a story that hasn't ended yet is disturbing to me. Yes, we were here, some of us still are. What happens next? I don't know. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

stormin' mormon

No doubt about it - they're partying on planet Kolob this morning. Last night's debate was painful. While the President brought his usual reserved cool demeanor and a plenitude of facts to backup his arguments, Romney was aggressive, passionate, animated, even shouty - steamrolling and bullying Jim Lehrer (Gwen Ifill wouldn't have put up with that shit from mean ol' Daddy Warbucks). Unfortunately the President's calm read as detached and academic while Elder Romey's bellicosity clearly indicated that he'd done his homework and, facts-be-damned, he was ready to rumble. The lies freely bubbled forth from the man in the magic underpants with seemingly little rebuttal. Where was the mention of the 47 percent? Bain? Outsourcing? Tax-returns? Cayman island accounts? It's not like there's not an abundance of Romey's own puke piles to rub his face in. This whole temperate professor thing ain't gonna work, Mr. President! 

I have to trust that the President and his army of advisers are seasoned political animals and are way smarter than me. I'm not a boxing fan, but I do understand what a rope-a-dope strategy is. What I'm hoping is that this first debate was setting a sober and Presidential tone for Obama, and that he'll use the next two debates as opportunities to surgically open his opponent's jugular by exposing his lies and his utter contempt for workers and the middle class.  

I confess I'm more than a little nervous here. If Willard actually wins this thing, the full-fledged dismantling of our democracy will have commenced.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

fired up

School starts for me today, and I just noticed that I haven't written anything here in a month. In that time there's been an abundance of delicious heirloom tomatoes, a lot of hot weather, a hurricane (Isaac), the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 (yesterday), and two starkly contrasting political conventions. The first, which featured a collection of Latinos, African-Americans, and women (no gays) paraded in front of an almost exclusively white audience like a dog show. Its keynote speakers bullied the airwaves with resentment, accusations, and offensive claims to "take back our country," and to "keep America American" (a slogan which, I should mention, was also used by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s), yet surprisingly little in terms of specifics of policy, and virtually no mention of the men and women serving in our armed forces. Oh yeah, there was also a speech from the Vice Presidential Nominee, whose accusations against the current administration were found to be gross untruths by numerous fact-checking organizations, and a curmudgeonly and confused octogenarian who embarrassed himself and everybody else by arguing with an empty chair.

The second convention, which looked a whole lot more like an accurate and diverse representation of the United States in which I live, featured an array of elected officials and citizens who seemed truly concerned with the dangers of continued tax cuts for the wealthy, corporate loopholes, and the Machiavellian social agenda that the other party has proposed. 

I have no knowledge of any previous political convention, like this past DNC, where nearly every speaker made reference to the unfair discrimination of gay and lesbian people. I don't believe this was simply a well-crafted ploy for liberal votes, but rather a sincere position for change in civil rights which will ultimately result in saving American lives. (I know that reads like extreme rhetoric, but perhaps you might not understand what it's like to grow up in a world where everyone and everything, EVERYTHING - school, church, family - tells you that you're wrong; an abomination, a pariah; something to be avoided, laughed at, shunned, beaten, or worse. In other words, an environment where killing oneself seems a viable escape from the daily torture of living.)  It was certainly a far cry from the Republican convention where people were shouting that they need to be protected from gay people destroying the 'sanctity' of their way of life, or that the 'gay agenda' is a threat to their religious freedom.

I am quick to admit that corruption and hypocrisy abound in both parties, that the Dems have a lot of work to do and that a second Obama term will undoubtedly be an uphill journey, but I also noticed a palpable feeling of hope and community during speeches from the First lady, former President Clinton, Lilly Ledbetter, Julian Castro, a fiery Joe Biden, the President, and others. 

I don't like too much time to pass between postings here, and my new semester starts in less than a few hours, so I don't have time to go into too much more right now, but I wanted to at least check-in on the recent political shenanigans, even if only to touch the very tip of the behemoth iceberg of what's at stake in the upcoming election. Romney is a tool; a spineless, blank political puppet who will say whatever his advisers and financial backers tell him to say (this is an auction, after all), Ryan is a flat out liar, and while Obama is basically a moderate Republican that the right has painted as a gay-Muslim-Mexican-socialist, he is the best hope we have right now. A Romney presidency would take decades to recover from (if ever).

I'd love to rant further, but I've gotta put on my new back to school outfit and get ready for class.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

ayn ryan

Yesterday morning, Romney announced that Paul Ryan is his choice for VP, and will be his running mate for the 2012 Presidential election. Yes, Willard Mitt Romney thinks that this blue-eyed, pitcher-eared, rising Conservative superstar of the beltway and Tea Party darling is the best choice to be one heartless beat away from the Presidency. Ryan, only 42 years old, is an avid fitness enthusiast, was born into wealth, but used his father's Social Security money to pay for his education at Miami University of Ohio (Miami, Ohio? Wow). He lives in Janesville, Wisconsin, in an historic house which is overseen by the National Park Service (whose budget he'd love to see eviscerated). In college, he worked summers as a salesman for Oscar Meyer, driving the weinermobile (I'm not making this up). Other than being a fitness instructor, weiner-driving is his only private sector experience. He began working on Capitol Hill for a string of inconsequential conservatives directly after graduating with a B.A. from Miami of Ohio. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, and has been giving hard-ons to Conservative oligarchs ever since with his unscrupulous, Machiavellian, throw-granny-to-the-curb budget proposals, the first of which, "The Path to Prosperity: Roadmap for America's Future Act of 2008" found only eight sponsors and did not move past committee. Ryan's followup alternative budget plan proposed lowering the top tax rate, introduced an 8.5% consumption tax, imposed a five year spending freeze, and also proposed phasing out Medicare! Additionally, Ryan has taken to having attendees, who challenge or disagree with his position, removed from his town hall meetings and arrested

(There are many more disturbing and interesting facts about this über-schmuck to be uncovered, and lots written about him if you care to look around. I'm giving just a very cursory overview here. His lunatic budget proposals alone have been the source of countless news stories. Now that he's been chosen as Mittens' running mate, I'm sure there'll be no getting away from the info rolling in on him. If newspapers were still the business that they once were, I imagine the presses would be on fire!)

Ryan has said that "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand", and "I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff"


A Randian philosophy is one that paints altruism as being inherently evil. This malevolent belief that empathy and the caring for others leads to collectivism and socialism is the corrosive untruth that lies at the sociopathic heart of the new Conservatism. Claiming Ayn Rand as one's ideological hero is a pseudo-intellectual rationalization for personal, childish, selfishness at the expense of all others. 

What's delightfully interesting here is that a large swath of the Conservative voting block is fundamentalist Christan. Aside from Ryan being Catholic, a wholly unchristian denomination in the eyes of any evangelical (I'm not even mentioning Mittens' Mormonism, or Rand's rabid atheism), it isn't possible to embrace Ayn Rand's philosophy of selfishness and the all-loving and forgivng teachings of Jesus at the same time.

Rand, a self-righteous sociopath with a strident and poisonous tongue, referred to the poor as refuse and parasites, while holding up millionaire moguls of industry as moral heroes. Jesus dedicated his gospel and his life to serving those less fortunate than himself. With all due respect to Mittens, Paul Ryan, and the entire Republican party, it is simply not possible to claim both of these platforms. Right now, it is quite clear which one they've chosen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

unamerican exceptionalism

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion and spiritual practice founded during the 15th century in the Punjab region of India. The word Sikh translates as discipline or student. It is the fifth largest organized religion in the world with almost 30 million Sikhs woldwide. It is also one of the most steadily growing. The Sikh system of religious philosophy is known as Gurmat (wisdom of the gurus). Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) is located north of Dehli, in the city of Amritsar, near the Pakistan border. The kitchen of the Golden Temple feeds up to 100,000 people a day, for free, regardless of background, religion, caste, or creed. In the temple's Langar Hall, all people sit and eat together. Punjab, India is the only region in the world with a majority Sikh population.

Yesterday morning, a gunman walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creak, Wisconsin, a suburb south of Milwaukee and opened fire, killing six worshipers and wounding three others. The mayhem ended when one of the first police called to the scene shot the gunman dead.

Why did a thing like this happen? Maybe this happened because the idiot gunman believed that these worshipers were Muslim (If they ain't Christian, it's all the same, right?). Maybe it happened because they have brown skin and wear funny hats. Maybe this happened because good ol' gun-totin' Joe had grown tired of seeing his white, blue collar, good-ol-boy community infiltrated by towel heads from other countries who wear weird clothes and speak with silly accents and eat funny smelling food. Maybe this happened because in certain parts of the U.S. of A. the words anti-American and terrorist have become synonymous with foreigner, or liberal, or educated, or same-sex marriage. 

Ultimately, violent tragedies like this happen because of ignorance and bigotry. The only thing that these peaceful Sunday morning worshipers were guilty of being is the worst thing that anyone could possibly be: different. It's surprising that hate-fueled bloodbaths don't happen with more disturbing regularity in light of contemptuous, divisive, elected officials like Michele Bachmann, Alan West, and Jan Brewer, and the incendiary, hate-fueled vitriol that they spew in the name of America and of Jesus. Couple the cacophony of blasphemous hate-mongering with fanatic delusional readings of the second amendment, and we discover the perfect recipe for domestic terrorism and hate crimes. 

As the dog days of summer approach, and the Republican convention ramps up amid ceaseless imbecile cries of  "U.S.A!, U.S.A!, U.S.A!" I fear what may be lying just up ahead. I can't help but think that Chick-fil-A appreciation day was only a small preview of the moronic malignancy that's rapidly infiltrating this once great nation. A huge overhauling of firearms regulations notwithstanding, until the disturbed lunatic antics, the likes of Bachmann, West, Brewer, and others are censured and condemned, we should expect to see a rise in domestic terrorism and hate crimes wrapped in a star-spangled cloak of patriotism. The sad and ironic truth is that these self-important fabricators are precisely what they've accused others of being: anti-American and unchristian.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

could it be magic

I did it. I finally acquiesced to a combination of cultural pressure and my own personal movie mania and saw "Magic Mike." I wasn't going to do it; I'd seen the trailers and I figured that if I wanted to see beautiful men take their clothes off, I could stay at home and watch porn. Why, I asked myself, should I get all hot and bothered in a theater with the general public when I could see the whole enchilada, and quite a bit more, in the comfort of my own home? I'd also heard that audiences have been whooping, hooting, and cat-calling during the strip/dance numbers, and I could hardly think of a movie-going experience that might appeal to me less. But the all-around positive feedback that the film has been getting coupled with the fact that it had been directed by Steven Soderbergh, an interesting and thoroughly thoughtful filmmaker, piqued my cinematic curiosity. 

What I saw was a provocative and measured testament to the increasing elusiveness of the American dream, and the demoralizing lengths that average Joes (though these Joes are anything but average) might go to in order to achieve the piece of the pie that had been promised them. Of course, the table-turning, gender-bending centerpiece of the film being that men are the objectified pieces of meat paraded in front of a predatory female audience might be interesting enough in itself, but what I found most compelling was the cautionary implication of the human cost of a failed capitalist system.

Only a few generations ago these very same rippled and gyrating hunks might've been trying to get in good favor with their construction site managers so they might make some headway with their local labor unions. Or they might've been driving cabs, or slinging burgers behind a grill in order to pay their way through school. In his fleshly and exhilarating attestation to the plight of the (not so) common man, Soderburgh demonstrates the need for the average guy to not only juggle numerous jobs, but also to prostitute himself simply to get by. It's not surprising that there's such excessive drinking and drug taking in this movie; who wants to deal with this kind of a reality?

In this current recession, amidst continued threats of union busting, increased tuition costs for higher education, and drastic cuts to social services, is it any wonder that the men of "Magic Mike" bare their oh-so-smooth and muscular asses for crumpled, estrogen-sweat-drenched bills? No, not at all. The only question that remains is, what's an average Joe supposed to do if he really is average, or if, heaven forbid, he can't afford a gym membership?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

it's a mad mad mad mad world

I haven't written anything here in almost a month. What with the Aurora shooting, Chick-fil-A basting its chickens in bigotry, Michele Bachmann's full-throated, McCarthyistic cries that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the United States government, voter suppression, extreme weather conditions, the Olympics, and Romney's flagrant lies and endless gaffes, you'd think I'd have quite a lot to prattle on about, but lately, I find myself simply exasperated. Sure, I'll continue to engage in debate about social justice and economic inequity. Of course, I'll go on wearing my bleeding-heart liberalism on my sleeve; keep abreast of current political shenanigans, get ruffled, sign petitions, and vote come November. But right now, I'm looking at the world, at my country, and I'm just resigned. Are the huddling masses really so short sighted as to sell the farm to a mean-spirited, lying, opportunistic plutocrat simply because the last four years hasn't seen them showered in magic prosperity? Can they really be so rigidly partisan and witless as to believe the gross fabrications spun by devious oligarchs; untouchable billionaires and war-profiteers (think Super Pacs), who heartlessly expect to flourish at the expense of the nation, its citizens, world peace, and the planet?

I'm terribly afraid that they might be.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

the supremes

I don't think anyone saw that coming. 

(I’d like to preface this post by stating the obvious: I am not a constitutional scholar  -  legal matters and Supreme Court jurisprudence are far beyond my purview. That said, I do try to keep abreast of the major decisions that this court rules on, and realize the full and far-reaching consequence of their power.)

A national nail biter - for weeks the country has been poised for yet another disappointment. Nothing has suggested that we should've expected anything else but more conservative manipulation, misuse of power, and the inevitable continued shredding of democracy, judiciary neutrality, and constitutional sobriety. While conservative blowhards ceaselessly and loudly caterwaul the dangers of liberal activist judges, reasonable people can’t help but notice that the incessant 5/4 conservative majority of this current Supreme Court have ensured that corporations are people, that it remains perfectly acceptable for campaign finance to be unlimited and clandestine, and that election results don’t really matter. So when Justice John Roberts, George Dubbya’s own cherry-picked ultra-conservative chief justice, sided with the liberal leaning four on the Affordable Care Act, it was a welcomed and exceptional shocker.

Months ago, there was no suggestion that anything in the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional. Unpopular, yes, but questions of constitutionality weren’t even on the radar. The individual mandate is what’s gotten everyone’s knickers in a bunch, but that was put in as an alternative to the single payer option in order to appease Republican opposition. It was, after all, modeled after Romneycare in Massachusetts. (If we were living in a sane political climate, the Presidential hopeful might be proud to take credit for the architecture of the individual mandate as his greatest achievement, but times being what they are, Mr. Romney feels the need to backpeddle in order to distance himself from it.)  So to read that the four dissenting Justices voted to throw out the entire bill as unconstitutional simply smacks of political partisanship. Exactly the political gamboling that we’ve come to expect from this court,  and exactly why the Supreme Court’s approval ratings are in the toilet. 

Of course, changing the trajectory of how healthcare is conducted in this country may be President Obama’s crowning achievement, and for that fact alone, Roberts must surely have wanted to squash it. But as staunchly conservative as he is, and as much of an opponent to the President, he is also a constitutionalist with encyclopedic knowledge of Supreme Court precedence, and a deep love of the institution itself. Understanding that the court is more partisan and polarized now than ever before, and that this polarization and partisanship has undermined its public opinion and respect, my guess is that Roberts voted with judicial precedence, rather than with his political leanings (as the other conservatives clearly did and as he has in the past). In other words, he may have decided that attempting to restore the legitimacy of the court itself was more important to him than admitting that a bill resembling socialized healthcare, which is most certainly personally distasteful to him, is unconstitutional.

So yes, this has been a pleasant surprise, and has garnered new respect for Justice Roberts from progressives and others who may previously have seen him as just another conservative power player in the de-democratizing of America. But this decision doesn't erase all the damage that this court has recently wrought. We should all keep in mind that in the next term, among other things, these very same Justices who seem driven to make this country a theocratic corporatocracy, will be deciding the outcome of immigration statutes, same-sex marriage, and anti-abortion legislation.  Most importantly, three Justices will most probably be replaced during the next Presidential term. Even if you've been disappointed with Obama's leadership; if you feel he hasn't been as quick to deliver the hope and change that was promised in the last election, keep in mind that the next President will be filling three of these Supreme Court seats.

Friday, June 1, 2012


I am in school, the consequence of which is that I write a lot of papers. I'm relatively old-fashioned in that I like to hand in hard copies of my work instead of emailing them to the professors. Usually when I get a paper back, it has comments written on it. Things like: "good point," "yes, this is exactly what I was hoping you would pick up on," "I'm not sure I agree with you," "go further with this," and so on. In a queer studies class, we screened Deepa Mehta's 1996 film, Fire, and were asked to write a short reaction paper to it. When I received my paper back from the professor the following week, it had no comments written on it. I kept reading and there was nothing. Finally, at the end of the paper the professor had written, "Publish this." Understanding that there's little market for thousand word reactions to sixteen year old movies, I thought I'd post it here. If you haven't seen the film, it's a remarkably powerful and enjoyable piece of work, and if you care to read my reaction to it, please enjoy.

Dheepa Mehta’s Fire (1996) not only stretches the boundaries of a heteronormative family structure, but also challenges the conventional and often rigid gender roles of an Indian traditional/cultural narrative. At the film’s start, in what we might expect to be among the most thrilling moments of a young bride’s life, Sita and Jatin are on their honeymoon at the Taj Mahal. They are listening to a guide tell the great love story that led to its construction. Sita asks, “Don’t you like me?” Even if the concept of an arranged marriage is something that we, as modern Westerners struggle with, we understand that something is wrong here. Mehta highlights the indifference with which the young groom treats his new bride, and this immediately creates a sense of discomfort as we watch this new relationship unfold.  

When Sita commences married life in the home of her new in-laws, matters get more complicated, and the family configuration becomes more complex. Radha is unable to have children, and has devoted her life to her husband, the care of his elderly, disabled mother, and the family business. Jatin spends his nights with his mistress, while Ashok spends his nights with his swami – the younger brother yielding to earthly temptation as the older practices resistance to it. 

Despite her unhappiness and her deepening feelings of isolation, Sita adapts to this new arrangement as best she can. In lieu of being a devoted wife, she becomes a useful member of the family by assisting in the family business. In the absence of their husbands, the two women discover a commonality between them; based in their isolation and repressed desires. The relationship between the two women develops slowly, but as Sita begins to open up to and trust Radha, both women begin to experience what they’ve been missing from their respective husbands; a loving and intimate interchange. Seemingly, within the confines of the traditional heteronormative family structure, this masquerade might have been able to continue and their secret remain hidden had it not been for the two secondary, yet pivotal characters: Mundu, a devoted, sharp-eyed, and compulsively self-pleasuring servant, and Biji, a sympathetic, yet somewhat tyrannical, watchful, bell-ringing mother-in-law, whose bed is situated at the center of the house. 

The moments of tenderness and sensuality that we see between Sita and Radha are little respites of erotic verse in the greater family drama. At one point, the family is at a picnic in a flowered field, similar to the one in Radha’s childhood memory, and Sita begins massaging Radha's feet. Ashok encourages his younger sister-in-law to continue massaging his wife's feet, as it is her duty to serve her elders. This act of “duty” becomes one of the most erotic moments of the film and is in full view of the family. This small act is stunning in that it shows Sita’s defiance as she flagrantly takes advantage of family traditions to mask the two women’s nontraditional connection. 

Even as Westerners, with perhaps limited knowledge of Vedic scriptures, Mehta ensures that we are aware of the parallels she is trying to draw to the scriptures by having Ashok make repeated reference to them, and having scenes from religious dramas accompany the action throughout the film; on the television, at the temple, etc. Like characters from one of the books of the Ramayana, the members of this family play out a morality drama that explores tenets and human values, and poses questions about the behavior of the ideal wife, husband, brother, servant, and king. 

Throughout the film there is a lot of talk about the testing of one’s purity through fire. This is, of course, spoken about in the context of a religious parable, but Mehta brings this parable to life as Radha’s purity is literally tested by fire. Her purity remains intact as she walks through its flames to be ultimately delivered into the arms of her lover. That the couple’s outcome remains unclear is welcome refreshment. Too often we’ve seen troubled same-sex lovers breach traditions and go against customs only to perish for their transgressions, or possibly suffer for the good of future generations. In Mehta’s drama, however, the outcome is completely ambiguous. In deciphering the moral of Fire as a religious parable, beneath its surface the film is not so much a tale of lesbian love as much as it is about the bonding of two neglected and isolated people, the sharing of their sensual expression, hope, and the prisons that can be constructed by culture and traditions.