Monday, April 30, 2012

The Beginning of Presidential TV Appearances

1968 Republican Nominee for President, Richard Nixon, Laugh-in.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Quote of the Week

"You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"- Oliver Cromwell, dissolving the Rump Parliament, 1653

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Video

A great song, but a creepy video.

She grew up in an Indiana town
Had a good lookin' momma who never was around
But she grew up tall and she grew up right
With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night

Well she moved down here at the age of 18
She blew the boys away, it was more than they'd seen
I was introduced and we both started groovin'
She said, "I dig you baby but I got to keep movin'"
On, keep movin' on

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin' in and I'm
Tired of this town again

Well I don't know what I've been told
You never slow down, you never grow old
I'm tired of screwing up, I'm tired of goin' down
I'm tired of myself, I'm tired of this town

Oh my my, oh hell yes
Honey, put on that party dress
Buy me a drink, sing me a song,
Take me as I come 'cause I can't stay long

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin' in and I'm
Tired of this town again

There's pigeons down in market square
She's standin' in her underwear
Lookin' down from a hotel room
Nightfall will be comin' soon
Oh my my, oh hell yes

You've got to put on that party dress
It was too cold to cry when I woke up alone
I hit the last number, I walked to the road

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin' in and I'm
Tired of this town again

Movie review: Klute

1971’s Klute was released alongside considerable controversy. Leading lady Jane Fonda had been outspoken on behalf of perceived radical causes. The next year, she starred in a propaganda film by the Communist North Vietnamese, a decision that would forever win her the derisive nickname of Hanoi Jane. At the same time, this film established her as a feminist icon, in the height of the second-wave era of Ms. Magazine and Gloria Steinhem. Director Alan J. Pakula’s second directorial effort was his first to embrace a malevolent, shadowy world of paranoia and conspiracy. Two more movies along the same lines would surface by the end of the decade.

John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a small-town private detective seeking his best friend, Tom Gruneman, a Pennsylvania executive. Gruneman is feared dead, having disappeared without a trace around a year before. Klute’s searches and inquiries put him in contact with Bree Daniel (Fonda), a New York City escort. Despite his humble roots, Klute’s persistence begins to pay off as a formerly cold case begins to slowly unravel. Sutherland plays Klute as the very definition of the strong, silent type.

Fonda’s portrayal of a streetwise, formerly high-end call girl won her an Oscar for Best Actress. Though a sympathetic rendering of a burned-out sex worker with larger ambitions, it is difficult to suspend disbelief from time to time. A woman in these circumstances would mostly likely have solidly working class pretensions, and Bree Daniels (Fonda) is a little too bourgeoisie to be believed. Now consumed with the desire for self-improvement, Bree might well have once attended college at an Ivy League school.

In this role, Fonda’s role is more Brechtian than naturalistic. We know she is acting and don’t care. It is the skill of an actress who has smartly studied her part that appeals most to viewers. Technique aside, it is nevertheless laudable, even groundbreaking that the character of Daniel humanizes what is still often a stigmatized and demonized profession. Her character manages to keep her head above water in a world of drug addiction and general dysfunction.

Perhaps a strictly literal presentation is not intended. Bree Daniel is on some level meant to stand in for every woman, as she finds her freedom consistently compromised by the complications of a man’s world. Her enthusiasm for turning tricks has waned considerably; she now charges her johns a fourth of what she did even a year before.

She’d rather be an actress for the stage, but finds the competition heavy in a city already over-saturated with aspiring thespians. Even the parts for television modeling commercials are competitive and impossible to attain. Bree seeks to reform herself, but finds herself stuck in the meantime as a successful sex worker but unsuccessful actress.

An early scene shows a star in decline. No longer able to financially afford therapy, Bree spends her last session lamenting her attraction to the world’s oldest profession, weary of the demands of the job. The female psychologist questions whether Bree really believed that she’d be completely cured of the compulsion to trick while in her care. It is control that Fonda’s character wants most, the kind of control over her own destiny that is so seldom afforded elsewhere. The presence of danger represented by a killer at large strips aside her cocky veneer.

Klute is more concerned with allegorically exploring the psychological currents of the early 1970’s. Beyond women’s rights are hidden, frighting source of violence and coercion, both of which were an omnipresent part of the late Sixties into the early Seventies. That this most looming threat is not spelled out directly and alluded to darkly only accentuates the fear of the viewer. It should be said that as a textbook thriller, Klute sometimes promises more than it provides. One must first accept Pakula’s quirky worldview, then proceed from there.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Quakers are Way Cooler Than You Think

Because of time constraints, I'd like to re-post this recent article. Anyone in charge of young adult activism or organizing can see parallels within this post. I thank Friend Churchman for her perspective.

Quakers are Way Cooler Than You Think
by Emma Churchman

George Fox was 28 years old when he stood on the top of Pendle Hill and envisioned a great people to be gathered. Samuel Bownas began his ministry at the age of 20 when traveling minister Ann Wilson caught him sleeping in the back of his meeting for worship and called him to account. She asked him essentially why he was wasting his life, and within just a few weeks, Bownas spoke in meeting for the first time. In 1698, when he was 22 years old, he set off on his first ministerial journey, walking across Scotland with a traveling minute from his monthly meeting. When he was in his 70s, he wrote a seminal guide for Quaker ministers: A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister.

John Woolman was 23 years old when he experienced his first leading to stand against slavery. Susan B. Anthony was 28 years old during the Seneca Falls Convention. Friend Thomas Kelly was also 28 when he went to Germany in 1921 to work with American Friends Service Committee, after having served for two years as a professor at Wilmington College. Bonnie Raitt, who was raised in New York Yearly Meeting, produced her first record album when she was 23. Jon Watts did so when he was 21 years old.

Friends have a historical track record of Young Adult Friends shaping the direction of our religious society. Today we have a steady decline of young adult Friend members and attenders in our monthly and yearly meetings.

I have known many older Friends to bemoan this, wring their hands, pray about it, talk about it, and wish it were different. I’d like to encourage us to shift the question from “Why don’t we have more young people in our meetings?” to this:

How are we meeting the needs of our young adult Friend members and attenders, and how could we meet them better?

These days I mainly hang out with high school and college-age Quakers through my job at Earlham College. This is what I love about working with younger Friends: They are open and inquisitive and engaged. They are still figuring out who they are and how they want to be in the world. This generation especially is remarkably intuitive and so smart about so many different things. They are always interacting with their growing edges. They are, in fact, our hope for the future, and I want to encourage them and support them to bring their brilliant, beautiful selves into our religious society in powerful ways. They are our true leaders of tomorrow (often even today!), and I want to do everything I can to help equip them for this leadership and keep them engaged in our Society.

Here are some specific ways you can help to equip and engage them:

Ask. Here’s a radical idea: Ask the young adult Friends you interact with what it is they need to feel engaged in your monthly or yearly meeting, Quaker organization, or just our religious society in general. What do they need/want/desire and how can you help them get it? They might surprise you with their specific ideas.

Be invitational. Here’s another radical idea: Invite someone under the age of 40 to clerk your meeting or your membership committee, or to serve as a director of your Quaker organization.

Or just begin by saying hello to a young adult at your meeting. I travel in the ministry, and 95 percent of the time I’m at a new meeting, no one introduces her/himself to me, even when I’m the guest speaker. Yikes! And, technically, I’m not even a young adult Friend anymore. Can you imagine how YAFs must feel when they attend a meeting for the first time and no one talks to them?

Be willing to transform. The structure of monthly and yearly meetings doesn’t work for a lot of younger Friends. Many young adult Friends identify with a yearly meeting rather than a monthly meeting. Other YAFs identify themselves as Quaker without membership in a monthly or yearly meeting at all. These young people are unable to commit to a monthly meeting primarily because they move so frequently, or because they attend school far away from the meeting in which they grew up. They struggle with membership in a religious society that requires them to remain in one place. Often, they also are unable to fulfill the financial requirements of membership.

Other YAFs feel that their needs are not being met in the context of a monthly meeting. Nothing entices them to become engaged. They are looking for like-minded peers, for social and social justice activities that help them explore their interests, and for opportunities to make a difference and be nurtured as leaders.

Here’s my motto: If it’s not working, stop doing it. Standard membership right now isn’t working for the majority of young adult Friends, especially those between the ages of 18 and 25. What are we going to do about it?

Are you willing to help this age group consider what membership could look like outside of the typical structure of monthly or yearly meetings? What could it look like for them to retain their membership in Friends General Conference, say, or Friends United Meeting instead of a specific monthly meeting? What if we revitalized a national Young Adult Friends Meeting that housed membership for young adults in transition between the meetings they grew up in and their next home meetings? What are we willing to do, as a religious society or at least as a specific branch of Quakerism, to embrace these young people in new ways?

Discern. Most of my conversations with young people revolve around discernment of pretty big life issues: What do I do after high school? How do I make new friends and let go of old friends? How do I respond to my parents getting divorced? How do I grieve my friend having committed suicide? How do I figure out what my passions are? What should I do for a living? Young adults are continually faced with intense life issues like these. Granted, I teach discernment specifically to young adults, but generally this is just an excuse to invite young people I meet to get real with me. On a good day, I can be real in return, which is a rare and precious gift to a young person: to be equally honest, vulnerable, and open with them. Have you been vulnerable with any young adults today? Have you sat with them and really helped them to sift out what they are struggling with?

Stop talking and start doing. Invite the young adult Friends group from your yearly meeting or nearby college to have a weekend retreat in your meetinghouse and cook for them. Become a spiritual friend to a teen in your meeting. Write a letter to a young adult Friend from your meeting who is in college. Better yet, send a care package. Invite a young person to spend one-on-one time with you—protesting, having tea, watching a movie, knitting, playing a game. If you are not his parent, he will love you for it.

Be visible. As a Society, we have got to put ourselves out there! Young adults exploring faith during or just after college may first learn about Quakerism by attending a protest or other social justice activity and meeting a Quaker. Or they learn about Quakerism through attending a Quaker high school or college. At Earlham, we have seen a significant number of non-Quaker students embrace Quakerism as alumni, especially as they are looking for a faith home for their family or looking for like-minded people in a new city.

It takes an average of seven impressions before a person notices a particular message or idea. What types of impressions are we sending about Quakerism, and is this age group receiving enough impressions? When attending a protest, do you talk about Friends testimonies of peace and equality? Do you connect your outward actions with your faith? Is the Quaker high school or college you are connected with proactively teaching Quaker faith and practice?

Many young adults also learn about Quakerism through the Internet. Friends, we need to expand significantly the explanations of Quakerism that are currently available, using the blogosphere and YouTube. Because we currently articulate a narrow understanding of Quakerism on the Internet, young people who are exploring Quakerism for the first time get a pretty skewed view of it through the World Wide Web. You may not want to hear this, but it’s true. We can either accept the technological realities of the 21st century, or continue to lose connections with young adults.

Use the M word. Quakers have a serious marketing issue. We look funny, we talk funny, we refuse to list our phone numbers in the yellow pages or to have updated websites. We figure that people will find us if they need us. That’s cool. And humble. And not working.

For Earlham College last year I designed a T-shirt that declares, “Quakers are way cooler than you think,” as a way to address said marketing issue. When I’m feeling particularly gloomy about the future of our religious society, I like to wear my T-shirt to the grocery store because inevitably someone (i.e., a non-Quaker) will stop in her tracks, stare at my chest and say, “Yes! Quakers are cool!” I love that. And then I get to have a conversation with a total stranger about her theology and my theology. (Yes, that is my idea of a good time.) You can wear the shirt too! It’s for sale in the Earlham College bookstore.

Educate. We need radical education of our young people. We need to take seriously our intention to offer actual religious education in First-day school. I am embarrassed by the number of young Friends I talk with who have no idea that Quakerism has its roots in Christianity. I have students who are 18 years old and who grew up in a Quaker meeting and have absolutely no knowledge of scripture, of Jesus’ teachings, or of the connection between Friends testimonies and our roots in these teachings.

Call me an evangelical if you wish, but here is the reality: By not teaching our young people the ways of early Quakers, we are raising people to believe in whatever they want to believe in and to call themselves Quaker only when it is convenient or makes them look good. I’m not making this up; I literally had a Quaker college student tell me this yesterday. And I agree with him. This model of believing whatever we feel like, when we feel like it, is not serving us in the long run, Friends. I know you know what I’m talking about.

We also need more specific opportunities for young adults to learn our practices, especially the practice of spiritual discernment, the Clearness Committee model, the art of consensus decision-making, and the role of clerking. These Quaker tools are awesome! We need to be more intentional about teaching our young people how to use them. How can we expect to grow future leaders if we don’t provide them with the tools they need?

Put your money where your mouth is. I hear a lot of older adult Friends talking about how important YAFs are to them. I also see a recent trend of eliminating funding for programs that support young adult Friends, especially in terms of nurturing their connections to the religious society of Friends and cultivating their leadership skills. I would like to suggest that there is a correlation between our decisions not to support YAF programs and initiatives financially and the lack of YAF presence in our meetings and organizations.

Can you tell that I’m irritated? I don’t understand, Friends. Who the heck do we think is going to lead our Society into the future? We need to provide generous support for the programs that still exist to cultivate Young Adult Friends’ leadership development. At this point our Quaker colleges are the ones leading the way in this area. Earlham College, George Fox University, Guilford College, and Wilmington College all have scholarship-based Quaker leadership development programs. Donate to them.

There are so many ways for Friends to support our young people as they engage in life transitions and in their articulation of their faith. I encourage you to embrace any of the ideas suggested in this article, and to create new ideas of your own to share! In doing so, I hope that you will also join me in living into the possibility of the religious society of Friends growing its membership in the 21st century by reaching out to and supporting young people more proactively.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dream Baby

Sweet dream baby
Sweet dream baby
Sweet dream baby

How long must I dream?

Dream baby got me dreaming
Sweet dreams the whole day through
Dream baby got me dreaming
Sweet dreams night time too

I love you and I'm dreaming of you
But that won't do
Dream baby make me stop my dreaming you
Can make my dreams come true

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Anatomy of an Evening, Part Three


If you’d just met her, you’d never suspect a thing. An already statuesque woman, she wore the highest of heels, which I believe was an effort to appear authoritative. Instead it accentuated her vertical span. Makeup was applied heavily, but not excessively, likely a way to intimidate more than dazzle. But even then, she sometimes gave off a wounded, vulnerable, lonely air. Behind it, something was sorely out of place. One peered closer, instinctively searching for some visual clue to piece together the full picture.

The missing piece was her arm, the left one, to be precise. A birth defect presented her with only one fully developed appendage. The effect was shocking once one caught on to it, observing the prosthesis that stood in for where nature had not. An attractive woman by any of several metrics, the cruelty of fate had complicated her life considerably. Disability had thrown a wrench into her love life as well as her self-esteem. 

Many men might have overlooked her above-average stature, in the way some women can overcome being regularly taller than their dates. Lacking as she did in the arm department was often a disqualifying factor.

One strange, boozy night in college I’d ended up in a girl’s bed one night. She was too fearful to go any further than embracing and, for that matter, I wasn’t out yet. I’m sure I probably could have put up a good act, but one without much conviction. Beth’s disability was similar to that woman from my past, but not identical. In that situation, the woman’s right arm was shrunken like a child’s to a third of its expected size. In comparison, Beth had no forearm at all. What she had ended at the bicep and went no further.

I often wondered whether an elaborate system of elastic bands was responsible for keeping it in place. The prosthesis looked a bit like a toy, but care had been taken for it to be properly positioned. It held firm but maintained an aspect of the grotesque, one certainly not intended as such.

That earlier experience had been a disaster. Once I left her bed somewhere around four o’clock in the morning, I realized I now had potentially damaging autobiographical information. If I’d wanted, I could have played kiss and tell with fellow classmates, but I didn’t. Even when I later slept exclusively with men I never shared those kinds of detail. She would have been devastated and I was not a mean-spirited person.

I must admit, however, that her complete and utter freak out the next day made me resentful. How was I to know that she worked at the coffee shop I frequented throughout the week? Upon my entry, she acted as though I’d hunted her down. She believed that I’d learned where she worked through obsessive detective work, all in an effort to somehow harass or humiliate her. That would have required time and effort, and more than I could have put together in less than twelve hours. Hangovers rarely are conducive to inspiration. 

It was a testament to effort that I even managed to leave my apartment the next day.

Hey, hey. Her voice was adamant. Hey! She was trying to catch my attention.

We now return you to the present day. I found I was currently slouched over by the elevators, as usual. Every story looked the same in this palace of serious polished marble and hushed tones. The only thing distinguishing this floor from the others was the Polish accent of the secretary. She wore a headset and was unfailingly polite to everyone, though reserved and not much inclined to small talk.

I kept telling myself don’t stare don’t stare don’t stare. I started to stare, and then caught myself. The process kept repeating itself, comically. I’m sure this happens to Beth all the time. Even the people with the best of intentions can’t help but get distracted by fake rubber arms, with especially crudely shaped fingers. The fingers were the most problematic aspect of the entire apparatus. The arm section seemed somewhat plausible, provided you didn’t gaze upon it at the wrong angle.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Up on Cripple Creek

When I get off of this mountain
You know where I want to go
Straight down the Mississippi River
To the Gulf of Mexico

To Lake Charles, Louisiana
Little Bessie, girl that I once knew
And she told me just to come on by
If there's anything she could do

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one

Good luck had just stung me
To the race track I did go
She bet on one horse to win
And I bet on another to show

Odds were in my favor
I had him five to one
When that nag to win came around the track
Sure enough he had won

I took up all of my winnings
And I gave my little Bessie half
And she tore it up and threw it in my face
Just for a laugh

Now there's one thing in the whole wide world
I sure would like to see
That's when that little love of mine
Dips her doughnut in my tea (hee hee!)

Now me and my mate were back at the shack
We had Spike Jones on the box
She said, "I can't take the way he sings
But I love to hear him talk"

Now that just gave my heart a throb
To the bottom of my feet
And I swore as I took another pull
My Bessie can't be beat

Now, there's a flood out in California
And up north it's freezing cold
And this living off the road
Is getting pretty old

So I guess I'll call up my big mama
Tell her I'll be rolling in
But you know, deep down, I'm kinda tempted
To go and see my Bessie again

Monday, April 23, 2012

Movie review: Don't Look Now

The British film Don’t Look Now, originally released in 1973, was best known at its time of release for a shockingly frank sex scene. There is much more to the effort beyond a five minute diversion, but sometimes Puritanism speaks louder that artistry. Even today, its depiction of oral sex could still be considered graphic. Oddly enough, this passage was improvised on the spot as means of counterbalancing the dark, dismal, menacing tone present in the rest of the film. Passing the censors only by way of a cleverly fractured editing job, the scene nevertheless relies more on suggestion than salaciousness.

This does not, of course, mean that viewers can’t piece together what is really happening on screen. A jealous Warren Beatty even demanded its complete excision because of the involvement of female lead Julie Christie, then his girlfriend. Director Nicholas Roeg ignored the threat. Rumor had it that Christie and Donald Sutherland, her on-stage husband, had not faked their love-making. There remains some lasting controversy as to whether the sex scene was simulated or unsimulated, even now. Fortunately for film-goers, one scene does not a movie make.

Though constructed on its face like a Gothic horror tale, the film is really about the grieving process. Specifically, we mean the psychological impact of grief that follows the death of a child. Two parents, one American, one British, lose a child. Her name is Christine, and though her physical death occurs in the first few frames of the work, her presence will feature prominently throughout the rest of the movie. 

She perishes due to accidental drowning, a complex mixture of camera work that resembles Psycho's infamous shower scene. The tragedy occurs at the family's English country estate, necessitating an abrupt change of scenery. Some months following the funeral and all other necessary arrangements, the husband, John Baxter (Donald Sutherland), agrees to help restore an ancient church in Venice. His wife, Sharon Williams (Julie Christie), comes along for a badly needed distraction. Venice seems like the right thing to do at the time, though they find that their problems arrive along with them.

Both are still shaken from the experience, seeking explanation for the unexplained and inexplicable. Sharon finds comfort in the company of two sisters, one of whom is a psychic. For all her perception into the spirit world, the clairvoyant lacks eyesight and requires constant assistance to move from place to place in the material world. Encountering the blind medium by happenstance at a restaurant, Sharon recognizes the truth that the elderly prophet has presciently revealed. It makes a profound impact upon a mother yet to fully come to terms with her daughter's demise. Stopping temporarily at an ornate Catholic Church, Sharon decides to lights a few candles in her child’s memory.

Her husband is skeptical, inclined to bury himself in his work rather than seek answers. He himself holds a barely acknowledged gift of psychic perception that he is only beginning to understand. While Sharon requires the skills of a medium to communicate beyond this life, John’s second sense provides periodic, but perplexing clues. However, his refusal to explore this gift beyond the superficial casts him further and further into denial. With time, his visions grow increasingly more and more disturbing, making them impossible to ignore. Christine, his daughter, died while wearing a red mackintosh. Its precise shade pops up time and time again at odd moments throughout, introducing a potent, reoccurring color symbolism. This motif is present through the rest of the running time.

In a film which draws a distinction between belief in the wholly knowable and the thoroughly unknowable, Don’t Look Now shows organized religion in a favorable light. Bishop Barbarrigo (Massimo Serato) is a humble, devout man who provides helpful council to John Baxter. The Bishop also feels the same malevolent, unsettling visions as John Baxter, though neither man discusses them with the other. A serial killer is on the prowl in Venice, and both men can somehow channel an identical sense of macabre foreboding. To Baxter, this extrapolation takes the visual form of Christine in her last moments on Earth.   

To the sightless woman that Sharon continues to visit, powers like these are divinely inspired, and nothing to be trifled with in the least bit. In this world, women are the most perceptible and most highly attuned sex. Even two men with a significant sixth sense pale in comparison to the intuition of the women that surround them. In the atmosphere of a psychological thriller like this one, ESP is as much a hindrance as a help. What is viewed first as a skill quickly becomes a liability. Characters are eventually destroyed by these mysterious forces, though in the beginning they hold great promise. The pursuit of the supernatural only backfires in the end.

Technically speaking, a novel approach to editing keeps the viewer consistently off-balance. Choppy, multi-angle shots seem quaint in this day and age, but were unusual for the early 1970’s. Today’s pacing and jump-cuts have increased the tempo and the procession of images. Classified as a horror film in its time, works of the genre today feature hyperactive cutting, increased gore, and constant psychological terror. In line with a Hitchcock film, Don’t Look Now allows the tension on-screen to build to a few salient moments of agony and fear. If released now, it would be categorized primarily as a drama.

Though an enjoyable film, director Roeg’s self-professed “exercise in film grammar” sometimes overshadows plot development. A truly robust and sufficient study of grief would place more of an emphasis upon character, and less upon spooky ambiance, no matter how creatively rendered. Some films demand that their audience silently collect visual clues to patch together a comprehensible narrative. This scavenger hunt aspect can alienate viewers just as much as it attracts them.

Modern viewers will either love the film or find it somewhat tedious. Nevertheless, the movie is an excellent example pulled from the most critically acclaimed period of British horror. Don’t Look Now is much in line with the cult classic The Wicker Man, released the very same year. These days, this cinematic work may be more important for how thoroughly it influenced the current generation of British film directors. For most viewers, it has become a footnote in a bygone era.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Quote of the Week

"We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one."- Voltaire

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Video

Feeling better now that we're through
Feeling better 'cause I'm over you
I learned my lesson, it left a scar
Now I see how you really are

You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Baby you're no good

I'm gonna say it again
You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Baby you're no good

I broke a heart that's gentle and true
Well I broke a heart over someone like you
I'll beg his forgiveness on bended knee
I wouldn't blame him if he said to me

You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Baby you're no good

I'm gonna say it again
You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Baby you're no good

I'm telling you now baby and I'm going my way
Forget about you baby 'cause I'm leaving to stay

You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Baby you're no good

I'm gonna say it again
You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Baby you're no good

Friday, April 20, 2012

I Think We're Alone Now

Children behave,
That's what they say when we're together,
And watch how you play,
They don't understand,
And so we're

Running just as fast as we can,
Holdin' onto one another's hand,
Tryin' to get away into the night,

And then you put your arms around me,
And we tumble to the ground,
And then you say,

I think we're alone now,
There does't seem to be anyone around.
I think we're alone now,
The beating of our hearts is the only sound.

Look at the way,
We gotta hide what we're doin'.
'Cause what would they say,
If they ever knew and so we're

Running just as fast as we can,
Holdin' onto one another's hand,
Tryin' to get away into the night

And then you put your arms around me,
And we tumble to the ground,
And then you say,

I think we're alone now,
There does't seem to be anyone around.
I think we're alone now,
The beating of our hearts is the only sound.

I think we're alone now,
There does't seem to be anyone around.
I think we're alone now,
The beating of our hearts is the only sound.

I think we're alone now...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Anatomy of an Evening, Part Two

Part One, Here.


If anyone sought me out first, he was usually the type that absolutely no one else wanted. The tall, overly tanned hillbilly who spoke truthfully about his past crack usage is an example. Crack makes you want to fuck. 

You don't say. 

I quickly sidestepped those sorts of men. Those who walked around shirtless or nearly shirtless could usually be avoided without much trouble. A few decided to get very familiar very immediately, sticking a hand down my shirt before I could even protest. I usually grabbed a wrist before the attached hand could reach the nether regions.

No, I’d say firmly, indicating my disapproval with my gaze. Not like that.

Apologizing swiftly, they rarely tried it again. Whichever man I was with that night would promise to be anything I liked. He’d be willing to play any part, so long as I was up for it. A person can be rather accommodating if the end results means getting into your pants. If there was something to gain from it, they'd be willing to morph into whichever persona was most to my liking.

I’m not sure I ever knew truthfully what I wanted. In desperation, I’d adopted the old adage of catch as catch can by evening’s end. Acquaintances had set me up more times than I wanted to contemplate. Their suggestions always seemed beneath my standards, but I went along with them because I pitied whoever had been recommended to me. I never turned anyone down, which at the time I assumed was a kind of benevolent sympathy. In the morning, I always left early, said a friendly goodbye, and was never seen or heard from again.

In the early morning light, I’m sure I came across as a really sneaky bastard.  If I were more sadistic, I’d probably not have formulated a huge, elaborate scheme for evasion, one that required lots of steps and focused concentration. I was, however, not quite this mean. I know the look upon the face of a man who has just recognized his part in a one-time-only arrangement. One fateful morning the latest he smoothed my cheek compulsively with the back of my mind, while he lay next to me on a couch. 

Will I ever see you again?  I could never bear to hurt feelings, so I always muttered something inconsequential.

Yeah, sure. Whatever.

Eventually I came to permanently pursue other options, but that decision was a few years hence. For a time, I had an interest in the being a card-carrying member of the freak show. However, I never formed friendships with any of the regulars and wouldn’t have wanted to even if I could. My natural habitat was not where I spent most weekends. I did not belong in a venue with young lesbians who taped down their breasts to show maximum skin, just enough to not be arrested for indecent exposure. I was one of those sanctimonious queers who gets easily exasperated for reasons of hypocritical piety.        

I crash landed late one night in a trailer park out in the sticks. The army base five miles down the road was offering the local rednecks the ability to try an experimental drug. After one signed the obligatory confidentiality forms, a nondescript looking pill was dispensed to the willing. God knows what it really was. I wasn’t going to be caught dead near anything where I was ignorant of the contents.

At the moment, I was in a room full of people who had dosed an hour or so before. The drug had some kind of hallucinogenic property, as best I could reckon. The three other men in the room were trying to explain the meaning of life to me. One man had drawn a series of small, interconnected boxes on yellow, lined legal paper. Whatever he was trying to illustrate must have been very involved, indeed.

War, what is it good for/absolutely nothing

Someone was singing this in sotto voice, over and over again, leaned against a recliner. I was told that the effects of the drug only lasted three or four hours. Having taken the drug on multiple occasions, three or four of them were convinced they could condense the basic meaning of their lunatic ramblings into a manifesto of a sort. Each time, upon the arrival of sobriety they were always disappointed to find a fresh pile of scribbles.

What was I doing here again? I had been diverted from an evening of self-loathing in another search of the weird. I always found something strange, but at least no one was flagrantly breaking the law. In other evening destinations, this was not always the case. This trailer always smelled incongruously like ranch dressing, which always made me nervous without fail. I’m sure there’s a plausible explanation, but I’m afraid to ask. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Saving Medicare from Ourselves

This time around, GOP politicians are running with the intention of eliminating waste and expense from Medicare. Should Romney be elected President, they will probably get their chance. If the former Massachusetts governor were to be elected, resistance to Health Care Reform might consume some of his first acts in office.

Should the Senate fall into Republican hands, the whole Congress now under GOP control, a floor vote would ensue. It would be held even if it only were for symbolic effect. Times have changed drastically. Three years ago, many Progressive Democrats believed that a single-payer system like Medicare was financially solvent, feasible, and ought to be extended to all American citizens

That didn’t happen, but now we're all waiting on the judgment of the Supreme Court. Assuming the Health Care Reform law as enacted doesn’t survive this court challenge, Medicare for all might be an option worth considering again. In 2012, many conservatives are on the record as stating that the so-called Obamacare program is flawed, expensive, and wasteful.

Its opposition strongly pushes back, stating that national coffers are not nearly as depleted as some believe. Moreover, too many people lack health insurance, which causes a ripple effect within the entire system. Economically, we are worse off if a significant portion of our citizens have no coverage. Democrats will fight to ensure that guaranteed coverage for all is a civil right for everyone, regardless of age, occupation, or lack of occupation.

For the past two years, I have been officially disabled and have relied on Medicare for primary coverage. After two years on disability, a person has to right to retain primary Medicaid coverage or switch to Medicare. I gladly switched to the latter because I believed my quality of care would improve. Medicaid has severely limited access to coverage. In some ways, I am very satisfied with Medicare, but there still have been significant shortcoming. Before the rest of the nation clamors for it, it must be dramatically reformed, but not scrapped.

If I were to give Medicare a letter grade, I’d award the program a B+. Medicare is, in the words of British screenwriter David Sherwin, "a nubile Cinderella: sparsely clad and much interfered with." The layers of bureaucracy involved with processing claims and paying out for services create very significant delays. I’ve noticed that, from start to finish, coverage is predicated upon the completing of several steps. Should any of these not be completed in sequence, coverage will be rejected outright. And what this also means is that it takes two to three times longer than a private carrier.

Finding a psychiatrist took four months of calling around and persistence. The first few calls were to offices who wouldn't take Medicaid at all and asked for $100 a session out of pocket. I couldn't pay that much. Eventually, I found a psychiatrist with a good reputation. He was the only available provider in the entire District of Columbia. This did require me to make a lengthy trip to his office. By bus, it can be upwards of an hour and half from my apartment. The hospital where he works is in the poorest part of town and has significantly less material resources than others in the District. Or, to put it another way, I am the only white patient in the waiting room.

I have confidence in the doctor and am satisfied with him. It is clear, however, that he aspires to eventually open his own office in a more affluent, safer part of town. If he does, I hope he’ll take my insurance. In some ways, it's odd to be under the care of a doctor not much older than myself. Someone old enough to be my parent probably wants to only take a gold standard private plan. In the meantime, I'll take what I can get.    

I was formally diagnosed with sleep apnea last week. Three separate appointments with the sleep specialist have been scheduled and must be attended. Two appointments at a formal sleep studies clinic are also required. The CPAP machine I will eventually receive and use every night is not inexpensive. I have a need for the CPAP, which will regulate my breathing, but I’m still required to jump through an unnecessary number of steps to even receive it. It has taken four months to get here, and under a private plan it would have taken half the time.

We regulate government in ways we do not with private insurance. We hold government to a higher standard that we would never do for a private company. Though we complain about the government all the time, if it didn't matter, we wouldn't gripe as we do. Why don't we gripe about private companies? They seem to be the ones that cause us most of the problems.

Here's another example. As part of my Medicare Part D plan, a quick look at the formulary reveals volumes. Medications for erectile dysfunction or a benzodiazepine for anxiety simply will not be covered. The first medication is considered cosmetic. The second is flagged for its potential for abuse. I can see the logic about not covering plans that treat ED. However, being that benzos are mainline, basic treatments for people with anxiety disorders and PTSD, I'm afraid I fail to understand.

Hypocrisy is the reason for this stance, not ethics or morality. God forbid someone use tax dollars for those purposes. Imagine the numbers of outraged American calling for someone’s head should a person use government funds to maintance an erection or become addicted to tranquilizers. But know this: almost every single private plan will cover Viagra or Valium. If we really want to effectively monitor the behavior and habits of government, we first need to prosecute the politicians who embezzle thousands of dollars. Leave average people alone.  

I can understand why Seniors who do use Medicare, Mitt Romney excluded, will buy private plans to supplement their Medicare coverage. The period of time under which a recipient is in the “donut hole” requires 100% out-of-pocket coverage. Primary coverage quickly gives way to an expensive period of significant cost. The money to pay for it has to come from somewhere. Whether it be savings or a small nest egg, the donut hole provides a temporary, but expensive economic squeeze.

Making things worse is the out-of-pocket cost of each medication. What one pays out of pocket is a matter of luck and a result of the severity of illness. If I took two medications that were generic and reasonably priced, I might be able to manage. Sadly, I take seven medications now. One of them costs $1,200 for a 30 day supply. I simply couldn’t afford it if I didn’t have additional assistance in the form of a low-income subsidy.

To have Medicare for all, we must first eliminate layer after layer of needless rules and regulations. To me, the basic system is sound, but many laws have been enacted, each foisted upon the other. Policy needs to reflect the daily lives of recipients, not formulas and number crunching.We don’t need a whole industry around government care. Nor do we need the lawyers who often make their careers by needlessly complicating the system. New jobs need to grow in different sectors. Some would rather keep the system frozen and backed up, and for absolutely no good reason

Monday, April 16, 2012

I Love This!

                                       Ardal O'Hanlan

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quote of the Week

"A demagogue is a person with whom we disagree as to which gang should mismanage the country."- Don Marquis

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rock Creek Park

Anatomy of an Evening: Part One

Anatomy of an Evening


For most of the evening, I’d been trying to put the moves on an older man with a bald head. He appreciated the attention but was far too preoccupied to be pulled away from the action. While I tried to play coquette, minus the fluttering eyelashes, his body language pulled his skinny form farther and farther downward to the floor. Not interested. Not interested.

He was there for the distraction only, a means to escape, mostly. An hour into my effort, I heard a familiar story about an ex-wife and two children. Such men always lived in the shadow of past attempts to live in the straight world. Likely he kept in touch with all vestiges of years of denial. As I normally do, I nodded sympathetically in time at all the right places. He still wasn’t going to go home with me.

What’s eating away you? I’d identified the problem, but he wasn’t ready to confront it. He bristled at the suggestion, but wasn’t going to dignify the remark with a response.

Realizing that shameless flirtation was doing me no good, I removed my legs from around his. They had been neither discouraged, nor encouraged. To my immediate left was a means to drown my sorrows, but for some reason resorting to alcohol would mean admitting to defeat. I would not be stopped.

At least I felt attractive. I was quite proud of my new gray sweater. Though the rules and laws of fashion usually left me stupefied, I had been complimented tonight already multiple times. Even so, words of praise had sometimes taken backhanded form. I’d been told by one observer that I might be pretty but I smoked like a broad, with my right elbow planted upright against the table. Being compared to a woman had never offended me before and it wasn’t going to now.

A profoundly silly group of other men my age filed past. They were slyly mocking me. If I was a more profane person, they would have received an obscene gesture. Because there was nothing especially menacing about any aspect, I stuck my tongue out in response.

The process of seduction had turned out to be very difficult and I was appropriately annoyed. A chain-smoker even in the best of times, I’d blown through most of a pack in two and a half hours. I’d soon need to buy another, even though the club tended to inflate prices dramatically from what could be purchased two blocks down the street.

Leaving wasn’t difficult in the physical sense, but the pink armbands draped across wrists spoke for themselves. The convenience store workers had a reputation for being less than tolerant. It wasn’t what was said, but the way the seller sort of threw the pack at you across a spotless, smooth counter. If you were sharp, you caught it before it careened away, headed in the vicinity of the dirty floor mat.  

In those days, I thought being gay meant acting the part. To my credit, I was a quick study. One wouldn’t have thought I was really an actor in character. Gay bars are usually full of strangers and brief encounters. I won’t tell if you won’t tell. This is just our little secret.

The bolder ones establish their reputations, usually by their substance abuse issues and exhibitionism. They tend to have incongruous or effeminate nicknames and gleefully pull all interested parties into the bathroom for show and tell. To them, all bodily piercings, regardless of location are meant to be shared.

But if you ask me, some body parts were never meant to be lanced, regardless of artful presentation.

From behind me, I heard a drawly female voice calling my name. Startled, I whirled around 180 degrees. The voice belonged to a friend, Meredith. 

Nothing doing, huh? 

She smiled knowingly, exhaling smoke upwards towards the ceiling. I knew she could blow smoke rings like a professional, if you asked her to do it.

Apparently not.

I shrugged. She gestured towards the stool next to her, imploring me to join her. Meredith clung to the dark corners. She was here merely as a casual observer. A poet, she came here for ideas and inspiration. For her, it was comforting to be around other gay people, even if they were usually dramatic and self-absorbed. Meredith fancied herself a slightly more stable reflection of the average club goer.

Her girlfriends never went to such places. Nor did they ever make the trip with her. They usually frequented faculty poetry readings or coffee shops. In the meantime, Meredith possessed a dark, warmly twisted sense of humor. Usually, she patronized the clientele with a comedic sense of smugness, one that I always appreciated.

Possom’s after his latest adolescent conquest, it seems. He certainly doesn’t give up easily.

I scoffed.

What else is new? I’m impressed at his stamina.

Possom was one of the bitchier queens. He had given fifteen years of faithful service to the makeup counter at a department store. Now pushing forty, he tended to pursue the cute college aged boys who often made up a substantial share of the Saturday night crowd. He was my opposite in almost every way. I envied him only because he could dance. Defying the stereotype, I couldn’t dance to save my life.

Meredith would drag me onto the floor, but only after I was at least a little drunk and surrounded on all sides. If you do it that way you aren’t under the microscope of over lookers. She was the only one allowed to exploit my insecurities, ever, for any reason. She moved like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, following the beat, and I followed her lead. I’d repressed my Southern drawl as best I could, but sometimes it had a way of appearing when least wanted.

Meredith had a strong Walker County accent. Her people had mined coal for generations in the ugliest possible fashion, stripping layer by layer away from a seam in the ground. She was simultaneously proud of her heritage and deeply ashamed of it, the way I was myself to an extent.

Tonight I’d put on one of my best efforts and it’d all been for naught. I saw him now rise from the table I’d just left and hug someone who’d only just worked his way through the crowd. They appeared to be friends. Two weeks later I walked by him, submerged in a throng of animated, slightly sweaty men, and he’d ignored me. No one said I was pursuing stability. There was an element of sleaze never far away, but for a while I courted it. Danger or the possibility of it holds a strong appeal for many.

Somewhat earlier, I’d originally tried to hang out with a group of total flamers. One of them, liquored up or on something else abruptly told me one evening that he liked tough guys. I wasn’t sure if that was a reflection or a come on, but it touched a sore spot with me. I never wanted to be the physical size I was or present the way I did. In a gay context, it made me too masculine for many and a purely a fetish for others. The attention I got here was from men who had once held an impossible infatuation for someone straight.

Often, I was their stand in, their substitute. For me, heterosexual was the last thing I wanted. I liked my boys as feminine as could be. The fantasies I entertained never included being placed in situations where I had no hope of consummating my obsessions and fixations. Dreams were meant to be realized. Several female friends who pursued unattainable men reminded me of this very same attitude, as evidenced by their own conduct. They wanted a safe, relatively painless release that promised no hurt feelings or potential for getting burned.

In keeping with this plan, they developed romantic feelings for men they could never have, constructing a rich, but ultimately frustrating fantasy life. And I was one of them. Exasperated, but understanding, I always pushed them to strive for someone they could call their very own. A few listened to me, but many did not. I will concede that vulnerability is never easy for any of us, but also that we are to an extent in charge of our own fate.

Women easily fell for me. This could be seen by some as a great tragedy, and perhaps it was. When I picked up on all the same signs, I deliberately minced around, limp wristed, making sure that there would be no misunderstanding. But, as I’ve noted before, my basic nature was to remain inscrutable and officially androgynous. Having to explain myself on a frequent basis got very old and often I resented that an extra effort appeared to always be so necessary.

The world’s most annoying lesbian couple made their entrance walking forward through the dank, smoky front room. I’d seen them at the generic, queer friendly alternative pianist concert a few weeks before. They sat two rows up from me, very nearly in each other’s laps.

The both of them were loud and cooed over each other, speaking of promises of lifelong fidelity and inevitable plans to adopt a baby together from China. I was annoyed by the spectacle but I cynically knew where they were headed. I’d seen more than a few lesbian breakups over the course of my life.

For the sake of posterity, I’d been casually jotting down the names of each song as it was performed. Little did I know that in the process I was being observed by the as yet unseen.

A little twink sitting an aisle back reached forwards towards my shoulder blades, touching me lightly.

Are you making a setlist?  

I nodded. He’d written down an e-mail address on notebook paper. In immaculate script he had jotted down what was apparently his nickname. Ben Eats Crayons. I couldn’t help but laugh. Like right now at the club, it reminded me of the products of this saturated universe where queer was the default. If I wanted points for purity, I’d liked this artist a long time before the rest of the community had embraced her as an icon.

What a strange term, “The Community”. It said everything and nothing at once.

For example, “gay icon” to me always seemed to emphasize popularity at the expense of quality. Though I loathed Cher, I’d been to a couple of her concerts, because that’s where everyone went. And when I went to wash my hands, I’d overheard fifty voices sharing the same salacious and tragic fact. Due to years of plastic surgery, Cher’s face no longer moved when she sang or smiled.

I had a love/hate relationship with this club, much as I did with gay culture™. When I’d come out, shortly before I started college, I’d believed in the fantasy. Surely this venue would be a never-ending source of sexual partners. I hadn’t wagered that the banality of barflies in the gay community was very similar to what one found in the straight community. Here, I’d found more people who were willing to sell me drugs than to assent to hook up with me.

In the South, even the queers are football fans. On Saturday nights like tonight I noticed that the one television over the bar was turned to the game. Even more strangely, people were watching it with rapt attention. At its conclusion, the set was switched to something appropriately trivial and vapid. The void was filled by the jukebox, whose one redeeming characteristic beyond bad pop music was David Bowie. I made sure to arrive early, ensuring that the entire greatest hits were played before anyone could put on Savage Garden or Britney Spears before me.

The older gay men always appreciated the gesture, while those my age milled around, hands on hips, nonplussed. What was this stuff? Who listened to it? To them, gay might have been a place to shop, a store where everyone bought the same things. I could conform to a standard I royally disliked any day. Why play by another exacting set of rules?

Meredith presented her new cell phone number by ripping the cover off of a used book of matches. It was the only writing surface she could find. She drank heavily and always took one back along with a napkin and two red straws. In this respect, she was predictable.

Hearkening back to the days where being closeted was imperative, no address, phone number, or identifying markers were found. Instead, a large yellow raised uppercase letter was shown, which showed up well against the black background. I palmed the number and resumed staring out at the boy Possum had been after most of the night.   

No one could accuse him of having bad taste. This one, however, was a little out of my league.

Saturday Video

I am sitting
In the morning
At the diner
On the corner

I am waiting
At the counter
For the man
To pour the coffee

And he fills it
Only halfway
And before
I even argue

He is looking
Out the window
At somebody
Coming in

"It is always
Nice to see you"
Says the man
Behind the counter

To the woman
Who has come in
She is shaking
Her umbrella

And I look
The other way
As they are kissing
Their hellos

I'm pretending
Not to see them
And instead
I pour the milk

I open
Up the paper
There's a story
Of an actor

Who had died
While he was drinking
It was no one
I had heard of

And I'm turning
To the horoscope
And looking
For the funnies

When I'm feeling
Someone watching me
And so
I raise my head

There's a woman
On the outside
Looking inside
Does she see me?

No she does not
Really see me
'Cause she sees
Her own reflection

And I'm trying
Not to notice
That she's hitching
Up her skirt

And while she's
Straightening her stockings
Her hair
Has gotten wet

Oh, this rain
It will continue
Through the morning
As I'm listening

To the bells
Of the cathedral
I am thinking
Of your voice...

And of the midnight picnic
Once upon a time
Before the rain began...

I finish up my coffee
It's time to catch the train

Friday, April 13, 2012


Driving in my car, smoking my cigar,
The only time I'm happy's when I play my guitar.

Singing in my yacht, what a lot I got,
Happiness is something that just cannot be bought.

I've been in and I'm out, I've been up and down,
I don't want to go until I've been all around.

What's it all about, anyone in doubt,
I don't want to go until I've found it all out.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

No Media Circuses Needed with the Trayvon Martin Case

Regular readers no doubt are aware that I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. As much as I’d like to escape that fact sometimes, I can’t help being defined by it from time to time. It is this distinction, above all others, is why I have not wanted to write about the Trayvon Martin case until today. Birmingham has come to represent a defiant, violent response to a movement that bravely confronted the worst that bigotry had to throw at it. The visual images produced by the Birmingham campaign were so ghastly that they formally unified the movement. They also began to influence popular opinion of whites across the country and the world. In some ways, it is hard to believe that those troubled times will mark their fiftieth anniversary in May of next year.

The most gruesome images, those of fire hoses and police dogs are sometimes presented without the full and necessary context. Rarely mentioned now is that many of the demonstrators were Trayvon Martin’s age. The city where I came of­­­ age has never completely been able to let go of the troublesome legacy of Civil Rights, and what it cannot excuse it buries. Though it may win me few friends to say this, decades and decades after the newsreels and inhumanity, blacks and whites today shoulder an equal burden. Black politicians have played the race card to win elections, just as their white counterparts have appealed to racial stereotypes to manipulate their own constituents. Truth would benefit everyone most.

Now that I live in Washington, DC, I have been enjoying what has been a four-year-long change of­ scenery. Substantial problems are present here, too. The dysfunction in Washington, DC, is of a very different distillation. Instead of an omnipresent threat of racial tension, I contend with the tension of bipartisan pettiness. Without meaning to sound cynical, the contrast is refreshing. Instead of those of different races and racial identities shouting at each other, I observe instead the bluest of the blue fighting with the reddest of the red.

With a racial conflagration brewing, I know I am back to very familiar territory. Already a cause célèbre, one only to grow with time, this showdown reveals my chronic weariness of racial polarization. If I felt we were making progress towards racial toleration and understanding, I might concede to one more go round, one more game of pitch and catch. How many more are to follow, friends? Is this how progress is made, even with a billion hurled accusations?

I recall a particularly pertinent segment of President Obama’s speech on race, given a little more than four years ago. Our President likely could have a son who looks just like Trayvon, but I know he is wise enough to keep from resorting to cheap stereotyping.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Once more, while the attention of our nation focuses on one specific instance of injustice and original sin, as Obama termed it, I file my own protest. Again? Do we have to do this again, really? Those who wish to hold signs aloft and chant slogans with me are more than welcome. If I could be assured that passions will not spill out of control on both sides, I would not feel this way. I have, you see, read this tired old script a few dozen times before and it always ends the same way. Regardless of outcome, public opinion breaks along color lines. Prejudice always frustrates truth and stereotype wins out, regardless of resolution. Recent opinion polling backs this up.

Thus far, the shouting and agitating has been largely limited to a few activists here and there. Now, with the filing of formal charges against George Zimmerman, we’ll see how far the media and the American public ratchet up the intensity and anger. I know better than to try to predict how much of a story this will become or not become. Swift resolution is my fervent prayer, namely that justice might be served and the real story of what happened be revealed. In cases with a profound racial tint, such as these, I withhold judgment until all the facts have been laid out upon the table. Of course, I have my own bias, but bias is what I’m out to avoid.

Jumping to conclusions has made a fool out of me on numerous occasions. During the Duke Lacrosse Rape case, for example, I cast my lot with the prosecution. I supported the black woman who claimed to have been raped by wealthy college-aged white men.  Many people who I knew were pushing for conviction, even before a coherent narrative had been brought before the jury. In polarized matters like these, the memory of past offenses and criminal proceedings that never came to trial influences opinion. African-Americans have been victims of racially motivated crimes multiple times. And even though we know this, every case should still be taken one at a time.

By the end of the proceedings, where the Duke players were exonerated of all charges, if you’ll recall, the US prosecutor assigned to the case was eventually disbarred for ethics violations. He wanted a conviction desperately, to the degree that he was willing to falsify evidence. When the case unraveled, I, like many, had egg on my face. To avoid the same, I’ll avoid overreaching, even if my opinion is eventually proven factual.

Until I know more information, I believe that George Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty.

Whether Trayvon Martin is vindicated or not we may all be the losers in this charade. The words of the Native American leader Chief Joseph speak for me. They are sad, poignant, and weary, the public discourse of the broken hearted. This battle royal will not have me as a participant. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Cruelest of the Months

APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers. 
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour. 
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight.
And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

Excepted from "The Waste Land," by T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prove Yourself

I can’t afford to breathe in this town,
nowhere to sit without a gun in my hand.
Hooked back up to the cathode ray,

I’m better off dead,
I’m better off dead,
I’m better off.

Prove yourself,
prove yourself,
prove yourself.

I want to breathe, I want to grow,
I’d say I want it but I don’t know how.
I work, I bleed, I beg, I pray,

but I’m better off dead,
I’m better off dead,
I’m better off.

Prove yourself,
prove yourself,
prove yourself.

I’m better off dead,
I’m better off dead,
I’m better off.

Prove yourself,
prove yourself,
prove yourself,
prove yourself.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Effectively Responding to Sex Offenders

I’m not sure why even I am still shocked. Almost every week I read through the online edition of my hometown newspaper. Prominent headlines at the top of the page and a creepy mug shot advertise yet another story of brutality committed against a child. If every documented case of child molestation was reported on a single website, I wonder if it might provide an accurate tally or basic idea of the sheer enormity. I’m still not sure we, as a society, really understand the forms that child sexual abuse take or how to recognize them effectively. If we did, we might be able to more quickly respond.

If you ask around enough, everyone seems to have a story. The choir director in my middle school was discovered to have had sexual contact with a fourteen-year-old student. Should there be any misunderstanding, sex offenders can be gay, straight, or somewhere in the middle. In this instance, the accused was first revealed by news reports to be a presumably gay male in his late twenties. Few were surprised to learn his sexual orientation, but many were quite taken aback by the nature of the criminal allegations. The day after charges were formally filed, I remember watching the local five o’clock news with the rest of my family.

Along with an account of the police report read by a news anchor was a ghastly photograph. It showed a man with three day's worth of stubble and an exhausted, hangdog look. Otherwise a meticulously dressed and perpetually clean-shaven man, the image that peered back at me was haunting. It stayed with me for weeks afterwards. That one photograph and the emotions it produced was in many ways more powerful than any other revelation later to follow. Students, teachers, and parents each felt similarly.

After years of progress in therapy, my eyes have been fully opened. I recognize now how flirtatious he was with his male students. I can understand both how and why he kept favorites. Had circumstances been different, I might have been one of them myself. After the charges became well-known, four other boys dating back ten years or more also stepped forward with their own allegations. By then, most of us were overwhelmed with details, struggling to somehow place everything in its proper context.

The former choir director was eventually convicted and sentenced to prison, though only formally convicted with abusing one boy. The child was the first to bring the matter to light. Given a ten-year split sentence, his abuser spent two years in jail, and then served out the remainder of his term outside of prison. After he dropped abruptly from the headlines, he may as well have become a ghost. Someone new was hired in his place. The name of the new director's predecessor was never spoken again. It was as if he had been wiped away from everyone's collective memory.

If I had any nugget of wisdom to add to our collective wisdom, I would have us reach a more nuanced understanding of sex offenders and child sexual abuse. I think we have a tendency to think of the offenses committed as either a one-time sexual assault at a party, or a violent crime that arrives out of nowhere, perpetrated by a total stranger at two o’clock in the morning. Sex offenders often take their time and can seem entirely harmless to others in their midst. Because children can be easily and effectively blackmailed or coerced into silence, it's easy for child molesters to get away with their actions for years.

Child molesters who groom, as was the case with the Jerry Sandusky case, are not usually physically violent. The more extreme varieties do exhibit those behaviors, but these are less commonplace than often thought. Instead, the M.O. of many sexual offenders is a slow process of pushing past acceptable parameters, while increasing these boundary violations more and more with time. Perversely, while trust is gradually built up with a child, behaviors by the adult grow increasingly emotionally and psychologically damaging.

At that age, kids are often trusting of adults, this by their very nature. Sex offenders normalize sexual contact with the children they abuse. Aware innately that what they are being asked to do is strange and uncomfortable, child victims find themselves split between their own intuitive sense of right and wrong and what they are told to do. The intentions and actions of their abusers seek to contradict an inherent, instinctive sense of revulsion and disgust.

The analogy I often use is that the process of abuse for many is much like opening a fitted shirt button by button. Step by step, more and more physical contact is introduced. It's a slow process of gradual immersion. Though rarer in number, it is possible to encounter sex offenders who are physically violent and aggressive. Some years ago I made the acquaintance of a woman my age whose father had been both physically abusive and sexually violating. We began to discuss shared experiences in detail. She found herself entirely unable to have a lasting relationship with anyone beyond the physical. Those are the most damaging of all and also the most difficult to treat.

What we have considered effective deterrents prior to now seem to not have been successful. It would appear that sex offenders do not often respond to shame and guilt, or threats of ultimate punishment. Regardless of our threats by any form, their crimes continue. Even with a strict societal taboo in force, the prominence and frequency of child sexual abuse continues. Keeping our eyes open without resorting to paranoia and draconian legislation would serve us far better.

We cannot successfully mandate or prosecute what we do not understand. Yes, there are likely child molesters present in our daily lives even now, often those of which we are entirely ignorant. Moral panics and frenzied hyperbole have never served us well for any other reason. Comprehension, above all, is more important and will lead to the changes we need the most.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Quote of the Week

“If you can't say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me.”- Gertrude Stein

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Saturday Video

Go west
paradise is there
you'll have all that you can eat
of milk and honey over there

You'll be the brightest star
the world has ever seen
sun-baked slender heroine
of film and magazine

Go west
paradise is there
you'll have all that you can eat
of milk and honey over there

You'll be the brightest light
the world has ever seen
the dizzy height of a jet-set life
you could never dream

Your pale blue eyes
strawberry hair
lips so sweet
skin so fair

Your future bright
beyond compare
it's rags to riches
over there

San Andreas Fault
moved it's fingers
through the ground

Earth divided
plates collided
such an awful sound

San Andreas Fault
moved its fingers
through the ground
Terra cotta shattered
and walls came
tumbling down

O promised land
O wicked ground
build a dream
tear it down

O promised land
what a wicked ground
build a dream
watch it fall down

Friday, April 06, 2012

Alexander Hamilton and Today's Financial Complexities

Over the past three or four years, we as a people have been debating legislation that challenges the very legal definition of Federalism. Most of these arguments are neither novel, nor new. The system of divided powers that separates a centralized federal government based in Washington, DC, with those granted to each state is the basis by which our Constitution was first debated and proposed. Federalism has long been a roadblock to progress, but it should be said that progress proclaimed is almost always in the eyes of the beholder.   

Here is one example. The legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act now under consideration by the Supreme Court has been strongly opposed by several states. The way the law is written, these reluctant states must pick up the tab for increased Medicaid eligibility, coverage, and funding. The controversial individual mandate portion of the law has been perceived by some as an unfair tax upon the Americans who are financially eligible to pay it. The attitudes of those who disagree have lengthy antecedents stretching back a little more than two centuries. Their protests, offensive as they may be to some, might not be dismissed as simplistically as we would like to think.

Alexander Hamilton is, in large part, responsible for the financial and banking system that governs our economic system. After the American Revolution, the United States was left heavily in debt to foreign creditors. A combination of state and federal borrowing ran to a total of $79 million dollars. This staggering total had been essential to victory, but many Americans entertained an entirely unrealistic belief that taxation of any sort would now no longer be necessary. Taxes were associated in the minds of many with repressive British policies. However, to run a nation without going bankrupt required consistent streams of revenue.

Hamilton’s brilliant plans and strategies in this regard brought the new nation into its own. Over time, the first, and perhaps most brilliant Secretary of the Treasury has been racked over the coals by historians. Many have pronounced him to be an exploitative elitist, favoring the rich at the expense of the poor. His life is much more complicated and shows a portrait of a complex, nuanced man.

Born on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean, Hamilton was the illegitimate son of a ne'er do well. His mother died when Hamilton was still fairly young. A self-made man in all senses, the whole of his early life was full of poverty, drama, and tragedy. Like many people who were raised without money or prestige, he devoted his adult life to creating a comfortable existence for himself. In an era where family allegiance and last name were proof of acceptable social status, Hamilton always felt himself inferior and not good enough to be taken seriously.

His tireless work on behalf of the United States of America shows evidence of this same desire for redemptive success. At the outset, the United States was a large country in area with a predominately agricultural economy. It, like Hamilton, had to prove itself in the court of world opinion. Legitimacy in the eyes of long-established Western European powers often began with solid proof of stable finances. Immediately following the war that established independence from Great Britain, Hamilton had to literally create a plausible financial system from nothing, though he used the British system as a strong model.  

The 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton, written by Ron Chernow, provides context that is rarely introduced alongside anyone’s argument.

How exactly the debt should be funded was to be the most inflammatory political issue. During the Revolution, many affluent citizens had invested in bonds, and many war veterans had been paid with IOU’s that then plummeted in price under the [Articles of] Confederation. In many cases, these upright patriots, either needing cash or convinced they would never be repaid, had sold their securities to speculators for as little as fifteen cents on the dollars.

Americans have had a contentious, distrustful relationship with capitalism, often believing that moneyed interests are unethical and exploitive. Though the analogy in some ways is facile, especially today, one can see evidence of same in this age. The attitudes of Occupy were often predicated upon the same fears and outrage. Where one places trust and faith determines fiduciary opinion. “[Hamilton] was naïve in thinking that the rich would always have a broader sense of public duty and would somehow be devoid of self-interest, instead of being captives to an even larger set of interests.”  

Though his real view was distorted consistently over time, Hamilton never believed that national debt should be perpetual. He thought that debt was not necessarily evil and could even stimulate a nation’s wellbeing. One wonders how he would respond to other significant events in American History. These include the balanced budget fad of the 1990’s, the Economic Stimulus Package likely to become a major campaign issue, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s tendency towards fiscal conservatism during the formation of the New Deal.

One wonders whether times truly have changed, whether there was once a time where expanded public debit wasn’t viewed as unhealthy and injurious to the American economy. Some wish to judiciously prune away Medicare and Medicaid spending. States would lower rates of taxation if they could, even though the debt they harbor may be not honestly be a valid bogeyman. Casting aspersions upon Washington, DC, may play well in front of the home crowd, but means little to nothing in reality. Federal or State, our fates are intertwined, like it or not.