Tuesday, January 31, 2012

You Are Not a Quaker (So Stop Calling Yourself One)

I would have posted this on my Meeting's listserve, but know it would have been received with instant hostility and plentiful angry commentary. Instead, I'll just put it up here.

Transcribed from the Maggie Harrison.

Included below is the most crucial passage.


So, if you attend meeting because it’s nice, or because you enjoy having a group of liberal friends to talk with about politics, THIS IS NOT ENOUGH TO CALL YOURSELF QUAKER.

If you call yourself Quaker because you like the social messages and the fact that we’re ‘so accepting’ or that we’re not going to stuff religion down your throat, that’s all fine and good, I feel the same BUT THAT’S NOT ENOUGH TO CALL YOURSELF A QUAKER.

If you attend Friends Church so that you can feel connected to God/Christ and do the things a good Christian would do, THAT’S NOT ENOUGH TO CALL YOURSELF A QUAKER.

If you call yourself a Quaker because you went to a Friends School and now work at a nonprofit and always compost your banana peels, THAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU A QUAKER.

Are you all getting my point? Please stop diluting our movement and muddying the waters with your wishy-washy comfort-driven engagement with this group that you think is cool or enjoy ‘meditating’ with. You are not Quaker. Go join some other group that’s not going to tell you what to do and will accept your lack of interest in real radical transformation.

That’s not what we’re about. And yes, we ARE about something. Don’t you dare imply otherwise and I’m sorry if we mislead you by acting like anything goes because we don’t believe in anything specific or challenging. IT DOESN’T. PLEASE LEAVE.

Sunshine Superman

Sunshine came softly a-through my a-window today
Could've tripped out easy a-but I've a-changed my way
It'll take time, I know it, but in a while
You're gonna be mine, I know it, we'll do it in style

'Cause I made my mind up you're going to be mine
I tell you right now
Any trick in the book a-now, baby, a-that I can find

Everybody's hustlin' a-just to have a little scene
When I say we'll be cool I think that you know what I mean
We stood on a beach at sunset, do you remember when?
I know a beach where, baby, a-it never ends

When you've made your mind up forever to be mine
I'll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind
'Cause I made my mind up you're going to be mine
I tell you right now
Any trick in the book a-now, baby, a-that I can find

Superman and Green Lantern ain't got a-nothin' on me
I can make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea, yeah
A-you you you can just sit there a-thinking on your velvet throne
'Bout all the rainbows a-you can a-have for your own

When you've made your mind up forever to be mine
I'll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind
When you've made your mind up forever to be mine
I'll pick up your hand
I'll pick up your hand and slowly...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Book review: Delusions of Gender

My mother is fond of telling a story. Her first child, she had me in her early twenties. Highly influenced by the Feminist thought of the 1970’s, Mom was convinced she would raise me quite differently. The first major challenge to her beliefs arrived not far into the process of parenthood. Like the little boy I was, my play routinely involved pretending to shoot a toy gun.

Except that I didn’t actually have a gun at my disposal. Instead, I began to use stray pieces of a vacuum cleaner, simulating the sound of the firing of a gun. Kow! Kow! Mom was determined she would not reinforce such traditionally masculine behavior and refused to purchase me a simulated firearm.

My Grandmother, being of a very different generational mindset, could not understand her daughter’s rationale. Boys played with guns. Boys had always played with guns. Why should it be any different for her Grandson? I was loaded into a car and then taken to a store. While there, three or four toy guns were bought for me. I set aside the vacuum cleaner for good, running around the yard in a fantasy world of my own creation.

This story might, on its face, seem to argue for traditional gender roles. Past scientific research has relied on methodology as simplistic as this to form firm, supposedly unshakable conclusions. But, as we are told, correlation does not prove causation. The other boys I played with, the gender-specific television programs I watched, and the behavior of adults around me almost certainly influenced my likes and dislikes. The brain is complicated both in its wiring and its ability to adapt and be shaped to fit specific situations and environments.

Similar conclusions are plentiful in Australian psychologist, writer, and professor Cordelia Fine’s most recent book. It is entitled, appropriately, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. Relying on an exhaustive series of research studies to prove her conclusions, Fine debunks one gender stereotype after another. By the end, the reader has to concede that multiple analyses routinely cited by journalists, each asserting some form of gender essentialism, are of dubious factual value.

Politics, rather than sound methods, motivates any number of shoddily and sloppily performed experiments. In many other scientific fields, hypotheses these simplistic would be laughed at and never allowed to be published. Neuroscience, like the brain itself, is poorly understood, relying on a very small number of indisputable truths. When linked with sexist claims and traditional perceptions of gender, gross oversimplifications of brain function are utilized to consistently prove and reprove the status quo.

A brief note. Those who wish to read Delusions of Gender ought to be aware that large sections of the book contain scientific language and jargon, especially the second part. A more or less standard narrative is present in the first and the concluding partition. Regarding the scientific data, I found myself sometimes having to take great pains to not lose myself in the terminology, though the results of each experiment are easy enough to comprehend.

One discovers that even the most complicated-sounding study has a predictably and distressingly similar result. Yet, even when contemplating the consistently depressing, one nevertheless finds a kind of reassuring comfort. It is possible to easily see well beyond the monochromatic world advanced by scientists with a bone to pick.

By the end, Fine argues for, in her words, a great unraveling. Each of us plays a notable role in the deconstructing and eventual vanquishing of gender inequality. She challenges us to be cognizant, as best we can, of the ideas we directly express and emote. How we talk, how we respond to others, how we hold our bodies and gesticulate, the way we form our thoughts—all of these are of great importance.

The reality is complex in ways we can barely fathom. If the problem was as easy to solve and to understand as the studies that make such claims, we would surely have made much greater strides by now.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Quote of the Week

"The spring of 1988, I spent a fair length of time trying to come to grips with who I was and the habits I had, and what they did to people that I truly loved. I really spent a period of time where, I suspect, I cried three or four times a week. I read Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them and I found frightening pieces that related to...my own life."- Newt Gingrich, 1989.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Video

Let me tell you how it will be:
That's one for you, nineteen for me;
'Cause I'm the taxman;
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

Should five percent appear too small,
Be thankful I don't take it all.
'Cause I'm the taxman;
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

If you drive a car,
I'll tax the street.
If you try to sit,
I'll tax your seat.

If you get too cold,
I'll tax the heat.
If you take a walk,
I'll tax your feet.


'Cause I'm the taxman;
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

Don't ask me what I want it for
(Aaah, aah, Mr. Wilson)
If you don't want to pay some more.
(Aah, aah, Mr. Heath)

'Cause I'm the taxman;
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

Now my advice to those who die:
Declare the pennies on your eyes!

'Cause I'm the taxman;
Yeah, I'm the taxman,

And you're working for no one but me...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bisexuals Get No Respect

I rarely link to existing articles, but I think these two are deserved.

Cynthia Nixon: Bisexuals? We get no respect

This one is better.


Conscious of my painted toenails, I did not emerge from the river like all the others. I instead bobbed up and down with the gently rolling current. Staring at my slightly denuded chest, I had been earlier experimenting with the removal of body hair. My intention was to reach a more feminine ideal, a standard that always felt more biological to me than cultural.

While swimming or dog paddling, one learns to avoid the beds of fresh water mussels. The pressure of toes and the balls of the feet cause shellfish to slam shut. The first time it happens to you, your body jerks in surprise. After a time, one adjusts, but it’s always a bit of a fright.

My girlfriend at the time implored me to swim closer to the shore. She never divided in headfirst as I did. She never hid her toes or the hair on her legs. Easing her body into the water, little by little, she kept running commentary. A tilted rock, just the right size, was concealed by the level of the water. It entered, unexpectedly, giving her a jolt.

That was… intimate. She chuckled nervously. Past partners would not have called attention to the violation, but this was not how she was. For her, the world was an everlasting scavenger hunt. While walking the woods, she would leap for the latest specimen, grabbing for the ends of tails and wings. I found bugs generally creepy and disgusting, but she had no such reservations. Her entire life had been lived in the outdoors. It was where she came to recharge and where I came simply to be with her.

Being with me took a lot of convincing. At the outset, I held her hand while she cradled the framed picture of her ex-boyfriend, sobbing. I probably should have been more bothered the way she transposed his personality traits and perceived strengths onto me.  I wanted her with a kind of mad desperation and dogged persistence. In workshop, I’d fallen in love with her short stories and now wanted the person whose mind had crafted them.   

Returning from the creek, we drove back to her house, talking of nothing in particular. I was devising another strategy to keep her from pushing away from me. The eight years that separated us in age was often cited as a reason why we needed to no longer see each other. Like a comedy duo, we kept returning to the same exchange, the same routine.

Do you see that picture on the wall? I indicated that indeed, I did see it. That was me when I was your age. She didn’t look that much different then as she did now. Perhaps she seemed less comfortable with herself and a little more unsettled and indecisive. Each time with this call-and-response conversation, she smiled, self-satisfied. I suppose, to her, she felt better being the old wise soul and me the baby.

For all her indecisiveness, or belief in her intellectual superiority and maturity, she returned to me, consistently. I was simply grateful for what I received and did not know yet what I truly deserved. Even so, I still find myself citing in words and in conversation some of the wisdom and insight she shared with me. She is part of me. The frustration is gone. The picture on the wall is now mine.    

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Planet Telex (Slightly Shortened)

I decided to leave off the ending coda from the released version.

You can force it but it will not come
You can taste it but it will not form
You can crush it but it’s always here
You can crush it but it’s always near

Chasing you home saying
Everything is broken
Everyone is broken

You can force it but it will stay stung
You can crush it as dry as a bone
You can walk it home straight from school
You can kiss it, you can break all the rules

But still
Everything is broken
Everyone is broken
Everyone is, everyone is broken
Everyone is, everything is broken

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Movie review: Black Brown White

The 2011 Austrian film Black Brown White covers a topical issue that has been prominent in German-language cinema the past few years, human trafficking. Director Erwin Wagenhofer is the latest to contribute to a chorus of cinematic reformers who are heavily critical of xenophobic attitudes. The main character, the truck driver Peter (Fritz Karl), hauls garlic and tomatoes, but also undocumented workers. The profit is high, but so are the risks.

A Ghanaian woman named Jackie (Clare-Hope Ashite) throws a spanner into his coordinated plans. She refuses to take a place in the back of the air-conditioned, but packed trailer with the others. With her young son in tow, she defiantly takes a place in the cab at the front, next to Peter. This act is verboten for a reason; it only increases the risks involved in an already risky enterprise. Still, the trucker grudgingly admires her persistence and allows the two of them to stay.

A picaresque journey through back roads and deliberate diversions ensues. Evading the police is almost a skill in and of itself. Jackie and her son present frequent challenges by their very visibility. Showing a surprising sensitive side, Peter violates his good judgment by not keeping constant control and surveillance over the two of them. Other men involved in the process of smuggling assume that the Ghanaian is his lover, and the child his own. Why would he be so uncharacteristically soft and incautious otherwise?

Halfway through the film we, the audience, learn that Peter has become a trafficker of humans because of financial necessity. Bad economic times created the need for additional income, but his feelings towards the practice are mixed. The financial reward is lucrative, but the process from start to finish is involved and frequently harrowing. The smuggler never gets the opportunity to relax even for a moment. Danger is openly courted, fate is constantly tempted. He must find a way to never become caught in a lie. In a quiet moment one night, Peter concedes that this haul will be his last.

A main underlying theme in Black Brown White is racism and racist beliefs. Countries in Western Europe often display overt hostility, even to legal immigration. To cite one example, the immigration policy of the Swiss has long been time-consuming and difficult to navigate. Many Swiss don’t want to live with people who look differently than their people have always looked, or talk differently than they have always talked. Or, in other words, they do not wish to compromise cultural purity. The global economic crisis only amplifies these feelings. People now believe that illegal immigrants are taking money out of their own pockets, not just polluting the gene pool.

The widespread belief in ideas like these does not stop with German-speaking peoples. It is especially true in France. Hypocrisy is rampant and virulent, especially because countries who routinely lambaste American racism take part in it themselves, in their own way. Unlike the United States, Western Europe was never founded on an idealistic premise that one ought to take in the refugees of the world. The nation-states of the Old World have, in effect, put up fences much higher and longer than ever proposed by American politicians.

A fear of ethnic corruption regrettably exists in the minds of millions. Black Brown White shows that at least some can see beyond the fear and suspicion. As Americans, it may do us good to recognize that racism and ideas of cultural acceptability do not end and begin with us. We might need to be cautious before we look elsewhere to find a sort of purity we believe to be not present on our shores.

Our problems may have been magnified with time alongside our predominant size and influence throughout the world community. Large countries magnify both their flaws and successes. Small countries sin no less, but often go unreported and unacknowledged.

And along the way, a few basic lessons can be learned that are true regardless of one's country of origin. Life can be rewarding, but it is rarely easy for any of us. People are pretty much the same everywhere, often when it comes to conquering adversity. Every place in the world holds its strengths and also its weaknesses.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Or, If You Prefer...

Here's a multi-track recording.

Cathy's Clown

Don't want your love anymore,
don't want your kisses, that's for sure,
I die each time I hear this sound

Here he comes
that's Cathy's clown

I gotta stand tall
you know a man can't crawl,
when he knows you're tellin' lies

and he hears 'em passing by,
he's not a man at all

Don't want your love anymore,
don't want your kisses that's for sure,
I die each time I hear this sound,

Here he comes
that's Cathy's clown

When you see me shed a tear,
and you know that it's sincere

Don't you think it's kinda sad that
you're treating me so bad
or don't you even care?

Don't want your love anymore,
don't want your kisses that's for sure,

I die each time I hear this sound,
here he comes
that's Cathy's clown

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Paterno's legacy from the perspective of a former football player

The death of Joe Paterno, longtime Penn State head football coach, would have been mourned with appropriately solemn reverence had it not been for the scandal that brought him down. Some have already lionized him anyway, this in the face of evidence that Paterno completely mishandled allegations of child sexual abuse. The conflicting tone evident in the announcements of his death reveals much. In particular, it shows how eager, even desperate we as a society are to be entertained and how attached we are to those who provide that entertainment. That many will always overlook the negligence of one legendary coach shows the priority we assign to sports.

I grew up in Alabama, where college football is a cultural institution. Grown men obsess about the sprained ankles and yards-per-carry of nineteen-year-old young men. Overgrown teenagers offered scholarships are treated like royalty for the whole of their time to wear the uniform. Although more and more revenue saturates the college game, its basic function is often a distraction from dull routine. A still largely working class and poor state eagerly embraces a break from a life spent toiling away in an automobile plant or a paper mill.  

I can’t remember a time during the fall on Saturday afternoons without a game blaring on the television. From a young age, I wanted to be on the field of play myself. In time, I grew old enough to do that very thing. Fortunately, I inherited athletic ability from my father. I began playing at age ten, showing a natural inclination towards the unglamorous world of the offensive line. A guard, I was fast enough to cut off linebackers from making a tackle, but big enough to avoid being run over.

Like many of my teammates, I tolerated the practices and lived for the games. My recollections of those contests are blurry and often unmemorable. Games proceed at such a fast pace, the laws of time do not apply. A play begins and is over within a minute. One picks oneself up off the ground and trots backs into the huddle, over and over again. On the front line, victory and defeat is transitory. One play’s triumph can quickly become a tragedy with the next snap of the ball. For an offensive lineman, one lives in obscurity until quarterbacks are sacked or running backs earn negative yardage. 

After a time, however, even the thrill of the game could not make up for my reservations. Constant crude remarks made towards women made me feel embarrassed. I had little to nothing in common with most of my teammates, who didn’t value academics and seemingly lived to hunt deer on weekends.  After struggling through an interminably long spring practice, I walked away from everything. No one could understand why. It was incomprehensible to them why a starter would quit the team.

Had I continued to suit up on Friday nights, I would have reserved my own spot on a college roster. Even so, I have no regrets. Though I was told for years to feel special because I was a football player, I never felt particularly privileged. What separated me from other students was a vigorous regimen of physical exertion and abject terror. I was put through high-impact, grueling exercise and treated a little like a Marine in basic training. Today, I sometimes miss being in great shape, but never pine away for the volume and proximity of a coach’s verbal directions. When I was a player, I lived in a very deliberately fashioned cocoon during the season and for most of the year.   

This is the life of the football player. Discipline and focus are essential components. However, it is easy to see how this world unto itself grows insular and resistant to change. Joe Paterno only wanted to be a football coach, not a crime reporter. However, he still had an obligation to show the same authority and decisiveness he displayed on the gridiron. Football may be an alternate universe of a sort, but it does not and should not exist in isolation to the rest of the world. Even in death, Paterno should not be absolved fully of responsibility. He could have stopped the behavior of a sex offender, not merely the offense of next week’s opponent.        

Quote of the Week

"He who cannot hate the devil cannot love God."- Joseph Goebbels

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Video

Yes, I'm ready, so come on, Luckie.
Well, there's an avenue of Devil who believe in stone.
You can meet the captain at the dead-end zone.

What Devil doesn't know is that Devil can't
stay, doesn't know he's seen his day.

Oh, Luckie's taking over and his clover shows.
Devil can't get out of hand 'cause Luckie's taking
over and what Luckie says goes.

Dig them potatoes
if you've never dug your girl before,
poor little Devil, He's a backseat man to Luckie
forever more.

Yes, I'm ready, so come on, Luckie, Luckie
inside of me, inside of my mind, inside of my
mind. Don't go falling for Naughty.
Don't go falling
for Naughty, he's a dragon
with a double bite.

Sure can do his shortchanging out of sight.
An artist of a sort but a little bit short of luck,
this lucky night.

Oh, Luckie's taking over and
his clover shows.
Naughty can't get out of hand
cause Luckie's taking over
and what Luckie says goes.

Dig them potatoes if you've never dug your
girl before, poor little Naughty,
He's a backseat man to Luckie forever,
a backseat man to Luckie forever more,
hey, hey, hey.

It's a real good day to go get Luckie,
go get Luckie.

I'm gonna go get Luckie, I'm gonna go get
Luckie. I'm gonna go get, I'm gonna go get,
you gotta go, get on down and get away.
You gotta go, get on down and get away.

You gotta go, get on down and get away.
You gotta go, get on down and
get away from you, hey hey, from you, yes,
Yes, I'm ready, yes, I'm ready, ready for Luckie.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The need for narrative control

For years, media narrative has directly shaped public opinion. In its emphasis on certain stories rather than others, opinions are formed and a hierarchy of current events is created. The cadence and catchy one-liners of pundits and talking heads make their way into routine conversation. Many people walk in lockstep, whether aware of it or not, with how media has framed an issue. The fortunate can peer outside of the box, even while they embrace certain aspects of these presented truths themselves.  They may reject some of what they view, read, or hear, seeking to build their own opinion in contradiction to the conventional wisdom.

As the Presidential Race draws ever nearer, each campaign will spit out public relations bullet-points that play up the favorable sides of their candidate. We will likely parrot these arguments amongst ourselves because, competitive being that we are, we'd like our chosen candidate to win. We're aware that campaign spin routinely stretches the truth, but we'll still disregard strict logic for victory. We'll support our team and its own rationale. We'll be cheerleaders for each candidate's chosen strategy each step, day by day, month by month, until the bitter end.  

Where the media is concerned, where ought to be its role? In shaping information exchange, a few rules (unwritten or otherwise) have sprung up over time. As has been true with the recent tense exchange between Debate Moderator John King of CNN and Republican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich, media is often caught in the middle.  It can present an unbiased, fly-on-the-wall perspective, or a very partisan one intended to deliberately influence individual opinion.

Some believe that people are inherently capable of shaping their own conclusions without need for additional agitation. Following this line of thought, news reporting is rather impassive and businesslike. Other outlets believe their role ought to be vetting, jousting, and fact checking. Candidates routinely inclined to hurl their own spin into the mix, like Gingrich, make internal debate between media and candidate irresistible. It makes for great theater, though whether it serves anyone well is debatable.

On a much smaller scale, I understand this conundrum. I am one of the leaders in an house of worship. A recent problem became a time-consuming and frustrating controversy among members and regular attenders. We meant to equip for the hard-of-hearing a simple and cost-effective means so that all might be able to hear during Worship. The challenge before us is an eighty-year-old Meeting Room with its own massive sonic problems.

Seeking sufficient accommodations for the hearing-impaired, I admit that other leaders and I made mistakes. Initially, too many choices were provided the congregation. The selections facing us were broad and expansive, and no one single solution stood out as the best. Leadership regrettably concerned itself more with gathering everyone’s perspective, in the hopes that a wealth of opinion might lead to the best way to resolution.

What we should have done is, at the outset, advance specific possibilities for resolution. Nature abhors a vacuum and the discussion degenerated, I regret to say, into churlishness. Many were afraid, if not terrified that their particular concern was not going to be addressed by the rest of the Meeting. Others were merely petrified of change in any form. Regardless, any decision that leadership made was going to upend the status quo. This is not to take away from anyone’s right to be heard, rather that sometimes complexity for the sake of complexity is not especially effective.

Most recently, I think about this lesson learned in terms of the process of the Health Care Reform legislation. President Obama didn’t get out in front of the bill and guide its passage on easy-to-understand terms. Instead he left the matter wide open for Congress to debate, which provided frequent room for confusion and schism. Without a set of established goals and parameters, the void gave credence to opposition criticism. From then on, the pro-Health Care ranks often seemed to be on the defensive.

Debate can continue indefinitely, as a quick survey of any cable news channel can tell you. Eventually, decisions must be made.  Though we may complain about a media, mainstream or otherwise, that takes a heavy-hand in presenting news, we shouldn’t fail to recognize the need for the messenger. People make their own waves, but without the support of others to amplify those waves, most of us can’t hear them. And not only that, those who are familiar with the industry know the appeal and the benefit of building and following the story.

Simply put, attention is naturally drawn to a narrative. The mere accomplishments of anyone can be purely interesting, but put a person in the context of a compelling narrative, and watch the interest of the audience skyrocket. Communication is not merely a question of compelling details, but also narrative control. Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone has a workable solution.    

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Study in Gender Contrast and Forgiveness

I’ve never felt much reason to comment on controversies at other sites. I usually follow my own path and aim for original analysis on other subjects. However, the Hugo Schwartz controversy over on Feministe has captured my attention. For those unaware, Hugo Schwartz is a prominent male feminist whose personal life and prior conduct has been considered reprehensible to many outside observers. Because he and I both identify as feminist and as men, his behavior reflects upon my own. I myself am highly critical of him, though I have tried to see the matter as objectively as I can. In an effort to perhaps flip the framing or put things in a new context, I’ll share a story.

My mind turns to someone with whom I used to Worship. Her reputation was not exactly stellar.  She was an out-and-out pariah to several people in the greater community. If they kept their distance, they could hardly be blamed. They shunned her because she’d undergone the shame of being the first woman in the state to be forced to pay child support. Her condition and behavior must have been unprecedented and inexcusably reckless. Primary custody was also granted to the father. Though in recovery by the time I met her, she had once been a severe alcoholic. Her substance abuse issues and lengthy history of marital infidelity was used successfully against her in court. Still, she mostly harmed only herself.
By the time I met her, her problems seemed to be more or less controlled. I was not aware of her past when she introduced herself to me the first time. She just seemed to me to be a sweet woman in her sixties who had accepted her ultimate fate in the cosmos. She emoted a zen-like quality, one common to those who have suffered mightily. Those who may have otherwise felt vindictive as a result of her behavior in another time now mostly felt sorry for her.

She had cancer. It never killed her, only left her in constant, terrible pain. Death would have been too easy an escape. Instead, the cancer returned time and time again. She underwent chemotherapy, went into remission, and then after a few months of improvement the disease inevitably returned. The process repeated itself for over a decade. Some who were still harboring bitter feelings believed that she got everything that was coming to her, I'm sure. How could someone that out of control not pay the price for what she’d done to her husband and her child?      

Her daughter was similar to her mother in all the wrong ways. Her own periods of substance abuse had resulted in stints in rehab. The same was true for an eating disorder. She stole routinely, often for no discernible reason, this from friends who trusted her. Eventually, several thousand dollars would come up missing. Embarrassed, friends cut their ties but did not report the crime. With time, the daughter chose to steal more than just money and was caught red handed by someone quite willing to prosecute. That decision produced a felony conviction. Like her mother, she burned many bridges in her life and had to live with the consequences.    

I originally thought about framing my conclusion in religious terms, but I instead changed my mind. I’m not trying to vindicate Hugo Schwartz, who identifies as a person of faith. Instead, I'd rather ask instead whether we’re harsher on women who transgress than we are on men.  For example, do we tolerate people who are bad fathers more easily than those who are bad mothers? How much of our sympathies do we devote to someone with the profile of the mother of this story?  I’m curious to know how much compassion directed towards this one troubled life falls along gender lines. 

I have my own answer, certainly, but in this situation, being labeled a bad mother probably explains peoples’ animosity towards this woman I have cited. Their immediate reaction is how dare you. Are women allowed to redeem themselves for past serious lapses in judgment and neglectful behavior, regarding parenting?  

The Pretender

I'm busy this morning. Will try to get a post up this afternoon. In the meantime, enjoy the song.


I'm going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I'm going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day

And when the evening rolls around
I'll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I'll get up and do it again

Say it again

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening?

I've been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it's the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You'll get up and do it again

Caught between the longing for love
And the struggle for the legal tender
Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring
And the junk man pounds his fender

Where the veterans dream of the fight
Fast asleep at the traffic light
And the children solemnly wait
For the ice cream vendor

Out into the cool of the evening
Strolls the Pretender
He knows that all his hopes and dreams
Begin and end there

Ah the laughter of the lovers
As they run through the night
Leaving nothing for the others
But to choose off and fight

And tear at the world with all their might
While the ships bearing their dreams
Sail out of sight

I'm going to find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we'll fill in the missing colors
In each other's paint-by-number dreams

And then we'll put out dark glasses on
And we'll make love until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We'll get up and do it again

Get it up again

I'm going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender

And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there?

Say a prayer for the Pretender
Who started out so young and strong

Only to surrender

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wild Night

As you brush your shoes, stand before the mirror
And you comb your hair, grab your coat and hat
And you walk wet streets tryin' to remember
All the wild night breezes in your mem'ry ever

And everything looks so complete
When you're walkin' out on the street
And the wind catches your feet
Sends you flyin', cryin'
Ooo-woo-wee, wild night is calling
Ooo-ooh-wee, wild night is calling
And all the girls walk by dressed up for each other
And the boys do the boogie-woogie on the corner of the street
And the people, passin' by stare in wild wonder
And the inside juke-box roars out just like thunder
The wild night is calling
The wild night is calling
Come on out and dance
Whoa, come on out and make romance
Come on out and dance
Come on out, make romance 

Monday, January 16, 2012

The War on Poverty, Revisted

The physical memory of MLK, Jr. as a physical person is being lost with every passing year. He has already passed into legendary status and soon will only be remembered for his legacy. King might first be viewed for his Civil Rights work, but he placed an equal share of time in seeking solutions to bring an end to poverty. Nowadays, we seem to be focused on more manageable endeavors. Should the situation of income disparity be raised, we would rather address a few pressing matters than fix the whole. Depending on one's ideological perspective, prior attempts to narrow the gap between rich and poor were frustratingly ineffective.

In a 1964 address, wherein he accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace, Martin Luther King, Jr. set forth the particulars of the situation. The societal shortcomings of which he spoke still exist today.
The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible. Just as nonviolence exposed the ugliness of racial injustice, so must the infection and sickness of poverty be exposed and healed - not only its symptoms but its basic causes. This, too, will be a fierce struggle, but we must not be afraid to pursue the remedy no matter how formidable the task.
Around the time of this speech, President Lyndon Johnson instituted a variety of reforms he titled the Great Society. Some of them, like Medicaid and Medicare, persist to the current day. Conservative distaste of these social programs still runs high, which has informed the views of several Republican candidates now running for President. With time and a decrease in financial resources, they have grown more unpopular among some. These dissenters are obsessed with the idea of a zero-sum game. To them, different socio-economic and racial/ethnic groups are pitted against each other in a longstanding battle royal. In their mind, whatever anyone else gains must necessarily come at their own financial loss.

Opposition to Great Society reforms existed even then, but it was choked out by substantial Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. These majorities prevented the legislation from being effectively killed by its opposition in committee and not being brought to the floor. This slate of progressive programs were notably not brought up as a campaign issue. A more progressive (and also more affluent) country was willing to devote the time and money needed to close the income gap. These acts, a substantial increase of government spending and government intervention, were perceived by many Americans as basic Civil Rights issues.

The poverty initiative remains heavily controversial to this day. Conservatives often see it as an unqualified failure, a policy of wishful thinking and squandered resources. They believe this segment of the Great Society established an underclass and a black welfare state. Liberals argue that the programs made a substantial impact, decreasing the number of people in poverty by nearly half. But in the end, these initiatives in major government intervention truly died when the last of the Post-War economic boom faded.
Many observers point out that the War on Poverty's attention to Black America created the grounds for the backlash that began in the 1970s. The perception by the white middle class that it was footing the bill for ever-increasing services to the poor led to diminished support for welfare state programs, especially those that targeted specific groups and neighborhoods. Many whites viewed Great Society programs as supporting the economic and social needs of low-income urban minorities; they lost sympathy, especially as the economy declined during the 1970s.
The economic boom times that made this country a Superpower have continued to pass into history. The fade has been gradual, but undeniable. If we were unable or unwilling to get rid of poverty when we had tremendous economic surpluses at our disposal, now it is even less likely. But the problem remains, one that creates a plethora of other issues. Now, we’d rather manage only one at a time, ignoring the overlap. Until we devise a new strategy, a new coordinated effort that is as broad as the problem itself, any War on Poverty is bound to be an occupation.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Quote of the Week

For some contrast...

 "The government has failed us; you can’t deny that. Anytime you live in the twentieth century, 1964, and you walkin' around here singing “We Shall Overcome,” the government has failed us. This is part of what’s wrong with you — you do too much singing.

Today it’s time to stop singing and start swinging. You can’t sing up on freedom, but you can swing up on some freedom."- Malcolm X

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Haley Barbour's Final Judgment

If we were not currently in the middle of a competitive Republican presidential primary, we’d be actively talking about outgoing Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. Earlier this week, Barbour pardoned 215 prisoners, including 17 who had been convicted of murder. The controversy his decision produced was immediate and also unsurprising. Families of victims have been outraged and the wisdom of the outgoing Governor has been sharply questioned. Mississippi’s Attorney General, Jim Hood, has sought block the release of these inmates. Barbour is unrepentant in his own defense.
"The historical power of clemency by the governor to pardon felons is rooted in the Christian idea of giving second chances. I’m not saying I’ll be perfect. That nobody who received clemency will ever do anything wrong. I’m not infallible and nobody else is."
One of the strengths of Christianity is in its ability, for those who have transgressed, to be forgiven for past sins. Say what you will about the rest of the religion, but this belief is often an appealing one, especially for those with a checkered past. Americans can often be an unforgiving people, failing to recognize our own flaws as we judge the weaknesses of others. Surely, we would like to have the ability to be forgiven, if we were put on trial in the court of public opinion.

Though we may weigh punishment differently, this from a legal standpoint, in an ideal world each of us might be able to work our way towards forgiveness and acceptance. Most of us have done things before of which we are not especially proud. Should they be revealed to all, we would win no one’s sympathy. Even though we may not have been convicted by our peers in a court of law, winning the right to start again is a concept we would surely embrace.

Forgiveness, in its Christian form, has no stronger example than that of Paul, originally named Saul. Saul made a career out of persecuting Christians. He was present when St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death. Saul supported the killing, believing that the new faith was a destructive new sect of Judaism. At his own admission, he put many early Christians in prison and voted in favor of their deaths. Interestingly enough, these admissions are recorded in the Book of Acts, when he himself was on trial.

Everything changed unexpectedly one day on the road to Damascus.
About noon… as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.' 
"'Who are you, lord?' I asked. "And the Lord replied, 'I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. 
Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. 
I am sending you to them to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God's people, who are set apart by faith in me.'
This story is a common example referred to by many born-again or Evangelical Christians like the former Governor. As a society, we often believe that criminals too often get away with their crimes. Once caught, we believe they don’t serve the time they deserve. Prisoners are viewed as wholly without remorse or contrition, showing themselves to be only sociopathic manipulators.

And the truth is that we’re often not inaccurate in our beliefs, but we also don’t leave the door open for inmates to see the light. Once again, we must, for our own sanity, leave open the possibility that no one is ever damned forever. People of faith would say that it is ultimately not our decision to make whether a person has redeemed himself or herself in the eyes of God.
[Barbour] said the five inmates who served him in the governor’s mansion, four of them murderers, have played with his grandchildren and even watched them while they rode tricycles in the driveway. 
Historically, he said, murderers are trusties at the mansion because, experts say, their crimes of passion are unlikely to be repeated. 
"I have no question in my mind," he said, "that these guys are not a threat to society."
In this matter, can we fairly set ourselves up as judge, jury, and executioner? Disagree or agree, but the final decision may not be made by mere mortals like ourselves. Soon the limits and longevity of our own hatred and forgiveness will be tested once again.

Saturday Video

Got brass in pocket
Got powder I'm gonna use it
Intention I'm feeling myself

Gonna make you, make you, make you notice

Got motion extreme motion
I've been driving Detroit leaning
No reason just seems so pleasing

Gonna make you, make you, make you notice
Gonna use my arms
Gonna use my legs
Gonna use my style
Gonna use my senses

Gonna use my fingers
Gonna use my, my, my imagination
Oh 'cause I'm gonna make you see

There's nobody else here
No one like me I'm special,
so special I gotta have
some of your attention, give it to me

I got rhythm I can't miss a beat
It's got me so scared it's so sweet
Got something I'm winking at you
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice

Gonna use my arms
Gonna use my legs
Gonna use my style
Gonna use my senses

Gonna use my fingers
Gonna use my, my, my imagination
'Cause I'm gonna make you see
There's nobody else here
No one like me I'm special, so special

I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me
'Cause I'm gonna make you see
There's nobody else here
No one like me I'm special, so special
I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Cultural Fight Over the Meaning of Marriage, Not Just Marriage Equality

In Canada, the patchwork system of laws governing same-sex marriage has run into serious trouble.  Foreign couples who previously exchanged vows on Canadian soil may now find their marriages invalidated.  Beyond a PR disaster, the issue shows the still-fragile coalition of countries or sections of countries which have legalized the practice.  In addition, the current legal fight shows the evolution of marriage over time.

In particular, same-sex couples have now run into the challenge of seeking and obtaining a divorce.

The renewed attention was sparked by the case of an unidentified lesbian couple who married in Canada in 2005 but split up in 2009. The partners are living in Florida and the United Kingdom. Both women want a divorce, but cannot get one where they now live because the state of Florida does not recognize their marriage, and although the U.K. grants civil partnerships to same-sex couples, it does not recognize the Canadian marriage.
The couple went to court last June seeking a Canadian divorce, despite the federal Divorce Act's one-year residency requirement, which they do not meet. Their submission argues the rules are discriminatory, and the couple is seeking $30,000 in damages for negligent misrepresentation by the province of Ontario if their marriage is found to be invalid.

This proceeding once again begs the question:  what is the real enemy of marriage?  As the situation above shows, same-sex couples can and do get divorced.  They will continue to desire to dissolve their marital unions in the ways that heterosexual couples always have. Sexual orientation is the only significant distinction present here.

Homosexuality simply isn’t the destructive force upon society as some conservatives may believe. If gay marriage cannot be characterized as a slippery slope towards crumbling morals and perverse sexual practices, other answers must suffice. Should we wish to have a truly honest discussion, let us consider other options.  

One line of argument speaks to a simple lack of personal responsibility or because of external factors. According to this philosophy, marriages in Western society that don’t last are the fault of those who obtain them. People get married for all the wrong reasons. Some get married too soon. Others marry to try to compensate for larger personal problems. Some marry seeking acceptance within themselves and others. Some marry because they've been believers in an idealized fantasy not borne out by reality. Some marry because marriage is culturally expected. These are but a few.  

Marriage isn’t the force it once was. More and more, people seem to believe H.L. Mencken's acerbic comment that marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution. Increasing, no distinction is culturally drawn between cohabitation and the formal, legal process.  Speaking to older conceptions of the process, in eleven states, plus the District of Columbia, common law marriage is still legal.  For example, in DC, the statue reads,
"A marriage that is legally recognized even though there has been no ceremony and there is no certification of marriage. A common-law marriage exists if the two persons are legally free to marry, if it is the intent of the two persons to establish a marriage, and if the two are known to the community as husband and wife."
By that definition alone, I can think of at least three couples I know personally.  In addition to those parameters, I know many others who have been happily living together for a long while. The way this statute is worded, verbal intention alone is a satisfactory requirement. For those in their twenties and thirties, marriage is something to be done eventually, but not for a while.

Sharing living space with someone else is common practice, a means of testing the relationship for its solidity and lasting power.  Many of our parents got divorced, then frequently re-married afterward. We've juggled step-siblings and dual visits on holidays. We might be forgiven for being a little suspicious.

A few unintended similarities are also present here. Older gay couples often see no reason to be married, believing the ceremony itself is so tainted by discrimination that they want no part. Some have lived together with partners for years. They see no need to confirm formally the bonds of lasting commitment. As far as they were concerned, they never once believed marriage equality would be legal anywhere.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether the strict parameters governing same-sex marriage will lessen with time. The liberties that exist now are the product of compromise, even in more ideological liberal countries, portions of countries, and U.S. states. An unsatisfying back and forth is probably in the works for the next several decades.

Even with those legal maneuvers, the state of legal marriage among heterosexual couples will continue to change. If precedent is any indication, some young adults have soured enough on the concept to believe that marriage is unnecessary. How curious that the marriage fight might eventually only be among those who actually hold it in high esteem, sexual orientation aside.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I was welcomed into the world by two parents who wanted me. If it’d been up to her, Mom would have had a baby almost immediately after marriage. She was nineteen then. Dad was twenty-four. Instead, they decided to wait five years. Doing so would give them a chance to enjoy being a couple with no children. It would also give my mother a chance to see if her own anxiety and depression would subside enough with time. She wasn’t ready to be a mother yet and eventually came around to that fact, I imagine with some sadness.

When it came time to have me, both of my parents were very excited. I was the son my father always wanted. Thanks for the boy, said the card my father left, tucked into the flowers next to her hospital bed. Or, at least that was true at first. This was before I turned out to be my mother’s child. In physical resemblance alone I looked exactly like her. As a personality, we had much in common. Like her, I was highly-strung, jumpy, over-sensitive, but also creative and artistic.

Mom knew something was wrong shortly after I came home from the hospital. I cried too frequently. I was easily over-stimulated, fearful, and anxious if separated from her. My parents were concerned but unsure what to do. As time passed, this before anything else transpired, I isolated myself deliberately from other children. My own company was less painful.  Less chance to be taken aback by the spontaneity of random interactions. I had one real friend whose anxieties and neuroses were similar to my own. Had I not met him, I wonder what sort of person I’d be now.

Visiting specialists is not unusual for me. I've been seeing doctors now for as long as I can remember. My parents probably see me as the sick child. When I call home to report my latest medication regimen, their voices take on a familiar, sympathetic tone. I don't want to be treated differently, but that's just how it happened.

Earlier this week, I was told I could add high blood pressure to a long list of chronic illnesses. I think you could say that I’m my Grandmother’s child as well. My father’s mother fought these sorts of physical complications the whole of her life. Her struggles were so extensive and long-lasting that her sisters said, in all seriousness, that it might have been better had Florence never even been born. In my worst times, I have allowed myself to ruminate about why I entered the world as I am. Still, I have been too stubborn to believe I was better off not even being alive. My parents never once believed it; I didn’t either.

There have been instances in my life where I have felt ashamed of being me. I’ve believed I was a burden to everyone. This was especially true for those with whom I’ve formed long-term relationships. In reality, I recognize that there is more to me than my limitations. I may have wallowed in self-pity for a while, but I was too smart to stay there. Significant others have walked this journey with me, as they must. Those who play an active role must necessarily play a major role as well.  Most of the time, my illness is a study of the banal.

It’s the six separate medications taken at different times throughout the day. It’s a general understanding of how each works. It’s the plans made for the worst case scenario. Should I be unable to make the decision myself, someone has to have me admitted to a hospital. If a medication reaction takes place, someone has to determine how to separate moderate problems from the catastrophic.

A close friend of my little sister died of cancer during high school. Her boyfriend remained devoted to the end. It didn’t just make for a tear-jerking story, it also showed that even imminent death could not scare him away. The days where I dwelt in that shadowy world are years behind me now. I wish I’d been strong enough in who I was to find someone worthwhile. True love, real love, never sees an impediment.  The bonds linking two people together must weather those storms and others.

Thinking About You

Been thinking about you, your records are here,
your eyes are on my wall, your teeth are over there.
But I’m still no-one, and you’re now a star,
what do you care?

Been thinking about you, and there’s no rest,
shit I still love you, still see you in bed.
But I’m playing with myself, and what do you care
when the other men are far, far better.

All the things you’ve got,
all the things you need,
who bought you cigarettes,
Who bribed the company to come and see you, honey?

I’ve been thinking about you, so how can you sleep?
These people aren’t your friends, they’re paid to kiss your feet.
They don’t know what I know and why should you care
when I’m not there.

Been thinking about you, and there’s no rest,
should I still love you, still see you in bed.
But I’m playing with myself, what do you care,
when I’m not there.

All the things you’ve got,
she’ll never need,
all the things you’ve got.
I’ve bled and I bleed to please you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Click to embiggen

Only one small typo, but nonetheless...

The continuing need for religious balance in America

Religion in America seems to be pulled in two different directions these days.  The Right, fearing a total loss of morality and upright living, makes one set of forceful arguments in its own defense, intending to preserve religion’s role in daily life.  The Left seeks increasing pluralism while at the same time being challenged to not water down belief to mushy irrelevancy.  Beyond the self-serving bluster, hyperbole and anxieties, there is some merit to both perspectives and also plenty of room for criticism on all sides.

In the upcoming 2012 Presidential Election, religion will again play a large part.  Evangelical Christians might well have to decide whether or not to vote for a Mormon, a member of a faith group that many view as either a cult or an eccentric sect.  Religious liberals will most likely cast their ballots for an incumbent candidate who has often soft-pedaled his own professed Christianity.

Each Presidential hopeful will make great strides to strike the optimum balance.  Much thought will be given to distinguish public displays of faith from more private expression when the cameras are switched off.  It is this dichotomy, among many others, that demonstrates the wide gap both separating and linking ideology and religion.

Americans still have much work to do to fulfill the idealistic notion of religious tolerance upon which we were founded.  We may have softened the physical punishment of heresy, but our words are as vitriolic as ever.   Refusing to resort to overt violence either though physical force or in language alone is only one step in the process.  We must challenge ourselves to honestly respect the faith of others, even though doing so provides many theological difficulties.

Instead of a truly peaceful coexistence, our attempts towards unanimity often take a half-hearted, reluctant form.  We must cast aside the very human tendency to use our enemy as a means to build strength and cohesion within ourselves.

We love our enemy, but often for the wrong reason.  We love that they exist.  We love the feeling of immediate security present as we point out the foolishness of someone else’s argument.  At the heart of the problem is a reduction of complex theological concepts into a single, simple-to-understand code of acceptable worship.  Many Fundamentalist Christian churches and movements claim that their own specific interpretation is the only valid one.

In reality, the philosophy they espouse cherry picks different combinations of verses and concepts from the Old and New Testament.  What is produced may be novel and unique, but is hardly unusual in the grand historical scheme.  

What remains is a belief system that uses rationalization and argument to disguise what logic might otherwise expose.  Beyond conservative theology, this if we are to be totally truthful, every Christian group which uses Scripture as a means of discernment takes bits and pieces of the text, lining them up in its own chosen order.

Denominations and religious groups are apt to pronounce their alignment as the most correct, either by direct statement or implication.  Still, if we take matters literally in their true sense, what we are left with often boils down to petty bickering over semantics.

Many of these differences in scriptural perception are taken by other faith groups as doctrinally harmless and a simple matter of preference.  However, some of them still produce significant friction and will for a while longer.  For some, the role of women in the church is still a matter under debate.  Gay marriage, to cite another example, has created significant recent schisms within Christian denominations and individual churches.

The only way these conflicts can be resolved is by fair debate that does not talk over its opposition, nor scandalize it for gain.  And even if cooler heads prevail, the only feasible, tenable conclusion might be an agreement to disagree.  What the Bible actually says is often much less important than what specific believers think it says.  
In August of 2011, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum expressed a similar fallacy of argument.  Speaking in response to criticism that he held prejudicial attitudes towards homosexuality, Santorum rather energetically cited several particularly commonplace conservative talking points.  Specifically, the former Pennsylvania Senator referenced the Roman Catholic Church’s long-time position that homosexuality only becomes sinful should someone decide to directly act on it.  

“Because I believe what the Bible teaches, 2,000 years of teaching and moral theology is now bigoted? This has profound consequences to the entire moral ecology of America.   It will undermine the family; it will destroy faith in America!”

Conservative people of faith will point back here to a passage by St. Paul in the New Testament book of Romans.  Their liberal counterparts will choose to ignore it or interpret its intent differently.  What neither group readily admits is that they are both guilty, in other similarly contentious matters, of totally disregarding problematic verses or resorting to rationalizations to justify their decision.

Sometimes, there is even room for multiple interpretations, each one no more or no less justified than the other.  This fact further emphasizes how densely packed, complex, and nuanced a work is the Bible.

The challenge for progressive people of faith, by contrast, is to avoid the excesses and failings of theological liberalism.  There can be a regrettable tendency to jettison specific religious traditions under the guise of utmost respect and observance for other faiths.  Human wisdom and righteousness is often subordinate to the essential characteristics and leadership of a Higher Power.

However, religious liberals should not see those who reject what can be an excessively pluralist model as automatically against them. Criticism is not necessarily destructive in nature.  Often it serves as a needed corrective.  

In his most recent book, published last year, The Bible Made Impossible:  Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, Christian Smith discusses the main failings of liberal Christianity.  “The theological liberal program lacks internal resources to help expose idolatry and so recurrently falls prey to the latest cultural movements and political fashions.”

Smith uses as an example the liberal Christian church in Germany, which endorsed the cause of Kaiser Wilhelm in World War I and Adolf Hitler a few years prior to the start of World War II.  Without a solid grounding in God, liberal Christianity can drift into very dangerous territory.  Over the past few decades, religious liberalism has concerned itself with global warming, social activism, and progressive politics.  Neither of these is intrinsically irreligious, but they have often taken precedent, only feeding fears on the Right.

In the meantime, people still feel strongly pulled to religious observance.  Our cultural focus on consumerism and individuality has resulted in a multitude of faith groups from which to choose.  We are likely to be a part of whichever one best serves our sensibilities, and should it be Christian, certain passages and combinations of verses will establish the distinctions.  Beyond religion, we are drawn to other people whose beliefs and values systems resemble our own.

Should we be willing to keep in mind where, how, and why we find commonality, the possibility of compromise is possible.  But should we instead fall in love with our differences, we will always be at odds with each other.      

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

National Champions!

The best feeling in the world is when your team wins.  Third championship in two years!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Race, Religion, and Wealth in Our Nation's Capital

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a meeting of the Washington, DC, area Council of Churches.  In attendance was District of Columbia mayor Vincent Gray. In part, I was there to provide greater Quaker representation in the group, but also to observe the pertinent issues brought up during what was billed as an informal chat.  Before I bowed my head for an introductory prayer, I knew that very different perspectives and priorities from my own would be brought to light. Without direct experience of my own, it was sometimes challenging to completely comprehend the issues upon which so many placed a heavy emphasis.

Viewing the debate that transpired without introducing the specter of race is impossible. Washington is, like many American cities, divided by class, ethnicity, income, and level of education. The affluent, Northwest quadrant of the District is predominately white. The Eastern section has long been economically impoverished and majority black. There are other separating factors, as well. Several of these areas were scarred by the results of riots which occurred in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Other areas were decimated by the crack epidemic of the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Washington, DC, could nearly be two separate cities. The workforce and population of the wealthier sections are often transient, infrequently inclined to put down roots and stay. Some arrive knowing that they’ll only be living there a year or two at most. Their places of employment are often with the Federal Government or perhaps on Capitol Hill. The revolving door effect among the privileged complicates leadership efforts and continuity at churches and Meetings like mine. The less fortunate quadrants, by contrast, have been home to generations of long-term residency and correspondingly entrenched generations of dire poverty.

Returning to the immediate, I sat in a room for an hour and a half with around fifteen fellow people of faith.  After introductions and appropriate blessings, most of the meeting was comprised of an involved question and answer session with the Mayor. A theme quickly developed and found its way into every item raised before the group. The predominately African-American audience came back, time and time again, to the same issue. Our children and young people are out of control.  What can we do about it?  

Numerous city government programs, some more intensive than others, were noted during the discussion.  Most involved a dual focus on education and civic involvement, the earlier in life, the better.  Each had its strengths and weaknesses and both were thoroughly debated. While answering a question from the audience, Gray revealed a philosophy of black leadership more in line with Barack Obama than Jesse Jackson. The Mayor stated that he believed in the welfare reform law of 1996, which was a product of a Democratic President and a Republican-controlled Congress. The assertion went surprisingly unchallenged among a core constituent group, one which the law expressly targeted.   

Predictable arguments and tired talking points were blessedly not found. Nearly everyone was in agreement that they were dealing with a very new problem. When answers are few, people often return to the old standards.  Going back to church or to religion has been long used as a solution for anxious parents. This was true with my own. What most seemed to believe is that a new epidemic among African-American youth rages largely unrestrained.   

By this, they meant rude, violent, and undisciplined conduct. Underscoring the point, one older woman noted that she, unlike many of her age, was not afraid of young people. Regardless of the complexities of the issue, it was agreed that church groups in DC needed to offer more open-door outreach to urban youth of color.

Issues like these are important, but they could not be more different than the priorities and decisions facing my house of worship. Accordingly, the discussion broke down politely along color lines at several junctures.  Outreach strategies described above were only one such distinction. Though only a few miles separate us, the world where I worship on Sundays seems in some ways like a foreign country. Our attitudes regarding systemic problems are not nearly as complex and aggressive.  

For us, the results of poverty are often what we read about in the news or are things that happen to other people. I have been highly critical of a navel-gazing focus on the self and on self-achievement more than unselfish group effort. Wealthy DC attitudes are rarely those of servant-led leadership.
Instead of trying to draw at-risk young people into churches and houses of worship for highly structured educational programs, we struggle with getting young Quakers to even regularly show up.  We contribute our time and sometimes our money to low-income residents, but I doubt we have a single low-income member. The worries of many Quaker parents at my Meeting are often whether or not they can afford to send their child to private school. And so long as these glaring gaps remain, matters will remain unsolved.  Though these issues seem new, they could not be more ancient.  

In this very city, not ten miles away from where I write these words, Abraham Lincoln spoke about the irony of separation. He was speaking of two warring sections of the country, but he might have been addressing us today. “Both read the same Bible,” Lincoln noted, “and pray to the same God.” Our original sin of slavery is at fault, but as time has passed, it would be simplistic and a fallacy to think that the issue stopped there. We must keep in mind the past, the present, and the future as we fix the problems that lay before us.  

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Quote of the Week

"In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinion, I often said to myself, "What is to be done? Who of all these parties is right? Or are they all wrong together? If one of them is right, which is it, and how shall I know?"- Joseph Smith

Saturday, January 07, 2012


The tightness in my chest and the racing pulse told me that something was badly wrong. I couldn’t comprehend why this had happened, exactly. I hadn’t eaten anything out of the ordinary. I’ve learned to follow dietary restrictions obsessively over the course of the past four years. If food isn’t the culprit, the introduction of other medications with reactive properties usually is. That line of thinking proved unhelpful as well. What could this be?     

I’m glad that few have observed me in the middle of a hypertensive crisis. I doubt I would come across as courageous or stoic. Convinced that the condition would stay temporary and mild, I manage to stay semi-calm for the first few minutes. However, as my pulse rate and blood pressure continued to rise to dangerous levels, my composure fled. Within ten minutes, I was on my hands and knees, my head leaning over the mattress, screaming into the bed sheets.  

I hope God is not judgmental regarding this method of direct communication. Prayers that began with half-shouts and incredulity grew quickly to become desperate pleas for immediate intervention.    

Don’t let me die. Don’t let me die. Please God, please God, don’t let me die. 

I wasn’t actually going to die, but a hypertensive crisis encourages substantial panic and fear. Not again.  This had been my fourth in eighteen months. By now, I knew that I only had one option, and that was to call 911. 

I have worries beyond the ordinary. Anytime I go to the hospital, I’m always afraid they’re going to disrobe me somehow, or cut off my clothes.  Either of these would reveal to a potentially uncomprehending world that the garments I wear routinely aren’t exclusively male. I’m reminded of experiences earlier in life, lovers who didn’t or wouldn't understand. Several made no attempt, assuming my style of dress was merely something else weird that Kevin did. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.
One of them tried to comprehend, to be tolerant, but I could always tell she was made uncomfortable. The look upon her face has never left my memory for long. In particular, I saw how her eyes trailed down to the floor, to my dirty clothes neatly piled next to my suitcase. To her, I was one of the strangest people she had ever met, and while part of me found the statement a perverse compliment, her words still hurt. These days, I don’t need to prove myself as out of the ordinary the way I used to do. I no longer wear unusual as a badge of honor.  
The paramedics arrived quickly, within five minutes. I’m fortunate to live within a tenth of a mile of a fire station. Though weak and shaken, I was at least strong enough to walk under my own power out the door.  After entering the back of the ambulance, they asked me to lie down on the bed. The seat belt was cinched around my waist and clicked into place. A blood pressure cuff was applied to my right arm, and it automatically inflated.     

Blood pressure elevated. 160/110. Pulse rate slightly higher than normal. 

I arrived after a short trip. Wheeled into an examination room, I spoke with a nurse and the doctor. The nurse scattered after a few brief questions. The doctor entered, then disappeared. The nurse reappeared to apply electrodes to my chest in order to perform an EKG. She also shaved a section of hair across the top of my left wrist with a woman's electric razor. The process was over and done in a few seconds. Next, she started an IV on the right side of my left wrist, an inch or so before the base of the thumb.

Ativan, a tranquilizer, was administered via IV. I began to relax. My blood pressure, by contrast, remained elevated, even rose a little. By now, I was too sedated to be fearful. Within thirty minutes, normal readings were gratefully reached. The doctor appeared.  She was discharging me, suggesting I stop taking a particular medication, and also requesting I visit a cardiologist.

I headed home by taxi, quiet and sleepy. I've had enough of these for one lifetime.

Saturday Video

A little old-timey gospel/country for you.  This song is dedicated in part to my Pentecostal minister Great-Grandfather. Take a close look at the musicians pictured here. One of them was an alcoholic. The other was not. I'm sure you can spot the difference.

As for the lyrics, take them as you will.

Satan's jeweled crown
I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free

He made me His own,
and helped me cast off
Satan's jeweled crown

If I could be king and a ruler of nations,
Wear diamonds and jewels profound
Well, I'd rather know that I had salvation

Than to know my reward
is Satan's jeweled crown

I've worn it so long
but God for my Soul has reached down
His love set me free

He made me His own,
and helped me cast off
Satan's jeweled crown

Oh, the life that I live is
so sinful and needless,
Drinkin' and runnin' around

When I live my life
So reckless and evil
The things I would do
are the will of the Devil

I was giving my soul
for Satan's jeweled crowd

I know my reward
Will be Satan's jeweled crown

Satan's jeweled crown
I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free

He made me His own
and helped me cast off
Satan's jeweled crown

Friday, January 06, 2012

Being Out: Upon Reflection

Now that my bisexuality is public knowledge, at least among those with whom I worship, I've received a variety of responses.  Most are sympathetic. They know the story of how unacceptable and offensive were the responses I got from my parents. I haven't ever quite understood how two people who were usually so practical and common sense went absolutely crazy when I came out to them. They weren't even the same people in the whole of that wounding period.

That's what really has troubled me over the years.  For the rest of their lives, my sexual orientation and gender identity will never be a topic for discussion. I would like their acceptance, but it will never arrive.  I would also like an apology, but I've never be granted that, either.  All of this is their decision, and I don't agree with it, but sometimes we all must form our own "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies.  The only step now is to continue finding friends who will take me as I am.  

My story isn't unusual. The Meeting has many openly queer members and regular attenders, and always has.  Though the Dupont Circle neighborhood is not as solidly LGBTQ as it used to be, it was for many years the center of gay and lesbian life. Now, with greater acceptance, there is less need to congregate together in one location for protection and freedom of expression. Even so, the legacy remains. My gaydar has improved dramatically.  But having been greeted with spontaneous words of encouragement and truth has answered whatever questions I might have otherwise had about a few people.   

I'm not exactly certain how much information regarding my gender identity was shared. Each generation has its own understanding of gender non-conformity, genderqueer, and transgender. Sexual orientation is comprehensible enough among many of the older Friends, but anything that falls under the transgender umbrella is probably too much. Those who are my age and younger much have less an issue with it. To many, I really wouldn't begin to know how to introduce the subject, because it's tied so closely to my personal life. Forming a comprehensible definition might be trouble enough.

I often wear clothing regularly assigned for the opposite gender.  Because I am ashamed of how I would be perceived by the rest of society, I deliberately conceal these garments underneath clothes normally worn by men. Earlier in my life, I experimented with makeup, and female friends were glad to use me as their guinea pigs. However, I only dared show my face to the world this way while headed to gay bars or LGBTQ specific events. While out and about to flirt or to see the drag shows, I looked very different. As soon as I left, I washed off every trace.  I furiously scrubbed off fingernail polish with cotton and pungent smelling remover. One day, it may be possible for me to feel comfortable enough to not limit my personal expression, but I sense this will be the hardest hurdle to leap.  

In the past couple months, I've been very fortunate to find a friend who also identifies as LGBTQ. She recognizes how difficult this is for me and has been sympathetic. In addition to being within a year of my age, she has shared her own challenges with me. Her feedback and conversation has been rewarding. I also find it gratifying and flattering how much she looks up to my leadership. We've grown close and I've realized again how important it is to have queer friends.  More may arrive soon.

I have other goals, of course. I want to have the ability to interact with men without fear. I've noted that ambition many times and will continue to bring it up until it is no longer problematic. The strange thing for me is while, growing up, I more or less embraced the attitudes and habits of other boys, but yet I never felt like one.  Being male was foreign, incomprehensible. I remember disliking it as well, in certain areas I perceived as disgusting and filthy. I learned a few male gender roles by rote, but I never really felt any desire to fully conform. At the time, I was too afraid of women to make friends or to eventually form relationships. However, that transition in confidence would soon arrive by the middle of high school.

I remind myself these days more as a queer woman. But even that isn't quite accurate. I observe my conduct at times and see the socialization present that I absorbed, subconsciously. I find myself adopting my father's mannerisms. I also see aspects of my mother in my behavior and conduct. When I was younger, I had a few short relationships with women who weren't straight or even bisexual. I was their final step towards self-acceptance. I was once told, a smile on her face, by a kind lesbian that I was the sort of man she would have dated before she came out.        

I'm still working on forming the correct, most helpful conclusions from all of this. It seems that there is still much to sort through.

For Rick Santorum and Friends

Look at all my trials and tribulations
Sinking in a gentle pool of wine
Don't disturb me now
I can see the answers
Till this evening, in this morning life is fine.

Always hoped that I'd be an apostle
Knew that I would make it if I tried
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they'll still talk about us when we've died

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The politics of gender studies research

A column in yesterday's My Health News Daily referenced the results of a recent medical study. In it, personality traits in both men and women were said to be extensively analyzed. Participants from the ages of 15 to 92, and of both sexes, were asked to participate in a personality test. According to the outlined methodology and findings, the sexes have far less in common, psychologically, than originally thought. The study was the work of a combined team of three researchers, two from Italy, and one from the UK. If taken literally, it could negate efforts to equalize and normalize occupational fields based on sex. Theirs is a controversial assertion, and one that leaves itself open for substantial criticism in a variety of areas.

To summarize in brief, the study makes a basic gender essentialist argument. Men are men and women are women. Substantial overlap does not exist. It can never exist. Thinking otherwise defies the laws of science and nature. In times past, scientific research that has made such resounding claims is often considered cautiously. The same could be said for these new findings.
"Psychologically, men and women are almost a different species," said study researcher Paul Irwing, of the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom. The new findings may explain why some careers are dominated by men (such as engineering) and others by women (such as psychological sciences), Irwing said.
Certitude aside, there are, however, several significant problems here that the researchers never addressed. For one, they didn't take into account queer identity. If the intention is to state that men and women naturally separate out based on chosen career fields, sexual orientation is also a factor. Gay men are often found in large number within "female" professions like psychological sciences. Could this research then conclude that gay men are their own psychological species? If not, then should they also be considered women?

A second larger aspect of the study that is problematic regards women in male-dominated fields. Women have historically been underrepresented in the STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Should women that do wish to pursue vocations like these be considered men? According to the research data, one could say that there was something inherently masculine about a woman who wanted to be a scientist, instead of a social worker.

Feminist discourse has long taken an opposite view, one that might make this entire issue a little more comprehensible. Women are not found in larger quantity in fields like engineering for many reasons. One is because of a historical resistance to female participation within these programs. Another is that women who are drawn to STEM are often strongly pushed by educators and parents into more "suitable" fields for their gender. A third is that without the involvement and existence of a suitable critical mass of other women, many feel unsupported and without advocates. This information is not new, nor is it hard to find. For whatever reason, it simply wasn't utilized during the study.

Fortunately, not all psychologists are in agreement.
For starters, the men and women in the study assessed their own personality traits. People may be inclined to rate themselves in a way that conforms with gender stereotypes, Hyde said. "It's not very manly to say that you're sensitive," she said.
Part of basic scientific advancement is, in the minds of many, to challenge the status quo. Arguably, this study only reinforces traditional gender roles and perceptions of gender. Moreover, the numbers were crunched in a very particular fashion, creating a prominent gap between male and female. Numbers can be manipulated to say anything or support almost any conclusion. The entire study is here. Below is its statement of purpose.
In conclusion, we believe we made it clear that the true extent of sex differences in human personality has been consistently underestimated.
At the end of the report, the scientists who have signed their name state that they hope their discoveries will be a catalyst for future discoveries. Among many who have read and analyzed the study, it is unclear the sort of revelations that might eventually arrive. Some see the work as regressive, others as totally unhelpful, merit aside. Regardless of intent, the information seems ripe for ideological debate. Whether this was deliberately intended or not, these scientists must have been at least partially aware of how it would be perceived.