Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) of the Senate Judiciary Committee says that Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall erred in his dissents from the death penalty:
"Well, first you look at the Constitution as a whole....The Constitution says you can't inflict cruel and unusual punishment. Well, every state had the death penalty. It wasn't unusual. It has to be both."
So apparently any method of execution, no matter how cruel (say, that devised by one of Hannibal Lecter's surviving victims, being eaten slowly from the toes up by wild boars) would be A-OK with the founders, as long as it was not unusual, i.e., adopted uniformly by the states.
[Quotation from an interview of Sessions by Brien Beutler at Talking Points Memo.]
All jolly speculations aside, the left-o-blog-o-sphere is missing the point when they wonder why Repubs are assaulting the reputation of such a respected figure (Marshall, not Lecter), chancing further reduction of their African American vote. The Republican base is not composed of biological humans who cast a vote; it is composed of corporate persons who purchase media, judges, legislators. The humans are just a thin external coating, like that which allows Terminators to travel back in time and control the future... which is also part of their dream.
PS Sessions further explains why excluding black people from educational opportunity is just like limiting corporate contributions to political campaigns. I'd make fun of what he says here, except I can't make heads or tails of it.
PPS I originally, erroneously, referred to the House, rather than Senate, Judiciary Committee.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Photo by Juan Crisostomos Mendez Avalos, unknown to me until I went browsing at the ICP Library. There's a high-rez gallery at rosegallery.net.

it's the law!

on Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project:
...the [Supreme] Court makes it clear that Congress and/or the Executive can solely and unilaterally determine who is a “terrorist threat”, and who is not—without recourse to judicial review of this decision. And if the Executive and/or Congress determines that this group here or that group there is a “terrorist organization”, then their free speech is curtailed—as is the free speech of anyone associating with them, no matter how demonstrably peaceful that speech or interaction is.
Read more at nakedcapitalism.com

Monday, June 21, 2010

“There were a whole host of problems that occurred on this well and on this rig. Many of those problems were detected hours before, in fact, days beforehand,” he said. “No level of regulation would have prevented what happened.”
That's Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior. Barack Obama's Secretary of the Interior. 
Not George Bush's appointee, not Dick Cheney's, not BP's. Barack Obama's.
President Obama took partial ownership of this disaster by not reforming the Minerals Management Service. I think that if this statement stands he owns the whole pig, lipstick and all.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Continuing with Schulman's Ties That Bind.
After the first couple of chapters, I find my argument (rather than my agreement) with Schulman developing. I've taken a number of days to figure out where our difference would be.
As I've written below, one difference is simply that I have not led a gay life, and never could lead a lesbian one. She's very much concerned about the experience of homophobia corrupting lesbian relationships. It's just something I don't/can't know about. Schulman is the only writer I know for whom this is a major topic - altho I trust her and see enough congruence with other people's writings and experience that I can't doubt it. Maybe this is why later in the book she identifies her writing work with Philip Roth's, which would not have been my first guess. Like Roth, a secret that her in-group would rather keep out of sight just makes for a more interesting area to explore.
I guess I have absolutely nothing to offer in comment on that topic... I didn't know it was so, I wish it weren't so, I don't know what to do about it, aside from the general.
Schulman's overall recommendation for what is to be done, I think, can be summarized as (continuing the work of) eliminating the onus placed on homosexuality and directing attention to an actual source of cruelty and victimization, homophobia. She and I would be as one on this. I think that just as it is impossible now, after much cultural work, to regard racism as a sin which can be diluted by other better qualities, or excused as part of the overall person's experience, we have to do the cultural and personal work that will make homophobia an unpopular, distasteful, disfiguring characteristic in the eyes of society, family and friends.
The work of stigmatizing racism is not yet done. The work of stigmatizing homophobia has barely begun. The sign of this is the ease and frequency with which homophobia is forgiven in personal and social situations; again, contrast to racism. As a marker, look at the heroes of TV and movies - you could not possibly have a hero among whose failings was racism. Sometimes the opposite for homophobia.
The book makes an excellent moral case for interfering with homophobia, but Sarah would go on to make legal and psychotherapeutic intervention a requirement. That sounds awfully official. To put it less so, therapist and family counselors as well as representatives of law should be required to take action against homophobia in the same way they would against, say, child abuse in a family, or harrassment in a workplace, or cruelty in a marriage.
When I put it that way to myself, this doesn't sound bad at all. But I think she errs in the degree of intrusion into what's commonly known as private life. She addresses this - that it is a social and moral error to allow a cloak of privacy to cover injustice and abuse - in reasonable terms. But I think for one she is suggesting a change in the culture that dwarfs even erasing homophobia - to let sunshine into possibly every corner of family life. I am not certain that such exposure would be tolerable or good - and it would mean an enormous degree of openness to examination, lest abuse be missed. And I am certain that allowing government or bureaucracies further into the regulation of family life is a terrible idea.
To alter the general understanding of homophobia as something resulting from homosexuals into something imposed by homophobes, great, and effective. To test for compliance, not so much.
I don't think it's laxness of thought that moves Schulman in this direction. I think it may be life experience - and this is absolutely not to say that admitting such weakens her argument. On the contrary, it may strengthen it, as real testimony of real human suffering. One of the things I've admired in Schulman's writing, open in her nonfiction and evident in her fiction, is that she works very well in the field where political and personal overlap. I've never been able to work creatively from that place, only the (seemingly) purely personal.
I think the prospect of dying before the extinction of homophobia and the making right of its injustices is something that upsets her greatly. And I would speculate more on that if I knew her better or this was even less of a public forum.
And I think here is the biggest difference between Sarah and myself. She is an optimist. It may sound funny to so describe someone so while considering their treatise against the infliction of human misery, but she is an optimist and knowingly so:
Why, after all, try to explain what exclusion and punishment feel like, and why they are wrong? Somewhere in the choice to communicate lies a profound optimism and pure belief that people don't want to do evil, and if they realize what they are doing, they will stop it.
I don't have much belief in the willingness of people to examine themselves, identify wrongs, and work to change. We are lazy and selfish - and I write this as a buddhist - it is our nature as conscious vulnerable creatures. I don't think we as a whole desire to do evil - I just think we are weakly motivated to see it in the first place and do something about it in the second, esp at any expense to ourselves.
Sarah, in the course of writing her book about human cruelty, and with possibly a more particular and general experience of it than my own, expects better of human beings than I do. She is an optimist. Which might well make her much more different from me than being a lesbian.

Monday, June 14, 2010


[H]aving had it suggested to him by a young friend that Picasso was "a wilful distortionist" who painted "rose-coloured women with gigantic feet," Kafka replied: "I do not think so…he only registers the deformities which have not yet penetrated our consciousness. Art is a mirror, which goes 'fast', like a watch - sometimes."
 Zadie Smith, again from Changing My Mind, quoting from Conversations with Kafka. In addition to her own brilliances, Smith's essays are full of jewels like this.

living room

The novels we know best have an architecture. Not only a door going in and another leading out, but rooms, hallways, stairs, little gardens front and back, trapdoors, hidden passageways, et cetera. It’s a fortunate rereader who knows half a dozen novels this way in their lifetime. I know one, Pnin, having read it half a dozen times. When you enter a beloved novel many times, you can come to feel that you possess it, that nobody else has ever lived there. You try not to notice the party of impatient tourists trooping through the kitchen (Pnin a minor scenic attraction en route to the canyon Lolita), or that shuffling academic army, moving in perfect phalanx, as they stalk a squirrel around the backyard (or a series of squirrels, depending on their methodology). Even the architect’s claim on his creation seems secondary to your wonderful way of living in it.
- Zadie Smith, "Rereading Barthes and Nabokov,"
from Changing My Mind

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Continuing with Sarah Schulman's Ties That Bind.
Again I have the experience from reading her books of seeing a truth I know re-affirmed from a very different angle.
I am often attracted to LGB people (and I don't mention Ts only by reason of limited experience) who I have found are idiosyncratic thinkers about life and society, in things small (what's a good book) and large (who's killing whom). Of course, there is no reason I shouldn't be, and I have the same attraction to free-thinking straights (by definition, not homophobes). But it's interesting to be a straight-ish man who's utterly pro-queer and whose best male friends are not straight, to look at some of his very close relationships with Ls and ask, not just why I've been close to them but also why have they been close to me?
The answer is that I really really like people who think things through. As a child I thoroughly, almost embarrassingly absorbed the conventions of my family and milieu, simultaneously thinking the world a very strange place to be living in. I have had to think a lot of things through in order for my world to be a place I can live in. And I think that a tremendous part of my liking for queers is that LGBTs have to think their way through quite a lot to make their world livable at all.
With the same simultaneous capacity, sometimes LGBTs are an us to me, and sometimes a them. It would be by no means a lie to describe myself as bisexual, but how true is it? I have had fun fooling around with men, I was certainly attracted to them when I was younger, during my twenties and thirties bi was the first word that I would use to describe my sexuality. However, and somewhat dismayingly, I found men less and less attractive over time while my attraction to women sustained. I had a lot invested in the queer-ness and cool of being bi. It was not easy for me to accept my non-central status on the Kinsey scale. But I really like telling the truth. And not only is my attraction to men near-invisible nowadays, I also think it would be arrogant for me to say "us" when talking gay. I haven't lived the life. As much as I can feel it and think it, I haven't lived the life.
The motto - It's a Black Thing. You Wouldn't Understand. - had a period of great mainstream circulation. A lot of white people resented it (and I won't even begin to analyze why because I do want this post eventually to come to an end). But I didn't. I've rubbed shoulders and more with black people, my reading is not circumscribed by race, I loathe racism and seek to root it out in the greater society and in myself - but I simply have not lived as a black American.
Anyway, I do tend to like the out Ls I meet, and when they like me in kind, I think it's because I realize they've had to think their way through to the place of relative sanity they're in, and my respect for that is evident. 
It's also true that most people, Ls, Gs, and even Ss, assume I'm gay when they meet me.
I tried to figure this out once. I had met a number of men at a new workplace who I assumed were gay and been wrong like, three times in a row. So I thought, what is this that's reading to me as gay? And the commonalities I saw were: well-spoken, courteous, non-primitive towards women. And if those are the things that lead people to class me as gay, I'm fine with that. (There's of course much more on an intuitive level going on.)
Usually I don't correct the assumption unless I feel the truth's at stake. When I do, my reasons are all the same and different: with Ls, because I know many straight men have weird agendas with lesbians and I don't want the relationship on a mistaken basis; with Gs, to let them know they're talking with a straight-ish comrade, maybe not one of them but unquestionably with them (there's that "them"); with straights, to let them (another "them" - exactly who is it that I really think I'm an "us" with?) know the truth, which includes being pro-gay or pro-queer, word-choice depending on which is going to do the most to push social freedom another fraction of an inch.
So here I've gone on and on. Why? Because from the moment I knew that I would be writing about Sarah and her books, I knew that I would not feel intellectually honest unless my particular wanderings across the spectrum were acknowledged here. For a number of reasons probably having to do more with the intimacies of NYC than anything else, I haven't been conversationally out to Sarah (hi, Sarah) as straight, gay, queer or other. It's not that I have to have a particular identity - but I do feel I have to be out as who I am.
That's not easy. Internalized homophobia is so pernicious. I was absolutely shocked to be reminded of this in a conversation I had at work yesterday, after writing and practically while revising the previous post. As I was talking with two fairly conventional male co-workers, I could see my mind take a sudden swerve to avoid a perfectly natural place to mention gay affiliation. (I won't be more specific because I'm horribly embarrassed and the kinship would suffer - the kin would be hurt - if I was.) What a motherfucker fear of shunning is! Maybe I was more vulnerable to the phobia because I had been thinking about it all morning, but it still was not my shining hour. There's another reason I hesitate to use "we" when I say gay - it's not an essential part of my sanity for me to show queerness in the conventional world - it only feels very urgently to be the right thing to do.
And here we are, where thought and feeling cross. The attractive quality I often see in queer folk, the one that I appreciate in myself, I've always described as thinking things through. I've often thought that every young adult who hasn't had to come out on some basis should be required to take a twelve-step program, whether addicted or not, just to make them, for once, think things through.
Because I think so much about thinking, it was a change of perspective for me to read in Ties That Bind:
The capacity for feeling, strong enough to overwhelm social expectation, is at the root of the homosexual identity. The transgression is what coming-out is all about. Without having experienced the coming-out process themselves, straight people often do not have a model for such a fierce level of resistance.
Feeling, says Schulman, not thought. Not the same as thinking. Something new for me to feel about.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Sarah Schulman is best known for her novels and plays, but also writes provocative non-fiction. I've just read the first chapter of her book Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences, and as usual, she has opened up another way of looking at things for me.
She talks about the power of shunning - and it's interesting to put it that way - "the power of shunning" underscores that the power goes to the one who shuns. You can say "the power of love" and "the power of being loved" and both ways power is endowed upon the receiver. In the case of shunning, the power is always on the side of the one who shuns and subtracted from their object.
This, I think, is one reason she puts a great emphasis on third parties taking responsibility for weighing in with the shunned and against the shunning. This goes somewhat against the American grain - why, shouldn't any person be able to stand up and adequately supply her own defense? Well, no. It's exhausting, it can wear you out and kill you, and even if successful, it only helps a few and not many. Schulman believes in the moral responsibility of the crowd, and how it manifests through the actions of individuals. (And I have been seeing more and more clearly that the great - maybe I should say successful - exhorters to individualism and selfishness in our age always seem to have institutional support.)
One particular aspect of shunning that she points out is within isolated and embattled groups, esp gay community and institutions. It can gain you favor with the powerful, to shun in common; it can create your own safer-feeling in-group; you may feel yourself elevated by pushing another down (crabs in a bucket).
I see another example of this going on. The organizers of Toronto's gay pride march have "have forbidden the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) from marching in the parade under that name." As Sarah has pointed out (I paraphrase), hasn't the gay community experienced enough of cutting people off? More directly, isn't this a case of exerting power through shunning?
Now I read that the Madrid gay pride march organizers are forbidding an Israeli group from marching because the mayor of their home town, Tel Aviv, has not apologized for the raid on the flotilla to break the Gaza blockade.
Let the political terms cancel each other out, and you're left with the power of exclusion. So seductive. Esp, it seems, to those who have been at the mercy of others (much as we may wish that this would increase empathy, not decrease it). It may be part of what keeps the Palestinians and the Israelis at an impasse, both of them having been shunned alternately or simultaneously by their neighbors.

(Disclosure: Sarah and I are neighbors, acquaintances, and somewhere in the vicinity of friendship. I liked her books before I discovered she lived down the block.)

Monday, June 7, 2010


How does Blogger make these seemingly arbitrary decisions about the line-spacing of my posts?


It was a very techno weekend, between the Aperture (library of photos took about 12 hours to copy over to the new app), the iPad (which is here at work with me now - the only thing that would have gotten more of an adoring response from my co-workers would be a puppy) and watching streaming Netflix.
Netflix streams a treat on the iPad. Perversely, I chose to watch a 1977 film, The Consequence, West German, black-and-white, digitized from a somewhat battered print. There's something pleasantly antique about old film reanimated by digital tech, whether it's The Consequence with high contrast, glare and fuzz, or something like The Gleiwitz Case, an East German film from 1961 sharp enough to match against still photography of the period. (The Consequence is very intimate, The Gleiwitz Case arctic, each worth seeing.)
And on to Saturday night.
I also have Netflix streaming on my TV, via a Roku box (Rok-you? Rok-oo? Anybody know?). I was curious to see if Roku had added anything nifty to their channel selection, came across CNDTwo, which features among other things, recorded lectures from Yale University.
I didn't go to an Ivy, don't think I've stepped foot on an Ivy campus except for a single afternoon's wander 'round Vassar, and I've always been curious to see what a lecture at one would be like, compared to my experience at New College at Hofstra University.
I chose "Amy Hungerford English 291 the American novel since 1945 video 12
Thomas Pynchon on the crying of lot 49 Yale University." 
I wasn't impressed by the beginning of the lecture, identifying two ideas of the novel, as self-contained universe or as socially engaged artifact, but I understood that this was part of introducing these relative tyros, Eli or not, to the lit in some organized manner.
I was downright dismayed, tho', by several historical omissions and errors on the part of the lecturer. She correctly identified several acronyms of the period, but admitted not knowing what FSM stood for. It stands for Free Speech Movement, an essential precursor to SDS and other radicalizing political groups. Seemed odd to me that she wouldn't have researched that. Similarly she gets the slogan "Turn on, tune in, drop out" wrong. And last she identifies what's known as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution as authorizing American bombing of Cambodia, mistaking the completely unauthorized attack on that country with the earlier, somewhat authorized escalation of attack on Vietnam. (This last easily excused as a memory hiccup of the sort that anybody could have. I bet you it's correct in her notes.)
More than feeling that the lecturer had messed up, this sharpened my understanding that the life I've lived is now history. This history was my life. Its truth, lies and shibboleths come readily to my mind because I lived the making of their memory.
At this point I was watching just because I wanted to see the lecture through. I'm glad I did. Hungerford clearly loves and knows the book as book. She made an easy job of explaining how Oedipa adopts the familiar roles available to women at the time (wife, mother, daughter) in order to infiltrate a previously closed world, and drops the F-word gently upon the heads of her fairly unresponsive listeners, perhaps to soak in later (F-eminism). She pointed out motifs such as tears without turning a novel into an exercise in "Where's Oedipa?" Her pleasure in the book's giving and withholding of meaning, and the very fine tuning of its final call, was evident.
At lecture's end, I didn't come to the conclusion that, based on this sample, enlightenment at the Ivies is anything special and wonderful, but I am curious to watch some more CNDTwo lectures. Just exactly what does Hungerford make of Black Boy? 
I am enjoying all this tech right now. There's a danger of mistaking mastery of tech, especially something super-shiny as the iPad, for actual accomplishment. But I spent the weekend engaged with some of the best of human culture, and continued making efforts to add some small share.

illegal human experimentation on torture

According to Physicians for Human Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the Bush administration apparently conducted illegal and unethical human experimentation and research on detainees in CIA custody.
Firedoglake summary here. PHR original report here (pdf). Obama administration prosecution -- ?

Saturday, June 5, 2010


It's been an odd day, not a bad one, but everything somewhat skewed from what I thought it would be.
Recently I got tired of Adobe Element's stodginess, the lackluster design and insistent reliance on the not terribly flexible Adobe Bridge to navigate among photos. I bought a copy of Aperture, Apple's semi-professional photo workflow and development application.
In a world of things that are not skewed but just plain wrong, it's so nice to work with something that pleases the eye and the designing mind. Can you imagine just how ugly and kludgey Windows would be, without Apple and The Sainted Jobs to set a standard?
Anyway, I tried Aperture out on a copied folder of pix and liked it, so I decided to go whole hog and transfer everything over to it today.
My one complaint with Aperture so far is that it imposes what seems to be a needlessly convoluted hierarchy of projects, photos, albums, versions and masters. I thought it would make things simpler to start anew and try to follow its structure rather than battling with the app. Still seems a good idea but it's been copying over and processing for 7 freakin' hours now! Perhaps we're just spoiled, I am talking about 80 gigs of data after all. And perhaps if I had taken note of exactly how big the original files were before starting I wouldn't keep gingerly checking the capacity of my hard disk. It's a terabyte, but I keep wondering if I've set the Aperture library to copy itself ad infinitum....
So what I had thought would be an afternoon of making pix turned into an afternoon of screwing around with my iPad. Yes, I bought it and I'm glad, thank The S.J. Yes, it's too expensive in proportion to anything else I might sensibly purchase, but it might be the last major technology I have a chance to master before mental ossification sets in.
"Amy Hungerford English 291 the American novel since 1945 video 12
Thomas Pynchon on the crying of lot 49 Yale University"
I'll get on to that tom'w - I'm pretty tired for having done fuck-all really. But I will tell you that's copied and pasted from the Dragon Dictation speech-to-text app on my iPad, as is, no corrections.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


And since I posted about politics, here's a photo by Jan Groover.

Episode IV

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake, this time not just calling out the villains but making the first hopeful points that have struck me true since the health care farce:

But by making peer-to-peer connections that obviate the need for intercession of an elite media who intuitively serve the interests of the Masters of the Universe, the structure of the internet could potentially facilitate the trans-partisan alliance of outsiders capable of taking on insiders on discrete issues.
When corporate money is limited in its ability to influence political outcomes on one side, it simply achieves its objectives by flowing to the other side. And as long as the online world reinforces the tribalism that perpetuates the problems of partisan politics, the results will be the same. I do have hope. But in order to have any real, lasting impact, online activists are going to have to change both the language and the terms of the debates. None of us can win the battle against a heavily out-gunned corporate world by ourselves. We’re going to have to extricate ourselves, and our political dialogue, from the tribalism and demagoguery that facilitates corporate hegemony.
(Libertarians ain't all Rand Paul. Perhaps more of that soon.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I haven't been a Twitter user, but I came across this twitstream or whatever it's called and it has a bunch of interesting links I haven't seen elsewhere:
Newsweek on the relatively new concept of the 'default state' of the brain. http://is.gd/cyp54 about 1 hour ago via TweetDeck
Superstitions work. http://is.gd/cyc5f Best of luck skeptics. about 4 hours ago via TweetDeck
This is a *very* bizarre article in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association. http://is.gd/cybPQ about 4 hours ago via TweetDeck
The last days of the polymath. http://is.gd/cxrQX via @amishare about 18 hours ago via TweetDeck
The war in the Congo has killed 5.4 million people since 1998. http://is.gd/cxpoO 5.4 million. I never knew. about 19 hours ago via TweetDeck
On the Vatican's bizarre sexuality screening programme for priests. http://is.gd/cxoF6 via @saletan about 19 hours ago via TweetDeck
Worth checking out at http://twitter.com/vaughanbell - no Twitter account necessary.
Also available as an RSS feed, which is probably how I'll follow it.
Almost forgot - link via BoingBoing.