Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dear Mr. Santorum [and Other GOP candidates];

Having listened to your wise observations during the most recent debate, i feel compelled to say that i find your ingenuousness touching.  you want to bring back 'don't ask, don't tell,'  not because of homophobia, but because "any sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.'' i would like to help you out by mentioning a few problems with this stance.

to begin with, DADA began fairly recently, during the Clinton administration, not because anyone, gay or straight, was engaging in sexual activity, but because homosexuals were being kicked out of the military exclusively because of their orientation.  clinton, you may recall, was a democrat, and considered, too liberal by your party. far from being instituted in the good-old-days, DADA was a late-20th century political act designed, however poorly, to help gays who wished [god knows why] to enlist and remain in what is called ''service to our country.''

since it was not about sexual acts but about sexual preferences, it forbade gays, but not straights, to acknowledge anything about their lives in conversations or in what the semiologists call 'signs.'  every time a straight person uses an expression like 'my boyfriend,' 'my wife,' etc., s/he is making a declaration of heterosexuality [unless they come from one of the handful of states that recognizes gay marriage].  in the wonderful long-ago phrase of filmmaker micki dickof, homosexuals have been required to use 'monday morning pronouns,'  carefully crafting each sentence into sounding like the person referred to is the opposite gender.  this means that the problem goes far beyond actually having sex at a given moment or in a given place; it permeates any social interaction, however casual.

and--oh, dear, i do hate to burst your peculiar little bubble--but in fact, 'sexual activity' does occur in the military.  sometimes, even among heterosexuals, people forget the rules against fornication.  wicked, i know, but we must face the terrible truth: not everyone remains a virgin until the wedding night.

however, i suspect you already realize this, which leads me to believe that you have come up with a fascinating ''social experiment'' far beyond the simple idea of allowing people to acknowledge their own sexuality: your idea of creating an all-celibate military is a daring one, and i, for one, would love to see it implemented and to watch the consequences unfold.  but as you yourself said, this is no time for social experiments in the military, so, sadly, i must ask you to defer it until a more peaceful era. instead, just let people in the military be themselves within the limits of propriety--as mrs. campbell said a century ago, 'as long as they don't do it in the street and scare the horses.'

respectfully yours, etc.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

troy davis dead

11:08 p.m.  stayed up to see it; no point trying to sleep while he was still alive and there was the 1 billionth of a chance   they'd give him a reprieve until the new info had been really studied.  5 of 7 eyewitnesses had recanted, and that was all the evidence they had. i sat watching the news with a candle lit for him, and found that i was singing in my head over and over odetta's 'another man done gone.'  anyway, i'm sure it's given rick perry's crowd a good chuckle.  poor rick, though: it happened in georgia, so he doesn't get to carve a new notch in his gun...

A Mixed Hurrah, A Dutch Injustice, and a Legal Murder

if i do these in 3 separate posts, i'll go on forever.  and i really haven't much to say about any of them--just lots of emotion.

it's still sept. 20, so i've made this on the Historical Day.  and it really is that.  that wimpy and ill-conceived  attempt at liberalizing homophobia,'' don't ask don't tell, ''is over.  finally, it is legal and presumably honorable to be gay and be in the military.  i am truly glad for the end of institutional discrimination against gays and lesbians who want to be in the military.

i just wish they didn't want to.  i remember the young men who burned their draft cards rather than go into the war business in the 1960s.  i see nothing fairer in the wars, declared and undeclared, america is in today than in the vietnam war.  there  are economical reasons to enlist, especially in a country with 9% unemployment and a right wing that doesn't want non-millionaires to have living wages.  but the irony is strong: a big part of why the economy is such a mess is that so much of our tax money goes into these wars.  watching those joyful young people dancing their celebrations over the new opportunities now open to them, i wonder how many of them will be dead in the next year or 2, and how many will become killers, and how many will come back physically and emotionally traumatized and ignored by their governments, this time not for being gay but for needing expensive medical care. i want to yell at them, stay home!  have sex, have a lot of sex, have safe sex!  and by safe i mean you're not in a situation where your activities can at any moment be ended by a surprise attack from the enemy.
  so, congratulations for your victory....and  '2 cheers for democracy.'
no congratulations to the dutch government, which grows ever more repressive.  they've always been much more tolerant than the US over sexuality.  but they are growing much worse over ethnic and religiious cultures.  they are in the midst of passing a bill banning the wearing of the burqa.

i understand the revulsion many have toward that literal self -effacing garb. frankly, it creeps me out too. i have come to like the hijab, which allows the woman to show her face, and which i've seen in various colors and styles.  maybe it's just that i've grown used to it and have had the good luck to have had several hijab-wearing students in the last few years--and they don't seem to have any less self-confidence or less classroom engagement than other students.  maybe if i had a few burqa-wearing students i'd get used to that too.  i'd certainly try to.
but the point is, it's fine for me not to like the burqa: no one is forcing me to wear one. the whole idea of freedom of expression means, specifically, that no one should be forced to live by anyone else's standards.  there are a lot of dress styles i dislike, and i would imagine there are people who dislike mine.  they're entitled to. i'm entitled to. i would imagine that some of the women in burqa's find common western dress digusting.  they too are entitled.
 but what harm can these women do wearing their own preferred clothing?  there may actually be some danger --though i'm not sure of this--that the face covering can provide disguises for terrorist, even male terrorists, in largely muslim countries.  in western countries, however, where burka's are rare, they are totally conspicuous.  they disguise an individual face but highlight the person wearing them.  what kind of 'tolerance,' or even freedom, does it take to allow people to wear what manu or even most other people find appropriate?
i have perhaps an overly romanticized view of the netherlands, a country whose culture has become very dear to me.  they have been so morally ahead of most of the other western countries.  but lately the government seems hell-bent on changing all that.


but the real horror that i'm trying not to think about is that, as i sit here writing this at midnight, i know that by this time tomorrow it is almost certain that a man, convicted of murder years ago, will be dead--executed by the state of georgia, and may god have mercy on its soul.  the trial took place in the context of 9 eyewitnesses,  and a jury who believed from what they heard that troy davis was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  since then, 7 of the eyewitnesses have recanted.  jurors from the trial have said they would never have found davis guilty had they known then what they know now. but his appeal yesterday was turned down, and he is scheduled to die.
apparently 'reasonable doubt' ends with the jury's verdict.  there appears to be very reasonable doubt now, and the man deserves another trial, with the new information made explicit. he has already lost 20 years of his life, but at least he's had that life.  further investigation, a further trial, might give him his freedom.  maybe it wouldn't; maybe in all the evidence they'll find something 'beyond reasonable doubt.'  but you can't un-execute someone. if, as seems all too likely, he's innocent, the state of georgia will have committed a crime no less hideous than the one troy davis was charged with.
oh yes, i forgot to mention--troy davis is black.  maybe that had nothing to do with his conviction; maybe it has nothing to do with the state's determination to kill him.  then again, maybe it has a lot to do with it. it wouldn't be the first time.
i do not approve of capital punishment under any circumstances.  but those who do believe in it, and especially those who have the power to enforce it, have a heavy responsibility to make sure it is used only when they have as much certainty of guilt as is humanly possible. 7 of 9 witnesses recanting is hardly certainty.
it's past midnight, time for me to go to bed. i'll take a sleeping pill so i don't lie awake haunted by troy davis's face, by the knowledge that he is unlikely to be sleeping well tonight.  i fear his murderers will have no trouble at all.  they have to rest up for their big day ahead.

Friday, September 9, 2011

silly quotes

looking through bas bleu book catalogue, and came across a couple of great quotes.  one is from the new 'anguished english' desk calendar [wonderful language blunders from all sorts of places].  in a supermarket ad:
"Stock up and save: limit one."

one of the books they are offering is a reprint of the original girl scouts handbook, from 1913.  in a warning about bad behavior, the book say:
"all secret bad habits are evil and dangerous, lead to hysteria and lunatic asylums, and serious illness is the result; so if you have any sense of courage in you throw off such temptations at once."

and you thought only little boys did those naughty things!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Anniversary Waltz

already we're getting the inevitable overkill on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  how could it be otherwise? 9/11 is certainly the 'defining moment' of the new millenium in america.  i would like to see that grim event remembered and mourned with dignity.  i would hope that somewhere in the blitz of the videos, the interviews, the constant shots of the president at the time--his worthy as well as unworthy moments--i would hope in the midst of this that the media do what they conspicuously neglected, or refused, to do back then, and since: to analyze the role america itself has played in the hatred that so much of the mideast had and still has for the US.  this does not imply minimizing the unforgiveable act itself, or the innocence of it victims.

but we have tended to act as though there is a quantifiable amount of blame, and any admission that there have been reasons for the hate is to take X pounds of blame away from the attackers and land it  on america.  one of my strongest memories in the days and weeks after the attack was of the absence of this discussion on television news and talk shows. ironically, the best display of multiple views of the events came on a nighttime series drama, not a news or discussion show.  The series, was 'family law,' and the plot involved the wife of an american muslim citizen from a mideast country who has been arrested as a suspected terrorist.  his original lawyer has been useless; his family can't communicate with him, and his wife is frantic.  the members of the law firm have a meeting to discuss the case, and, consistent with each of their personalities, they have different reasons for different feelings. one lawyer, raising her grandchild, wants nothing to do with it.  in the phrase that had already begun to be used and would end up as a sort of mantra, she argues that '9/11 has changed everything.' she is not being specious: her granddaughter had been sent home from kindergarten because an envelope filled with a mysterious white powder was found in the school.  the sleazy opportunist wants to take the case because whatever the truth is, it will get the firm great press.  the main character wants to take the case on a civil liberties basis: someone accused of a crime, however heinous the crime and however guilty the person appears to be, has the right to trial.

finally, and most startlingly, the most leftwing character [and yes, there was one] also wants to take the case--not only because of the right to trial but because it will bring pubic awareness of the longstanding oppression of middle-eastern countries  by western colonialists.  while the news brought us our president pontificating about the motive for the attacks being jealousy of 'america's freedoms,' we were at least briefly hearing, on this one place, that the motives, though not the action, had something to do with years of US government policy.

we have rarely heard it since.  there is a thin line between patriotism and xenophobia, and the notion that we are the best country in the whole world, god's special favorite, tends to go unquestioned. that may be one of the few things that 9/11 didn't change in our culture.

nor did it change the anger of many people in the mideast toward america.   the wars we are fighting have brought, at the very least, as much fury and fear as gratitude.

and so i am afraid of next sunday.  i am afraid of two possibilities.  one is the possibility i'm sure that many americans fear: that al queda or its clones might have been gearing up for a reenactment of the terrorist attacks.

equally, i am afraid of violence coming from euro-americans against muslims in america, or anyone they think is a muslim [the night after 9/11, rocks were thrown through the windows of a Sikh Indian family next door to me, and their walls were spraypainted 'fuck turban heads.'  the family stood outside the house, the father clutching his small son and trying to figure out what had happened.] i am afraid for the lives of innocent dark-skinned people at the hands of american terrorists as brutal as the 9/11 attackers.  terrorists for jesus, or for their vision of patriotism, are as frightening and as dangerous as terrorists for allah.

i hope my fears turn out to be foolish: there are some things one wants to be wrong about.  but i will be very glad when it's 9/12 and this hellish anniversary is over.  i will be gladder still if amidst all the reliving of the horror ten years ago, there is some small effort to understand the complex mixture of elements that went into its creation, in the hope that truth-seeking will help us find ways beyond subway slogans about seeing something and saying something to challenge a world view in which such  evils can occur, and feed each other.

Monday, September 5, 2011

a lovely day yesterday, hanging out with a new, already dear friend, ada lee--sister of my old dear friend chester lee.  simple day--lunch, then the boston common and the public gardens----here we're on the swan boat.  a simple, lovely, unfraught day.....perfect weather, perfect companion....

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I Like Ike

Rachel Maddow recently said that if Dwight Eisenhower were alive today, he'd been considered a strong liberal.  yesterday I got a mailing from the American Friends Service Committee, which included a remark of Ike's that backs up her statement.  It's not the famous phrase warning us of the military-industrial complex, a prophesy long since shown true, but an even more amazing one.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

The Republicans have fallen a long way since then.  And not a few Democrats with him.  

hopper again

very possibly my favorite hopper......eventually, a poem will come from this!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Edward Hopper Paintings

i know very very little about art. so this i's a classic 'i know what i like--duh' post. or maybe more of an 'i know what i love post. edward hopper's paintings are something i love.  i am inspired to write about these works because i just read a post on another blog by a savvier art viewer than i.[he's baysage, and his blog is 'what powderfinger said.]  he posted some modern art paintings and talked with great passion and eloquence about how they make him feel. and yet, though i was moved by his writing, i was as usual left cold by the paintings themselves. my response is classic philistine; if i don't know what it's a picture of, i just don't get it.

but the emotions he expressed instantly translated to my mind into the few painters whose works trigger similar emotions in me. most of these are either renaissance portraits or, sometimes, impressionists. and hopper.

though i had been aware of the famous 'nighthawks' painting and felt vaguely positive about it, it wasn't until a friend with free tickets talked me into going to the hopper exhibit at the boston Museum of Fine arts a couple of years ago that i fell in love with hopper. the stuff was amazing, mesmerizing, and it pulled me utterly into its world. but--and this is the weird thing--its world as i experienced it had nothing to do with what i'd read about hopper's paintings--nor does it have anything to do with what i've read since.

hopper is famous for his evocation of loneliness and alienation. but in only a very few works do i see that. mostly, what i see is comfortable solitude on the one hand, and comfortable companionship on the other. i like those people in nighthawks, and i think they like each other. it's late night, and they, plus the guy working the bar, are joined in their anonymity, in the rare sensations of new yorkers in a nearly empty diner. darkness doesn't bother them, nor does separateness. they are warm and safe and at peace; they don't need to know each other or talk to each other to experience companionship. if the couple speak to each other, it's in hushed voices, because the silence of the place is palpable, and cherished. whenever i spend time looking at the painting, i feel myself in it--another quiet, separated presence, linked to these people by the separateness itself. i sip cocoa, probably, at that hour, and i read my book without apology or self-consciousness. we are the perfect combination of solitude and companionship. and yet this painting is supposed to be great because it captures their loneliness. but they aren't lonely. they aren't alienated. there's a sort of intimacy about them that would not emerge in a different, more peopled setting.

the other painting i've been able to get on here is one i love even more than the nighthawks. here too, i read about the alienation of the 'two on the aisle.' the woman, i read, is involved in the process of getting settled in, ignoring her husband, who is bored and confused. ah, but he's not. they're clearly early for the play or the opera, and he's looking toward the back. i can almost hear him: 'hey honey, isn't that bob who used to live down the street?' in a moment she'll look up, and recognize bob, or say, 'i don't think so, but he certainly looks like him.' the couple isn't bored with each other; they're just not settling in simultaneously. [i see this in many of the couples in hopper paintings: they're comfortable with each other, enough that they don't need to act like a dance team in perfect synch: he's reading the newspaper while she reads her book; or she's finishing the last bits of her toilette while he's got his jacket on and about to leave. and everything i read about any of these couples is about how isolated they are from each other.

in this particular painting, there's another person--not central, like they are, but larger in the painting's perspective.   she's settled into a box seat, alone, at least for the moment, and reading the program. probably just because she's clearly already settled in and they've just arrived, she seems somehow more sophisticated...this may be a big night on the town for them, but she does this a lot, and happily. she's into the work they're going to see shortly--absorbed in the program notes. she may or may not have a companion, but if she does, he [or she] doesn't need to be there for her to feel totally at ease. is there a more delicious feeling in the world than the sense of anticipation for a play or opera soon to begin? for the moment, the couple and the woman, separately, are in the early stages of that pleasure. soon there will be more and more people, and then the lights will start to dim, the chatter will slowly stop, the curtain will rise, and the work will envelope each of them separately, and all of them collectively. again there is the anonymous intimacy of people doing the same thing at the same time, caught up in the same world they have chosen to be in together.

many of hopper's figures are alone, and here too the idea seems to be that they are perforce lonely. sometimes i see that, in the body positions, the relation to the surroundings. but mostly, i see solitude, not loneliness. in 'night shadows,'  a dark charcoal sketch, a man is walking alone in the city, a tiny creature dwarfed by the huge buildings around him. he seems not at all intimidated by the contrast between himself and the buildings: his stride is comfortable, neither hesitant nor rushed; he is as much a part of the city as the buildings are. another comfortable loner is at the other end of the city experience:  called 'morning in the city', it shows a nude woman in a small hotel room, staring out the window. she is far enough from the window to be invisible to anyone glancing up. she is standing, i think, somewhat pensively; like the man in the charcoal drawing, she's at one with her environment: there is no sense of shame in her nudity. it fits her at the moment as comfortably as his jacket and hat fit the man in 'night shadows.'. each embodies a cozy solitude.  i love the total difference between these works--even the titles are opposites.  the medium of oil paint vs black and white harsh charcoal; the vastness of the city vs. the  cramped enclosure of the hotel room with the city outside; the genders, of course.  at still, at core, the same quiet solitude.

anyway, that's the way i see these works. i must be missing something--but if so, i'm sort of glad--not to be ignorant, but to have the voices of the figures speaking so intimately to me. maybe it's not so bad that i'm hearing something different in them.