Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Farewell 2009!

I started this blog on a lark over three years ago. Originally I thought I would just have an outlet to vent my frustration over the state of politics in the US of George W. Bush. Some of my posts have been off the cuff and poorly conceived, some well-composed and thoughtful. After spending considerably more energy on music blogging than here, a few months ago I decided to focus a bit more on this blog and on writing. I've been posting new essays, creative writing, and a bunch of essays from my past. I've enjoyed the chance for creative expression, and the opportunity to reexamine my own beliefs about politics, spirituality, and music, which seem to drive my internet consumption as well as expression. I'm grateful to those of you who read this blog: people I know and mysterious internet drive-by-ers all. But I'm mostly just grateful for a having a forum to organize my own thoughts and challenge myself to refine and express my own views. In this respect, 2009 was productive and promising.

In the face of terrible economic woes in the world and in my own life, too many wars and conflicts, a rising tide of right-wing idiocy, global warming, political corruption, and future uncertainty, it's nice to have a place to gather my thoughts.

I wish the same for you and yours that I wish for me and mine: a new year full of life, love, happiness, health, abundance, joy, peace and justice.

(The illustration here is the six of swords from the iconic Rider-Waite Tarot deck. A card I have always loved, it tells of a journey from rough waters to calm, from sorrows present but overcome, a journey full of danger but also hope.)

Crossposting from Ile Oxumare: SNCC's Rap

This essay originally appeared on one of my music blogs.

This is a very special album I've been saving for a special occasion. It goes up with a shout-out to Reza's Flying Dutchman Discography blog, where some other great spoken-word pieces from the same period can be found.

This is an artifact of a lost time. It's not, sad to say, really a collaboration between black revolutionary H. Rap Brown and spiritual jazz vocalist Leon Thomas. It is a completely un-musical speech by Brown interspersed with brief excerpts of Thomas in concert, recorded five months apart. An excerpt from Julius Lester's original liner notes helps explain the concept:

"This record is augmented by the sound and words of Leon Thomas and what more can be said behind that? He adds another dimension to the concepts articulated by Rap, showing the roots from which we've come, and all the variations therein.... Brother Brown and Brother Thomas are saying the same thing, only with different weapons. There is no better example of a brother functioning in the struggle on the level he happens to be on than Leon Thomas. He has turned his voice into a revolutionary weapon. And, that's what it's all about."

I have waxed ecstatic elsewhere about Leon Thomas. The songs here are among the few overtly political ones he sang, Damn Nam being a direct call to resist the immorality which was US aggression on Vietnam.

I feel, on the cusp of turning a significant milestone of years in my life, privileged to have lived as witness to history: as participant in all that has happened over the years in the US in my lifetime. When I was a boy in Chicago, my fairly progressive parents exposed me to the struggles for social justice including the struggle against that horrible war. Racism was one of the evils my parents taught me, in their own ways, to fight against. Yet if my mother thought me listening to pretty, black and non-threatening women like Diana Ross and the Supremes was cute, she was somewhat horrified over me listening to raw and somehow threatening black men like James Brown and the Temptations. Such were the limits of progressive white consciousness in the sixties.

Which brings us to H. Rap Brown. My parents, like a generation of liberal white people, greatly admired the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, as well they should have. He was a true hero who gave his life for all of our freedom. But my parents drew some invisible line in their perceptions of social justice. Heroes like Malcolm X, and the younger generation that followed like Angela Davis, H. Rap Brown, the Panthers, these were somehow threatening to my parents in their militancy, their embrace of a vision not just of brotherly love but of revolution. H. Rap Brown was, to them, the "scary" African-American revolutionary, scary because he was not talking to white Americans about trying to get along, but to fellow African-Americans about how to take things into their own hands and do for themselves what needed to be done. (In the speech recorded here Brown directly addresses white people who want to know what they can do to help: he suggests they douse themselves in gasoline, light it, and jump on President Nixon. It's a laugh line, but it makes his point.) Nina Simone was perhaps more gentle in a similar vein where on one of her records she says "this song is not against white people, it simply ignores you." The whites in her audience laughed nervously.

Brown's speech here is inflammatory and revolutionary, but it's extremely thoughtful and well-reasoned. Listening to his words now one is immediately struck by the volume of water that has flowed under this bridge. It inspires in me, at least, many mixed emotions. Is his world, the world of 1969, actually gone? How much has changed and how much of what he says is still relevant? Brown gets it right when he says "everything that happens in your life is political." And he goes on to say "you have to understand the difference between concepts and individuals," meaning you can't make your political choices based on whether you like certain people but you have to listen to what they say. Surely that resonates today. His analysis of capitalism and injustice is as striking as his call to confront it. But the revolutionary movement Brown helped lead, it failed, ending in tragedy or dissipation. So many years of Reagan and Clinton and the Bushes have changed the landscape so deeply, not all of the changes bad ones. And truly, as a white person listening to his words, I hold out hope that we in fact are better off throwing our lot together and building a society that is respectful of cultural differences but merciless in its opposition to racism, injustice and inequality.

The American presidential election is at this writing in just over a week. In it an African-American Democrat (younger than me, I might point out, making him a child when this record was made) is opposed by a white conservative Republican who was a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam at the time this record was made. And so the special occasion causing me to present this record, this unique political moment in time, is actually the depth of irony. H. Rap Brown converted to Islam in the early 1970s, served time in Attica in the '70s, and is today imprisoned for allegedly shooting a policeman. Do the politics of today and the passage of time negate or prove Brown's words? Are there warnings here from a forgotten past or just a slice of oral history?

I'm hopeful that it is Barack Obama who wins our election in a few short days. He is most certainly not a revolutionary in the stride of H. Rap Brown. But at the same time I cannot but hope that the miracle of an African-American winning the highest political office in the U.S. and what I hope is the rejection of Bush's legacy brings us in some way closer to lasting fairness, justice, and peace. As Leon Thomas sings here, "No one can help you, it's all up to you."

Recommending further reading & listening:
* The Magic of Juju blog's post on this record,
* Die Nigger Die, H. Rap Brown's autobiography on the great History Is A Weapon website.
* Check out the Angela Davis, Stanley Crouch and Rosko/Pete Hammill My Lai Massacre recordings at the Flying Dutchman blog.

The original post with track details and a download link can be found here.

Crossposting from Ile Oxumare: Have a Blissful Day

This is a crossposting of an essay and compilation that originally appeared on one of my music blogs.

Perhaps because it's when I came of age, I have long been fascinated by the decade of the 1970s. Long reviled in the popular imagination, it seems to be the decade that cultural historians would like to erase. It's laughable how, for instance, the reviewers over at the All-Music Guide will tend to leave the 1970s output by many jazz musicians off their discography, and when an individual album from that time is covered, unless it happens to be a collection of standards harkening back to the classic era, it tends to get written off as "not so-and-so's best album." Disco music has come to symbolize the seventies in a sort of warped way: portrayed as the effete frivolity of coke-snorting polyester-clad airheads, its reality as a kind of ecstatic mass egalitarian communion for a new generation of proud black and gay urbanites is overlooked. The corruption of Nixon and the weakness of Ford and Carter are remembered, not the progressive community and consciousness-building organizations that flourished until repression, hard times, or eventual exhaustion laid them low. And the 1970s is most definitely remembered as the era of the religious cult, which brings us to the compilation at hand.

In those days before the megachurches of Christian fundamentalism, spirituality in America was in a vast state of flux. As the younger generation came to reject the political and cultural establishment in the 1960s, so it rejected the religious establishment. Everybody knows how the Beatles flirted with eastern religion: newly expanded higher consciousness inspired the newly aware to explore spiritual paths that would have been unimaginable to whitebread America a few years before. Astrology and numerology became mainstream; "eastern" concepts like auras and karma and reincarnation became widely accepted.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Into this wide-open spiritual openness stepped preachers and teachers and gurus and holymen, and a host of evangelical organizations, many of which eventually being accused of manipulation and mind-control. On the eastern front, gurus like Swami Satchidananda and Sri Chinmoy gained a huge number of adherents, Sri Chinmoy in particular influencing many in the music world. The Hare Krishnas, eventually the International Society for Krishna Consciousness lead by Swami Prabhupada, became ubiquitous. There were Christian-derived societies like the politically conservative Unification Church of Rev. Sun Young Moon (the so-called "Moonies") or the ill-fated left-wing People's Temple of Rev. Jim Jones; there were the Jesus Freaks and Jesus People. There was the cult of Scientology for sci-fi geeks; there were Egyptian revivalists promising health through colon cleansing; there were African cultural nationalists redefining black cultural identity. There was Transcendental Meditation; there was Nichiren Buddhism and its prosperity chanting. There was the beginnings of New Age philosophy with theories of healing and medicine outside traditional "Western" pharmacology. All these new ideas competed for the attentions of young people, especially those adrift in confusing cultural times.

The dark side of all this is undeniable. When I was in junior high school my best friend John went off on a picnic with a group--maybe they were Moonies--who offered him an afternoon of food and fraternization. We didn't see him again for six months. When he returned he wouldn't talk about what happened, but he was changed and brooding. The religious cults had a predatory aspect, requiring their devotees to change their behaviors and their lifestyles. In some cases this turned devotees into beggars, like the Hare Krishnas haunting the airports giving out "free" books and then demanding a donation. Other cults turned into tragedies, like the hundreds of poor people who moved to Guyana to build a new world with the People's Temple who ended in an orgy of mass suicide and murder.

But it wasn't all mind control: in those innocent days nobody followed an alternate spiritual path or joined a cult for negative reasons, they did so out of hope, out of the desire to be spiritually uplifted and fulfilled; out of the desire to find like-minded people with whom to share, to celebrate, to build, to learn, to teach. Which brings us to the music.

The music of this world of spiritual exploration in the 1970s is actually pretty awesome. It can be spiritually meditative or joyously upbeat. It crosses musical genres ranging from jazz to rock to folk to disco to funk. It's got a blissful positivity that I find inspiring: "free" is probably the word sung most by this diverse collection of spiritual optimists.

Several of the artists represented here might actually be considered representatives of "cults:" Ananta, Rasa and J.O.B. Orquestra were all adherents of ISKCON and their records were sold directly by Hare Krishnas. The People's Temple Choir song is from an album recorded several years before their emigration to Guyana. The bonus track recorded by George Harrison's London Ashram will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen Hare Krishna devotees chanting on the street. Some of the lyrics here are fascinating: JOB's "Dont Want That Illusion" is the most peculiar (anti) love song I've ever heard.

Other artists represented here were personal adherents of evangelical eastern religions: Turiyasangitananda Alice Coltrane, herself a swamini, or teacher, was a devotee of Swami Satchidananda (this is, by the way, one of her few recordings on fender-rhodes electric piano). Devadip Carlos Santana and Narada Michael Walden, the producer of the Don Cherry track here (himself a Buddhist), were devotees of Sri Chinmoy.

The remainder of the artists here are examples of how widespread the ideas preached by the cults became. I wasn't able to find evidence that members of Odyssey, Shanti, Seawind, Karma, etc. were actually involved in specific groups, but the content of these songs makes it clear these are all fellow travellers to this world. Perhaps the most strange of these is the track from the "mighty burner" Charles Earland which will change your opinion of him forever.

"Cult" is a word with terrible connotations. As someone who is himself a practitioner of a religion outside the mainstream, I choose to identify here with the people who are singing about their love of God, their hope for a better world, their joy at life, their mastery of the spiritual realms; and pull from these songs inspiration rather than doubt, and joy at revelation rather than fear of manipulation. Better this open celebration of life and spirit than the harsh dictates of many of today's right-wing fundamentalists. In a world of fanatical suicide bombers, communal and sectarian violence, churches mobilizing to deny rights to gays and immigrants, and self-righteous hypocrites preaching hellfire, the spirit of this "cult" music is refreshingly forward-looking and life-affirming.

I'm not gonna shave my head, renounce the world, and start chanting for money on the corner, but with music like this I'm sure gonna celebrate life a little more.

The originally posting, with track details and links to a download, can be found here.

Crossposting from Ile Oxumare: Galaxy Around Olodumare

Here's an essay, with a compilation, I posted on one of my music blogs earlier this year.

Where does it come from? What is the source of inspiration for the music we love? Those of us who speak about "spiritual jazz" or "cosmic jazz" what are we talking about: I mean if you play John Coltrane's "Ascension" backwards do you hear the Lord's Prayer or something? These are bigger questions than I can answer, but here's a contribution to the discussion.

In the traditional religion of the Yoruba peoples of West Africa, Olodumare is one of the names of God. Olodumare is found in the patterns of the natural world. By discovering these patterns, by finding one's own identity and destiny in these patterns and rhythms, adherents seek to live the best and most spiritually fulfilled life possible. Key to finding, experiencing and understanding these patterns are divination and music. Through music and divination it's seen as possible to petition the divine world for help and advice in the material world. Helping human beings along the way are the orishas, "gods" if you will, personified forces of nature and humanity that can guide, assist, and open--or close--the paths along the way. There's Obatala, the mountain orisha of wisdom and creativity. There's Yemaya, the ocean orisha of motherhood and familyhood. There's Ochun, the river orisha of love and money. There's fierce Chango, the thunder god of dance and power. There's Babalu Aiye, the orisha of sickness and health. There's Oxumare, the orisha of the rainbow. There's Elegba, the trickster orisha best invoked at the beginning of all undertakings who lives at all crossroads both real and metaphorical.

You're not interested in an obscure African religion? Well here's the thing. The religion of the Yorubas was brought to the new world in the bellies of slave ships. In some places like Cuba, like Brazil, it survived and metamorphosed into the religions of Santeria and Candomble. In Cuba, for example, the songs and rhythms of Yoruba religion gave birth to Afro-Latin jazz. It's plain to see in the instrumentation, the rhythms themselves, and in the occasional mysterious chant surfacing at some point of musical intensity. In other places, like the U.S., traditional African religion buried itself deeper in the subconscious. The Lutherans and the Episcopalians might sing some pretty hymns, but it's in the singing and footstomping and more ecstatic musicality of churches rooted in Black America that the rhythm, the divine pattern of Olodumare, survived.

One of the gifts of our current age is the accessibility of knowledge, and with this knowledge comes awareness, and with awareness comes incredible cross-polination of experience and ideas. Once upon a time--and not so long ago in a historic sense--in the US people had to play drums in secret, out in the woods, at night. No longer. Today everything is connected.

But if, in a much more secular world, the patterns are sometimes harder to see, it doesn't mean they're not there. Today we have space telescopes searching the stars for signs. And you know what they have found? The pattern. Ancient cultures revered the spiral as a mystical symbol: endowing tiny creatures like snails with spiritual meaning. Pretty interesting that those fancy telescopes show the stars themselves arranged in spiral galaxies of unconceivable enormity, eh? When you stare up at those amazing stars that sense of wonder that becomes a kind of spiritual reverence, that's the same moment that so-called spiritual jazz seeks to reproduce on a much smaller, more immediate scale.

Which brings us to this compilation.

These are songs (mostly but not entirely influenced by Latin jazz) bringing the pattern back around. The songs here all contain elements of traditional Yoruba religion--most filtered through its Cuban/American form; all are either instrumentally based in traditional sacred songs or contain vocal sections using Lukumi, the form of Yoruba language that survives in the new world.

This is not particularly roots music. These songs make use of all the evolved musical gifts: western harmonies, developed jazz rhythms and structures, and even an accessibility from funk and pop. The traditional marries the new, and the pattern survives, expanding and growing, like the spiral galaxy itself. The old deities of a traditional religion make new appearances as their names and prayers echo in a newly updated sound. This compilation is not meant to convert you to an obscure religion, but to give you a glimpse at the pattern that makes enjoyment of music a passion with an undeniably spiritual nature.

The title of this compilation takes its name from a composition (not included here) by Alice Coltrane, who spent her life looking for the pattern in her own way. The cover image is an antique wooden "Opon Ifa," or divination tray, from West Africa; the center cut away to reveal the stars.

If you like this music, click on the labels below for more compilations by me, and more music posted on this blog by some of these musicians. A majority of the songs here are taken from albums still in print, so if you like something you can also go out and buy it!

This compilation, with details of track listings and download links, can be found in its original posting here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Echoes of a past life: A Ball of Mirrors

It's a cold and rainy day after Christmas. I spent part of the afternoon ripping Madonna CDs to my computer so that I could listen to them at my desk; it was a little like watching my life flash before my eyes. Sure she's celebrity at its worst: the fake English accent, the African child-stealing, the atrocious acting, the overall narcissism. But she's actually a talented musician with a point of view and a shrewd sensibility for brilliantly surfing trends in pop dance music, leaving her junior imitators floundering in her wake. I can wax rhapsodic about obscure spiritual jazz, Brazilian art music, and obscure seventies gay disco, but somehow Madonna, as mainstream as she is, has held my attention over the years.

I actually remember the first time I heard of her: it was shortly after I moved to New York City, I believe. A graffiti artist named Michael Stewart had been killed by NYC cops. This was the era of Keith Haring and that whole East Village art scene, and the artsy counter-culture looked out for one another. I was walking in the village and was handed a flyer for a benefit in Stewart's honor: there would be a quite unknown singer at the benefit and her name was Madonna. To my regret I didn't hang on to that flyer or attend the event; shortly thereafter I heard her name again on the radio, singing this catchy new tune called "Everybody" that was becoming a big hit: a catchy urban sound with just a schmear of new wave and NYC proto-hiphop. I'm sure she never looked back.

I used to love to go dancing; and dance music, being so tied to its age, paints an easily-traced story of the decades. While Madonna stepped onto the scene after the heydey of disco and my youth, she's been there ever since. For the record Madonna and I are about the same age, and I can't imagine putting my own achy 51-year-old body through a night of dancing like I used to; I'm surely in awe of Madonna's physical regimen.

I wrote this essay on the power and meaning of dancing for the Queer Pagans zine back in the 1990s. In Madonna years that would be about the time of "Bedtime Stories." (For the record my favorite Madonna album is probably "Ray of Light" from 1998; its spirituality and rock- and trancemusic-influenced intensity has really held up for me more than some of her more sugar-coated earlier material.) Anybody following my writing here will note a repeated reference to an episode recounted in an earlier piece "Will the Gay Movement Survive AIDS." I'm happy that the point of view in this piece some ten years later is so much less bleak.

I opened this article with a bit of ancient Greek pagan poetry: an excerpt from Euripides' "The Bacchae" beginning "When shall I dance once more with bare feet the all-night dances." Click on the graphic to read this full size; this is a scan from the original QP zine.


A Ball of Mirrors Like the Moon,
Communion, Like With God
by Ian Scott Horst
from QP #11, Ice & Promise 9994 [Feb. 1994]

I remember my first visit to a queer disco. It was in Chicago, probably late 1978. The place was the Bistro, located in a near-north noman's land home to low industrial buildings, drag clubs and leather bars. The crowd at the Bistro was mixed, a combination of gay men dressed down with fag-hags and adventuresome heterosexuals dressed up.

Near the entrance was a bar for serious drinkers and lost singles, but everyone else headed for the labrynthine arrangement of tables, potted palms, and velveteen divans circling the raised light-box that was the dance floor.

If I remember correctly, the dance floor was a checkerboard of flashing under-lit panels and shiny black gloss. At its edges were vents through which a dry ice fog would be pumped in the peak of our ecstasy. Hidden in a false ceiling above were trap doors from which confetti and feathers would swirl. Huge thumping speakers vibrated at the corners of the floor. Hanging from the rafters amidst a tangle of spinning colored lamps and flashing strobes was the mirrored ball, the ubiquitous idol we would worship there. For this disco was not just a place to socialize, but a place to lose oneself to the dance, to vibrate to rhythm until we soared through the very clouds to worship physical and spiritual ecstasy. Of course, a little LSD helped too.

Since it was the late '70s and not the late '80s, our dance was sexually charged ina way uncomplicated by mortal fear. And this was when we could dance to the entirety of Donna Summer's "MacArthur Park" suite without pangs of guilt or pains of betrayal over her as yet unuttered quips about "Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve."

It is interesting to me that pre-AIDS gay male culture was wrapped so inseparably with the dance. The disco become a kind of ritual religion, a spinning, whirling rite, a prelude to sexual abandon, a cultural center, a meeting ground. It was also, of course, self-absorbed, inward-looking and narcissistic. It was as though the mirror ball was not just a mechanism for spinning colored rays about the dance floor but a glittering symbol intoxicating us with our own images. For as we spun about the floor we found ourselves pulled in, to our center, finding our souls touched by the fire but in a way that left each alone, as though dreaming. It is an odd thing to be able to dance in a crowded floor and find the crowd melt aaway and disappear as the music seizes control.

Those were the days, you may remember, of the great schism between boys and girls. Chicago, like New York, is a big city, and there was little of that brother-and-sister-under-fier camaraderie of 1970s small town queer America. We dancing queens assumed at the time that lesbians were all stomping around the woods with their shirts off criticizing us for our puerile humor and hedonistic excesses. I suspect the truth is that queer women were undergoing their own formatice ecstasies, dancing in new found and self-shaped freedom.

Who would have dreamed this future, there, under those circumstances? Yet that which is dear to us now grew from seeds in those times. Even Queer Pagans as both people and thing owe direct lineage to those times of the dreaming dance. Starhawk's "The Spiral Dance" was first published in 1979, and is to considerable extent a product of the separatist lesbian feminist culture of that time. "The Spiral Dance" was a major force in opening Paganism to an audience beyond the heterosexist orthodox English traditionalist Wiccans. The Radical Faeries were officially founded also in 1979,a product of the new gay male self-awareness albeit in rejection of its materialism. And from the Faeries Pagans learned much about ritual innovation.

And so eventually the world spun on. I remember in the mid '80s going out with a friend to soem short-lived dance club in Manhattan. It was a weeknight, and the place was empty. Alone on the dance floor was a man with a pair of fans, lost in music. He was beautiful, his face a portrait of rapture, his solitude exquisite, lost in an act of inner communion both furious and serene. By chance we found out his name, and to sum up the 1980s, a month or two later we read his obituary in the gay press.

But the dance that is life continued, and something happened, at least to me, at the turn of the decade.

Jutting off the edge of Greenwich Village into the Hudson are the remnants of several abandoned piers. For years these piers were a kind of seedy sexual Disneyland. Even when there was no more privacy when the buildings on these piers were dissembled and carted away, the sex continued. Eventually the organizers of lesbian and gay pride day decided to throw an after-parade party, a dance, on one of these piers. And it was magic.

Under the sky, with laserbeams and fireworks instead of spinning lamps, with speakers two stories tall, thousands of us danced together. Queer people, men and women, survivors, entranced together, raising a powerful energy. It was different this time: we were high on adrenaline and pride. Instead of feeling like a vortex, pulling it all inside, I felt like bursting, like exploding with queer fire into an expanding, sweaty mass of brothers and sisters. Our mouths were open, roaring joy. Within the year I became a Pagan.

Dance is madness. Invisible bonds spring from music, wrapping themselves about your limbs, writhing around your hips, pulling and turning, transforming your body into the manic puppet of energy, of ecstasy. It is a seizure of the spirit. Open yourself to the invisible fury. Surrender to it. Cut the bonds of self-consciousness. Let it go. Become invisible. Dream a new world.

Accept communion.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Echoes of a past life: Finding My Way

It's just after the winter solstice, the time in the northern hemisphere when the night is the longest and the day the shortest. It's a visceral milestone of time, and somehow has magically come to coincide with a number of religious festivals (Christmas, Channukah, etc.) that disavow their cosmic timing but are nevertheless festivals of preserving light and warmth in the dark time. The Solstice was a key part of my spiritual journey, and I found an article that explains some of how it made an impact on what I have come to believe.

One of the stories not related here is that when my grandmother saw the name I had put on the back of the Solstice cards I was designing, she was horrified. I was trying to unify the different strands of my life and used a combination of my leftist-era "party" name pseudonym and my birth name: in the process I dropped my middle name which was her family name. She was rightfully offended; and I deserved the scolding. Shortly thereafter I jettisoned the leftist pseudonym completely and not only restored her family name to mine as a tribute to her, but decided I would always use my full three names. (Forgive me, gramma, for "ish" but it's the internet's fault.) The picture above does not include my grandmother, key to the story below, but is instead several generations of women from the Scott and Kimble/Kimball lines; I think the young woman in the center is her mother and the baby her older sister Ruth; it was taken in Michigan in the 1890s.

Forgive my complicated proto-feminist linguistic tics here: I was developing a critique of Neo-Paganism as gender-obsessed and exclusionarily heterosexist. I tended to add "/ess" to any possibly gender-assigned pronoun as an act of subversion. I came, in the end, to reject Neo-Paganism's God/Goddess dualism as hopelessly profane (and inane) in the face of God's awesome unity, transcending such trivialities as gender.

This essay is in fact a bit of a polemic against mainstream Wicca with its questionably orthodox myths and pastoral pretenses. It's worth noting that a bit more than two years after it was published I had left Neo-Paganism behind and been initiated into Santeria. I love cosmic curveballs.


Finding My Way
by Ian Scott Horst
from "Coming Out Pagan," Spring 1994, Vol. 2 No. 1, published out of Bethesda, Maryland.

When my grandmother received one of my winter Solstice cards eight or nine years ago, she asked me what I meant. I explained to her how I didn't find any meaning in Christmas, but that I wanted to celebrate something at that time of year along with everybody else and wanted to send out cards to keep in touch with friends and relatives. The Solstice, I said, seemed to me a miraculous and obvious natural occurrence, not something that one needed to "believe" in and was therefore eminently deserving of celebration.

I was using the word "Pagan" then, even though I hadn't really figured out what it meant or what it meant for my future. Over the next couple of years, I came to explore the meaning of the concept of Paganism. At the same time, before her mind began to desert her, she came to confide in me how she had come to many of the same conclusions I had about religion and nature and the like. She was thinking of herself, in a way, as a Pagan, too.

I remembered how on my childhood visits to her home in California, she had shared with me her love of nature, taking me on walks through the woods and to the shore. And I remembered how I had eventually discovered her probable bisexuality and the definite lesbianism of her sister and next-door neighbor. And together, all these things made me feel close to her, and thankful toward her, despite our small presence in each others' day-to-day lives.

I like to think that my grandmother had much to do with who I am today and with my spiritual consciousness as a Gay Pagan priest/ess, and there is much truth in this statement. And how easy it would be to claim the illusory mantle of heredity, and how near the truth to say that my grandmother was a Witch and taught me her secret ways. But she was just a regular person living a regular -- if extraordinary -- life, passing on love and life's lessons to a young grandson she saw for only a few moments of her full life. Her herb garden was for ground cover and for cooking. Her knowledge of "secret ways" was no more nor less than those all of us regular people discover in the process of playing out the marvelous gifts of air, fire, water, earth and spirit.

The truth is that I am the first of my line (well, at least to my knowledge, say for a thousand years or so) to stand in a circle and call the God/dess by Her name(s). The fact that I have had to find my own way to Paganism undermines its practicable and fulfilling nature not one bit. For if most of the practices of my path are products of my, my friends', and my teachers' imaginations, they are most certainly not figments of our imaginations. The God/desses and spirits who guide us, talk to us, challenge us, teach us, summon us, protect us, listen to us, and bless us are as real and unmetaphorical as the wood of my desk, the purr of the furry cat sitting next to me, and the chill of the winter world outside my window.

After sending out my Pagan Solstice cards for five years or so, I decided that if I was going to call myself a Pagan, I ought to find out what that meant. That was the beginning of an odyssey which has lead me today to being co-Priest/ess of a coven, co-founder of New York City's Queer Pagans which averages forty people at each ritual, editor of a newsletter read by hundreds, and the proprietor of a small graphic design business named after the God/dess.

At first, I read a lot. And went for lots of walks in the park. I have to say that the walks in the park were of more use, ultimately, than most of the books I read. I learned that the winds would come if I talked to them and meant it, whether I called them watchtowers, guardians, spirits, powers, or whatever. The important part was the act of meaning it. I learned that if the books described a ritual situation which to me seemed a violation of my Queer heart, I should follow my heart and not the words on the printed page.

And I learned that if I felt isolated as a gay male Pagan among straight Pagans, I should find other Queer Pagans. And I learned that if most Queer Pagans I met were trapped in a cyccle of powerlessness, victimization, and complaint, or by a narrow view of gayness as just the sexual, I should simply manifest my vision and create a kind of Queer Pagan community I would feel comfortable in. This path has been rewarding beyond belief. I did not learn all these things by myself, and I am indebted to the teachers, Queer or straight, human or divine, who showed me something important and who framed an experience, a lesson, a gift.

Of course the unorthodox and eclectic carries with it many responsibilities. It is not a license to disregard advice or the power of the God/dess. It is, however, an opportunity to experience the real world that is really around you, around me. It means listening to the land we live on: land with no country; and a past not only older than we can imagine but older than the act of imagining itself. It means listening to the memories, voices, and rhythms carried here in the dreams of immigrants and nightmares of slaves. It means singing the chords created by the communities that are our cities. It means dancing to the beat of our experiences as Queer people. It means sacrifices and offerings, commitments and revelations, and rewards. It means standing on the dizzy precipice of now.

My way is to trust my heart, my mind, my spirit, my body. For in these places, the God/dess herself touches me, speaks to me, and opens a path before me, helping me to find my way.

May each of you find yours.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Gaza massacre a year later

Required reading from the Lenin's Tomb blog in the UK, an evaluation of the Israeli attack on Gaza a year later: Operation Cast-Lead One Year On. Lenin's Tomb is the work of Richard Seymour, a member of the British Socialist Workers Party (no relation to the US one), and his analysis is sharper and more intelligent than anything passing for socialism on the US scene.
"The war on the population of Gaza is an attempt to break Palestinian resistance by means of destroying, in part, the aforementioned population."

Read the whole piece here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A little optimism for the New Year

It's been quite a year. Here my favorite drag queen reminds us that the new year should be full of promise! Amen to that. There's a lot that could stand to get better. This one is very sweet and uplifting...a nice side to Candy.

Of course, my career as a Candy Samples video extra continues. And that's my cute boyfriend playing the guitar...he's a star!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Holidays

Here's "Turkey Lurkey Time" by Burt Bacharach, from the Broadway Show "Promises Promises" as performed at the Tony Awards in 1968. This infectious holiday ditty, featuring Donna McKechnie's thighs, is about the only seasonal tune -- well, not counting Candy Samples -- I can stomach. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

War Is Over If You Want It

"...I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. 'And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.' I still believe that We Shall overcome!"
--The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964

"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

"I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - 'Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.' As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

"I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower."

--President Barack Obama in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize today

"War, huh
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

"War, it ain't nothin' but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker, oh

"Peace, love and understanding, tell me
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our own freedom
But Lord knows there's gotta be a better way"

--Edwin Starr/Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong song lyrics, 1970

I give credit to President Obama for an attempt to reconcile his respect for the civil rights tradition while trying to justify his role as commander in chief of the largest military machine the world has ever known: he presented a thoughtful argument for the idea of a just war, for well-behaved war, for nice war with rules and fairness. His speech today has provoked me to read some other speeches, and to assess what I believe. I'd certainly rather hear Obama's reasoned argument than those base and empty appeals to "freedom" a la Reagan or Bush. If I wanted to hear that war is peace or freedom is slavery I know which bookshelf to find Orwell on. Obama is a good speaker if not, here, a fiery one, and I'm glad to be pushed to affirm my own views.

I am proud that my father and his paternal line were peaceful people who ran from war, who would uplift their lives and families and give up their homes rather than serve in the military. They did this over and over again when they fled Germany in the 1700s and when they fled Russia in the early years of the last century and when my father did it before I was born in the 1950s. But I'm also proud of my father's maternal line; that my great great grandfather donned that blue uniform to defeat the racist Confederacy.

I am deeply persuaded by Dr. King's profound notion that the long and difficult path of non-violence was the way to respond to the violence of racism in such a way as to transform and transcend a social relationship not just suppress or repress it. But I am also deeply persuaded by the righteousness of generations of anti-colonial revolutionaries who were drawn to armed struggle in their path of liberation.

These are contradictions, and I think it was courageous of Obama to acknowledge that fundamental contest of justice and violence. But here's another contradiction: I think that U.S. military intervention anywhere in the world--with the debatable exception of the Second World War--is always and fundamentally wrong. And I think it was deeply disingenous of Obama to weave so slender a thread around the real story of the misery inflicted by the U.S. on so many nations and peoples around the world in pursuit of its own self-righteous agenda.

As someone living in New York City during the events of September 11, 2001, I could easily have been one of the people the Al-Qaeda hijackers were trying to kill. I think that the religious fundamentalists behind those criminal attacks needed to be brought to justice; not because they dared threaten the American way of life but because they chose to blame and kill a bunch of innocent people. In that sense I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the American destruction of the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11 if it's viewed as a mission to arrest criminals.

But it is the history of the crucible of those religious fundamentalists--Afghanistan--that shows the deadly chain reaction that belief in "a just war" causes. The "Just War" of the Soviets aiding the secular Afghan revolution; the "Just War" of the Mujahedeen expelling the foreign invaders; the "Just War" of the Taliban fighting the corrupt tribal Mujahedeen militias; the "Just War" of the US against the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda guests, and now, from someone else's perspective, the "Just War" of the Taliban again to expell new foreign invaders: where do these "Just Wars" end? How many regular people is it okay to kill to steer the wheels of history in a different direction?

Here's the thing. As long as people like Obama rationalize their seduction by war, all those good intentions mean nothing because in the end it comes down to parents on the wrong side of some arbitrary line on a map made to scream and weep inconsolably over the bloodied bodies of their children.

It took me many years to understand it, but John Lennon and Yoko Ono's famous Christmas Greeting is so deeply profound:

"WAR IS OVER! if you want it."

As long as the leaders of this world--both the ones in whom we've placed our aspirations for good, like Obama, and the ones we feared as pure corrupt evil, like Bush--look for the "moral justifications" in their use of bombs and tanks and drones and missiles and guns and mines and cluster bombs, then we, the regular people, will suffer. This world of violence is our choice...unless we stop wanting it; unless we're brave enough to listen to the likes of Dr. King without adding that terrible soul-corrupting word "but."

I'd like to choose peace.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Echoes of a past life: My Seven African Powers

I published a small edition of a hand-made booklet for friends and family in 1993. Entitled "My Seven African Powers" I published it under the Six of Swords Press imprint: it had a color xerox cover (a rarity back then) and illustrations that combined found objects, original photos, appropriated art scans, weird typography, and a series of poems and brief epigraphs I had written over a few years, tied together with a natural fiber ribbon cut from a grass skirt.

Like most of my writings, the poems covered both political and spiritual subjects, and were arranged to loosely correspond to the 22 trumps of the Tarot deck, starting with the The Fool. Some are doggerel, and some I'm very happy with. Several of the poems had their origins in Pagan rituals that explored expressing life experiences in a sacred manner. My Tarot teacher, Cayte Jablow, (also my co-leader of Queer Pagans and of our smaller private "coven") was working out an experiential three-dimensional study of the Tarot and of Aleister Crowley's version of the Qabbalah; her vision of personal intimacy with the images of the Tarot was a spiritual revelation to me that's all over this short booklet. The title and cover art are references to the syncretic "7 African Powers" prayer card of spiritualist/botanica-style Santeria: the Orishas of Yoruba religion are combined with iconographic Catholic saints in a way that manages to be both cartoonishly simple and a profound statement about the universality of spiritual experience.

Here are a few of the poems. Perhaps the omitted ones will make an appearance here later. With the benefit of many years hindsight, I've edited a couple of these. They're my poems; I'm entitled!


My Seven African Powers
by Ian Scott Horst
Six of Swords Press, 1993

How odd and wonderful it is that we each walk that path anew, and sometimes, when our feet land in stony fossil indentations, we say, "Aha!" thus remembering, until the glint of a golden sun blinds us to all but its shining presence.

Each moment is a crossroads--
there we dance
possibility and danger
promise and regret,
hope and forgetfulness.
There the past is not relived
nor the future predicted--
instead the sweaty brilliance
of the now is embraced
its dizzy terrifying vertigo
revealing steps,
in pattern yet unknown,
on solid earth and level grade,
that in their steady fall
guide each beating heart
to its content
(February 9993)

With heart of amber
And lens of amethyst
I reach for the mirror
Emerald fingers
Wrapped in silver
Rivers of hot indigo
Animating glassine flesh

Inner visioned eyes tilt
Balance fails...I shudder

And golden tongues, shimmering, dancing,
Change yearning to black dust

No longer reflected
But real.
(January 9993)

It begins like fever,
Wet hot skin heaving,
breath short quick, quivering.

The pulse-kindled flame that
Spreads outward
Engulf hips
Dizzies legs
Shuts eyes inward
Reaches, grasps at things that cool.

Transformed, I am one
With sad, inebriate madness
With visioned and welcomed fate.

Bitter tears tasted
Reveal edges felt,
And tested skin, like tight gloves
Stretched, regretfully confined
Now in this brief combustion
A delirious rhythm graces
Feet bare and feeling.

Beat-beat pause beat-beat.

My heart, wild and cruel,
lies throbbing on stone.
I grasp it.

One, in this red hot
Driven blur
Dancing fire that eats need
Gives birth to love.
(January 9993)

I hear electricity. The waves roll and bounce.
I see, as in a mirror, a chrome and plastic lie, blue-tinted.
I touch glass and metal, reading, brailled, not the thing but its ghost.
I breathe raspy, wet and shallow, acrid piss and vivisected flower.
I taste ash and thirst.

I dance in concrete fields. My legs break and snap. I sink into shimmering, rainbow-shining mire.

And shit and
blood and
bottles and
rinds and broken
things become my
sustenance. And my
arm, rising, is blackened, ashen.

As in a memory, I saw a circle.
What was taken, was given back.
What was given back, remained to be shared again.

The memory wrinkles.
The mirror splits and grates.
And the bloom turns to poison,
acid, bitter, sad.
And I am witness.
(Samhain 9992)

And suffered pains
And griefs give way
On the dawning of that day

These weary shoulders,
Their secret burdens released
No longer shrugged nor stooped
Now move in breath's
Steady rhythmed motions

For this journey shuffles
Mud-caked souls to the embrace
Of some remembered destination
And yields...

(Winter 9993)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Echoes of a past life: A Matter of Life and Death

This week's disappointing vote in New York State over marriage equality, and the resultant gloating by right-wing anti-gay forces like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), set me to look again in my files at an earlier age of activism. I found a flyer I wrote for the Revolutionary Socialist League in 1981. It was distributed at a memorial protest. I've also found my account of its distribution. This is from the internal "BULLETIN of the RSL National Office" Vol. 9, No. 7, Pt. 1, December 4, 1981:

"On Thursday, November 19, the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights (CLGR) sponsored a memorial service and candle-light march for the first anniversary of the shootings at the Ramrod last year. We drafted a leaflet for the events, and [me, Steve Rose, Albert Torres and Michael Botkin from Chicago--ish] attended for the League...The organizers of the Memorial Service kept insisting to us that the event was not political, therefore they didn't appreciate us passing out our leaflet, and we were forced to distribute it downstairs from the Gay Synagogue where it was being held. The main speakers for the service didn't show up, however, and those who did speak (mainly from the CLGR) again and again said 'This is a political issue.' During the march we were hassled by Steve Ault, Eleanore Cooper and Betty Santoro of the CLGR for being too political (we had two of our flags). At one point CLGR tried to force us out of the march, but their attempt was feeble and we stayed in. We said it was our right to mourn with red flags rather than candles if we chose. This 'non-political' march wound up marching to Mayor Koch's Village apartment for a pep-rally for the City Gay Rights Bill, which would be coming up in the City Council the next day..."

That makes me laugh: incompetent and dishonest activist leadership wasn't invented yesterday! Anyway the leaflet isn't signed by was an official RSL publication, but it's pretty clearly in my voice. It gives me great pause to see that in this completely pre-AIDS slice of ephemerata the issue of right-wing haters facing off with the gays remains front and center. But it also needs to be said that its fiery "fight-back" rhetoric, echoed today by a different generation of activists (albeit without the Leninist sheen) seems as generically well-intentioned as it is empty of specific actual prescription, and that doesn't seem to have changed. Today's gay community's frustration with President Obama's seemingly incomplete intentions conjures up for me this same kind of enraged powerlessness, but with the perspective of having seen it all before.

For all that hasn't changed, it should be said that a lot has. There weren't openly gay TV talk show hosts back then; no queer eyes for straight guys; heck the New York Times didn't even actually use the word "gay." I'm really pained that people would actually vote against the civil right of marriage for gays, but frankly, I don't feel all that oppressed. I mean, outside of the current economic crisis' terrifying and painful seige of my career and standard of living. There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world, but I feel free to kiss my boyfriend casually on the street without having to conjure up even the slightest bit of "fuck you if you don't like it." Maybe the world needs more revolutionaries like I was at the tender age of 23 when I wrote this, or maybe the world keeps on spinning whether or not we urge it on, eventually getting some things right.

There's a lot in this leaflet that makes me cringe. There's a painfully inept attempt at sarcasm; there's the trademark left-wing equation-building on questionably-generalized fear-mongering evidence of the inexorable efforts of the "system" to keep the "oppressed" down; there's the Leninist didacticism, even filtered through the RSL's attempt keep its message accessible. But anyway here's the text of the leaflet I wrote, it's certainly food for thought:


A Matter of Life and Death
by the Revolutionary Socialist League
undated (December 1981)

It's been one year since two gay men were machine-gunned to death in front of the Ramrod by a right-wing bigot. One year since Jiog [Jorg --ish]Wenz and Vernon Kroenig died simply because...they were gay, and happened to be in the wrong place (Christopher & West Street!) at the wrong time. Crumpley, the assassin, said at the time, "I want to kill them all. I'll kill them all, the gays. They're no good. They ruin everything." Crumpley was there at the wrong time too: he had planned to go on his spree on the weekend, when more gay people would be hanging out on the street where he could shoot them. But he was so impatient he couldn't wait for the weekend.

One year ago, the lesbian and gay community marched with candles and flowers. Tonight, the lesbian and gay community pays its respects and remembers its dead with candles and prayers. But these are not enough. Our lives are at stake here: our right to be open about who we are; our right to walk the streets, our right to live without fearing attack. The candles did not prevent the Nazis from visiting West Street last spring to celebrate. Candles will not prevent other deaths, other attacks. Unfortunately, Wenz and Kroenig were not the first gay people to die for being gay; and unfortunately, as long as we place our trust in candles, they will not be the last.

The fact us, all over the country oppressed people have been coming under attack. And while many lesbians and gay men may not feel oppressed -- after all they're not "sick" like transvestites, transsexuals, prostitutes or those into cross-generational sex -- those who hate us do not distinguish between us; we are all "perverts," and we all do not "deserve" to exist as we do. A year ago Black children were being murdered in Atlanta, Black people were being murdered in Buffalo, Klansmen were going on shooting sprees in many places throughout the country. This kind of racist violence continues, a year later. A year ago, Ronald Reagan had just been elected with the help of the Moral Majority, a force which believes it holds the supreme right to dictate how people live. A year later, the Moral Majority prospers under Reagan's government. The Moral Majority seeks to make biogotry respectable, and seeks to use its influence in government to make its views law. The Moral Majority also believes our lives are at stake here. Dean Wycoff of the Santa Clara California Moral Majority said, "I believe in capital punishment -- and I believe homosexuality is one of the things that could be coupled with murder and other sins." Anti-abortion legislation, the Family Protection Act, and other right-wing government lobbying efforts are just the beginning of what we can expect. The Moral Majority is only part of a general atmosphere in this country; when people begin to say they believe gay people should be killed, then we should hardly be surprised when people begin to act upon that belief.

What can we do to protect ourselves? Many in the lesbian and gay community (in New York, and elsewhere) believe that if only we can pass enough pro-gay legislation in government, then we will be creating safeguards and protection; that we can end discrimination and bigotry through "gay rights bills." Certainly it would be good if such bills were passed. But there is a problem. Murder is illegal in this country; but there are many this fact didn't help. The murderers of Harvey Milk, Jiog wenz and Vernon Kroenig didn't let that fact bother them (and in fact, both these murderers got off easy). The Klansmen who killed leftists in North Carolina two years ago didn't think twice about murder laws, and they got off scott-free. It is a safe bet that any law is only as effective as the ruling class, who enforces it, wants it to be. And since there's no way the ruling class can keep itself in power without racism and bigotry, those laws aren't going to do a hell of a lot of good. In order to survive, capitalism --the system in the U.S. today --need to keep the vast majority of the people divided against each other. Racism and bigotry are thus fundamentally ingrained into the way the system works.

Some people, including those of us in the Revolutionary Socialist League, believe we have another answer. We believe there is a way to protect our lives and our rights. We believe it's time to fight back.

Fighting back means building a movement that stands for the freedom of all those attacked by the system and the bigots who support it. Fighting back means uniting oppressed and working people around the cause of human liberation: lesbian and gay liberation, women's liberation, Black liberation; the liberation of Latino, Asian and other "ethnic minorities," the liberation of young people. Fighting back means organizing ourselves, making it clear that we, as the oppressed, are not to be messed with. Fighting back means militant struggle: both responding to government threats with shows of strength and showing willingness to defend ourselves against attacks from bigots. Fighting back means standing up for ourselves, fighting for what we need and not waiting for someone else to save us. And fighting back means overthrowing the capitalist system and replacing it with one that serves our needs and guarantees our freedom.

The closet that many of us left stands with its doors wide open, waiting for us to return. But it doesn't have to be that way. Nor do we have to pay for our openness with our lives. Even if we are forced back into the closet, the general social attack on the oppressed will not stop -- there are no closets for Black people and others. Sooner or later, when the right-wing bigots finish with the others on their hit list, they'll find us behind those closet doors. But by then it will be too late -- we will be divided and alienated from the other oppressed people, with whom, united, we could have resisted. It's time to fight back now -- it's a matter of life and death.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hatred rules the day in New York

Marriage equality was voted down in New York State yesterday. I watched at work as heroic senator after heroic senator gave incredibly moving testimonials about why marriage equality ("gay marriage") should be passed. Only one senator had the guts to speak against it. Yet in the end, it wasn't even close, 38 opposed and only 24 in favor.

Here is one of the amazing courageous voices:

But somehow speeches like this one weren't enough to touch the hardened hearts of an apparent majority of politicians who love their hatred more than their constituents.

So gay people are good enough to pay these senators' salaries. Good enough to pay disproportionately high amounts of taxes that go from relatively rich downstate areas to relieve the bankrupt and backwards upstate areas. But not not enough to get the same civil rights that straight people enjoy. Not a single republican voted for the measure, and 8 democrats also opposed it, mostly from Queens here in NYC. Our corrupt republican Mayor Bloomberg -- who was just reelected with a lot of gay support -- claims to support marriage equality but gives hundreds of thousands of his own dollars to upstate republicans who oppose it is fully culpable here.

I have no plans to get married; I'm not sure it's the best choice of goals as a community. But this hurts. Hatred rules the day once more.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

US Out of Afghanistan!

President Obama is wrong. The continuation of the war in Afghanistan will solve nothing. More people will die: if some of them are would-be "terrorists" more of them will be innocents. Irreplaceable innocents.

Afghanistan has a complicated recent history, proving nothing so much as the continued meddling of "great powers" outside their borders brings home a legacy of death and misery: both for those in the nations wrecked by the tracks of tanks and the stench of gunpowder and blood and for the citizenry of those in the "great powers" themselves faced with the backwash of terrorism and the threat of economic collapse.

The President was the first "peace" candidate to win his office campaigning against a war; and while it must be said Obama never pledged to withdraw from Afghanistan as he did from Iraq, he has clearly failed to follow through with that mandate of a war-weary American population.

The troops need to come home; all of them.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

World AIDS Day, 2009: Online Immortality?

December 1 is World AIDS Day.

The GLBT History Archive in conjunction with the Bay Area Reporter is launching an online obituary archive here, which should prove painfully fascinating, helping us remember those we have lost by giving them a presence online. I google my lost friends every now and then, wondering if they are granted online immortality.

I came up with these two links yesterday, though they're somewhat oblique. My friend Michael Botkin was my roommate in my last apartment in Chicago. We joined the RSL at about the same time, and he was dating Joe Galanti/Alongi, one of the leading members at the time. Michael's experience in the League ended badly: he seems to have been summarily drummed out of the group, whereas I sort of wandered away. Anyway, in the 1980s Michael went on to write for the ground breaking subversive journal Processed World, which covered the experience of working for a living in a newly computerized world from a truly human--and humane--perspective. Writing as "Kwazee Wabbit," Michael tied his experiences in the RSL to this brave new world, and the results are an entertaining read, albeit a sobering one.

Here's one article entitled "Progressive Pretensions" in which Michael documents the rude awakening of discovering that the good guys aren't always the good guys. Here's another called "The Art of the Purge" in which he tells the story of being purged from both the RSL and from an academic setting. His obituary from Poz Magazine is here; he died in 1996. Sadly I don't have a picture of Michael and wasn't able to find one online.

Most of us who are gay do not have children to carry on our stories. With so many lives cut so tragically short by the ravages of this disease, it becomes doubly important for those of us who have survived the past era to carry on their stories--the stories of our beloved friends--to the future. Always remember.

(If you haven't read my story of Steve Rose, today would be a good day to do so!)

Update: thanks to the above referenced database (which doesn't seem to work in Firefox), here's an excerpt from Michael's obit, with a photo. Thanks to the BAR & the internet.