Sunday, January 31, 2010

Maoist folk songs


If the idea of instrumental Maoist folk songs from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia floats your freak boat, check out my latest posting on my sister blog Ile Oxumare: "New Song of the Herdsmen: Solos on Traditional Chinese Instruments" from the early 1970s. Among the hit singles, "The People of Yenpien Love Chairman Mao" and "Little Heroes of the Grasslands." Best of all there's a download link.

More Nicaraguan Revolutionary Graffiti

Here are color photos of graffiti from my stay in Nicaragua in 1986. These were shot on slide film with an amazing, now lost, Pentax camera lent to me by my friend David France. All photos are by me.


From Masaya, "Obreros y Campesinos al Poder! Frente Obrero/MAPML" "Workers and Peasants to Power! Workers Front/MAPML" from the Maoist/Hoxhaite Movement for Popular Action Marxist-Leninist and its trade union group. The graffiti defaces other graffiti from the official FSLN women's group AMNLAE.


From Managua, a stencil depicting Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and VI Lenin, with the slogan "Trabajo Disciplina Organizacion Defensa de la Revolucion, "Work, Discipline, Organization (means) Defense of the Revolution." Though unsigned I'm guessing this is from the Communist Party of Nicaragua (PCdeN).


By a railroad track, another stencil from the PCdeN urging support of the Communist candidates in recent elections.


From Masaya, more graffiti left over from the height of the 1978-1979 revolution. "Ante la Guardia Golpista, Insurreccion Sandinista - FSLN GPP, "Before the Reactionary Guard, Sandinista Insurrection." Signed by the "Prolonged People's War" faction of the Sandinista Front, one of the three FSLN factions that united to successfully overthrow the dictator Somoza. The slogan is attacking the armed repression of Somoza's National Guard calling it reactionary (literally "coup-ist") for militarizing the dictatorship, and urging immediate uprising.


The factional struggle writ large: also from Masaya, opposing FSLN factional graffiti also from the 1978-1979 conflict. "Ante la represion militar, la unidad de todo el pueblo. FSLN Proletarica, "Before military repression, the unity of all the people." From the Proletarian faction of the Sandinistas; the implication vis the previous photo, urging political struggle against the dictatorship rather than an armed uprising.

Click on each photo to see it larger; and click on the "graffiti" or "Nicaragua" tag below to see more graffiti from 1986 Nicaragua.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Anti-American Art: Higher Math


Another modern North Korean poster: Uncle Sam's decidely effeminate hand whips out the tools of mass destruction, measuring how, exactly, to target Korea with a giant bomb labelled "USA."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Anti-American Art: Among My Souvenirs


Two pages from a full-color 1972 Chinese children's book. It's all in Chinese but it seems to be the story of a Vietnamese boy whose village comes to be occupied by American soldiers. Some of the soldiers get blown up by a mine, and the soldiers torture some of the village residents to try to find out who is responsible. They offer the boy candy and sodapop but he rejects their bribe to the cheers of the village. The pictures don't explain how he comes to be holding the American soldier's helmet as a souvenir. They must have given it to him, right?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Postscript: Miss Gay Matagalpa 2008!



Here's a postscipt to my piece on Nicaragua's gay life in 1986. This is a clip of the "Miss Gay Matagalpa 2008" pageant in Matagalpa, a regional center up in the mountains near Honduras. In 1986 this was a war zone and I was not able to visit there. Apparently, times have changed!

Echoes of a past life: Could it be Satan?


Recently the mayor of Moscow called a planned gay pride march "Satanic" and vowed to stop it. People throwing around the accusation of Satanism has always amused me: it's one of those superstitions that seems imprinted on people of modest faith and fundamentalists alike. Sadly, the accusation ends up causing a great deal of harm as the gullible find a powerful rallying cry to victimize people who might stray from some dominant societal norm.

Here's a piece I wrote (yeah, under a pseudonym) for a New York City pagan newsletter back in 1991. "Our Pagan Times" was the newsletter of New Moon New York, an open circle. I actually edited the monthly newsletter for a year, though this predates that time. New Moon was a great group: it was a good place to meet people at different levels of experience and involvement in Paganism. I learned a lot from those folks. Anyway this short piece has a fairly simplistic conclusion that I would say quite differently today. But the core point that the fundamentalists are displaying extreme hypocrisy is fair enough: it's a safe bet to say more children are abused by crazy fundamentalist parents trying to beat "the devil" out of them than by any so-called actual Satanist. I've done some very slight editing to this piece to fix some poor choices of words; blame any poor choice of ideas on my 1991 self.

Satanic Child Abuse and Intolerance
by Moonchild
from Our Pagan Times, Vol. 1 No. 8, October 1991


A dangerous bunch of fundamentalist Christians have been running around claiming to be "Satanic Cult Survivors." They even held an art show recently in SoHo, and have published a six-page resource entitled "identifying Characteristics of Satanic Cult Survivors." This document consists of long lists of associations that potentially reveal whether one might be a survivor of satanic cults and satanic incest without really remembering actual events. The document is actually hilariously funny, full of side-splitting suggestions such as "Strong reactions to babies' crying [suggests] Memories of hearing babies cry during sacrifices." And "Drink[ing] large quantities of water, soda...gives the impression of washing away the taste of human flesh. Cannibalism is a necessary part of cult rituals...Many survivors become vegetarians."

But this type of ridiculousness and similar efforts on the part of similar folks are not always a laughing matter.

I suppose it should be said here, for the record, yet again, that Witchcraft, Paganism, Wicca, are not Satanism. To be a Satanist, that is, to invert the icons of Christianity, one must first be a Christian. We are not Christians; we are not interested in dualities of good and evil and we are certainly not interested in chanting the Lord's prayer backwards.

Are there Satanists? Sure. They fall into several sometimes overlapping groups. First, there are a handful of creepy individuals fascinated by the dark side of the occult, and fascinated by their own alienation from society. I'm sure you can go to The Magickal Childe [an occult bookstore in NYC--ish] to meet them. But they commit no mass murders, and control no secret strings behind the scenes of society. They choose dark spiritual imagery because it is "forbidden," because it seems to give them power they don't find in reality.

Then there are the heavy metal teens. Pimples, parental alienation, lack of hope for the future, and bad music are enough to drive anyone to Satan! But seriously, they're not serious, and only hurting themselves slightly more than if they took up the J.D. hobbies of the past like smoking in school bathrooms and crashing parties at the gym.

Then there are the mentally unbalanced. This society is a very difficult one to live in. Our big cities, New York especially, are full of too much hostile, negative energy. Insanity and madness are rampant here: they are a product of our self-destructive society. I suspect most of those who think they are the survivors of Satanic cult abuse fall into this category. They've been badly hurt -- by living in an alienating society, and maybe even occasionally by actual incest and abuse -- and need some healing. They have found what appears to them as healing in the delusions of the biggest group of Satanists of all, and the most dangerous.

That group is Christian fundamentalists themselves.

We, as Pagans, know it is possible to manifest reality through focused energy raising and visualization. Now, the fundamentalists have raised tremendous energy and constantly visualize the this image of an evil god called Satan and his vengeful "good" god Jehovah. What are they manifesting?

The increasing racial violence, the threat to abortion rights, the violence against lesbians and gays, the violence to the environment. The rolling back of the social revolution of the '60s and '70s. These are the manifestations of Christian fundamentalism. These hateful, intolerant bigots are, through their religious practices, manifesting the evil that they cleaim to be crusading against. And mind you, they turn around and claim that we Pagans are the same as Satanists.

Goddess bless, we know the world as a diferent place than they do. We have a lot of healing to do.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The savagery of white people


Apropos of the opinion of current American pundits on Haiti and the dark destiny these enlightened thinkers suggest it has brought on itself, I found this short book review from the New York Times of a mere 100 years ago:

"While the negro of our Southern States has been exploited almost ad nauseum in story and in song, his brother of the West Indian Islands awaits an interpreter. In 'The Story of Quamin' Mrs. May Harvey Drummond essays this office, furnishing an interesting explanatory preface to the nine tales which make up her volume. There is internal evidence that she is accurate in the presentation of her subject, but she lacks the art that made Uncle Remus take instant and strong hold even upon those to whom his race is a sealed book....the closing paragraph of her preface furnishes, however, food for thought: 'As a rule, the Jamaican negroes are much better behaved than their brethren in the United States, and outrages such as lynching and burning at the stake are unheard of in Jamaica for the reason that the crimes leading to these methods of punshment never occur in the British West Indies: in fact the negroes of these islands know that the British law recgnizes no difference between the Gorvernor himself and the humblest black man, and this knowledge makes them not only law-abiding citizens, but loyal subjects of the British Crown." (September 3, 1911)


So David Brooks is in grand tradition in his twisted racist logic.

21, La Mano


I love the Mexican "Loteria" cards. It's kind of a bingo game played with cards that look like a simplified modern tarot deck. The images are archetypically powerful to me. Funny to imagine a bingo game where the winner wins cosmic fortune. I wonder what it would be like to play poker with tarot cards?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Which side are you on?

Blogger Transracial crucifies the current misleaders of the gay community in a scathing essay in the aftermath of the Republican senate win in Massachusetts:

"That Brown won should have come of little surprise to these LGBT “leaders” or their devoted fan base. After all, Spaulding, Queerty, Mixner and Co. practically cheer-led the former Cosmo-hunk to this critical triumph. Having officially turned on their president, these netrooters have conceded the greater good for their own shortsighted image-inflating. Well aware of the monumental consequences of a Republican win, Gay-stream media nevertheless continued their Dem-dissing and Obama-bashing with little concern for its election-day implications....The sobering truth is that the real enemies of LGBT Americans is actually their useless leadership — if they may be called that. Their uselessness is as vast as it is dangerous: Devoid of any real and realistic political platform. Corrupted by an unfortunate (and unprecedented) conflation of technology and ideology. Desperate in their embrace of short-term allies with little concern for long-term benefit (Cindy McCain, Ted Olsen — come on!). Unrepentantly racist and race-bating on the White side; complicit, silent and homo Tom-like on the Black. Steeped in anger whilst mired by impotence. And shamelessly borrowing from earlier civil rights movements with zero respect or understanding of what they were truly about."


The whole essay is thought-provoking, especially as we confront a revitalized right wing. This is not, ultimately, about Obama, it's about the war between progress and reaction in this country: the outcome of which is far from foretold. While I have pretty serious disagreements with much of this guy's blog, I give him credit for this challenging critique.

How to peel a squirrel



From Irma Rombauer's original "Joy of Cooking" cookbook. "Gray squirrels are the preferred ones; red squirrels are small and quite gamey in flavor. There are, proverbially, many ways to skin a squirrel, but some hunters claim the following one is the quickest and cleanest. It needs a sharp knife...Season the gravy with walnut catsup and serve with polenta."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"We send doctors, not soldiers!" --Fidel Castro

Clarity from Fidel Castro about humanitarian relief in Haiti:

"Hour after hour, day and night, the Cuban health professionals have started to work nonstop in the few facilities that were able to stand, in tents, and out in the parks or open-air spaces, since the population feared new aftershocks...Cuba will firmly stand by the opinion that the tragedy that has taken place in Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, is a challenge to the richest and more powerful countries of the world...Haiti is a net product of the colonial, capitalist and imperialist system imposed on the world. Haiti’s slavery and subsequent poverty were imposed from abroad...In the midst of the Haitian tragedy, without anybody knowing how and why, thousands of US marines, 82nd Airborne Division troops and other military forces have occupied Haiti. Worse still is the fact that neither the United Nations Organization nor the US government have offered an explanation to the world’s public opinion about this relocation of troops...Our country is accomplishing a strictly humanitarian mission. To the extent of its possibilities, it will contribute the human and material resources at its disposal. The will of our people, who takes pride in its medical doctors and cooperation workers who provide vital services, is huge, and will rise to the occasion...We send doctors, not soldiers!"


Fidel Castro Ruz
January 23, 2010

I don't know their names but I know what happened to them



I visited Berlin in 1994, where I took these photos. In a picturesque suburb is the site of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, operated by the Nazis from the 1930s until its liberation shortly before the war's end in 1945. Sachsenhausen was a small camp: It held high-profile political prisoners like German Communist leader Ernest Thallmann and other members of the opposition, as well as random other people criminalized by the Nazi regime, including many many gay people. There were many executions there, and deaths by starvation, overwork and cruelty; the majority of inmates there were murdered by a forced evacuation out of the camp in advance of the approaching Soviet Red Army. Which is to say unlike the camps further east, it was not really an extermination factory, per se, just an unspeakably monstrous cog in the machine of Nazi repression.


"Killed and Silenced, the homosexual victims of Nazi persecution" reads this memorial plaque.


It was a beautiful late autumn day when I went there: the air was damp and thick with the smell of rotting leaves and woodsmoke. The once electrified barbed-wire fences still standing testament and giving a lie to a chilly, tranquil suburban afternoon.

It's good to see such places where awful things happened. The evil of these places is not announced like Mt. Doom in "The Lord of the Rings": Sachsenhausen is not surrounded by lava pits, flames and flying monsters but by the same mundane residential neighborhood that surrounded it only 65 years ago when some very bad regular people were in charge and some other regular people looked the other way.

I know this is all very Godwin's law of me, but it behooves us to ponder how these terrible things happened before. The freedom and relative legal equality enjoyed by gay people today in Europe and America owes a debt to those pink-triangle-wearing heroes who suffered under the Nazis. The teabagger lynch mobs in today's America who puff themselves up in defense of "traditional marriage" and in opposition to the extension of certain civil rights to gay citizens are reaching into the same arsenal of hatreds as those who have been defeated before. Let us resolve to defeat them again before they're telling us once more that "Work makes you free."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A little bit of (un)friendly advice


From the Chinese magazine "Evergreen" August 1965.

"The [Korean and Vietnamese people] have proved the fact that the U.S. is merely a paper tiger, mighty in appearance but feeble in reality, and which bullies the weak and fears the strong. Such a paper tiger can certainly be defeated.... We must hate, despise and look down upon U.S. imperialim still further."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Echoes of a past life: Gay Libre / Patria Libre


I wrote this article when I returned from my 1986 stay in Managua, Nicaragua. I didn't consider myself a journalist, though I loved to write. I went to Nicaragua with aspiring journalists -- a writer and a photographer -- who were intending to earn some credibility by gaining real independent experience in a war zone. I learned a lot from my friends, and since I had no responsibilities or real aspirations for my trip, I had a lot of time to observe and to practice. They both taught me a lot about writing and photography, and I wrote this article to sum up a lot of my experiences. I remember trying to get it printed on my return; I still have several copies left over from duplicated manuscripts I sent out. But nobody bit, and it lay in a folder for more years than I care to count; in truth I forgot about this piece. Having rediscovered it looking for things to post on The Cahokian, I'm very proud to present it. Thank God for the mass publishing democracy of the blogosphere, or something. There's a lot of water under this bridge, but this is, I think, a pretty compelling snapshot of its moment.

I must add a kind of apocryphal coda to this story. When I was in Nicaragua I spent a lot of time trying to meet gays there: I met a few, reported herein, and met a number of gay foreigners as well. After the appearance of the "Gay Libre" graffiti the people I met were abuzz with wonder at who was responsible. My friends and I thought it might be cool to hold an actual open meeting to discuss gay life in Nicaragua. I was supposed to rent a room at, if I recall, a college. We started to spread the word about the meeting. Well, to my embarrassment having had no responsibility for several months I completely flaked out on actually renting this room. When the day for the meeting came my friends eyed me with complete and utter disbelief that I could do something so bizarre as not actually follow through with my part of the plan. I remember we waited out front for a while, my friends glaring at me deservedly. Well nobody showed. Or so we thought. We later heard a story that I've never been able to actually verify that a few gay Nicaraguans actually did show up tardily for this meeting after we had gone. In their frustration at the ridiculous foreigners they wound up talking to each other and eventually formed the first gay organization in Nicaragua. Whether or not that's fanciful speculation, gay Nicaraguans held their first political march in 1989 and homosexuality was completely decriminalized there a couple years ago.

The photography included here is all by me, from that long ago 1986 (click on 'em to see them bigger!). I include the byline I submitted this under, yet another pen name as I attempted to merge reputations.

----



Gay Libre / Patria Libre:
Gay People in Nicaragua
by Ian Daniels Horst


The clock on the huge Spanish-colonial cathedral is stopped a few minutes after midnight, the time over 14 years ago [this was written in 1986--ish], in 1972, that the city around it crumbled under the force of a Richter 7 earthquake. The roof is gone; the murals of Jesus and Christian saints peeling, exposed to the weather. Huge cracks line the walls; rain pools on the once marble-covered floor, feeding the shrubs and grass that creep toward the altar. Its basement reeks of shit, and bats glide and screech in its dark recesses. On the second story, reached by carefully climbing a flight of rusty, garbage-strewn stairs, an 18-year-old boy dressed in mismatched rag-tag live green fatigues bends to caress the sun-browned face of his high-school-aged male lover. The city is Managua, seven years after the victory of the FSLN, the Sandinista Front for National Liberation.

***

Despite its Howard Beaches and Alfonse D'Amatos, New York City remains a bastion for progressive causes. Well, what pass for progressive causes in the 1980s, anyway. It is home to all stripes of liberals and do-gooders, even a few remaining hardcore radical leftists. And of course, it is home to one of the largest gay communities in the United States. And while it would be at least naive to suggest that New York's progressives and gay people are a model for hegemonic unity and shared concern, both groups benefit from the presence of the other and help make New York the kind of place it is. So it was with delicious irony I purchased my copy of the Daily News a month before I left for Nicaragua. The headline, "Gays, Yes; Contras, No" was perfect. A chance coincidence -- the passing of New York's gay civil rights ordinance and defeat of contra fundings in the House resulted in one of those rare front pages you have the urge to paste on cardboard and tack to a stick to parade around the street with. [The contras were the armed rightwing anti-Sandinista rebels backed by the CIA.--ish].

Yet New York's progressives are perhaps a bit blinded by neat dichotomies. As if responding to the party line of some monolithic progressive central headquarters, the simple paradigms like "Gays, yes; Contras, no" come fast and easy. Homeless people, yes; apartheid no; peace, yes; racism, no. But does the world conform to such a lovely clear image of good and evil? What happens when the good guys on the list commit the bad things on the list? Most progressives don't think about such foundation-shaking dilemmas too much.

What is it like, then, to be gay in Nicaragua? Is it the blissful simplicity borne out by "Gays, yes; Contras, No" or is there a dark lining of another Cuba where 20 years down the road to "socialism and the new man" gay people were willing to risk everything for a chance to leave for the haven of seedy nightclubs in Miami or New York? As both a radical and a gay man, these were top among my questions as I prepared to spend a summer of a lifetime away from New York, in Nicaragua.

While parts of Nicaragua are beautiful indeed, the capital, Managua, is most certainly not. The earthquake that killed some twenty thousand people and levelled the center of the city has left its mark of foreverness on Managua. There is no downtown; the old center of town is today a rambling wasteland of empty lots where lizards scurry and frogs croak at night and where squatters build tin and cardboard and plastic bag shacks, and of empty shells of multi-story buildings and smart boutiques that today house large families without running water or electricity or perhaps a roof or a wall or two. Years of pre-revolution corruption and post-revolution poverty have left Managua at the mercy of time; the money for rebuilding simply doesn't exist.

Instead Managua is sprawling; stores operate out of private homes or pre-fab shopping centers and malls that look like they're transplanted straight from some U.S. suburb. A third of the stores in such places are closed and dusty, and another third lack the stock to sell. There are something like five buildings in operable condition with more than three storeys. You can drive down streets with regular sidewalks and paved roads and beautiful tropical-style houses to look down the side streets and see an abrupt ending of brick and pavement and road and the beginning of rutted dirt paths and dusty shacks and broken banana trees and pigs and chickens and cows. Naked children with dusty brown skin and some with swollen bellies and sun-bleached hair play in these neighborhoods; sometimes clothed in tattered shorts they wander to other parts of town and fight with dogs over scraps of food left by patrons of some street-corner food vendor.

The open air markets are filled with women of all ages hawking fruit drinks or tortillas or vigoron, a fast-food dish of fried pork skin and yucca. The North Highway is lined with the still-functioning remnants of an earlier time: the huge Coca-Cola bottling plant, the half-empty Datsun dealership, the textile factories that churn out Nicaragua's polyester clothes. There too is the now-closed office of the right-wing daily paper, La Prensa.

And everywhere there is the graffiti of the revolution and the counter-revolution and the ultra-revolution: Sandinista red and black painted on doors and walls; calls by the Communists and Socialists for democracy, calls by the rightists for an end to communism, calls by the Maoists for an end to the rightists; calls by most everybody not to let the Yankee pass. No pasaran, they say. On these walls and fences, scrawled in chalk or neatly stenciled in fading paint, "Yankee Imperialism" is called the son of a whore, Nicaraguan children are exhorted to defend their homeland with their lives, and neighborhoods bravely declare their intent to defend each corner and each house from Yankee attack.

There are the occasional bomb shelters and trenches dug out of empty lots near schools and houses. And the stone markers in every neighborhood marking the spot where some young hero or heroine was murdered by the National Guard before the triumph of the Sandinistas.

Managua is a haunting place; a place where the average age of people on the street looks to be about 22; where the average age of the many girls and boys laughing and joking and wearing olive green and carrying AK-47 automatic rifles seems to be about 17. It's a place where the slavery of women is nearly complete -- washing their family's clothes in stone sinks, trudging through dirty markets to haggle down the price of fruit and vegetables to pick and harvest and cook to sell to supplement the men's barely living wage. Amidst all this harsh retrograde reality for women, female soldiers are a common sight.



Managua is a place where people in a crowd can sing their national anthem perfectly in unison and in key without a leader yet without a hint of open emotion; and where a popular song about the FSLN's martyred leader Carlos Fonseca Amador makes people stand and cry; where elementary school children go to demonstrations laughing and chanting, "Here and there, the Yankees shall die." It's a city where the militia trains polyester-clad housewives and designer-jean clad youths alike to lie in the dirt and fire an American-made semi-automatic rifle; where schoolchildren whistle "the Internationale" and washer women marvel over the quality of Polish and Czech detergent and housewives wonder at how to read the labels of canned food from China and Bulgaria. Yet ketchup and mustard are as popular as hot sauce, and Madonna and Tina Turner -- and oh that "Tarzan Boy" from Italian popster Baltimora -- win far out more popularity than a snappy pop singer from Cuba who sings happily about dying in the middle of the road with his gun.

To be sure, Managua is not all of Nicaragua: the countryside is full of crops and vegetation and life, threatened only by centuries-old poverty and by a five-year-old war bought and paid for by that rich nation far to the north, the United States. There are other cities in Nicaragua that would look at home in the alps or on the riviera, and beaches and volcanoes that rival anything the South Pacific has to offer. There are beautiful old Spanish cathedrals and tranquil old parks with a damp and ancient mustiness and amazing wildlife one might see elsewhere only in National Geographic. Yet in each major city there is a section of town with ruined buildings destroyed in the bloody struggle for power in 1978 and 1979.

People in Nicaragua are friendly and patient. Conversations between Nicaraguans and foreigners are easily started, and always rewarding. People will tell you all kinds of things: how much they like the revolution, how much they hate it. People will complain, and brag. There are few beggars, and lots of pride. There is little hostility; the difference between a mere gringo and a Yankee is clear in people's minds and attitudes. Which is not to say that in Nicaragua you can forget that the U.S. and Nicaragua are at war.

While I was in Nicaragua scarcely a week went by without the papers reporting the deaths of women and children in contra attacks. Large portions of the north and east of the country are military zones where the Sandinista People's Army pursues contra units in a never-ending chase. People I talked to more often than not reported on the death of some brother, grandmother, or other loved one at the indiscriminate hands of the rebels. Whatever it is that Nicaraguans want, war is one thing they have all had enough of.

One of the easiest places to meet and talk to Nicaraguans is by the Plaza of the Revolution in front of the ruined cathedral, in the park surrounding the tomb of Carlos Fonseca Amador, the principle founder of the FSLN, killed in 1976. As I sat escaping the heavy tropical sun in the park's rotunda, a 15-year-old boy approached me and asked me where I was from. We discussed the quality of our respective shoes, and of cheap, filterless Nicaraguan cigarettes versus the costly filtered ones imported from El Salvador and the United States.

Nearing draft age, he expressed his fear of military service. "It's two years of life or death; good luck you live, bad luck you die," he told me. As conversations in Nicaragua often seemed to do, we moved from the topics of imported goods and war to sex when he began to point out to me various people sitting around the park. He told me they were cochones, using the Nicaraguan word roughly equivalent to "faggots." As two of these cochones got up to leave the park, he told me they were going off to fuck and give each other sida.

Sida, I asked? "Sindroma de inmuno-deficiencia adquirida," he told me. SIDA. AIDS.

It's a funny thing about Nicaragua. There hasn't been a single recorded case of AIDS in the country, and practically every day a news brief about the disease appeared in either Barricada or Nuevo Diario, the two government dailies. There isn't a case of AIDS in the country and still a 15-year-old knows the full scientific name. Well, there's no AIDS in Nicaragua, but there certainly are gay people.

The Parque Central, in fact. turns out to be one of the main gay social spots in Managua. In a country where a single shack or house might be home for several generations of a single family, there is no privacy. There are no exclusively gay bars or restaurants in Nicaragua; and certainly no Gay Bankers Groups or gay choruses or gay brunch buddies. While certainly there is cruising for sex in the park (and not all of it gay), it serves far more as a place to go in the late afternoons to meet your gay friends and hang out. Such parks tend to have a similar magnetism, in fact, for gays all over the country; within ten minutes in the southern Nicaraguan town of Rivas I discovered a similar park with similar goings-on in front of one of the main churches.


[Photo of a transvestite dancer in Masaya.--ish]

When gay people come to the parque, they come prepared to dish. Mostly youths under twenty, they wear jeans or designer clothes purchased by a friend with access to the dollars-only diplomatic store. They'll swish through the park to the steps of the rotunda or to the benches under the statue of Nicaragua's national poet, Ruben Dario. They dance and gossip in the best traditions of their "sisters" in New york at Christopher and West Streets.

All the paradoxes and seeming contradictions of Nicaragua under the revolution duplicate themselves in this microcosm of gay life. One guy I met came over and talked to me with one of his boyfriends. The boyfriend looked unnervingly like Lilly Tomlin. They had just left the company of another guy, now engrossed in a book which I could see to be a Soviet collection of essays by Lenin. Anyway, Adolfo announced to me that more than anyone else, he admired Boy George. We discussed the appearance in Nuevo Diario of an article which said that Boy George was a heroin addict and had only eight weeks to live. Adolfo rolled his head back and hissed at me through the side of his mouth. "Es una mentira!" It's a lie!

But while all this place takes place right out in the open amidst mothers dragging their two-year-olds along by the wrist and clerks rushing home from work in the nearby National Palace, there is a tension. As Managua filled with foreign dignitaries and tourists for the revolution's seventh anniversary celebration, some officials of the MINT, the Ministry of the Interior, began to complain that the presence of queeny young gays in the park was a desecration and disrespect toward the remains of Carlos Fonseca lying nearby. In early July a beefed-up police and army presence in the park and plaza effectively -- though surely temporarily -- discouraged the gay presence in the park, and definitely halted gay people from using the ruins of the cathedral for sexual liaisons.

Not all gay people in Nicaragua I talked to disapproved of the MINT's complains. The martyred heroes of the revolution are near saints in Sandinista iconography. Naturally those gays who actively sympathize with the Sandinistas share the reverence for the fallen. An 18-year-old shop clerk introduced to me by Adolfo spoke disparagingly of his felow gays who had no respect for places like Fonseca's tomb. In the same tones with which a young effeminate gay man in New York might "read someone's beads," he denounced those gays who would loudly carry on in the shadow of one of Nicaragua's greatest heroes. "Son vulgares," he said. They are vulgar.

The phrase vulgar gets a lot of use in Nicaragua. It is used constantly -- and not just by gay people -- to refer to a kind of Nicaraguan underclass. It refers to the poorest layers of soecty; those who eek out a living from their homes in the ruins selling sodas dispensed into baggies or trading on the black market. Los vulgares, the vulgar ones, are those people who the Sandinistas have not managed to reach in seven year of the revolutionary process. They are the people who by and large do not see the revolution as their own: who watch in bewilderment as the political storm rages past them, offering few concrete solutions to their poverty and disempowerment. To many gay people, those fellow gays who spend their afternoons in the parque central or climb through the ruined office buildings cruising for sex are vulgar. They are defined outside of the revolutionary process, and looked down upon.

Tony, at age 19, is already a veteran of service in the army. He lives with his family in one of the poorest sections of Managua, occasionally helping his father cart and sell soda. He doesn't think too much of the revolution, and one of his most often repeated phrases is, "Antes, cuando Somoza..." Before, under Somoza, the lake was so clean you could swim in it. Before, under Somoza, you could buy good clothes. Before, under Somoza, life was beautiful. Too young to really discern which of these fantastical notions embody reality, he's watched close friends killed and seen his life and that of his family grow no easier. He is one of the vulgares.

Arrested by the police for having sex with another man in one of the ruins, he spent days in jail without being able to contact friends or family. Until his release his family was frantic. What had happened to him? Had he been kidnapped by the contras? Killed? Arrested? After a few days he was released and told never, never to go to the park again. Afterwards, even a block or two away he begins looking nervously around him for fear of being spotted by the same police officers. If asked, Tony will say he was arrested for being gay; that being gay is illegal in Nicaragua.

Walter, however, is also gay. He comes from a better-off family and participates in Sandinista youth activities, and attends college where he learns political history. Walter says it's perfectly legal to be gay in Nicaragua. When told of what happened to Tony, he denies that such a thing could happen. When told of who Tony is, he says, as if it explained everything, "He's vulgar, then." Walter denies hanging out in the Plaza. Instead,he recommends Lobo Jack, a disco in a shopping mall on the outskirts of town called Ciudad Plastica, plastic city.

Lobo Jack is a whole other world from the Plaza and its park. With a cover charge that might be Tony's family's food budget for a week, it's filled with well-dressed young people. It doesn't look like a gay bar. The dance floor is crowded with male-female couples dancing to a tape of alternating North American disco and Latin American salsa. Amidst this crowd of seeming heterosexuals, though, Walter can point out half of a couple here and there saying, "He's gay; I think she is too." At which point Walter goes off to dance with a Sandinista army reservist called Martha, also gay.

There are no red-and-black banners inside Lobo Jack. While some of its patrons are, like Walter and Martha, involved in the revolution, most are what are called "chicos or chicas plasticas." Plastic boys. Plastic girls. They're the children of Managua's very quiet but hardly disappeared upper and middle classes. They come from nice houses. They hang out at Lobo Jack, go to Managua's MacDonald's (yes, there is one), and used to bowl at Bolerama before it closed down; all in Plastic City. One gets the impression that those gay young men and women who hang out in Plastic City are waiting patiently for the storm to pass them by. They're not vulgar, but neither are they Sandinistas.

If gay people in Nicaragua have differing consciousness about the revolutionary process, so do they have different ideas about themselves.


["Soy mujer!" said this man. --ish]

One day as I was walking with two North American friends through the ruins of the old center of Managua, we were greeted by a man sitting on a stoop. He appeared to be in his late twenties, sitting, if not posing, with his legs crossed daintily. He threw out his chest and gestured flamboyantly through the air. "Soy mujer!" he declared, "I am a woman! I am Nicaraguan women! I am women everywhere! I am fabulous; take a picture of me with my bags!" He gathered his bags -- bags that would make a New York bag-lady proud -- and strutted down the street alongside us. An elderly Nicaraguan couple standing in the doorway behind him smiled and laughed; yet, they did not smile and laugh at him. It was if we all shared a great big joke. Here was a man openly and radically effeminate; secure enough with himself and his place in life to act out comfortably in the presence of his neighbors.

I met Ramon sitting on a bench in the plaza. He worked in a large auto repair company, and drove a motorcycle. Yes, he liked to have sex with other men. And while he didn't currently have a girlfriend, he liked to have sex with women too. One day in fact, he looked forward to getting married and having a family. When Ramon visited the Plaza he walked through quickly; he didn't stop to chat with friends, and certainly never sat on the steps of the park's rotunda, cruising the eyes of passers-by. Did he consider himself gay? No. Did he like gays? Of course. What other men would he sleep with?

A friend of Tony's explained it to me. Nicaraguan males who consider themselves "gay" or "cochones" almost by definition take the passive role in gay sexual relations. They do not consider themselves to be fully hombres, or men. Hombres, sometimes called machos, are those who take the active role. Rarely do "gays" have sex with each other. And if they do, never, never do the roles become interchangeable. It is the gays (and the word "gay" is often used in Nicaragua) who are free to act -- as circumstances permit, of course -- effeminate. It is the gays who make themselves visible.

Tico Tico is a bar in a working-clss section of Managua apparently untouched by the '72 quake. Having heard it was a gay bar, we went one evening to check it out. Open air like most bars and restaurants in the city, it consisted of a bar and a few tables. Drinking at a bar were a few big, burly and very rowdy drunks. A youngish, intellectual-looking guy sat a table in the corner. The atmosphere was not friendly, and we left -- in horror, actually -- sure our information was wrong. And though many gay people I talked to had not heard of the place, several assured us it was indeed a gay bar. Which did not mean the drunken rowdies were gay: but it meant that a gay person, if he were lucky, might possibly go there to find a suitable hombre. Frankly I had to admire the bravery of some Nicaraguan gays.

One of the first questions I was asked by many of the Nicaraguan gays was whether I was activo or pasivo. As if before they could relate to me they needed to categorize me, to put me in the right box. And the question was not meant to be a sexual advance; it was simply vital information needed to establish what form our interaction might take. Gays could talk freely with each other; could gossip or talk clothes or talk about past sexual success stories. But when a gay talks to an hombre, the gay begins to defer, to entertain, or to seduce.

What then, about gay women? It must be said that if gay men are visible in Nicaragua, at least to the experienced gay male eye, lesbians are largely not. Certainly there are some very butch women serving in the Sandinista armed forces. We repeatedly asked gay men we met if they had gay women friends. Though many did, all seemed reluctant to get involved in making any introductions. None of the visiting North American lesbians I met had much more success than I in breaking the ice. Very few Nicaraguans remain single past their teens. Marriages, and sometimes marriage-like relationships, are often an economic necessity of survival. If the effect of this on a gay male subcultuer is serious, its effect on a lesbian subculture is profound. What goes on between the incredibly overworked wives and mothers of Nicaragua is simply not possible for a foreigner -- especially a male one -- to intrude upon.

What the future holds for Nicaragua's gay people is an open question. It is widely assumed that two members of the ruling Sandinista directorate are themselves gay: Jaime Wheelock Roman, Minister of Agriculture and once leader of one of the FSLN's more traditional leftwing factions, and Dora Maria Tellez, Minister of Health. This, if true, is surely a tempering factor for the policies of the Sandinista Front. And to be sure, at least, the Sandinistas have issued no direct condemnations nor set up detention camps as did their mentors in Cuba. For many of Nicaragua's gays the hope of the Sandinista revolution is still their own.

Even those gay people unhappy with the poverty and severity of life in a beseiged Nicaragua must know that the contras and their U.S. sponsors offer a poor alternative. The U.S. isn't offering to share its Christopher Streets but rather exert its iron fist of domination over its unruly backyard neighbor. The fate of gays in the U.S.-sponsored dictatorships of Latin America has not been a pretty one; and such a dictatorship is surely all the contras might establish.

***

To visit Nicaragua is to be struck immediately by the graffiti. It demands attention; an ever-present backdrop urging the taking of sides, the sharing of ideas, and the concept -- from many different points of view -- that Nicaraguans must become brothers and sisters in arms.

Gay people have added their voice to the din. The interiors of Managua's ruined churches and skyscrapers are scrawled with crude and elaborate sketches of cocks and asses and vivid images of gay fornication: the realities of gay life. And in June of 1986, on the wall of a military base along one of Managua's main modernized roadways, the Avenida Simon Bolivar, appeared a slogan in fiery fluourescent orange. It read: "GAY LIBRE," gay freedom, the hope of all gay life.

Shortly thereafter as Managua cleaned itself up for the revolution's anniversary celebration, Gay Libre was carefully painted over in brilliant red to read "Patria LIBRE," or "Free Fatherland," one of the official slogans of the revolution. Yet the orange paint peers through; sharing, even though obscured, a cry for hope and justice, and felt from the very soul.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Anti-American Art: Brawn vs. Naval Blockade


This Soviet poster dates back to 1956, to the blockade of Port Said, Egypt, during the 1956 Egypt-Israeli war. Here the enemy is the navy of the US and the UK; and the hero is a muscled rifle-bearing bedouin. My Russian is rusty but it says something like "Stop the Aggressors!" Interesting to me that this piece of propaganda from the height of the cold war is purely nationalist in its appeal: no workers or red banners this time.

Oh yeah, and you can get this one on a tee-shirt or mug!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Could'a Would'a and Should'a


I found this. On the subway I think. Years ago. Words from an anonymous poet/crazy person. It's hand-written on the back of a Harlem restaurant flyer.

Could'a
Would'a
and Should'a

No one ever stops to think
That maybe their timing was right
Being any place else could'a been
In the path of a speeden car
So feel lucky where

You are

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Anti-American Art: Take THAT!


I don't know when this poster is from, but it's from North Korea: A steely-jawed muscled militiaman swings at a couple caricatured soldiers and shreds the US flag in the process. I'm guessing the second soldier in the goggles is meant to be Japanese. The cool resolve and determination of the hero with his vague look of disgust is classic.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Echoes of a past life: From Marxism to Paganism


This is my favorite painting in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's Bastien-LePage's 1879 painting of "Joan of Arc." If you're not familiar with it, click on the image here to see it bigger. Better yet go see it live, it's huge. It shows a plain and humble peasant girl stopped in her tracks by the force of the vision of the angel who has revealed her destiny. This painting speaks to me: the look on Joan's face, far from joyful awe, is inward-looking; a combination of resignation, realization, fascination and a trancelike determination. The angels (and there seem to be three of them) behind her are indistinct; you have a sense that were she to turn and face them they would disappear. I love this painting because it conveys something about the mysterious way that spirit guides our lives: sometimes we are called to change course, grabbing up a sword and obeying an irrational compulsion to see some inner calling through to its conclusion. It's all happening inside Joan there, which is just like how the most intense spiritual experiences really are: inside you're on fire and open to infinity; outwardly you're barely present.

I'm not an activist now: I take my stand and argue for what I believe mostly in the sphere of ideas, trying to live my own life by my own moral standings but waving no colored banners out in the street. I've become very spiritual, but I'm no longer any kind of priest or teacher: I'm happy with my inner connection to God and the spirits. Surround me with the bliss of good music and a cute boyfriend and a warm cat and enough salary to pay my mortgage and health insurance and I'm okay, for now, not being at the hub of some spiritual community. Despite what I thought 13 years ago when I became an initate in Santeria, olo Obatala, I'm so incredibly happy just to have that sense of spiritual connection and balance, I didn't need to become super-santero, I just needed to find something for myself.

Now there is lots of injustice in the world and times are hard. I count my daily blessings for hanging on, and I know that one day I may wake up and find myself called in yet another direction. But I've been through that before. That's how life unfolds.

Right now I'm a left-wing, spiritual, music-fanatic blogger trying to weave a whole out of disparate strands to communicate something about life in the early 21st century. Tomorrow, who knows.

The following is an article I wrote for a Pagan publication in the early 1990s. "Circle Network News" was having a discussion of Wiccan paths and origins, and I wrote this, and apparently failed to send it in. Hey, yes, it's yet another quaint pseudonym. What is it with me and those? Anyway, this essay probably dates from 1992 or 1993. I've edited it a bit and reworked one section. I rarely called myself a Wiccan--and never would now--but at the time I used the word for the benefit of my intended audience. It fills in some of the details of times when, you might say, angels stood over my shoulder and filled me with resignation, realization, fascination and a trancelike determination to take up some new sword.

------

From Marxism to Paganism:
Wicca as Revolutionary Path
by Moonchild


Paganism means diverse things to us. Not only do we work different paths and different traditions, but the paths that have led us here have been equally diverse, leaving us with radically different visions of our place as a religion in the mundane world.

I think I belong to a strange generation. I am of that generation of people raised in the shadow of the social upheavals of the Sixties but neither of it nor of the social acquiescence of the Reagan years. My formative years were the decade of the Seventies, a strange time of transition and development, a time that now seems to me as ancient as the medieval era.

When I arrived at college in 1976 I expected to be swept into the tide of student activism that was the subject of my dreams and nightmares since my early childhood. But that tide had recedded. I found, instead, a handful of leftist sects prowling the halls of the Student Center loking for freshmen like me who didn't know the sixties were over. Despite the sneers of my fellow students, I signed right up.

It wasn't like the sixties, but it did offer me a way of looking at the world, and a wayof what looked like standing on the side of justice and progressive change. My mom had left the Catholic church when I was very young, and I hadn't been raised with religion. God was of the same order, to my mind, as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy; although at least the latter two gave me presents. But I had been raised with a kind of social consciousness; at the age of nine I was among the younger campaign workers for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy in 1968. So seventies-style campus communism presented me with a worldview and a plan of action. I would be a professional revolutionary!

It was adventurous, in a way, to have Maoists chant "Icepick! Icepick!" at me, a Trot, as I passed them on the way to class. (For those of you not familiar with the Marxist pantheon, think of Stalin and Trotsky as the jealous children of the god Lenin -- an aspect of the triple god Marx-Engels-Lenin. When child-god Stalin had child-god Trotsky slain, the worshippers of Trotsky swore never to forgive him. When in turn the god Krushchev overturned the idols of god Stalin, the worshippers of god Mao attempted to restore the idols, and carried on an orthodox worship including the ritual sacrifice of Trotskyists. They used the sacre instrument that the agents of god Stalin used to spill the blood of demon Trotsky; an icepick! Got it?) It fell like real class struggle when I rose on Chicago's icy winter pre-dawn hours to sell leftist rags to steelworkers on their way in and our of the steel mills. And it was certainly thrilling to have dangerous car chases with neo-Nazis after brawling confrontations between sects of leftists and sects of rightists.

But it was all pretty irrelevant. The first thing I noticed was that as a growing-up person, some new things become important to me, biggest of all was my identity, and especialy my sexuality. When I realized I was gay and that that wasn't real compatible with the sect I belonged to, I shopped around for a new one, and after some false starts, settled into a group in which my gay and political identities could mesh.

I began to explore what it was like to live as a gay man in a heady time for gay men. It was the late '70s and the discos were full, and sex was plentiful, and AIDS was as yet unknown, and we were developing a synthesis of sexually and politically revolutionary theory and practice, and my friends and comrades were... still alive.

I moved to New York and became an actual professional revolutionary, earning my living art-directing for my leftist party. My salary was $500 a month plus all the subway slugs I wanted (which friends of the party clandestinely manufactured in the midwest. And I immersed myself in the gay political subculture.

Then several things happened. The group [the RSL--ish] I belonged to became heretical, casting aside dogmas like conquistadors smashing Aztec temples. Shortly before it dissolved it finally even cast out the triple god Marx-Engels-Lenin for the goddess Emma Goldman. Last time I saw one of my former comrades he was marching in some demonstration clad in a part-colored muumuu waving a plag pennant from a tall bamboo pole. The forced reexamination of ideas challenged my thinking, because above all it just seemed to me we weren't getting anywhere. In fact, we were being ignored.

The other event of great import was the arrival of AIDS. Talk about changes in lifestyle. Our world was shattered. I remember a coalition meeting in 1982. Probably fifty people, more men than women. Three quarters of the men in the room would be dead by the end of the decade. I think most gay men in the last few years have at least once been sure they were about to die. We lucky ones survive.

For me this profound challenge deeply demoralized me. Whie I offer heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the thousands of gay people politicized into action with such groups as ACT-UP [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power--ish] and GMHC [Gay Men's Health Crisis--ish], for me AIDS represented a kind of crisis of faith. With all that negativity in the world, did I want to spend my time being all angry and frustrated? So I reorganized my priorities, and with a couple exceptions along the way, dropped out of politics in 1986 and learned to go about the process of living.

In "The White Goddess," Robert Graves has this to say about communism:
"Communism is a faith, not a religion: a pseudo-scientific theory adopted as a cause. It is simple, social equalitarianism, generous and unnationalistic in original intention, the exponents of which, however, have been forced, as the early Christians were, to postpone their hopes of an immediate millennium and adopt a pragmatic policy that will at least guarantee their own survival in a hostile world... [But the Communists' decisions] bear little relation to truth, wisdom or viture -- they are wholly authoritarian and merely concern the eventual fulfillment of Karl Marx's economic prophecies."


No longer concerned about prophecies and dogma I grew up a lot. I held down a real job. I travelled. I made friends. I got laid a lot. I endured the high and low drama of life. I tried not to freak out too much about the rising tide of AIDS in the gay community around me. The short version of the story of what I look back on as my spiritual awakening is that eventually, after watching so many people I knew and loved die I finally resolved to no longer dodge my own fate and I took an HIV test. To my utter shock and disbelief it was negative. I was going to live? What on earth did that mean?

I realized I had an obligation to those I had lost: I had been given a spiritual challenge to explore the implications of my own apparent survival. I had been calling myself a Pagan out of a kind of obnoxiousness for years. Feeling that Christianity was not something I had any interest in explorating, this small miracle nonetheless demanded spiritual exploration so I turned naturally to Paganism, which I soon realized was not some dead thing out of the past. I learned all about the different kinds of Paganism, about Wicca and faeries and feminists and eclectics and English traditionalists, and well, soon I found a new community and a new home. I realized I didn't have to set aside the principles that had made me a political radical: they were still there inside me even if my outward focus was changed completely.

Pagan spirituality affirms for me life and love, not just as spiritual guideposts, but as tools for the transformation of our interaction with the world itself.

I look at Paganism not just as a spiritual practice or esoteric interest, but as a deeply compelling call to readjust my own life in alignment with the Goddess, a call to challenge and afirm commitments. Wicca becomes the magical way to make that transformation happen. And as a spiritual community, we change ourselves in that beautiful dance, beginning to change the face of society as a whole, promising a future of meaningful life, justice and healing here in the arms of the Great Mother.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Anti-American Art: All Together Now


Chinese cultural revolution-era propaganda poster from 1968: the peoples of the world have found their common enemy. Bearing quotes from Mao and even a placard in English saying "Down with US Imper-ialism" we have a baby-carrying Vietnamese revolutionary; a guy in a turban maybe and a Latin American guerrilla burning a US flag; a vanguard made up of an armed African woman, an Albanian peasant, Chinese guys in Mao jackets, and a Cambodian peasant with a bayonet; the right flank includes a caribbean cane worker and a half-naked African playing a drum (of course!) and a cheering Arab.

I don't know the translation of the banner across the bottom of the poster.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haitian Earthquake Brings Conservatives Together in Orgy of Racism and Ignorance


"Why is Haiti so poor? ... Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile." -- David Brooks, OpEd column in The New York Times, Jan 14 2010.

"[Something] happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. [The Haitians] were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other." -- televangelist Pat Robertson, on TV, Jan 13 2010.

You know Pat Robertson. He's one of those long-running peddlers of hatred and intolerance masquerading as a spiritual leader on the television. He routinely blames people he hates for natural disasters. AIDS, Hurricane Katrina, you name it. So it's no big surprise that he would blame the Haitian earthquake on voodoo, repeating an old slander of racist Euro-American slaveholders against the world's first black republic.

You know David Brooks. He's the moderate, "thinking man's conservative," a self-styled intellectual who regularly publishes an OpEd column in the New York Times. And what do you know, here he's spewing the same racist filth about Haiti and voodoo as Pat Robertson. Oh, it's tidied up. Surely Brooks knows the history better than Robertson. Surely Brooks knows it was Napoleon Bonaparte himself not Napoleon III who the Haitian slaves displaced when they broke the chains of slaveholding colonialism more than two centuries ago.

"Voodoo" or "vodoun" is not some quaint socially regressive superstitious practice. It's an authentic religion, carried in the bellies of slave ships, from West Africa to the New World. Like its sister religion Santeria, Vodoun is a nature religion, combining ancestor reverence, channeling the spiritual powers of nature and respect for an all-powerful God. Can you imagine the scandal if a New York Times columnist blamed the catastrophic history of Europe on "the influence of Judaism which spreads the message of passivity and obedience"?

Vodoun is an uplifting path; it links its practitioners to the mysteries of the universe and transcends the tragedy of the middle passage. It will also, no doubt, help its believers to transcend the tragedy that has now befallen the island of Haiti with this powerful earthquake, and give them succor in rebuilding their lives and their nation. It should come as no surprise to any student of religion that among Haitian practitioners of Vodoun there have been both saints and rogues.

So now you know David Brooks and Pat Robertson: it turns out they are brothers under the skin, sharing the bond of intolerance and racism and white superiority. And sharing utter narcissicm in displaying their ignorant prejudices at the worst possible moment.

Ayibobo! Peace and blessings to the people and spirits of Haiti.

MLK's Birthday: Never Forget

That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

--the Reverent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, April 3, 1968, Memphis

Catholic Students think hate crimes are funny


This horrifying cartoon actually appeared in The Observer, newspaper of the Catholic Church's Notre Dame University. Thanks to Pam's House Blend for publicizing this. Here's what it says:

Panel 1: "What's the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?"

Panel 2: "No idea."

Panel 3: "A baseball bat."


Yes, that is them laughing at the idea of beating gays with baseball bats. Their editorial staff has somehow apologized. Just like the Catholic church has apologized for raping all those children. Somehow it still goes on.

update: here's the actual cartoon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jazzsupreme.com RIP


I'm sad to announce the passing of my long-running long-neglected but ground-breaking website, jazzsupreme.com.

Back when I was a newly-initiated Iyawo in my Santeria faith, spending a year dressed in white, trying to be good and avoiding going out and about in a normal social life, I conceived of a website that would fill a void for jazz lovers. Back in 1996 there was a buzz around spiritual jazz, but no music blogs, few essays, few discographies, and little information to be had about what had become my favorite music: the "kozmigroov" sound of folks like Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Leon Thomas and others.

So I spent my copious free time writing, designing and setting up the site on AOL's servers. To my amazement the site really struck a nerve. I found musicians contacting me and fans contacting me, everyone expressing gratitude for finally creating a resource for spiritual jazz. I met and became friends with Leon Thomas himself through the site, as well as many many other people around the world who shared information, shared music, and shared their love of the music. I continued to refine the discographies fairly regularly as long as the site, "Ian's Guide to Spiritual Jazz" was hosted on AOL. Up until this week I have continued to receive weekly emails from people who stumbled onto the site. I've even been stopped on the subway -- more than once -- by people who recognized me from my photo on the site.

A few years into the site I was approached by an entrepreneur--a real fan of the music--who wanted to help out with it, perhaps turning it into a great resource for spiritual jazz, or even potentially a profit center. I was eager for his well-meaning help, and he helped me re-host the site from AOL onto his public server under my own domain "jazzsupreme.com." Somehow, though, his life and my own went through some changes, and though the site was up and running at its new home I stopped updating it and our plans for building on it never materialized. When AOL emptied its servers in the last year or two I was sad to see the old surviving mirror go, but was happy to have jazzsupreme.com go on, even un-updated and badly behind the times. My own musical web focus passed to blogs like this one and especially Ile Oxumare, where I get to write about music as well as provide a space for it to be shared.

Well all good things come to an end. The entrepreneur's business has suffered in the current economic climate, and he is no longer able to host the site or renew the domain. As of today, jazzsupreme is no more. I'm not able to take on the financial responsibilities myself either, so I'm going to have to let the site pass on into memory.

I'll probably post some of the more interesting writing here, in this wonderful medium that the Google/Skynet overlords graciously provide for free, but for now you'll have to press that "cached" button in your Google searches to retrieve any of its content (unless anybody reading this not suffering under our modern economy has a server and would like to re-host the site!).

Thanks to everybody who helped make the site such a success. Ago lona, the road goes on before us.

Good news update, Feb 25: Jazzsupreme lives!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Nicaraguan Graffiti

More photos from my 1986 stay in Nicaragua. The first installment can be seen here.


"Carcela los Somocistas, Libertad a los reos comunistas. CAUS" from the Communist-lead trade union federation CAUS, "Jail the Somozists, Free the Communists" on a wall in Masaya, I think.


You wouldn't know it, but this was evidence of a battle over gay liberation in Managua. One day on a cement fence out by government ministries appeared the shocking slogan "GAY LIBRE" ("Free Gay" or "Gay Freedom"). It stayed up only a couple days before "GAY" was obliterated by the ugly splotch of paint and "PATRIA" written to the left to change it to "FREE HOMELAND."


Managua was destroyed by an earthquake in 1972. Dictator Somoza absconded with rebuilding funds; in 1986 much of the central city was still a neglected ruin. Here's competing FSLN and Maoist MAPML graffiti on some of the few large buildings left more or less standing downtown.


Graffiti and stencils for the Maoist/Hoxhaist Movimiento de Accion Popular Marxista-Leninista (MAPML-People's Action Movement Marxist-Leninist) and its Juventud Marxista-Leninista de Nicaragua (JML-Marxist Leninist Youth).


"No a la Constitucion Burguesa - Central Sindical FO": "No to the Bourgeois Constitution - Workers Front Trade Union" from the Maoist MAPML's trade union group.


Competing graffiti in Masaya from the Communist Party and the MAPML. The MAPML says "Obreros y Campesinos Al Poder!," "Workers and Peasants to Power!"


From a wall in Rivas, a logo from AMNLAE, the FSLN run women's federation, the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan Women named after the first Sandinista woman to fall in the revolution against Somoza.


Competing graffiti in Masaya from the Socialist Party (PSN) and the PCD, the right-wing Conservative Democratic Party, whose slogan was "Vote Verde" or "Vote Green" after the Party's color and in opposition to the red and black of the Sandinistas.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Miracles


This is a photo from the shrine of St. Roch I took in New Orleans in the early 1990s. St. Roch is the patron saint of limbs: people who have successfully prayed to St. Roch for the health of an arm or leg have left hundreds of cast cement arms and legs in the shrine as offerings of thanks.

I've had my own share of miracles and I'm unbelievably grateful for every one.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Anti-American Art: The Shores of Tripoli


Here's a little love shown by the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya," known to most people as just "Libya." It's another bunch of stamps, these dating from the 1990s, marking an anniversary of the 1986 raid ordered by President Reagan on Tripoli. A botched assassination attempt that killed one of Colonel Ghaddafi's children, among others, the raid was part of a chain of events of terrorist acts committed either by the US, actual Libyan agents, Israel, or parties unknown blamed on Libya including the downing of Libyan airliner in the 1970s, the downing of a US airliner over Scotland in the 1980s, and this attack. The stamps somewhat cartoonishly show the high-tech US F16s, a child crying over a teddy bear, and devastation on the ground. The overall caption: "American Aggression." The eccentric (read: crazy) dictator Ghaddafi and the (now sole superpower) US have, of course, come to some sort of rapprochement in the last few years, though nobody's talking about actual romance in the relationship. Libyan enmity to the US is almost as old as the US itself, dating back to the early 19th century when US marines attacked Tripoli in the war against Barbary Coast pirates. Modern Libyan stamps have marked that also.

Echoes of a past life: Gay Community Mobilizes Against AIDS

Someplace recently I read a strident condemnation of an earlier gay generation for bringing AIDS down on itself. It was in a blog discussion, and several (gay) commenters seemed to think that the hedonism of that earlier generation was to blame for the health tragedy. While it's true that the sexual openness of the gay community in the late 1970s and early 1980s acted as the perfect petrie dish for a sexually-communicable virus like HIV, it really needs to be repeated that the problem with the genesis of the health crisis was the virus not the sexuality. I think it's important, looking back, to be clear on this, and to be cautious about what is essentially puritanism in condemning that lost doomed gay generation for its own demise. It was years before AIDS was identified and understood; years when gay men were only doing what came naturally as the community itself coalesced in self awareness and self expression after the repression of the pre-Stonewall years.

One can discuss addictions like sex, drugs and alcohol; cultural standards like promiscuity or monogamy; the maturation of the gay identity; or even today's rebellious "barebacking" sexual culture all on their own merits or faults. To suggest these are all by definition links in their genesis between AIDS and gay male culture is to accept, I think, the kernel of homophobic judgment that we gay men are "doing something wrong" by living our lives as our true knowledge of our inner selves tells us to do.

The article appearing below is another of my writings from the old "Torch/La Antorcha," newspaper of the Revolutionary Socialist League. While it's drier than some of the other old writings I've chosen to present here, it does have a snapshot quality about what it felt like in 1983 to be faced with so much uncertainty; and I really like its focus on exposing the "blaming the victims" mentality that is still prevelant today. The small statistics it presents about the number of people with AIDS should be enough to make anyone who considers the reach of the disease today to weep with despair.

Again, note my quaint pseudonym, and there's that easy leftist conclusion to the piece about how fighting capitalism is the answer to all problems. It's hard to argue with, exactly, but it's sure a hell of a lot harder to come up with necessary solutions short of the mythic transformation of society. I was strongly against, at the time, shutting down of gay bathhouses, etc, mostly because I loved going to such places myself. It's useful to remember in those days before the concept of "safe sex" and today's medical understandings of the tranmission of the virus: it's harder to argue with such closings as an emergency health measure in retrospect. These was reprinted as a leaflet, I believe for passing out at Lesbian & Gay Pride in New York City in June 1983.

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Fighting Disease, Bigotry and Victimization:
Gay Community Mobilizes Against AIDS
by Ian Daniels
from the Torch, May 15-June 14, 1983, Vol. 10 No. 5


NEW YORK--On May 2nd more than 5,000 people, primarily gay men, marched in New york City to demand more federal fund for research into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a highly fatal diseased recently declared "epidemic" by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Over 10,000 people marched in a similar demonstration in San Francisco, and smaller events were held in several more major cities. According to Gay Community News, another action is scheduled for May 26 in Los Angeles.

The New York march, sponsored by the New York AIDS Network, was organized around the theme "Fighting for Our Lives." and was billed as a "candlelight vigil to honor the dead and support the living." Assembling at Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village, the marchers filled the streets in one of the larger recent political demonstrations in New York's lesbian and gay community. The protesters then marched to New York's Federal Building for a rally that included speakers from the National Gay Task Force and the rapidly-growing Gay Men's Health Crisis.

A mysterious and deadly disease
AIDS is a disease which breaks down the body's immune system, setting it up for ravaging attacks by rare diseases and opportunistic infections which otherwise could be fought off by internal body functions. Among these diseases are two previously rare and serious afflictions, Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer known primarily in the tropics, and Pneumocystiis cariniii pneumonia, a parasitic lung infection.

The peculiarity of AIDS is in who it affects: Of the nearly 1,400 reported victims of the disease, roughly 75 percent have been gay-identified men, 15 percent have been intravenous drug users, five percent Haitian immigrants, and the remainder hemophiliacs and small numbers of various seemingly unrelated groups.

The overall mortality rate for the disease is 37.6 percent, although no AIDS victim has "fully recovered" and fewer than 14 percent of AIDS victims have survived more than three years after diagnosis. Speculation that the incubation period for the disease may be as long as three years means that the afflicted communities may be sitting on a veritable time bomb. As of now, there are numerous theories -- but no hard answers as to the cause or cure of AIDS.

The first case of what came to be known as AIDS were recognized in 1981, though shortly thereafter the disease was linked to several mysteriously afflicted people dating back to 1978. AIDS first earned the name "Gay Cancer" or "Gay Plague," and concerns about the potential danger of the disease was limited primarily to the affected gay or Haitian communities. Financial response from government agencies was initially extremely poor and research and treatment for the disease has until recently been based largely on fund-raising efforts from the gay community.

Blaming the victims
A variety of theories have been developed, and many discarded, about the causes of the disease. Most of these theories have been plagued by prejudice against the afflicted groups, generally blaming the victims for the disease. Some have blamed homosexual sex itself for the disease. Others have blamed Haitian "cultural practices." The Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad, commenting on this racist and anti-Third world slant, said in a press release, "The transmission of speculative information [about AIDS] has created a detriment to the Haitian community oevrseas and has caused nearly irreperable prejudice." (Translated from the French, La Nouvelle Haiti Tribune, February 2-9, 1983.)

It was not until AIDS began to spread away from such "unpopular" groups as gays, Haitians, and drug-users that concern from authorities began to take real form. Unfortunately, much of the response has retained the prejudice -- and in some cases, produced serious overreactions. After AIDS began to appear in some hemophiliacs, apparently as a result of blood transfusions, gay men and other "high risk" people were urged not to donate blood. In San Francisco, police officers are being given face masks and glove to wear when dealing with potential AIDS victims.

Now that AIDS has spread to a small number of children, non-Haitian, non-drug-using heterosexual men, other recipients of blood tranfusions and partners of "high risk" category peoplem concern about the disease is growing and prospects look better for federal funding on research. While articles about AIDS previously had been limited to the gay or Haitian press, the mainstream media is now picking up on the subject.

Dangerous side-effects
There have also been some unfortunate side effects of the AIDS crisis in both the Haitian and gay community. In the Haitian community, concern for the racist and anti-Haitian part of the press campaignh about AIDS has at times combined a positive opposition to being labeled as a dirty, poor and disease-ridden people with opposition to being linked with homosexuals. Anti-homosexual traditions have long been a part of Haitian culture, just as in many other countries, and the AIDS crisis has provided some political forces in the Haitian community with the oportunity to denounce not only AIDS, but gay people. For example, the left-wing New York-based paper, Democratie Nouvelle, wrote in an article about AIDS, "In Haiti, it is perfectly clear to us that homosexuality is a shameful defect." (Our translation from the French, March 1983.)

For its part, the largely middle class-based gay movement has taken a similarly disdainful attitude toward being linked with Haitian refugees and drug users. Moreover, a dangerous campaign is developing within the gay community for a more conservative and respectable gay lifestyle. This campaign has often taken on an hysterical character. Some gay spokespeople have called for the closing of gay bars, bookstores and bathhouses, where gay men have multiple sexual encounters, on the theory that either AIDS is caused by homosexual sex or at least that forcing the limitation of sex partners will lessen any potential contagious spread of the disease.

As much as the authorities have sought to blame the victims of AIDS for getting the disease, so gay people seem to be blaming themselves. Newsweek reported in its feature article on AIDS that "Many [gay people] have moved beyond shock and fear and anger to a feeling of relief that they finally have a medical reason to slow down their lives." Promiscuity is becoming a dirty word in a previously sexually open community. This issue has sparked a debate in the gay press (in this regard Toronto's Body Politic deserves commendation for its defense of gay sexuality against those who, in effect, seek to redefine homosexuality as "sick" -- this time, medically).

Unfortunately, none of the theories about AIDS has been accepted as generally correct, and making hasty conclusions based on any one of them can serve only to demoralize and victimize people who often are already under political attack. We need to stop throwing blame around and unite together to fight for real answers.

Capitalism has been systematically destroying the ecology and environment of Earth for years. In this context, it is not surprising that a new and mysterious fatal diease has developed. Nor, given the new ecological nightmares of acid rain, agent orange, Dioxin dumping, pesticides, chemical waste and radiation, should we expect this one to be the last. In the meantime, we need to unite the living to save our lives and what is left of the Earth's environment. Gay people, Haitians -- and all working and oppressed people -- have a mortal stake in not only fighting for the funding of human needs rather than military might, but in changing the world as we know it.