Thursday, June 30, 2011

Random Aftermath

Late spring thunderstorm, Spring 2011, from my office building, New York City.

Gay Pride sidewalk, June 2011, New York City.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Music break: I wish I was a hippie in Hawaii in 1972

This lovely song, "El Rey Pescador," is from the legendary private press album "These Trails," recorded by a bunch of hippies in Hawaii in the very early 1970s. Although the vocalist on this track is the Uruguayan singer Carlos Pardeiro, the album as a whole is the work of a Hawaiian guy and his girlfriend from California, plus a couple friends, sweetened in a studio by an engineer playing the amazing Arp analog synthesizer; the rest of it is not in Spanish.

I first heard this record a few years ago on a music blog, without knowing anything about it. I was excited to find out it's just made it to CD on a small Chicago-based label, Drag City. It features some beautiful singing, lots of acoustic guitar, dulcimer — standard hippy folk psychedelia fare — and the CD reissue sounds terrific. The CD also includes the full story of the musicians behind the record and how its release in 1973 was sort of an afterthought to its creation when the moment it documented had already passed. I heartily recommend the whole thing.

OK, back to reality now...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Be Careful Who You Get In Bed With, Indeed

This video, circulating around the internet the past week, shows an American gay activist named "Marc Pax" recounting how, on behalf of his "LGBT group," he offered to build support for the upcoming Peace Flotilla to Gaza and was rebuffed. He then claims he discovered the Peace Flotilla was connected to the "anti-gay" Palestinian organization Hamas. Well so he claimed.

It turns out that "Marc Pax" is an Israeli actor named Omer Gershon and that this "personal" video is the work of the Israeli government, heavily promoted by the Israeli government's propaganda press office. Read anti-Zionist activist Max Blumenthal's blog and the Electronic Intifada blog for all the lurid details. Even the staunchly pro-Israel New York Times now reports that this video is a "hoax."

This is a prime example of Israeli government "pinkwashing," its vile attempt to split the pro-Palestinian movement by suggesting that only Israel is the true friend of gays in the Middle East. This video is prime evidence that Pinkwashing propaganda is another example of the big lie. In fact, numerous publically gay figures are not only associated with the anti-Israeli Apartheid movement, they are involved with the upcoming peace flotilla, including John Greyson, who created the "Gaza Island" video posted here a few days ago, and renowned writer Alice Walker.

Israel's attempt to present any support to the Palestinian people of Gaza as political support to the Hamas government and therefore aid to terrorists is beneath contempt. That is its rationale for killing Palestinians with impunity, notably the same rationale used by repressive regimes worldwide. Call your enemies "terrorists" and people will look away as you butcher women and children. Every tyrant knows this and the fake-democracy Israel has learned that lesson well.

The Israeli government is pulling out all the stops to try to sabotage the Peace Flotilla. Having already announced it will repeat its acts of piracy in international waters, Israel and its hasbara propagandists as well as outright saboteurs are waging a massive campaign of disruption.

Mondoweiss and Max Blumenthal report on how the virulently anti-gay American pastor John Hagee is a bankroller of the so-called Israel Law Center, which just tried to sabotage the Flotilla by pressuring the crisis-ridden Greek government to declare the American flotilla ship, docked at a Greek port, "unseaworthy." So much for Israel's pro-gay credentials. It thrives on taking money from anti-gay American fundamentalist Christians eager for the end times which they pray Israel will hasten. Mondoweiss also reported that another Flotilla vessel docked in Greece has been physically sabotaged.

The Israeli government has been trying to warn journalists off the Flotilla as well: "I think we're seeing an absolute last ditch and paniced effort by the Israeli government to control the narrative of these flotilla ships. It's well known that activists on board last years flotilla recorded all events that took place and Israel has confiscated and destroyed most of the footage and so I think the Israeli government specifically addressing journalists is sending a message to the international community that Israel is going to, at all costs, control the narrative and control the story of these flotilla ships. Now the fact journalists have not wavered I think is a good sign for the international media and press freedom,"according to leftwing Israeli-American journalist Joseph Dana working for The Nation.

Don't be fooled: if you climb into bed with Israel and its lies you're climbing into bed with piracy and murder.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

NY State Victory: Divorce Equality!

In a brilliant display of political maneuvering, and a stunning defeat for anti-gay bigots, New York's governor Cuomo succeeded last night in getting a marriage equality passed in the state's Republican-controlled State Senate. The previous governor had been unable to get a similar bill through two years ago when the State Senate was controlled by Democrats; this year's effort involved a massive behind the scenes push from marriage equality advocates, and the addition of somewhat redundant language that absolutely positively guaranteed religious institutions could hang on to bigoted practices if they so desired. Cuomo signed the bill into law almost immediately upon its passage.

Despite the massive lobbying efforts of hateful organizations like the National Organization for [sic] Marriage and New York's wretched Conservative Party, and despite rallies organized by bigoted religious fundamentalists (including one led by the lone Democratic Senate opponent Ruben Diaz, who is also a Pentacostal preacher), the bill passed with a several-vote majority: four brave Republicans bucked their party line and crossed over to support it. The NOMbies and their ilk tried again to inflict their backward beliefs and questionably selective interpretation of religion on our secular society and failed. Thank God decent people with a greater respect for the law and a more loving spiritual/religious philosophy prevailed.

And all of this on the Friday of Gay Pride Week, two days before one of the world's largest lesbian and gay pride parades takes to the streets of Manhattan. It's certainly something to celebrate, even if it's a local victory. This makes only six states where marriage of same-sex partners is recognized, and federal laws like DOMA and numerous state constitutional bans on marriage equality make anti-gay statutes still the law of the land as a whole.

According to friends, the streets of the Village were full of celebration last night, even though the uber-gentrified neighborhood is the shadow of the gayborhood it once was: only investment bankers and celebrities can afford to live there these days. I'm looking forward to more street partying tonight, and to a triumphant pride parade tomorrow. But as real and joyful as this victory is, I feel called to qualify the celebratory tone.

While as long as the marriages of straight people are recognized and legally advantageous, it's only just that the marriages of gay people be treated equally under the law. But what about that institution of marriage? Those of us of a certain age can remember a time when marriage was rightfully derided as a outdated relic of the past. Its origins as a tradition are not actually in the glorification of love or the holy sanctification of family relationships, but in a bourgeois property relationship where women were turned into the property of men.

And for many of us, a fairytale picture of marriage as the pinnacle of human fulfillment does not jibe with reality. My parents divorced after fifteen or so years of marriage before I was ten. My mother's second marriage lasted a little over a year; and my father once described his second marriage as an "on-again off-again" thing. My father's father divorced my father's wife when he (inaccurately) questioned my father's paternity. My mother and my grandmother were both forced to retool their lives completely upon finding themselves single. While my mom worked when she was married, she had to find a new career that would support the two of us independently. My grandmother was forced to find work in the mid-1930s, no easy feat. And yet despite hardship and disappointment, I don't think either my mother or grandmother would have described their lives as lesser for having spent the greater parts of their lives unmarried.

Closer to home and modern times, I love my boyfriend very much and feel very lucky to be with him for the six or so years we've been together, but our relationship is what we make of it: I'm not sure how recognition by the state would change its trajectory or legitimize our intimacy.

It's not that I'm heartless: I've read those stories of many-decades-long gay partners finally being able to marry with a tear in my eye. During the brief period when marriage equality was the law in California, lesbian activist pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were able to marry in 2008 after being a couple for fifty-six years, a few months before Del Martin passed on at the age of 87. And yet I wonder what are the ramifications of the gay movement, which once described itself as the "gay liberation movement," now aiming at the much more earthbound target of equality through marriage rights.

As I recently wrote, I grew up knowing I was gay. I never fantasized about getting married. Since I was never interested in meeting "the right girl," that ritual held no power for me. While the times I have been single I usually longed for a steady relationship; but what I longed for was companionship and intimacy and deep friendship, not a ceremony of bells and lace, and not a piece of paper from the government. How will little gay boys in the future grow up? Will they feel unfulfilled if they're not married in white by their early twenties? And what about our new gay divorcees? Will gay people get married too often? Everybody thinks straight people who get married and divorced too often are losers. How will that change gay male culture, where promiscuity and serial monogamy seem more accepted as alternatives to life-long commitment?

There's a collective of queer activists called "Against Equality." While I don't endorse their views as a whole, I think they ask provocative, important questions. Here's an excerpt from their statement on marriage:

"When it comes to gay marriage, the times, they are a-confusing. For instance, we recently overhead some people extolling the virtues of marriage, and how it allowed them to finally join in family gatherings as respectable married people, instead of skulking in as shamefully unmarried partners. They reminisced about the joys of being able to walk up to coworkers and introduce their husbands, the sparkle of their wedding rings legitimizing their socially sanctioned and forever-to-be unions....

Gay marriage apes hetero privilege and allows everyone to forget that marriage ought not to be the guarantor of rights like health care. In their constant invoking of the “right” to gay marriage, mainstream gays and lesbians express a confused tangle of wishes and desires. They claim to contest the Right’s conservative ideology yet insist that they are more moral and hence more deserving than sluts like us. They claim that they simply want the famous 1000+ benefits but all of these, like the right to claim protection in cases of domestic violence, can be made available to non-marital relationships.

We wish that the GM crowd would simply cop to it: Their vision of marriage is the same as that of the Right, and far from creating FULL EQUALITY NOW! as so many insist (in all caps and exclamation marks, no less) gay marriage increases economic inequality by perpetuating a system which deems married beings more worthy of the basics like health care and economic rights."

It's food for thought. Marriage equality is an important social victory, but when it turns to divorce equality, perhaps we should remember that civil rights and the liberation and fulfillment of human spirit are not equivalent. What is that prize we're keeping our eyes on, anyway?

(That art above is a quick ten-minute Photoshop cut and paste job by me, courtesy of Google images and modern technology. That's Barbie's Change-of-Heart Ken and Marx's Sam Cobra tying the rainbow ribbon!)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hillary Clinton Endorses Israeli Piracy & Claims to Palestinian Waters

Hillary Clinton, Obama's Secretary of State, has just issued a statement on the upcoming blockade-running peace flotilla to Gaza: "We do not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza...Just this week, the Israeli government approved a significant commitment to housing in Gaza. There will be construction materials entering Gaza. And we think that it’s not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves."

That last sentence is the clincher: the flotilla has no intention of going near Israeli waters. It intends to go into Palestinian waters off Gaza. And besides that, the last flotilla, on which Israeli commandos assassinated eight peace activists including one American citizen (with total impunity), was in international waters when it was attacked. The flotilla is an example of nonviolent activism, which the American government claims to endorse, supporting international law and the rights of the Palestinian people, which the American government also claims to endorse, and now the American government, in advance, takes the side of pirates and murderers.

Back in 2009, Clinton claimed "the new U.S. administration will vigorously pursue the creation of a Palestinian state, stressing that movement toward Palestinian independence seems 'inescapable.'" Apparently her definition of a Palestinian State means something different than an independent nation with control of its own borders and neighboring waters, in other words, an Apartheid-style Bantustan.

(News first noted on Mondoweiss.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pinkwashing, a Definition

Timely for gay pride, from "The Queer Shadow Gallery Collective" and endorsed by a number of Arab queer organizations and individuals, June 2011:

Pinkwashing aims to sell Israeli racism, colonialism and apartheid as democratic and gay-friendly. This happens through bifurcation: On one hand, Israel, and especially Tel Aviv, are represented as cosmopolitan and LGBT, queer and trans-friendly places. At the same time, war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories and racist discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel are being euphemized and “pinkwashed”.

The use of LGBT rights in particular is not a coincidence: separating “gayness” from other forms of oppression and hiding behind claims of being apolitical serves this function perfectly. Ideology almost always calls itself non-ideological. Issues of racism within LGBT organizing have long been a source of tension between activists in the Global North and South, particularly as activism becomes more and more transnational and networks of solidarity are built across borders.

The idea that LGBT rights take precedence over other rights need not be stated outright: by claiming that LGBT rights and activism are apolitical, and by refusing to address these issues head on and recognizing that they are interconnected, that principle is made apparent.

(Photo from Queers for Palestine)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gay Pride Week 2011: Flashback to 1989 - What a Riot!

This is a flyer from back in 1989, issued by the Radical Faeries in New York City on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall Riots — some call it the Stonewall Rebellion — was the mythic beginning of the modern gay liberation movement when New York City police on a routine bar raid were met with resistance. You can click on the picture to see this flyer in its glory, but here's the first paragraph:

"Twenty years ago, on the night of Judy Garland's funeral, New York City cops went about their usual routine of harassing gay-bar patrons. But on that extraordinary night, an unorganized rabble of fed-up drag queens, dykes, radical street queers, and their friends at the Stonewall Inn Bar in Greenwich Village began to harass the cops back. They went on a rampaging riot giving birth to a new spirit and consciousness."

The Radical Faeries are free-spirited gay hippies who exist in a sort of parallel universe to mainstream gay society. They play with gender, politics and spirituality (and frankly, hygiene) in very creative ways: they're sort of modern day holy people, even twenty years after this flyer. This celebration planned a dramatic reenactment of the riot itself, which my memory fails to clearly remind me if I attended. I'm pretty sure in 1989 the Stonewall Inn, while today again a gay bar, was a take-out bagel restaurant.

I think it's important, even as the gay community changes and its priorities morph, to remember that back in 1969 it was not the accommodationists and assimiliationists of the gay world who took us on a journey to our civil rights, but the gay salt of the earth. If history books are full of famous people and "great men" leading the world to new places, reality reminds us it's the common people who really get it done.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gay Pride 2011: Happy Gay Me!

That's my high school yearbook photo, from the year I graduated, 1976. Fortunately by then I had abandoned the really awful long stringy hair that had guaranteed I would be asked if I was a boy or a girl at least once a week. I was very serious. That's a quote from a 20th-century Chinese poet, Lu Hsun: "From the clay of life abandoned on the ground grow no lofty trees, only wild grass. Wild grass strikes no deep roots, has no beautiful flowers and leaves, yet it imbibes dew, water, and the blood, and flesh of the dead." Jesus, lighten up, dude! There's a more light-hearted photo of me in the Compass also: I'm dressed as a monk in my satirical rewrite of Shakespeare's Othello that was produced as a segment of the senior class variety show in the public high school in the incredibly privileged Connecticut suburb I had abruptly been made to call home for the previous three and a half years. If you've ever seen Ang Lee's brilliant film "The Ice Storm," minus the parental swingers at the key party you've seen my Connecticut life. I remember that ice storm.

I was not a light-hearted teenager, though I was not completely miserable either. Actually I loved school, and did well in it. Straight A's. I had friends in my classes, and a couple friends for after school and summers, but I spent most of my free time in High School sitting in the teachers' lounge hanging out with my English teachers. Mr. Economou and Ms. Burroughs were amazing teachers who challenged me to think clearly. They were great fun also. It wasn't that I was a teacher's pet, though I probably was. It was that I was deeply in physical love with the boy who I thought was the smartest, handsomest boy in the world, who was first invited to hang out on those comfy sofas, and after befriending me, invited me there with him. I'll call him T (having Googled him in adulthood he doesn't look like he'd enjoy being featured here).

I enjoyed cracking jokes with the teachers and learning so much, but most of all I enjoyed the opportunity to stare at T's crotch for hours and hours on end. It's how I spent a good portion of school season for the years 1974, 5 and 6. I didn't have particularly elaborate fantasies about T, but he filled out his corderoys and khakis very very well, if you know what I mean.

I thought about T a lot, even when I was home; though he lived in the very rich part of town and I lived in the very modest working-class section. We were not after-school friends. My mother loved books; she owned a lot of them. My father loved books, and he owned a lot of them. When they divorced the bulk of their combined book collection wound up in boxes that eventually made their way to our tiny attic in Connecticut. I made a nest in those books, and I had discovered all the good parts. I had also discovered that if I read the good parts and rubbed myself in a certain tremendously strange and exciting way, a disturbingly good sensation would occur sometimes involving, well, moisture that was most definitely not pee. Anyway as much as I loved the good parts of these books very few of them offered clues as to why I might find T so terribly intoxicating, and none really helped me turn my fantasies about him into particularly specific lurid scenarios, though I do remember that I had one particularly vivid dream involving reaching into his pocket for some keys. It was a terribly adult book collection, but avant garde literature from the 1950s and early 1960s rarely seemed to do more than occasionally mention queers.

Oh I knew what I was, without ever daring to put it into words. I was probably seven years old and playing with my little friend Herbie in Chicago when his father arrived home from work. His father proceeded to change out of his suit into his casual clothes in front of us. To be fair to Herbie's dad this was done completely unlasciviously without a tinge of impropriety. It was not what I saw when his father dropped his drawers — nothing actually, cause the tails of his dress shirt maintained his modesty — but what I felt. I certainly had no words for it, but here I am forty-five years later still remembering my absolute voyeuristic attraction; what I felt then as a seven-year-old boy is conjured up every time I see an unbelievably handsome man just out of possible reach in the middle age of my adulthood. It was stomach-thumping desire.

I didn't lose my virginity til I was nineteen, picking up a drunken Mexican man one cold winter night at a Chicago gay bar chosen because it was far from where I lived. He had a statue of the Virgin Mary on top of his TV set and a stack of porn in the tray underneath it. To my dismay he fell asleep in the middle of this momentous milestone. As Dan Savage says, "It gets better." So it wasn't like the hormones I discovered gestating inside me at age seven sent me on a ruinous or dissolute adolescence. I made a couple vague sexual overtures to friends in Junior High School before we left Chicago for Connecticut, but they were rejected good-naturedly and off-handedly. No friendships were lost. I developed a very dirty mind, but I was a very good serious boy.

After staring at T all year, he went off sailing for summer break. Which turned his skin a wonderful tan and bleached all the golden blonde in his hair to pure white by the start of school each fall. My last summer at home before senior year mother took me on a summer road trip. In Washington DC I passed by the hotel newsstand, my eyes widening at the copies of Playgirl arrayed beneath the cash register. I remember breaking out in cold sweat and the shakes as I grabbed a couple dollars out of my mother's purse later and went downstairs to make that magazine mine. The first time I jerked off to that magazine I imagine I lasted about thirty seconds. It was a very well read magazine by the time I finally tired of hiding it and guiltily threw it away by cramming it the bottom of a garbage bag.

I've never asked my mother when she figured out I was gay — she didn't confront me with it until after we had both (separately) moved to New York in the 1980s. But jesus the seventies were so fucked up she had to see it. I still remember the awkward evenings we spent sitting on the couch together watching TV movies of the week. There was "That Certain Summer," which history remembers as a ground-breaking movie: what I remember about it is my inability to meet my mother's gaze for hours afterward. And then there was "Born Innocent," starring Linda Blair. Yes, of Exorcist fame. Anyway, Linda is a bad girl, sent to reform school, and she gets dragged off by even worse girls into a storage closet where they rape her with the handle of a bathroom plunger. I can also still remember the loud crinkle of our TV dinner trays as my our running conversation during TV time turned into mortified silence. Well, in my mind I am a little confused whether it was a bathroom plunger in the film or some other utility object just as I'm a little confused at which I tried sticking up my own butt somewhat later. My bad! There was certainly a half-hearted and excruciatingly fumbling birds-and-bees talk from my mother. Fortunately school had covered all those details so it was mercifully brief.

I never confessed my lusts to T. Perhaps if I had been a teenage drinker things might have been different, but alas. I'm pretty sure he knew I worshiped the ground he walked on, or rather, the couch he spread his legs on as he propped them up on the low coffee table in that teachers' lounge. I'm pretty sure he enjoyed the attention. Who doesn't want worshipers, after all? But as though we were living out a curiously inverted "Brideshead Revisited," T's Sebastian act was a kind of private show for me never meant to have an actual pay off. Our friendship didn't last past graduation: He grew up to be the staid suburbanite, inheriting the respectable family mantle and I to be the raging gay liberationist/communist/pagan lost in the gritty big city. For what it's worth, my adult taste in adult men is nothing like T.

When I got to college back in Chicago in the fall of 1976, I felt very unsteady on my feet. There was actually an out gay couple, Marcus and Stuart, if the names don't escape me. Bravely for that time of decade they would hold hands as they crossed the school quad. And I would cross the street rather than be caught dead interacting with them. And that's what surprises me, because as a little gay seven year old, or a little gay Junior High School student or a bigger gay High School Student, I didn't know enough to feel shame at who and what I was. It was only with the passage into adulthood and the dissipation of my happy daydreams of T, that it occurred to me I was not necessarily like other people, and that the deep dark reality of the real me was not necessary something that would be welcomed and accepted by those around me. The next two years would be in some ways the hardest of my life as I strove to become somebody. I discovered I had somehow learned to be afraid of who I might be.

And that's what Gay Pride, a profoundly political holiday, ultimately gave me: the tools to conquer that fear; fear that didn't come from inside me, but was placed on me. I've written elsewhere on The Cahokian about my fruitful steps to coming out. I made it. I had to leave a lot behind, but I made it. I could do a lot more oversharing and talk about sexually maturing through the 1980s amidst the terrifying rise of AIDS, and perhaps I will someday. But the point I wanted to make here, now, was that once I was an innocent child, growing into the only person he knew how to be. Nobody made me gay, except perhaps God Him or Her self. My life was hard and easy, full of joy and pain, like most people lucky enough to make the journey through childhood.

When all of today's anti-gay marriage bigots say "think of the children," I do. I think of the gay child I was. I think of how lucky I was avoiding too harsh an eye of judgment. No parent ever told me not to be who I was. I thrived on tremendous unconditional love. I made my own mistakes. I had my own disappointments. I had my own successes. Every child, destined to be gay or destined to be straight, deserves that opportunity to discover who he or she can become. How afraid people are! And how sad that is, especially for the children who might be falsely protected from having the opportunity to discover who they are, free of condemnation and judgment.

Life is still sometimes scary. But I'm proud to be... me.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cancel Your Concerts! Shades of "Ain't Gonna Play Sun City"

Gaza Island from Albino Squirrel Channel on Vimeo.

Back in the era of apartheid South Africa, Sun City was a internationally-renowned concert venue in the white-minority-ruled country. It was set up in one of the hopelessly corrupt fake-independent Bantustans to lure international tourists. Eventually, boycotting the hypnotic lure of Sun City was a badge of honor for socially conscious musicians. Refusing offers to play for the profit of racists became an important part of the movement to isolate the apartheid regime economically and culturally. The video above is an amazing (and fun!) part of the campaign to extend that movement to the BDS (Boycott-Divestments-Sanctions) campaign against the Israeli apartheid state.

The video calls on artists like Paul Simon, Moby, Kiri Te Kanawa, Duran Duran and others to cancel their plans to play in venues in Israel. It also builds support for the upcoming Freedom Flotilla 2 to break the Israeli blockade against Gaza: author Alice Walker, who will be on the flotilla, calls the blockade runners "the freedom riders of our time." Intentionally ironically, the American vessel in this flotilla has been christened "The Audacity of Hope." Israel has already announced its plans to commit piracy and terrorism against the flotilla. It warned — hilariously? tragically? — that anyone who defends themselves against boarding by Israeli pirates will be seen as an "attacker" and dealt with accordingly.

The musicians who boycotted Sun City are remembered as heroes who did the right thing. It will be the same with today's musicians who are confronted with a choice: money or morality. This film clip is the work of Canadian filmmaker John Greyson. Major props to him for making such a clever and accessible vehicle communicating the importance of the BDS campaign.

BDS is not just for famous people: it's something everybody can participate in by boycotting consumer products — such as Sabra (& Shattila) hummus — with ties to the Israeli state and forces of repression.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Elephant in the Room: Michele Bachman Is a Pathological Liar and Delusionally Paranoid

That's a quote from 2005, but to my knowledge just-declared Republican presidential candidate and "Tea Party" favorite Michele Bachmann has not, er, refudiated it. Let's repeat it: "Literally, if we took away the minimum wage—if conceivably it was gone—we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level." Um. Sure! Imagine what we could do for unemployment if slavery was brought back!

Today at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, she said, according to the NY Times: “This hasn’t been talked about very much – the president’s plan for senior citizens is Obamacare,” Ms. Bachmann told party activists here. She added, “I think very likely what the president intends is that Medicare will go broke and ultimately that answer will be Obamacare for senior citizens.” What a combination of dishonesty, paranoia and idiocy. Obama wants to institute a government takeover of eliminating government medicare and forcing seniors to get private insurance! What she is saying is literally, actually, irrational....and worse, her fans eat it up. Isn't the truth actually that the Republicans, her people, want to eliminate government medicare and force them to buy private insurance? Disturbingly, the NY Times lets this bizarre fantasy go factually unchallenged.

Then there's her claims last year about the president's trip to India: "The president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day," Bachmann said. "He's taking 2,000 people with him. He will be renting out over 870 rooms in India. And these are five-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending." This was a lie created out of whole cloth based on somebody's misreading of single misinformed article in an Indian newspaper.

Reactionary idiocy on the Middle East: "Today President Barack Obama has again indicated that his policy towards Israel is to blame Israel first. In a shocking display of betrayal towards our ally, President Obama is now calling on Israel to give up yet more land and return to its 1967 borders. If there is anything that has been proven, the policy of land-for-peace has meant that Israel has continually had to give away increasing amounts of its land and decrease its size. In exchange, it still has not known security. President Obama wants to further this policy by putting Israel in a very vulnerable position with borders that would be extremely difficult to defend....I am calling on President Obama to reverse course and clearly renounce the position which he spelled out today. This is an insult to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the day before the Prime Minister is scheduled to come to the United States." Yes, in print she's taking the side of a foreign leader against her president. She's a patriotic American!

Idiocy on Obama being a "socialist" and on mariage equality: "“This is just the beginning in our fight to repeal Barack Obama in 2012,” she wrote. “Had Barack Obama been on the ballot in 2010, he would have gone down in a fiery defeat. Yet he continues to push his far-left, socialist agenda on the American people. And today, he has declared war on marriage.” Obama far left? Perhaps if your politics are somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun.

She's a foreign policy expert! "Bachmann said there was a name already chosen for that part of the region, but she couldn't recall it exactly. Bachmann said Iran would use that territory as a training ground for terrorists. "There is already agreement made," said Bachmann. "They are going to get half of Iraq, and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more attacks in the Middle East, and come against the United States." She couldn't recall it exactly, I bet!

And she pays attention to detail! "Nearly four decades ago, a group of settlers seeking religious freedoms, known as the Pilgrims, marked their thankfulness to God for countless blessings with a Thanksgiving celebration." Yes, she wrote decades.

Wikipedia's description of delusional disorder nails her: "Delusional disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis denoting a psychotic mental disorder that is characterized by holding one or more non-bizarre delusions[1] in the absence of any other significant psychopathology. Non-bizarre delusions are fixed beliefs that are certainly and definitely false, but that could possibly be plausible, for example, someone who thinks he or she is under police surveillance."


You know, all of this would be hilarious if it weren't for the fact that millions of white people in America are so driven by racist rage that they're actually going to pretend they believe what she says and vote for her.

Graphic snagged from JMG. These are dated but do read the "Best Michele Bachmann Quotes" at the Dump Bachmann Blog. Unbelievably, of course, she has been reelected several times since making many of these bizarre statements.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

News from the Malabar Front: US Bombs Over Libya Are Not "Hostilities"

What is it about the war in Libya that brings George Orwell's 1984 to life over and over again? From today's New York Times online:

'The White House is telling Congress that President Obama has the legal authority to continue American participation in the NATO-led air war in Libya, even though lawmakers have not authorized it.... The White House, for the first time, offers lawmakers and the public an argument for why Mr. Obama has not been violating the War Powers Resolution since May 20....

[T]he White House argued that the activities of United States military forces in Libya do not amount to full-blown “hostilities” at the level necessary to involve the section of the War Powers Resolution that imposes the deadline....The two senior administration lawyers contended that American forces have not been in “hostilities” at least since April 7, when NATO took over leadership in maintaining a no-flight zone in Libya....

The administration had earlier argued that Mr. Obama could initiate the intervention in Libya on his own authority as commander-in-chief because it was not a “war” in the constitutional sense.'

Is it not outrageous that Obama is now practically begging the Republicans to assume an (utterly phoney) anti-war mantle? As if their newfound anti-war, pro-War Powers Resolution identity is anything other than an anti-Obama smokescreen. What sheer clusterfuck!

And what unbelieveable hubris: everyone knows NATO is the United States.

Just a few days ago the Times noted: "The United States accounts for about three-quarters of total military spending by all NATO countries, and it has in the past taken the lead in military operations and provided the bulk of the weapons and matériel. ... If the United States did not have large stockpiles of ammunition, a senior NATO official said, the NATO campaign would already have come to a halt. The Americans are selling the ammunition, but it was the American military budget that paid for its manufacture and stockpiling. Similarly, NATO allies must still rely on American Awacs planes and refueling aircraft, American suppression of air defenses and American intelligence gathering. Even with the United States playing a secondary role, by mid-May its operations in Libya had already cost $664 million, according to a Pentagon memo circulating in Washington."

I don't watch much so-called news on TV since it's mostly paid infotainment or government-authorized propaganda, but I do listen to NPR all the time. Have you noticed, as I have, that casualties in Afghanistan are now reported as being "NATO casualties"? As if everyone can't see that NATO means American. Do they think people won't notice?

A few years ago I worked in the music business. The megacorporation I worked for specialized for a while in absorbing smaller, independent companies: When it was still part of German-owned Bertelsmann, the BMG Music Service purchased CDNow, an innovative but financially troubled independent music website. At first they tried to maintain its business, but then the cutbacks started. Eventually hundreds of people were laid off and offices were closed, and the CDNow brand was licensed to It changed from being an independent site that provided reputable editorial content as well as music sales to being basically an automated brand script on Amazon's servers. Well shortly after BMG washed its hands of day-to-day CDNow affairs, our company had a town hall meeting. The CEO was taking questions. Somebody asked him why he killed off CDNow. You could see the smoke pour from the CEO's ears. Almost tearfully he raged, "How dare you say we killed off CDNow! It's right there on the back of our business cards. It's a great brand for us. We're committed to that brand. We have turned it around into a brand that makes a profit for us!" See, it didn't matter that hundreds of people had lost their jobs. It didn't matter that CDNow the company, the employer, the home to hundreds of careers, ceased to exist: in corporate double-think, he really believed CDNow still existed. It sure did on his profitability statements and on his yearly bonus.

My point in this digression is that in the world of corporatists like my old CEO or President Obama, reality is not experienced the same way you and I experience it. So if there's no U.S. "hostilities" in Libya because the pieces of paper in front of him say "NATO," then that's the way it must be. It's not the constitutional sense.

Excuse me, but fuck that BS.

(Illustration from the excellent left-wing "Rag Blog." That's Obama's now painfully embarrassing Nobel Prize bleeding on his lapel.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If You Don't Support Gay Marriage, Don't Get Gay Married!

Last year in a landmark case in California, two well-known lawyers were hired to sue the State of California to overturn Proposition 8, a ballot measure banning marriage equality (poorly called "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage"). The judge in the case, Vaughn Walker, ruled against Prop 8; it later turned out that the judge himself was gay. Today a judge threw out an attempt to void Judge Walker's ruling made by right-wing bigots who claimed Walker had a conflict of interest.

I followed the Boies-Olsen case that overturned Prop 8. Despite today's ruling, it returns to the legal limbo of appeal, so it's not likely that marriage equality will return to California immediately. It's even possible that the case will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But what's fascinating about the Boies-Olsen case against Prop 8 is how thorough and methodical it was. The opponents of allowing gay people the same civil rights that straight people have rely on quick soundbites to make their case. When challenged to actually defend their case in a court of law, it turns out they don't have one. It's worth tracking down some of the summaries of the case from last year. Because one by one, the Boies-Olsen team calmly and coolly destroys every argument made by people who are shown in the end to be basing their arguments solely on their own bigoted notions. And while American law allows people to hold bigoted notions, even proclaim them loudly and freely in church or the public square, it does not allow them to hold bigoted notions over actual civil rights. Well, at least in theory.

This is why the right wing organizations like the detestable National Organization For [sic] Marriage, or NOM, would like so desperately to squelch the California case: because for once it shows that all the emotional, misleading, and ultimately lying propaganda that they spew is so much dishonest cover for nothing that might actually provide a legal basis for the denial of gay couples their right to marry. The trial and its verdict showed that the religious-fundamentalist arguments of such people have no bearing on civil law. The trial basically stripped the bigots' lies bare. Which they hate, more than anything, being caught with all their fake love-the-sinner-I-don't-hate-anybody posturing exposed as nothing but the bigotry it is.

Here in New York we're allegedly one Republican state senator vote away from marriage equality. We've been down this path before, with sad and disappointing results, but this time the politicos swear we have a chance. Two Republicans and several conservative Democrats are allegedly already committed to vote yes. The new governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bloomberg have been applying pressure to legislators. Bloomberg, who bankrolled last year's Republican recapture of the State Senate, is now saying he'll donate to the reelection campaigns of any Republican legislators who vote in favor of marriage equality (NOM and the Conservative Party who endorsed racist horse-fucker Carl Paladino last year are threatening to unseat any such Republicans). Friday is apparently the deadline for a vote.

It would be nice to see marriage equality come to New York in June, marked as Lesbian and Gay Pride Month. A happy ending is not guaranteed: finding that last vote is gonna be difficult. And frankly, should anybody be voting on the rights of minorities? There's a certain injustice in that in and of itself. And how about the irony of the "small government" advocates many of the rightwingers claim to be here advocating that the government stand in the way of civil rights? Remember that to the teabaggers, "freedom" means doing what they say.

Anyway, cross your fingers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Laughing Faces of Evil

Who are these jovial people and what are they laughing about? These are the Republican presidential candidates at tonight's debate, and they're laughing at you, America.

I couldn't bear to watch any of it, and having read a number of live blogs and articles, I made the right decision. These people are monsters, every last one of them. They think it's funny to talk about enshrining discrimination against gay people in the constitution. They would rather orphaned and unwanted children languish in group homes than be adopted by loving foster parents who happen to be gay. They actually look admirably upon the social policy of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. They want to take away the rights of working people to organize. They want loyalty oaths and the right to choose who among those of us who live are here are good enough to be called real Americans. They don't understand the separation of church and state, and they think that their religion is not only better than yours, it gives them the right to make you do what they tell you. These people think that corporate profits and the right of rich people to have even more and more money are more important than the right of you and I to afford medical care. These people believe they have the right to lie as much as they want if it means they can have power over you and me. These people admire the mobs in occupied Jerusalem who just chanted "butcher the Arabs," and yet some of them claim to be against America's current wars.

Me, I'm not laughing at all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Anti-War Anthems: "Saigon Bride"

The version of this song I'm familiar with is from Joan Baez's 1967 album "Joan" and bears a beautiful, mournful string arrangement by Peter Schickele ("PDQ Bach," who arranged many of her early works). The version above was recorded live in concert in Italy is spare and acoustic.

She says something in her introduction above that really resonates with me, "I'd like to start by making one thing clear. I feel that I carry the guilt of the United States aggression in Vietnam, and I'm fighting against this and any other violence." I was watching one of those Iraq-war movies over the weekend that didn't make much of a commercial impact and I realized the terrible guilt that all of us in this country bear for the tragedies in the Middle East. Even those of us who protested against these wars — back in Vietnam in the 1960s or Iraq in the 2000s — failed to prevent the carnage of these wars, and every moment we pretend that we don't know about the ongoing horror our government bears responsibility for, creases our good conscience. We should be shouting about these things all the time.

This song is dated in some ways with its specific references to "red and yellow," but it communicates the cynicism of those who backed the war and created lies of rationalization. I remember the cultural wars over heroes like Joan Baez and Jane Fonda who did the right thing against so much pressure at the time. They were very brave.

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I'm going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it's yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we're dead

How many dead men will it take
To build a dike that will not break?
How many children must we kill
Before we make the waves stand still?

Though miracles come high today
We have the wherewithal to pay
It takes them off the streets you know
To places they would never go alone
It gives them useful trades
The lucky boys are even paid

Men die to build their Pharoah's tombs
And still and still the teeming wombs
How many men to conquer Mars
How many dead to reach the stars?

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I'm going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it's yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we're dead

(Music by Joan Baez, Lyrics by Nina Duscheck. © 1967 Robbins Music Corporation and Chandos Music)

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Favorite Things

I've noticed a slight uptick in blog readership over the past couple months. Which is great! I don't write this blog to make money or anything, just as a creative outlet in a sometimes frustrating and soul-deadening world. I recognize the worldview presented here is a complicated mix of politics, culture, spirituality and personal identity. It is, after all, a complicated world: call it an attempt to rise to the challenge.

Anyway I realize having written this blog at various rates for several years now — wow almost five — a lot of the writing that I'm most proud of is buried in that Blog Archives bar at left. So for the record, here are links to some of my personal favorite Cahokian posts.

Echoes of a Past Life: Gay Libre/Patria Libre
An extended account of gay life under the Sandinistas in Nicaragua back in 1986.

The Massacre Monument
An essay on making and keeping enemies from the Fort Dearborn Massacre to 9/11.

Everybody Draw Muhammad?

On Islamophobia and cartoonists.

More on Left-Wing Homophobia: My Story of Survival
In a different time and place, a young gay men discovers the Left isn't all it was made out to be.

The Terror and Beauty of Difficult Music and the Miracle of Creation
Listening to Miles Davis and other challenges.

Of Tea Parties and Things Left Unsaid
On the open secret of teabagger racism.

Echoes of a Past Life: A Ball of Mirrors
The healing power of disco.

Echoes of a Past Life: Healing Darkness
A story of spiritual transformation.

Dies Irae
My 9/11 story.

Me and the Chairman
My surprising friendship with Chairman Mao.


It all adds up to a crazy few hundred posts. Press any of the labels at right for what I hope is a stimulating collection of images and ideas. Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Politicians' Follies

It seems to be the political sweet season. Here's a few must-read links.

Herman Cain Casting Call
Courtesy of We Are Respectable Negroes blog, a chilling Herman Cain video coupled with a leaked casting-call for a Cain commercial. Includes this priceless paragraph:

"7. Arab American with Dog. One person from the Middle East is needed with his or her dog. Preferably, a yellow Labrador retriever or a lovable mutt who enjoys interacting with others. The dog should be a puppy. If it is exceptionally talented and has prior acting experience, an older animal will also be acceptable."

Read the whole post here.

The Important Lies of Anthony Weiner
The underwhelming Weinergate generated some hilarious headlines. But what about the actually important lies Weiner has told? Hint, they're about neither his penis nor whether he sexted his facebook friends.

"WEINER: You can see a difference in the development in the West Bank with 11 percent year over year growth, with no Israeli occupation there either, with increasing access to checkpoints...
COHEN: No occupation in the West Bank, did I hear you right?

Read the list of his actual lies on Mondoweiss.

T-Paw's Imaginary Economic Plan
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty entered the Republican race with a plan to oppose gay adoption. And with a plan for full economic recovery lowering taxes! Ezra Klein demolishes T Paw:

"This plan isn’t optimistic. It isn’t a bit vague. It’s a joke. And I don’t know which is worse: The thought that Pawlenty knows that and went forward with this pandering, fantasy-based proposal anyway, or the thought that he doesn’t know it, and he really thinks this could work."

Read the whole thing on WaPo. And hey Minnesota, what is wrong with you people? This guy AND Michelle Bachmann?

Breaking: Newt's Rats Jump Ship

As of this posting, Newt Gingrich's campaign team just walked out on him.

"At least Newt wasn't being treated for cancer when this happened."

Hilarious analysis at aplainblogaboutpolitics.

Rick Santorum Doesn't Like Being Made Fun Of

Also recently officially-announced ultra-right wing and ultra-uptight Republican candidate Rick Santorum has a google problem. His program consists of little more than his hatred of gay people. Watch him whine frothily and then read the comments of the gay people who rightfully hate him back at Joe.My.God.

Sarah Palin Said Something Unintelligible
Oh wait, I was posting news.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"How To Survive a Plague"

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the medical establishment realizing that a new and virulent killer was in our midst. Back in 1981, HIV/AIDS was not yet understood, nor even accurately named. It would be years before scientists and doctors understood what they were dealing with, or could name it correctly, much less treat it; but back then they recognized that the disease killing a small number of gay men seemed to be something new and dangerous. Now, thirty years later, millions of lives around the world have been lost to the disease; millions more people live with the virus in their systems, and while expensive treatment seems to have greatly reduced its mortal danger, HIV/AIDS remains without an actual cure. I remember 1981 like it was yesterday. I remember the faces no longer here. I remember the fear that gripped us as AIDS spread.

"How To Survive a Plague" is the name of an exciting new documentary film being created by David France, a journalist, activist, and now filmmaker with thirty years of experience bearing media witness to the AIDS years. (He's also a dear friend referred to obliquely throughout this blog; our friendship began that same 1981, the year we both moved to New York City from the Midwest.)

Still in production, "How To Survive a Plague" uses archival footage and modern interviews to tell a truly miraculous story. It tells how a small group of activists not only waged a political struggle around the disease and its disregard by American political authorities, but more than that also: How they resolved to help themselves survive by pushing the scientific edge, leading an unfocused and uncaring scientific establishment to the medical breakthroughs that since the early 1990s have saved so many lives. The film reveals how central and crucial the activism of the gay community and people with AIDS themselves was to transforming HIV from an automatic death sentence to something that could be survived. The state of AIDS/HIV today is shown to be the result not of medical or scientific luck, but the result of the determination to survive of people the U.S. government considered entirely expandable.

A trailer for the film is not yet public; when one is available I will post it here. I can tell you what I have been privileged to see privately is absolutely stunning: it's moving and simply beyond inspiring. You can "like" the film's facebook page for updates and more information.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Living Franz Kafka's "The Castle"

I noted that the other day, June 3, was the anniversary of existentialist author Franz Kafka's death in 1924. Like most people my age I read his "Metamorphosis" in school, the story of a man who awakens to find he's become a giant bug. I also read much of one his other novels, his unfinished work "The Castle," and that's a funny story.

Kafka wrote in German, but he was a Jew from Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic but was, during most of his life, then a part of Austria-Hungary. Wikipedia sums up what I remember of "The Castle" perfectly: "The Castle (German: Das Schloß) is a novel by Franz Kafka. In it a protagonist, known only as K., struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities of a castle who govern the village for unknown reasons. Kafka died before finishing the work, but suggested it would end with the Land Surveyor dying in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his 'legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there'. Dark and at times surreal, The Castle is about alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man's attempts to stand against the system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal." It's a kind of horror story, not of monsters or sudden frights, but of drawn-out skin-crawling frustration.

I spent a chunk of the summer of 1976 attending Jagiellonian University's Institute of Polish Language and Culture in Kraków, Poland. I was between high school and college, and while unlike most of my classmates in the program I was not of Polish ancestry, I was a bit of a Slavophile. I'd studied Russian through High School and I jumped at the chance to spend a summer abroad; behind the Iron Curtain no less. It was a great summer, and the program was quite educational as well an excuse to be escorted around the country by bus and see some really cool stuff.

We had a weekend off, and I decided I wanted an adventure. I couldn't believe that having flown all that way I was only going to get to see bits and pieces of one country. So I looked at a map, found some train schedules, and decided I would forge bravely on my own to visit neighboring Czechoslovakia, an entity I realize in my middle age is now as obsolete as Austria-Hungary.

From my base of Kraków, first I got myself to the Silesian coal town of Katowice. There was not so much to see there, except for a massive statue of Lenin in a roundabout. It was all huge uniform post-war Communist housing blocks and factories: not quaint nor inviting. But there was a train station. First I got on the wrong, and very crowded, train. I pushed my way into a crowd before I realized my error and pushed my way out the other side. Sadly my camera didn't make it out with me, but it took me a little while to realize that. Anyway, I've no photos of the massive Lenin statue as a result, no proof, in fact, of the entire excursion except what is burned into my memory.

What was neither purloined from my pocket nor fell on the train floor was my choice of reading for my excursion, which was of course Franz Kafka's "The Castle." I'm not sure what I was thinking: maybe good train reading for a journey to Kafka's homeland? I might have been a slightly intense, angst-filled seventeen-year-old, but I was curiously blind to the omens which were shouting at me, "Turn back young man!" Apparently our Polish lessons hadn't gotten that far, and I wasn't good at reading those metaphorical Signs.

I found the right train and settled in for the journey to the Czech backwater of Ostrava, a mere hop over the border but still on that other side of the Soviets' curtain of iron. I remember some military border guards, a handful of raised eyebrows at a young American traveling alone, but I found myself getting off the train in the lovely woodsy main square of Ostrava. I had a pocket full of American Express travelers checks, some Polish zlotys, a map, and the name of a hotel. I was by then accustomed to Eastern Europe's strange mix of old and new. I don't remember a lot about how Ostrava looked except that the hotel I eventually stayed in was old and dusty, while much else looked new and strangely out of scale as though it was built of Lego. Oh yes, it turns out nobody in Ostrava spoke English. The air was damp, cool and fresh, despite the occasional whiff of coal smoke. But oddly, everything around me was closed down tight.

I must have arrived on a Saturday morning. The first thing I learned was that in socialist Czechoslovakia, one weekend a month was reserved for the workers' leisure, and all businesses were closed, including banks, museums, government ministries, tourist offices, and telecommunications offices. Guess what weekend I arrived in Ostrava?

There was nothing to do and I had no Czech money.

I went up to some sort of militia kiosk and inquired where I might change some money. The militiaman spoke neither English nor Polish, and I no Czech. It was the hated lingua franca of the Soviet bloc but I tried out my high school Russian. Success! Although he spoke too quickly for me, I figured out enough to understand that everything was closed, and I was the proud owner of unspendable money. I wandered around town and found the Hotel I had planned to stay at. No, while they would have loved to accept American cash or Czech crowns, they didn't accept my mysterious travelers checks. The food from the restaurant off the lobby smelled delicious. And was definitely not free.

I shuffled out the door and wandered around the deserted streets in the center of Ostrava with my bag in tow and looked at all the closed shops. I sat on a bench by the train station and resumed my reading of "The Castle." K had arrived in this mysterious village with its mysterious castle. He found himself trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare, and came to the understanding that he could neither stay nor leave. He was trapped. Literal darkness was falling around him. Oh my God. It came to me with a sudden realization, as the real-world shadows lengthened. I looked at my train schedule: the next train back to Poland was not til the next day. A policeman eyed me nervously. I was hungry. I had no place to sleep. I, who had been afraid to go to sleep-away camp a few short years before, was alone in a Communist country. As far as anyone knew, I was safely ensconced in my dorm in Kraków. Uh oh. I could do nothing but sit on my bench and read.

Eventually I went back to the Militia Kiosk. I tried to convey my desperation to the uniformed, blonde woman who now occupied the seat behind the window. Back in Poland we had all learned that the best way to change our money was privately, with friends or family of our minders and instructors. Cold hard dollars gave us Polish zloty at a rate hundreds of times better than we could get at an official money-changer. This was in this long-ago days not only pre-ATM but pre-global economy: the money of the Soviet bloc was worthless outside the Soviet bloc and kept at strange artificial exchange rates. Traveling to East Europe you had to actually prove you were going to exchange a portion of hard currency at official rates, basically giving some of your money away for free to the government. We tried to avoid that as much as possible, which made Poland a bargain even for a poor student like me on savings in dollars from my after-school job and an allowance.

Somehow in broken Russian me and the militiawoman broached the subject of the black market. I showed her my travelers checks. She got on the phone and read them to somebody on the other line. "A-myer-i-kan Eks-press," she sounded out. There was a lot of back and forth. "Come back later," she told me. I returned to my bench. Forlorn. Hungry.

After an hour I went back to the kiosk. No, she said, she couldn't help me. Didn't I have any actual American dollars? Nothing? Stupidly, I had nothing. I had Polish Zlotys. "Wait," she said. "Zlotys?" She got back on the phone. It made no sense to me, but somehow the worthless Polish Zlotys were practically dollars when it came to Czech crowns. She could help me. "Wait for my friend," she said in Russian. A man in a little cap approached the kiosk; she waved me away with him. He spoke no English either. Just more Russian. We ducked into a doorway. He gave me Czech crowns for my zlotys, at a black market rate far above what I could have gotten in the closed banks for either my travelers checks or the Zlotys themselves. Having just sealed a bond through antisocial crime the militiawoman pretended not to see me when I neared her kiosk again. I telegraphed my profound gratitude and turned away toward the Hotel.

I was rewarded with a musty and uncomfortable room in an aged prewar building. But I had a roof over my head, I was filled with relief. After I opened my bag at the foot of the bed I went downstairs and caught a meal of hot, tasty goulash as the restaurant prepared to close. The streets outside the hotel were quiet and empty...there would be no pub crawl. I returned to my room, turned on the lamp, and returned to Kafka's nightmare world where nothing went right. Fortunately, I slept, and unlike Gregor Samsa awoke to find myself still me, in a quiet strange land. I packed my bag and found my train ticket. I set "The Castle" on the table by the bed and turned and left the room, locking the door behind me as I headed back to the station.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Tale of Two Videos

This catchy song and video is the work of One World, a project formed by members of the British electronica band Faithless. It's a benefit for UK Charity War on Want projects in Palestine, and features a mini-super group of pop musicians, gospel choirs, rappers, break dancers, and even musicians playing Middle-Eastern hand percussion and oud.

"So many years of catastrophe
More than six million refugees
It could be you and your family
Forced from your home and your history

We are the people
And this is our time
Stand up and sing out for Palestine

No matter your faith or community
This is a crime against humanity
God's earth turned into a prison camp
Apartheid wall divides the West Bank

We'll break down the wall
Freedom for Palestine
Demand justice for all
Freedom for Palestine"

The One World website has dance remixes of the song and there's a facebook page as well. It really shows the diverse face of the justice for Palestine movement.

And now to break the mood here's the second video.

It's a video of the "Reunified Jerusalem" demonstration by extremist Israelis in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Arab East Jerusalem just this past June 1. As you'll see in the subtitles the crowd is chanting such charming things as "Butcher the Arabs!" "Death to Arabs!" "Death to Leftists!" "May your village burn!" and "Muhammad Is Dead!". (More photos of the demonstration can be seen here.)

This is who the so-called settlers are: racist bullies shouting for genocide. Next time the U.S. vetoes a motion in the UN about Israel's illegal settlements, this is whose side the U.S. is taking.

(Hat tip to Annie for pointing me to the first video; second video from Mondoweiss. There's another video on Mondoweiss of the same demonstration.)

Friday, June 03, 2011

News from the Malabar Front: Republicans Are Against Expensive and Unjustified War!

"So, during this debate we must make clear to the American people that the United States had to take action in the best interests of the security of our nation and the world community. As Republicans who supported military action against Saddam Hussein and terrorists around the globe, the United States had to show our resolve as the world’s premier defender of freedom and liberty before such ideals were preyed upon, rather than after standing witness to their demise at the hands of our enemies. ...

Republicans believe victory in Iraq will be an important blow to terrorism and the threat it poses around the world. Democrats, on the other hand, are prone to waver endlessly about the use of force to protect American ideals. Capitol Hill Democrats’ only specific policy proposals are to concede defeat on the battlefield and instead, merely manage the threat of terrorism and the danger it poses.

These are troubling policies to embrace in a post-9/11 world. During this debate, we need to clarify just how wrong the Democrats’ weak approach is and just how dangerous their implementation would be to both the short-term and long-term national security interests of the United States."
— Republican Rep. John Boehner, House Majority Leader, June 2006 when George Bush was President

"We have our opportunity to do what our forefathers have done, and that's to stand up, support our troops and to win, because the outcome of failure is actually too ominous to even think about." — John Boehner on Iraq in 2007, when George Bush was President

"[HR292 declares] that the President shall not deploy, establish, or maintain the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya, and for other purposes.

(1) The United States Armed Forces shall be used exclusively to defend and advance the national security interests of the United States.

(2) The President has failed to provide Congress with a compelling rationale based upon United States national security interests for current United States military activities regarding Libya.

(3) The President shall not deploy, establish, or maintain the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya unless the purpose of the presence is to rescue a member of the Armed Forces from imminent danger. "
H.Res 292, authored by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, and passed by the Republican majority in the House, while Barack Obama is President

“The American people and the members of this House have questions and concerns that have gone unanswered,” Mr. Boehner said on the floor of the House. “The president of the United States is our commander in chief, and I’ve always believed that combat decisions should be left to the commander in chief and the generals on the ground. But the House also has an obligation to heed the concerns of our constituents and to carry out our constitutional responsibilities.” reported today in the NY Times

I am completely against President Obama's policy of military intervention in Libya (or in Iraq and Afghanistan for that matter). But is there any doubt that the newfound Republican interest in the War Powers Act and in monitoring the costs and rationale behind a military adventure is 100% solely a product of the fact that a black Democrat is sitting in the White House? The hypocrisy and opportunism boggle the mind.


(Excellent graphic from somebody's Cafepress store — not mine!)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

NYC LGBT Center Buckles to Zionists Again

A week ago I spoke too soon.

New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center last week offered space to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. Today they reneged, and announced a new policy which bans any group — gay or not — which "organizes around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" from renting space at the Center indefinitely.

"The Center has been forced to divert significant resources from its primary purpose of providing programming and services to instead navigating between opposing positions involving the Middle East conflict. The Center, which does not endorse the views of groups to whom it rents space and requires all groups to sign a non-discrimination pledge, has decided to implement this moratorium to allow a cooling off period....

[The Center] agreed to rent space to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, which conformed to the Center’s application guidelines and signed its non-discrimination agreement. But the ensuing controversy has again consumed significant time and resources and forced Center staff to negotiate issues of anti-Semitism in political expression – an area outside the Center’s expertise. For these reasons, the Center has adopted an indefinite moratorium."

What an outrage. And what utterly false even-handedness. This ban is aimed solely at queer pro-Palestinian activists. It slanderously suggests that the issue involves being asked to be somehow tolerant of anti-Semitism: a total lie raised by the political supporters of Israel having absolutely zero to do with the actual perspective of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, many of whose members are themselves Jewish.

A longtime activist friend of mine summed this up best on Facebook: "I have been in this community since high school, and the people now running the Center are the most destructive non-leaders we have ever been subjected to. They don't know how to solve problems, and they have no moral impulse. They created this crisis through their bad judgement and now they are escalating through more bad decision making. The lack of intelligence and responsibility is stunning. Even the corrupt mafia bar bouncer and the corrupt token clerk who used to run the Pride Parade at least threw a good party."

The Center has been open in New York for almost thirty years. It has provided a place for all sorts of people in the community to meet. Nobody presumes the Center endorses the views or issues of people who meet there, many of whom are outside of what some people call the mainstream. Why should there now be an issue of who inside the gay and lesbian community is able to meet there? Nobody's asking the LGBT Center to take a position on the Middle East. But by trying to silence the discussion, they are in fact choosing a side: the side of right-wing pro-Israel pornographer Michael Lucas who wants nothing more than to do exactly that: silence all opposition to the Israeli apartheid state.

Shame on the LGBT Center. It's time for an "indefinite moratorium" on donations and attendance at that now tarnished institution.