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Note of Caution

Naturally, I have been amused by the brilliant Operation Yellow Elephant. The basic idea is to simply inquire of young right-wing Republicans, great proponents of the war in Iraq, why they haven't enlisted to help make up the shortfall under which the U.S. armed forces is currently suffering. Their excuses are rich. The irony could feed an army.

But I think we should be careful here. Though I am not a Christian, I do believe in the ever present possibility of redemption. Well, I mean, if Ebenezer Scrooge could come around...

There is the remote possibility that Operation Yellow Elephant might turn from a very funny, very snarky amusement into an opportunity for these young Republicans to actually redeem themselves. I know it seems unlikely, but what happens if these young Republicans actually stop and think for a moment? What if they actually do peer deep into their own souls? What happens if they are, finally, repulsed by their own hypocrisy?

In short, what if they all actually do join the Army?

I've always been one of those who could see the logic of instituting a draft. It has always seemed to me that if there was going to be killing and dying and going legless or armless for the rest of people's lives, then the fun ought to be spread around. The idea being, of course: if the children of rich people have to go, then our fearless leaders are going to be made to think twice about starting any more wars.

But I'm not so sure I think that way anymore. It seems to me, especially now that we are in the Age of Optional Wars, the idea ought to be to put the brakes on these wars before they get started. But how do you do that?

In a sense, the chickenhawk young Republicans are showing us the way. In a democracy, despite all the high-falutin' speechifying, people usually vote on the basis of their own (enlightened, one hopes) self-interests. These chickenhawk young Republicans don't really believe in this war. If they did, they would be flocking to where they are really needed: on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. So in an odd way, they are actually voting the "right way". This war is wrong and they, to borrow a famous line, "aren't going to take it anymore". The only problem is that they are lying about their votes. It's like those people who in interviews say "Oh, I don't have a problem with gay people", and then they go into the privacy of the voting booth and vote for measures that cripple the rights of gay people. It's hypocrisy without much cost.

In a democracy without a draft, the people actually get to vote on whether they want a war or not: If the people don't want the war, if they think the war is a fraud like this one, then they aren't going to join up, and pretty soon the country doesn't have the people power to fight the war anymore. These chickenhawk young Republicans are doing just the right thing: voting against this war by staying home. All they really have to do now to fulfill their patriotic obligations is, you know, be honest and own up to their actual votes.

Of course the obvious problem with all of this is, in fact, the current war in Iraq. Not having a draft didn't stop the Bush Administration from starting this fraudulent mess so we can't really say that not having a draft will keep us out of similar messes. I don't know that not having a draft can save us from an electorate that is too disengaged to actually pay attention to what's coming down the road.

So it might just be that the best thing not having a draft can do for us is help us keep ourselves from making things worse once we've effed up and started a stupid war. For example, without a draft, the Bush Administration is not going to be able to do any more irresponsible, incompetent adventuring across the face of the globe.

But what if all the chickenhawk young Republicans grow some integrity and they actually do join up? How much more damage will Bush be able to do then with all those extra bodies in uniform? It gives one pause.

Still, no matter what we say or think, democracy is pretty much a crap-shoot. You put your money down on the marker you think is going to put you in the money, and then you takes yer chances. Operation Yellow Elephant is great for a laugh, and I guess overall it's worth the terrible risk. I mean, after all, the chances of all the chickenhawk young Republicans signing up are vanishingly small. Maybe a little bigger than the chances of them shutting their war-holes, but not by much. There are some days when I feel like I could literally kill for a good laugh, so I suppose overall the risk of putting more military bodies in the hands of the Bush Administration is worth it, considering the odds.

The best jokes are always the most dangerous, so I'm not saying I'm actually against Operation Yellow Elephant. I'm just saying, what are we going to do if they actually stop being loud-mouthed hypocrites?  Yeah, I know the chances are small, but one of the reasons the left is in the sorry state it's in these days is because we don't think enough ahead. Where are our strategic thinkers on the left?

What if the chickenhawk young Republicans cross us up and act with integrity?

Do we have an exit strategy for a successful Operation Yellow Elephant?

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

Sing along!
(.wav file)

Sheet music of national anthem of Canada

Here's Why

Mary Kay over at Gallimaufry writes:

So I've been wondering what to do with this blog.  I just can't do the political stuff at all these days.  Should I give up?  Keep it going as a non-political blog?  The feelings of doubt and guilt have made it more difficult to address these questions and my future plans.  And bottom line?  I still don't know what I'm going to do.  Maybe I'll just let it wither away gradually.

So I posted a response that sort of accidentally ended up being a statement of Why I Blog. I repost it here, on the remote chance somebody might find it interesting, and so that I can find it again later once I forget what the hell is supposed to be fun about all of this.

First, you should of course do whatever feels right for you to do.

Second, I know that I have been blessed (so far) with a brain chemistry that makes me more resistant to depressions than other people. I try not to be Pollyanna, but I am not always successful. I only point that out to make it easier for people to yell at me for being a Pollyanna if I say something that strikes them that way. I apologize in advance because I have no idea what I'm about to say to you. Maybe I will sound like Pollyanna, maybe I won't.

I guess my feeling is that we are all going to croak someday (there goes that Pollyanna in me again!) and so we might as well try to find things that make us as happy as it is possible for us to be for as long as we can. On that theory, I guess I think a blog presents an opportunity for exploring ways to come up with some sort of happiness, no matter how temporary that happiness might be. If your blog is adding to your unhappiness, then I think it would be a good idea to either lay off it, or find a new way to use it.

When I first started, I had delusions of being a Big Shot Blogger. Ha. By now, I pretty much understand I never will be that; I don't have it in me. I don't have the kind of stuff in me that ENTRANCES MILLIONS, or at least hundreds of thousands of people. Once I got all of that, I started feeling like I wanted... well, let me put it this way... I realized it gave me happiness to work on my blog in particular ways... those ways basically amount to: will I find it enjoyable to write a post on that particular thing?

Sometimes I write stuff even I don't get. I just write it because it gives me joy to write it and -- I feel a little bit bad about this, but not enough to stop me from doing it -- I know my small band of loyal readers won't know what the hell I'm on about. The reason they won't know, of course, is because even I don't know what I'm on about. This is one of the reasons why I will never be a Big Shot Blogger, naturally. I just like indulging myself like that. I guess I hope anybody who stops by to read the thing will go: "Hunh." In the same way that I go: "Hunh." Sometimes it might amount to something interesting, sometimes it won't.

I guess all I'm saying is that a blog can be freeing as much as it can be a onerous obligation.

I generally write my entries off-line, in Wordpad, and if I want to share it I paste it in to the "Create a Post" screen. If I don't feel like sharing it, I just put it aside. Maybe I'll feel like sharing it later, maybe I won't. Somehow, that way of doing things relaxes me; it takes the pressure off. It lets me write freely and enjoy myself.

Politics is misery, but politics ain't all of life. Maybe just write whatever you want to write, in a manner that pleases you. Write off-line so you don't have to feel like you are generating some sort of performance for other people. You're just writing to Pleasure Yourself(!) Then if you come up with something you want to share, share it. If you don't, then don't.

Everybody gets depressed in their own way, of course. And everybody finds their own sort of happiness. All I know is that on those occasions when I do get depressed, it's usually because I feel trapped and obligated by a bunch of crap that I (in my brat-like manner) really couldn't care less about.

Writing always has to be fun for me. It doesn't make sense to me to do it unless it is fun. This is why I will never be a Great Writer, of course, but you know what? I'm over that. I'm just into the writing now. Moment to moment. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Idea by idea.

So I guess what I wanted to say (I know now, because I just wrote it all out) is: if you want to poke around to see if there is a way for your blog to be fun for you, then I'd say give yourself permission to go off the map in any direction you want. If you find someplace interesting, share it, please. If you find yourself in some dull and sense-deadening place, then strike off in another direction. See what's over there. Or, over there.

People aren't happy unless they can find some sort of freedom in their lives. Maybe, like me, your blog could be useful to you for that.

Or, you know, maybe not.

Plus çà blog...

I recently came across a blog by a geezer named Tocqueville. It's called Democracy In America. I'm a little late to this game, I'm afraid -- I guess this blog has been around since about 1835.

He's got some punchy media analysis of right-wing talk radio in there. For example:

When an idea has taken possession of the mind of the American people, whether it is just or unreasonable, nothing is more difficult than to root it out. [...] I attribute this effect to the very cause that at first, it would seem, ought to prevent it from occurring -- freedom of the press. Peoples in whom this freedom exists are attached to their opinions by pride as much as by conviction. They love them because they seem just to them, and also because they are their choice, and they hold to them not only as something true, but also as something that is their own.

Yeah, so anyway... I've been reading this guy for the first time in all my many years. I'd always heard this book was an astonishing work and guess what? It really is. I'm going through yellow highlighters like there was no tomorrow.

I bought the 2000 Right-Wing Financed edition, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop...

For financial support we are grateful to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; to the John M. Olin Foundation; to Robert S. Krupp of San Francisco, California, through the American Council of Trustees and Alumni; and to our generous employer, Harvard University.

...just so I could be sure I was getting the worst-case scenario of this geezer. I read their 90+ page introduction to the work and despite their best efforts, they couldn't even ruin it for me.

Yeah, so if you haven't read this book, you should. It's astonishing, just like they always told you it was.


punkrockhockeymom loves Ann Arbor.  She loves her house, her neighborhood, the downtown area, the university and everything about it.

What she can't stand is idiots who don't read the effing manual when they're voting on state constitutional amendments.

Your Stomach Or Your Lunch

Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder says:

Two years after the Iraq invasion, America seems to be losing its stomach for war.

Actually, I think what America is losing is its lunch.

This is the standard explanation we get from the powerful: the American public is a big pansy-ass blowhard that thinks war is great as long as it doesn't go on any longer than a summer replacement sit-com series.

Naturally this would be the explanation we get from the powerful. It puts the blame precisely where it belongs. In their view.

In fact, for better or for worse, it isn't that America loses its stomach for war. What it loses its stomach for is incompetence.

Incompetence has always been the issue, as far as I'm concerned, with the Bush Administration. It was their incompetence that kept them from paying attention to the signs that 9/11 was coming. It was their incompetence that made them think they could win a war in Iraq and build a new nation there by overthrowing one sick bastard.

Incompetence is the product of living in a world nobody else lives in. You've got a problem, you come up with a solution that makes perfect sense to you but leaves everybody else scratching their heads and saying "Wha?" Your solution works great in the world inside your head. Unfortunately, the real world isn't inside there with you.

That's incompetence.

Listen, powerful people, for better or for worse America doesn't ever lose its stomach for war; what it loses is its lunch over incompetence. We all live down here in the real world where solutions to real world problems either work or they don't. If they don't work, if they clearly aren't working no matter how much B.S. you throw at us and at the problem, then the answer isn't that we are impatient. The answer is: you suck and we want out.

And by the way... these poll numbers? The Bush Administration sinking like a stone? This is not just a fleeting dip in the daily grind of politics. What you are seeing is what I've been predicting since 9/11. Bush is going to go down as one of the worst presidents this country has ever had. These aren't just poll numbers; these are the beginnings of history's judgment on Bush. These are the first tentative scribblings of what will become some of the most disturbing, appalling even, volumes that will ever be written in the lengthening story of America.

History will revile this man, which is cold comfort of course for all those whose lives he has damaged, and for all those who will suffer in the future because of this administration's current policies. But then, to the powerful, our daily lives have never particularly mattered much. Often, the best we can ever hope for is that the truth will eventually be told about these people.

Well. The truth-telling has begun. Drink deep from it while you can.

Plattsburgh For Peace

The city of Plattsburgh, New York has an openly gay mayor. On the weekend of July 9, 2005, the city will host the Mayor's Cup Festival (and Regatta on Lake Champlain). Fred Phelps (The Church of God Hates Fags) intends to picket various "sodomite churches" during the Festival.

Via Rachel Maddow, an organization named Plattsburgh for Peace is taking pledges to raise money for various charities, including Interfaith Council of Plattsburgh & Clinton County Food Shelf, Greater Plattsburgh Interfaith Hospitality Network, The Matthew Shepard Foundation, AIDS Council of Northeastern New York, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

It works this way:

Plattsburgh For Peace (PFP) is announcing a positive and constructive fundraising scheme to discourage Phelps from picketing in Plattsburgh. It's a pledge drive for people to pledge money to a FOR EVERY MINUTE PHELPS AND ANY OTHER WBC MEMBERS PICKETS IN PLATTSBURGH. In this way, the longer Phelps and other WBC members stay to spew hate, the more money will be raised for the exact causes they picket against!

You can pledge one dollar per minute of Phelps's picketing up to a limit you determine, or leave your pledge uncapped, then you pick which of the charities you want your money to go to.

The Education Of

The documentary I mentioned the other day, The Education of Shelby Knox, was aired last night here in New York City. I hope people had a chance to watch it, but if you missed it, maybe you can catch it on rebroadcast. It is worth it. Check your local listings.

Okay, Shelby's name is in the title, and it's true it's her story and she travels a good ways in the film and she pretty much does most of the heavy lifting, but I have to say that I don't really consider her The Hero of the film. In my opinion, it's Mr. and Mrs. Knox, Shelby's Baptist Republican parents, who get that honor.

Watch the film. Watch it once just for Shelby's story. If that was the only story the film had to tell, it would be well worth watching.

Then watch it again and this time keep your eye on Mommy and Daddy Knox. Everything you need to know about what makes Shelby a remarkable person you will see right there in their respect for Shelby, in their love for her, in the mix of courage and good-humored but deep trepidation they show while letting this human being they came together to create grow into the person she feels she has to be.

You might think the reason the radical right opposes broadcast of this film is because it deals with someone, a high school girl, making a reasonable argument not just for better sex education in the schools but also for some sort of decency in the way gay high school kids are treated. You might think that's the reason they think this film is dangerous, but it's not.

In a post-broadcast interview, one of the filmmakers -- she seems like a nice Jewish lady from New York City though of course I can't be sure about the Jewish part -- remarks that the story takes place in a part of the country, Lubbock, Texas, that has a culture nearly if not completely foreign to her. She says one of the lessons she learned in going there and meeting up with this culture of the panhandle of Texas -- a culture that is in some ways in charge of this country at the moment -- is that no matter how foreign this place seemed to her, and how foreign she must have seemed to the people of Lubbock... the gap seemed crossable.

She says "reachable", I think, and that's the real danger in this film. It reminds us we can actually reach each other if -- as the filmmaker says -- we stop, look, and listen.

I admire Shelby Knox tremendously. I stand shamed before her courage and determination. But it's really her mom and dad that make me think the filmmakers are quite possibly right. We actually can reach each other.

It's a dangerous, dangerous message. It's the kind of message that can keep a people free.

I, Quotius

I love being somebody's quote of the day.

Watch And Learn

So this was posted to Zach In Tennessee's blog last night, by a friend of his:

Jun 18, 2005 1:25 AM

For everyone who reads Zach's page, here's an update on Zach. He has to do an extension for 6 weeks. So he wont be able to get online or anything. But he thanks everyone for their love and support. And he's doing okay. He's probably changed slightly because of being in that kind of environment for so long but he is still the awesome zach that we know him as....

I had a feeling that was going to happen. Predictable, I suppose. What with all the local publicity and messages of support, Brainwashing In Action could hardly afford to let Zach go before he was "cured". And now, of course, messages of hate are starting to show up in his blog comments.

He's a Poster Child for both sides now -- a fate worse than life, as a friend of mine used to say. I think the best thing now is to surrender him to the care of his close friends. They are the ones best situated to help him through his summer of hell.

But, as I said before, I was heartened by the messages of support from so many. Lots of good energy there. I hope people do something with it. All of us of a certain age must, of course, continue to fight the radical-right to save this country from them, but the fight will be a long one full of bitter set-backs and soul-testing defeats. It will go on for years. It won't be over after the next election, or the one after that, though we have to work with the intention of winning every election from here on in. More than that, it isn't just a matter of winning elections. It's a matter of winning hearts and minds.

It will take True Grit... of the sort we find in a high school girl -- now college sophomore at the University of Texas, Austin -- named Shelby Knox.

Next week the PBS series "P.O.V." will present the Sundance Film Festival Award-Winning documentary called The Education of Shelby Knox (check your local listings).

Shelby was interviewed during a segment last night on PBS's "NOW". Catch it on rebroadcast, if you can. It will make you want to catch the documentary next week.

From the "P.O.V." web site:

Into the culture wars steps feisty teenager Shelby Knox of Lubbock, Texas. Although her county's high schools teach abstinence as the only safe sex, Lubbock has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the nation. Shelby, a devout Christian who has pledged abstinence until marriage herself, becomes an unlikely advocate for comprehensive sex education, profoundly changing her political and spiritual views along the way.

Texas public schools have had abstinence-only sex education since 1995, when then-governor George W. Bush signed a law making Texas the third state to follow the curriculum....


In the fall of 2001, Shelby, then a 15-year-old high school sophomore, budding opera singer and politically conservative Southern Baptist, joined the Lubbock Youth Commission, a group of high school students empowered by the mayor to give Lubbock's youth a voice in city government. "We get no [sex] education at all in school," says Shelby in "The Education of Shelby Knox." "Maybe twice a week, I see a girl walking down the hall pregnant... It's part of normal life at my school. If a student asks a teacher about sex, the teacher by policy is required to answer with 'Abstinence is the only way to prevent STD's and teen pregnancy.'... If they don't, they're in danger of losing their job."


The Youth Commission decides to fight for comprehensive, fact-based sex education in the town's public schools. Shelby takes up the campaign with missionary fervor....


Shelby finds herself in a difficult position on the home front, too. Her parents are supportive, but they are also concerned about the stress the campaign is putting on her, and by Shelby's increasingly liberal attitudes. When they suggest she quit the commission, Shelby explodes, "I'm not dropping out... I have power there."

On the public level, the youth group is getting extensive media coverage but little attention from school officials. After repeated requests, the school board finally allows them to present their recommendations. Although the school board listens, the members are not persuaded, and it becomes clear that the district will continue to implement its abstinence-until-marriage sex education in the city's high schools. Again, Shelby refuses to give up.

Shelby now allies herself with a group of gay students who have been denied the right to form a gay-straight alliance in school, feeling it will galvanize her campaign. This is not a fight that Corey and the kids on the commission, afraid of adding more controversy to their already contentious agenda, want to join. Soon after, the mayor of Lubbock announces that he is considering doing away with the youth commission because of a city budget shortfall....


By her senior year, Shelby is committed to working with the gay teens, who have decided to sue the Lubbock School Board. She has also declared herself to be a liberal Democrat, a turn that shocks her Republican parents. But when an organization whose slogan is "God Hates Fags" comes to Lubbock to protest the gay kids' lawsuit, Shelby, along with her mother, joins a counter protest, carrying a sign that reads "God Loves Everybody," and affirming a belief that will guide her into adulthood: "I think that God wants you to question," Shelby says, "to do more than just blindly be a follower, because he can't use blind followers. He can use people like me who realize there's more in the world that can be done."

Does Shelby win her fights? I dunno. I haven't seen the documentary. I'll find out next week, I guess.

For all those young Americans who flocked to Zach's blog to post their comments of support, take that energy and do good with it. America can't survive on the fantasy of political power and activism  that comes with posting a heart-felt message to a message board. America needs an Activist Army ("Be all that you can be!") to fight the battles that have to be fought to save our freedoms. Those battles have to be fought the way Shelby Knox fights them: in the real world, at the cost of your blood, sweat, and tears.

If you are a friend of Zach's, if you came here by way of a Google search on gay+zach+tennessee, if you are a parent with a child approaching the age of political action and consent, if you are just somebody who believes that it is young America that will finally have to win this war for us, please pass the word (quickly, if you can) about the upcoming broadcast of The Education of Shelby Knox. Online activism is great for organizing, and emotional and psychological support, but without the kind of commitment and action epitomized by Shelby's story, we are going to lose. Watch the story of her struggles and learn.


Other Things Democracy Might Be

Hmm... I'm goofing around with some alternative, perhaps slightly bent definitions of "democracy" and I'm wondering how people feel about this one:

Democracy: a system of self-government wherein members of various groups know they could annihilate each other, but are satisfied not to.

Yeah? Opinions?

Feel free to remodel, raze, or chime in with a definition of your own if you have one. All definitions should be 25 words or less and bent slightly, though nevertheless true.


Today's "Democracy Quote of the Day"

If you don't grasp that democracy and good citizenship entail draping Jesse Helm's house in a giant condom or chaining oneself to a pharmaceutical executive's desk or shutting down Wall Street at rush hour, then, as Larry would say, you don't know history.

By Rodger McFarlane, from "Afterword" to Larry Kramer's The Tragedy of Today's Gays.

When Zach Gets Back

(Update: all links to Zach's blog removed so as not to contribute to more haters finding the place.)

The other day I talked about ol' Zach, the 16 year old gay boy whose parents have shipped him off to an Indoctrination Camp so that he may be "cured".

As I write this, the comment section of his blog [link removed] shows over 620 posts, the vast majority of them wishing the guy strength, pulling for him, sending him their love and support, etc. I've been skimming the posts, and at the moment I can recall only one that pretty much expresses the notion that Zach's parents did the right thing in handing him over to Brainwashing In Action.

It's a remarkable document -- one that I hope and believe will help Zach both emotionally and psychologically once he regains the freedom to which he is entitled. But, as I understand it, Zach will be getting out of his hell hole in a few more days and so I want to inject one note of caution here. It's true I'm probably just a worry wart -- always have been -- but I want to say something as a kind of reminder to all of us who have participated in the creation of this remarkable expression of love and support for ol' Zach.

I hope and truly believe that the result at the end of all this will be Zach emerging into the light of day, smiling kind of sourly and saying: "They never laid a glove on me." That would be truly great. But remember that Brainwashing In Action intends to make all of their victims into something that is somehow more "acceptable" to the parents of their victims.

We shouldn't kid ourselves. Just look at the rules that Zach posted for everybody to see. Brainwashing In Action knows how to do this stuff. First they take a kid who is already way scared, and angry, and vulnerable, and they try to strip away everything that makes him who he is, all the way down to the core. They want a blank slate upon which they can write their twisted messages, and they know how to get what they want.

My point is this... I don't believe it will happen, but if it does happen that Zach comes out of this thing "changed"... all of us who have participated in the creation of this remarkable document need to think what our responses are going to be.

Quite understandably -- many of us have said it outright -- there are people who have a genuine emotional investment in what happens to Zach. It's possible -- I'm not saying it's likely, but it's possible -- that some people will feel betrayed by Zach himself if he comes out of this thing "changed".

I'll say it again: I don't think it will happen that way, but if it does we need to think carefully, beforehand, about our personal responses to it. The last thing any of us should do is turn any anger or any sense of betrayal we might feel against Zach himself, for his having "changed".

This remarkable document of over 620 messages of support is about a single human being: Zach. It's about all (or the overwhelming majority) of us telling him he is all right the way he is. It is not about us or our feelings except insofar as we feel anger and outrage at this thing being done to Zach.

Whatever happens, we need to remember that we are dealing with one single human being who has been through the equivalent of a car wreck. At the moment, we are all more or less in the position of having gotten the phone call from the police telling us Zach has been in an accident and we are all racing to the hospital to find out his condition.

When we get there, we may find out he is perfectly fine, not a scratch on him. As I say, I hope and believe that will be the case.

But there is the chance that we will get there and find he has been injured terribly. If any of us were in that situation in real life, we wouldn't start in on him, there in the hospital, with how much he has disappointed us, or how angry we are with him, or how we feel he has betrayed us, or anything else like that. We would stand beside his bed and do what we could to help nurse him back to health.

I honestly believe he is going to be fine. But even if things don't turn out that way, I believe this document will stand as a powerful argument -- one that he can return to later on, maybe at a time when he is full of pain and doubts about himself, at a time when the brainwashing has begun to fade. This document will stand as a single powerful statement -- to a Zach either changed or unchanged -- that there are plenty of people in this world who will accept him -- who want to accept him -- just the way he is. If and when he ever truly needs this document, it will do everything it was intended to do for him. It will help him heal. It will help him be himself in defiance (if necessary) of the cruel and indifferent demands of others.

We have all created something that in the minds of some people is a very dangerous thing -- a testament to Zach's humanity and to ours. But we should never forget that there are people out there who think all evidence of our humanity -- not just of gay people but of everybody -- needs to be destroyed. That is why I have been re-saving all our words to a text file, every day, and am in communication with one of Zach's friends who can tell him how to recover them should somebody decide Zach should never see this document and so take steps to destroy it.

This thing will survive, and be available for as long as Zach might need it.

But remember: this isn't about us. It's about Zach and our support for him, just the way he is. If the immediate result turns out to be bad, we must remember to reserve our anger and any sense of betrayal we might feel for those who actually deserve our ire. Whoever that might be, it ain't Zach. It could never be Zach. Ever. He's the victim here in this particular place and time, not any of us.

If worse comes to worse (which it won't!), just make sure you direct your fury where it truly belongs.

Update: Please also see this.

What's Next

So... the Catholic Church has succeeded in defeating a referendum in Italy by encouraging its members to not vote.

Great. Abstinence-only elections. I suppose this will be the next faith-based initiative out of the Bush Administration. "Practice safe elections: Just don't vote."

I don't know why we didn't see it coming.


(Update: all links to Zach's blog removed so as not to contribute to more haters finding the place.)

I 'spose most people have heard about poor Zach by now, maybe through Crooks and Liars [link removed].

Zach is the sixteen year old kid from Tennessee who, a few weeks ago, told his parents he was gay. Their response was to ship him off to one of these "We'll Turn Your Kid Straight" outfits.

Zach's blog is here [link removed]. His last entry is the day before they shipped him off. Something like 400 comments in support of him. The poor kid in his final entry sounds angry, betrayed, and scared to death. Jesus Effing Christ.

If you live in Tennessee, maybe you should think about joining Zach's friends as they protest outside this Gay Guantanamo, just to let him know he isn't alone, and maybe help him hang on until it's over. If you have any hesitation in this regard, read down Zach's blog to where he posts the rules of the hell hole his parents have sent him to. They scare me silly and I'm hardly in a position to be sent away to one of these places. Not yet, anyway.

The WWW has done a lot of good for a lot of people in this world. Gay youth is one of those groups who have benefited the most. They don't have to be out there in the wilderness anymore. They don't have to feel like they are the only gay person on the planet anymore. In the old days, ol' Zach would be in this mess on his own -- alone and without help.

It's kind of inspiring reading through all the comments in support of Zach. The vast majority of them seem to be from teens and people in their early twenties. There's a reason the fundamentalists, the radical right-wingers, and all the rest of them are fighting so hard right now to destroy the lives of gay people. They are afraid the young ones coming up will be insufficiently full of hatred toward gays. They can't rely so much anymore on the peers of gay kids making their lives such hells that they'd have to be crazy to come out. Some gay kids can do that now, and so now the gay-haters are reduced to threatening them with Gay Guantanamo.

I say good on those friends of Zach gutsy enough to stand outside that place and yell for their friend's freedom. That's what I call political action.

But I can't help worrying about poor Zach. It will be good to see him post on his blog again, once he gets out of there.

Man, this is one twisted world.

Update: Please also see this.

Acting In A Space

It began with a comment from Jo on my previous post, Acting In Space:

"Did you see Dogville?"

No, I had not. Now, I have.

There is so much to say. First, for those unfamiliar with the film, two things that you will want to know about it before you see it: (1) it is three hours long, and (2) it takes place entirely on one large, nearly (but not quite completely) bare stage.

My earlier post, the one to which Jo posted her question, was about Episode III of Star Wars. It was about how I thought the computer-generated sets made crappy actors out of a group of people who had otherwise and otherwhere shown themselves to be talented and skilled.

I said:

I want actors acting in spaces that are real to them. And after all, isn't it getting harder and harder for the visuals to really impress us? I'd trade some of the gee-whiz visuals for actors acting in real spaces. No matter where all these characters go, whether it's the galactic core or the outer rim, it's the people we ultimately have to care about. You can't take people out of the places where they are supposed to be and still have those people be believable and worth caring about.

People exist in spaces. Good actors know that precisely. The spaces people are in matter.

Readers of both this post and my previous one will notice the slight change I made in the title to this one. Dogville is not acting in space; it's acting in a space -- a specific place, a specific set that, while sketched in with a floor plan of the town and dotted with some set pieces and a few necessary pieces of furniture, is nevertheless as real in the actor's mind (and eventually in the viewer's mind) as any space you will ever see in any movie anywhere.

At first I thought Jo's query was a sort of challenge to my original thesis. After all, the first distinguishing thing I learned about the film when I researched what had been written about it was that it had been "shot exclusively in studio with a minimum of props". When I put the DVD in the player and fired up the movie, the first thing I noticed was the resemblance of the Dogville space to the spaces I knew the Star Wars actors were forced to act in -- both large and essentially empty.

Of course, that's where the resemblance ended -- both in reality and in my own mind. Dogville exists; the places in Star Wars do not -- at least not until post-production and even then, only visually. The difference is the town of Dogville exists as a solid -- despite the sparse set -- in the actor's minds. They live in Dogville and because of that, they "sell" its existence to the rest of us.

I should mention here that this is my kind of film in the sense that it is one of those films that people seem to either love (for some value of love) or hate (for just about every value of hate).

Stephen Holden is one of those who hated it and his review in the New York Times is one of the stupidest pieces of writing about a film I've seen in a long time. The usually reliable Roger Ebert also hated it. His review makes a mess of things, too.

Part of it may be that the film was made in 2003 and released in the U.S. sometime in early 2004 (I think). The story takes place in a small town in the Rocky Mountains during the Great Depression. Given the times we live in, and given the dark vision we get of this small town, I think many Americans, including many critics, in their typically self-centered way assumed this was some sort of vile and unfair criticism of Small Town America. Well, if it was that, I cannot say the criticism -- harsh though it may be -- is necessarily unjustified. I've seen people acting this way, at least in miniature. I think most people have. And it's not as if we haven't seen, in film or literature, this sort of criticism of Small Town America before. I guess the rule is, if you are an American, you can get away with it. If you are not an American, if you are a film director from Denmark who has (Ebert helpfully points out) never been to America, then you are viciously Anti-American.

Get over it. Americans aren't the entirety of the human race. This film is far more Dürrenmatt's The Visit than it is Wilder's Our Town. Small Town America is not the only place where human beings behave in ways that would make herds of dogs perish from shame.

Look, I know that -- in general -- it is absurd to compare Star Wars and a film like Dogville. In specific, though, it is not absurd when considering the question of how actors act in space. There's no question that the script and most of the scenes in Star Wars are dopey and overblown. But I will bet you one whole American dollar (because there's no way I can either win or lose the bet) that if the actors had been given a solid version of the fantastic places their characters purportedly lived in, they would have pulled off, or nearly pulled off, some of the crap lines and scenes they had been given.

The story of Star Wars first existed in a mind where the characters actually lived in these fantastic places. Their lives were actually filled with these fantastic plots and events. I'll bet it all worked just fine in the mind of The Creator. The characters filled the fantastic places in which they lived, and under such circumstances fantastic characters, fantastic behaviors, fantastic emotions, fantastic lines and scenes are not just allowed, they are required. You can't expect actors acting in blank, nondescript, green-painted, green-lit empty spaces to rise to such occasions.

In Dogville, the town is painted on the floor. The various houses of the good people of Dogville are marked out specifically, and furnished with necessary items. None of this stuff is added-in later (though some sound effects are). The characters operate imaginary doors that are as real as they will ever get. They will not be added in later with the help of machines. If the actor doesn't make it real at that moment, it will never be real. And so they sell it. Various similar sales are made by the actors throughout the film, and in that manner the town of Dogville becomes real.

The actors in Dogvillle know their characters exist in a space, and they know it is up to them to create it. The actors in Star Wars similarly know their characters exist somewhere, but they are forbidden to make any part of the void they are acting in real in their own minds. Adding in a computer-generated door over the top of an actor making an imaginary door seem real would look absurd.

It makes a difference.

And by the way, just in case I didn't make it clear, I think this movie is brilliant. It's one of those films that energizes, despite the emotional brutality of its subject matter. If you think your taste in movies runs something along the lines of mine, set aside three hours sometime and watch this thing.

[Netflix, B & N, ]

Treffannosaurus Rex

Update: See relevant portion of interview transcript below.

Mark Norell, chairman and curator of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, was a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show this afternoon. He has a new book out called Unearthing the Dragon: The Great Feathered Dinosaur Discovery.

It turns out, according to Dr. Norell, that the increasingly accepted notion that "birds are dinosaurs" is creating problems for some folks. Dinosaurs are reptiles, see, so if birds are dinosaurs, that means they're reptiles too, and you can't be eating reptiles and still be kosher.

Dr. Norell has been getting calls from some rabbis complaining about this revoltin' turn of events on account of what it basically means is that, for example, chicken soup is now treff, non-Kosher, kaput-ski on the Jewish Mom's Penicillin-ski.

Well, I'm not Jewish, and G-d knows I could hardly follow all the Jewish Food Minutiae I used to see on rec.arts.sf.fandom, so don't be yelling at me if any of this is wrong. I'm just reporting what I heard.

There will be a RealAudio link at that Lopate show link later today, I should think, if you want to hear it for yourselves.

Update: Direct link to RealAudio file of interview.

Update: You can also podcast WNYC.

Transcript of relevant section of the interview (begins ~ 15:30 into interview):

Leonard Lopate: Hasn't the discovery of feathers put paleontologists at odds with some other groups? Ornithologists? Creationists? Even some clergy? Mostly rabbis. What is bothering -- I can understand Creationists having a problem with this.


Mark Norell: ... As someone who is not Jewish, myself, and someone who just -- my closest connection to it is having several, you know, friends who observe kosher household rules and things like that, is -- I got a couple of letters from rabbis saying that these things couldn't be dinosaurs because then they wouldn't be kosher. That living birds wouldn't be kosher if they were considered reptiles. So --

LL: So you couldn't eat chicken because chickens came out of -- descended from reptiles. But aren't dinosaurs reptiles?

MN: Dinosaurs are reptiles.

LL: I thought reptiles were cold-blooded.

MN: No, that's a misnomer, I mean, basically, is that -- birds are reptiles also -- in modern classifications. Again, you have to think of it as a hierarchical nesting of sets. It's just humans are primates, primates are mammals, and mammals are vertebrates. In the same way, birds are dinosaurs, dinosaurs are reptiles, and reptiles are vertebrates. So, birds are a kind of dinosaur and dinosaurs are a kind of reptile.

True Liberation of Man

The Pope speaks, by way of Reuters:

"Today's various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex are instead expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man," he said.

(Left: Man eluding anarchic freedom.)

Raise Your Pinkies And Let's Rumble

What is your definition of a civilized society?

I always believe the dictionary because I think the bigger the book, the smarter it must be. The biggest book I own is Webster's Third New International Dictionary (unabridged) and here's what that incredibly big (i.e., smart) book has to say about "civilized":

civilized adj 1 : advanced in social culture : characterized by progress esp. in statecraft and in the arts and sciences <the essential characteristic of a highly ~ society is ... that it is appreciative --Clive Bell> 2 : of or relating to peoples or nations in a state of civilization <must not be supposed that there is any essential stability in a ~ way of life --Bertrand Russell> 3 a : characterized by politeness, refinement, or good breeding <had become a ~ chivalrous Christian knight --Charles Kingsley> b : characterized by sophistication or urbanity <he is humorous, ironic, and penetrating in a dispassionate ~ way --Marvin Lowenthal>

As a norteamericano, born and bred, I can feel the ambiguity in that definition even though I don't think that incredibly big (i.e., smart) book actually intends for there to be any. On the one hand, we have "civilized" as in decent and intelligent and wise, and on the other hand we have snooty refinement, as in holding out our pinkies when we drink our tea.

That was my first clue. That feeling of ambiguity, I mean.

And then I started looking around and, now that my eyes have been opened, I began seeing the evidence everywhere.

My country, or, at least a controlling portion of it, does not want to be civilized.

Progress in statecraft? Well, it seems to me we could achieve that, if we wanted to. We could have civilized discussions of important issues. We could base our arguments on reason and fact and the evidence at hand, but instead we lie to each other, and the supporters of the lies call them truths -- even in the face of overwhelming proof of mendacity. This is apparently the way we want it to be.

Progress in the arts and sciences?

Well, surely corporate America is interested in progress in the sciences. A guy's got to make a living, after all, and these days you're not going to make one if your outfit is stuck using yesteryear's science. So, yeah, at the level of the corporate aristocracy, we're talking "civilized", but what about the rest of us shmucks?

Time and again we refuse to properly fund our schools. We cut back such that high schools can't even afford to have working Bunsen Burners in their science labs -- which, come to think of it, isn't that much of a loss since they can't afford to have science labs in the first place. We can afford stickers warning against the theoretical nature of evolution, though. I guess that's an investment in our lack of a future.

Apparently us shmucks don't care that much about progress in the sciences. Let the aristocracy worry about that; it's none of our concern. This is apparently the way we want it to be.

And the arts? Please. How many school districts in this country have had to eliminate their music programs? We obviously don't care, particularly. If we did care, we'd do something about it. Football programs seem to make the cut, though. Maybe that's because sports represent good, old-fashioned, clannish activities.

That's it, see. I look around my country and I see a society not interested in being civilized; I see a people, or a controlling majority thereof, wanting to live in a clan culture. I don't know why this is, really. I mean, I certainly understand the urge to be part of a group, and the urge to see your group win on whatever the field of competition happens to be. This is primal and fun and, under many circumstances, utterly harmless.

But why would my country, here at the beginning of the 21st Century CE, want to be a clan culture at the expense of being civilized? Is this an inherently American urge? I don't understand.

The other day, Patrick more or less recommended to me the book The Cousins' Wars by Kevin Phillips. I picked it up and have started reading it, and I suspect I may find at least a partial answer to my confusion therein. Maybe it's just a curse of our history. Maybe it's something in the way we are raised and educated. Maybe it's the way the aristocracy in this country wants it to be.

I wish we, as a people, wanted to be civilized. I would like to live -- I would be proud to live in a country that understood that being civilized really has very little -- I would venture to say, "nothing" -- to do with how you hold your pinky while sipping your tea.

I think it has more to do with being a grown-up. It doesn't mean you can't pull for your clan; it just means you shouldn't do it at the expense of truth, or wisdom, or grace.

Meme of Read Death

Wherein I am hit with the plague (by Patrick).

Total number of books owned:

Last summer, I flushed many of my books down the -- er, I mean, cleaned house and gave away hundreds of my books to street people for subsequent resale. I'm probably at about 300 books at the moment, but I'm feeling the urge to clean out some more. I should note that a couple of months ago I wanted to refer to something I knew was in a particular book, went to get the book, and discovered it was one of the books that I'd sent packing. This was annoying, and considering the number of books I gave away I'm surprised it's only happened once. I guess I culled well.

Last book bought:

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson. I'm one of those guys who likes his SF peopled with people. Wilson is almost always reliable in this regard. Not quite finished with this one, but I like it a lot. Elements of V*nn* B*nt*'s Flight: A Quantum Novel. No, just kidding.

Last book read:

Technically, that would be Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby, but since I have recently written about that elsewhere, I'm going to cheat and mention the last book read but one: Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 by Fred Anderson. Wonderfully expansive history of what was, in fact, the Very First World War. Excellent background to the war of American independence. Astonishing things I'd never learned elsewhere even though I've been to Fort Ticonderoga and reclined against one of its cannons.

Five books that mean a lot to you:

Gore Vidal's American history novels. I suffer from ecstasy whenever I am in the middle of one of these.

The Book of the New Sun, or, just about any novel by Gene Wolfe. This is the man who taught me that real life is SF, inasmuch as real life is a world baked by the Sun Between My Ears.

Huckleberry Finn.

Demon-Haunted World, by Carl Sagan. Flags terribly near the end, but the man was dying after all. Nevertheless. This is the handbook for surviving the culture wars.

Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown. How to be a homo.

Tag five people to continue this meme:

Hmm... let's see... here are five who I don't believe have been tetched by this thing yet.

Dear Victims: feel free to ignore the tag, but if you do your luck (bad or good) will perish and from now on your ears will flush bright red whenever you hear the term "Swiss Chard". You've been warned.

Give,Get,Take, And Have:
Anna in Cairo: ACCEPTED
James Goodman: ACCEPTED
punkrockhockeymom: ACCEPTED

Their Culture of Death

I think I've mentioned somewhere in here that my idea of dying and going to heaven would be to wander the universe in some necessarily disembodied form, I guess, discovering the answers to all the mysteries the cosmos has on offer. This I call a reasonably good use of my eternal time.

I've always thought that one of the great things about being alive is that you get to learn stuff. This learning stuff deal has always, always given me the greatest pleasure. And the knowledge I pick up doesn't even have to be particularly useful to me. I just like learning it. I know that I am not unique in this regard.

If I ever get to the point to where I can't ever learn anything new -- because of physical or mental disability, or otherwise -- I guess you'd better pull the plug on me because as far as I'm concerned, I'll already be dead.

I'd like to be alive when the Most Amazing Discoveries of All Time come along. I'd like to be around when they discover how to let us live forever. I'd like to witness the first contact with an alien civilization. I'd like to pick up the paper some morning and read that somebody has discovered the trick to this human consciousness thing. I'd like to know if there really is a way to do the impossible -- travel between stars in a reasonable amount of time.

This is what I really hate about the idea of having to die someday. I probably won't last long enough to learn about any of those things. I will be long gone by the time any of those secrets are ever uncovered. That, you should pardon the expression, kills me.

Here's what I find so horrifying about the various turns my country is taking away from the Age of Reason, and toward the faith-based sciences. These people want to take the world I live in, the world I depend upon for the learning of new things, back to a time when science served their beliefs. They long for a culture of knowledge death, which is nothing more to me than a culture of death itself.

They tell me they have a right to their culture of death. Yeah, they do, but they don't have the right to kill my world by slowing or even stopping the birth of knowledge. They think I should just accept their culture of death, I guess. They think it shouldn't matter to me so much.

Well, it does matter to me. It is, as you can see, a matter of life and death. I think about that every time I get discouraged at the way things are going, and I get pissed off.

It's always better to be pissed off than to be discouraged. That's one of the many things the world of life has taught me, so far.

Acting In Space

You all gather in a large room with a tall ceiling and a linoleum (or if you are lucky, a wooden) floor. The stage manager and his assistants have taped out on the floor the plan for the set, and rummaged up some approximately appropriate furniture from storage. The scene designer is there for the first reading as well, with a model of the set. You ooh and aah over the model, bend down, peek through the tiny exits and entrances. You check out the miniature sight-lines.

Maybe the director walks you around the taped-out floor plan. You ask questions about whether the door where you make your particular entrance opens upstage or down.

You have the first read-through, nice and casual, no acting allowed. You talk about the script some. Maybe you read through it again, or maybe the show is pressed for time and so you get up on your feet right away and start blocking the scenes. Or maybe you take the rest of the afternoon off so the director can meet with the designers to tidy up those lingering production problems.

You rehearse the show for a few weeks, growing into the character you'll be playing. Maybe if there are a lot of platforms and different levels on the set, the scene shop gets you some of the basic chunks of the set -- just so you can get an idea of the relative heights you and the other actors will be playing at. The costume shop gets you a rehearsal skirt or sport-coat if you feel like you need one to work with.

By the third week, the show is really coming together. It feels like you've got a pretty good handle on your character. There are rough spots. You really don't know what the hell you are doing in that scene near the top of the second act. Well, you'll get it sorted out. That's the great thing about live theater. When it's opening night, it's opening night, and you don't have any choice but to be there with all your chops.

Long day, tomorrow. First tech rehearsal. First time you're on the set in the theater. This is always the best. It's always the best when you finally get into the space, get to work the doors, get to try the furniture. You've been working for weeks on the world of the play, and the world of it is pretty solid inside your gut. Now it's time to bring it on out. Now it's time to let the world inside your gut inhabit the world of the set.

It's an amazing thing to watch from the outside, actually... the actors moving their characters emotionally, psychologically, physically into the space of the world of the play. You can feel them, I dunno, filling things out somehow. Like cats exploring a new space. Nervous, tentative, crouched down as they poke around. Then an ease seeps in. Their characters begin to understand the space they inhabit. The coil begins to unwind a bit. Things fall into place. Stuff that didn't quite make sense before -- that short cross you have to make to your mark behind the sofa -- it all begins to add up now.

The world of thing starts to live...

So I saw the new Star Wars tonight and the acting universally sucked. I dunno, maybe my views on this subject are warped by seeing actors working in live theater for years, but I just don't see how actors can do good work in a big empty space painted blue or green or whatever it is. I know they say they can do it. And I know the real thing -- building the real set -- would be prohibitively expensive, but, you know, I just don't buy it. I think part of the reason the acting was so universally bad was because they weren't really living in the world they were supposed to be living in... the world we see on the screen after all the fancy post-production is added in.

This Hayden Christensen fellow. He was just execrable in Episode II. I mean, barely watchable in spite of his physical beauty. I thought, sheesh, whoever told this kid he could act?

But then I saw Shattered Glass and he was excellent in it. I mean, his character was rich and creepy and attractive and smart and increasingly desperate and sad and you could really see how this Glass fellow ended up taking the path he took. I thought it was an excellent movie and Christensen did an excellent job in it.

And then tonight, Episode III, he pretty much sucked again... yes, the writing is bad, and the scenes are for the most part hackneyed. Still, once he got his glowering darkness on, he got to be pretty believable. Maybe he's too good of an actor for his really beautiful looks. Probably the last character he should ever play is one that is supposed to be the way he looks.

I don't know if acting on real sets would have helped. All I know is that this Hayden fellow did an excellent job in Shattered Glass, on real sets, and he did a (mostly) terrible job in both the Star Wars he was in. Yes, yes, I'm sure part of it was the script, part of it was the direction, but I'm afraid I'm convinced part of it was that these actors didn't get to have a real set. Christensen wasn't the only good actor in both those Star Wars movies who did a terrible job.

I want actors acting in spaces that are real to them. And after all, isn't it getting harder and harder for the visuals to really impress us? I'd trade some of the gee-whiz visuals for actors acting in real spaces. No matter where all these characters go, whether it's the galactic core or the outer rim, it's the people we ultimately have to care about. You can't take people out of the places where they are supposed to be and still have those people be believable and worth caring about.

People exist in spaces. Good actors know that precisely. The spaces people are in matter. Yes, I'm afraid I have Views on the subject of computer-generated sets.

Stop it. Just stop doing it.

Deep Throat Day

I'll leave all the real commentary to others. This, as always, is just me.

It isn't that I thought we'd never know who Deep Throat was; it's more that I wasn't sure I would ever know. At one point during my time here on Earth, the existence of an entity known as Deep Throat was revealed. The mystery of who he or she was lasted for over thirty years, a good chunk of my allotted time here. And now -- again, during my allotted time on Earth -- we finally know who he is.

You know how for the longest time you never really stop thinking of yourself as being about, oh, I dunno... some age in your mid-20s? You can go along for a hell of a long time secretly thinking of yourself as perpetually in your late-adolescence. I recall one time I was sitting in an outdoor cafe with a long-time friend and we were observing passers-by, remarking on their relative hotness. We finally noticed how many of them were in an age group that couldn't possibly -- except in the rarest of circumstances -- be interested anymore in our relative hotness. It was something of a shock. It was one of those moments when you are more or less confronted with the indisputable passage of time, and of the slightly sordid nature of your secret delusions.

It was a Deep Throat day -- a moment when you realize in some incontrovertible way that you will get old someday, and then you will die.

I can't say that for all these years I've been holding out the Mystery of Deep Throat as some sort of talisman to ward off my awareness of the passage of time; I can say, however, that the collapse of the mystery has had the effect of making it seem as if I was.

My God. Thirty years ago, there was the beginning of the mystery. Thirty years on, we have our answer.

Can I really be that much older than I was back then?

Incontrovertibly, I'm afraid.

In Memory

May 2006

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