Monday, March 31, 2008

S147999 - Part III: As Long As You Believe in God

While we wait for the California Supreme Court to decide on whether we will be able to marry in California as we might in Massachusetts, Canada, Spain, Holland, Belgium, South Africa and many municipalities around the world, we worry not so much about the face-level justice of recognizing gay people's long-term relationships. As a people, we have come a long way, and increasingly, just as racists and sexists and anti-Semites have been marginalized, homophobes have, as well. Fewer people every day suggest that gay people's long-term relationships are in any way inferior to straight people's long-term relationships. If we lose the marriage equality battle in California this time around, as we have so often in the past, it will be a kinder gentler homophobia that does us in.

While we beat our chest about justice and fairness and common sense and why can't people just be nice to each other, the courts live in a world of exquisite attention to detail. One person's technicality, I mean, is another person's winning (or losing) legal argument.

Consider the following:

  1. The constitution considers the right to marry a fundamental human right.
  2. California currently limits marriage to two people of opposite sexes, making it a heterosexual institution.
Then consider what the marriage equality folk are doing:
  1. Petitioners in S147999 are arguing that if marriage is a fundamental right, it should be available to all citizens, and not just heterosexual citizens.
  2. They have used Perez v. Sharp, the court case in which anti-miscegenation legislation was found to be unconstitutional, as precedent.
So far, so good, right?

But now what exactly was the court getting at when it ruled the anti-miscegenation laws were wrong?
  1. Traditionalists (defined here as those people who argue limiting marriage to heterosexuals is a time-honored tradition) say it is all about racism and preventing people of different races from marrying each other. (Actually, they'd be more accurate to make it about white supremacy, since nobody gave a damn whether Chinese married blacks; they just didn't want either of them, or any other "coloreds", to sully the white race, that's all.)
  2. The Marriage Equality side insists that a close reading of the majority opinion in Perez v. Sharp makes clear the Court understood the issue to be not about race, but about the right of any one individual to marry any other individual of his or her choosing. The heart of the issue was not racial discrimination, as is commonly understood, in other words, but the unconstitutional restriction by the state on an individual's right to select a marriage partner without government interference.
Fine, say the traditionalists, but we still insist that Perez is not precedent, since anti-miscegenation laws limited access to marriage, while in the present case, there is no limited access to marriage and no singling out of gays. Gays can marry as well as straights. They simply have to marry someone according to tradition – i.e., heterosexually.

One wonders why the entire Supreme Court doesn't collapse into hysterical laughter. So ingrained is the homophobia, that traditionalists cannot see the absurdity at face level. It's a kind of Animal Farm form of reasoning. Elephants have the same rights as birds to build their nests high in the trees. To migrate to Canada in the summer. To sit on their eggs without government interference.

Reminds me of a conversation I had with my grandmother once.

Grandmother: So what church do you go to now?
Me: I don't go to church, grandmother. I'm an atheist.
Grandmother: Well, as long as you believe in God.


Friday, March 28, 2008

In re Marriage Cases S147999 – Part II

“Well, it’s looks like 61% of the people in California disagree with you,” he said to me, this little turd I got into an argument with over gay marriage some time ago. He was referring to Prop. 22, that nasty little proposition which garnered 61% of the vote in 2000 and which makes it possible in California for us to say we don’t care if you are married in your country, you’re not married here.”

I can’t forget the smug look on his face. “There, Mr. Smarty Pants who thinks he knows everything,” it said. “Guess you’re wrong about this one!”

Well, no, I don’t think I was. This is another one of those dumbed-down ideas – that might (or at least majority opinion) makes right.

We forget just what an opinion is. An opinion is an idea that sometimes comes after considerable deliberation, and at other times seems to ride out on the wax out of your left ear. Opinions are like teeth. Sometimes they glisten. And sometimes they need to be yanked out.

And sometimes, to prevent yourself from being sidewindered by some smartass who thinks he’s got you by the cojones with his statistics, you’ve got to be able to dig around in those opinions and find the cavities.

This 61% figure, for example. (And I’m done with the triple body metaphors.)

It tends to be taken on face value. The arguments before the California Supreme Court by opponents of marriage equality for same-sex couples, for example, take the stance that 61% of the people can’t be wrong. Furthermore, we are told, Californians are in tune here with the majority of the American public, including all kinds of wise and wonderful people. Bill Clinton, for example. Hell, all three candidates running for president. The opinion is clear and steady. Gays may make civil unions or domestic partnerships in some places (but note the number of states where they can’t even do that), but marriage? No. We draw the line at marriage.

Now it’s no secret I am with those who argue this is a constitutional issue, and thus should be decided by the Supreme Court and not majority opinion, so arguing over numbers, actually, is a red herring to me.

But since I think it’s useful to keep the brain fresh by having a whack now and again at sloppy thinking, let’s – just to keep in practice – take a look at this “majority opinion” question here.

First off, note how the impact of this majority “opinion” changes if instead of looking at the raw bottom line figure you look at trends and at a breakdown of who the people are expressing those opinions.

For example, according to a Pew Forum report in 2006, while “Americans” continue to oppose marriage equality for gays by a 56 to 35% margin, these numbers break down in an interesting way. (1)

If you’re over 65, chances are 73% you oppose marriage equality, but
If you’re between 18 and 29, chances are 53% you favor it.

If you’re a white evangelical, you oppose it at a rate of 78%, but
If you’re a black protestant, that rate is less, at 74%, and
If you’re a non-religious American (or at least describe yourself as ‘secular’), you favor it at a rate of 63%.

Don’t miss that last bit. Non-religious people in 2006 favor extending the right to marry to same-sex couples at a slightly higher margin than the people of California as a whole voted to withhold recognition of out-of-state marriage in 2000.

Liberal democrats collectively are even more in favor than secular people collectively – 66%.

Now take this one step further. The “reason” religious people tend to give for their opposition to equal civil rights for gay people is that homosexuality is a choice, (and a bad one, of course) and not an immutable characteristic. This matters. If I am born with a natural inclination to want to team up for life with a person of the same sex, then assigning that partnership to a second class status, even a “separate-but-equal” status, is an injustice. If your “opinion” is that it is a choice, you can make decisions that hurt people, just as you can hurt kids in school if your “opinion” is that the world is only 4500 years old. The health of a majority-rule democracy depends on an informed public.

And there is more. We often set up religious people on one side and secular people on the other, as I just did, and the Pew polltakers just did. But what if they had gone beyond separating out white and black evangelicals, and correlated religion and education. Pew doesn’t do this (or, if they did, they didn’t publish the figures here), but I’ll wager the gap in the churches between the highly educated and the less well educated matches up with the figures of the public in general.

People who do science, and people who ground their opinions on evidence, overwhelmingly hold that homosexuality is not a choice. These people include the American Psychological Association and virtually every single professional psychological and social service organization in the country.(2) The opposition comes from those with their finger on the scripture (the part about homosexuality, of course, not the part about slavery and eating shellfish). The Catholic solution is for us to do as priests and nuns are supposed to do – tie a knot in it. The evangelical solution is to pray to Jesus to lift the sin. Both solutions strike the gay people who don’t buy this crap as on a par with removing the testicles with a plastic fork.

And don’t forget that while Mormons, Catholics and evangelicals oppose marriage equality in large numbers, 17 California religious organizations joined together to write an amicus brief in favor. (3) To use religion, in other words, as a crutch for your opinion against same-sex marriage, means nothing more than to listen to a more authoritarian religious organization and turn your back on less authoritarian (including evangelical) religious organizations.

When asked about whether they think homosexuality is “something people are born with.” here are the figures of those who said yes:

high school graduates: 26%
people with “some college”: 39%
college graduates: 51%

Another interesting figure is the change over time. A total of 20% said yes in 1985. In 2003, that figure had risen to 30%. And this is for the country as a whole. People on the coasts tend to express far more progressive views.

It’s worth repeating that these are opinions. They reflect beliefs, not facts. And human rights should not depend even on enlightened opinion; they should be grounded in reason, extended to all at the earliest opportunity and guaranteed by the highest law in the land.

Marriage for gay people is an idea advancing with stunning speed, astonishing to anybody like me who grew up in the dark ages when you could still hear “I thought people like that killed themselves.” I have debated this issue with gay people who are terrified of a backlash, who insist we need to go slow, give people time to get used to the idea. One of the amicus briefs against marriage equality is from a gay activist who makes the case that we put our civil rights at risk by assuming the time is here and now for full equality.(4) No, Mr. Martin Luther King, they say. Justice delayed is smart, sometimes.

Tactically, they may be right. The Supreme Court may go against us and we may be set back several years.

But I’m hoping they will not give in to “majority opinion” (if indeed that majority still holds these days.) And, if they do, I hope they will at least consider that maybe college graduates may know something high school graduates are missing.

Opinions. Let’s hear them.

And let’s use them as jumping off points for discussion. Not as the be-all and end-all of the rules we live by.


_____________

(1) http://pewforum.org/docs/index.php?DocID=150#6
(2) http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/highprofile/ Click on: “Amici Curiae” and then on American Psychological Association et al. (Part 1) (Part 2)
(3) http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/highprofile/ Click on “Amici Curiae” and then on California Ethnic Religious Organization for Marriage
(4) http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/highprofile/ Click on “Amici Curiae” and then on “Traiman (Leland) et al.”

In re Marriage Cases S147999 – Part I

I’ve been focusing a lot lately on what is being broadly referred to as the dumbing down of America. Got any ideas on how to measure this? I suspect it’s simply too vague a concept, smart and dumb, to be measured meaningfully, and we are doomed to go on forever hitting each over the head with anecdotal evidence of how stupid people are (http://www.darwinawards.com/darwin/darwin2008-06.html), how uninformed our high school students are (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2007/10/24/notes102407.DTL), and how ridiculously irrational some of the assumptions are we work with on a daily basis.

One that has been like sand in my teeth is the conclusion that we have not suffered another 9/11 attack because Bush is doing a great job. But that’s only a variation of the claim that because I got over my cold, that proves that God loves me and answered my prayers. And that’s only a variation on the claim that since Obama did not denounce Jeremiah Wright a long time ago, that means he loves Farrakhan and that means he hates America and that means he’s controlled by the Muslims, and if that weren’t enough proof, just look at his middle name.

The other biggie that has been bugging me is this notion that there are two sides to every story. That truth always lies in the middle.

There are two things wrong with that. First, by seeking to explain everything from the middle, you reduce and even eliminate important information that should govern your thinking. As my friend Ed once pointed out, if your head is in the oven and your feet are in a bucket of ice, “on average” you’re pretty comfortable. If one person loves you and another hates you, is the best course of action to stay away from both and be neutral?

We should be able to work out these ideas on the basis of common sense, but there is evidence everywhere that people still operate on the basis of idiotic principles instead, seeking to solve problems with solutions that have not worked before, for example, or pumping ourselves full of medicines for depression that worked for Aunt Edna’s bursitis, or looking for keys over here where the light is better instead of over there where you dropped them.

Those of us who grew up with religion were taught early on that there is something “beyond reason” which is worthy of respect. I still hold that view, I’ll have to admit. But giving too much respect to something beyond reason leaves us terribly vulnerable to the thought that we can dispense with evidence for our claims.

We have reached a place in the culture where rights outweigh responsibilities, and that means we have less reason to be civil, less reason not to throw trash on the sidewalk, less reason to watch out for the other guy. It also means “I have a right to believe what I want to” outweighs “I have a responsibility to ground my assertions.” It means we don’t need to discipline ourselves, educate ourselves, or sacrifice ourselves for a good cause. Holding the belief that any opinion is as good as any other leads to the assumption that whatever the majority says should hold. We forget that’s only another way of insisting that might makes right.

Here’s my favorite current example of that folly. In 2000, 61% of California voters supported a proposition, Prop. 22, which stipulates that marriages by people of the same sex in other places should not be recognized in California. 61% is close to a 2/3 majority, and 2/3 feels like a powerful force indeed. How could we, in a democracy, go against the will of two-thirds of the people?

Without a good reason for the contrary, majority rule is the democratic way to go, of course. But then again, we need to be careful we aren’t missing that good reason, if there is one.

On March 4th, the California Supreme Court took up the challenge to Prop. 22 and the claim by the City of San Francisco (God bless this place forever) that the State of California and its governor, Schwarzenegger, were wrong to overturn the marriages by gays and lesbians performed there because the law prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

I went to hear the oral arguments, and have since become almost obsessive about replaying them again and again, and sifting my way through the 44 amicus briefs. You can do this, too, incidentally. For the oral arguments, – go to http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/audio-arch.htm and click on the first entry under “Archived Broadcasts” – In re Marriage Cases – video. Set aside three hours and 34 minutes. To read the amicus briefs, go to http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/highprofile/amicicuriae.htm. Set aside a good two weeks of eight hour days if you want to get the full impact. Seriously. You can work and earn money anytime. How often can you read amicus briefs in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision?

While I wait, with inordinate impatience, I have had lots of time to reflect on what just happened here. What I witnessed was evidence that the founding fathers understood our current dumbing down potential and accounted for it in the balance of powers. And in establishing a Republic, rather than a mob democracy.

What’s going on is the defenders of Prop. 22 are insisting that 61% is the voice of the people and must be obeyed. Opponents are saying the real voice of the people, the more sober voice, lies in the state Constitution, and it is appropriate for the Supreme Court to decide on whether that proposition, or any law like it, is in line with the rights established in that Constitution. This battle is being fought elsewhere, as well. It was won in Massachusetts in 2004, and in Iowa in 2007, although it is being held up in the courts. A decision is pending in Connecticut. California promises a decision by June 4.

The point I am making is that there are two different things going on simultaneously. The marriage equality debate is one. The other is the debate over whether this is in fact an instance where the court needs to correct an error made by a whole lot of citizens acting not necessarily in bad faith, but without proper reflection on justice in America. Put more simply, this is a debate over whether the majority is wrong.

As I suggested, a whole lot is riding on this. Enormous progress has been made to root out homophobia, and it’s an open question whether homophobic animus is what is driving the resistance to marriage equality. If the Supreme Court fails to overturn Prop. 22, and puts marriage equality on hold, we will be in for a much longer run before we get what Canada, Spain, Holland, Belgium and South Africa have already.

But if they listen to the claims of the marriage equality side (including the overwhelming majority of writers of amicus briefs) and demonstrate that in America political might does not always mean legal right, we will have a bit of relief in the evidence that we haven’t lost the ability to reason.

Six of the seven Supreme Court Justices are Republicans, appointed by conservative governors. That scares the bejeezuz out of people who believe ideology always trumps reason. I am optimistic, however, that in this august group there is a dedication to duty, as well as a belief that applying the law and keeping government’s hands off marriage rights is a solid conservative principle.

The tension is almost crippling at times. I have their pictures on my wall and I try on a daily basis to read their minds, as if those old photos of their faces would give me that information.

OK, so I’m not limited to reasonable behavior.

But just because a germ-free environment is almost impossible to achieve, we don’t have to perform open-heart surgery in a sewer.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dumbing Down on Both Sides

“Both sides ought to be taught, so that students can understand the debate.”

That’s what our Great Leader has to say about the “debate” between evolution and creationism. And because he says it, NBC reports it. Accompanied by visuals of George W walking across the White House lawn in one of those helicopter to Oval Office shots which make him look presidential and leaderly. Compromise. Good call, there, Leader.

This comes after NBC shows some fuzzy bearded intellectual arguing that creationism should not be taught in the public schools. He is identified by NBC as “Creationism Critic” in contrast to Peter Sprigg, one of the nuts of the century, whose byline is “Family Research Council,” and who, like Fearless Leader, urges “true scientific debate.”

This is one of the big three news networks. Not the Ministry of Propaganda, FOX, but NBC, one of the old, tried and true, Big Three.

Fortunately, YouTube, the can-be antidote to America’s dumbing-down mechanisms caught the slant and put it out there for anyone looking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iazQge6WVqg

I commented the other day (“What, me graduate?”) that I can’t get over how many people argue Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq was the right one, and give as “proof” that “we haven’t had another 9/11.” The argument that my wearing clean underwear every day has kept me from catching cold is the same argument, but it’s asking too much for people to understand that because we live with such an embrace of irrationality and illogic.

This NBC slant on creationism is another case of not really understanding how illogical we can get on a national level. How low our educational standards have become. Most people miss it, because most people buy without thinking into the assumption “there are always two sides to every story.”

I’ve gone on about this before, about how hard it is for a Jew to listen to the suggestion that for every critic of Hitlerism we ought to give equal time to a neo-Nazi to debate the wisdom of the Holocaust. “So that students can understand the debate.”

The Family Research Council’s Peter Sprigg, who comes across as the calm and reasoned voice of science in that NBC report, can be heard elsewhere, telling America he supports the exporting of homosexuals because they threaten the family. http://www.rightwingwatch.org/2008/03/frcs_sprigg_wan.html

Yes, “export.” I don’t even get to be deported where I’d at least get a seat on the plane instead of a box in the cargo. This guy Sprigg’s face is routinely splashed over the tube where he is made to look and sound respectable.

I also mentioned the other day that kids are dropping out of high schools in record numbers. And I left out the fact that Governor Schwarzenegger, on top of it all, is getting rid of some 20,000 teachers. http://www.blackvoicenews.com/content/view/41927/4/
The democrats are trying to head this off by taxing gas more (fat chance on that with these prices) or car registration fees, but the pink slips have already gone out.

Can’t tax yachts or private jets. We tried, but the State Legislature stopped that. http://www.democrats.org/a/2008/02/california_repu.php

So where are these kids supposed to learn that “there are two sides to every story” is a crock when one of the sides doesn’t provide reasonable evidence? Or correlation is not inevitably the same as cause-and-effect?

From NBC?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Eleven Men Out: A Review

Watching Eleven Men Out on DVD is the first time I have heard Icelandic spoken for any length of time. They roll their r’s and lack the sing-song of Swedish and blend sounds like the Danes and suck breath like all the Scandinavians.

I’m tempted to go on with the language. God knows there is nothing else to say about the movie except that if this is Iceland, they can have it. What a wretched look into a society, into a family of messed up people, into retrograde homophobia and immature sexuality and dysfunctional everybody and his brother.

The story line would be interesting if the dialogue and the characters were not dull to the core. Gay football star Óttar is yesterday’s news, so he outs himself to get on the front of a magazine cover. After which his mother takes to her bed, his father thinks it’s all about him, his wife, once Miss Iceland, now a drunken slut gets drunker and sluttier, his 13-year old son gets laid with the sweet daughter (“Wanna fuck? There’s nothing else to do here.”) of the slutty Cambodian bar hostess who runs a café with a dancing pole in an Icelandic village (Raufarhöfn, if I remember right, on the Arctic Circle, and the daughter wasn’t kidding). The son then gets drunk and totals a car – and we’re just getting warm.

Oh, yeah. And Óttar gets kicked off the team.

And gets taken in by another gay ex-football hero who asks him to come hang out with his team because there is a gay guy on it. So he goes and with no further ado they get it on and this doesn’t work and more gay guys join the team and Óttar finds a way to get them to play his father’s team (the one he got kicked off of) and gay pride comes to town just then and mother decides to sit in his rooting section and drags his father with her (there is absolutely no indication why she changed her mind) and they lose the game and that’s the end of the movie.

Icelandic has two interdentals (“th” sounds, one voiceless like the th in thick and one voiced like the th in then, and has these wonderful old ways of writing them – þ and ð respectively.

The letter z isn’t used any more, except by the newspaper Morgunblaðið.

What else can I say? Movie made for gays who will watch anything if it has full-frontal shower scenes.

Once you realize that too is a bust, watch the extras on the Out Gay Games in Montreal and Chicago. You won’t feel the rental was a total waste of time and money.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Who, me graduate?

Mississippi reports to the Federal Government that 87% of its high school kids graduate. But the bureaucrats need to please the system, so they lie. Actually only 63.3% graduate. But let’s not pick on Missisippi when the figures for California are similar: 83 and 67, respectively.

It all has to do with this peachy keen Bush Education policy called No Child Left Behind where the focus is on testing and not on what it takes to finish school. Somebody pointed out that that’s like measuring the kids yard by yard in a marathon and having no idea who finishes the race.

Those numbers translate to 13,000 Mississippi dropouts out each year, and in California the figure is more like 150,000.

If you pick the figures apart, it gets more interesting. 23% of ninth graders in California graduate with a grade of C or better. The reason that average is so high is the figure for Asian Americans is 50% and 31% for white students. If you look at the rates for African Americans and Latinos, those rates are 14% and 12% respectively. Some kids start high school with both hands tied behind their backs.

Now that can’t be right, right? The San Francisco Chronicle has got to have the figures wrong, right?

Well, maybe. Check it out.

I watched a group of “ordinary citizens” discuss the Iraq war yesterday on its fifth anniversary on the Lehrer Report. One guy with very forceful opinions insisted you could tell the war was working because no terrists had struck us since the war began. Forgive me, Mr. I-Fought-in-the-War-So-I-Know if I do you an injustice here, but I wonder if there is a correlation with that line of thinking and the 150,000 dropouts. If we were to measure academic success by functional means rather than percentage scores on tests, “argues a conclusion on the basis of null evidence” would be a good negative criterion.

Racism is in the political discourse these days, and that’s healthy. But why aren’t we talking about education? Education, like health care and unemployment and the housing crisis, can only be dealt with sensibly by an informed public, so I understand we can’t expect the boob tube to handle the job. Which is where we most of us get our information.

But we also can't blame the instrument for our failure to use it properly. If all these bean counters and trackers of the horse race would ask questions about how we might fix America’s devastating crises, and hold the feet of Obama, HC and McCain to the fire once in a while, maybe we’d hear of ways to do something about them.

Then again, maybe not. With fewer than half of us graduating from high school in some places, how would we understand their answers?


sources: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/06/04/BAGJ370QUK1.DTL
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/20/education/20graduation.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-dropouts17jul17,0,798106.story

Monday, March 17, 2008

Free Speech

There’s lots we might fault the Reverend Jeremiah Wright for. His embrace of Farrakhan would be on the top of my list. But he is being slammed in the press and Obama is being forced by the good folks in the Democratic Party to shun the man for all the wrong reasons.

Inflammatory, we are told, is Wright’s suggestion that we brought on the 9/11 attacks by spreading terrorism abroad. You’re not supposed to say things like that.

Think of what that means. Just think. Lots of people in the world, including lots of Americans like me think that the 9/11 attacks are in fact strongly connected to the way Americans have beat up the world throughout the last century, proclaiming that it is bringing freedom and light to the world when it is in fact serving the interests of large corporations and not even America’s own interests much of the time.

That point is certainly arguable. I know lots of folk on the right consider it traitorous, but so what if they do? It’s a legitimate reasoned opinion and it’s an argument I get to make as a citizen of the United States. You don’t agree? Fine. Give me counter evidence. Show me what I’m leaving out and where I may have my facts wrong. But cut the crap that it’s traitorous to talk like that and that it is inflammatory for a black American to show some anger.

Wright doesn’t have to be right. And Obama should not have to denounce him or distance himself from him for being an angry black American man. There is something rotten about America that we can’t face the fact that some of us know the pain of poverty, injustice and hypocrisy first hand and see the world through that dark lens.

The Wrights of the nation should speak their piece and we should listen. Those who disagree should then speak their piece and the disagreements should find their way into the schools and courts and legislatures and any place where honest debate is embraced as a mechanism for discovering what is true.

Millions of Americans – and not just black Americans – will spot Wright’s chickens-home-to-roost comment in connection with 9/11 as a nod to Malcolm X, who made waves when he used it in reference to JFK’s assassination. If he hadn’t grown beyond black racism and Black Muslim provincialism to embrace a greater more universal struggle for justice, one that challenged the interests of the Farrakhans of America who then killed him for his betrayal of the tribal gods, he might well have eclipsed even Martin Luther King. Whatever take you might have on his blaming the victim.

Lost in the story is the irony that the Wright reference is to Malcolm X at one of his lesser Black Muslim moments, and he has good things to say about the leader of the organization that is widely believed to have done him in. But Wright is demonstrating that he understands that even a clock that is stopped is right twice a day. And Farrakhan may be a miserable anti-Semite, but his heart is in the right place when it comes to lifting black Americans out of misery. Never mind that you and I might wish his head were, as well.

It's that damn dumbing down pill America has swallowed. We have gotten so stupid that we can’t take the time to think through complexity, to filter out the wisdom in the remarks of the foolish and the folly in the commentary of the sometimes wise.

One false move, now, and it’s off with your head.

Geraldine Ferraro is also being pilloried for her comment that Obama wouldn’t be where he is today if he were not black. What insanity that we attack this lady for that remark. Of course he wouldn’t be where he is. He wouldn’t be who he is. He’d be another person entirely. You can fault Obama for his lack of experience. You can also take the view that his talents and his ability to inspire a whole new generation more than compensate for his limitations, just as you can look at Hillary as a cog in the tired wheel of American politics or as a hard-working woman whose skills would not be enough to make her a candidate if she had not been married to Bill Clinton. Views like this are expressed all the time, everywhere, in every bar, in every taxi, in every corner of the nation. Why should Ferraro have to be slapped with racism for a less-than-enlightened remark when we have the freedom of speech required to argue with her?

And, to me, saddest of all is the loss of Samantha Power as Obama’s foreign policy advisor because she happened to refer to Hillary as a monster.

What, are we all ten years old? Do we think monsters are real and to call somebody a monster is the same thing as calling them a bastard or a bitch or another of those words we still bleep out on television?

Watch an interview on YouTube with Gerri Peev, the Scotsman journalist who got the “monster” comment on tape. She provides the context – Power was in jetlag, she had just heard of Hillary’s big win in Ohio and was angry at her tactic of getting down and dirty with Obama. How many democrats think any differently? How many Obama supporters didn’t see Hillary in that moment as a monster. What hypocrisy to destroy the careers of people who speak our thoughts.

But to argue the veracity of claims that America is in part responsible for Muslim hatred, or that a black person or a woman running for president may be being given a boost for their ground-breaking capacity, or that a politician playing dirty comes across as a monster, is to miss the point.

The point is there is something tragic that we don’t get to speak freely these days.



YouTube interview with Scotsman reporter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi-q5vEmDw8
YouTube - Wright's "God Damn America" speech and anti-Obama take: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hPR5jnjtLo

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Letter to Sally Kern

Sally Kern, a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, was caught on tape the other day warning a Republican audience that gays were a greater threat to the nation than terrorists. Or Muslims. God knows how many young thugs will take their elected official's warning too seriously.

Have a listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPB7bTdz2xQ&feature=related

Ms. Kern is unlikely ever to see my letter among the hundreds of thousands of other letters, e-mails and video taped responses, but one never knows…

Thought I’d share it with you.

_____
The Honorable Sally Kern
Oklahoma State House of Representatives
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 332
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

Dear Representative Kern:

In 1948 the California Supreme Court decided by a margin of one that it was unconstitutional to forbid persons of different races to marry. One justice, Justice Shenk, had this to say about the decision in his dissenting opinion:

[T]he free mixing of all the races could in fact only lower the general level. . .
[W]here two such races are in contact the inferior qualities are not bred out,
but may be emphasized in the progeny, a principle widely expressed in modern
eugenic literature.” (Perez v. Sharp, supra, 32 Cal.2d at pp. 756-757 (dis. opn.
of Shenk, J.).) (cited in Amicus Brief of the California NAACP, In re Marriage Cases S147999, p. 8)

Today, we look back at such attitudes in wonder, and thank God most people in the United States of America have moved beyond such views, then thought by many to be “common sense.”

The analogue today is found in speeches like yours in which gays and lesbians are described as “the biggest threat our nation has, even more than terrorism or Islam.” You say your remarks were taken out of context. Perhaps there is a context in which hate speech makes sense. One has to wonder what that might be.

Justice Shenk now lives in history as a man whose convictions were based on ignorance and prejudice. Part of America’s shame. At the moment you are Oklahoma’s shame in the eyes of the civilized world.

It is wrong that death threats are being directed at you. You do not deserve to die for your opinions, however unenlightened, and those who threaten you should be punished for following your hate speech with more of their own.

I wish you a long life.

Time enough to earn a better place in history than is held by Justice Shenk.

Yours truly,


Alan J. McCornick

Rep. Kern’s home page: http://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/Member.aspx?MemberID=87

Ellen DeGeneres’ response to Rep. Kern’s speech:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBzTWcTwJJM

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Vacationland

Just watched a movie (can’t believe I ate the whole thing) that rose right to the top of my list of worst movies of all time before I got ten minutes into it. So bad I couldn’t let go. Had to see what they were going to do next. It occurred to me this dreck would work splendidly as a case study in Filmmaking 101 on what can be done wrong. Giving a camera (in this case a video camera) to this guy Todd Verow is like giving a gun to a child.

It managed to get reviewed by no fewer than six people on Rotten Tomatoes. God knows why. All six agreed with me (only a dead person would not, I suspect) so the movie actually has a dead zero rating. Never seen that before.

Nathan Lee, of The New York Times, sums it up quite well.
Too bad the title “Another Gay Movie” is already in use; it would have worked nicely for “Vacationland,” a generic coming-of-age movie whose arrival on the scene suggests that the audience for gay indie clunkers is inexhaustible.

And that says it all about this curious phenomenon, this desire gay people (using myself and projecting, of course) have to see other gay people portrayed on screen, or maybe the hope of a little man-kissing or a little man-flesh.

Whatever you’re doing, gay people, stop it. Get out the real rotten tomatoes and fling till people get the message.

This film has

• not a single sympathetic character
• endless moments of people walking from A to B
• a main character who looks 30 playing a high school kid
• a teacher who looks younger than his students, hangs out in toilets, sweats like a pig, talks like he’s in a melodrama playing Simon Legree, and is blackmailed into writing a letter of recommendation which gets the main character into the Rhode Island School of Design
• a drunken slut of a mother who seems to bore her kids rather than disturb them
• a love interest who steals things from stores for a while and then kills somebody only to elicit a no-big-deal response on the part of the other characters
• Or, maybe, the guy doesn’t die. Whatever.
• a contest in a gay bar with five or six people in it where the main character pulls his pants down and moons them and wins $200
• the worst acting in a film since creation
• the worst writing in a film since some time before that

Verow’s other movies include Swallow or Spit, made in 2006, the same year as this clunker, “a documentary of sorts…about how porn has evolved over the years.” (http://www.pornfilmfestivalberlin.de/spot_verow.html).

From these accomplishments, he went on to make Hooks on the Left the following year, which sets out to “examine…how the world of prostitution has changed since the advent of the internet.”

Shot entirely with a Nokia cellphone.

Shame, shame, gay people.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The DL Chronicles

The DL Chronicles fits neatly in my category of “bad movies worth watching.” Most of the time “worth watching” means for sociological interest, and that is true here. DL Chronicles is four made-for-TV case studies strung together of closeted black men. More, actually, since at least two of the tales touch on the lives of more than one man. And the context for their closetedness.

DL, for “Down Low… (nobody needs to know…)” refers to sexual infidelity, and in this case the particular infidelity of apparently straight men, often married, who have gay sex on the side. The stories seem to get a little better with each installment, and that suggests the series has the potential to turn into something, if interest continues. The fourth episode will have you laughing out loud despite the ridiculous improbability of the story.

I leave it to others to assess the accuracy of the description of homophobia in a variety of black communities which keeps so many men in the closet. With three upper middle class success stories and one thug for subjects, this series can hardly be taken as representative of the black community as a whole. And if that were not enough, the fact that this is about four hunky men who look good with their clothes off leaves no doubt the film was not made with sociological accuracy the primary motive.

Which is fine. I think movies should be expected to entertain more than they instruct, and who doesn’t love eye candy. But if that’s all it’s about, we could do with a bit less hamfisted acting, and a whole lot better writing and editing of the soft porn. In the third episode there is a character shift so swift you feel you must have dozed off and missed something. The whole enterprise smacks of amateurism, and that’s a pity, since the characters are appealing and you find yourself rooting for each one in turn. Evidently the community is still taking its first baby steps and it will be a while yet before we get to something to match Brokeback Mountain for minority community players. If you are at home in the gay white bicoastal culture, watching this will make you feel like you’ve been taken back twenty years.

On the other hand, that’s why I think, for all its limitations, The DL Chronicles is worth watching. Get in on the ground floor. We still appreciate Boys in the Band today, not despite the fact its characters are types but because of it. We still appreciate Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because nobody had covered the ground before. America’s many subcultures could all be making this film, each with their own details of resistance to changes in traditional attitudes to sex. It doesn’t matter which one goes first. Like the creator of Noah’s Arc before it, The DL Chronicles documents progress out of homophobia in black America, and clears the way for future work which will not have to make the point in such an unsubtle manner.

So rent the DVD (you won’t see it in theaters), sit back, lift your wineglass to the groundbreakers, and watch all these pretty people come around.