Friday, October 31, 2008

Poetry Friday - they called him mother sometimes ...

They called him mother sometimes,
curling their knees to their chests,
arms around their knees,
with their soft wet mouths pressed
against his side in the darkness.
He liked to cradle them that way,
he could love them easily then,
softly laying an arm over their cool shoulders,
tenderly so they wouldn't wake up.
In his mind they were the children he'd never had
and never would have, but better:
he never had to demand, for they gave.

4 January 1971

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not Gay Enough

The name of my blog is starting to seem like a misnomer: "So Gay"? Hah! I'm as obsessed with the U.S. elections as everybody else, for reasons having little to do with my fagitude. I haven't even mentioned California's Proposition 8, which aims to amend the California State Constitution to define marriage as an exclusively heterosexual affair. All the gay and gay-friendly bloggers are calling it Proposition Hate. So clever. (I've had reservations for many years about the use of the word "hate" to mean bigotry and its relatives, and I see no reason to cancel those reservations now; but of that more another time, perhaps.) I've begun wondering if the opposition to 8 is being led by the qualified professionals who've failed to defeat other such initiatives in the past; but of that, more another time. I don't know where the time goes. It's after 10:30 p.m. Bloomington time, and I'm just getting started on so many things that needed to be done today. (But then, as I found when I idly googled the phrase, some people are too gay, lots of people aren't gay enough. Maybe it's a new fad. Maybe it should become an organization, or a movement.)

For now, I see from The Hankyoreh that:

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has concluded that the police used excessive force in putting down the candlelight protests and in doing so violated participants’ civil rights. In its formal recommendation, it called on the police to abide by defensive guidelines and to prohibit the use of fire extinguishers, and it called for a warning for National Police Agency Chief Eo Cheong-soo and censure of riot police commanders.

This tends to support Amnesty International's report of last July on police abuses during the protests. Naturally, the police and President Lee Myeong-bak have ignored both Amnesty and the Human Rights Commission.

Also from The Hankyoreh, a new Korean organization has been founded to continue the project of protecting and extending democracy in Korea. The National Congress on Public Welfare and Democracy was inaugurated with a smallish rally on October 5 in Cheongye Plaza, the site of last summer's candlelight vigils.

There'll be plenty for them to do. On top of the rollback of democracy that President Lee has been trying to carry out, the South Korean economy is in as much trouble as that of the U.S. The Korean currency, the won, fell this week to its lowest level since April 6, 1998, the time of the great economic crisis. This will especially hurt small and middle-sized businesses; more in The Hankyoreh article I just linked. And that's enough for tonight.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Recycling For a Better America

The Sideshow has this bit today:
Digby says: "I've been writing for a very long time that the minute a Democratic president is sworn in, the Village cries for bipartisanship are going to be deafening. They did it after 2006 --- imagine what they'll do now. Just last week, Broder laid down the gauntlet. Now Obama fan (and former Bush sycophant) Howard Fineman is starting to get nervous." Yes, it's terrifying to think that Obama might actually do what the people elected him for, rather than to protect the Villagers and the Republicans from paying for their sins.
Digby herself links to Howard Fineman at Newsweek. The article is blurbed "Obama's supporters have high expectations, and they may expect to have a voice in governing." It's startling to see such a blatant example of what Noam Chomsky has been claiming for years -- that American political elites, despite lip service to "democracy", are terrified by the the thought that the rabble might try to horn in on their racket. Fineman writes:
"His supporters have sky-high expectations and expect to be involved," says Will Marshall, who studied the Obama organization for the Democratic Leadership Council. "They are loyal but not easy to control." ...

"We have a very trusting organization," David Plouffe, the campaign manager, told me. ... "These are people who are responsive," he says. "They want to be respected and to continue to be involved in what we do." And so they will be if Obama is elected. "If he wins, he's going to have a personal following he can use to press his agenda," says Marshall. "He can use these millions to reach over the heads of the Washington insiders, the Democrats on the Hill. It could be powerful."

Fineman goes on to worry that Obama's "machine" might force (or enable?) him to defy "much of America" who want more US troops in Afghanistan. Even worse, "initiating talks with Iranian and Venezuelan dictators enjoys more support on his e-mail lists than in the rest of the country." (By "dictators" Fineman of course means properly elected presidents, unlike our own Dear Leader.) And so on; it's an entertaining performance. David Sirota, also linked by Digby, jeers at Fineman for "freaking out about an Obama presidency and how it might actually mean real change": "This is a portrayal designed to press Obama to immediately shun his base, capitulate to conservatives ... [and] deliberately 'disappoint' the people who elected him."

As Alexander Cockburn put it at Counterpunch last weekend,
So far as the progressives and the left are concerned, Palin’s useful function has been to detain them from misgivings about the Democratic ticket which 98 per cent of them are going to vote for. From the vantage point of 2008 I wouldn’t blame Al Gore or John Kerry from feeling that maybe there’s been a double standard at work here, between the rough treatment they got from the left and from radical environmentalists, as compared to the well-mannered silence about Obama’s call for a 90,000 increase in the Armed Forces, his endorsement of nuclear power, “clean coal”, warrantless wire-tapping, tort reform, real ID, groveling to the bankers and the Israel lobby and so forth. K St loves Obama. So do the defense contractors. They love Biden too. Just to refresh your memories of what a progressive platform actually looks like, take a look at the website of the Nader campaign. Like the U.S. senators’ knowledge of foreign policy, the bar these days for what the left finds bearable is awfully low. The more the left holds its tongue, the lower the bar will go.
Of course the Democratic Leadership Council is worried that Obama's constituents might be able to pressure him to move in a leftish direction; the DLC are the Reaganite scum who gave us the Clintons and Gore, among others, and they've been pushing the party to the right for decades. But I don't see any indication that Obama has any intention of being pushed in that direction, having made his plans deafeningly clear: continued occupation of Iraq, enlarge the armed forces, increase troop strength in Afghanistan and elsewhere; he wants to continue the Cuban embargo and restore US dominance in those Latin American countries that have begun to break away from it; he believes that Social Security is in crisis, he voted for the renewal of the Patriot Act and FISA, he helped drive through the Bush-Paulson bailout, and so on. (Obama has been advocating bipartisanship all along, in fact, and here's Rachel Maddow trying to argue that Obama is so bipartisan! -- as if collaboration with the Bush gang were something to be asserted with pride.)

None of this is exactly obscure, and I hope I'm not the only person who remembers how the Democratic Congress of 2006 paid back those who voted them into office. Yet Obama fans and critics alike ignore what the man has been saying, quite loudly, all along. Ironically, his fans and his opponents agree that Obama is only pretending to be a "moderate" (read: right-wing supporter of empire and corporatism) and that once he's elected he'll rip off the mask to reveal himself as a man of the Left!!!!!! Of course it's possible, but it's more likely that he'll swing even farther to the right, with or without the help of the DLC. I mean, he's already been talking about bipartisanship with regard to the financial crisis. Does anyone have any illusions about what that means?

I hear some folks saying, Okay, once he's in office we'll hold his feet to the fire. Just how do they plan to do this, I wonder? By thinking pure thoughts? Does that mass network of supporters who've given him their money and worked for him have any independent access to each other that might enable them to build a mass movement that could actually bring pressure on him to "do what the people elected elected him to do"? A March on Washington? Or maybe they'll de-friend him on MySpace? That would bring him to heel! It seems to me that this talk is just a wishful-thinking fantasy. I think they believe Obama himself will lead them, and in the light of his record that's just plain nuts.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mama's Boys

The other night I watched a documentary called Blossoms of Fire, about the city of Juchitán in Oaxaca, México. (Trailer here -- embedding is disabled, alas.) Juchitán has a reputation as a “matriarchy,” which speaks volumes about human confusion about categories. As far as I can tell, the Zapotec women of Juchitán have pretty unremarkable views about women and men – but they earn their own money, mostly as food manufacturers and vendors, and are expected to manage it well. The women depicted in the film expect to manage their husbands’ pay as well. They are also not expected to cater to the masculine ego, which means that they’ll leave a husband who mistreats them, whether by abuse or neglect, and can expect support from their families when they do so.

This is all very laudable, but it’s hardly a matriarchy, except to people to whom a situation that approaches equality equals rule by women over men. (Or even a situation that doesn’t approach equality – in the 1950s, when American women had been driven from the WWII factories back to the kitchens and family rooms, eunuchs like Philip Wylie and William Burroughs still claimed that the US was a matriarchy. For some men, mere sentience in women feels like a threat of dominance.) There are plenty of people who see things that way. Blossoms of Fire begins by describing local reaction to an article about Juchitán in the Mexican edition of the magazine Elle, which claimed that the Juchitanas “prohibit the men from buying and selling in the market” and force their husbands to “babysit” while they cavort with boy toys.

Now, Elle appears to be a fashionable mag that views itself as sophisticated, which confirms once again my observation that sophisticated, stylish people are generally quite stupid and backward – especially since what the women of Juchitán have achieved is what sophisticated North American and European women consider a major, if tenuous, achievement of their movements toward sexual equality. “You’ve come a long way, baby,” so far that you’ve almost caught up with a bunch of Indian women in the Mexican hinterlands. Except that these women wear “traditional” colorful native garb, and eschew makeup. (One of the pleasures of the film for me was its celebration of the beauty and strength of these middle-aged and older women, who exhibit the same confidence and pride that we gringos associate with older men, not women.)

Against the Juchitanas’ hard-earned equality, though, it should be noted that their society still has a cult of virginity – for women, of course. Another tradition is the “kidnapping” (robar is the Spanish word used by one of the men in the film) of brides by their grooms, which leads to negotiations between the respective families, and if the bride proves to be a virgin, she’s worth a lot more. This information appears in a 20-minute featurette on the DVD, which should have been integrated into the film itself; if you watch the DVD, be sure to watch the additional material as well. At 74 minutes, Blossoms of Fire wouldn’t be stretched by being a bit longer.

One thing I found very interesting about the film was its inclusion of several homosexuales (which the subtitles render, not quite correctly for reasons I’ll go into, as “gay”) and lesbians – or rather, one lesbian, a handsome woman with neck-length hair and a mildly butch affect, and a girlfriend (possibly) sitting next to her at the table in traditional Juchitana garb. It wouldn’t be correct to call her a marimacha, because she’s really not more masculine than the “matriarchs” who are at the center of the film: cut their hair to the same length, put them in t-shirts and jeans, and they’d probably look just like her. The homosexuales are all big queens, in halters and makeup and plucked eyebrows. They mostly agree that they are different from American gays because we Americans are always talking about “realizing” that we were gay at 15, or 20, or 30, whereas they all knew that they were homosexuales from the beginning. I must point out that American sissies are just as likely to have started dressing up in their mothers’ clothes at 3 as any homosexual. And nowadays the standard line even among gender-compliant Homo-Americans is that they knew they were Different from an early age, and therefore they must have been born gay.

As female-identified as the Juchitán homosexuales seem to be, however, the women they identify with aren’t their mothers. They don’t seem to work in the markets with their mothers, and their fashion role models, like those of American queens, are basically hookers. (Not that there's anything wrong with that! I've just always been baffled by the images of women many gay men see as their ideals. But see this article, for example. I've learned to be wary, though, when any place, from Morocco to San Francisco to Juchitán, is called a "Queer Paradise.") And to recall my rant on scientific models of the Homosexual from a couple of weeks ago, though the film doesn’t mention it, it’s safe to presume that they don’t have sex with each other: they fit the common Latin American model of the homosexual, so they look for Real Men, activos to match their pasivos. (“Active” and “passive” don’t really fit reality either – pasivos are about as passive as “starving ravens,” as the sociologist Annick Prieur put it in Mema’s House, Mexico City: on transvestites, queens, and machos (Chicago, 1998), her study of vestidas, or cross-dressing homosexuales in the metropole. But they are the standard terms in Spanish for sexual tradeoffs between males.) Which is why “gay” isn’t the right word for them – according to the “gay” model of homosexuality, both same-sex partners are gay, whether they penetrate, are penetrated, or trade off.

A reviewer in the Village Voice claimed that these figures hint at “the idea of a more fluid sexuality in the pre-European Americas,” which I can’t figure out. “Fluidity” in sexuality is a trendy term nowadays, but the penetrator/penetrated model of homosex has nothing to do with fluidity – it assumes that penetrators will penetrate, the penetrated will seek to be penetrated, and the line between the two is guarded like a DMZ. (Prieur’s vestidas criticize “bisexual men who are apparently manly but who secretly let themselves be penetrated as if they were homosexuales …, even when the vestidas are the ones who penetrate them” [166] I suppose you could say there’s fluidity there, as well as exchange of body fluids, but the homosexuales and their partners consider it a violation of the model.) Nor is there anything “pre-European” about this model; the ancient Greeks and Romans knew it as well as today’s homosexuales, and it hasn’t died out yet, even in the postmodern United States.

Far from being “traditional”, these boys’ claim that they were born homosexuales aligns them with the cutting edge of modern Western science. Or turn it around: the cutting edge of modern Western science is a regression to old, traditional models of human sexuality and gender. I was gratified by Blossoms of Fire's inclusion of non-heterosexuals, almost as much as I was to learn about Juchitán’s long tradition of resistance to centralized authority, especially the right-wing dictatorship that currently rules Mexico. The filmmakers save this information for later in the film: only after they’ve hopefully won the audience’s sympathy and affection for the Juchitanas do they reveal that they’re a bunch of socialists. If I can’t move to Korea when I retire, maybe I’ll move to Oaxaca.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Poetry Friday - A cold day it was ...

A cold day it was, and the road stretched out
Beneath the gleaming snow and a winter sun.
Only the tiretracks distinguished the route,
And one spot of ground looked like another one.
Fence posts poked black above glistening white.
Here and there were the prints of a quail or a fox.
A thick frigid comfort had been dropped in the night;
Even the cornfield showed no brittle stalks.
It is strange but not unpleasant to sit in the snow
With your back to a tree and eyes squint to the glare,
And no one to disturb you save an occasional crow,
While your warm breath collects ice on the cold quiet air.
With your fur grown as long as any other forest thing,
And your blood like molasses, you are waiting for spring.

December 1970
22 Jan 1971

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Goodness Has Nothing To Do With It

Oh, my goodness. John McCain has criticized his only President, his Commander-in-Chief, George W. Bush:

In the Washington Times interview, McCain listed a number of disagreements with the Bush administration, including, “spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s and certainly not for the 21st century, failure to address the issue of climate change seriously.”

It’s not all Bush’s fault, of course: McCain also blamed “the liberals”:

“They put a trillion-dollar debt on future generations of Americans, then allowed the liberals to expand it so they're paying my — they're paying for my prescription drugs. Why should the taxpayers pay for my prescription drugs?” McCain said.

This bit was an attack on Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan. Funny, though – I’d have thought that as a veteran and a member of Congress, McCain’s prescription drugs are already paid for by the taxpayers. For that matter, I would expect that Medicare only covers McCain’s medical costs if he applied for the benefit, and a rich guy like him wouldn’t bother. (Would he?) But I don’t mind if my tax dollars pay for his drugs, as long as they’re also paying for the drugs of those who need the help.

According to the same article, the White House brushed aside McCain’s criticism in Christlike fashion, turning the other cheek. (Of the face.) Spokeswoman Dana Perino told the press that the President “supports John McCain, and he still believes that he can and should win. And he'll continue to support him until Election Day.”

I think it can safely be said that McCain has become desperate, seeing defeat yawn before him like the Grand Canyon, and he'll say anything to try to escape that fate. Not that I assume his defeat is a safe bet: there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Republicans (via) are going to try (ditto) to steal this election, as they did in 2000 and probably in 2004. But I doubt that McCain would have resorted to such an extreme measure as denouncing Bush if he weren’t really afraid that he’s going to lose. I certainly hope he does.

(Photo swiped from Whatever It Is, I'm Against It.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Political Literalism

When I don't have the time or energy to write something substantial, there's always current events!

Whatever It Is I'm Against It notes:

Afghan journalism student Pervez Kambaksh, convicted of “insulting Islam” for downloading material about women’s rights from the Web and sentenced to death in a four-minute trial, has had his sentence reduced to a mere 20 years in prison. So really, the invasion and seven-year occupation of Afghanistan has all been worth it.

So it's really good that Joe Biden is preparing us to kill some more Afghan civilians, because as Biden told an audience (via IOZ) at a Seattle fundraiser,

the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border is of particular concern, with Osama bin Laden "alive and well" and Pakistan "bristling with nuclear weapons."

"You literally can see what these kids are up against, our kids in that region," Biden said in recalling when his helicopter was forced down due to a snowstorm there. "The place is crawling with al Qaeda. And it's real."

No wonder Biden "managed to rake in an estimated $1 million total from his two money hauls at the downtown Sheraton."

Meanwhile, His Total Coolness has announced that war criminal Colin Powell will be one of his foreign policy advisors. Since Powell played a major role in bringing about the US invasion of Iraq, we can see more and more the great difference that an Obama Presidency will make to the suffering people of the world.

As South Korean President Lee Myeong-bak's public comments on the Korean economy become increasingly pessimistic, the candlelight vigils are starting up again. Only 4,000 people showed up for the one on October 18, but mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow. This rally was sponsored, according to The Hankyoreh, by some Internet cafes and by the opposition political parties. (Photo from The Hankyoreh.)

The Korea Times devotes an editorial to "one of the biggest diplomatic dilemmas facing the Korean government ... [namely] its tug-of-war with Japan over the Dokdo islet issue", thus showing its proper sense of priorities. But the government has a secret weapon in the war of ideas:

Few would deny that VANK (Volunteer Agency Network of Korea) ― a private group of Internet users focusing on rectifying misinformation concerning Korea in cyber space ― has been at the vanguard of such endeavors, probably performing far better and proving much more effective than any government agency in this regard. So people might hardly be able to believe their ears when hearing the government had decided to stop its financial support of this cyber commando ``for lack of budget."

Not to worry, though:

Bombarded with a barrage of protest mails, the Ministry of Education and Science hurriedly reversed its decision to withhold the budgetary aid. Still the episode, along with a meager yearly support of 30 million won [about US $30,000] last year, has left much bitter taste as if it reflected the government's shortsightedness.

Notice that VANK is not really "a private group of Internet users" -- it gets financial support from the Korean government. This isn't unique to Korea, of course. Japan "
provides hefty budgetary support for similar private organizations," according to the writer. But it seems that VANK can't look forward to much more money: the Lee administration is preparing to "buy up around 6 trillion won [about US$6 billion] worth of corporate-owned real estate not being used for business purposes" and "housing lots owned by construction companies." Despite Lee's solemn vow to defend Dokdo to the death, there are other issues facing Korea right now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Throwing Money At Wall Street, Continued

(I couldn't find the Feiffer cartoon I wanted, but the one above will do as a reminder that Bush wasn't the first American President to distort facts to support his warmongering. Click on it to enlarge it and make it more readable.)

A few weeks ago I quoted Barack Obama telling a Nevada audience that the Bush-Obama bailout "is not a plan to just hand over $700 billion of your money to a few banks on Wall Street." Since Obama was a major player in pushing the bailout through Congress, he must have known he was lying. Events since then only show how shameless he was. (I know, it's not quite fair to call it "the Bush-Obama bailout" when so many other hands were also involved. I could with as much justice have called it the "Bush-Obama-McCain-Pelosi-Paulson-Frank" bailout, or have hyphenated the names of every other pol who supported the scam. But Obama being the Beacon of Hope and Change, I think it's fair enough to stress his involvement -- especially since he's trying to pretend it's not his fault.)

The indispensable Chris Floyd throws down this article from the Guardian. As he says, that's right, an English newspaper has the information that American newspapers would rather not tell us.
Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are in line to pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted criticism. The government's cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay would be curbed.

Floyd comments:

The Guardian errs a bit in that last sentence, of course. Almost all of the "conditions" mentioned in connection with the bailout have no teeth whatsoever, no enforcement mechanism, no real penalities. They are more properly termed "suggestions," or rather, "PR exercises that we hope our Wall Street lords will deign to at least pretend to follow for a short time, until the heat is off."
Now, I'm as punitive as the next radical business-hating lefty who wants to see every Wall Street banker hung from a lamppost. But punitiveness really has nothing to do with it. Given the failure of these institutions and the responsibility of those who run them, there can be no reason why they should be getting bonuses, let alone from public money. Except of course, because they can.

Pam Martens has more on the subject at Counterpunch:
And what will taxpayers get for their investment in these financial firms whose stock prices are getting hammered as the public recoils in revulsion at what they have done to our financial system? The taxpayers, who were not invited to send their own legal representative to the negotiating table, will receive a paltry 5% dividend, exactly half of what Warren Buffett received for his recent investment in General Electric, a company that actually makes something real, like jet engines and light bulbs.

Now we learn from the U.S. Treasury web site that it has hired the law firm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett to represent our taxpayer interests going forward at a cost to us of $300,000 for six months work. But we’re not allowed to know their hourly wages; that information has been blacked out on the Treasury’s contract. Curiously, the Treasury has named in its contract the specific lawyers it wants to work for us. Two of those are Lee A. Meyerson and David Eisenberg. Mr. Meyerson has been a central player in facilitating the bank consolidations that have led to the present train wreck, including building JPMorgan Chase from the body parts of Chemical Bank, Chase Manhattan and Bank One.
Our elected representatives may not have been present at the negotiating table, but that didn't stop them from approving the bailout. (Some did oppose it, including my own Congressman Baron Hill. Despite his general enablement of the Bush gang since he returned to Washington in 2006, I guess I'll have to vote for him after all.) As Chris Floyd pointed out last month, though,
The crisis of Wall Street's financial meltdown has demonstrated, once again, that although the Bush Faction thugs are criminals, killers, torturers, and thieves, without even the slightest competence in governing, they remain brilliant political tacticians. They may be willfully ignorant and brutally stupid in almost every other area, but when it comes to advancing their own narrow interests -- at the expense of the political opposition -- their low cunning cannot be denied.

Just look how they have made the Democratic leadership the face of the Administration's bailout plan -- which is perhaps the most virulently unpopular government action in the last 100 years. This unconscionable giveaway to the greedy rich was cooked up in the poison kitchen of the Oval Office, long before the late summer collapses that triggered the public crisis -- yet at every turn, before every camera, who do we see fighting hard for the plan? Why, Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, front and center, day after day, talking it up, defending the President and his wise counselor, the rapacious Wall Street profiteer Henry Paulson. When the bailout goes through, and ordinary Americans see that their own lives and livelihoods are still collapsing all around them, who are they going to blame? Why, the Democrats, of course.

As usual -- as always -- the Democrats have handed their ostensible opponents a razor-sharp sword. You can hear it now: "That radical liberal feminist from San Francisco, that stubby little Massachusetts homo -- they're the ones who did this to you! Liberals and Jews and homos, they've stabbed you in the back again!"
You betcha! In fact, they have already started. It's hard to say how well it's worked so far, but things haven't gotten as bad yet as they likely will, and besides, the Republicans still occupy the White House -- they'll be able to make a more convincing noise once That One is elected. (But there's the rub, or at least a rub: am I sitting here waiting gleefully for the Crash to come, for the US economy to crumble again as it did in 1929, to show those crooks in Washington and on Wall Street what's what? No, I'm not, if only because I'm one of the millions who would be buried in the rubble of the collapse. I first figured this out in 1991, when I realized that some opponents of the first Gulf War seemed a little too upbeat about the prospect that the war might not turn out to be the cakewalk Bush I promised. So I found myself in the position of trying to persuade my fellows that Bush was right on that one point, that a quagmire wasn't something we should hope for -- too many innocent people would suffer. The people I talked to quickly saw my point, for once.)

The problem is how to make the guilty suffer. That's not going to be easy, since the guilty have most of the power, and since the Democrats showed themselves all too willing to collaborate again with Bush, we are really left with no alternative. It's the eternal unofficial (and gleeful) campaign slogan of the Dems: What are you going to do, vote for a Republican? It's a clear sign of how blind the supporters of both presidential candidates are, that they're willing to blame the other guy for the bailout. Both of them are in it up to their necks. And the voters' money continues to flow to those who made the mess to begin with; I guess they do deserve those bonuses after all -- they know how to keep the moolah coming in.

Finally, Avedon Carol found this quotation from the also-indispensable (if at times insufferable) Alexander Cockburn at The Nation:
On September 23 Obama stated on NBC that the crisis and the prospect of a huge bailout required bipartisan action and meant he likely would have to delay expansive spending programs outlined during his campaign for the White House. Thus did he surrender power even before he gained it.
During this economic crisis, as during previous ones of the past couple of decades, I've seen some journalists complain about the declining quality of Wall Street bankers, who haven't been "taking responsibility" by throwing themselves out of windows to their deaths as they supposedly did in 1929. As a true American of the old school, then, I guess the only people I can say this to now are Obama's fans who urge all voters to make a Leap of Faith and vote for their candidate: Jump! Jump!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Can't Get An Happy End?

The grammatical error in the title is deliberate. You'll see why.

Late in the 1990s a Korean friend and I went to Chicago together, and as usual we went to a Korean bookstore on North Lincoln that also sold cosmetics, CDs and DVDs. My friend found a new CD by Seo Taiji and Boys, a farewell / greatest hits album, and bought it excitedly. I was just beginning to explore Korean pop at the time, so I had no idea why this album was an event. My friend explained that Seo Taiji had singlehandedly changed the face of Korean popular music by introducing rap, alternative, and metal elements that had never been used so well before -- and now, at the age of 24, he had disbanded the group and announced his retirement. We played the CD in the car as we drove around the city, and I was amazed by it. I believe we went back to the store before we left Chicago so I could buy a copy of my own.

Seo Taiji's retirement, like that of many stars, turned out to be exaggerated. Within a year or two he'd begun releasing music again as a solo artist, and a few years later he was performing. The Boys were even resurrected. I bought a few of his solo CDs, which were masterful but limited in range, and lost interest in Taiji for awhile, in favor of more accessible acts. Until I began looking for his videos on Youtube, that is.

Here's an amazing clip of his first performance on TV with the Boys, in 1992. The program was a showcase for new talent, and the mostly older, more sedate judges couldn't appreciate what he was doing. The song, "Nan Arayo" (my Korean is minimal, but I believe it means "I know"), became a huge hit. Taiji was 19 or 20 at the time (depending on which birth date I've seen is correct, and on whether you reckon age Korean or American style), and had been performing for several years already, but the authority of this performance, the tight and skillful dancing, knocks me out. (They're lipsynching of course.) In all the closeups, though, he seems detached from what he's doing; that could just be me misreading his concentration, but I don't think so. It's certainly a mark of his confidence that he didn't feel the need to put on a stage smile.

(There's a live version, made years later in a different style, here, and as a mark of what an institution Seo Taiji has become, here's a clip of three new Korean pop stars performing the song on TV.)

This song, "Hayoga," is another lipsynched TV performance from a year later:

My friend told me, the day he instroduced me to Taiji's music, about the song "Please Come Home," which implores runaway Korean kids to return to their parents, assuring them of a welcome. Yes, even (or especially?) in traditional Confucian cultures, kids run away from home. This music video seems less optimistic than that. Notice Taiji's new look.

Finally, here's a recent song, "Heffy End." There's no 'f' sound in Korean, so the same letter in hangul, the Korean alphabet, does double duty for English "p" and English "f"; so, the title is an ironic, even sneering "Happy End." (There's also a famous Korean film, released in 1999, with the same English title, and it's just as double-edged.) It's a pretentious video, with a long introduction; the music doesn't start for about 2 minutes. You can see an excellent live version of the song itself here, performed in Vladivostok.) The final line of the song is, in English, "I can't get an happy end."

The more I listen to this song, the less impressed I am by it. Taiji seems to be running out of musical ideas. Ever heard the proverb that the immature artist borrows, the mature artist steals? Seo Taiji has always stolen musical ideas and melodic bits -- there's a song on the Goodbye CD that I'd swear is an entire American alt/metal song sung in Korean (by Nirvana, maybe?). But "Heffy End" sounds like the kind of stuff Hollywood puts on the soundtracks of its current "youth" movies. It also sounds too much like Seo Taiji's earliest solo work, which was so uninventive that I stopped listening to him.

The video also seems creepily cynical in its invocation of horror/slasher films. I think it's mildly (or not so mildly) misogynistic, with the Lecter-like killer guarded and served by a pretty young girl, whose prisoner he may or may not be. Watching it, I was reminded at how many young men I've known seem to see themselves as warped at the core. (And young women too -- the problem doesn't have a gender, but young women express it differently, by hurting themselves with cutting and burning.) This video and so many others pander to, and perhaps encourage that feeling. There are plenty of facile social-science explanations of why this might be so, and I'm wary of accepting any of them. But it must be painful to live with that feeling. I don't think it's just generational, but I think it has become more widespread, and taken for granted, since I was a teenager. This is something I want to think about some more.

Meanwhile, you can hear more of Seo Taiji's recent music at this unofficial MySpace page. The song "Moai" is gorgeous; maybe he hasn't run out of ideas after all. He's definitely talented, and worth looking into.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Dream


A longsofthaired girl, and I was lying with her on the cushions,
and kissing her.
We became somewhat frenzied,
hands sliding over each other's back like windshield wipers,
clutching for our lives at each other's shoulders.
I felt an itch in the root of my groin,
the blood flooding in in a torrent,
I knew that I wasn't going to stop.
The room reeled. I began to take off her clothes
as we rolled on the bare foam rubber cushions.
She pushed me away with the suddenness
of electricity shooting up one's arm.
It was not the girl I had been trying to undress,
but a black boy in a dark blue windbreaker
whom I had been admiring earlier that day on the bus.
We got to our feet and went silently downstairs.

- November 23, 1970

Another closet strategy of disavowal: it was a dream. I wouldn't actually make out with a guy, it was just a dream. I had admired the kid in the windbreaker on the bus earlier that day, but he found his way into my heterosexual dream. Not my fault!

Still, I was testing the limits of what I dared to say. And I admire the layering of reality/dream here. What was really happening? I was dreaming (and this was, I believe, an actual dream) of undressing a handsome African-American youth in an upstairs room at the student-run coffeehouse where I hung out and performed in those days, but my unconscious wasn't quite ready to let me have even the dream yet.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Part-Issue Voter

I hadn't really been sitting up nights wondering which candidate Christopher Hitchens would endorse for 2008, but thanks to homo superior curates the web, I know now, and I admit, I'm a bit surprised.
I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that "issue" I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience. With McCain, the "experience" is subject to sharply diminishing returns, as is the rest of him, and with Palin the very word itself is a sick joke. One only wishes that the election could be over now and a proper and dignified verdict rendered, so as to spare democracy and civility the degradation to which they look like being subjected in the remaining days of a low, dishonest campaign.
"The surrender faction" -- why yes, everyone who opposed the American invasion of Iraq just wanted to surrender to Saddam Hussein, whose war planes were cruising over the Eastern Seaboard all through 2002, and let him occupy our great nation without firing a shot. It's good to know that Hitchens is still hanging on to the dementia that has served him so well the past eight years. As he well knows, the Bush administration gets along just fine with "its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors," and to invoke "civilization" in connection with a corrupt, murderous regime that has slashed civil liberties, given torture a new prominence, and killed even more innocent people than Clinton did, is to reaffirm triumphantly Hitchens's abandonment of intellectual honesty.

It's interesting to compare this endorsement of Obama (who, it's true, wants to continue killing random ragheads for the foreseeable future, wherever and whenever he can find them) with Hitchens's 2004 "slight" endorsement of Bush.
You don't like "smirking"? What about the endless smirks and smarmy hints about the Administration's difficulties, whether genuine or self-imposed? The all-knowing, stupid smirks about the "secular" Saddam, or the innocuousness of prewar Iraq? The sneers about the astonishing success of our forces in Afghanistan, who are now hypocritically praised by many who opposed their initial deployment? This is to say nothing of the paranoid innuendoes I don't have to name that are now part of pseudo-"radical" rumor-mongering and defamation. Whichever candidate wins, I shall live to see these smirks banished, at least. ...

What slightly disturbs me about most liberals is their hypertense refusal to admit the corollary. "Anybody But Bush"--and this from those who decry simple-mindedness--is now the only glue binding the radical left to the Democratic Party right. The amazing thing is the literalness with which the mantra is chanted. Anybody? Including Muqtada al-Sadr? The chilling answer is, quite often, yes. This is nihilism. Actually, it's nihilism at best. If it isn't treason to the country--let us by all means not go there--it is certainly treason to the principles of the left.
My first reaction as I reread this painful performance was that "the radical left" had not used the slogan "Anybody But Bush" -- that was a line I associated then, and still do, with the Democratic middle, who didn't really mean it anyway except to try to discipline those on the left who supported Kerry/Edwards (or Obama/Biden) with inadequate ardor. If "Anybody But Bush," then why not Ralph Nader? But then I remembered that even a radical leftist like Noam Chomsky argued in 2004 that it was important to vote, and to vote for the lesser evil (that is, Kerry) rather than permit another four years of Bush. If Hitchens really believed that stupid and vicious smear about "including Muqtada al-Sadr," he was at least prudent enough not to name any names, since as he also knows, Chomsky has always been critical of radical Islamists and the American administrations that have supported them for so many years. This is just more "the surrender faction" crap. His disavowal of accusations of "treason" then was as transparently fake as similar disavowals now by Palin and McCain.

Hitchens is right, of course: he can safely endorse Obama, because Obama is no "capitulationist," he's ready to shed a lot more blood if elected. Hitchens may have forgotten how in 2004 he said "with agony" that "the Israel-Palestine dispute ... which stands a very slightly better chance of a decent settlement if an almost uncritically pro-Israeli Democrat is not elected"; Obama is explicit in his uncritical support of Israel. But details, details! What counts is that "the astonishing success of our forces in Afghanistan" (which aren't looking so astonishing or so successful nowadays) and in Iraq, and in Pakistan, continue. Obama will give Hitchens that, which is why Hitchens's endorsement confirms what I and other cynical elitists have been saying about Obama all along. And I have no doubt that if Bush could run for a third term, Hitchens would still be endorsing him.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Market Me, Daddy

Oh, I like this. The Korea Times has another column by Tom Coyner (left), this one titled "Korean Slogans Comical To Foreigners." The piece is actually less coherent than that -- he mentions marketing slogans like "Hi Seoul" and "Korea Sparkling" in a couple of sentences, but mostly Mr. Coyner rambles all over the place, bitching about the renegotiation of the beef-import agreement with the US:
Furthermore, as zany an impression the irrational anti-mad cow disease demonstrations may have made on foreign executives earlier this year, what probably was more significant was President Lee having to order his subordinates to return to Washington to renegotiate the terms and conditions of the U.S. beef imports resumption agreement.

More than many Koreans may realize, Korea suffers an image problem when it comes to contractual compliance. To be fair, this is one aspect of how Koreans conduct business amongst themselves.

Yet in a global economy, while one needs to act locally, one also needs to think globally when it comes to the basics of business. And that includes the validity and reliability of consummated contracts.

When President Lee sent his representatives back to Washington to renegotiate the beef import agreement, many foreign business managers recalled unpleasant memories and stories about misadventures in doing business in Korea.

After all, if the word of the Korean head of state cannot be trusted, what may one expect in working out a deal with a Korean company's CEO?

Given this, Korea needs more effective national branding. ...
"Branding" is one of the buzzwords in marketing circles these days. (Naomi Klein's No Logo has a good account of what it means and how it works; I've mentioned here before how the US has tried to "brand" itself -- if you're dropping bombs on people, torturing them, throwing their society into chaos, and the saucy wogs have the cheek to get upset about it, the remedy is to hire a PR expert to sell them a New Image of America ... In fact, it's not a remedy at all, but I'm sure the PR experts get paid bountifully anyway, and throwing money at the private sector is what America is all about.) From his babbling in this article about "
Kotler's Four P's of marketing" -- and holy moly, "Back in 1981, Al Ries and Jack Trout came out with a fifth P, Positioning"! but what about the sixth P, Progress in the Positioning of Pointless Promotional Pandering? -- I'm inclined to suspect that Mr. Coyner was hitting the Jack Daniels while looking at the marketing texts on his office bookshelves.

On the sanctity of consummated contracts, it should be remembered that the Free Trade Agreement between the US and South Korea which included beef imports had not been ratified at the time of the protests (still hasn't, as far as I know), so the "contract" was not "consummated" and there was no reason it shouldn't have been renogotiated under public pressure. Plus, of course, the US, like every other country, breaks contracts and agreements all the time. A relevant example here (though there are many others) might be the agreement Bill Clinton made back in the 1990s, offering to help
North Korea build special nuclear reactors for the production of electricity if the North would dismantle its existing reactors that could (perhaps) be used to make weapons; the US reneged on every point, and then had the chutzpah to attack Kim Jong-Il for breaking the agreement several years later when he restarted his old nuclear program. The whole function of contract law is to govern the renegotiation or cancellation of "consummated contracts."

But here's my favorite bit. Why, Mr. Coyner asks, do Korean bureaucrats deploy these comical marketing slogans?
Korean bureaucrats are not stupid. They are highly educated and often spend money on international marketing companies.

The problem seems to be that the tried and generally true approaches by these PR and marketing companies are mangled in the bureaucracies, often at inception. ...

Instead, and too often, cheap short-cuts are implemented that rarely, if at all, adequately survey what foreigners perceive Korea to be and what messages may positively impact on foreigners.
Mr. Coyner himself, says his bio at the foot of the column, "has worked in both HR and high tech sales & marketing in Korea, Japan and the United States. Soft Landing Consulting focuses on improving sales results of primarily foreign firms in Korea and Japan." So there you have it: give Tom Coyner more money, O Korean bureaucrats. Don't pinch those won! This (like other KT columns by foreigners I've seen) is actually an infomercial for the writer's company. What a cushy gig; I wish I could get one like it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sexual Orientation And Its Discontents

A couple of months ago I wrote here that there might be “a flaw in the concept of ‘sexual orientation’ that needs to be thought about some more.” The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize that my gentle suggestion was a riot of understatement.

I’ve been critical for a long time of what is called “sexual orientation research.” Some years ago I was invited to review a book called Gay Science (Columbia, 1999) by Timothy F. Murphy, a Professor of Philosophy in the Biomedical Sciences, Department of Medical Education, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. I never finished the review for some reason, but among other problems I noticed that although Professor Murphy recognized that “sexual orientation research” was a broad category that covered many different kinds of study, including Evelyn Hooker’s classic 1950s study comparing the psychological adjustment of gay and straight men, he was really only interested in research on the biological causes of sexual orientation, mainly homosexuality. (Many people forget that heterosexuality is a sexual orientation too, just as they forget that men are a “gender” and whites an “ethnic group.”) He was not much concerned about possible negative social effects of such investigation, that might lead to attempts to eliminate gay people from the population. (Abortion of “pre-gay” fetuses, genetic manipulation to prevent our conception, “sexual reorientation” therapy for those of us who escaped earlier eugenic interventions, etc.) What worried him was that “sexual orientation research” might be suppressed by people concerned about such negative effects. Even though Murphy recognized many of the fundamental flaws in the research, he always wrote as though abandoning any specific thread of “sexual orientation research” amounted to suppression of the whole field, and was a threat to Science itself.

This is the kind of scientific fundamentalism that makes me want to issue mischievous satirical calls against science, but not just now. What I want to point out now is that there is not, as far as I can tell, any research actually being done on the causes of “sexual orientation.” As the American Psychological Association explains it,

Sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction toward others. It is easily distinguished from other components of sexuality including biological sex, gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and the social gender role (adherence to cultural norms for feminine and masculine behavior).

But all of the current research on “sexual orientation” that I’m aware of is actually about biological sex and gender identity. I’d go so far as to say that it was meant to eliminate the concept of sexual orientation altogether, if it weren’t so obvious that the scientists involved are completely unaware of the distinction: they simply assume that “sexual orientation” equals biological sex. This can be seen in the infamous research of the gay neurologist Simon LeVay, who found that gay men have the hypothalamus of a woman in the body of a man. (I almost wrote “straight woman” there, but LeVay evidently assumed heterosexuality as the baseline.) Since LeVay’s research was published, to great publicity, other studies have purported to find that lesbians have masculine ring fingers, that gay men and straight women respond similarly to male body odor, and so on. Michael Bailey, the even more controversial professor of psychology at Northwestern University, told CBS News in 2006 that “feminizing of the brain” was involved in the genesis of gay men (and “masculinizing” in lesbians). He attributed this to hormones, not to the genes.

Which brings me to Marc Breedlove, also a participant in the CBS News report. Breedlove, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Michigan State University,

explained that male rats, including one he showed [Leslie] Stahl called “Romeo,” will mount any rat that comes their way. In the mating process, the female performs something called lordosis, where she lifts her head and rump.

If Romeo goes after a male, Dr. Breedlove says the male will seem profoundly indifferent.

But Breedlove says he can change all that. He gave a female rat a single shot of the male sex hormone testosterone at birth. Now grown up, she will never perform lordosis.

But a male rat did. He was castrated at birth, depriving him of testosterone.

"So you created a gay rat?" Stahl asked.

"I wouldn't say that these are gay rats. But I will say that these are genetic male rats who are showing much more feminine behavior," he explained.

It’s big of Professor Breedlove to point out that his lordotic rats are not gay. But a few other things need to be pointed out. One is that none of this is new. Researchers have been playing around with rats’ hormone levels since at least the 1930s. That work was summarized and discussed as long ago as 1951, when Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach published Patterns of Sexual Behavior (Harper & Brothers). (There’s a good recent account of this in Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body [Basic Books, 2000], especially Chapter 8, “The Rodent’s Tale.”)

But the underlying notion of receptive males as female-like is even older. In his book Roman Homosexualities (Oxford, 1999), Craig Williams retells a fable by a first-century Roman poet called Phaedrus. As Williams translates it (page 211),

The other man asked what principle it was that had brought tribads and soft men into being. The old man explained, “That same Prometheus, the creator of the pottery race that is broken as soon as it comes up against its fate, had spent a whole day fashioning the private parts that modesty hides under clothes, making them separately so that he could later attach them to the appropriate bodies. After receiving an unexpected invitation to dinner from the wine-god Liber, and having flooded his veins with a good deal of nectar, he stumbled home late at night and in a drunken stupor attached the maiden's organ to the male sex and male organs to women. And so it is that lust now enjoys its depraved pleasure.”

For some reason Williams (who’s evidently as confused as his scientific counterparts) comments that “Phaedrus’ soft males … were mistakenly given a pseudo-vagina by Prometheus.” In the fable, they were given a real vagina, and the anus (which both males and females have) is not a “pseudo-vagina.” The hormonal theory of sexual receptivity in males is basically just an updated version of Phaedrus’ fable.

Lordosis is not part of the human behavioral repertoire anyhow: excited human females do not try to shove their rumps into the faces of males with whom they want to copulate. (Imagine what a pop concert would look like if this were the case.) Nor do gay men. Yet pushers of “sexual orientation research” keep bringing it up, probably because it’s visually striking and fits the stereotype of gay men as feminized.

A more important point is that this behavior has nothing to do with “sexual orientation,” if that term refers to a pattern of sexual desire for persons of one sex or the other. Feminized male rats will permit mounting by females or other males, and “normal” male rats, as Breedlove says, “will mount any rat that comes their way” regardless of its sex.

In an article published in the Journal of Homosexuality in 1997, neuroanatomist and psychiatrist William S. Byne pointed out (page 75) that

In the paradigm of the neuroendocrine laboratory, the male rat that shows lordosis when mounted by another male is considered the homosexual. But it is important to note that lordosis is little more than a reflex, and that the male that displays lordosis when mounted by another male will also display the posture if its back is stroked by a researcher. We cannot infer much about the sexual motivation of the male that exhibits this posture. Ironically, however, the animal that does display sexual motivation – the male that mounts another male [Breedlove’s “Romeo”, for instance] – escapes scientific scrutiny and labeling as does the female that displays lordosis when mounted by another female.

Suppose, though, that it were proven that some human males had been exposed to “female” hormones, causing them to want to be penetrated by other men. These would be the men explained by the research of LeVay, Breedlove, Bailey, and others. But what about the men who have sex with these receptive men, particularly men who prefer to penetrate men instead of women? Contemporary researchers not only can’t explain them, they don’t even seem to be aware that they exist. According to their model, there are no homosexuals or heterosexuals, just tops (penetrators, assumed to be male) and bottoms (the penetrated, presumed to be female). “Straight” men should know that they can penetrate as many men as they wish without becoming gay – they only need to be alert to any emergent desire to present their bottoms to anyone, male or female. But woe betide any penetrator who feels those stirrings in his rear end – he may have a “predisposition” to be gay. Dorothy Nelkin and M. Susan Lindee wrote in The DNA Mystique (Freeman, 1995, page 136),

A claim about predisposition after the fact … has the rhetorical advantage of being both unfalsifiable and irrefutable. No experiment could disprove the existence of such a predisposition, for the outcome of “proof” of its own cause. By employing this sort of circular argument, genetic predisposition can be invoked to explain any behavior ….
These researchers have often been criticized for making assumptions about the sexual orientations of their subjects, but what can they do? There is no way to measure “sexual orientation.” Some of the researchers have fallen back on inviting their subjects to rate themselves on the Kinsey scale, which is like classifying subjects’ intelligence by asking them to guess their IQs. Some administer a version of Kinsey’s sexual history interview (which is interesting, considering how often I’ve heard that Kinsey’s protocol is obsolete and no one nowadays knows how to take a history by his method). But a sexual history is not a “sexual orientation.” LeVay, whose subjects were all dead, assumed that any male whose records said he had contracted AIDS through sexual contact must be homosexual, and that any male whose records showed that he had contracted AIDS through drug use must be heterosexual. Again, it’s hard to say what else he could have done, but it doesn’t speak well for “sexual orientation research” that such work passed peer review.

So there you have it: “sexual orientation research” is not about sexual orientation at all, but about one’s role in sexual activity. These researchers have a revealingly crude and mechanistic conception of human sexuality that reduces males to plugs and females to jacks. Their work has no bearing on the love and desire for people of their own sex that many gay people confidently claim they were born with – about that we’re as ignorant as ever. Strangest of all to me is that the GLBTQ+π supporters of this research, who in my experience are desperately insistent that we are “normal” except for what we do in bed, and are eager to appease bigots by condemning gender nonconformity among gay people, have bought into a scientific model which asserts that we are essentially and by nature gender non-conformists. A gay man in drag, a lesbian with cigar and tuxedo, are according to the LeVays and Baileys simply acting as Nature wants them to. But not to worry. The internal contradictions of the scientific model ensure that it’s unlikely to go anywhere.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hot Hot Man 2 Library Action

Nicola Griffith has a good post about Library Porn, drawing mainly on an article from Wired about some Internet mogul's private library. (Not quite the same as librarian porn. [And don't worry, those links are probably work-safe.]) It's true, Jay Walker's library is to die for, but I noticed immediately that it seems inhuman -- it's a private library (meaning, owned by an individual rather than by a community), not a personal one. It's meant to be seen, not inhabited or used. Writer Steven Levy informs us that "Walker frequently meets with the Walker Digital brain trust in the seating area of the library, hoping to draw inspiration from the surroundings." Just from the surroundings.

And the books themselves? "Walker shuns the sort of bibliomania that covets first editions for their own sake—many of the volumes that decorate the library's walls are leather-bound Franklin Press reprints." A lot of bibliophiles look down their noses at Franklin Press, but my problem here is that it sounds as if those "leather-bound" volumes were bought to look classy on the shelves, not for their contents. I wonder how many of the books in this library were bought by Walker himself? It's a safe bet that such a busy man has staff to dust the shiny toys, and I'll bet there are no stacks of books on the floor that he hasn't yet got the shelf space for.

The human equivalent of this library porn would be a sculpted, toned mannequin with minutely coiffed hair and (for those so inclined) expertly applied makeup -- the kind of person you couldn't touch because it would muss their hair or smear their lipstick. Not very sexy to my mind, but to each his or her own.

Nicola is a book person, unlike (it seems) Jay Walker; I think that like me, she'd prefer something like the library of the writer Alberto Manguel, who has 30,000 volumes in an old French presbytery in the Loire Valley. It's not just his library, it's his workplace, and he sits in it at night, reading. "But I have neither the funds nor the knowledge to become a professional collector," he wrote in the New York Times, "and in my library, shiny young Penguins sit happily alongside severe-looking leather-bound patriarchs."

My ideal library would be in a city, I think. A few years ago I stayed with some friends in Seoul who had just moved into a six-room apartment overlooking the Han River. They were just about a block from the subway station. I think my books could just about fit into a space like that, and the location is ideal. Now all I need is to win the lottery or the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, and I'll be off. Unlike Nicola, I wouldn't install an espresso machine or "perhaps a little fridge for the caviar..." Let's see, though, what would I need in the way of equipment? Maybe a theater-style popcorn popper and a dispenser for lime-flavored Diet Coke.

Meanwhile, about a third (or a half?) of my roughly 7,000 books are in storage, and the rest are bursting the limits of my two-room apartment. But as someone once wrote, a person only needs a few thousand books on the walls of the room to know that there is one place in the world where he or she can be happy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Poetry Friday -- this is not what i wanted

this is not what i wanted.
i wanted to love you in the dark,
my hands busy on your body as birds' wings.
i wanted to kiss your breast as a pilgrim would kiss a relic of a saint,
to poke my nose into your pubic hair like a puppy sniffing for something interesting in the grass.
i wanted to sleep beside you untroubled by old loneliness,
needing fewer blankets in the winter because your body gave off such warmth.
i wanted to wake in the morning to find you curled up against me, your hair brushing against my back.
i wanted your sleeping arm to dangle over my shoulder.
i wanted to laugh with you over wine in an obscure restaurant,
each of us knowing that we would not have to sleep alone that night or any other night.
i wanted you to wake and tell me about a dream you had that i was in too.
i wanted to love you, to love you, to love you.
instead i seem to be running through cold northern forests,
wading through drifts among wet dark trees,
and my feet are bleeding.

--October 21, 1970

I can still see here the influence of e. e. cummings, Allen Ginsberg, and maybe a dash of W. H. Auden. But beyond that, it occurred to me on rereading it how sexually ambiguous it still was -- I was, after all, still four months from being able to tell anyone else I was gay -- which ties to the larger question of ambiguous poetry, song lyrics, and so on. This is what a closeted gay poem looks like, relying heavily on second-person address ("you" can be either male or female), and the somewhat archaic, self-consciously poetic "breast." Which doesn't mean that every poem that exhibits such traits is necessarily a closeted gay poem, but how do you tell it from one that isn't? The poem is built on the very ambiguity that makes it possible to deny that "you" is the same sex as the poet. In my case, of course, the ambiguity is resolved by the fact that I eventually came out, wrote poems explicitly to or about other males, and am telling you today that this was one of the implicit ones. But when we don't have that knowledge, why should all poetry default to heterosexuality?

(I wish I could figure out how to put hanging indents into a Blogger post -- it doesn't seem to be documented anywhere.)

“This Guy’s Good!”

You’d think, from the rage that has been expressed by McCain/Palin fans at McCain’s recent campaign stops, that the current election campaign was a sporting event. I thought Americans only worked themselves into such a frenzy, screaming “Kill him!” about the opponent, when something really important was at stake, like the outcome of a high-school basketball game. As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show the other night, McCain promised his fans to “take the gloves off” for the debate, and brought forth jello nailed to a wall. Much like Obama’s fans, McCain’s seem to be hoping that he’ll say what he really (in their dreams) thinks, that deep down he’s one of their own instead of a practiced political hack. (And McCain, as he and his partisans keep reminding us, has had lots of practice.)

Watch CBS Videos Online

I thought I was pretty familiar with the delusions of the American Right, but I must say, the Angry White Man who spoke up against Obama here surprised me. “Socialists”? If Obama, Reid, Pelosi, the Democratic leaders who have so cravenly supported Bush are socialists, then so must the President be, to say nothing of McCain. And were you paying attention to that first clip of Obama, attacking McCain for supporting the Bush/Paulson bailout that Obama also supported and voted for, and “helped arm-twist recalcitrant Democrats, particularly in the Congressional Black Caucus, to vote for the Paulson bailout, in the national interest, the line urged on House members by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank.” The bailout has turned out to be very unpopular politically, so it’s understandable that Obama would want to disavow his role in it, but he and McCain are both stuck with it and shouldn’t be allowed to wriggle free. Nor should McCain’s hydrophobic fans forget that their man is playing on Obama’s team as far as ‘socialistic’ takeovers of the banks are concerned. (And why isn’t it as discrediting to be an Angry White Man as it is to be an Angry Black Man?)

On the other hand, while Obama’s fans might be skittish about the word “socialist” for PR purposes, the most enthusiastic do seem to see their man as being a man of the left who’ll bring the world peace, equality, and solar power -- which makes them just as delusional as McCain’s fans. And it’s not just Obamamaniacs who feel this way – the friend I’ve mentioned before, who stressed the importance of appearing “moderate,” is ambivalent about Obama and more aware of his actual positions and history than most people seem to be. Yet I had to keep reminding my friend that Obama has not been tacking “to the center” during this campaign, that he was always right of center and has been making that emphatically clear as he’s gone along. Obama himself accepts numerous Bush-Junta fantasies, such as the nuclear threat posed by Iran and the crisis faced by Social Security; he only disagrees on what should be done about them.

Where do people get these notions? The corporate media play a role, I’m sure, but their own wishful thinking must be a good part of it. And of course there are plenty of grassroots and quasi-grassroots sources of political propaganda, long pre-dating the Internet, to feed their fantasies. In this US, though, that kind of material mostly seems to come from the right. The hysterical red-baiting of that Angry White Man is familiar enough to me from my own Midwestern 50s and 60s upbringing; right-wing spokesmen. If the John Birch Society could believe that Dwight Doggone Eisenhower was a Red, of course post-Birch American rightists can believe that Chicago-School Friedman disciple, Harvard Law School product Barack Obama is one too. His foreign name by itself is enough to drive such people insane:

Outside a Strongsville, Ohio rally, a blogger asks a woman who says her name is Mindy Green if she thinks the Democratic presidential candidate is a terrorist. "His name says it all," Green says. "I think he is."

They’re canny enough not to say, “Can’t you see that that man is a ni?” in front of a camera, but that’s probably a factor too.

As Dennis Perrin wrote today, “Since Barack Obama is not against imperial war per se, just the kind that isn't managed effectively, he really can't respond to the right on principled grounds, only tactical ones. It'll be interesting to see how reactionaries assess Obama's war making in the coming years. He'll be killing those whom right wingers insist are the enemy, but to them, it'll be for the wrong, insidious reasons. Hmmm. Sounds familiar.” Yup, Bill Clinton all over again – Clinton (whom the Right hated with the same demented fervor as they hate Obama) squandered his political capital and skills pushing Reagan-Bush (I) policies into law: NAFTA, GATT, “welfare reform,” bombing Iraq, opposition to same-sex marriage, and on and on. The more he played the Reagan Democrat, the more the Right escalated their campaign against him; that they carried out a coup against him, instead of embracing him as a Republican at heart, shows how deeply personal their loathing was. If Obama wins the election, the next four to eight years could make the Clinton administration look like a tea-party.