Friday, August 28, 2009

Poetry Friday - The Cavaliers (Toronto)

The Cavaliers (Toronto)

This hothouse forces odd loves into bloom:
the smoke, the noise, the semi-darkness stunt
the growth of shoots cramped by too little room
to start with. Each survivor is a runt.
Some mutants do thrive in this ambience --
their native habitat? Others, which sprout
better in less outré environments --
one's backyard garden, say -- get crowded out.
Though I admire the lush flamboyant growth
of tropic loves, I also want to praise
the homely ones. There should be room for both,
exotic blossoms and perennial gays.
My love for you's the hardiest of weeds:
a bit of earth and sky are all it needs.

Written during my first visit to Toronto in 1980. With only a week to find others like myself, I attended a gay men's discussion group; visited the office of The Body Politic, Canada's great gay-liberation magazine of the period; shopped in Glad Day Bookstore; and went to a few bars. My favorite was The Barn, a leather bar with a good DJ, and a friendlier tone than other leather bars I've been to, but I also liked The Cavaliers, a piano bar with (as I recall -- it has been 29 years since I was there!) potted plants for decoration. I was staying in an older YMCA building in the center of the city, which turned out to be cruisy (surprise!), but I wasn't quite sure how to relate to it. Though I didn't get laid during that visit, I still enjoyed the city and wished I could have moved there.

"The Cavaliers (Toronto)" has, I realize, an uncomfortably familiar pre-Stonewall literary vibe, of the gay bar as a stifling, unhealthy milieu. I confess my sin, but I still think there's enough truth in it to sustain the poem, and I still like the small twists I put in. The Cavalier drew an older crowd anyway, and I think that even today many gay men cultivate a sort of demi-monde sensibility in their gathering places. Others just ignore the dominant mood and use the bars or other sites to get what they want, and that's good too. I've also come to realize how important bars have been as community sites on their own terms. After nearly thirty years, though, this poem is now a period piece anyway.

Monday, August 24, 2009


A couple of videos by CLON, a Korean duo of the 90s. They were especially famous for their dancing, and their career came to a screeching halt when one of them, Kang Won Rae, was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. This much I'd learned from Korean Pop: Riding the Wave (Global Orient, 2006), edited by Keith Howard. According to a commenter on "Come to Me", after years of therapy he returned to make a fifth album, Victory, with his partner Koo Jun Yup, which included a song for a project which "highlighted the struggle for disabled rights in South Korea. For both of the videos and for the limited live performances done for the album, Gu and Gang developed dance routines incorporating wheelchairs." If I find the videos, I'll add them to this post. But "Come to Me" really impressed me -- the female lead singer is magnificent -- as well as filling me with nostalgia for the days when I loved to dance.

The articles in Korean Pop introduced me to a number of Korean pop acts I hadn't heard of before, and I'll be writing about them in the near future.

P.S. I haven't found the wheelchair routines yet, but I did stumble on this TV performance by Ku Yun Jup of Clon and Rain, the young Korean singer/dancer who's been trying to break through to a US audience. The song is called "Nan," Korean for "I." Rain seems abstracted, and Ku exudes an authority and confidence that's very, um, appealing. Notice the double-headed male symbol in the Clon logo, though; I guess it expresses their testosterone-pumped dancing pretty well, but still.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Poetry Friday - If I neglect ...

If I neglect, in these my recollections,
the more pleasant side of our relations,
if I leave out the moments of affection,
of respect, of warmth, in my narration,
if all too often it appears the bad
outweighs the good in my account of you,
if I forget the good times we have had,
it's just because they were so bloody few!
And anyhow I'd rather not profane
those good times, since they were so rare, by mention;
but lest I seem to be so wracked by pain
that they have never come to my attention,
it may, therefore, be timely to proclaim:
though years go by, the Muse remains the same.

May 22, 1979

And still does, thirty years later.

Celebritize Me

The trailer for Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story is now online, and it occurs to me that the teabaggers, the birthers, and the town hall clowns should be asked what they think about Michael Moore now. Hasn't he been saying all along what they are now saying -- that corporate America feeds like a vampire on the mass of the American people, and that the government enables them with billions in taxpayer money? That it's time to stand up and put a stop to the madness? Where have they been for the twenty years since Roger and Me was released? Why, complaining (or jeering) that Michael Moore is fat, of course.

Granted, it will be very difficult to get them to speak coherently about such things. As Roy Edroso writes,
It could be that these folks haven't thought any more deeply about it than their comments reveal. Maybe AP didn't talk to them long enough to find out what's really driving them. Or maybe message discipline has something to do with it: When the anti-Obama "tea party" movement held its first New York event back in February, many people stepped up to the bullhorn to denounce the socialism, Shariah law, and Hitlerism of the Obama administration. At the next, much larger, New York event, the few citizen-speakers who made it to the stage were carefully guided by the organizers; the more professional speakers who dominated put the ix-nay on the ocialism-say, and focused on "entrepreneurship," "out-of-control" spending, and the like.
That's my problem. I'm sympathetic to people who are critical of Big Gummint, but when all they've got to fill out their critique is the lies we've been hearing -- Kenya, Hitler, Ayatollah Obama, and death panels -- with a serene refusal to recognize just how much they love all kinds of Big Gummint programs -- not just Social Security and Medicare, but public schools, public highways, public libraries and public space in which to hold their teabag rallies -- and without much in the way of substantial criticism to balance the lies, then I'm not inclined to join their party. The people Hitler appealed to, after all, had their own good reasons for being dissatisfied; even better reasons, very possibly, like hyperinflation and unemployment rates that far outrun anything the US has to face ... yet. Still, they preferred to blame the Jews and the Communists for their problems. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I'm pleased to notice that Glenn Greenwald seems to be less worried than he used to be about being on the margins. Now that Tom Ridge has said aloud that the Bush administration manipulated terror alerts to keep the populace scared, nice mainstream journalists are floundering, just as they have been about the War on Terror generally. It turns out that the fringe leftist hippie conspiracy theorists were right all along, so they must have been right for the wrong reasons. Greenwald cites Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic, who
acknowledges that Bush critics were right that the terror alerts were being manipulated for political ends (he has no choice but to acknowledge that now that Ridge admits it), but still says journalists like himself were right to scorn such critics "because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence." As always: even when the dirty leftist hippies are proven right, they're still Shrill, unSerious Losers who every decent person and "journalist" scorns.
Ambinder has retracted the "gut hatred" bit, but left the rest of his claim intact. As Greenwald points out, "gut hatred" isn't really the problem. The trouble is Ambinder's admission that, "living as we do in a Democratic [sic] system, most journalists are going to give the government the benefit of some doubt, even having learned lessons about giving the government that benefit". In other words, despite having had their faces rubbed in government lies, most journalists are going to keep coming back for more. So, apparently, will the people who read or watch these journalists.

My only complaint about Greenwald's discussion is that he harks back to a day when "Distrusting the statements and actions of government leaders was once the central value of our political system and of basic journalism." There was not ever such a day, as far as I know. Greenwald mentions I. F. Stone and his dictum that all governments lie, forgetting that Stone was a pariah among respectable journalists -- the exception, not the rule.

Still, Greenwald is making progress. Today's post starts from a Paul Krugman column. Greenwald says:

More than any betrayal on a specific issue, it is Obama's seeming eagerness to serve the interests of those who have "run Washington for far too long" -- not as a result of what he has failed to accomplish, but as a result of what he has affirmatively embraced -- that is causing what Krugman today describes as a loss of trust in Obama from those who once trusted him most. This approach is not only producing heinous outcomes, but is politically self-destructive as well. In a superb post the other day, Digby recounted what fueled the Naderite movement in 2000 and warns, presciently I think, that the willingness of Obama/Emanuel so blatantly to disappoint those to whom they promised so much (especially young and first-time voters who were most vulnerable to Obama's transformative fairy dust) will lead them either to support a third party or turn off from politics altogether:

Rahm Emanuel believes that the key to Democratic success is a coalition in which Blue Dogs and corporate lackeys mitigate progressive change on behalf of the moneyed interests which he believes the political system must serve. Regardless of his malevolent view of how the political system should work, on a political level, I think he's living in the past. . . .

But on a political level, the left has been betrayed over and over again on the things that matter to us the most. The village is pleased, I'm sure. But the Democratic party only needs to look back eight short years to see just how destructive it is to constantly tell their left flank to go fuck themselves. . . .

At the time [in 2000] nobody believed that an incumbent Vice President in a roaring economy would have a race so close that the Republicans could steal it. But we know differently now don't we? And you would think that the Democratic establishment would also know that because of that, it may not be a good idea to alienate the left to the point where they become apathetic or even well... you know. It can happen. It did happen. Why the Democrats persist in believing that it can't happen again is beyond me. . .

Obama mobilized a whole lot of young people who have great expectations and disappointing them could lead to all sorts of unpleasant results. Success is about more than simply buying off some congressional liberals or pleasing the village. It's worth remembering that a third party run from the left is what created the conditions for eight long years of Republican governance that pretty much wrecked this country.

After 2000, what is it going to take for the Democrats to realize that constantly using their base as a doormat is not a good idea? It only takes a few defections or enough people staying home to make a difference. And there are people on the left who have proven they're willing to do it. The Democrats are playing with fire if they think they don't have to deliver anything at all to their liberal base --- and abandoning the public option, particularly in light of what we already know about the bailouts and the side deals, may be what breaks the bond.

It's really not too much to ask that they deliver at least one thing the left demands, it really isn't. And it's not going to take much more of this before their young base starts looking around for someone to deliver the hope and change they were promised.

Of course, what Greenwald and Digby are describing here is simply the Democratic Leadership Council's program to win power from the Republicans by appropriating their policies. This program gave us Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the other Democratic Presidential candidates of the past twenty years. From a strictly Realpolitik point of view, it's unexceptionable; from the point of view of the great majority of Americans, it's totally objectionable. Someone needs to find a way to break the hold the DLC has over the Democratic Party. But national politics is a very expensive business, and the DLC's partnership with the corporate bloc means that they will be able to outspend any foreseeable challengers. Obama had gone over to the Dark Side by the time he ran for the Senate, which is why we dirty hippie leftist conspiracy theorists have not been surprised by his conduct as President. He raised a lot of money from the netroots, but he couldn't have won the election if he hadn't gotten the support of the national party and its corporate donors. Which brings me to Greenwald's other important point:
Indeed, as I've written many times, "trust" is appropriate for one's friends, loved ones, family members and the like -- but not for politicians. That's what John Adams meant when he said: "There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." "All" means "all" and "none" means "none."

But that's not how our political culture works generally. Our politics have become entirely celebretized. Political discussions typically resemble junior high chatter about one's most adored and despised actors: filled with adolescent declarations of whether someone "likes" and "trusts" this politician or "dislikes" that one. "I trust Obama" has long been a common refrain among his most loyal supporters. The fact that, as Krugman says, that is much less true now is quite significant, even if "trust" is an inappropriate emotion in the first place to feel towards any political official.

Here too Greenwald can't keep from appealing to an American lost innocence that never was. American politics has always been "celebritized," with politicians running on image more than substance. George Washington, the Father of His Country; Abe Lincoln the Rail Splitter from Illinois. But the main point, that trust is not appropriate for politicians, is gold. It's easy to entertain a healthy skepticism toward guys from the other team; what's hard, but utterly necessary, is to be just as skeptical about one's own candidate.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Match Made in Los Angeles

Finally! I just finished watching Chris and Don: a Love Story, Guido Santi and Tina Mascara’s documentary about the three-decade relationship between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, and it was just about what I’d hoped it would be.

For those who have no idea whose these guys are: the English-born Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) was a novelist, best known for his stories about Berlin in the 1930s which eventually were adapted for the musical Cabaret. He was close and sometimes intimate friends with some notable names in Brit Lit from the first half of the 20th century: W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, E. M. Forster. Much of his fiction is semi-autobiographical at least, and for me he didn't really hit his stride until he switched to straight memoir, especially Christopher and His Kind (1976). But it has been thirty years since I've read his novels, so it may be time to go back and reread them. A Single Man (1964), especially, was a remarkable work for its time, and it has held up well, maybe even looking better in the post-Stonewall era.

In 1939, on the eve of World War II, he and Auden moved to the US. Auden stayed in New York, but Isherwood moved to and settled in California.

I must have heard about Isherwood first in the early 1970s, around the time he came out in his memoir of his parents, Kathleen and Frank (1971). I learned about Bachardy a little later. Probably it was in The Advocate or The Body Politic that I first saw the now-iconic photograph of the two of them shortly after they became involved: Bachardy in a white t-shirt and chinos, grinning his gap-toothed grin, looking about sixteen years old; and Isherwood in a casual suit, crewcut, looking more like father and son than a couple. (The only copies of that photo I could find online were incorporated into the poster for Chris and Don, like the one above.)

Many times since then I’ve read about how Bachardy and Isherwood met when they were eighteen and forty-eight respectively; how Isherwood’s friend, the psychologist Evelyn Hooker, nervously threw them out of the garden house where Isherwood had been living; how Bachardy became a distinguished artist; and so on until Isherwood’s death of cancer in 1986. But between that iconic photo shoot and the later photographs I saw of Bachardy with silver hair, I knew very little about they got from the beginning to the end. Granted, that's not my business, but even now that I'm a confirmed bachelor, as they say, I'm still curious about how good relationships work.

In particular I recall an interview Isherwood and Bachardy gave to Armistead Maupin for the Village Voice in 1985, as the first time I learned how they got along as a couple, how they negotiated conflicts -- for example:
Chris, why do you lie in the back seat when Don is driving?
CI: Because I believe I'm the only person who's fit to be on the road at all; therefore, I prefer to just miss it when other people drive.
DB: For years, it was one of the real bones between us, Chris's objection to my driving. Years ago we used to have to drive our own cars to the same destination to avoid the fights. I can't even remember now whose idea it was, but one of us decided that Chris should not only sit in the back seat, but that he should lie down so he couldn't see what I was doing. And once we discovered that, it was bliss.
There was also this very sharp remark about AIDS by Isherwood, which I'd almost forgotten until now:
But these younger men who find they have it-some absolutely awful pressures begin to assert themselves. They're told by their relatives that it's a sort of punishment, that it's dreadful and it's God's will and all that kind of thing. And I think they have to get very tough with themselves and really decide which side they're on. You know, fuck God's will. God's will must be circumvented, if that's what it is.
And it was gratifying to encounter this closing line in the interview:
Do you and Chris sleep in the same bed?
DB: We always have. And not only in the same bed, but really, you know, intertwined.
So one of the great pleasures of Chris and Don is the home-movie footage of the two, and the many photographs of Bachardy in his late 20s and early 30s. Evidently most of these bits were taken by Isherwood and Bachardy themselves, taking turns with an 8mm camera. The two of them at home; Don standing on the beach as Chris pans the camera upwards from his feet in the sand to his beaming face; on an ocean liner leaving New York harbor for on their first voyage to Europe; in Key West for the filming of Tennessee Williams's The Rose Tattoo. The image quality of these clips is surprisingly good, in full color, and gives an eerie sense of you-are-there-ness. The movies and still photos provide Bachardy aging gracefully from the pretty boy of 1953 to a very distinguished-looking man. (Photo below from here.)

Aside from the obvious English accent that Bachardy had picked up from Isherwood, he now sounds (and occasionally looks) like Katherine Hepburn at times. I was shocked when what I thought was Bachardy’s high-pitched voice on the soundtrack turned out to be Isherwood’s, from a BBC interview in 1972. I can see why some people thought that Isherwood had cloned himself in Bachardy.

How things have changed since the 1950s! A documentary like Chris and Don, about the love between two men, could never have been made then. It's important to have these documents, and Chris and Don is an immensely satisfying one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And Another Thing!

Let me go back and quote again this bit I found on Facebook:
Republican ... Democrat ... Independent .... Liberal .... why don't our elected Congressmen and Senators listen to us and do what we voted them to do ...... we want structured, accountable change, backed by meaningful fiscal responsibility ...... do we have to have an American Revolution to get our point across.
So, who's "we"? It is not at all clear to me what We Americans want. I'd begin any such discussion, I hope, by acknowledging that different Americans want different things, and proceed to ask which Americans want what.

I don't believe that this writer was speaking for most Americans. In the most general terms, you could make a case: most of us probably feel that our elected officials don't do what we want them to, but different we's want them to do different things. Most American voters voted for Barack Hussein Obama last November, and he won the election decisively. It's not clear what Obama voters thought they were voting for, and again, I wouldn't assume that they all hoped for the same things. I think that many of them were voting against the Republican Party as much as they were voting for Obama, but that in itself would tell you a lot. If many people who voted for Obama are disappointed in him now, it's probably not because he's not acting enough like Bush, but rather because he's acting too much like him. As Avedon Carol wrote right after the election:
You know, we were told over and over that Obama was "the most liberal member of the Senate" (not true, but I'm sure lots of people believed he was really liberal), and the Republicans even insisted that Obama was a socialist - and yet the people elected him! So Obama has a mandate to be at least a screaming liberal, or even a socialist, right?
I've pointed this out to various nice, sensitive, well-educated Obama supporters I know, and it seems to make them uncomfortable. They're very concerned that Obama shouldn't appear to be an angry, screaming radical, because it would hurt him somehow. I wonder. It seems to me that his careful, cautious, moderate act -- almost certainly dictated by concern about how he'll look to the public -- is hurting him too, and is going to hurt him more as time goes on. Forthrightly accepting his socialist mandate would hurt him among the right-wing Democrats who run the Party, the corporate donors who funded his campaign and expect his deference, and that could be a problem. But it would make him look so much better to the mass of people who actually voted for him. The far right, the Teabaggers, the birthers, and so on, would continue to rave, but they're raving already; they were already raving during the campaign. They want him dead, frankly. They will never like him no matter what he does, just as they hated Bill Clinton no matter how many of their pet policies he enacted, so Obama should stop trying to appease them.

I use the word appease very deliberately. The people who are attacking Obama now most visibly -- and the corporate media are giving them a lot of visibility -- don't seem to be people who voted for him anyway. Obama, like other elected officials, is obliged to represent and serve those who voted against him as well as those who voted for him, but that doesn't mean he has to put his neck in a noose for them. It's clear from the Limbaugh Right's antics that they expect nothing less. They have no constructive proposals, and are only interested in smashing up as much as they can. (Yes, there's an echo there of complaints about the New Left in the 60s. To the extent that it has any validity, it's far more valid about the spectacles we're seeing now.)

We who aren't elected officials, of course, are under no such obligation. Back to the guy from Facebook, complaining that his elected representatives don't listen to them and do what they voted them do. This guy didn't vote for Obama to do anything, so he can't very well complain that Obama's not doing what he voted for him to do. "We want structured, accountable change, backed by meaningful fiscal responsibility." That's nice and vague, but this guy doesn't speak for the majority of Americans, or even for the majority of November 2008 voters: as far as I can tell, "we" in his complaint means the hard core of Republicans who cheered Bush on for eight years, through tax cuts for the rich, the tightening of control on civil liberties, and two crushingly expensive wars, heedless of the skyrocketing deficit and the horrific human costs of the Bush regime, roughly until last fall's bank bailout. That's the group that lost the election; they're not the ones who voted Obama and the Democrats into power. The majority of the voters didn't want any more of that, and we aren't obliged to respect those who did and do.

P.S. A friend suggested in e-mail that despite the propaganda from the Republicans and the corporate media, people voted for Obama not because they thought "they were voting for Eugene Debs, but rather because they were voting against obvious demagoguery." I see his point, but I still have the impression that most people who voted for Obama believed he was a lot more liberal than he actually is. Maybe not Eugene V. Debs, but I think most Americans would be vague about the difference anyhow. And Obama's poll numbers have taken a beating for his support for Bush's bailout, not for excessive concern about ordinary citizens.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Politics Is Whatever I Don't Agree With

I had a funny conversation yesterday with a co-worker from another department. It's probably a dangerous luxury to argue politics in the workplace, but since she began the exchange, I decided to indulge for once.

She overheard me and another worker talking about the state of health care in the US. I was showing him an article with another horror story about a person who'd been denied treatment by her insurance company. The other co-worker then intervened, asking us if we thought the government should take over healthcare. I said I thought so, and we were off. The trouble is, my interlocutor was either incredibly ignorant, or pretending to be: she claimed not to know -- in fact, she denied -- that Republicans have wanted to get rid of Social Security and Medicare since those programs' inception. I reminded her of Ronald Reagan, and she conceded and brushed aside the point in one dismissive wave: so did Clinton, she said. Right, I said, so he's going along with the Republicans -- but don't you want to get rid of Medicare and Social Security, which are government programs that let Washington run our lives? She brushed that aside too, saying that Medicare and Social Security are going broke, they don't work. Social Security is not going broke, I said, and if Medicare has problems it's because Republicans keep trying to get to get rid of it by whittling away at it. (Same with Social Security: if they can't get rid of it outright, they can at least cut benefits and raise the retirement age a little at a time.) She denied that too, which brought us full circle.

I mentioned that lots of Americans apparently don't know that Social Security and Medicare are government programs, which she also denied. (As Avedon Carol wrote at The Sideshow, "You actually hear people say with a straight face that they've never taken anything from the government and never will, they get by on Social Security and they have their Medicare. I can't help but wonder where they think it comes from."

My co-worker was aware of the horror stories about the American system, but was sure that things would be worse under a government-run system -- just look at England! So what did she want, I asked. Well, if They would just set up more free clinics all over the country, then people could get treatment! Who's "They", I asked. The government, of course. But I thought she didn't want the government to take over healthcare, and it would be too expensive. But if They just set up free clinics ... I had to keep asking her who They were; I guess that such vagueness about who's doing what is inevitable when someone gets all her news from Fox, which she proudly declared she did.

Now, this woman is not what most Democrats and liberals would recognize right away as a redneck. I was stunned myself at just how narrow and ignorant she was, having exchanged pleasantries with her regularly during the past couple of years. But then, I myself am out of touch with most of America, since I avoid the corporate media generally in favor of alternatives, and most of my fellow Americans evidently think that Fox News is alternative media. The rest seem to think that President Obama's press releases and speeches are alternative media.

Lately, too, I've made the mistake of letting a friend get me onto Facebook. (One of my Korean friends, who'd posted photos there that he took during my recent trip to Korea.) Next thing I knew, I was hearing from people I'd gone to high school with forty years ago, and while most of them aren't bad people, they're mostly Republicans and conservative Christians. (Yeah, I know, so are most gay people, but that's why I don't hang around with most gay people.) The Republicans are appalling, ranting about how Obama is going against the will of most Americans. "Republican ... Democrat ... Independent .... Liberal .... why don't our elected Congressmen and Senators listen to us and do what we voted them to do," one wrote. "...... we want structured, accountable change, backed by meaningful fiscal responsibility ...... do we have to have an American Revolution to get our point across."

I teased him a bit, pointing out that most Americans want a single-payer system. (I have to balance this: If many Americans don't know that Medicare is a government program, they are probably just as vague about what a government-run health system would be like. On the other hand, the polls don't ask about "single-payer" -- they describe the program, and most Americans still want it, as they have for decades.) Most Americans voted for Obama, thinking he was, if not a socialist, then at least an extreme liberal. Most Americans still like Obama. While there's no reason why this guy has to agree with them, he should at least recognize that he's in the minority and has to start from there. Second, they have to account for their silence during the Bush years, when the deficit spiraled upwards almost from the day Clinton left office. I think that they only turned against Bush, if at all, for his bailout package last fall -- but Obama was on board for that. Did they care about Bush's wars? They've forgotten about them. Did they care about the Patriot Act? Of course not; it's only when government surveillance might affect them that they suddenly doubt the benevolence and wisdom of those who protect us against the terrorists. I mean, if they don't have something to hide, what are they worried about?

He'd also linked to the Facebook page of Representative John Boehner (R-OH), who'd opposed Obama's stimulus program too. Boehner in turn linked to something called "The Freedom Project." (Big Brother would approve -- it's not really fair to call such twisted usage Orwellian.) The Freedom Project blogger trumpeted that "Democratic Leaders Call Voters 'Un-American' for Expressing Opposition"!!! Now, Freedom Project didn't give any actual quotations to support this claim, all he really had was a quotation from Rep. Boehner, who "ripped his Democratic counterparts Monday for labeling those disrupting lawmaker town halls as 'un-American.'" The blogger might be telling the truth despite himself; but so what? All through the past several Republican administrations, Republican leaders have called voters "un-American" for expressing opposition to their policies and programs. It's stupid and dishonest, but it's one of the perks of being the party in power. If Democrats could survive the accusation, so can Republicans.

I don't mind the disruptions of the town hall meetings per se, and I certainly wouldn't call them un-American: what is more American, more down-home and traditional, than a lynch mob? The trouble lies in other areas. One, that those who are attacking Obama's health care program from the Right are lying themselves blue in the face, parroting Fox News / Limbaugh / Palin / Republican National Committee talking points without having the first idea what they're talking about. But that's nothing new. Those who are surprised by this behavior have (conveniently?) forgotten what the Right has been puking up like green pea soup ever since Obama became a viable candidate for President; those who dismissed the ranting as the last gasp of a bankrupt Republican party were fooling themselves. Sure, racist fury at the existence of a mulatto President underlies a lot of their rage; a lot also derives simply from the fact that the Republicans lost the election -- I remember similar hysteria after the inauguration of Bill Clinton ended twelve years of Republican control of the Oval Office. The fact that many of their accusations are sheer dementia doesn't make these people less dangerous.

Two, there are too many problems with Obama's program for health care reform. I wrote in February about his stimulus package that "
It doesn't really matter if the bill is any good or not; if it fails to pass, Obama's credibility will take a hit, and the Republican media (by which I mean the corporate media) will swoop in like vultures to feed on his eyes while he is still alive." Obama's talking the same line now, trying to paint all opponents of his "reforms" (more Newspeak) as Republicans. One question I am grappling with now is how to deal with the Republican shock troops who see the conflict in the same either/or terms: either you support Obama, or you agree with them -- you're either for him or against him. Health care reform is just too damn important to let it turn into a football game, where you're cheering for one team or another. I oppose Obama's program, but I also oppose the frothing hordes of the Republican faithful. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Poetry Friday -- remote transmission

remote transmission

I always realized you were done with wires
and regiments of photons in a void;
but then illusion, to succeed, requires
suspense of disbelief to be enjoyed.
I watched you like a picture on a screen,
the way teenagers moon for tv stars.
It seemed my reach could bridge the space between;
in fact, you were no less remote than Mars.
I thought where there’s an image there must be
its model somewhere, so I searched for that.
But our encounters were illusory,
You always seemed so indistinct and flat.
And I’d muse, What an interesting kid.
I’d like to meet him … But I never did.

May 21, 1979

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Race Is Not to the Swift

I have a lot of respect for the philosopher Antony Flew when he deals with religion. Not only God and Philosophy (1966) but The Presumption of Atheism (1976) and his contributions to New Essays in Philosophical Theology (co-edited with Alasdair MacIntyre, 1955) have helped me immensely in sorting out my own thoughts about religion.

When he deals with contemporary social issues, though, he doesn't do so well. I have never gotten past the opening pages of The Politics of Procrustes (1981), and I suppose I'd better try harder. I've been thinking again recently about race and racism, thanks partly to a small kerfuffle in a friend's comments on Facebook, incited further by the fuss over the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the online controversies it inspired. Then I happened on this 1994 article (PDF format) by Flew, "How NOT to Eliminate Discrimination":
Judged by the stated intentions of those who guided its passage through the Congress the introduction of the 1964 Act was a spectacular and immediate success. The barriers excluding blacks from supposedly public accommodations tumbled overnight, while all forms of open and systematic anti-black discrimination in employment seem to have been effectively abolished soon after [118].
This seems to me a remarkably naive position for a sophisticated philosopher to take. Flew evidently believes that simply passing a law against something thereby eradicates it "overnight," knocking down barriers that have been deeply entrenched in the society for a century. This is implausible on its face; Flew would not suppose, I hope, that passing laws against theft immediately eliminates either theft itself or greed and need, the motives behind the crime. (I do believe Flew thinks that the "barriers excluding blacks" were purely and solely legal. They were extensively extra-legal too; Jim Crow laws were just the tip of the iceberg.) As far as discrimination is concerned, compared to theft or assault it is very easy to get around the spirit of the Civil Rights Act simply by observing its letter, by not specifying race in employment advertisements or telling applicants that they were rejected because of their skin color. This has been very effective; it's virtually impossible to prove discrimination if it's not overt and explicit. As Fred L. Pincus wrote in Reverse Discrimination: Dismantling the Myths (Lynne Rienner, 2003, page 140):
These same racial differences in the incidence of discrimination can also be found in a variety of "testing" studies of employment and housing. A black/white or Hispanic/white matched pair applies for the same job or attempts to rent the same apartment. Since the pair has comparable (fictitious) backgrounds, similar speaking styles, and wears similar clothing, any differential treatment can be attributed to race. All of these studies find substantial discrimination against people of color in favor of the white applicants ...
Here Pincus cites Marc Bendick Jr., Charles W. Jackson, and Victor A. Reinoso, "Measuring Employment Discrimination Through Controlled Experiment", Review of Black Political Economy 28 (1) (summer): 24-48. That racial discrimination, usually tacit, is still a potent factor in American society has been shown by many measures, and Pincus's book is a good, short introduction to the problem.

Flew continues:
But this success did not satisfy either the unofficial civil rights movement or the bureaucracy set up to supervise enforcement. The movement extended its ambitions beyond the elimination of merely negative discrimination against blacks, while the activities of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) have gone far to confirm the universal validity of Hastie's Law: "For all societies the amount of perceived racism varies directly with the number of those in that society generously paid and prominently positioned to discover racism." Hastie's Law thus constitutes a particular application of the wider sociological truth that, whenever a substantial bureaucracy owes its existence to a perceived problem, that problem rarely if ever goes away. Never ask the barber whether you need a haircut [118-119].
Flew evidently bases his claims on a book he cites in the article's opening paragraphs, Richard Epstein's Forbidden Grounds: The Case against Employment Discrimination Laws (Harvard, 1992). Epstein, Flew says, had previously "thought that the [Civil Rights Act of 1964] was long overdue, that the patterns and practices of discrimination that existed in the South and around the United States were apt targets of legislative correction," but recanted, and decided that "the entire apparatus of the anti-discrimination laws in Title VII should be repealed insofar as it applies to private employers -- at least those who operate in ordinary competitive markets without legal protection against the entry of new rivals" (Epstein, 9).

Here, however, Flew appears to take an entirely different tack. Like Epstein, he opposes anti-discrimination laws on principle, on the ground that they interfere with the freedom of "private employers" and, presumably, landlords and educators, "in ordinary competitive markets". This is just a bit odd, given Flew's belief that the 1964 Act was spectacularly and immediately successful in eradicating racial discrimination. You would almost think that he objected not to the 1964 Act but only to its later use "beyond the elimination of merely negative discrimination against blacks", meaning affirmative action and "'racial quotas'" (124). Flew apparently believes that racial discrimination will fade away of itself as private employers discover that non-discriminatory competitors are snapping up the qualified blacks, to the prejudiced employers' disadvantage. "So wherever, absent Jim Crow laws or other forcible racist interventions, firms are operating 'in ordinary competitive markets without legal protection against the entry of new rivals' they will have a strong self-interest in eschewing occupationally irrelevant grounds of discrimination not only in their hiring and firing but also in their buying and selling and in all other business dealings" (120).

I think one key to the apparent contradiction can be found in Flew's jaunty attempts at humor (or perhaps attempts at jaunty humor): the "unofficial civil rights movement" (he'd prefer an official one, run by the state?), racism as a "perceived problem" rather than a real one, "supposedly public accommodations," and the digs at "bureaucracy" and the perhaps apocryphal "Hastie's Law" (I can't find any other reference to it with Google). Flew apparently believes that only official discrimination enshrined in law is a problem, perhaps because it interferes with the right of white employers in Mississippi to hire blacks if they wish, which he might even believe they wished to do before 1964 but were prevented from doing only by Jim Crow laws. And he thinks racial discrimination is a fiction perpetuated solely by blacks in civil rights organizations and government bureaucrats paid to find racists under every bed. It doesn't occur to him that ordinary black Americans might also be "prominently positioned to discover racism", simply by virtue of being its targets.

I'd love to ask Flew if he feels about university professors in publicly funded universities as he does about other government bureaucrats. Do they seek job security by finding perceived problems to publish about? I also wonder if he feels the same way about American whites who complain that they are being discriminated against because of their race, that white men especially can't get hired any more because all the jobs are going to blacks.

As part of his research Fred Pincus interviewed a number of whites who believed that American affirmative action programs had resulted in discrimination against whites, especially white males.
Sam, a 33-year-old white air conditioning mechanic, said: "Today you have far more discrimination against whites with all these programs and, of course, them getting the benefit of the doubt the minute they cry racism compared to when we do. No one listens when we say anything, the laws favor them today. There's no such thing as equality. To me, it's a one-sided issue" [7-8].
Pincus assembles a large amount of evidence, from job statistics to EEOC handling of discrimination claims to court cases involving racial or sexual discrimination, which shows that these claims are false. White men still dominate most fields of work in the US, so they are still getting hired in large numbers, disproportionately compared to their numbers in the general population. (Pincus gives detailed figures on page 9 through 18.) This holds true even when differences in educational attainment are taken into account.

Further, the laws governing affirmative action in employment require employers to consider the qualifications of applicants for jobs or promotions. Pincus details these complex laws in chapter 2 of Reverse Discrimination. This requirement applies even when an employer has been so blatantly discriminatory that voluntary procedures for compliance have failed, and a court imposes a quota. "Quota" is a popular buzzword among opponents of affirmative action, but imposed quotas are relatively rare, a last resort when other measures have failed.
Even under quotas, employers are not forced to hire unqualified people. Generally, the employer has some criteria by which a prospective employee can be considered "qualified," such as an educational credential, a minimum level of experience. Employees who do not meet these criteria cannot be considered for the position. All those who do meet the criteria are seen as eligible to carry out the duties of the position [27].

There is a widespread belief, especially among whites, that quotas are common nationwide. However, it is getting more and more difficult for hiring and promotion quotas to meet the test of constitutionality. A variety of court decisions has resulted in a set of "strict scrutiny" criteria that must be met. First, there must be a "compelling state interest" to justify a quota. This is usually interpreted as combating intentional race or gender discrimination when no other policy is likely to work. Second, the quota system must be "narrowly tailored," which is generally interpreted as not "unduly trammeling" on the rights of white males. The consent decree cannot require that 100% of new hires be minorities because this would make it impossible for white males. In fact, the quota proportions must have some connection to the availability pool. In addition, the quota system cannot be in effect indefinitely; for instance, it may be in effect until the percentage of minority or female employees reaches a percentage equivalent to the availability pool.

In fact, court-appointed quotas are few and far between. Reskin ([The Realities of Affirmative Action in Employment, Washington DC, American Sociological Association,] 1998) says that there were only 51 court-approved quotas in effect in the early 1980s. It is generally illegal for an employer to voluntarily adopt a quota hiring system without obtaining court approval. Courts impose quotas only when there is a long history of explicit discrimination and the employer fails to take corrective action [28].
To repeat: white males are still being hired and promoted in disproportionate numbers in the US. They now face more competition from women and minority men than they did before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but they still have the advantage. Pincus surveys court cases involving claims of racial discrimination by both blacks and whites, and concludes, "Everyone, regardless of their race or sex, has a difficult time proving claims of discrimination because the laws are very exacting" [137]. Sometimes white men win, which shows that in fact their complaints are listened to, and women and black people usually lose, which shows that they don't always "get the benefit of the doubt the minute they cry racism" or sexism. "There is no evidence that blacks are more successful than men in sex discrimination suits, although women are somewhat more successful than men in discrimination suits. Those who argue that the legal system is stacked against white men are simply wrong" [138].

Yet I still encounter the claim (and Pincus quotes some examples) that white men are being "punished" when jobs they want are given to women or black men. (Well, white men are "prominently positioned to discover racism.") Often this is accompanied by the claim that they are being punished for what white people did a hundred years ago, and that neither they nor their ancestors owned slaves. Racism, for these people, is a thing of the past. They do not, as far as I've been able to tell, think that black men or white women are being "punished" when jobs they want are given to white men. This seems to be the closest many whites can come to admitting that they think white men are entitled to entitled to jobs simply by virtue of being white men, and that no women or black men are qualified for the jobs white men want. (When Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, I was mildly surprised by how many white people claimed that Morrison had won solely because she was a black woman. The people I talked to generally hadn't read her work, but they took for granted she couldn't be good enough to win such a prize, or maybe any prize.)

Pincus quotes an article in which Pat Buchanan wrote: "A liberal elite is salving its social conscience by robbing America's white middle class of its birthright and handing it over to minorities, who just happen to vote for Democrats." Pincus comments, "It is not clear how the majority of white, middle-class Americans have 'birthright' to be admitted to Harvard, but feeling that they were 'robbed' of something would certainly make some of them angry" (51). Maybe if they voted for Democrats, they could get their "birthright" back.

Relatively few whites, it seems, will tell a pollster that they consider blacks inherently inferior -- that would be tacky, low-class -- but a good many more than will say so assume black inferiority, and that belief leaks out when they talk about racial discrimination in America. Antony Flew looks down on Jim Crow laws, but can't seem to get his fine mind around the idea that discrimination can take extra-legal, covert forms on a far wider scale even after legal discrimination has been overturned.

One final point: I've talked to a few white men, and heard of more, who say they were told by personnel staff that the jobs they'd applied for could only be given to blacks, that white men were not being hired. At first I dismissed these claims as folklore (especially the guy who claimed he was told that only unqualified blacks could be hired), but it turns out that people have in fact been told this. Why the personnel staff would tell such a lie I don't know. According to Pincus, some employers misunderstand how affirmative action is supposed to work, and impose quotas of their own; but this is illegal, and white males have won redress in the courts for it (see Pincus, page 122, for examples). I suspect some white personnel staff feel angry at having to hire minorities at all, and misrepresent company policy to disappointed white applicants; or maybe they do so in a "Don't blame me, I'm just following orders" way to someone they've had to turn down for whatever reason. Ironically, then, it does happen that some people are still being told explicitly that they were turned down because of their race -- but they seem mostly to be whites, and this is usually as false as the claim that blacks are not being turned down because of their race.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tooting My Own Horn

... as if writing a blog was doing anything different!

Anyway, I keep meaning to start up a separate blog about Korean films, but never get around to it -- I can hardly keep this one going! Meanwhile, I'm still contributing the occasional review to Darcy Paquet's site. My take on Bong Joon-Ho's latest film Mother, went up just a few days ago. Two of Bong's films, Memories of Murder and The Host, got limited US release on the screen and DVD; if you liked either one, you'll want to watch out for Mother, too.

I have maybe a dozen other reviews on the site, ranging from little independent films to TV dramas to older films. I like seeing older Korean movies, which are often quite good in their own right, but also to see what Korea looked like forty or fifty years ago. I feel good about getting my review of Mother online, though, because it's the first review of a current movie I've done there.

(Mother with the golf club in the bushes: image from Wildgrounds.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Elitism for the Masses

Maybe this is a good place to begin, with a little piece I wrote for the university newspaper in the fall of 1996. It connects to some more current things I've been wanting to write about, so it's still topical.
Elitism is a funny thing. According to opinion polls, about 75% of Americans rate themselves above average. At least a third of those people must be wrong - but which third?

The Autumn 1996 issue of the Salisbury Review, a conservative British quarterly, contains a routine exercise in PC-Crying called "The Abolition of Thought" by philosopher Roger Scruton, adapted from a lecture to the British Housewives League. Scruton rebukes universities for abandoning excellence in favor of feminism and animal rights, Rastafarianism and comic strips, thereby producing a "wholly uneducated ruling class."

Scruton decries "branches of the curriculum devoted purely to the reading of feminist writers", though not those branches devoted purely to the reading of English or philosophical writers. He sneers at the very word "feminist studies – the assumption being that you have to be a feminist in order even to sit in the classroom."

This is what Scruton considers thought? On his, erm, logic Oriental Studies would require you to be an Oriental, Germanic Studies a German, and you would have to be a pagan suckl'd in a creed outworn to study "the intricate details of Greek and Roman mythology" which Scruton considers essential to an educated ruling class. A. E. Housman, who is more famous now for his sentimental verse than for his distinguished classical scholarship, once wrote: "Three minutes' thought would suffice to find this out; but thought is irksome, and three minutes is a long time."

"Nietzsche," quoth Scruton, "... perceived that in the epoch of the democratic man there will be a vast conspiracy of the underclass to prevent any kind of human distinction." I suspect Scruton's the kind of fatuous mediocrity Nietzsche enjoyed shredding, but there's the rub. When someone modestly puts himself forward as a sample of the educated elite, how are we ignorant masses supposed to evaluate his claim? What's to stop some mass-oid from posing as one of the elite, and leading the Housewives League astray?

American discourse on this subject is often no better. From one side of their mouths liberals and conservatives mourn the death of high academic standards and the invasion of Academe by "barbarians"; from the other side they jeer at pointy-headed intellectuals who insist on studying arcane subjects too complex for regular folks. Much of their case has been made by clowns like Dinesh D'Souza, who is so dumb that he once supplied a magazine with documents which confirmed the accusations it had made against him. D'Souza is not a scholar but a propagandist and ideologue, so he can both lament declining standards and embody them.

Here at IU we have political science majors who believe U.S. economic policy is set by the voters, and I once had an interesting argument with a graduate student who wanted a graduate Gay Studies program but not an undergraduate gay studies class. He gave two reasons: it would lower academic standards, and anyway, most people have figured out their sexuality by the time they get to college. If that sounds like a non sequitur, it's because it is.

Ironically, those guardians of academic standards would themselves be denounced as postmodern enemies of excellence by Roger Scruton and Dinesh D'Souza. The "underclass" now conspiring vastly to prevent human distinction is composed of liberal and conservative pundits and politicos, often schooled in the Ivy League, who are so enamored of their prejudices that they want to canonize them. I'm all for the promotion of thought in education and public life. So when do we start?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Poetry Friday - To want what won't be given

To want what won't be given is a foolish
thing, since life so often makes us wait,
then gives us nothing, but we are a mulish
species. Stubborn is a human trait.

I save myself in hopes of some great task:
I count my steps, I study deprivation,
I circumscribe even my dreams. I ask
for nothing, yet I hope for my salvation.

Some love is keeping faith. Some faces haunt
us for a lifetime, flouting reasoning
and teaching us humility. To want
what won't be given is a human thing:

to aim at targets we can't even see,
succeed or fail, but never bend the knee.

21 May 1979

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Topics for Further Research: Religulous

Last night I was browsing in my neighborhood video store while Bill Maher's Religulous was playing on the display set. The segment I overheard excited my interest in only a negative way, though: Maher was questioning some Christian believer on Jesus' credentials as a deity. He mentioned that all around "the Mediterranean" for a thousand years before the Christian era, gods had shared certain traits and experiences. Krishna, for example, according to Maher, had been hanging around the Mediterranean for a thousand years before Christ, and was also a carpenter. The Persian god Mithras was around the Mediterranean for a thousand years before Christ, was born on December 25, died and rose from the dead on the third day. Maher mentioned a couple of other examples of gods from the Mediterranean who were also born on December 25, died and rose on the third day, and were born to virgins.

Or something. I promise I'll watch the damn movie soon and take notes. But what I heard last night indicated serious problems with Maher's polemic. Where did he get his "facts," I wonder? I'm not an expert on Hinduism, but I know a little and did some quick checking, and I can't find that Krishna was thought of as a carpenter. It's certain, however, that Krishna was never part of the Mediterranean pantheons -- he's an Indian god, from a good distance away from the Mediterranean.

Numerous gods, especially those associated with the sun, were said to have been born on December 25, around the time of the winter solstice when the days start getting longer and the sun 'conquers' winter darkness. Jesus acquired some sun-god traits as Christianity assimilated itself to Roman paganism, just as he acquired a priesthood and other accoutrements of Roman religion, and that may be why he was assigned a birthday in common with Dionysos, Apollo, and even Zeus. Wikipedia says,
According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, the date of creation was considered to be on March 25th. The early Christian writer Sextus Julius Africanus (220 A.D.) thought this dating plausible and suggested that Christ became incarnate on that date. According to Julius, since the Word of God became incarnate from the moment of his conception, this meant that, after nine months in the Virgin Mary's womb, Jesus was born on December 25th.
Whether his followers borrowed the date from other gods or by speculation about the date of Creation, December 25th didn't become Jesus' birthday until a century or so after the New Testament was written. The biblical writers didn't know the year he was born, let alone the day.

I'm skeptical about the other similarities Maher ascribed to Mithras. It's not certain that Mithras had been around for a thousand years when Jesus was born. Mithras' cult left behind no written material, unlike the early Christian churches, so everything you hear about Mithras is speculation based on the imagery -- sculpture and murals -- in sites devoted to his worship. Some modern scholars have speculated that he was born on December 25, but I will have to see what basis these guesses have. One of my readers pointed me to claims that the cult of Mithras, like that of Jesus, involved drinking the blood of the god, but this turned out not to be true: Mithras killed a bull, and the blood of a bull was used was used in the Mithraic initiation rite, but it's not clear that the initiate drank the blood, or that the blood was identified with Mithras. (In the Christian cult, the god's literal blood isn't consumed, unless you consider Jesus to be a wine god.)

Other gods, like the Egyptian Osiris, died and were resurrected, but usually in different ways than Jesus, whose story was rather historically specific. Osiris, for example, in some versions was murdered by his brother Set and brought back to life by his devoted wife/widow Isis. If it was so normal for gods to die and rise, why did the early Christians encounter such derision for saying that theirs had done so? A lot of people work hard to find correspondences between Christianity and other religions, but many of the supposed parallels collapse under examination.

Maher was more confident in the claims he made than the facts warrant. It doesn't look like he's in any position to criticize Christian believers for gullibility or carelessness about the truth. I'll watch Religulous soon and post more about it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This Town Needs an Enema!

Okay, so some anonymous artiste has come up with this image of Barack Obama as the Joker. Apparently it was first sighted as far back as April, but it's caught on since then, posters have been made, and some liberals are whining about it. Consequently rightbloggers are crowing that turnabout is fair play, and liberals and the left (indistinguishable from that far to the right) were, like, mean to George W. Bush in the day, calling him all kinds of bad names, so suck on this, libs!

That's American political discourse for you. I think it's an insult to socialists to call Obama -- center-rightist that he is -- a socialist, but I also hope that socialists have thicker skins than to worry about it.

My first thought when I heard about this was: Well, cool. Since this sort of thing is okay according to the Voice of the Republican Party and others when the target is a sitting Democratic President, then a proper response would be to apply the same makeup to various prominent Republicans. Maybe with the word "fascism" emblazoned below them. I mean, they won't mind, will they? They certainly aren't going to complain like a bunch of wussy liberals, are they? I'm just learning to work with Photoshop, so I have my work cut out for me. But a few minutes with Google showed me that great minds think alike. For example, that one up there on the, well, Right.

Or this one.

Or the lovely lady on the right.

Or this one. No one seems to have applied the makeup to a picture of Dick Cheney yet, but he's an obvious choice.

But enough of this trivia, when there are more important political issues to discuss, like the death of Michael Jackson, or what's going to happen to Kate and Jon?

P.S. August 16, 2009. I just found this one, and this blog post which adds a few more to the pics I found. (Still none of Cheney, though -- is the Dark Lord hunting down and shooting in the face anyone who defiles his image?) I don't agree with the blogger's take on this foofooraw, but all that hard work deserves acknowledgement.

P.P.S. March 12, 2010: And still, the only image of Cheney as Joker I can find is this one, which is pretty poor stuff.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Touching the Monolith

The New Gay has struck again. The site appears to be dedicated to giving a soapbox to people who're convinced that they're cutting-edge, but who are recycling some of the oldest and wackiest tropes known to Queerdom. Like the guy yesterday who, in the name of being "Green", declares that he believes "that modern medicine is for the weak" and that by getting treatment for tonsilitis, he "was bucking Darwin’s theory of natural selection, cheating the system." In an oxycontin haze, he says, "I started thinking about the idea of queers as population control ... [that] we homos are put on this Earth for a very good reason: to provide the benefits of extra bodies helping create order in the world without the risk of increasing the population. Personally, I find some comfort in this notion while I’m sure others will find it offensive." Several commenters set him, um, straight on this.

A few days earlier, a longer article floated the idea, from a so-far unpublished article in Out (strike one!) via The Gawker (strike two!), one Brian Moylan has declared ex cathedra that "instead of taking up residence for the entire weekend in gigantic clubs like Twilo or the Roxy like gays did in the ’90s, they’re now going to smaller lounges and parties that are catered more towards specific gentlemen’s tastes. Yes, my friends, it is officially the end of the monolithic gay culture…"

Fortunately or unfortunately, I've never lived in a metropolitan area. But that's the point: I have no idea how many gay men actually 'took up residence for the entire weekend in gigantic clubs', but I wouldn't assume that those who did live out this hyperbole were all gay men. Even when I visited large cities, I always found plenty of small bars and clubs (like the one I wrote about here), which seemed to be doing adequate business. A fair number of men from the small city where I live go to Indianapolis on weekends for variety, but I'm not sure that the scene there was limited to gigantic clubs either, what with the gay restaurants and other establishments I've seen.

And then there's the question whether bars define or determine gay culture. Apparently Moylan, and certainly "zack", The New Gay's writer, think they do. The size of bars and clubs will be affected by other factors, like real estate prices. William Leap has an interesting paper in Out in Culture (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) on the changes in gay geography in Washington DC, how not only real estate developers but life-cycle changes among gay men affected the commercial gay scene in that city. As the men he interviewed got older, the kinds of establishments they wanted to patronize changed, which is not exactly surprising. I wonder if Brian Moylan was confusing his own life-cycle changes with changes in the entire gay community -- that seems to be a common mistake in journalistic writers. Who defines "gay culture"? Twenty-somethings fresh out of college? Forty-somethings? Or all of them? Do other community institutions, like churches and softball leagues, have a role too?

Like other gay writers, zack and Moylan seem to think that gay community is supposed to be monolithic -- meaning, characterized by lockstep uniformity and total mutual support (though the writers at The New Gay generally demand support for themselves and their lifestyles while crankily withholding support from everybody else).
Moylan cites some NYC parties that have sprung up in replacement of these spaces. Parties like Manthrax, a gay heavy metal party, or Tall Gay Agenda, for men who are 6 feet and over. And though it might seem like a digression, this is a good time to ask exactly what a culture is. Lets say for our immediate purposes that its a group of people so united by a common cause or interest that they have banded together and found some peace or comfort in their unity.

If that is the case, then this diffusion can only be positive. A culture based on sex, on “taking it up the ass,” is not a culture. It is a shared need, perhaps, or a hive-minded itch, but it cannot sustain a people any more than an orgasm can listen to your problems or encourage you to follow your dreams. ...

I think that this is not the end of “gay culture,” but rather a renaissance of an actual culture, no quotes needed, made up of gay people who are allowed to follow their own diverse interests and aesthetics without having to sacrifice their sexuality or safety. It’s a good thing.

Again, are these NYC parties really new on the scene or did Moylan just discover them and conclude, like Columbus, that they didn't exist before he did so? I vote the latter, since I've been hearing about such special-interest events and organizations all along. The New Gay also has a vested interest in crowing over every development that is new to its editors as marking a new beginning ("I think this development could be one of the best things to happen to gay people since Jerry Falwell died," Zack remarks), the end of the bad old gay culture (beware, children! The New Gay will be old, tired, and retrograde by the turn of the decade), and a harbinger of the glorious advent of the Queer Children of Light. Zack does well to conclude that "gay culture" isn't ending, but I don't see any reason to believe that a "renaissance" is going on. Even in NYC and DC, there have always been "diverse interests" and people who tried to create environments to act on them. I agree that it's a good thing -- it's the sort of thing I've always tried to encourage in my own locale -- but it's not new.