25 May 2004

Men and the golden age?

I used to study gender stuff much more than I do now.  In college,
I thought about being an American Studies major, and I took a number of
courses on masculinity and gender roles from Prof. Jay Mechling, who’s been influential on my academic development in more than subject materials or approaches.

Tyler‘s post
yesterday about the male hero myth that we continue to retell ourselves
intrigued me to say the least.  Go check it out.  I’d comment
more, but I have thoughts about Colonial House and historicism for later today.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 25 May 2004 at 11:52 am by Nate
23 May 2004

RDA of history

I’ve become addicted over the last week to Colonial House,
PBS’ “reality series”, where 21st century people get plopped into a
situation as close to 1628 as can be made, and we get to watch them try
to live 400 years ago.  It’s reality TV for nerds.

It’s quite amusing to watch people try to live in 1628 without the
realization that they would be entirely different people had they lived
in that time.  One of the women on the show, Michele
Rossi-Voorhees, would not attend the mandatory Sabbath services,
because she found the religious expression there antithetical to her
own beliefs: she doesn’t believe in God but she does believe in the sun, moon, animals, nature, and what she finds
there that challenges her to think about her place in the order of it
all.  She asks at one point how a person like her (a religious
non-believer) would have lived in 1628, noting that she probably would
have had to just keep quiet about her beliefs.  But she fails to
understand that she wouldn’t have had her beliefs in 1628!  Even
is she wasn’t so enthused about church, she would have been outwardly
observant for the sake of social propriety, and I highly doubt she
would have dared to express any such thoughts to others.  And she
almost certainly would not have doubted the Judeo-Christian God’s
existence.  Such a set of ideas would have been outside the
purview of existence.

Other examples of mental anachronism abound in the show.  And I’m not
meaning to rag on these people who lived like early American colonists
for four months.  But it really does demonstrate to me that we as
social beings are extremely formed by the times and places in which we
live.  We can do our best to live in the 17th century, and the
people of Colonial House did
an extraordinary job of adapting the mentality and physicality of life
in 1628 New England.  But even so, the entry into that world
requires a massive surrender of what we know and hold dear and a
remarkable sense of humility toward the social order of their
world.  The people of 1628 were not stupid — at least no more
than we are — and their “strange, offensive” rules had a purpose and a
logic.  The purpose and logic for most of those rules
no longer obtains or exists, and we have rightly come to understand
that many of their social arrangements regarding women, servitude,
sexual matters, and religion were unfair, rooted in particular not
universal understandings, and in need of change.  (Perhaps the
greatest irony that the CH participants found was that the colonists
who came for religious freedom were as quick to impose strict religious
requirements and homogeniety of belief as had the hated religious
officials of the old country.)

Anyway, the final half of the series is on tonight and tomorrow night from 8 to 10 PM.  Check it out.

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 23 May 2004 at 6:12 pm by Nate
22 May 2004

A little radicalism from Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve enjoyed Vonnegut for a few years now.  So I was a captive audience when this ran across my electronic world.

May 10, 2004

Cold Turkey

By Kurt Vonnegut

Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it
possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members
of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the
Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died
for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of
America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and
absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy
drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in
danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle
East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are
being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.

When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is 81,
and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children,
who are themselves middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four
of them adopted. 

Many of you reading this are probably the same age as my
grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our
Baby Boomer corporations and government.

I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark.
Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express. It is about
his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered
sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we
are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”  So I
pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can
forget it.

I have to say that’s a pretty good sound bite, almost as
good as,  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  A lot of people think Jesus said that,
because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually
said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, 500 years before there was that
greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.

The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the
formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for
fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere
even knew that there was another one.

But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my son the
doctor, Mark, who’ve said how we could behave more humanely, and maybe make the
world a less painful place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre
Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5
times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6
percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had
this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like
great public schools or health insurance for all?

How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the
children of God …

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly
Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never
mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that
the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses,
not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the
Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the
merciful” in a courtroom?  
“Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I
don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be
president.

But, when you stop to think about it, only a nut case would
want to be a human being, if he or she had a choice. Such treacherous,
untrustworthy, lying and greedy animals we are!

I was born a human being in 1922 A.D. What does “A.D.”
signify? That commemorates an inmate of this lunatic asylum we call Earth who
was nailed to a wooden cross by a bunch of other inmates. With him still
conscious, they hammered spikes through his wrists and insteps, and into the
wood. Then they set the cross upright, so he dangled up there where even the
shortest person in the crowd could see him writhing this way and that.

Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?

No problem. That’s entertainment. Ask the devout Roman
Catholic Mel Gibson, who, as an act of piety, has just made a fortune with a
movie about how Jesus was tortured. Never mind what Jesus said.

During the reign of King Henry the Eighth, founder of the
Church of England, he had a counterfeiter boiled alive in public. Show biz
again.

Mel Gibson’s next movie should be The Counterfeiter. Box
office records will again be broken.

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die
horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have
entertained us.

And what did the great British historian Edward Gibbon,
1737-1794 A.D., have to say about the human record so far? He said,  “History is indeed little more than the
register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”

The same can be said about this morning’s edition of the New
York Times.

The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, who won a Nobel
Prize for Literature in 1957, wrote, “There is but one truly serious
philosophical problem, and that is suicide. “

So there’s another barrel of laughs from literature. Camus
died in an automobile accident. His dates? 1913-1960 A.D.

Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it is to
be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the
Iliad and the Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the
Light Brigade.

But I have to say this in defense of humankind: No matter in
what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got there.
And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games
going on, which could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin
with. Some of the games that were already going on when you got here were love
and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf and
girls’ basketball.

Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics,
where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two
kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.

Actually, this same sort of thing happened to the people of
England generations ago, and Sir William Gilbert, of the radical team of
Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote these words for a song about it back then:

I often think it’s comical
How nature always does contrive

That every boy and every gal

That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal

Or else a little Conservative.

Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of
life that you have to be one or the other. If you aren’t one or the other, you
might as well be a doughnut.

If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it easy for
you.

If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for
murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to
give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re
a liberal.

If you are against those perversions and for the rich,
you’re a conservative.

What could be simpler?

My government’s got a war on drugs. But get this: The two
most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both
perfectly legal.

One, of course, is ethyl alcohol. And President George W.
Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four
sheets to the wind a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41.
When he was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the
sauce, stop gargling nose paint.

Other drunks have seen pink elephants.

And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They
invented algebra. Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol
for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb?
Try doing long division with Roman numerals.

We’re spreading democracy, are we? Same way European
explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we now call  “Native Americans. “   How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are
the people of Baghdad today.  So let’s
give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he
won’t soon forget. Hail to the Chief.

That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with
Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity. We the people have
absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t
noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in
the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one
with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be asked to repay.

Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because
they have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the
Senate, the Supreme Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been
embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the People.

About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I’ve been a
coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me
over the edge. I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and
the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn’t seem to do anything to me, one
way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or
whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take a couple of
drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No
problem.

I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep
hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.

But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even
crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver’s license! Look
out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.

And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was
powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today,
and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and
destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.

When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized
world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there
won’t be any more of those. Cold turkey.

Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is
it?

Here’s what I think the truth is:  We are all addicts
of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.

And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our
leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we
‘re hooked on.

Posted in Politicks on 22 May 2004 at 6:12 pm by Nate

Still poisoned

All right, so once again the Food and Drug Administration
has engaged in fag bashing, in its own lovely clinical way.  It has disallowed gay men (more technically,
men who have had sex with men anytime in the last five years) from providing
anonymous sperm donations to sperm banks. 
This, it says, will prevent the transmission of HIV.

Now, all donors of sperm must be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B
and C, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and mad cow disease.  But gay men were the only men singled out
for outright exclusion.

I’ve written about this before.  I, as gay man who has had sex with other men, may not give
blood.  I have been tested for all of
these diseases on a regular basis, and my most recent set of tests was about
six months ago, wherein I came up completely clean on all counts.  I’ve had my hepatitis vaccines.  I’ve had sex with no one other than my
partner in that time, and he’s had sex with no one other than me.  But I still can’t give blood, because I’m
supposedly an HIV risk.

“The federal
government issued recommendations [May 20] that look like they were written in
1982, not 2004,” said Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart.
“There is absolutely nothing about this proposal that’s based on science
or medicine — this is a policy based on bigotry. It’s completely illogical to
say that a gay monogamous man who practiced safe sex four years ago cannot be a
sperm donor, but a heterosexual man who had high-risk unprotected sex 14 months
ago can donate his sperm. HIV affects every part of our nation’s population,
and the F.D.A. needs to realize that fact and stop treating gay men as the only
people who contract HIV.”

And don’t give me the statistical carping about gay men
being at higher risk for the contraction or spread of HIV and other diseases.  With the statistical, epidemiological
evidence we have seen of late, HIV is making its inroads into the
opposite-sex-having portion of the population at tremendous rates approaching
those of the initial HIV epidemic among gay men in the early to mid-1980s.  Who’s contracting HIV the fastest in our
society right now?  Black women between
15 and 35.  And where are many of them
getting the virus?  From men who are
having unprotected sex with other men “on the D.L. (down low)” and then
returning to their female partners.  If
the FDA really cared about halting the spread of HIV transmission, it’d prevent
black males and females in that age range from giving blood or sperm.  And, as a bonus, then the extent of the
government’s invidious bigotry would be exposed for all of us to see.

You have to understand, I’m not generally suspicious of the
government, especially the scientific bureaucracies when they are left alone to
do their science without ideological blinders being put onto them.  But this sort of ridiculousness and blatant,
unfounded prejudice falls way out of line.

It’s not that I want to give sperm.  But I do want the opportunity to give blood,
blood products, and to donate my organs and body upon my death.  And I’ve led no more libidinous a past than
many of my straight friends who do or intend to do these things.  And frankly, I’m a hell of a lot more
careful about sex than many of them have been – I can’t tell you how many times
I have had to remind my straight friends about these things called condoms,
spermicides, and so forth.  But because
I have sex with men rather than women, I’m out.

I may be able to get married (and it’s about time!), but
don’t think the battle’s anywhere close to being done.  We’re still going to have to fight tooth and
nail for every chance we get.  I don’t
like facile comparisons between the gay civil rights movement and the black
civil rights push of the 1940s through the ‘70s.  But on the need to have to fight like mad for every little
thing
, the comparisons seem more and more apt.

Posted in Politicks on 22 May 2004 at 6:01 pm by Nate
14 May 2004

Prison Abuse

So, several years ago, in another incarnation, I was a political worker.  That is, I worked as a legislative aide in the California State Senate
I carried bills for my boss on all sorts of topics.  I also took
some public policy classes via Cal State Sacramento, and one of the
assignments was to write a case study of a California public policy
issue.  I focused upon a bill that would have allowed journalists
some access to prisoners in the state system, but which came at least
partially in response to documented abuse allegations like the ones we
are seeing in Abu Ghraib right now.

You can find my case study here (sb434case).  Please be aware that this case appeared in substantially different form in a book published by IGS Press, and they hold the copyright to that version.

When we get over the outrage of what happened to the prisoners at Abu
Ghraib (and unlike the massively blind James Inhofe, Republican senator
from Oklahoma, we must be outraged, not outraged that people are
getting outraged over the foul treatment of “bad guys”), we will have
to begin addressing the oversight of militarily run prisons, especially
in occupied territories.  This is too important to leave just to
the executive branch of the government, as we’ve done so far. 
Congress and the courts must be involved.  The system is only
designed to work if the whole system is involved; if we cut off pieces
of the system, like the judiciary and the legislature, from their
necessary oversight activities, we risk the creation of a republican
empire, such as Rome enjoyed in the days of the early Caesars.

So take my case as a thought-provocation piece, and I will stew more on
the parallels between the late Roman republic/early Roman empire and
modern America.

Posted in Politicks on 14 May 2004 at 11:35 am by Nate

Varied and miscellaneous

So I’m catching up on some links and such that I find interesting.  First, there’s Kartoo,
which is a visual interface search engine.  In people terms, that
means that it does a search of other search engines and then displays
the results in a map format, showing you the relationship between the
different results.  It takes some getting used to, and the
designers could provide some better documentation on how to read the
maps (you’ve gotta learn by trial and error), but it’s very interesting.

Second, there’s MP3.com’s Musicvine
This is similar.  Type in the name of a musical artist, and it
will show you a map of “related” artists, sorted by affinity, musical
sound, and popularity.  It’s really kind of fun to find out that
you’re not as special and unique in your musical tastes as you think
you are, as Ryan found out the other day.  (Thanks to him for this link.)

Got more to talk about, especially this week’s episode of the West Wing a bit later.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 14 May 2004 at 11:27 am by Nate
10 May 2004

This is where I need to be!

An article in yesterday’s Globe notes that bloggers will be granted some of the press credentials for the Democratic National Convention this summer.

I’ve applied for my credentials.  And it’s one more impetus to get
back to writing politics again.  But I have one more day of
grading papers to get through for now.  So I’d better do that.

Posted in Politicks on 10 May 2004 at 11:08 am by Nate
9 May 2004

Adjunct faculty

There’s an article in today’s Globe’s Ideas section about the end of Invisible Adjunct (whom you can link to in my blogroll to the right).

I have to admit that I have some fear about this being the end result
of my own PhD.  What if I get stuck in the interminable temporary
lecturer slot for a few years?  I like academia (at least parts ot
it) quite a bit, but I’m not willing to give my life for it….

I’d probably go into political consulting, or beef up my quantitative
skills, or find a way to do more full-time writing, in some sort of
journalistic mode or something.

What would you do (if you’re an academic)?  What’s your secret career desire if the professor thing didn’t work out?

Posted in IvoryTower on 9 May 2004 at 12:05 pm by Nate

Whew!

I’m finally done with a lot of the stuff that was taking up most of the time in my life, especially my blogging time.

Boyfriend and I are moved in together.  I have never lived with a
romantic partner before, so this is sort of weird.  We’ve spent a
year and a half commuting between each others’ houses, and now we live
in the same space.  So we’re trying to figure out how we can live
with one another.  It’s as if we expect the other to go home at
some point….  We’re learning how to be around each other without
having to be with each other, but it’s an acquired skill.

I’m in the midst of grading papers for my students, something which I
was unable to do while moving, but it’s the usual long hard slog of
trying to be constructive and helpful while getting simultaneously
bored, because they end up writing lots of the same stuff and making
many of the same mistakes.

We’re also planning our houseblessing/housewarming for the 21st. 
Incense, priests, monks, gin, and loud music.  Should be
fun.  If you’re a Boston person, let me know if you’re interested
in coming….

Posted in Day2Day on 9 May 2004 at 11:32 am by Nate