Monday, September 28, 2009

A List of Things I Saw Yesterday at the Folsom Street Fair (NSFW)

Last week it seemed everyone in the bars and clubs I went to was talking up Folsom Street Fair as if it were Sodom and Gomorrah itself.

"It's the biggest event in San Fran," one stranger assured me, "bigger than Halloween, bigger than Pride!"

I was told to expect Mardis Gras with less drink and more kink. Over and over again I heard, "You can't imagine the stuff that goes on there!" "The most outrageous thing you'll ever see" "You'll be totally shocked." I kind of shrugged these comments off, but upon entering the fair yesterday I was chastened.

Apparently you're never so worldly you can't find displays of perversity to flip your wig. Below are a list of things I saw yesterday as I walked around Folsom Street Fair with some pictures (be forewarned NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

  • A furry Piglet riding a furry Winnie the Pooh

  • One leather Daddy whipping three guys at once

  • A completely naked hermaphrodite, bound in rope, being flogged*

  • A game of Twister played by jock-strap wearing twinks to raise money for "Healthcare for Whores."

  • A late thirty-something woman who looked like she just stepped out of the suburbs in her white Keds, modest denim jeans and baby blue tank top, giggling unstoppably as she posed with an incredibly ripped guy wearing only a cock ring around one of the largest flaccid penises I've ever seen.

  • The San Francisco Department of Public Health booth that featured a game in which contestants tried to hurl mini-foam penises through a cartoon's asshole (this would not have flown at the Boston Public Health Commission).

  • A masked man with a super hot body and a massive schlong masturbating out of a third story window as the crowd below cheered him on until he came, showering ejaculate onto the crowd below (luckily I was out of splatter range).

  • "Fetish Tot" dolls (pics here, NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART)

  • Guys in dog bondage gear with leather "paws" over their hands and feet and butt-plug tail accessories (that I swore I saw wag).

  • A booth that was dedicated to helping circumcised men "restore" their foreskin through a process of weights, stretchers, and straps. Also on display at the same table, an artifical foreskin that promises "Natural dekeratinization of the glans (thinning of the existing calloused skin)" and " A feeling of warmth, security and self-esteem" (Sounds like Prozac to me).

  • A guy on a leash laying on his back on the sidewalk as his master offered to let passers-by spit in his mouth.

  • What appeared to be three sorrority girls being whipped within an inch of their Prada by some random dude with a riding crop.

  • A plump woman with pig-tails wearing a pink sun-dress and pink vinyl boots sitting on the sidewalk licking a phallic lolly...

and then...looking to either side...
grinning mischeviously...spreading her legs...
and then...

Ah, San Francisco is there anything you WON'T do?

*This is the second naked hermaphrodite I have seen this summer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Unbearable Confusion of Meghan McCain

I just don't know what to make of blond, bubbly, valley-girl by way of Sedona Meghan McCain. If she ever looses her blogging gig at The Daily Beast she should become the spokesperson for cognitive dissonance. Ms. McCain fancies herself a social liberal, supporting for full marriage equality and repealing DADT. She is NOT however pro-choice and her justification for her pro-life position is just one of the many confusing and contradictory statements she issues on a semi-regular basis:
During my father’s 2000 presidential campaign, a reporter asked how he would feel if I became pregnant and wanted an abortion. He answered that it would be my choice, sending shockwaves throughout the party...But seriously, here was a father, delicately navigating a question about his teenage daughter and being true to the kind of father he had always been, and the Republican Party was outraged. It didn’t matter that my parents raised me to know that, regardless of the mistakes I might make, they would allow me the dignity and courage to make my own choices...yet the GOP still needed to get involved and have a say in what I did with my body. Here’s what I’ve never understood about the party: its resistance to discussing better access to birth control. As a Republican, I am pro-life...
No that is NOT a typo.

Another example of this dissonance came to my attention today whit this video posted on wonkette.

The video is of an interview Meghan McCain gave to members of American University's newspaper prior to a talk she gave at the university. Throughout the interview Meghan wraps herself in the Rainbow flag, talking up her commitment to gay rights, marriage equality and a more progressive Republican Party:

I consider myself a Republican because of all the issues that its based on, the conventional ideology, and I just, you know, believe that my gay friends should be able to get married just like I can. And I think the Republican party has a long way to go when it comes to social issues. But if you go back to the ideals it was based on social issues have nothing to do with it.
Later on she adds:
The gay community has really been very accepting of me and embracing. And I have a lot gay followers, which has been really amazing to be embraced as a straight woman and a Republican. I just want to show that not all Republicans are against gay marriage. I say ‘gay marriage,’ I agree with gay marriage and not civil unions; I think they should be allowed to get married. And I just hope to inspire and show that it’s possible and there’s new blood in the Republican party.
But in this same interview she is asked if there are currently "Republican politicians or elected officials who embody the idea of the Republican party you're trying to create?"

The answer?

Not exactly No—I would never—on any politician at any time no politician is going to represent 100% what I believe. But I have a lot of hope for a lot of Republicans right now. I mean Lindsey Gram, Sen Leiberman, Eric Cantor, Congressman Aaron Schock I love. I mean I think there are a lot of up and coming people who I think can take the reins. This More progressive ideal.

Let's unpack this person by person shall we? Exactly how up and coming, and progressive, are these Republican officials?

Lindsey Graham
Age: 54
Years in Congress: 15 (8 in House 7 in Senate)
Progressive?: NOT AT ALL. Befitting a man who took Strom Thurmond's Senate seat (and is rumored to be gay) Graham supported a constitutional ammendment to ban gay marriage, supported a bill to ban gay adoptions in Washington D.C., has worked tirelessly to overturn roe v. wade, voted against a bill that would have provided, "100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives," and voted to strike down money set aside for family planning in US aids money abroad.

Joe Lieberman
Age: 67
Years in Congress: 21
Progressive: Joe Lieberman would be quite progressive for a Republican if he wasn't an Independent (and a "reform Democrat" before that). So not a Republican, not young, not up and coming. Next.

Eric Cantor
Age: 46
Years in Congress: 9
Progressive?: No. Known as an obstructionist against Democratic legislation. Voted for a anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, voted against a bill to prohibit employment discrimination against gays and lesbians, also doing everything he can to overturn Roe V Wade, and also "Voted YES on allowing school prayer during the War on Terror."

Aaron Schock:
Age: 28
Years in Congress: 1
Progressive?: He is young (and quite handsome) and new, but is he part of this "more progressive ideal?" No, not at all. "On April 29, 2009, Schock voted against amending federal hate crimes laws to include crimes where the victims were targeted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability" And a news story profiling Schock posted on his website notes that the freshman Congressman has, "a solidly conservative philosophy and voting record on abortion, gun rights, gay marriage and other bread-and-butter conservative issues."

No one is expecting Meghan McCain to be the next great political commentator. At best she seems to resemble a spoiled Carrie Bradshaw, at worst a lobotomized Maureen Dowd. It's just rather irksome that Meghan McCain is essentially building a name for herself by standing out in favor of marriage equality but doesn't pause to voice support for politicians of her own party who legislate discrimination against gays and lesbians. Maybe she can bridge the gap between these two extremes by finally coaxing Senator Graham (and Congressman Schock) to come out of the closet?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Wander/Wonder Blog is back!

My dead computer is RESURRECTED!


So funny story...
Oh about three months ago, shortly after announcing I would be blogging my West Coast sojourn, my computer died. I was in Seattle at the time and went to the only Mac store I could find in Microsoftland which was a small mom and pop place that was in no way was affiliated with Apple as either a corporate entity or a purveyor of store franchises. This place had no white walls, no glass staircases, just a dingy carpet and suspended ceiling. The pubescent boy attending the tech support counter informed me that the reason my computer wouldn't turn on was that the mother board had crashed, a replacement would cost around $600 and take two weeks to install with their current backlog of repairs.

I was also told that on the positive end of things everything on the hard drive should be fine. In short I had the Jean-Dominique Bauby of computers, my Mac had locked-in syndrome. After phoning another computer repair shop in Seattle and receiving the same diagnosis I decided to deal with my computer at the end of the summer when my traveling was done. I schlepped my comatose computer from Seattle to Portland, from Portland to San Francisco where it stayed with sympathetic relatives while I went up north to Eureka California, and then south to LA , and then to Burning Man.

Finally yesterday I bit the bullet and brought my non-responsive Mac to a computer repair shop in Berkeley. "Here take it , fix it!" I cried, dramatically shoving the laptop case across the counter to the clerk. "I'm told it needs a new mother board. I know it'll be expensive, hundreds of dollars to be sure, it may take weeks to repair, but I NEED my computer! I can't keep working off my Palm Pre and begging friends and acquaintances to use their computers like some sort of LEPER!!!!!"

The clerk who was young but old enough to have facial hair took in my histrionics calmly before asking, "so what exactly is wrong with your computer?"

"It won't turn on!" I cried.

"Have you tried using a different power cord?" He asked.

Did this guy think I was an idiot? "It can't be the power cord, when I plug the power cord into the computer the light at the end of the wire goes on."

"Let's just see what happens if we use another cord." The clerk said undeterred and made his way to a bin sitting on a shelf across the room. He dug through it until he had found the right cord, returned and plugged it into the computer. He hit the power button and the computer emitted that Zen-like "Ommm" start-up noise that Macs make, the screen flickered on, and I stood there in utter silence.

"The power cord'll be $50." The clerk said.

"But- but- they said in Seattle that I needed a new mother board!"

"Apparently not" replied the clerk.

"But I don't understand, the light at the end of the cord went on when I plugged it in."

"Yeah but if you look at the end of the cord you can see the metal casing around the prong is cracked, see right there."

"You mean I've been without a computer this ENTIRE summer because I just needed a new cord????"

"Guess so, but hey it's cheaper than getting a new motherboard! And you'd be surprised at the number of people who have this same problem and just throw out their computers!"

The moral of this story, never ask for Mac tech support in Seattle.

I keep trying to tell myself this whole thing has been a blessing in disguise. That I've been more present this summer in my travels because I haven't had my computer to distract me. Or that being without my own computer for three months has made me appreciate having one even more now. I suppose all this is true, but still...just a freakin power cord?!

Stay tuned for more posts now that Wonder/Wanderblog central is operational again.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Various Seattle Arts stuff

Ok, so here's a giant flurry of cool art stuff I saw in Seattle.

I all ready wrote briefly about the installation Moore Inside Out which was phenomenal(flickr stream of the event here). Tuesday night I also saw a great show at the Moore: Goran Bregovic and His Wedding and Funeral Orchestra.

Bregovic is an outstanding performer and composer from Serbia who has scored such brilliant Kusterica films as In the Time of the Gypsies and Black Cat White Cat. The concert audience was mostly Serbs so a good time was assured (Serbs know how to party, trust me I lived with one).

The concert started out slow with Bregovic's orchestra coming out piecemeal. First doleful strains from a string quartet and two female vocalists (in traditional gear) entering stage right. They were answered by the five piece brass section's burbling refrain as they made their way to the stage from the rear of the auditorium. Soon a six member male chorus joined the fray followed by the drummer/lead male vocalist, and lastly after the first song, by Goran himself. The slow stuff quickly gave way to riotous Gypsy rhythms and gloriously huge sounds. There's a reason Bregovic scored Kusterica's maximalist masterpieces, be they of the epic narrative scope variety or the gross-out comedy brand, like Kusterica Bregovic works on a large scale.

I've heard some complaints about Bregovic's performance; this review of the show and even one of the managers of the Seattle gig whom I talked to felt Bregovic doesn't actually DO anything during his shows. There's SOME validity to this: Bregovic doesn't sing during most songs, he plays guitar for only a handful (more often he's playing with his Macbook) and he is seated the whole time. But these criticisms miss a very important point: Bregovic is always conducting his orchestra through his music (or at the least his orchestrations of traditionally Serbian music). The sound is big but it's also incredibly precise, the resulting effect wouldn't be nearly as powerful if Goran's hands weren't guiding the orchestra along. And it IS incredibly powerful music, halfway through the concert the entire audience was standing up and dancing in the aisles, clapping wildly and totally in sway with band. Even Iggy Pop didn't get a reaction like that when I saw him.

The day before I checked out the film Godless Girl which was part of a Trader Joe's sponsored screening of silent films with live organ accompaniment. The event was at the Paramount, which like the Moore, is a glorious old theater. There were a couple protesters outside claiming the regular organist had been unfairly fired. One of the picketers told me that she had heard one of the programmers wanted to hire a rock musician instead ("A ROCK MUSICIAN!!"). Then again, I'm getting the feeling that an event isn't really worth its salt on the West Coast if there's not a protest involved. The replacement (possible scab) organist was serviceable, at the end of the screening he announced he had just received a DVD copy of the film that morning so he had barely any time to prepare. But silent films weren't made to succeed or fail based on the extempore music playing over them, they were made to be purely visual in their storytelling and this film didn't disappoint.

Godless Girl, one of the last silent films directed by the great Cecil B Demille, tells the lurid tale of a high school atheist temptress and an overzealous religious classmate who fall in love at a Dickensian juvie detention center after a rumble they incite leads to the (spectacularly filmed) death of an innocent girl. It's wonderfully over the top --members of the Atheist Club have to renounce God with one hand on top of a Capuchin monkey-- with Demille's usual ingenuity for spectacle. During the aforementioned mele the camera tracks vertically over four flights of stairs filled with kids fighting tooth and nail, and the end of the film features fire scenes that give Gone With The Wind a run for its money.

Did I mention how gorgeous the theater was?



Lower lobby (the foyer to the restrooms)

Recessed lighting in the theater

Screen (with sponsorship) and Wurlitzer

I also checked out the Seattle Art Museum which I loved.
When you walk in to buy tickets you're greeted overhead by Cai Guo-Qaing's Inopportune: Stage One which is made up of nine identical white cars suspended from the ceiling with blinking lighting fixtures protruding from the vehicles. The overall effect suggests an explosion emanating from each car, a beautiful and elegant celebration of the combustion that both fuels these modern beasts and threatens our planet.

SAM had some great stuff in their permanent collection, this Warhol for example:

Don't mess with HIS blue suede shoes!

Two other pieces I loved were Mann Und Maus by Katharina Fritsch, in which a sleeping man covered in a white comforter on a white bed up to his serene face has a MASSIVE black mouse resting on his chest.

The impact of the piece lies in its sheer size. The man's head is life-size so imagine how massive the mouse is by comparison. The sculpture conjures up so many images: the incubus or succubus of Medieval lore crouching on the stomach of it's victim, disease (black plague or HIV), self-destructive nature. No matter how antiseptic, no matter how clean we want to make our lives, there's always some great creepy thing looming over us we can't escape. How many times have we seen mice in our apartments and immediately thought they could climb into our bed while we slumber away defenseless?

Another stunner was this piece Some/One by Do-Ho Suh

It appears to be a beautiful large metalic gown, until you get closer and see what it's made of:

I literally gasped when I saw the dogtags.
The piece is perhaps one of the best metaphors I've seen for our current American Empire, part luxury item, part armor, all sacrifice.

The big exhibit now at SAM is "Target Practice: Painting Under Fire 1949-78" a huge exhibit of pieces by artists who took aim at established conventions of paintings. Everything from Yoko Ono's A Painting To Be Stepped On i.e. a piece of cloth on the ground, to Jasper John's Target and beyond. The exhibit is highly engaging in a cerebral way and the free audio tour voiced by Laurie Anderson is informative and breezy. Though I have to say I went in for another much smaller exhibit, the Andrew Wyeth remembrance which is really a celebration of paint as a traditional medium.

Also I was totally impressed by the African Art collection at SAM which contains excellent examples of traditional cloth, masks, and statues as well as contemporary African Art. My only complaint is that their extensive collection of Dahomian religious statues and offerings were housed in a series of anti-septic glass cubes rather than all together in some semblance of a traditional shrine.

Anywho arts in Seattle, lots to love.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 5 in Seattle

How good is the food in this city? Soooo good it hurts.

I could be at the Nitelite Lounge--a pleasant quintessential dive bar adjascent to my hotel, manned by sweet but sad-eyed bar maids, sprinkled liberally with displays of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and attended by a small dedicated clientele of regular lushes--and
 enjoy a shockingly good tamale: rich with savory cornmeal and chicken in the center with a tangy kick. 
I also had one of their happy hour burgers with fries
 ($4) and was stunned by how good it was. A super thin patty to be sure, but flavorful as hell (read nice and greasy), dressed up with thinly sliced fresh baby tomato slices,
 delicious pickles, and some amazing swiss cheese. The fries weren't bad either.

There's also Falafel King right next to Pike's Place Market which is the best Middle Eastern food I've had outside Istanbul (sorry Moody's Falafel Palace) I had their Chicken Shwarma plate: grilled chicken, cabbage, rice pilaf, and a garlic tahini sauce, with a side salad in a perfectly mixed vinagrette, with a side of houmus and pita ($8.50). I could go on describing how good it was but a picture is worth a thousand words:

Also nearby to Falafel King is Pan African Market which has some amazing freaking Ethiopian food. I had their meat as well as veggie sampler on Indira bread. Both were outstanding. 

In an earlier post I mentioned that Seattlites were pretty serious but their street food. How not unserious about it are they? Just check out their pulled-pork sandwich truck: 

As in everything it's all 
about the details: behold the tail-light.

Also highly enjoyed Cyclops in Belltown where I had a smashing Sunday brunch (a bar you can sit down at and read the paper while you eat is a beautiful thing no matter where you are) at 1pm. To my shock many Seattle restaurants apparently stopping serving Brunch before the PM, at least near my hotel, at least according to the knowledgeable lady at the front desk. Cyclops is roomy and funky with good music and decor that focuses on both eyes (unsurprisingly) and panthers. They even have two large glass displays of cheap panther pottery on one of the walls. I had a good caramelized onion and sundried tomato chicken sausage omelet with home-fries and toast (extra points for having the butter grilled in). Their bloody mary's aren't astounding but the three olives that garnish the drink are. I went back Tuesday night to grab a light supper (chicken quesadillas excellent and $4) and ended up having a lengthy discussion with a coast guard sitting next to me who was wearing a Wonder Woman T-shirt. I was reading "Into the Wild" at the bar and the Coast Guard, who was reading "Portnoy's Complaint," was having none of it, "the kid was an idiot, look I tramped around for a while before settling down, I've camped up there in Alaska, I've camped all over, and you have to be an idiot to do what he did. Maybe he could have survived an experience like that if he stayed in the southern US where it's warm. But to go up there with only a .22 and no tent, not even a decent pair of boots, that's just stupid." 

When I countered that the kid (Chris McCandless) must have had some intelligence to a) survive as long as he did on the road and b) make such a strong impression on the people he met I was shot down quickly. "The kid had short term charisma, he never stayed around long enough in one place for people to get to know him well enough. My brother is like that, he can get anyone to like him for a short period of time." 

The pattern continued.

Me:  But he survived over 100 days out in the Alaskan wild! 

Wonder Woman Coast Guard Guy: Because he found a bus that had been outfitted for hunters with a stove and fuel!

Me: But he shot a moose! A MOOSE!

Wonder Woman Coast Guard Guy: And then let the meat go to waste because he talked to people in South Dakota about how to prepare Alaskan game! They told him to smoke it, he built a smoker after shooting the moose and the smoker didn't work. I mean if you're going to try and preserve meat by smoking it build a smoker first, test it out, so if you do find big game you don't waste time if after you shoot it.

Bottom line:  It's hard to make a persuasive argument for the kind of passion that would compel someone to forsake all that's familiar and common for a recklessly traveled life on the road and in the wilderness when the person you're talking to has a  job that requires them to fish these people out of the life-threatening situations this same passion has landed them in. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Wonder Wander Blog!

Due to several requests the focus of this blog will be shifting from current events, politics, and rants to my current nomadic existence. In April I decided I was miserable with the current state of my life in Boston and so I quit my job (program coordinator for the Boston needle exchange) and bought a ticket to Seattle. This summer I'm checking out Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Humboldt County (where I'm doing a month long theater program) points in between, and eventually Burning Man.

Currently I am in my fourth day in Seattle which I must say I like a lot. I could totally see myself living here. People in this city care about food to the point where even the street vendors are gourmet, there are lines around the block for art installations, and crowds that rival Boston pride converge on a neighborhood for the "Solstice Parade" which features naked bicylcists covered in body paint and a float honoring the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Also lots of independent book stores, great coffee, serious drinkers, and decent music playing in almost every establishment I've gone into.

Below are some pics:

The Solstice Parade in Fremont which I'm told is a [rapidly gentrifying] hippie neighborhood (come on they have a SOLSTICE PARADE). How hippie is this neighborhood? there's a de-commisioned cold-era missile now decorated with Xmas lights literally a block away from a massive bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin.

Ok Ok Ok here are the naked people on bikes. Being short (5'6) I couldn't really see them over the crowd during the parade, plus I got there late when most had peddled off. I managed to get this shot before the naked part of the parade ended.

Luckily many nude cyclists opted to do a victory lap
post-procession where I got an unobstructed view.

It's all about the matching shoes...

Yes, that brave soul with the polka dots holding onto his junk for dear life is riding a unicycle!
Also worthy of note the brand of portable toilets are called "Honey Buckets" which is just about the most revolting euphemism for a port-a-john I can imagine.

I also checked out "The Moore Inside Out" which was a massive 50-artist installation that took over the entirety of the Moore Theater for one night. The Moore, which is attached to my hotel, is just over 100 years old and GORGEOUS.
(Pics of the theater exterior and interior not mine)

A massive stage, mezz, and balcony, marble lobby, and an amazing line-up of musical acts. The installation was free and was ABSOLUTELY PACKED WITH PEOPLE. There were some amazing performances and visual projects but my favorite was this simple one: a makeshift structure in the lobby that mimicked the facade elements of the theater held together by red string. When you walked through an archway at the bottom and looked up you saw a beautiful chandelier that the facade had been hiding. Such a subversive piece for an event that was supposed to celebrate the theater as an enduring building.

The building erected to the arts is made clumsy by
and obstructive to the art itself inside.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Boys In The Bond

Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig will be performing in a Broadway show together. IT IS NOT I REPEAT NOT A MUSICAL!
From UK's "The Mirror"

Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman are set to co-star in a Broadway play this autumn.
The New York Post reports that the Hollywood heart throbs will appear in "A Steady Rain," a two character play about Chicago policemen "whose lifelong friendship is put to the test when they become involved in a domestic dispute in a poor neighbourhood".

Hugh, who is currently starring in X-Men film Wolverine, is no stranger to Broadway, having won a prestigious Tony award for his role in the musical The Boy From Oz. But Daniel will be making his Broadway debut.

The play will be produced by Barbara Broccoli, who is also a producer on the James Bond films.

I find it very very interesting that these two are appearing in a "straight play" where they will play cops. Presumably lots of Mametesque dialogue, macho posturing, etc etc. and not in a musical. It seems that these two beefcakes are more "metro" than recent action stars (Jackman as Peter Allen and Tony host, Craig as the first 007 to be as thoroughly objectified as his female costars as well as the first Bond to really show emotions like grief) and yet they don't seem to want to wade into a musical, an artform that seems to have taken its place alongside drag as irrecoverably gay. Maybe there's a simpler reason, maybe Craig can't sing or dance, but I wish these two could appear next season on the Great White Way and not have to hedge their appearance in American theater behind the macho character of cops.

Then again how macho can a show called "A Steady Rain" be? It sounds like a Tova Feldshuh vehicle about a dissolving marriage between a Jew and Gentile during Hitler's rise to power.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Log Cabin Obstructionist

Gay marriage could have been legal TODAY in New Hampshire if it wasn't, in part, for a gay Republican in the New Hampshire Congress.

A week ago Governor Lynch of NH made it very clear that he would sign a marriage equality bill as long as religious groups were exempted from performing same-sex marriages. In Lynch's own words:
This morning, I met with House and Senate leaders, and the sponsors of this legislation, and gave them language that will provide additional protections to religious institutions.

This new language will provide the strongest and clearest protections for religious institutions and associations, and for the individuals working with such institutions.
It will make clear that they cannot be forced to act in ways that violate their deeply held religious principles.

If the legislature passes this language, I will sign the same-sex marriage bill into law. If the legislature doesn’t pass these provisions, I will veto it.

Simple enough right?

Today the state Senate agreed and added the proposed language into the bill voting on party lines. The House however said "no." By two votes no less. Why did the Democrat-controlled House vote against the bill? Reuters has some answers:

State Representative Steve Vaillancourt, a gay Republican from Manchester, was a leading voice against the amendment securing religious liberties, saying that the House should not be "bullied" by the governor.

Vaillancourt said an earlier bill that did not provide protections to clerics or religious groups was the one that should have been passed, adding that the amended bill would allow discrimination to be written into state law.

Ok let's unpack this shall we?

1) It's not bullying for the Governor to ask for a change in a proposed bill that could otherwise cause him huge amounts of political grief. When he ran for office Lynch said he opposed gay marriage. Now he's finally doing what's right but asking for a little political coverage at the same time. Why begrudge him that?

2) The proposed gay marriage bill, even without the wording proposed by the Governor, would not compel religious institutions to perform same-sex unions, so really why fight this?

3) It's called separation of church and state! The Establishment Clause was designed not only to ensure secularity in public life, but to also ensure the government wouldn't encroach on religious liberty.

Hopefully the NH Senate and House will be able to hammer out a workable compromise in committee.

The incredible shrinking party...

A new Gallup poll shows that the only demographic that has not jumped ship from the Republican party to some degree are (drumroll please) regular churchgoers (and unsurprisingly self-described conservatives)! This helps explain why a) the GOP isn't trying to moderate its stable of culture war issues and b) why the GOP is so intent on running moderates on social issues, like Arlen Specter, out of the party. Of course a block vote of churchgoers isn't going to win elections by itself in the near future, and this disadvantage may only get worse as one recent study showed that self-identified atheists and agnostics are a growing demographic in all 50 states. From the NYtimes:

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.

What's worse, this slide of Republican support started under Dubya's reign, "Gallup pollsters said the GOP slide began long before President Obama's election last November; Gallup first detected a loss of Republican support in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers and the ongoing war in Iraq."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NPR: Narcotic Public Radio

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to hear a chipper middle-aged NPR correspondent reporting from an 11 hour marathon Peyote ceremony high atop a mountain on the Navajo Reservation here's your chance.

The report is the first in a five-part series exploring mystical experiences and neurology. This first installment was really fantastic, apparently research on psychedlic drugs is getting a major comeback!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Thanks but no thanks...

Next time Mormons knock on your door just be glad you're not in Myanmar:

Nobel Winner Suu Kyi charded in Myanmar after American Mormon's Visit.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was charged Wednesday with breaching the conditions of her house arrest order, quashing hopes she may be released when her current period of detention expires in two weeks. The 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has been detained for 13 of the past 20 years, may face as many as five more years in prison if found guilty...

The charge relates to a U.S. citizen who allegedly swam across a lake to visit Suu Kyi last week, violating a ban on her meeting anyone without permission. The man, 53-year-old John Yettaw, was charged Wednesday with breaching a security law, Nyan Win said...

According to, Yettaw was "described by one member of Aung San Suu Kyi's staff as 'a nutty fellow' [and] a Mormon who reportedly told Burmese exiles in Thailand he was writing a 'faith-based' book on heroism."

Mormons, they truly are everywhere.

In other unsolicited Mormon news, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints confirmed Tuesday [May 5th] afternoon that someone improperly, posthumously baptized the late mother of President Obama into the Mormon faith."

Posthumous baptism of non-Mormons into the LDS Church is not an uncommon practice.

Um...about that economic case against gay marriage...

A day after Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele suggested that Republicans appeal to voters' pocket books when it comes to opposing gay marriage two new studies have shown that gay marriage has been a robust boon to the Massachusetts economy in the five years since its legalization. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that gay marriage has generated $111 million in revenues for the Bay State and, in a separate study, that "young, highly educated people in same-sex relationships were 2.5 times more likely to move to Massachusetts after 2004 than before gay marriage became legal."

So hateful prick chairman Steele, I agree, let's gage the merits of civil rights based on their economic value, and based on empirical evidence it would appear that gay marriage makes the cut. Hell don't take my word for it, just listen to study co-author M.V. Lee Badgett who believes, "allowing gay couples to marry has helped businesses in tough economic times."

Then again anyone with half a brain cell could figure out that states granting formerly oppressed couples the right to partake in a ritual that is as much consumer spending orgy as it is a life-long vow of commitment would increase revenues. But again don't take my word for it, take Tina Fey's (from 2004 no less, sorry no video available):
Tina Fey: The Massachusetts court decision to allow gay marriages this week may prove to be a divisive issue in the upcoming presidential election. President Bush is likely torn because he has to protect what he sees is a sacred institution, and yet he knows gay marriage would boost the economy. ‘Cause you know those gay guys would go all out. We’re talking about designer wedding cakes, twenty-thousand-dollar sleeveless tuxedos, giant naked-man ice sculptures that pee Mojitos, they’d hire Patti LaBelle as the band, give out African parrots as party favors, it would be redonkulous. So remember, whatever your political beliefs, a vote to allow gay marriage is a vote for a fabulous economy!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Michael Steele, from hilarious diversion to hateful prick

It's all fun and games until somebody loses their civil rights.

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele has done it again, and his most recent statement puts to shame his past often hilarious pronouncements that he would bring the Republican brand to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings,” that Rush Limbaugh is more than a mere "entertainer," and (to listeners of his radio show) that he would "empathize right on your behind." Yesterday Steele told Republicans they should OPPOSE GAY MARRIAGE ON ECONOMIC GROUNDS, from the AP:
Republicans can reach a broader base by recasting gay marriage as an issue that could dent pocketbooks as small businesses spend more on health care and other benefits, GOP Chairman Michael Steele said Saturday.

Steele said that was just an example of how the party can retool its message to appeal to young voters and minorities without sacrificing core conservative principles...'

'Now all of a sudden I've got someone who wasn't a spouse before, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a spouse that I now have financial responsibility for,' Steele told Republicans at the state convention in traditionally conservative Georgia. 'So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money.'

This is just sickening, it's far more offensive than this week's earlier fracas when Arkansas state rep and 2010 GOP senate candidate Kim Henderson referred to Senator Chuck Schumer as "that Jew." Steele is arguing that civil equality and social justice should be halted because, you know, they cost money. What's worse he's suggesting that this shallowest of all possible reasons for opposing gay marriage now be how republicans define the issue.

Not to draw too obvious (or perhaps overly broad) parallels but imagine Dixiecrats campaigning in the Jim Crow South arguing that we can't financially afford a racially integrated society; imagine states in the 19th century, arguing women shouldn't have the right to own property because the economic ramifications would be too great; hell the South argued that the union would go bankrupt if slave labor was abolished. This is the esteemed company Steele's logic for banning same-sex marriage is keeping.

That I, a Gay American, am not worthy of the financial protection that marriage confers is even more hateful than the standard "the bible says it's a sin" argument against same-sex marriage. The sin argument comes down to a difference in religious beliefs, Michael Steele by contrast just came out and said queers aren't worth a dime. What a prick!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Jew Can't Be Serious

Now let's examine the strange behaviour of Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Ted Kaufman (D-Delaware), and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado). All of them Jewish, like me, but who voted today against the interests of American consumers and helped enshrine some of the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes in the process.

Let me explain:

Ever since the 4th Century AD when the Christian church said that clergy could not partake in transactions that charged interest (and the century after when the Church banned all Christians from charging interest), Jews have been tied to the idea of loaning money at high premiums. Jews were not constrained by the New Testament's perceived admonition against money lending for profit, and as a result were utilized by Christian (and similarly interest-prohibited Islamic) kingdoms to raise the capital for their empires that they themselves couldn't. In the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were prohibited from engaging in manual labor, this was intended to press Jews into the finance industry so that Gentiles could take out loans (charging interest was prohibited, paying it allowed). And even then the Jews didn't exactly get a fair shake (from the online Jewish Encyclopedia):

Christian rulers gradually saw the advantage of having a class of men like the Jews who could supply capital for their use without being liable to excommunication, and the money trade of western Europe by this means fell into the hands of the Jews. They were freed from all competition,and could therefore charge very high interest, and, indeed, were obliged to do so owing to the insecure tenure of their property. In almost every instance where large amounts were acquired by Jews through usurious transactions the property thus acquired fell either during their life or upon their death into the hands of the king.
Gentiles' views of Jews have as a result of this history often in the past fallen pray to stereotypes of the money-obsessed Jew, charging unfair rates, and controlling the banking industry. This has been a bedrock of classical anti-Semitism in everything from "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," to Nazi propaganda, to KKK hatred, to drunken Mel Gibson rants. Charging exorbitant interest rates on loans was given the term "usury" in the 14th century, and Jews were routinely referred to as "usurers" such as in Ogden's well-known poem/parable The Hangman: "The third he took — we had all heard tell — was a usurer and infidel, And: "What," said the Hangman, "have you to do with the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?"" Even now, several dictionaries list Shylock, the Merchant of Venice himself, as a synonym for a usurer.
Today the word "usury" persists most commonly in "usury laws," state regulations which prevent the charging of exorbitant interest rates by businesses based in their state. The word usury's current usage is typically devoid of any direct association with Jews, but the association between Jews and interest rates, and more broadly between Jews and money, remains stubbornly intact.

Which brings me back to the four Jewish senators at the top of the post: Specter, Lieberman, Kaufman, and Bennet. Yesterday the Senate voted on H.R.627 "Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009" a bill that would have specifically established a "national consumer credit usury rate." Currently there is no national consumer credit usury rate, instead each state has the aforementioned power to determine a maximum rate of interest that companies operating within state lines may charge consumers. Credit card companies are now freely operating in states like Delaware with NO usury laws, which has resulted in everyone I know being up to their eyeballs in credit card debt.

Specter, Lieberman, Kaufman and Bennet all voted AGAINST the bill that would have helped put an end to usury in the consumer credit market. The other ten Jewish Senators voted for the measure.

So way to knock down those Jews-are-usurer stereotypes guys, and way to look out for the proverbial little guy during our great recession. The bill failed in the Senate 33-60, but the Shylock stereotype lives on.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gaugin is big in Japan

(Click the image for the full painting)

There's a GREAT article in the Boston Globe today about the Gauguin masterwork "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" which is visiting the MFA's sister museum in Japan and causing all sorts of awe-struck wonder:
One woman in the throng of admirers stood in front of the painting and cried. Another had just driven 2 1/2 hours from Osaka to be among the first to get close to it. "I felt goose bumps in my skin," she said after she did. A third, in halting English, struggled to explain the significance of the work, a dark and ambitious meditation on the meaning of human existence. "The picture purifies us," she said exuberantly. "It gives us power and energy."
The Globe story delves deeper into this quasi-religious fervor over the painting noting:

Though the enormous painting is set in Tahiti and has never been seen before in Asia, the Japanese embraced it with a kind of fanaticism usually reserved for their baseball players. Gauguin's work is much loved in Japan, where it has a special resonance, with its subtle references to Buddhism, its embrace of the natural world, and the deep Zen-like riddle of its title...To enhance the visual experience, the Nagoya museum created an unusual viewing setup: Visitors ascend a few steps to stand on a raised platform, as though approaching a venerated shrine
Two thoughts:
1) When was the last time a painting visiting the MFA in Boston caused this kind of jubilation? Even Hopper's "Nighthawks" which took a trip to the MFA two years ago wasn't set up over a raised platform!
2) It's stories like this one that make me glad the Globe is still around: revealing, thoughtful, international but with a Boston focus.