Friday, December 30

How Not to Celebrate the Holidays

As if 2005 didn't have enough lunacy

HARRISBURG, PA. Dec 29, 2005 (AP) A high school French teacher faces charges of assaulting a police officer and possession of illegal drugs after being arrested earlier this month while standing naked in the snow, police said.

Curtis Lofton, 23, was arrested Dec. 10 after police found him nude outside his home. When asked where he lived and why he was naked, Lofton said that he was Jesus Christ and that the officer must be God, according to court papers.

A scuffle broke out between the two men during which Lofton is alleged to have hit the officer over the head with a plastic toy trumpet he found nearby.

Lofton was charged with aggravated assault involving a police officer, resisting arrest, open lewdness, possession of a small amount of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and unlawful possession of the prescription drug Oxycodone.

Let’s review: A naked twenty-three-year-old French teacher, a Christ complex, a toy trumpet, Oxycodone, and the cops … oh yeah, and let’s not forget the snow. Because this story just wouldn’t have the same effect had it taken place in June. I mean, why would there be a toy trumpet on the lawn in June anyway??

It just doesn’t get any freakier. I bet his students are loving this.

Happy New Year, Curtis.

Thursday, December 29

Huzzah for Ireland! Ντροπή σου, Ελλάδα!

Not to be outdone by Great Britain, Ireland this week announced its intentions to give legal recognition to same-sex and cohabitating heterosexual couples in long-term relationships. Although the new law, which is likely to go into effect in 2006, stops short of allowing same-sex couples to marry, it does bestow on them a number of important benefits, including joint income tax, inheritance tax, gift tax and property rights, next-of-kin designation, social welfare, and travel rights.

Kudos, Ireland.

Greece, on the other hand, seems to prefer the more ignoble example of the United States and Australia when it comes to legal recognition for same-sex couples. Last week, Greece’s Justice Minister Anastasios Papaligouras said that Greece is not yet ready to accept the fact that there are same-sex couples living in its midst.

“Any legislative initiative cannot exceed the tolerance and the sentiment of what is generally acceptable in any society,” Papaligouras said. “Every change has to mature in society before it can be decreed as law.” Papaligouras went on to say that a committee was examining possible changes to the law in the case of heterosexual couples who choose to cohabitate without marrying, but that there were no plans to extend benefits to same-sex couples. I guess it makes more sense to stigmatize them and pretend they don’t exist.

This is certainly good news to the rabidly homophobic Church of Greece, whose head, Archbishop Christodoulos, has referred to homosexuality as an “illness.” Similarly, the equally backward Russian Orthodox Church recently suspended relations with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden after Swedish Lutherans decided to establish an official ceremony blessing same-sex unions.

“We have received with great disappointment and grief the news that not only does the Lutheran Church of Sweden not oppose so-called homosexual marriages, but has even ruled to establish an official blessing ceremony… [because] the testimonies of the Holy Writing leave us no doubt that homosexuality is considered a sin and a ‘confusion’,” the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church said in a recent statement.

Of course, it’s difficult to take such statements seriously (and not just because of the amount of homosexual activity that occurs in Orthodox monasteries and convents in both Greece and Russia) when, in addition to attacking Swedish Lutherans, the Moscow Patriarchate has also placed Russian Catholics on its “enemies list” simply because they celebrate Christmas on December 25, rather than on January 7, the day that the majority of Russians celebrate Christmas. Church leaders went so far as to plan a protest march for Christmas Eve, though I hear it was called off. The rally, which was entitled “In Defense of Russian Christmas,” was organized with the help of the ultra-nationalist and pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement (I don’t think the similarity to “Nazi” is intentional). The conflict over Christmas stems from the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church (along with a handful of others) adheres to the Julian calendar as opposed to the Gregorian calendar followed by Russian Catholics and the rest of Christendom. Whatever.

Maybe Lenin had the right idea.

P.S. The guy in the big hat is Aleksey II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, with his buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wednesday, December 28

Goodbye, 2005

I don’t want to end the year whining about how terrible 2005 was for me and Joe (my partner) personally. Too many mothers and fathers lost sons and daughters in Iraq; too many people lost their loved ones and their homes in the flood that engulfed New Orleans because our government was more interested in financing a duplicitous war than repairing the City’s aging levees. I could go on about the abundant tragedy that 2005 dished out around the world, but nobody needs to be reminded of those things here. I’ll leave that to those “year in review” retrospectives that the mainstream news media so love to produce. I feel compelled to point out, however, that when Joe and I look back on 2005, it will be a challenge for us not to reflect upon its many disappointments. 2005 was certainly our cruelest year.

The year got off to a bad start when the City of Boston rejected our request for a variance to restore our dilapidated carriage house, which sent us scrambling to come up with an alternative design so that we might still save the structure from collapsing into our neighbor’s yard (yes, it really is that bad). I hope that we’ll have more success with this ongoing project in 2006.

Without a doubt, though, the hardest and most painful part of 2005 was our trip to Ukraine and our failed attempt to adopt a child. A more than two-year-long process came to a bitter and disappointing end because of disingenuousness on the part of our agency and, more importantly, the corrupt Ukrainian adoption system. In Ukraine, children are a commodity, and our agency at home chose not to disclose the full details of how the process really works, depriving us of our ability to make an informed decision about our family-building endeavor.

We witnessed firsthand the widespread disillusionment felt by Ukrainians a year after taking to the streets in support of the pro-Western reformer Victor Yushenko, who ultimately won the presidency. They recognize that nothing has changed in Ukraine. They are painfully aware that it is as corrupt a country now as it ever was, perhaps worse off with capitalism than it was under the Soviet regime, though this last point is something that few Ukrainians would ever admit. It is clear, however, that capitalism has taught Ukrainians that everything and everyone in their country is for sale. For the rest of my life, when I think of Ukraine, I will think of the place that taught me firsthand just how miserable life is for a great many people.

In Ukraine, as a result of unforeseen circumstances, Joe and I did get a brief taste of parenthood. The experience, though short, transformed us; and because it was short, it devastated us. While it did not last, the family that we created there reminded us of something that conservatives, notwithstanding their lip service to family values, consistently fail to grasp, and something, admittedly, that I myself needed to (re)learn; namely, that what makes a family is love.

Perhaps like no other period of our life together so far, 2005 reminded Joe and me that sorrow and joy go together, and 2005 was not devoid of happiness; far from it. Though a very close friendship foundered, new ones began; others were nurtured, and still others were renewed. To our old friends: we love you. Thank you for helping us get through our most difficult year. To our new (and rediscovered) friends: we wonder how we lived without you for so long.

2005 witnessed the birth of my sister and brother-in-law’s second son. Their firstborn celebrated his first birthday. Watching both boys grow has been a source of great joy for Joe and me.

2005 taught Joe and me that we are more resilient than either of us realized and that we are both far stronger than each other realized. 2005 reminded us that our love for each other can get us through even the worst of times.

In spite of the hardships we endured this past year, since returning home from Ukraine Joe and I have said to each other many times that we share a good life together. We meant it. It was not some empty cliché we invoked to mask our misery. What we went through in Ukraine was awful, but we lived through it and returned home to a good and comfortable and fulfilling life.

So I will say goodbye to 2005 not with a lament, but with gratitude for all of the good things that the year brought; because I think perhaps the greatest lesson 2005 taught us is that while the world is a cold and cruel place for a great many people, if for even a second Joe and I are tempted to indulge our sense of collective self-pity and include ourselves in that lot, we should think again.

The top image shows the domes of the main cathedral in Kiev’s Pecherska Monastery complex. The bottom image is a small 7 x 10 inch stained glass panel that I gave Joe for Christmas. I plan to drink much more wine in 2006.

Friday, December 23

The Cat in the Hat

Is it just me or is the resemblance uncanny??

Perhaps if he were nicer to us queers, we could give him a few fashion tips. Maybe Santa Claus will give him a new outfit... or, better yet, a bitch slap.

Happy Holidays to All!

And to all my readers overseas who are celebrating Christmas,

Feliz Natal!
Feliz Navidad!
Joyeux Noël!
Buon Natale!
Fröhliche Weihnachten!
Schöni Fäschttäg!
Prettige Kerstdagen!
Wesołych Świąt!
Crâciun Fericit!
Sretan Božić!
God Jul!
Hyvää Joulua!
С Рождеством Христовым!
Maligayang Pasko!
اجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة

and, last but not least, Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

…and for my Jewish friends celebrating Chanukah,


Wednesday, December 21

Rock Hard and Inserting Rods

Ω ται λιπαραί και ιοστέφανοι και
αοίδιμοι, Ελλάδος έρεισμα,
κλειναί Αθήναι,
δαιμόνιον πτολίεθρον !

Oh you, olive shiny and violet
crowned glorious Athens,
famous in songs,
rampart of Greece, divine city!

By this time next year, Athens will have completed the thirty-year restoration of its revered Acropolis. Ravaged by time, war, looters, a hapless restoration completed during the 1930s, and, most recently, Athenian smog, the structures atop the Acropolis have in recent decades undergone scrupulous study and stabilization. In the case of the diminutive Temple of Athena Nike, the structure was completely dismantled and rebuilt.

The hill’s centerpiece and Athens’ primary tourist attraction is the Parthenon, built by architects Ictinus and Callicrates in the 5th century B.C.E. during the height of the Periclean Golden Age. In spite of minor changes to the structure to accommodate new uses over the course of the centuries—it served as a church during the Byzantine era and then a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Greece—the Parthenon survived largely intact until the Venetian siege of Athens in 1687. During the struggle, a Venetian shell lobbed from Philopappou Hill scored a direct hit and blew up the gunpowder magazine housed in the structure as part of the Ottoman garrison on the Acropolis. The explosion left a ruin that was substantially less intact than what is there today (see photo).

Following the siege, the resulting disarray of the site rendered it vulnerable to hundreds of looters, the most famous of whom, Thomas Bruce—the 7th Earl of Elgin and the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the early 19th century—removed a large portion of the sculptures, including those contained in the pediments as well as large sections of the frieze. These now infamous “Elgin Marbles” are housed in the British Museum. For more than a century Greece has been clamoring for their return.

Early attempts at restoration began in 1834 immediately after the foundation of the modern Greek state and continued sporadically throughout the 19th century. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that a substantial and ultimately disastrous restoration of the Acropolis structures was undertaken by Nicholas Balanos between 1923 and the onset of World War II. Having just suffered a catastrophic military defeat at the hands of Atatürk’s Turkish nationalist forces in Asia Minor and with Athens and neighboring Piraeus teeming with more than a million Anatolian refugees, Greece set about restoring the Acropolis as a way of reclaiming its glorious past and healing the nation’s wounds. The ambitious project, which attempted to stabilize the structures by cutting into the marble to insert iron clamps, caused enormous damage. The clamps subsequently rusted and expanded, cracking the fragile stones.

The current rehabilitation began in 1975, a year after the collapse of the military junta that had ruled Greece since 1967. Once again, a restoration of the Parthenon was begun in order to help the Greeks recover from a national trauma. Just like the original Parthenon symbolized the victory of democratic Athens over Persian tyranny, the 1975 rehabilitation project symbolized the revival of Athenian democracy, which had been compromised by nearly a decade of oppressive rule at the hands of the army’s colonels.

The current rehabilitation does not attempt to recreate the pre-1687 Parthenon. Much of the project has involved undoing Balanos’ botched restoration attempt. For example, the iron clamps have been removed and replaced with titanium rods. Not everyone is happy though. Some have argued that the rehabilitation has crossed the line into reconstruction, since new marble is being used to fill gaps and effect structural repairs. The project is making use of marble from Mount Pendeli, north of Athens, whose ancient quarries provided the original building material between 447 and 432 B.C.E.

I first visited the Acropolis in 1992 on Epiphany (January 6), during the height of the current rehabilitation. Amidst the scaffolding and even as a ruin, the Parthenon and the surrounding sculptures did not disappoint. In my mind I found myself reliving neo-classical public libraries, banks and schoolhouses, picket-fenced and neatly painted Greek Revival houses in tidy New England villages, Washington’s classically-inspired public monuments—they all converged on that one spot. They all evoke the Acropolis in some way or another, but what I did not expect was that the Acropolis would in turn evoke them.

As a child, I had heard stories from family members about the days back in the 1950s and 60s when visitors could roam the Acropolis freely and were allowed to enter the structures themselves. By the time I visited the site, many years had passed since tourists had been permitted to engage in such recklessness, and while I knew that the current rules were necessary to protect the structures from further deterioration, I found myself longing for the old days.

The turn-of-the-century postcard pictured above shows the Parthenon before restoration began in 1923.

Recommended Reading:
The Parthenon by Mary Beard

Tuesday, December 20

Above the Law

Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act
§ 1811. Authorization during time of war

Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for a period not to exceed fifteen calendar days following a declaration of war by the Congress (emphasis mine).

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other members of the Bush administration have been aggressively arguing that the war resolution passed by Congress in September 2001 authorizing the use of military force in Afghanistan implicitly granted the president the authority to conduct domestic surveillance without court approval.

However, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), which has become an overnight superstar, explicitly addresses the issue of wartime domestic surveillance without a court order and in so doing sets a very specific limit on the president’s power. Either Gonzales believes the president is above the law, or he needs new reading glasses. Moreover, Bush’s most recent statements suggest that he would revise § 1811 to read:

Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for a period not to exceed fifteen calendar days following a declaration of war by the Congress “for so long as our nation faces the continued threat of an enemy who wants to kill us” (his exact words).

On this morning’s edition of NPR’s On Point, Robert Turner, associate director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia, argued that the Founding Fathers intended to give the executive branch broad powers and an unfettered hand during times of war. We really don’t need to waste time trying to argue what the Founding Fathers intended. What matters here is the text of the 1978 law (FISA) and how the “fifteen calendar days following a declaration of war by the Congress” is to be interpreted. Turner claimed that the text is ambiguous and could be interpreted to mean that the president has discretionary authority to conduct wiretapping without a court order for up to fifteen days at any point once a war resolution has passed in Congress. Others (including myself) would argue that the text of FISA clearly states that the window granted the president to conduct such surveillance begins with a war resolution and ends exactly fifteen days after the passage of that resolution. Once that window has expired, a court order is required to conduct further domestic surveillance.

Whatever one’s reading of § 1811, I believe that the current debate needs to focus on the meaning of those words and that alone, not on what the Founding Fathers believed or intended, which is a matter of ongoing debate for historians. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what the Founding Fathers intended. We are not bound by their intentions. If we were, African Americans would still be in chains and counted as 3/5 of a person and women would still be disenfranchised. Certainly, the Founding Fathers never intended the Constitution to be a frozen, stagnant document. Nor did they intend for the president to become a de facto king during wartime.

What matters here are the limits that FISA sets on presidential powers to conduct domestic surveillance. Gonzales would have us believe that FISA is silent on the issue of presidential authority during times of war. He is wrong. FISA sets very specific wartime limits. If Bush has exceeded those limits, he needs to be held accountable.

Both sides agree that the War on Terror is not like other wars. It differs from other wars specifically in that it is to be waged indefinitely, in Bush’s own words, “for so long as our nation faces the continued threat of an enemy who wants to kill us.” If the War on Terror is to be waged for such a protracted period of time, we need to know exactly what the wartime limits on the executive branch are.

Monday, December 19

The Ghost of Terrorism Past

When I was a kid, my remarkable (it seemed to me) ability to exculpate myself from any situation in which I was accused of wrongdoing caused my mother often to say to me, “You have an answer for everything.”

The Bush team, like a child trying to squirm out of a difficult situation, seems to have an answer for everything. This past weekend, in response to allegations that he exceeded his powers by authorizing the National Security Agency (N.S.A.) to conduct a domestic spying program, the president acknowledged the existence of the program and admitted to authorizing the N.S.A. to eavesdrop on international phone calls, faxes, and e-mail correspondence of people within the United States without first seeking a warrant.

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, the F.B.I. and the N.S.A. must obtain search warrants from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court before conducting electronic surveillance of people suspected to be terrorists or spies. Since knowledge of the nation’s most secret intelligence gathering program was leaked to the press late last week, it has become a rallying cry of Senate opposition to controversial provisions of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire at the end of the month.

What has been the Bush administration’s response? First, Bush has accused those who oppose the Patriot Act of jeopardizing national security (no surprise there): “[A] minority of senators filibustered to block the renewal of the Patriot Act when it came up for a vote yesterday. That decision is irresponsible and it endangers the lives of our citizens.” Moving on to the domestic spying activities that were the subject of the leak, Bush called the highly classified program “a vital tool in our war against the terrorists.” He went on to say, “In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.” When in doubt, refer back to 9/11. But wait, it gets better.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has chimed in by arguing that the administration believed it needed greater speed and agility in investigating terrorism suspects than would have been possible had the investigation been bogged down by the cumbersome process of obtaining a warrant. She also alluded to “additional authorities granted [the president] in the Constitution” as he goes about his business of discharging his “obligation to detect and thereby prevent terrorist actions inside the United States.” Huh? Additional authorities?? What additional authorities??

Equally troubling is the Bush administration’s claim that domestic surveillance without a warrant does not, in fact, require the renewal of the Patriot Act because domestic spying has already been authorized by Congress, not through the passage of the Patriot Act, but by the resolution passed by Congress after 9/11 granting the president the authority to use military force in the War on Terror. Within the past 48 hours, both Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have defended the N.S.A. by citing not simply the events of 9/11, but the post-9/11 Congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force in Afghanistan. “Our position is that authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11, constitutes that other authorization… to engage in this kind of signals intelligence… We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance,” Gonzales said.

I had naïvely assumed that the Congressional resolution to use military force in Afghanistan was limited to Afghanistan, and was not intended broadly semper et ubique. If, using the Bush administration’s logic, that resolution could be applied to something as far-removed as a covert domestic surveillance program requiring no court approval, then why did the president need to seek Congressional approval to, say, wage war in Iraq? Hasn’t the administration always argued that the war in Iraq is part of the War on Terror? Same war, different front, right? Wasn’t Congressional approval for military action in Iraq superfluous then? By the Bush administration’s own reasoning, hadn’t Congress already given it?

Throughout our nation’s history, there have been many instances when presidential power and authority were expanded in times of war. The War on Terror is different. It is an ongoing, potentially endless struggle. Victory in such a vague and broadly conceived struggle is difficult to define. Many (including myself) would argue that the very way in which the war is waged guarantees its continuation indefinitely, by perpetuating an endless cycle of violence and retribution. In other words, we are making more enemies than we are killing.

The neocons themselves do not shy away from the assertion that the War on Terror is a broadly defined struggle to be waged indefinitely. Nor do they appear to have any problem citing the War on Terror to justify curtailing civil liberties. Have we then become a de facto dictatorship? If the Bush administration succeeds in making a tenuous connection between domestic spying without court approval and the Congressional resolution to go to war in Afghanistan, what’s next? Do they really believe that Congress gave the president carte blanche to circumvent the law back in October 2001? The problem is that clearly they do. Since 9/11 appears to cover a multitude of sins, then all bets are off and anything goes. That is, of course, unless the other two branches of the federal government, together with an informed citizenry, intervene to put on the brakes.

Sunday, December 18

Montaña de Brokeback

With all the buzz about gay cowboys accompanying the cinematic debut of Brokeback Mountain, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the following playful verses by Cristóbal de Castillejo (1492?-1550?), a medieval Spanish court poet whose love poems caused him to be brought before the Inquisition. No surprise there, because the Inquisitors didn’t much care for gay cowboys, and in Castillejo’s Glosa de las vacas, the speaker (clearly male) flirts with a young man named Gil by offering him a roll in the hay if he’ll take care of the speaker’s cows.

It’s long, but deserves to be quoted in its entirety. The English translation that follows is based upon the translation by J.M. Cohen, taken from the third edition of The Penguin Book of Spanish Verse (Penguin Books: London & New York, 1988).

Guárdame las vacas,
carillejo, y besarte he;
si no, bésame tú a mí,
que yo te las guardaré.

En el troque que te pido,
Gil, no recibes engaño;
no te me
muestres extraño
por ser de mí requerido.
Tan ventajoso partido
no sé yo quien te lo dé;
si no, bésame tú a mí
que yo te las guardaré.

Por un poco de cuidado
ganarás de parte mía
lo que a ninguno daría
si no por don señalado.
No vale tanto el ganado
como lo que te daré;
si no, dame lo tú a mí
que yo te las guardaré.

No tengo necesidad
de hacerte este favor,
sino sola la que en amor
ha puesto mi voluntad.
Y negarte la verdad
no lo consiente mi fe;
si no, quiéreme tú a mí,
que yo te las guardaré.

Oh cuántos me pedirían
lo que yo te pido a ti,
y en alcanzarlo de mí
por dichosos se tendrían.
Toma lo que
ellos querrían,
haz lo que mandaré;
si no, mándame tú a mí,
que yo te las guardaré.

Mas tú, Gil,
por su ventura
quieres ser tan perezoso,
que precias más tu reposo
que gozar de
esta dulzura,
yo por darte a ti holgura
el cuidado tomaré
que tú me besas a mí,
que yo te las guardaré.

Yo seré más diligente
que tú sin darme pasión,
porque con el galardón
el trabajo no se siente;
y haré que se contente
mi pena con el porqué,
que es que me beses tú a mí,
que yo te las guardaré.

Keep my cows for me, darling boy,
and I will kiss you;
or else you may kiss me,
and I will keep the cows for you.

You will not be cheated, Gil, by this exchange
that I am offering you.
Do not be put out at being wooed by me.
I do not know who will make you
a more advantageous offer—or else, you may kiss me,
and I will keep the cows for you.

In return for a little trouble,
you will receive from me what I would give to
nobody except as a special gift.
The herd is not worth as much as what
I shall give you—or else you may give it to me,
and I shall keep the cows for you.

I have no need
to grant you this favor,
except that need which
has made my free will
the prisoner of love;
and honesty forbids me
to deny you the truth—
or else, you may love me,
and I will keep the cows for you.

Oh, how many men
would beg of me
what I am begging of you,
and would count
themselves lucky
if they got it from me.
Take what they
would like to have,
and do what I tell you—
or else, you may command me,
and I will keep the cows for you.

But if you happen to be so lazy, Gil,
as to value your rest more highly
than the enjoyment of that pleasure,
to save you trouble I will do the work,
and you shall kiss me,
while I keep the cows for you.

I will not be cross, but will be more diligent than you,
for when there is a reward,
work is no trouble, and I’ll see that my pains
are paid for with your kisses
and by keeping the cows for you.

A note on the images:

From top to bottom, Cows, Yellow-Red-Green (1912, oil on canvas, Staedtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich) by Franz Marc (1880-1916); Fieldhand with Scythe (1909, oil on canvas) by John George Brown (1831-1913); a detail from Caught Napping (1848, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY) by William Sidney Mount (1807-1868);Clément Serveau’s (1886-1972) Two Nude Youths Holding Hands (early 20th century, woodblock print).

Friday, December 16

Ready Ready aye

One more sailor post. I couldn’t resist this one. This is a postcard that I bought on Ebay some months ago. I originally purchased it for two reasons.

First, because the H.M.S. Theseus—click on the photo for a closer view of the sailor’s hat—was a British cruiser that took part in the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War, in which a combined Allied assault was mounted in 1915 in order to capture the Dardanelles and utlimately the Ottoman capital of Constantinople itself. The attempt failed, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded in some of the First World War’s worst and bloodiest fighting. Had the campaign succeeded, the war might have ended much earlier, and the subsequent history of the Near East (and possibly Russia) would doubtless have been very different.

The other (more important) reason why I purchased the postcard is that Mark, the young sailor pictured, is quite stunning. Wouldn’t you agree?

Thursday, December 15


When I saw this work, entitled The Depths of the Sea (1887, watercolor and gouache on wove paper mounted on panel, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA) by Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) of the Pre-Raphaelites, I immediately thought of the following poem by Cavafy:


Η θάλασσα στά βάθη της
πήρ’ έναν ναύτη.—
Η μάνα του ανήξερη πηαίνει κι ανάφτει

Στήν Παναγία μπροστά ένα ύψηλο κερί
γιά νά επιστρέψει γρήγορα
καί νάν’ καλοί καιροί—

καί όλο πρός τόν άνεμο στήνει τ’ αυτί.
Αλλά ενώ προσεύχεται καί δέεται αυτή,

η εικών ακούει σοβαρή καί λυπημένη,
ξεύροντας πώς δέν θάλθει πιά
ο υιός που περιμένει.


Into her depths, the sea took a sailor—
His mother unknowingly went to light

a tall candle before the All-Holy Virgin
for tranquil seas and so that
her son might return quickly—

and so she kept her vigil,
but while she prayed and pleaded,

the icon listened soberly and sadly
knowing that the son for whom she waited would never return.


On its surface, this is in many ways a peculiar poem. It is folksy, and not a little hokey, with its personification of both the sea and the inanimate icon. However, if one looks a bit deeper, one will find many features that are characteristic of Cavafy’s other works. For starters, its Greek is pure demotic (i.e. the popular idiom, not fancy literary Greek). The title itself, “Prayer,” directs the reader’s attention away from the tragedy of the sailor’s drowning to the futility of his mother’s prayer. Futility is a theme that works its way into many of Cavafy’s poems. A similar poem, “Η Αρρώστια του Κλείτου” (Kleitos’ Illness), also portrays a prayer that falls on deaf ears. These unanswered prayers are examples of the larger theme of unsatisfied longing and desire that haunts Cavafy’s body of work.

I believe this poem also possesses an autobiographical element. Cavafy lived with his widowed mother until her death in 1899. Their relationship surely felt the strain of the double life he led. Although he kept—or attempted to keep—his homosexuality a secret from his aging mother, this poem perhaps points to that inner conflict and Cavafy’s awareness of his mother’s desperation at seeing her youngest son descend into the depths of some unknown and unnamed vice. Cavafy wrote “Prayer” in 1898, just one year before his mother’s death.

The icon is Παναγία Παυσολύπη (14th century, egg tempera on wood, Holy Trinity Monastery, Halki/Heybeliada, Turkey). The name of this icon means “she who stops sadness.”

To a Sailor

OK, obviously I’ve had Saint Nicholas on the brain over the past few weeks. And since, in addition to his being one mean Mo Fo when it comes to putting heretics in their place, he is also the patron saint of mariners, this post and the next one will have sailors as their theme.

θέλω νά πέσω στή θάλασσα τών ματιών σου
μά δέν ξέρω κολύμπι
τάχα θά τρέξεις νά μέ σώσεις
ή θά μ’αφήσεις νά πνιγώ;

[σέ έναν ναύτη]

I want to fall into the sea of your eyes
only I don’t know how to swim
will you, I wonder, rush to save me
or will you let me drown?

This simple but sexy little poem, entitled “To a Sailor,” is by Dino Christianopoulos, a contemporary Greek poet from Thessaloniki. The translation is by Nicholas Kostis. If anyone (that means you, all you readers over in Greece) knows where I can find a volume of Christianopoulos’ complete works in the original Greek, I’ll be your best cyberfriend.

The painting is Portrait of T.M. as a Sailor (1976, oil on canvas) by Yiannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989), whose work I’ve posted before. I just love that the sailor in this portrait appears to be blushing from all the attention he’s getting.

Wednesday, December 14

In Color

I recently came across an online exhibit entitled, “America from the Great Depression to World War II: Color Photographs from the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection, 1939-1945.” The collection of over 1500 images taken by New Deal photographers resides in the archives of the Library of Congress, which is displaying a selection of them at the Thomas Jefferson Building, located across from the Capitol, through January 21.

The archive contains some of the most amazing and moving images of everyday life in Depression-era America that I have ever seen. That the photographs are in color gives the scenes captured in them a realism and a familiarity often lacking in black & white photographs from the same period.

The result is a world that is both familiar and foreign. I find that the colors emphasize that world’s tangibility and physicality—the material culture to which one’s eyes are instinctively drawn when viewing old photographs. At the same time, many of the photographs show a world lacking in material comforts. Poverty—both urban and rural—is a thread that runs throughout much of the exhibit.

I highly recommend taking some time to peruse this exhibit online. Among the most haunting images are those that show life among impoverished sharecroppers in the rural South. Even with the lingering effects of the Great Depression, Americans of sixty years ago were shocked by what they saw in these photographs. Just like Americans several months ago were shocked by what they saw on their television sets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which once again drew our attention to the existence of America’s underclass. For a brief moment, we were reminded of the plight of the poor in our midst; and like Americans of sixty years ago, we’ve probably already forgotten.

Monday, December 12

Whose Silver?

1739 wasn’t a very good year for the Dutch East India Company. That was the year in which they lost the Rooswijk, which sank in the English Channel during a fierce storm. The vessel, laden with silver bullion, was bound for Batavia (modern Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies, where the silver was to be converted into Javanese currency. Both the silver and the entire 250-member crew were lost when the ship sank more than a quarter century ago.

Last year, an English sports diver located the wreck, and the Dutch government was contacted. Archaeologists went to work, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of silver was salvaged from the ocean floor. The discovery was only recently made public, after the bullion was officially handed over to Holland’s Finance Minister, Joop Wijn, at a ceremony in Plymouth Harbor aboard a frigate of the Royal Dutch Navy, the De Ruyter.

I think that one need ask, however, whether or not the Dutch are the rightful owners of this treasure. Were they back in 1739? The silver had all been mined in Spanish-ruled Mexico. It had been carried by Spanish vessels from Mexico to Cadiz. In Spain, it was sold to the Dutch and shipped to Holland, where it was melted down and converted into silver bars bearing the imprint of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company.

Now I love Holland as much as the next homosexual, but it seems to me that the people of Mexico are the rightful owners of the silver, considering that it was taken illegally from Mexico by Spanish conquistadors. While, admittedly, the Dutch East India Company paid for the silver back in 1739, they purchased stolen property, wealth that had been looted from the New World.

It will be interesting to see whether or not the Mexican government protests. I hope that they do.

Pictured is Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), who lead the Spanish conquest of Mexico, which began in 1519.

Friday, December 9


My friend Kate is the best. Yesterday was my birthday (December 8, which is also the feast of the Immaculate Conception, though Greeks don’t really celebrate this holiday) and I had a crazy busy day and was stuck at the office until 9 o’clock. because the organization for which I work had their holiday open house last night.

Kate brightened my day with a kooky iconogram (pictured left), which had the following note attached:

“Happy Birthday Dean!!! I was trying to find a picture of a boy jumping out of a cake, but instead I found this picture... with a boy jumping out of a chalice ;)
xoxoxo Love, Kate ”

It so captures Kate’s irreverent sense of humor.

After work I gave her a ring. Joe (my partner) was at his Thursday night gig, so Kate and I decided to grab a late supper. When I got to her place, she showed me a really cool demitasse cup that she won on Ebay recently, and then gave me a birthday gift, which, she explained, she had also purchased on Ebay. To my delight, it was a ouija board, but not just any ouija board. This one was made by Parker Brothers in Salem, Massachusetts. It was very important to Kate that she find one that met those criteria. Kate and I met in Salem many years ago, back before I came out, while we were both working at The House of the Seven Gables.

After I opened my present, we set off for tapas at Brookline’s Taberna de Haro (999 Beacon Street). What an awesome place. Although the kitchen closes at 10 o’clock, and we waltzed in at 10:15, the owner, who is a Spaniard, was extremely gracious and hospitable. Before I could tell him it was my birthday, he laughed and said to us, “What am I going to do, send you to Dunkin Donuts?”

Thank you, Kate (and Taberna de Haro), for a great birthday.

Tuesday, December 6

Bitch Slapped by Santa Claus

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm tellin’ you why...

Today is the feastday of Saint Nicholas, and when I was preparing to send an iconogram to a friend of mine named Nick for his nameday, I came across the following rather disturbing story.

OK, so you all know that Santa Claus is really the Dutch/German version of Saint Nicholas, right? Well, the real Saint Nicholas was a 4th-century bishop from the city of Myra in Asia Minor (near present day Fethiye, Turkey). You might have heard that too. What you would almost certainly not have heard is what happened when old Saint Nick attended the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 C.E.

At that council, at which over 300 bishops from all over Christendom were present, the Church Fathers worked hard to hammer out what would become orthodox Christology (the doctrine of Christ’s nature), which defined Christ as the second person of the Trinity and therefore on equal footing with God the Father. Well, not everyone was in agreement. Widespread was Arianism, which maintained that Christ, though divine, was a lesser divinity—a created being—and consequently not equal to God the Father. This wasn’t exactly an era when pluralism was, shall we say, in vogue. In fact, one of the purposes of the Council itself was to stamp out Arianism by having it labeled as heresy. The main proponent of these heretical views (and clearly the underdog), Arius was himself present at the Council and was not shy about voicing his opinion.

Saint Nick would have none of it. He was so offended by what he regarded as Arius’ blasphemy against the Son of God, that he walked right up to Arius and bitch slapped him (à la General Patton) square in the face.

Imagine if, instead of threatening naughty boys and girls with a lump of coal in their stockings, parents threatened their wayward children with a bitch slap from Santa himself!

So be good, for goodness sake!!

Wedding in Zagreb

Question: What do you get when you combine two guitars, two accordions, and a base fiddle?

Answer: A whole lot of fun.

Check out, which is a whole lot of fun too.

Thanks, Goran and Josh, for clueing me in to this cool site.

Monday, December 5

A Little Greek Drama

I didn’t see no water buffalo when I visited Paestum…

Paestum is an archaelogical site located south of Naples in the Campania region of Southern Italy. Its magnificent remains are associated with Magna Graecia, which refers to the Greek colonies of southern Italy established in the 8th century B.C.E. The name “Paestum” is the Romanized form of Poseidonia, which is what the original Greek settlers called the town in honor of Poseidon.

Paestum’s Archaic Doric temples were constructed sometime during the late 6th to the early 5th century B.C.E. and survive largely intact. The original stucco covering has long since disappeared exposing the rather porous stone (tuffa rock, I believe) from which the temples were constructed. I think it is safe to say that if Paestum’s archaeological remains were located, like the Parthenon, in the heart of a major metropolitan area, instead of in the middle of Campania’s agricultural plain, they would have suffered major deterioration.

Paestum’s archaeological museum is home to a beautiful series of frescoes taken from the Tomb of the Diver. Interestingly, diver in Italian is tuffatore. I’m not aware of any etymological connection, however, between “tuffatore” and southern Italy’s abundant tuffa rock, which provided the raw materials for Paestum’s temples.

The frescoes feature several interesting scenes, including a young nude diver. One of the most well known scenes depicts a symposium, a function of aristocratic male social life in ancient Greece (and its colonies). Several male couples recline on a group of couches. On one couch an older, bearded man attempts to kiss a beardless youth. The man places his hand affectionately on the back of the youth’s head, attempting to draw him close, but the youth pushes him away, rejecting his advance. Most scholars agree that an erotic advance is being rejected. However, it is the adjacent couch that interests me more.

On that couch, there are two men, one of whom is preparing to fling the remaining drops of wine from his κύλιξ (kylix) onto a special target, as part of a game known as κότταβος (kottabos). Next to him, his drinking partner’s attention has been drawn to the little Greek drama on the next couch and he looks on voyeuristically while the older man’s advances are rejected by his youthful companion. What I find interesting is that the spectator is clearly elbowing his couchmate so that he too can watch the drama unfold. I’ve always thought that perhaps there was some rivalry among the three older men as to which of them would successfully woo the beardless youth.

Another kylix of wine and perhaps they might’ve all had him.

A note on the images:

The top image is Jean-Léon Gérôme’s (1824-1904) View of Paestum (study, 1847, oil on canvas). Below that are the lid and north wall of the Tomb of the Diver (475 B.C.E., Paestum Museum, Paestum).

Trust US

In a statement made before boarding a plane bound for Berlin, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the Bush administration’s treatment of suspected terrorists by telling America’s European allies that they should “trust the United States.” This is in response to recent allegations that the C.I.A. is operating covert torture chambers in Eastern Europe.

This seems to me to be a reasonable request only if the United States has proven trustworthy in the arena of human rights and, more specifically, the treatment of terror suspects in its custody. Instances of prisoner abuse at both Abu Gharaib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba as well as a recent decision by the United States Senate to strip detainees of their right to habeas corpus all suggest a track record that has undercut both America’s moral authority and its inherent trustworthiness.

It’s sad that Rice will be remembered in the annals of history not so much as the first African-American female to hold the post of Secretary of State, but, rather, as the chief apologist for what could very well be the worst regime ever to lead the United States.
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