Tuesday, January 31

Ελθέ, Φλεβάρη!

Well hello, February...

“ΦΛΕΒΑΡΗΣ” is February in Greek, and February never looked so good. February normally makes me want to put on more clothes, but this February makes me want to get nekkid, or at least half-nekkid. He almost makes you want February to stick around all year, no?

The image, like the one I posted last month, is taken from Tsarouchis’ The Twelve Months (1972).

Nudes and Pubes I

After a heated email exchange with my friend Kate (during which we almost came to cyber-blows) as a result of a statement I made in a previous post about the rarity of pubic hair in art prior to the 20th century, I finally asked her to do a guest post giving an alternative point of view. I’m kidding; there was no heated exchange nor were there any cyber-blows. Kate simply pointed out that she was pretty sure she had come across examples of pubes in art (in both painting and sculpture), which fascinated (and titillated) me, so I eagerly asked her to share her knowledge of artistic pubes. Kate was trained as an art historian and is one of the brightest people I know. I have lots to learn from her in the realm of art history (and not just where pubes are concerned). Thanks, Kate!

Nudes & Pubes I
by Kate

Dean resurrected my inner art historian when he made the assumption that it is rare to see a nude with pubic hair prior to the 20th century. I felt challenged. I know I visually encountered curly and wiry tufts while studying for art history finals in the darkened slide library of my alma mater. Ditching my required reading for tonight’s class, I immediately shelved my book on linguistic phrase structure and morphological rules to explore depictions of pubic hair in European art prior to the 20th century. I found it ironic that while many of us spend most of our lives trying to rid pubic hair from our bodies and bathtubs, I spent an afternoon searching for pubes in the virtual galleries of the world’s greatest museums. What a lovely way to spend a snowy afternoon. After a fruitless (and hairless) search in Vassari’s Lives of the Artists, I realized Dean indeed dropped quite a challenge. This project could take months to compile, so I have decided to post some good examples as I discover them.

The example du jour is Paul Baudry’s The Wrestler Meissonier (1848, oil on canvas). Baudry (1828-1886) was considered to be a second-rate artist of the Academic Classicism School, though he did manage to win the coveted Prix de Rome. In the course of his residence in Italy, Baudry derived strong inspiration from Italian art and the mannerism of Correggio (Antonio Allegri, c. 1489-1534). Correggio’s masterpiece is arguably Venus, Satyr, and Cupid (previously known as Jupiter and Antiope, circa 1523-25, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris). Just one look at Correggio’s Venus reveals her in her full and natural glory. The work was described in the 17th century as a “Venerie mundano” or, in Neoplatonic terms, “earthly Venus”—referring to carnal love and the pleasures of the flesh. Correggio was too technically skilled to leave the viewer to question the darkened nether zone as a careless shadow from a mysterious light source. What we notice are the soft tufts of a Venus who had not gone Brazilian! Perhaps this Renaissance masterpiece emboldened Baudry to portray his wrestler revealing his own earthly elements (or tufts). Please don’t ask about the red sock.

Ne kadar yağlı bir peynir

I find that when I’m down (for example, when arch-conservatives are appointed to the nations’s highest court), thinking about a nice Turkish cheese always lifts my spirits. Kate sent me this photo from her recent trip to Turkey.

Ezine is one of my favorite cheeses but it is next to impossible to find stateside. It’s a semi-hard cheese, not unlike kaseri or gruyère, but smoother and richer. And, interestingly, when you try to google “ezine cheese,” you get a bunch of e-zines about cheese! You have to google “ezine Turkish cheese,” and even then I didn’t find any local distributors. Sevan Bakery in Watertown has lots of cheeses from the Mediterranean, but I’ve never seen Ezine there. I’ve heard there’s a Turkish grocer in Methuen. I should check them out.

I can remember driving with Joe from Istanbul to Safranbolu, Turkey, with a loaf of crusty bread, a container of olives from Edremit, and a hunk of Ezine, which I had on my lap. Even though it was wrapped in paper, it left a permanent oil stain on the front of my khaki shorts. Hence the title of this post: That’s one oily hunk of cheese…

What memories.

Take Heart

A few moments ago, Samuel Alito became our nation’s 110th Supreme Court justice. Read the full story here.

Hard times surely lie ahead if Alito moves the court to the far right, as many—including myself—fully expect him to do. I honestly don’t know what this will mean for the prospects of a same-sex marriage case from Massachusetts (i.e. challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act) being given a fair and just hearing before our nation’s highest court.

I will take comfort in the words of Wendell Phillips, a brilliant 19th-century orator and abolitionist from Massachusetts, whose statue I passed last week while walking down Boylston Street alongside the Boston Common. I’m not often at that end of the Common and it had been a while—perhaps years—since the last time I passed Phillips’ statue, which is why I’m glad it caught my eye last week. Inscribed at the base of the statue is the following quote, which immediately made me think of America’s future under a conservative-dominated Supreme Court:

Whether in chains or in laurels, liberty knows nothing but victories.

Monday, January 30

Göz Lokum

Above is Polites, Son of Priam, Observes the Movements of the Greeks Near Troy (1834, oil on canvas, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Saint-Étienne), painted by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin (1809 – 1864). Flandrin is better known for his Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer (Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, 1836, oil on canvas, Louvre Museum, Paris). Both paintings show a nude, seated youth and both celebrate the beauty of the male form.

The above work depicts the scene from the second book of Homer’s Iliad in which

“Priam’s son Polites, who, being fleet of foot, was stationed as watchman for the Trojans on the tomb of old Aesyetes, to look out for any sally of the Achaeans.”

“Sally” in this context means “advance.” In other words, Polites was watching for the Greek army as it advanced toward Troy. “Being fleet of foot…” All that running did his body good. Flandrin was aware of this passage and gives us a lean, athletic, and well-exercised young body. And, lucky for us, it must have been really hot in Troy that day.

In spite of the fact that Polites has been assigned the weighty task of keeping a lookout for enemy troops, his pose is relaxed and almost meditative, as he stares out over the plains beyond Troy. In his depiction of Polites, Flandrin combines the ideal with a note of almost superrealism. Polites, seated atop a classical pedestal (Aesyetes’ tomb), is the very image of idealized youth and classical male beauty, but at the same time, Flandrin has gone to the trouble to render the youth’s dark and wiry pubes, which is very unusual for the style and the era in which Flandrin worked. I myself can think of hardly any examples of pubic hair being shown in paintings prior to the 20th century. Moreover, by including this subtle detail, Flandrin draws the viewer’s gaze to the Polite’s genital area. Although the youth’s most private and intimate parts remain hidden from view, our attention rests there nonetheless.

Redefining Έρος

To be honest, I don’t need another reason to dislike the pope, but his ignorant misuse of the Greek concept of έρος (eros) in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), has me really pissed off.

“That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks.”

Ratzinger thinks he’s being all hip by embracing έρος rather than rejecting it like some of his more prudish predecessors did. But he can embrace έρος only by radically redefining it. I mean, does it really need to be said at this point that έρος for the Greeks described sexual (i.e. erotic) love between men and youths as much (if not more) than love between men and women? Despite our society’s lingering squeamishness surrounding homosexuality, we’re not in the 19th century anymore, and nobody—not even the pope—can feign ignorance of the fact that in ancient Greece έρος caused men to have sex with youths.

In Charmides (154c), for example, Plato describes έρος as the love of men for youths that often blossoms in the testosterone-filled changing room of the gymnasium:

“I marveled at his stature and beauty, and I felt everyone else in the room was in love with him; they were thrown into such amazement and confusion when he came in, and there were many other suitors following after him too.”

“τότε εκείνος εμοί θαυμαστός εφάνη τό τε μέγεθος καί το κάλλος, οι δε δη άλλοι πάντες εράν έμοιγε εδόκουν αυτού—ούτως εκπεπληγμένοι τε καί τεθορυβημένοι ήσαν, ήνίκ’ εισήει—πολλοί δε δη άλλοι ερασταί καί εν τοις όπισθεν είποντο.”
Likewise in Phaedrus (255a-d), Plato invokes έρος to describe the process by which a wooed youth succumbs to his suitor and falls in love with him. Once again, the gymnasium is referenced as one of the settings in which the drama of έρος unfolds:

“Now the beloved, since he receives all service from his lover, as if he were a god, and since the lover is not feigning, but is really in love, and since the beloved himself is by nature friendly to him who serves him, although he may at some earlier time have been prejudiced by his schoolfellows or others, who said that it was a disgrace to yield to a lover, and may for that reason have repulsed his lover, yet, as time goes on, his youth and destiny cause him to admit him to his company… And when the lover is thus admitted, and the privilege of conversation and intimacy has been granted him, his good will, as it shows itself in close intimacy, astonishes the beloved, who discovers that the friendship of all his other friends and relatives is as nothing when compared with that of his inspired lover.

And as this intimacy continues and the lover comes near and touches the beloved in the gymnasia and in their general intercourse, then the fountain of that stream which Zeus, when he was in love with Ganymede, called ‘desire’ flows copiously upon the lover; and some of it flows into him, and some, when he is filled, overflows outside; and just as the wind or an echo rebounds from smooth, hard surfaces and returns whence it came, so the stream of beauty passes back into the beautiful one through the eyes, the natural inlet to the soul, where it reanimates the passages of the feathers, waters them and makes the feathers begin to grow, filling the soul of the loved one with love. So he is in love, but he knows not with whom; he does not understand his own condition and cannot explain it.”

“άτε ουν πάσαν θεραπείαν ως ισόθεος θεραπευόμενος ουχ υπό σχηματιζομένου του ερώντος αλλ’ αληθώς τούτο πεπονθότος, καί αυτός ων φύσει φίλος τω θεραπεύοντι, έαν άρα καί εν τω πρόσθεν υπό συμφοιτητών ή τινων άλλων διαβεβλημένος ή, λεγόντων ως αισχρόν ερώντι πλησιάζειν, καί διά τούτο απωθή τον ερώντα, προϊόντος δε ήδη του χρόνου ή τε ηλικία καί το χρέων ήγαγεν εις το προσέσθαι αυτόν εις ομιλίαν… προσεμένου δε καί λόγον καί ομιλίαν δεξαμένου, εγγύθεν η εύνοια γιγνομένη του ερώντος εκπλήττει τον ερώμενον διαισθανόμενον ότι ουδ’ οι σύμπαντες άλλοι φίλοι τε και οικείοι μοίραν φιλίας ουδεμίαν παρέχονται προς τον ένθεον φίλον.

όταν δε χρονίζη τούτο δρών καί πλησιάζη μετά του άπτεσθαι εν τε γυμνασίοις καί εν ταις άλλαις ομιλίαις, τότ’ ήδη η του ρεύματος εκείνου πηγή, όν ίμερον Ζευς Γανυμήδους έρων ωνόμασε, πολλή φερομένη προς τον εραστήν, ή μεν εις αυτόν έδυ, ή δ’ απομεστουμένου έξω απορρεί: καί οιον πνεύμα ή τις ηχώ από λείων τε καί στερεών αλλομένη πάλιν όθεν ωρμήθη φέρεται, ούτω το του κάλλους ρεύμα πάλιν εις τον καλόν διά των ομμάτων ιόν, ή πέφυκεν επι την ψυχήν ιέναι αφικόμενον καί αναπτερώσαν, τας διόδους των πτερών άρδει τε καί ώρμησε πτεροφυείν τε καί την του ερωμένου αυ ψυχήν έρωτος ενέπλησεν. ερά μεν ουν, ότου δε απορεί: καί ουθ’ ότι πέπονθεν οίδεν ουδ’ έχει φράσαι.”

One historian of the ancient world summarized the situation by declaring:

“Eros presided primarily over the passionate devotion of a grown man to a boy [i.e. youth]; Aphrodite over the sexual relations between man and woman” (Robert Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece, 1962).

I am struck by the hubris of one so hostile to same-sex love making use of the concept of έρος. Moreover, Ratzinger cannot use έρος without changing its meaning. Έρος, as defined by the Greeks, is not really a helpful concept for him at all. As a result, he has to alter it, clean it up. Ironically, he asks in his encyclical, “Did Christianity really destroy eros?” By invoking the concept of έρος while simultaneously stripping it of its same-sex connotations, he comes close to doing just that. Perhaps, it would be better if he left έρος out of his equation altogether.

The above image shows Eros with a seated youth (400 – 300 BCE, Athenian Red-Figure Cup, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

Sunday, January 29

How Not to Smoke Your Narghile

Went to a party on Saturday. It was lots of fun. Thanks, J and R, for hosting.

Memorable moments… let’s see… Drank too much white wine and flirted shamelessly with a çok güzel Turkish boy. Joe mesmerized us all with his oud while Mike, the new drummer who recently joined our ensemble, did his magic. He’s cool and he let me wear his hat. I played the spoons because I didn’t feel like bringing my sandouri. Danced a bit. Met another gay Greek. L reiterated to me that he’s reluctant to post comments on my blog. P told me I smelled good, which was nice.

I brought my narghile because J and R ask me to bring it whenever they have a party at their place. The last time they threw a party, I brought it but forgot the tobamel (that special mixture of tobacco, molasses, and fruit/flowers), so I had to improvise with the contents of a single Marlboro cigarette, a little honey, and some dried cranberries. It didn’t work so well.

This time I remembered the rose tobamel, and we had a lovely smooth smoke. J and R were dogsitting J’s boyfriend’s dogs, some breed with a strange multi-syllabic name that I was too drunk to remember. They pretty much kept to themselves, and, fortunately, nobody blew smoke in their faces.

The image Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Arnaut Blowing Smoke in His Dog’s Nose (1882, oil on canvas).

Friday, January 27


After my last post, I needed some cheering up, so I went over to skarabej which is always good for a smile. I saw this photo, which was found in Zagreb, and thought I’d share it. It made me laugh. They’re so adorable.

Enjoy the weekend!

Coalition of the Homophobic

On Monday, the United States joined Iran, Zimbabwe, China, Cameroon, and other traditional rivals in denying the International Lesbian & Gay Association (ILGA) and the Danish Association of Gay & Lesbians a hearing to consider their applications to join the United Nations Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC). Membership on the council would have given these organizations an avenue as non-governmental groups (NGO’s) to participate in discussions among members of the U.N. Nearly 3,000 groups enjoy this status. Monday’s vote marked a reversal for the United States of its 2002 position in support of ILGA’s request to have its status reviewed.

“This vote is an aggressive assault by the U.S. government on the right of sexual minorities to be heard,” said Scott Long, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. “It is astonishing that the Bush administration would align itself with Sudan, China, Iran and Zimbabwe in a coalition of the homophobic.”

Read the full story here.

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. When last July Iran executed two teenaged boys for homosexuality (Iran later claimed the crime was the rape of a 13-year-old boy), there was nary a word of criticism from the United States. Furthermore, you are known by the company you keep. In addition to Iran’s recent crimes,

Cameroon arrested eleven men in May 2005 on the suspicion that they engaged in consensual homosexual activity. As of November, the men, all aged seventeen to thirty-five, were still being held without a trial and have been subjected to forced examinations to prove that they engaged in anal intercourse. Medical experts worldwide agree that such examinations amount to torture.

The government of Zimbabwe in May 2005 launched Operation Murambatsvina (“Clear the Filth”), a program of forcible eviction and demolition of tens of thousands of houses and informal building structures of urban residents in Zimbabwe. With little or no warning, and often with great brutality and in complete contravention of national and international standards, tens of thousands of homes, and thousands of informal business properties as well as legal housing and business structures were destroyed without regard for the rights or welfare of those who were evicted.

Throughout 2005, indiscriminate and targeted killings, rape, forced displacement, and looting of Sudanese civilians in Darfur continued to occur at the hands of government-backed Janjaweed militias. An upsurge of attacks occurred in September and October 2005, including targeted attacks on international aid workers and members of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), tasked to monitor the April 2004 ceasefire agreement and protect civilians under imminent threat. Government-supported militias also attacked civilian villages and an internally displaced-persons camp in Aro Sharow, West Darfur.

In December 2005, Chinese authorities shut down Beijing’s first-ever gay and lesbian cultural festival. Organizers planning the Beijing Gay and Lesbian Culture Festival anticipated a groundbreaking weekend of films, plays, exhibitions and seminars about homosexuality, a subject that has long been taboo in China. Participants were to include noted academic researchers, actors, filmmakers and artists, as well as activists for sexual rights and health, specifically HIV/AIDS.

On the plus side, isn’t it nice to see Iran and the United States getting along for once? And, really, what better to bring to sworn enemies together than homophobia and hostility to GLBT rights? Maybe if Al Qaeda added a sentence or two to its statement of principles about how homosexuality is incompatible with the Quran, the United States would be more willing to join them for truce talks.

Thursday, January 26

Half-Nekkid Thursday

Sunset over the Dnipro River

Заход солнца над рекой


I took this photo back in October during a trip to Ukraine. The Dnipro River, which is the third longest in Europe, runs through Kiev, where its course is interrupted by a group of small islands where there are amusement parks, family campgrounds, boathouses, and sandy beaches. The islands create a series of inner channels which provide a setting for recreational boating and other watersports. Kievans will swim in the Dnipro, even though it serves as a major shipping lane, linking central Russia and Poland (by means of the Dnipro-Bug Canal) with the Black Sea.

The banks of the Dnipro have traditionally been one of Kiev’s main cruising grounds, and the more isolated beaches are popular with naturists of all varieties (both gay and straight). Because it was October, Joe and I didn’t see much cruising—a few older (and probably married) men with furtive expressions meandering along the wooded trails and one or two small clusters of speedo-clad regulars at the water’s edge. There were also a handful of straight couples.

Had I gone swimming, I would surely have gone skinnydipping; however, since I decided not to swim (not being sure how clean the water is), I kept my boxers on.

Maybe next time.

This image may not be reproduced or distributed
without the express permission of Aman Yala.

Wednesday, January 25

Poor Priorities

This story caught my eye this morning.

Groups spent millions on gay-marriage amendment
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Supporters and opponents of a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in Ohio combined to spend nearly $2.2 million in efforts to reach the state’s voters, a new spending analysis shows.

Nationwide, the sides spent $13.3 million on 2004 election campaigns that ultimately banned same-sex marriages in 13 states, including Ohio, according to the study by the Institute on Money in State Politics.

“The proliferation of these marriage-definition ballot measures in a quarter of the states during the same election cycle shows how easily journeyman political organizers, whether conservative or liberal, can manipulate the electoral debate with hot-button issues,” said Edwin Bender, the institute’s executive director.

The Cincinnati-based conservative group Citizens for Community Values spent $1.18 million promoting state Issue 1, making it the biggest spender nationwide in the gay marriage debate.

The issue’s passage created an amendment to the Ohio Constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The committee opposing the state’s amendment - Ohioans Protecting the Constitution/Ohioans for Fairness - raised $942,400, the study found.

The Washington, D.C.,-based Human Rights Campaign, which promotes gay rights, led the opposition effort, contributing $384,145.

I find it terribly depressing with all the misery in the world, with so much poverty, and with so many lacking life’s most basic necessities, that a group—claiming to be Christians—would pour so much money into a campaign whose sole purpose was to promote inequality and deprive others of their rights. Ye shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16).

Put another way, the $1.2 million that conservative Ohioans wasted promoting bigotry and hate could have

• provided nourishment, shelter, health, and education to more than 4,000 impoverished children for a whole year.

• purchased 200,000 insecticidal mosquito nets to protect African families from malaria, which kills one African child every 30 seconds and affects between 300 and 600 million people a year, almost twice as many as tuberculosis, AIDS, measles and leprosy combined.

vaccinated more than 9 million impoverished children against measles.

Of course, one could (if they were brainless) make the same argument about the more than $900K spent by those defending marriage equality. However, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who sees a difference between raising money to fight bigotry and promote equality and raising money to promote bigotry and undermine equality.

I think the message is very clear. The Religious Right cares (much) more about legislating morality and marginalizing GLBT citizens than it does about helping sick and starving children. Think of the good that could have been accomplished with all that wasted money.

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:40).

Tuesday, January 24

A Few Things About Me

I don't know if I mentioned this already, but a friend of mine recently confessed to me that although he reads my blog on occasion, he didn’t see much of me in it. I know that my blog, which focuses heavily on my beliefs and observations about art and politics, is not as personal as other blogs. So in an attempt to make my blog a bit more personal, I am posting

69 things about me that my profile won’t tell you
(in somewhat random order):

1. I am perpetually tardy.
2. Throughout grammar school, my teachers consistently gave me poor “conduct” marks.
3. One of my teachers (whose parents lived across the street from us) explained to my mother that the poor grades were because I could never stay in my seat and that I was a “social butterfly.”
4. I never understood why that was a bad thing.
5. I’m a bit of show-off.
6. I came out shortly after my 26th birthday.
7. Within less than a year, I met my partner, Joe.
8. Joe and I wear each other’s clothes all the time.
9. I am Greek on both sides.
10. I mean my mother’s side and my father’s side, not my front and back.
11. My mother’s family were from the island of Lesbos.
12. My mother hates it when I tell my friends that her mother was a Lesbian.
13. My father’s family were from the Peloponnese on the Greek mainland.
14. But both my front and back are Greek too.
15. I never knew either of my grandfathers. They both died before I was born.
16. I have an older sister.
17. I am godfather to her firstborn.
18. I have a very good relationship with both my immediate and extended family.
19. There is one not so notable exception to the above.
20. I started playing the sandouri in 1995.
21. I currently play in a small Greek folk ensemble.
22. When I was a kid, I used to play the accordion.
23. I have lived in Greece on two separate occasions.
24. I occasionally teach classes on Greek folk dance.
25. I’m a pretty good belly dancer (most gay Greek men are).
26. The first time I lived in Greece was right after college and every Sunday I used to travel an hour-and-a-half north from the town where I was living to attend a Protestant church.
27. I used to be pretty religious and was part of an evangelical, non-denominational Christian fellowship all through college.
28. Now I am highly critical of evangelical Christianity.
29. I am not a member of any church nor do I attend church on a regular basis.
30. I guess I’m an agnostic.
31. I think that the Historical Jesus was pretty cool though.
32. I am ever so slightly agoraphobic.
33. I get hurt very easily.
34. It is difficult for me not to hold a grudge.
35. I have never attempted to go vegetarian.
36. I’m a pretty good cook.
37. I don’t care for red wine or beer at all.
38. I enjoy white wine, but only if it’s on the sweeter side.
39. I also love ouzo.
40. I never drink coffee. Only tea.
41. I was once taken to the top of the MIT dome by a hacker. I think he wanted me to kiss him up there, but I was too shy.
42. I enjoy being naked.
43. I used to bite my fingernails, but went cold turkey after arriving in Greece in the fall of 1991 for a year-long stint as an English teacher.
44. I used to work at the House of the Seven Gables.
45. I’ve only done drag once in my life and thought I made a pretty homely chick.
46. I’m a terrible procrastinator.
47. I don’t really hate America.
48. I enjoy flirting.
49. I bathe less than the average American.
50. I have never done hard drugs.
51. I fear death on occasion.
52. I’m working towards a degree in historic preservation.
53. I grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts.
54. I’m pretty sure I’m a Marxist.
55. I’d like to be a more consistent Marxist, however.
56. When I was a kid, I attended Greek school for five years before getting expelled for fighting.
57. Sometimes I think I understand Italian better than I understand Greek.
58. I dislocated my shoulder nine years ago while diving into a swimming pool, but because I managed to pop it back in on my own, I never did anything about it.
59. As a result, sometimes my shoulder pops out when I’m performing simple and innocuous tasks around the house.
60. I’m pretty much a horndog.
61. I have a thing for red heads.
62. and guys with curly hair.
63. I have visited 14 countries.
64. The farthest east I have ever been is either Kherson, Ukraine, or Safranbolu, Turkey. Without knowing their respective longitudes, it’s difficult to say which is farther east.
65. The only bone I have ever broken is the middle toe on my right foot.
66. I am hot-tempered.
67. I am also very fidgety.
68. I am at my most productive in the evenings and at night.
69. I love the beach.

Monday, January 23

Lumbricus Terrestris

I don’t know who else caught last Friday’s article in the Metro on the Boston Museum Project. So far, the project has raised $4 million, a fraction of the $70 million projected total cost. For those who are unfamiliar with the Boston Museum Project (BMP), its goal is to construct a new museum showcasing Boston’s past, present, and future on parcel 12 of the soon-to-be created Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but my first reaction to seeing the architectural rendering of the proposed structure was that its smooth, curvilinear shape reminded me of a gigantic smiling earthworm emerging from the expressway tunnel running underneath the greenway. The structure, designed by firm of Moshe Safdie and Associates, has been described as reminiscent of a ship’s helm, “symbolic of Boston's rich maritime past.” All I saw was a giant lumbricoid with a toothy grin.

I am curious to know whether I am alone in finding the design evocative of a night crawler (lumbricus terrestris). Although the design was unveiled back in May 2004 in the BMP’s response to the RFP issued by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority for parcel 18 (in front of Rowes Wharf)—the BMP lost—I myself saw the design for the first time last Friday while perusing the Metro during my morning commute. I’m sure there were community meetings during the planning phase, but I don’t recall any. Moreover, in the whole of 2005 there was only one community forum held by the MTA, which took place on June 20, after the current design had already been formulated but before the BMP had been designated as the official developer of parcel 12.

I cannot help but think that the proposed structure, with its wormlike appearance, will symbolize less Boston’s seafaring days than the City’s more recent subterranean adventures in the Big Dig itself, as Boston, not unlike an earthworm, tunneled through the dirt and landfill beneath its streets. The problem is that earthworms are efficient creatures. I myself used to play in the dirt a lot when I was a child and spent many hours looking for worms for fishing expeditions with my Dad and sister. Sure, their progress through the soil can appear slow and rather clumsy, but the benefits they provide are numerous. Moreover, in spite of their relative lack of grace, they get the job done, and nobody would question their overall efficiency. If only one could say the same about the Big Dig. Perhaps a structure reminiscent of an earthworm isn’t an appropriate symbol after all.

Sunday, January 22

Dehumanizing the Enemy

This week a new recorded message from Osama bin Laden warned of coming terrorist attacks, but offered a conditional “truce” with the people of the United States of America, if the United States withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration has given its stock response: “We do not negotiate with terrorists.”

I think the United States might have reached a place where as a nation we no longer possess the moral authority to attach the terrorist label to others without taking a closer look at our own policies and actions. Some would argue that Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency deserve to be labeled terrorists because they kill innocent civilians. So do we. They torture. So do we. Yet we feel our use of violence is both justified and justifiable, while theirs is neither justified nor justifiable. I make that distinction because the United States claims the exclusive right not only to commit violence, but to justify those violent acts. Whereas, when we look upon the violent acts of others, like Al Qaeda and the insurgents in Iraq, we do not say merely that their reasons for committing violent acts are bad reasons. By labeling them terrorists we deny them the right to offer any reasons at all. With the terrorist label comes the implicit assumption that there is no right reason that they could ever offer under any circumstances whatsoever.

And that is the correct position only if one applies that prohibition to oneself. One cannot justify one’s own violent acts, but not allow others the opportunity to justify theirs. That is intellectually dishonest and unethical. I concede that it is sometimes possible for one to claim that some violent acts are justified and others not depending on the particular circumstances, but only if one believes that all violence is potentially justifiable regardless of who commits it. In other words, one can listen to another’s reasons for committing violence and declare those reasons unsound; but the other side has at least been allowed to offer a defense, even if it’s a bad one, and that defense is then judged on its own merits. What is unethical is defending one’s own violent deeds (we’re fighting the War on Terror, we were attacked on 9/11, etc.) while claiming a priori that the violent deeds of others are always illegitimate under any circumstances (they’re terrorists). Either all violence is justifiable or none of it is. My own views tend to gravitate to the latter.

The United States maintains that there is no right reason Al Qaeda could ever give for attacking us. Affording them the right to defend their actions will seem to many (or most) like blasphemy, ridiculous and seditious in the extreme. Perhaps it will seem as if I’m siding with the terrorists. I am not. Nor am I defending Al Qaeda’s actions. Only a deliberate misreading of this post could cause one to reach that conclusion. I won’t defend the violent actions of the United States, so I would hardly turn around and defend the murderous actions of Al Qaeda.

This post is not about defending terrorists. Rather, I am questioning those who live in a conceptual universe in which the United States is the only nation on the planet (except for maybe Israel) that has permission to commit acts of violence. If one finds preposterous the mere suggestion that Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents might have a legitimate reason for committing acts of violence against us, then why is it not also preposterous for us to come up with reasons for our violent acts? Why are we allowed to give a reason while they are not? Is it because we’re the United States, and they’re barbarians? Is it because we have too readily swallowed whole the rhetoric that “they hate us because we’re free?” To those who subscribe to that notion, I ask only this: Are you sure that’s why they hate us?

Do we deny Al Qaeda the right to justify their violent deeds because we fear that they just might have a good reason for wanting to attack us at home and overseas? We think our reasons for waging war are pretty good. Maybe they are. But Al Qaeda and the terrorists think their reasons are also pretty good. Are we so sure that those whom Al Qaeda represents have not a single legitimate grievance? Or do we feel that their grievances are invalid because of the tactics they employ? If so, why are our grievances not invalidated by our tactics? Moreover, is our track record at home and abroad so spotless that we can rightfully claim to have reached a place where we no longer need to look critically at our actions? Are we so sure of the purity and rightness of our aims in Iraq and the Middle East?

It’s easy to dismiss Osama bin Laden as a dangerous fanatic. He is. However, it’s not so easy to dismiss the fact that we encouraged bin Laden’s fanaticism when it suited our interests, such as when we aided Islamic militants in Afghanistan in their fight against the former Soviet Union as part of our strategy in the 1980s for winning the Cold War. Likewise, it is not so easy to dismiss the notion that our Middle Eastern foreign policy is blind to everything but our own commercial and military interests. For the sake of our interests we willingly support corrupt and oppressive regimes, like the one in bin Laden’s native Saudi Arabia, which seeks to gain legitimacy among its own people by supporting the very terrorists that wage war on one of their greatest allies, the United States. That’s pretty fucked up if you ask me.

It seems to me that the Bush administration’s “no negotiation with terrorists” policy is part of its larger strategy of dehumanizing our enemies. In other wars, enemies have come to the table to negotiate with one another, or agreed to submit to some kind of arbitration. But, as I have said in other posts, everyone agrees that the War on Terror is not like other wars. And it’s not that we won’t come to the table with Al Qaeda because the War on Terror is not like other wars. The War on Terror is not like other wars because, among other reasons, we won’t come to the table with Al Qaeda. For that reason, the conflict is likely to continue indefinitely. One thing is for sure though; our refusal to grant Al Qaeda the legitimacy afforded conventional enemies in wars past does not rob it of its legitimacy amongst those thousands of potential recruits who believe in its mission.

Friday, January 20

Aman, Türkiye!

I think that British artist Ned Pamphilon’s idea of painting a giant rainbow on the underside of Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge is actually a bit hokey, but I also think that the Turkish government is to be faulted for their opposition to the project. They claim that it would make Istanbul too gay.

The Bosphorus Bridge connects the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, thus connecting Europe and Asia. Pamphilon’s vision is for the rainbow to be a symbol of peace bridging East and West. Turkey’s president has expressed support for the project, but other members of the Turkish government are less enthusiastic. They don’t see it a peace symbol. Instead, what they see is a gay symbol, which is quite remarkable because Turkey’s gay community, even in Istanbul, is small and not terribly visible. It shows, however, that Istanbul’s homophobic authorities have a good memory. Prior to 1993, Turkey’s principal GLBT liberation group, now called LambdaIstanbul, was known as Gökkuşağı, meaning “rainbow.”

Of course, to be truly gay, Pamphilon’s rainbow would have to leave out the indigo, as the gay rainbow does. It’s close enough, though, for Turkey’s conservatives. It’s kind of a weird situation, because they’re not actually opposing something that is intended as a gay symbol designed to show support for Turkey’s GLBT population per se, but rather are opposing something because they perceive a gay connection. Still, the distinction is pointless because what underlies their reaction is homophobia.

This could be a problem for Turkey as it seeks to meet the requirements set for it in order to gain membership in the European Union, whose parliament passed a joint resolution on Wednesday condemning homophobia and calling on the European Commission to take a more proactive roll in fighting measures meant to discriminate against GLBT people in several EU states, including Poland and Latvia. Membership talks between Turkey and the EU officially began in October 2005 after many weeks of tense negotiations.

One question: Does this mean the Turkish authorities think of men kissing every time a rainbow appears in the sky?

The above image shows an artist’s rendering of the proposed rainbow. Thanks to Will over at DesignerBlog for drawing my attention to the recent EU resolution on homophobia.

Thursday, January 19

Reason No. 78 Why Ann Coulter is a Moron

Below is Ann Coulter’s brilliant synopsis of the past 150 years of American political history. It reads like a middle-school social studies essay; and if I were that particular middle-schooler’s teacher, I’d have given her a D minus. You might ask why not an F; I wouldn’t have failed her because, well, her spelling is just impeccable:

“In the history of the nation, there has never been a political party so ridiculous as today’s Democrats. It’s as if all the brain-damaged people in America got together and formed a voting bloc.

The Federalists drafted the greatest political philosophy ever written by man and created the first constitutional republic. The anti-Federalists—or ‘pre-Democrats,’ as I call them—were formed to oppose the Constitution, which, to a great extent, remains their position today.

Andrew Jackson, the father of the Democratic Party, may have had some unpalatable goals, but at least they were big ideas. Wipe out the Indians, kill off the national bank and institute a spoils system. Love him or hate him, he never said, ‘I’ll be announcing my platform sometime early next year.’ The Whigs were formed in opposition to everything Jackson stood for.

The Republican Party emerged from the Whigs when the Whigs waffled on slavery. (They were ‘pro-choice’ on slavery.) The Republican Party was founded expressly as the anti-slavery party, which to a great extent remains their position today.

Having won that one, today’s Republican Party stands for life, limited government and national defense. And today’s Democratic Party stands for ... the right of women to have unprotected sex with men they don’t especially like. We’re the Blacks-Aren’t-Property/Don’t-Kill-Babies party. They’re the Hook-Up party.”

In her attempt to revile the Democrats, Coulter does sloppy history. Or maybe she’s just dumb. In any event, she should watch what she says about the Anti-Federalists, because today’s conservative Republicans have far more in common with the Anti-Federalist tradition than Coulter seems to realize.

Moreover, her simplistic formula of “Republicans (winners) = Federalists; Democrats (losers) = Anti-Federalists” betrays her total ignorance of American political history and the evolution of our current political parties. Coulter’s equation does not stand up to even a basic historical analysis, which I will humbly attempt to offer here. She does what many social conservatives do; namely, she takes her view of current events and projects it backward onto history and imagines that things have always pretty much been the way they are now. Coulter must not have taken American Political History at either Cornell or the University of Michigan Law School. Either that or she slept through it. Perhaps the fur coat she frequently wore to class made her sleepy.

For starters, the Republicans are not now and have not historically been consistent advocates of limited government. More importantly, it was the Anti-Federalists who stood for limited government, not the Federalists, with whom Coulter seems so eager to identify. I could stop there, because, frankly, I think I’ve already said enough to demonstrate the utter flimsiness of her analysis; but I’m not going to stop, because I think it’s important to set the record…ahem… straight.

The Democratic Party and the Republican Party, both of whom emerged during the middle half of the 19th century, married Federalist and Anti-Federalist elements. I would argue that both parties borrowed from and simultaneously broke with their predecessors in some important ways, which I’ll explain. Moreover, since that time, both have undergone significant evolution (heck, they’ve undergone significant evolution in just the past several decades let alone the past century-and-a-half), and have, in many ways, strayed from their origins. Furthermore, the evolution of both parties must be understood in the context of the sectionalism (i.e. North versus South) and industrialization that were the dominant themes of 19th-century politics and the new sectionalism (again, North versus South) that re-emerged a century later during the Civil Rights era; and let’s not forget the Reaganomics that followed during the 1980s.

So are today’s Democrats a mere mirror of 18th-century Anti-Federalism, while the Republicans are, like the original Federalists, the true defenders of the Constitution as Coulter suggests? To answer that question, we need to look back at things on the eve of the 19th century, when America was still a young republic. Back then, two factions had emerged; on one side were the Federalists who had argued for the ratification of the Constitution, while on the other were the Anti-Federalists, who, once the Constitution had been ratified, organized themselves under Thomas Jefferson’s leadership as the Democratic-Republicans (what a name!). They are sometimes referred to by historians as Jeffersonian Republicans, but were known by Americans of the late 18th and early 19th century simply as Republicans. Confused yet?

What did these Jeffersonian Republicans stand for? As the ideological heirs of the Anti-Federalists, they were the party of “strict constructionism” and limited government. The Republicans were also vehement proponents of “states rights,” which was a corollary of their strict constructionism, though their states rights position was not always consistent with a strict reading of the Constitution, as was the case during the Nullification Crisis.

With the election of Jefferson to the presidency in 1801, the Republicans became the dominant political party and remained so for the next two decades. It was only natural as the governing party that they gradually began to adopt many of the “nationalizing” tenets of their former opponents, the Federalists. They supported, for example, the creation of the Second National Bank, a concept which had been anathema to early Anti-Federalists. However, the widening of suffrage during the Jacksonian era (1820s and 30s) saw a resurgence of the old Anti-Federalist program of limited government, strict constructionism, and states rights, especially as the sectional conflict over slavery began to heat up.

Still, the new Democratic Party that was formed between 1824 and 1834 was hardly a mere reincarnation of either the old Anti-Federalists (as Coulter suggests) or the Jeffersonian Republicans. For example, the Democrats were vehemently opposed to a centralized national bank, which the Jeffersonian Republicans had eventually come to support. Furthermore, the Democrats were not always faithful to their Anti-Federalist roots and sometimes supported the idea of a strong central government, especially when it came to supporting federal protectionism through tariffs (though this proved to be a divisive issue) and the protection of slavery and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law (which proved to be an even more divisive issue).

The point here is that the Democratic Party was fractured, largely along sectional lines, with Southern Democrats taking an increasingly strong states rights position in defense of slavery and its expansion into new territories, but favoring federal authority when it came to protecting slavery where it existed and demanding the return of runaway slaves by federal marshals. By the mid-1850s as the sectional crisis began to worsen, many Northerners had begun to join the ranks of the newly formed Republican Party, and with their support, Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860.

Similarly, it would be a mistake to conclude that the Republican Party was nothing more than the Federalists reborn. While it is true that the Republicans incorporated old Whig elements who were themselves the heirs of the Federalist tradition (Coulter sort of gets this part right), it was not long before they began to jettison some of their strict Federalist positions. For one thing, the industrialization that took place during the latter half of the 19th century insured the continued evolution of political thought and its embodiment in the two dominant political parties.

Furthermore, industrialization in the North meant that the Republicans gradually began to abandon their Federalist roots in favor of the old Anti-Federalist doctrines of limited government, especially when it came to the federal regulation of industry (notwithstanding either the Republican Party’s unwavering support for protectionist tariffs throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries or the emergence of Progressive Republicans such as “trust-buster” Theodore Roosevelt). The Republicans quickly learned that laissez-faire economics and Federalism do not make good bedfellows. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had always know this. Ann Coulter apparently does not.

The Republican critique of Federalism continued during the latter half of the 20th century with the emergence of what would come to be known as “Reaganomics,” with its defense of a market economy free from the kinds of state interference that had characterized the New Deal. However, the Republican Party’s gradual embrace of Anti-Federalism would not be complete until the opposition of Southern Democrats toward the notion of a strong central government proved strong enough to overcome their revulsion to the party of Lincoln. This had begun during the Civil Rights era when successive Democratic administrations using federal authority forcibly imposed desegregation on the Jim Crow South. By the 1980s, Southerners began joining the ranks of the Republicans en masse and when they joined, they brought in their traditional Anti-Federalism with them.

Since that time, strict constructionism itself has undergone significant evolution. Originally meant as a principle of strictly interpreting the Constitution to limit the powers of the federal government so as to protect states rights, strict constructionism has since mutated into an ideology of executive imperialism and a strict interpretation of the Constitution to dismantle the economic and welfare programs of the New Deal and undermine the rights of individuals, especially minority groups seeking equal protection.

In reality, today’s Republican Party combines the Anti-Federalism of laissez-faire economics with a new version of the Anti-Federalist notion of strict constructionism, which seeks to limit federal authority when it comes to funding social programs and interfering with industry, while simultaneously expanding federal authority when it comes to interfering with the lives of individuals.

One of the leading Federalists of his day, Alexander Hamilton argued against laissez-faire economics and expressly rejected Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations with its defense of unregulated capitalism and its critique of state-imposed economic controls. Furthermore, the notion of judicial review—the recent exercise of which has brought accusations of judicial activism and judicial tyranny—was originally a Federalist concept, largely articulated by Hamilton himself. In Federalist No. 78, Hamilton argued that the judiciary

“in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.

Some perplexity respecting the rights of the courts to pronounce legislative acts void, because contrary to the Constitution, has arisen from an imagination that the doctrine would imply a superiority of the judiciary to the legislative power. It is urged that the authority which can declare the acts of another void, must necessarily be superior to the one whose acts may be declared void.

The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.”

I cannot imagine that these words would sit well with today’s conservative Republicans. That’s not surprising, since most bigots don’t like it when the courts declare discriminatory laws to be unconstitutional.

These two ideas—the notion that the state should regulate the economy and the importance of a strong judiciary—the very positions for which liberal Democrats have been roundly criticized, even vilified, by conservatives like Coulter are positions that the Federalists would have understood and defended. But I don’t expect Coulter to admit how much liberal Democrats have in common with the original Federalists.

Coulter likens the Democrats to the Anti-Federalists for one reason only. She is trying to discredit them by connecting them with the party that, two-and-a-quarter centuries ago, opposed the ratification of the Constitution. What she clearly misses, however, is that today’s Republican Party actually has a lot in common with the Anti-Federalist tradition (of course, the real heirs of the Anti-Federalists are the wacko militias out in the mid-West who want to do away with the federal government altogether). The philosophies of both parties today contain disparate elements that could be considered both Federalist and Anti-Federalist, just as they did when they were founded a century-and-a-half ago.

One could say far worse things about the Republican Party than suggesting that they are like the Anti-Federalists, because in reality, there is nothing wrong with the notion of limited government. It’s a good notion. We certainly need a less intrusive federal government these days. The problem is that conservative Republicans only invoke that doctrine when it suits them. They want a smaller federal government when it comes to lower taxes and laissez-faire economics, but then turn around and argue for a massive federal defense budget, an imperial presidency, and a federal definition of marriage. That’s not very consistent with their Anti-Federalist leanings. But then again, conservatives have never been very good at the whole history thing.

Tuesday, January 17

To Ben

I’m dedicating this short post to Benjamin Franklin, who was born this day three centuries ago. Franklin is considered the founder of the University of Pennsylvania, my alma mater.

Franklin was born in Boston on January 6, 1706. In 1752, the Gregorian calendar replaced the old Julian calendar, so that time skipped ahead 11 days, transforming January 6 into January 17.

In September 1723 at the tender age of seventeen, young Franklin fled Puritan Boston and an abusive older brother and set off for the more liberal Philadelphia, which has long considered him her adopted son.

As a tribute, I have selected three of his many sayings that retain their wisdom and relevance, especially in these times. Although I am dedicating this post to Franklin, I am directing these quotations to President Bush…

“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.” (1722)

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” (1755)

“It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright.” (1757)

Recommended Reading:
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The War on News

The Aljazeera network is on British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s case to release part of a memo documenting a conversation between Blair and President Bush that took place back in April 2004, a conversation in which Bush allegedly talked about bombing Aljazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

According to Yosri Fouda, acting Al-Jazeera bureau chief in London, the network has hired Finers Stephens Innocent LLP of London to “attempt to put pressure on the British government” to hand over the transcript. Both the Blair government and the Bush administration deny that any such conversation took place and a Blair spokesman issued the following statement:
“We will reply properly in terms of any request to us but it is not the practice and will not be the practice to release conversations between the prime minister and other world leaders; but what we can confirm is that the memo does not refer to bombing the Aljazeera station in Qatar, despite the various allegations.”

Back in November, the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid, first reported the details of the conversation on the basis of a leaked memo. According to the newspaper, Blair attempted to dissuade Bush from targeting Aljazeera. I suspect Blair might be addicted to Arabic daytime television.

It’s difficult to know what to believe here. It is certainly possible that Bush talked about bombing Aljazeera, given his cowboy posturing, total lack of judgment, and his open hostility to the network for what he considers inflammatory reporting, including the network’s decision to broadcast audio tapes and statements made by Al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents. Furthermore, at least one British MP (member of parliament) Peter Kilfoyle, claims to have been briefed on the leaked memo by former MP Tony Clarke who supposedly saw the memo itself. Kilfoyle claims that in addition to discussing an attack on the Iraqi town of Falluja, the memo also mentioned that Aljazeera had been discussed as a possible target.

The most compelling indication that this story might actually be true is that two men, including Leo O’Connor, a researcher who worked for Clarke, have been charged with leaking the memo and are awaiting trial. The two men are being prosecuted under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and their lawyers are pushing for the secret document to be released. I guess the only question is whether or not the memo, which clearly exists, includes any suggestion to bomb Aljazeera.

Actually, Aljazeera has already been bombed by the United States. In 2001, U.S. bombs struck their Kabul office, and in 2003 one of their reporters, Tareq Ayyoub, was killed in a U.S. strike on the network’s Baghdad office. However, the United States has denied targeting the network.

I suppose you can’t blame Bush really. I mean, sometimes watching the news can really make your blood boil. And who amongst us, in our heart of hearts, hasn’t secretly wished that Fox News would get bombed?

Meanwhile, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lifted the ban on CNN after initially declaring war on the network for a faux pas in which recent remarks he made defending Iran’s right to a nuclear energy program were mistranslated as a defense of Iran’s right to acquire nuclear weapons.

During CNN’s live translation of a press conference by Ahmadinejad this past Saturday, he was quoted as saying: “we believe all nations are allowed to have nuclear weapons” and that the West should not “deprive us to have nuclear weapons.” Ahmadinejad, however, was using a Farsi word that meant “technology” and not “weapons.” CNN was subsequently banned from Iran until they apologized. CNN issued a mea culpa, and Ahmadinejad quickly asked Iran’s ministry of culture to lift the ban, which they did. I hope CNN will keep their Farsi dictionary handy from now on.

However, Ahmadinejad’s beef with Aljazeera remains, and there’s still no indication that the network will be allowed back into Iran. In April 2005, Aljazeera was banned from Iran following accusations that it was inciting ethnic violence in its coverage of clashes between ethnic Arabs and Iranian security forces in the southwestern part of the country.

Monday, January 16

Rembetika of the Month

As promised, this is the first of what will be a monthly series. Each Rembetiko of the Month/Ρεμπέτικο του Μηνός will highlight a different tune and will feature both a brief synopsis of the song along with a link to an MP3 graciously hosted by Putfile. All of the songs featured are digitized versions of original 78rpm recordings.

Click here to listen.

Είμαι Πρεζάκιας

Από το βράδ’ώς το πρωί μέ πρέζα στέκω στή ζωή
Κι’όλο τόν κόσμο καταχτώ τήν άσπρη σκόνη σά’ρουφώ.

Όλος ο κόσμος είναι κτήμα μου σάν έχω πρέζα καί ρουφάω,
Κ’οί πολιτσμάνοι όταν θά μέ δούν μελάνι αμολάω.

Σάν μαστουρωθείς, γίνεσαι ευθύς
Βασιλιάς, διχτάτορας, θεός καί κοσμοκράτορας.

Πρέζα όταν πιείς, ρέ, θά ευφρανθείς
Κι’όλα πιά στόν κόσμο ρόδινά θέ νά τά δείς.

Δική μού είναι ή Ελλάς μέ τήν κατάντια της γελάς
Τής λείπει τό’να της ποδάρι, ρέ, καί τό παίξανε στό ζάρι.

Εγώ θά είμαι, ρέ, διχτάτορας, κι’ο κόσμος στάχτη άν θά γίνει
Ο ένας θά μ’ανάβει τό λουλά, κι’ο άλλος θά τό σβήνει.

I’m a Junkie

From dusk to dawn, my whole life is coke.
I can conquer the world when I snort that white powder.

The whole world is mine when I have coke to snort;
But when the police see me, I disappear fast.

When you get high, you become a king,
a dictator, a god, and ruler of the world.
When you snort coke, you experience euphoria,
because everything in the world suddenly seems rosy.

Greece is mine; you can laugh at her plight.
She’s missing one of her legs; man, they played dice for it.

Man, if I were a dictator, the world could turn to ashes for all I care;
as long as I’ve got someone to light my hookah
and someone else to put it out.

This song was recorded under the HMV label in Athens in 1934 by Roza Eskenazi, considered by many to be the greatest of the female singers of Rembetika, with Dimitris Semsis (aka Salonikios) on violin, and Agapios Tomboulis on oud. The above photo shows this popular and prolific trio in 1932.

I have always found the second verse especially poignant. It alludes to the loss of Western Anatolia and Eastern Thrace, which constituted the major territorial demands made by the Greek delegation at the Paris Peace Conference following the First World War. Both areas had been ceded to Greece under the terms of the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, which was later repudiated in favor of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne following the defeat of the Greek army in Asia Minor by Atatürk.

Under the terms of the new treaty, virtually the entire Greek population of Asia Minor was expelled from the newly formed Turkish Republic in exchange for Greece’s Turkish population. Exempted from the compulsory population exchange were the Greek communities of Istanbul and the islands flanking the Dardanelles and the Turkish population of Western Thrace in Greece. It should also be noted that the Turks of the Dodecanese Islands were not affected, since at the time the Dodecanese were in the possession of Italy and therefore not part of the treaty.

The arrival in Greece of more than a million impoverished and traumatized Anatolian refugees produced an urban underclass that proved a challenge for Greece to absorb. Although the refugees were ethnically, culturally, and linguistically Greek, their oriental ways were regarded with suspicion and, at times, hostility. In reality, although Greece as a nation had gone to war in Asia Minor ostensibly in order to protect the Greek minorities there who were living under Ottoman rule, when that same population arrived in Greece, they were not universally welcomed by all segments of Greek society.

Life in the refugee shanty towns was difficult. Crime and drug addiction were widespread. This song combines the underworld of the Anatolian refugees with a reference to the geopolitical conflict that had given rise to their plight in the first place.

Recommended Listening:
Rembetica: Historic Urban Folk Songs from Greece
Greek-Oriental Rembetica

Super Duper Good Time

Just a quick post about the trip to New York for Golden Fest this past weekend. Our set was decent, though they never seem to get the sound correct. And it was tough being sandwiched between two fantastic ensembles—Souren Baronian before us and Amir Vahab after us. Still, lots of people danced and had good things to say about us afterwards. Only Joe and I and Mike our drummer performed. The rest of the band couldn’t make it, but we’re going through a bit of a transition right now. I hope that we’ll perform as a full ensemble for Balkan Night in March.

The other nice thing about Golden Fest is that there is lots of göz lokum around. I had a chance to chat up a beautiful French boy named Clément who, although he was there with his girlfriend (!), was very sweet and made sure to tell me how much he enjoyed our music.

Although the trip was brief, we did manage to squeeze in a great meal at Inwood’s Park Terrace Bistro. Great Moroccan food in a nice, cozy atmosphere. Of course, the highlight of the trip was getting to spend time with our friend Dr. Mike, who was kind enough to host us for the weekend. He is a wicked smart, incredibly witty, amazingly sensitive, dangerously beautiful, and wonderfully caring human being. He’ll get all embarrassed if I go on gushing about how in love with him Joe and I are; but our lives are immeasurably richer because of his friendship. I hope he knows that.

Friday, January 13

Donkey Boy

Because so many of my recent posts have been political and somewhat heavy, I thought I’d lighten things up a bit.

I’ve been slogging through Robert Liddell’s Cavafy: A Critical Biography, which I’d hoped to have finished by now. There is a growing stack of books by the side of my bed, all things I’d like to read over the next few months. Anyway, I started it way before the holidays because I had written a couple of posts about Cavafy and while I’m very familiar with his poetry and the basic outline of his life, I’d never read an actual biography of him (though I did see a film about him when I lived in Greece—I think it may have screened in Boston at some point too). Liddell’s book seemed to be the most authoritative, but damn is it boring.

It’s the second boring biography I’ve read in the past six months. While I was in Ukraine I read C.A. Tripp’s The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, which I thought I might review at some point, but I’m not sure I have anything to add to what has already been said about this fairly controversial work. Despite the controversy surrounding it, I found it rather boring at times (and poorly organized, but the author died before it was completed, so I guess I can cut him some slack). But it wasn’t nearly as boring as Liddell’s bio of Cavafy.

Also, Liddell contains mostly stuff I already knew. I did learn that one of Cavafy’s brothers was also a homosexual (I hesitate to say “gay” because I doubt either Cavafy or his brother would have described himself as such). What else… he was often late for work and he could be quite fierce about defending what he believed to be true (even when he was wrong). Gee, I can’t relate to either of those…

Apparently, Cavafy confined his erotic adventures in Alexandria to unskilled Greek laborers whom he could easily pick up and avoided the Arab population, though I’m sure that there were plenty of beautiful Arab men around. The author makes the point that Cavafy probably had at best a limited knowledge of colloquial Arabic (most of the individuals in his particular social and professional sphere in Alexandria spoke either Greek or English—Cavafy was fluent in both), so I suppose picking up Arab men would have been rather challenging; though I’m sure he could have made himself understood in the right setting. I guess he just preferred Greek boys.

At one point in the Cavafy bio, however, Liddell recounts a story of how one of Cavafy’s boyhood friends joked with him in a letter that a certain mutual (Greek) friend of theirs in Alexandria had become something of a pariah for debasing himself on occasion with “the donkey boys.” Cavafy was clearly not such a man, but only because his tastes dictated otherwise. Certainly there was no shortage of working-class Greek boys for him to sleep with and, if found out, this would be only slightly less scandalous than going with donkey boys. As a result, the shrewd Cavafy was very secretive about his sex life. Liddell has not yet shed any light on whether Cavafy was open with anyone about his homosexuality. But I’m only two-thirds of the way through the book.

I thought that if I were Cavafy and I came across a donkey boy like the one pictured above (Jean-Léon Gérôme, Sais and his Donkey, private collection), I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to ride his ass.


I’ve been toying with the idea of posting a “Rembetika of the Month/Ρεμπέτικο του Μηνός” entry as a way of sharing some of my favorite Rembetika tunes and also some of my old 78rpms that I plan to digitize. Rembetika refers to the urban Greek blues (though some aficionados have begun to critique this designation) that achieved widespread popularity during the interwar period and Second World War in Greece and among the Greeks of the Diaspora. If you like the bouzouki and songs about hashish, then Rembetika is for you.

However, I’m not aware of any free online hosting service that allows one to store unlimited music files, something akin to YouTube, but for music rather than video. Does anyone out there know of such a site? Most of the music hosting sites I’ve found, like Angelfire and Ripway have either upload limits or download limits (or both). I suppose I don’t mind paying, but I’m tempted to think that if there are video hosting sites out there that offer unlimited hosting for free, then there must be similar sites for music. Can anyone help?

Thursday, January 12

Habibi Ana

Because he knows I’m a closet Orientalist, my friend Marcelo recently told me about a new gay bar in Amsterdam called Habibi Ana, meaning “my sweetheart” in Arabic. According to their website, they are the only bar in the world catering specifically to gay Arabs. Taking pride in the hospitality for which the Middle East is famous, Habibi Ana is advertised as “the Arabic gay bar where everybody is welcome.”

I so want to go! Hmmmmmm...I wonder how much a ticket to Amsterdam costs this time of year...

Concerned Citizens of America

I know that the decision to filibuster a Supreme Court nomination is not to be undertaken lightly, but Samuel Alito’s past affiliation with the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) should be setting off warning bells and red flags for any Senator—any American—concerned about civil rights.

CAP no longer exists. It disbanded in 1987. However, it was the very embodiment of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-diversity. Alito’s membership in this organization, for virtually the entire duration of its existence, should be all the proof needed to demonstrate just how inappropriate a Supreme Court pick he is. In 1985, he saw fit to brag about his membership when applying for a job in the Reagan administration. On Tuesday, however, when asked about his membership he responded by saying:

“I have wracked my memory about this issue, and I really have no specific recollection of that organization. But since I put it down on that statement, then I certainly must have been a member at that time.”

That is not good enough. By claiming he couldn’t remember, Alito showed himself unwilling to engage in an open and transparent discussion about his membership in CAP and, more specifically, his reasons for touting his membership to the Reagan administration, even though the organization had been criticized for its anti-women and anti-minority positions. A more forthcoming explanation of his affiliation with CAP during a time when their reactionary views were well established might shed light on his current views and, more importantly, whether or not he champions the bigotry that CAP stood for. Instead, he has chosen to sidestep the question, by claiming no knowledge of the group, which suggests a reluctance to engage in a meaningful critique of CAP’s views. This does not bode well for civil rights in America.

One thing is for certain. If there is even the slightest possibility that a Supreme Court nominee subscribes to the kinds of views once held by the now defunct Concerned Alumni of Princeton, he or she should be roundly rejected by the United States Senate. This won’t happen by a vote alone, given the current Republican majority. For the sake of liberty and equality, the Democrats have no choice but to filibuster.

Wednesday, January 11


After composing my earlier post in which I made reference to the Eid ul-Adha (عيد الأضحى)/Kurban Bayramı, it occurred to me that I shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to post some more homoerotic Christian art.

This important Islamic holiday commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac when God asked him to. Personally, I find the story rather disturbing, as are many of the Bible stories that portray the vengeful and jealous tribal deity that was an early and primitive iteration of Judeo-Christian monotheism. But that’s not the point of this post. The point is to share some images that portray Isaac not as a little boy, as he is often conceived, but as a beautiful, muscled youth.

In most of these images, Isaac is nude or nearly nude, often bound and in some cases even blindfolded. The degree to which Isaac struggles varies, and his expression ranges from sorrow and fear to resignation. Sometimes he is on his knees, while at other times he lies passively on the altar. The overall impression is one of exposure and vulnerability. In many ways the images of Isaac are evocative of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian or of the crucifixion. In fact, Orrente’s Isaac (third from top) is remarkably similar to his depiction of Saint Sebastian, done in the same year (1616) and arguably using the same model. Similarly, in Chagall’s The Sacrifice of Isaac (top), an image of Jesus carrying his cross on his way to Golgotha hovers in the right-hand corner.

This is probably the closest I’ll ever get to posting anything even remotely fetishistic. So I hope all you BDSM types out there enjoy this.

From top to bottom the images are: Marc Chagall’s (1887-1985) The Sacrifice of Isaac (c. 1960, oil on canvas, Chagall Museum, Nice); Jacopo Ligozzi’s (1547-1626) Sacrifice of Isaac (c. 1596, oil on wood, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence); Pedro Orrente’s (1580-1644) The Sacrifice of Isaac (1616, oil on canvas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao); Laurent de La Hire’s (1606-1656) Abraham Sacrificing Isaac (1650, oil on canvas, Musée Saint-Denis, Reims); Orazio Riminaldi’s (1593-1630) Sacrifice of Isaac (c. 1625, oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome); Caravaggio’s (c. 1571-1610) The Sacrifice of Isaac (c. 1605, oil on canvas, Piasecka-Johnson Collection, Princeton, NJ); J. Martin Pitts (1939–2002), Abraham and Isaac: a text from The Chester Miracle Plays (The Old Stile Press, 1999).

Passing the Buck

In a response to two separate requests from Congressional Democrats—led by Representative Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees—that both the Justice Department and the Defense Department conduct investigations into the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program that exceeded the limits on presidential power set by FISA, both departments have passed the buck.

Glenn Fine, the Justice Department’s inspector general, forwarded the request to the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which reviews allegations of misconduct involving the actions of employees (including the Attorney General) when providing legal advice. Deputy Inspector General Paul Martin explained that neither the Patriot Act nor the law governing all inspectors general gives Fine jurisdiction to look into Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ counsel to Bush concerning the legality of the domestic electronic surveillance program. Instead, this matter falls under the “jurisdiction of the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility,” Martin said. At least that’s better than the Pentagon’s response.

The Pentagon referred the request for an internal review on the illegal wiretapping to the National Security Agency’s inspector general. A senior Defense Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not yet public, said the Pentagon’s watchdog will not do a review, because the NSA’s inspector general is “actively reviewing aspects of that program.”

Let me get this straight. The Defense Department said it won’t investigate because the NSA is conducting an investigation. Huh? How can the NSA investigate itself? Does anyone really believe that the result of their investigation will be to conclude that they acted illegally?

As an aside, am I the only one who finds it disturbing that the NSA/CSS website has a kids’ component complete with cute little cartoon characters like “Rosetta Stone, Crypto Cat, and Decipher Dog” designed to encourage children to think about a career in intelligence? Hey kids, it’s fun to spy on your friends! Oh, and is it just my imagination or does “Decipher Dog” (pictured above on the right with the sexy courier bag and pookah necklace) look pretty damn gay?? I know some people think all gay men are dogs, but does that mean all dogs are gay? Whose butt has he been sniffing, I wonder...

I will take some consolation from the fact that Congress also plans to investigate. As part of its work, the House and Senate intelligence committees will soon hear from whistleblower Russell T. Tice, a former NSA officer. Tice told lawmakers in December that he had information about “probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts” involving the NSA director, the defense secretary, and other officials as part of highly classified government operations. ABC News reported Tuesday night that Tice claims to be one of the dozen sources who spoke to The New York Times about domestic spying.

In response, Renee Seymour, director of the NSA Special Access Programs Central Office, sent Tice the following warning on Monday:

“I want to congratulate you that, in the exercise of your rights, you are acting responsibly to protect sensitive intelligence information. In an 18 December 2005 letter purported to be from you to the HPSCI and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) posted on an open website, you asked them to provide assurances that the staffers or members who will receive your information have the proper security clearances and that the appropriate cleared facilities will be available for these discussions. You state that the information you wish to provide pertains to sensitive intelligence programs and operations known as Special Access Programs, or SAPs.

Seeking such assurances is consistent with the Non-Disclosure Agreement that you signed with NSA. However, I need to inform you that additional steps are required. The SAPs to which you refer are controlled by the Department of Defense (DoD), and I understand that neither the staff nor the members of the HPSCI or SSCI are cleared to receive the information covered by the SAPs. Moreover, I understand you have not notified either DoD or NSA, appropriately cleared individuals, of the improper behavior you allege.”

It smells like intimidation to me.


My friend Kate is back from Istanbul and the other day she sent me these fab photos that she took while she was there.

OK, it may not be göz lokum, but it is still a delicious looking plate of real authentic Turkish lokum (i.e. Turkish delight). And the sheep heads made me think of the sheep head that I still have frozen in my basement freezer from this past Easter, when Joe and I roasted a whole lamb on a spit in the backyard. The halal butcher in Roslindale asked me if I wanted the head included, and I said yes thinking that I’d roast it separately, which of course I haven’t done. I think I might simply use it to make some broth.

Anyway, speaking of roasting lamb, I want to send warm greetings for Eid ul-Adha (عيد الأضحى) to all of my Muslim readers in the Arab world, and the same warm wishes for Kurban Bayramı to all of my Turkish friends.

Monday, January 9

If you look up jellyfish in the dictionary…

The Senate confirmation hearing on Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court is officially underway, and I’ve begun to feel like an antebellum southerner on the eve of the 1860 election. Back then, secessionists vowed that if Lincoln, who had promised to overturn the Dred Scott decision, won the presidency, they would leave the Union.

No, I don’t have a Confederate flag hanging in my bedroom. What I mean is simply this: If the Democrats in the Senate fail to filibuster Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and the unimaginable happens and he actually gets confirmed, I think that we in New England need to start giving serious thought to the idea of seceding from what’s left of the United States of America.

While much is being said about Alito’s opposition to Roe v. Wade, it is his support for broad presidential powers that I find the most troubling. In light of the current abuse of power emanating from the Oval Office, we cannot afford to have a Supreme Court predisposed to write the president a blank check. It is clear that Alito’s confirmation will push the United States further toward fascism.

If the Democrats don’t stand up and resist the pressure to confirm Alito, it will demonstrate what many of us liberals fear; namely, that there is no longer a genuinely progressive voice in mainstream American politics. That means that we in New England will continue to see our values trampled by a government that regards the liberal Northeast as little more than a punch line.

The Democrats haven’t, however, always been so spineless. In 1969, Nixon nominated Clement Haynsworth Jr., a conservative southerner, to fill the Supreme Court seat (forcibly) vacated by Abe Fortas. The Senate rejected him by a vote of 55-45. The following year, the Senate rejected by a vote of 51-45 Nixon’s second nomination, G. Harrold Carswell, who was a southern conservative with “strict-constructionist” leanings. Both men were deemed anti-civil rights and anti-labor by the Senate and, as a result, both men were rejected.

As Carswell neared defeat, Nixon wrote an angry letter to a Republican senator accusing the Senate of usurping his powers as president. The Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield of Montana, responded by reminding Nixon that the “advise and consent” clause in the Constitution meant that the Senate shared the president’s powers when it came to filling Supreme Court vacancies. Take heed, Democrats.

Nixon’s third choice, Harry Blackmun, was approved. Blackmun is best known as the author of the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. Oh, and as an interesting epilogue, in 1976 Carswell was arrested and convicted of battery for advances he made to an undercover police officer in a Florida men’s room.

Of course, back in 1860, there was far more support in the South for the secessionist cause than there is in the North in 2006. For now. But maybe it’s time for New England to say, “Adios, Alito. Farewell, fascist neocons. Ciao, Culture Wars.” I’ve always considered myself more of a New Englander than an American anyway.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.