Wednesday, February 28

The politics of hate

While it’s difficult not to be at least a little amused by the finer points of Romney’s presidential campaign strategy outlined in a leaked PowerPoint presentation that lumps together France, taxes, Massachusetts, Hollywood values, moral relativism, Hillary Clinton, and jihadism as the “bogeymen” from which he’ll save America, if we ignore his thinly veiled hatemongering, we do so at our own peril.

Let’s be honest here: “Massachusetts” in this case is really just Romney-speak for “same-sex marriage.” And “same-sex marriage” in the minds of conservative voters and the Religious Right whom Romney is eagerly courting is really just code for the so-called “gay agenda,” which they believe threatens to destroy this country. That the gay agenda would get lumped together with jihadism (i.e. the terrorists whom on a daily basis we are told America is hunting down and killing) is not really about how serious a threat Romney perceives GLBT people to be, but rather how seriously he wants you to take the threat.

Romney’s PowerPoint sheds light on how he might spin the gay issue during his campaign. He will present GLBT people as a danger, as much a danger as the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. Moreover, his inclusion of Massachusetts is telling because it demonstrates his belief in the power of homosexuality to mobilize voters. How do sleazy politicians like Romney mobilize voters? The answer is by scaring them. He realizes full well the power of the GLBT bogeyman to frighten voters. The leaked document demonstrates that Romney understands conservative America’s fears and is ready and willing to enflame and exploit those fears.

We all know what happens when a despised minority is vilified and held up as a bogeyman. Innocent people get hurt. Sometimes they even get killed.

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Friday, February 23

Stay Tuned

On February 28 (next Wednesday), the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation. “Hein” is Jay F. Hein, who directs the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives, which was created by means of an executive order issued by George W. Bush in 2001. The office encourages religious groups to provide federally, funded social services and works to increase support and decrease bureaucratic barriers for such groups.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation claims that faith-based initiative violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which says that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion.” At issue on February 28 is the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the case and whether they have the right as taxpayers to challenge the White House’s faith-based office.

The Foundation and its three taxpayer plaintiffs—Dan Barker, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and Anne Nicol Gaylor—filed suit in 2004, challenging the faith-based office at the White House and at several Cabinets. A federal judge dismissed the challenge, saying that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue over something the executive office did with general appropriations, if Congress had not designated those actions.

In 2006 the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit, ruling that it is a violation of the Establishment Clause when tax money raised by Congress, which is passed on to executive officials, is used to support religion. The Bush Administration appealed the Foundation’s victory to the Supreme Court.

Read the full story here.


Friday, February 16

Iraq Index

Today on NPR’s morning edition, there was a piece on the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index. I was not familiar with it, but found their method of measuring our success in Iraq to be compelling. More specifically, they make a compelling case that our reconstruction effort is not succeeding.

In their own words, the Iraq Index

is a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion, and security data. This resource will provide updated information on various criteria, including crime, telephone and water service, troop fatalities, unemployment, Iraqi security forces, oil production, and coalition troop strength.

The index is designed to quantify the rebuilding efforts and offer an objective set of criteria for benchmarking performance. It is the first in-depth, non-partisan assessment of American efforts in Iraq, and is based primarily on U.S. government information.
I do not rejoice in the fact that our reconstruction efforts in Iraq appear to be a failure. Rather, I am grateful that there is reliable information to demonstrate the failings of the current strategy in order to make a compelling case that a change in course is needed.


Wednesday, February 14

Love Hurts

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d post The Death of Hyacinth (oil on canvas, 1801, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Poitiers) by the French painter Jean Broc (1771 – 1850).

The work shows Apollo cradling his dead lover Hyacinthos, who was killed after being struck in the head by a discus blown off course by Zephyros. According to one version of the myth, Zephyros loved the beautiful youth who spurned him for Apollo.

Apollo is shown with a quiver of arrows because he was the god of archery, but the arrows made me think of Cupid. Also, I thought the tragic scene was a fitting tribute to Valentine’s Day, seeing that sometimes love hurts.

Rembetiko of the Month

I’ve been listening to and playing music more than I’ve been writing about it these past few months. Caring for a child, I’ve found it challenging to get in practice time, let along blogging time, in spite of the fact that the ensemble in which I play has gigs coming up. The weekly rehearsal isn’t the problem. It’s practice time on my own that has proven difficult to squeeze in. I did, however, steal about a half hour to jam a bit on my own and then with Joe last night, which was lovely.

Still, a Rembetiko of the Month is long overdue. Since we’re in the dead of winter, I chose Κουβέντα με το Χάρο (Conversation with Charon), which was written by Panagiotis Toundas and recorded in 1935 by Kostas Roukounas (shown above) and features a bunch of dead guys down in Hades.

There is an entire genre of Rembetika tunes portraying a dialogue between a group of rembetes and Charon, a shadowy figure who is the personification of death. One such tune is Atraïdis’ Manes Neva Tsifte Telli, which I wrote about last June. In ancient Greek mythology, Charon ferried souls across the Acheron (a tributary of the River Styx) to Hades, who was the god of the Underworld. In later Greek folk cosmology, Charon replaced Hades as the ruler of the dead, while Hades became the designation for the Underworld itself.

Click here to listen (When the download window opens, click on “Save”).

Το Χάρο τον αντέμωσαν πέντ’ έξι χασικλήδες
να τον ρωτήσουν πώς περνούν στον Άδη οι μερακλήδες.

Πες μας, βρε Χάρε, να χαρείς, στο μαύρο σου σκοτάδι:
Έχουν χασίσι, έχουν λουλά οι βλάμηδες στον Άδη;

Πες μας αν έχουν μπαγλαμά, μπουζούκια και γλεντανε.
Έχουν τεκέδες, έχουν τσαρδί που παν και την τραβάνε;

Πες μας αν έχουν γκόμενες, μανίτσες και γουστάρουν,
τον αργιλέ να κάνουνε ντουζένι να φουμάρουν.

Πες μας, βρε Χάρε, να χαρείς: Τι κάνουνε τ’ αλάνια;
Βρίσκουν νταμίρα, έχουν λουλά, ή κάθουνται χαρμάνια;

Πάρε δυο δράμια προυσαλιό και πέντε μυρωδάτο
και δώσε να φουμάρουνε τ’ αδέρφια μας ‘κει κάτω.

Κι όσοι μαχαιρωθήκανε και πήγανε στον Άδη,
για πες μας, γιατρευτήκανε ή λιώσαν στο σκοτάδι;

Κι’ όσοι από καρασεβντά τρελλάθηκαν και πάνε,
πες μας, τους πέρασε ο νταλγκάς ή ακόμα αγαπάνε;

Πες μας, τι κάνουν οι φτωχοί, πρεζάκηδες, και κείνοι;
Πάρε να δώσεις και σ’ αυτούς λιγάκι κοκαΐνη!

Fifty-six hash addicts went down to Hades
to ask Charon how their buddies were doing.

Tell us, Charon, do those bums have hashish
and a hash pipe down there in the black darkness?

Tell us if they have the baglama and the bouzouki.
Do they have hash dens down there where they’ve gone?

Do they have pretty girls and nancy boys
to keep them company? Do they have the narghile to smoke?

Tell us, Charon, how are those bums doing?
Have they found good stuff to smoke
or are they stuck down there unable to get high?

Take two drams of Bursa hash and then another five
and give it to our brothers down there.

And all those who were stabbed and went down to Hades,
tell us, did they heal or are they suffering in the darkness?

And all those who died of a broken heart,
tell us, did the heartache pass or are they still lovesick?

Tell us, how are the impoverished, the cokeheads,
and all the rest? Take a little cocaine and give it to them all.
The fictionalized Underworld of Hades serves as a powerful metaphor for the real-life underworld in which the early rembetes lived. The rebetes and the community of refugees from which many of them came lived a kind of social death on the margins. While I have written about this before, I recently finished Mark Mazower’s Salonica: City of Ghosts, which gave me an even greater appreciation of the dark and squalid conditions experienced by the destitute refugees who arrived in Greece during and after the First World War.

Not all of the refugees from Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace went to Athens and Piraeus. Many of them landed at Thessaloniki (Salonica), which was still recovering from a massive fire that destroyed about three-quarters of the old town in 1917. Mazower describes the appalling conditions characterizing the Tin Neighborhood (Τενεκέ Μαχαλά) in which some of the refugees lived:

“Between the shacks snaked constricted alleys carrying smells, vermin and sewage; paper-thin walls made sleep and privacy rare commodities. The Tin Neighborhood was among the poorest and most wretched quarters of all, a zone of disease, overcrowding and poverty, which the state appeared to have forgotten” (p. 342).
In addition to offering us a metaphor for the poverty, lawlessness, violence, and marginalization that characterized life in the refugee shantytowns well into the 1930s, Κουβέντα με το Χάρο also highlights those things—sex, drugs, and music—that formed an essential part of the refugee experience, brought them joy, and helped make their miserable existence more tolerable. In asking whether those things exist in the Underworld, the songs helps us understand their importance to the underworld.

Recommended Listening:
Rough Guide to Rebetika

Pundit in Chief?

Bush during this morning’s press conference:

“I will resist the temptation to become the pundit in chief.”

Not much danger there, I think.

For the full transcript, click here.

Tuesday, February 13

Isn’t that sweet.

Another photo from New York.

The Joes and I did a lot of walking around NYC during our trip last month and we inevitably ended up in Times Square, where there is an entire store devoted to M&M’s. Little Joe loves them, so we went in.

The whole thing was a rather shameless and unsettling display of M&M’s. No, I’m not talking about the candy. I’m talking about merchandising and materialism. But Little Joe was fascinated by it all, so we tried to be good sports about it.

The very first thing he said is that he wanted to get some peanut M&M’s for our housemate D who likes them, so we did. He also wanted to get some plain M&M’s for himself and he was mesmerized by the wide variety of colors that they had, way beyond the standard colors you find in a normal bag.

While he was trying to fill his bag with each and every one of the colors, I was looking at some of the wall displays, among which was the one shown in the above photo. I had mixed feelings about it. Couldn’t figure out whether it was shallow or profound.


A friend drew my attention to the fact that there is actually a long-standing urban legend positing that Colonel Sanders stipulated in his will that 10% of KFC profits go to the KKK in perpetuity.

That’s fascinating to me, because I had no idea that such an urban legend existed when I jokingly told my son that he should avoid KFC because Colonel Sanders was a grand wizard of the KKK. I guess I should have expected that a pop culture icon like KFC would naturally be the focus of some urban legends.

Anyway, my recounting a story about what should be obvious to everyone was a tongue-and-cheek statement to my son is not the same as actually stating something as fact.

It appears that some of my more hot-headed and less sophisticated readers failed to grasp that distinction. If only people got as angry over the lies our president has told us.

I also think that if Chef Boyardee and Colonel Sanders were alive today—and both were real people, not corporate creations as held by urban legend—I think that they would be less concerned with what I tell my son than with what Con Agra Foods and KFC have done to their original products, which, I imagine were probably very different before being acquired by soulless mega-corporations. There is some truth to this, at least in the case of Colonel Sanders, who, after selling out to corporate investors in 1964, engaged in some legal battles with KFC over the quality of their product.

Moreover, it’s no urban legend that this food is crap.

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Monday, February 12


I meant to post this photo a couple of weeks back. I took it during a dinner party Joe and I had to celebrate the birthdays of some friends and the engagement of our former housemate G.

Joe made homemade manicotti (Fuck you, Chef Boyardee!) and his famous “Sunday Sauce,” also referred to as “gravy,” which I understand is both a (New) Jersey thing and an East Boston thing. Red sauce without meat is simply “marinara.”

I was on seconds at that point and I asked G to load me up with some more meat. He was being cute.

Sunday, February 11


This house was once a graceful Stick-Style duplex when it was built ca. 1885. It stands around the corner from where I live. “Stick-style” refers to a style that was popular during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Its name derives from the fact that it incorporates decorative vertical and horizontal elements—“sticks”—into the exterior, mimicking the house’s frame. The result is a more refined version of the half-timbered effect usually associated with Elizabethan and Tudor architecture.

The house is pretty much a wreck now. It was inhabited for the past few decades by an old woman who had neither the resources nor the inclination to care for her property. That she let her home fall into such disrepair would have been more tolerable were she a sweet old lady, but she wasn’t. She was a battle-axe who liked to know everyone else’s business, frequently said insulting things about gay people and people of color, and was in the habit of throwing her garbage on neighboring lawns. I caught her in the act once.

When she finally sold the house about six months ago, I heard from neighbors who attended the open house that she lived in utter squalor. I could not bring myself to brave the interior. They also said that she had like a gazillion cats. I suspect that Neretta was born in her basement. In spite of the fact that she was pretty much a hag, I felt bad for her. She was a widow with limited resources, and the family members that lived with her were pretty dysfunctional.

The house sold for over $500K, a sad testimony to an inflated real estate market. Worse still is that after paying such an exorbitant price, the new owners proceeded to begin their half-assed renovations without pulling any permits whatsoever. The city quickly shut them down, but not before the jackasses had ripped off the front porch, which—even though it had fallen into disrepair—was quite lovely with fluted Doric columns. Now it’s gone, and in its place is an ill-suited, poorly designed, and shabbily constructed deck.

Whenever that happens in my neighborhood, I always console myself by saying that when the right owners finally come along, porches are pretty easy to restore, especially with the internet making businesses that sell historically appropriate millwork easy to find. Joe and I did a huge job on our porch last year. We found a local millwork supplier who was able to reproduce exact replicas of the porch’s turned balusters to replace those that were missing or damaged.

When the new owners resumed work about a month ago, they began ripping off the asbestos shingles, revealing the original clapboards and shingle-work along with the house’s Stick-Style features. I always knew it had been built as a Stick-Style because I have an old postcard showing my street back in its heyday. In the photo, the original Stick-Style details are clearly visible on this house, as well as on the house next door.

I have no idea what their intentions are. Will they leave it exposed and restore it? Will they cover it over again in vinyl siding? If they do, I hope that they at least leave the original details in situ so that they’re waiting underneath for the next owner, who will perhaps be someone who understands that period details are what make these houses special.


Saturday, February 10

Pier A

I took this photo on Monday, January 15 while visiting New York with the Joes. We were at Battery Park’s Castle Clinton National Monument (formerly Castle Garden) waiting for the ferry to Liberty Island. The photo shows all that remains of Pier A and the 1886 grand marine firehouse.

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Thursday, February 8


An airstrike today by U.S. forces on a volatile area west of Baghdad has killed either 13 insurgents or 45 civilians, depending on whose account is to be believed. U.S. armed forces claim the airstrike targeted insurgents holed up in safe houses and took place following an initial raid that uncovered a cache of weapons. Local officials are claiming that the victims were all civilians, including women, children, and the elderly.

Even if we concede that both accounts are correct, that still amounts to 3.46 civilians killed for every insurgent eliminated. This does not seem to me like an effective strategy. It seems to me that given such numbers, U.S. forces in Iraq are three times more likely to be viewed as murders than liberators.

The above Associated Press photo shows the body of a boy killed in today’s airstrike on the village of Zaidan, west of Baghdad.

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Tuesday, February 6

All Better

I didn’t think it was possible for Ted Haggard to become any less dignified, but he managed to pull it off by declaring after a mere three weeks in counseling that he is “completely heterosexual.” Wow. His counselors must be more powerful than the god he prayed to all those years for deliverance from his unnatural desires. Shock therapy anyone?

Haggard has consistently claimed that his sexual contact with men was limited to former male escort Mike Jones, who outed Haggard back in October. His counselors argue that such a claim is credible because since the story of Haggard’s sexcapades broke, nobody else has come forward.

Explained the Reverend Tim Ralph, one of the overseers chosen to guide the transition of Haggard’s former church: “If we’re going to be proved wrong, somebody else is going to come forward, and that usually happens really quickly. We’re into this thing over 90 days, and it hasn’t happened.” I guess Ralph and the other overseers don’t know much about the myriad opportunities for anonymous gay sex that a major city like Denver offers. Or at least that’s what they’d have us believe.

Ralph also described the episode with Jones as “acting out,” as opposed to “a constant thing,” meaning that Haggard is truly a straight man who chose, for some unknown reason, to “act out” by sleeping with another man. Act out. Isn’t that the term of choice these days for describing when children misbehave? What on earth could have caused Haggard to “act out” by purchasing crystal meth and having gay sex? His wife must be a real bitch.

Frankly, Haggard is better off in the closet. I mean, did we really want to see Haggard in drag at the next Denver Pride? Or making a spectacle of himself on the dance floor of one of Denver’s gay clubs, with his shirt off, belting out the lyrics to the newest gay anthem? And who’d want to date him? All that baggage? Puh-lease.

Haggard’s pretty harmless at this point anyway. Let’s face it, in spite of his lightning fast restoration to heterosexuality, he’s too wacko and controversial to be held up as a paradigm of hope by the ex-gay movement. I think the only people he’s actually convinced are the members of his “restoration” team (good work, boys!) and his poor wife Gayle, though I suspect she’s pretty gullible. He’ll never regain the influence and trust he once had. His days of advising presidents on the moral course of the nation are over for good.


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