Sunday, February 27, 2011

Down Temporarily

Tomorrow I go in for a kidney biopsy. It's strictly out-patient, so I will be spending the next 2 days at home recovering. "Frightened" is too strong a word (open heart surgery is frightening and this isn't even in the same ball park), but I am a little anxious about it, both the procedure and the results. The doctor is very optimistic that whatever ails my kidneys can be cured easily with medication.

My poor little organs have worked round the clock without a break for 53 years. Small wonder that they might get a little cranky.

I'll see y'all in a couple of days.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The People's House

A pre-protest look at the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda:

The Wisconsin State Capitol this week:

Here is the reaction in the Wisconsin Assembly after the Republican members suddenly voted on the union-busting bill by voice acclamation vote at 1AM, shutting down the voting seconds after it began:

We Are All Wisconsin

There will be a nationwide series of rallies tomorrow in support of Wisconsin's workers. To find the one nearest to you, go here.

For all of you New Yorkers, there will be a rally at City Hall Park on the south side tomorrow at 11AM.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


All of my life, I've heard people complaining that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Even now I hear that all the time. If you bother to crack open any history book, you will find that exact same complaint going back to the beginnings of recorded history. Even at the height of Periclean Athens, a writer known only as "The Old Oligarch" complained about Athens going to hell in a handbasket under the rule of Pericles and his faction. Savonarola built a political career by pointing out how Renaissance Florence was going to hell in a handbasket.

The world is always going to hell in a handbasket, and yet, it never quite gets there.

Below is one of my all time favorite allegories of Liberty. It's the back of the Double Eagle gold coin designed by the great sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens in the late 19th century. Liberty, with blowing unbound hair standing before the rising sun, offers us the torch of Liberty. With her left hand, she holds the olive branch of Peace.

Today, it seems that people have taken Liberty's torch and run with it all over the world. The whole Middle East is on fire with it, and the tyrants are trembling before its light. Liberty's fire refuses to die in Asia, in Burma, in oligarchic China, in Singapore, and even in the darkness of North Korea. Liberty's flames are starting to spread into sub-Saharan Africa where the people of Cameroon are starting to challenge the rule of their entrenched President-For-Life.

In the United States where the passion for Liberty was long asleep, lost in a coma of greed and ambition exploiting prejudices and conflicts, the fires stir again as people no longer passively accept the erosion of their rights by a powerful corporate oligarchy. Resistance to a naked grab for power at the expense of the rights of working people to organize and bargain collectively began in Wisconsin and is now starting to spread to Indiana, Ohio, and beyond.

The cause of my own kind, of LGBT people, continues to win victories and to make progress that I thought unimaginable just 10 years ago.

I am so grateful to be alive to see such things.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!" --Wordsworth

To celebrate the mighty events of our time, here is an encore on this blog of a mighty work of music played on a mighty instrument. The organists who follow my Facebook page love all the organ mechanics on this video.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Republican President on Labor

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

~~Abraham Lincoln

(tip of the beret to Doug Hayes).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Look at That! The Workers of the World are Uniting!

This should make folks in Wisconsin feel a little warmer.

tip of the beret to Digby.

Americans Love Labor Unions ... Someplace Else.

We love them so long as they are in places like Poland and Egypt, but not here,

We expect weekends, time off, and compensated vacation time. We count on workman's comp, health insurance and other benefits, retirement funds, Social Security, being safe while doing our jobs. We expect our children to be protected by child labor laws. We expect to have our pay protected by minimum wage laws.

I suppose no one bothers to ask about where all those things come from. We take them for granted now. For most of American history, no one working in any kind of job for any kind of pay had anything like those protections and benefits. Do people really imagine that their employers gave them out of the kindness of their hearts?

All of those things had to be fought for, and fought for again. All of those things were won through unions.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Edwin Blashfield

Edwin Blashfield
1848 - 1936

I must confess that I know almost nothing about this artist. He was a native of New York trained under the Leon Bonnat in Paris, and was a prolific painter of public murals in courthouses (a number of them in New Jersey) and state capitols throughout the USA. He seems to have collaborated frequently with better known members of the American Renaissance movement like Kenyon Cox, Cass Gilbert, and Daniel Chester French. He seems to be largely forgotten. His work may be having something of a comeback as so many public buildings from his era are being restored. As the accumulated grime and neglect come off his paintings, people can see again how striking and how beautifully colored they are.

from a series of paintings of attributes of Justice in the Essex County Courthouse in Newark, NJ.

another one of the recently restored Essex County Courthouse murals.

Knowledge, from the Essex County Courthouse, fully restored.

A detail of Knowledge from before the restoration. Under the damage is some beautiful work.

Blashfield's paintings in the dome of the Library of Congress in Washington. In the lantern in the center is an allegorical figure who is supposed to stand for "Human Understanding." On the ring below are what the late 19th century regarded as the foundational cultures of American civilization, personified by winged spirits with cultural attributes.

A detail of Blashfield's allegory in the dome of the Library of Congress. Each foundational culture is also identified with a particular art or science in which it supposedly excelled. Those are named in the pale blue scrolls near the outer rim. The sense of color unity, the light over-all blue and gold tonality of these pictures is really beautiful, and now fully apparent after a recent cleaning.

Blashfield designed the mosaics in St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. Poor old St. Matthews! the forgotten Catholic monument in DC. Blashfield's mosaics here are (in my opinion) light years superior, and a lot less scary, than the mosaics in the much more famous National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, the artist's wife, in an easel painting from 1889, the only one of these paintings for which I could find a date.

Blashfield painted classical allegory at the very moment when such allegory was about to perish, perhaps forever. The American Renaissance, of which Blashfield was a part, was a last gasp of public classicism before events in history would sweep the very idea of public classicism away. For decades, their buildings, sculptures, and paintings were left neglected, considered outmoded and discredited by modern criticism. A lot of what those artists made was destroyed.
And now on the far side of 20th century modernism, these things speak to us again, engaging our sense of imaginative participation in a way that 20th century modern art and design never cared about doing. Blashfield was in no way a great artist, but he did not deserve the obscurity into which he has fallen.

Well What Do You Know? I'm a Public Employee!

... and I belong to one of those much resented public employee unions.
Yes, those benefits can be generous (though the health care plan I have from the college is anything but generous, and is padded out with union supplemental insurance for prescription coverage and very minimal dental coverage), but they weren't exactly stolen. They were bargained for in good faith with legislatures that voted on them.
Perhaps another aspect to the generosity of public employee contracts is that while union membership declined drastically in the private sector, and union expansion in the private sector has all but stopped, public employees kept their unions and their union memberships during the last 30 years when organized labor has been in a tailspin. Public employees always had the power to bargain collectively while most private employees lost that power over the last 3 decades. The decline of union representation played a big role in the stagnation of wages since the 1970s (and in the corresponding rise of the credit industry).

Governor Walker and his Republican legislators are making a power-grab at the expense of the unions in general. I agree with Rachel Maddow. The real purpose behind this is not just to shut down public employee unions, but to shut down the Democratic party as any kind of real political force. Indeed, Republicans (especially since a certain recent Supreme Court decision) have a huge spending advantage. All of the corporate money and plutocrat money is going to right wing causes; not most of it, all of it. Unions represent Democrats' only large-scale source of money (as well as organization). Liberals and lefties are great at organization and turning out crowds on shoestring budgets and with no corporate or foundation funding (and not much support from the Democratic Party), but the sad fact remains that in this world, money is power, and the Right now has all the big money on its side. Shutting the unions down would effectively marginalize the Democratic Party and the disparate constituencies it represents perhaps forever. Republicans would realize their cherished dream of making the USA into a permanent one party corporate state, a giant Singapore. After 80 years of trying, Social Security would finally be history, along with Medicare.

The people raising a ruckus in Wisconsin's handsome state capitol have the full support of this community college professor in New York. Hang tough folks!

The Middle East is all on fire for participatory democracy these days, and maybe, just maybe, democracy might be starting to come out of its long coma in this country.

Resources of Wisconsin, a mural in the Wisconsin State Capitol dome by one of my favorite forgotten 19th century public muralists, Edwin Blashfield; and Wisconsin's most important resource, its working people, are gathered beneath this painting now.


Here is Rachel Maddow on the Wisconsin revolt:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Borders Goes Belly Up

My old Borders badge

Number 5 World Trade Center before its destruction September 11, 2001. From 1996 on, Borders occupied the whole ground floor.

Borders and I have a history together, and not always a happy one. I was part of one of those widely scattered disparate efforts to unionize Borders, to organize store employees back in the 1990s. I was part of the effort to unionize the World Trade Center store in New York, at the time, their first and flagship store in New York.

I read the news this week about Borders' filing for bankruptcy. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of guys as far as I'm concerned.

I was at the World Trade Center store from the beginning. I was part of the crew who involved in "The Sort," the long hours and hard work of setting up the store before its opening. This was my second "sort." I helped open the Barnes and Noble store in the Citicorp Building in 1994, and remained there for 2 more years. Barnes and Noble and I did not get along at all, and I was delighted to get an opportunity to work for their competition, Borders, which was new in town at the time. For the first year, I was happy to be there. The whole atmosphere was much more relaxed. I had a great time with fellow employees. We had after-work parties at various apartments, whole groups of employees would go to the movies together, or go out bar-crawling together. The employees were a wide mix of people all down on their luck and working in retail: lots of aspiring writers and actors, musicians and artists, a lot of hard-up academics and scientists, sci-fi enthusiasts, a big population of gays and lesbians, and people just looking to put food on the table.

We all worked hard for very small wages, just a few steps above minimum wage. By New York City standards, it was a starvation wage. We had health insurance benefits, but they took a big bite out of our paychecks. Ironically, the employees from poorer backgrounds and with children had to refuse the health insurance. It was just too expensive for them. Things got worse when Walden Books bought out Borders about 1997. Full time positions were cut. Hours for remaining full time workers lengthened and jobs got harder and tasks multiplied. The company began to rely more and more on younger part time employees to save money.

In 1997, some employees began a campaign to organize the store employees and to form a union. I was a relative late-comer to the campaign, at first a little reluctant to join. Our efforts to organize took us through a grand tour of Reagan era labor laws that blocked us at almost every turn. Just about all labor actions like slowdowns or walkouts were forbidden (things that labor organizers can do in just about every other industrialized country). The company had maximum legal permission to do whatever it wished just short of firing people for union activity (they could fire them for no reason at all). We were subjected to company anti-union meetings with compulsory attendance for employees ( something that is illegal in every other industrialized country). When the time time came to vote on union membership, the union won by an almost 2 to 1 margin.

The company treated us all badly, making our jobs impossible in order to drive us out. They treated their own supporters badly, especially the assistant managers, who were under a lot of pressure, and told constantly that this was all their fault and that the union was after them and their jobs.

It was all down hill from the union election, and I had a front row seat to watch. I was part of the contract negotiation committee and watched the company destroy us. They hired a first-rate union-busting law firm. They flew out their executives from Ann Arbor and put them up in first class accommodations in the nearby Millennium Hotel. All they had to do was to sit there and wait us out, all the while staying just within a hair of the legal definition of "bargaining in good faith." We could do almost nothing short of calling a strike. We could do outside pickets, but that's it. We did a petition drive, and got a lot of support from our customers and from other people working in the WTC (interestingly, the WTC cops were some of our best supporters). We scaled back our demands and scaled them back again and again, and the company would not budge, not even on the smallest and most reasonable demand. In the end, unable to deliver for our workers, our union collapsed and dissolved itself after a year. We affiliated with the UFCW, and the president of the local ended up selling us out by negotiating with the company behind our backs, trying to salvage something from the whole debacle. We were one single little store union going up against an enormous corporation, and the outcome was probably inevitable, but we tried our best.

We were a very disparate group in our union. One of our leaders was a former Trotskyite radical. Another was a former conservative political activist. The lesbians were all solid for the union, while the gay men were evenly split. Some of our most enthusiastic supporters, who also provided some of the union leadership, were from a small group of evangelical Christians.
I eventually left Borders for more retail elsewhere, for more work in commercial mural painting, and eventually for academia. That union organizing experience was one of the most powerful, and frustrating, experiences in my life. I still keep in contact with some of my old Borders colleagues.

One of my most vivid memories is from one of the early contract negotiations. I remember an attorney from a union-busting firm representing the company and wearing a thousand dollar suit lecturing us on spending our wages wisely.

And now, as all the Middle East is all on fire for participatory democracy, the right to bargain collectively, and to form independent labor unions, is in the process of being effectively repealed here in the USA.

The pro-union newsletter that we published.

The back page of the union newsletter.

My old union campaign badge

An article from February 13, 1998 in the now defunct New York Blade about Borders trying divide and conquer tactics on gay employees to defeat the unionization effort. If the photo are yours truly and Anthony Neff.

The Borders Union Contract Committee on March 6, 1998. From left to right: Emily Winkelstein, Jason Chappell, yours truly, Chevon Daniels, Aron Phillips (our first shop steward), Tashima Washington, and David Kaplan.

My old Borders employee Polaroid, about 1997, showing me working in the back room of the periodicals department.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


If there are no more citizens, but only paying customers, then do words like "democracy" and "freedom" have any meaning?

Secular Apocalypses

Karl Marx and Ayn Rand shared the same apocalyptic vision of the "withering away" of the state.

In both cases, a bigger stronger state is required to make the vision happen and to protect it from its enemies.


We've had religious fundamentalism and Biblical literalism since the early 19th century.

Now we have "market fundamentalism" where capitalism (around in one form or another since the 11th century) becomes a political ideology whose principles become much more literally interpreted than the Classical economists ever intended. Adam Smith himself would fail today's ideological purity tests. He favored workers' rights to bargain collectively and he believed that some taxation and government regulation were necessary to maintain a decent society. Unlike today's ideologues, he had no illusions about "market forces" creating a civil society.

So too we have now Constitutional Originalism, a kind of legal fundamentalism that transforms a social contract drawn up by mortal men with deeply conflicting views and interests into Holy Writ that was divinely inspired, perhaps authored by God Himself. Originalist interpretation of the Constitution is very similar to extreme Protestant views of the Bible. As extreme Protestants wanted to go back to what they understood to be the "original" intention of Scripture buried beneath later accretions, so the Originalist would do likewise to the Constitution, even to the point of stripping out amendments and 2 centuries worth of legal precedent. Such views fail to take into account why "later accretions" (like the Bill of Rights) were created in the first place. The amendments and the legal precedents answered urgent questions which the original document left unaddressed or badly addressed (such as black males counting for only three fifths of a person).

"The letter killeth. The Spirit giveth life."

The Central Problem of American History

Just who is included in the opening three words of the Constitution? Who gets to be "The People" in "We the people ...?"

At the time those words were written, only white male property owners were "The People." If that was still the case, perhaps three quarters of the population would be disenfranchised.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Freedom for me and only for me.

If your freedom is going to cost me anything, then you can just stay in your chains.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Would anyone ever put their lives on the line for any entity, be it a corporation or a country, where no one really belongs, where there are no citizens in the usual sense of that word, but only paying customers?

I think not.

The Central Force Driving So Much of American Politics These Days Is ...

... frightened white people.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy VD!

Photo by Pierre & Giles

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A New Day in a Very Old Land

Sunrise from the Great Sphinx at Giza

The Great Sphinx at Dawn.

I have no idea how all of this will turn out. Who knows what will happen in the end. But for the moment, the Great Sphinx watches the sun rise for the first time ever on an Egypt without an absolute ruler. While optimism is way too strong a word for Egypt's future, there are plenty of grounds for hope. Who would have imagined, even a few weeks ago, that the autocratic ruler of the largest Arab country could be brought down by a mass, leaderless, unorganized, non-ideological, non-theological, largely peaceful revolution? This was the sort of revolution we are used to seeing in Eastern Europe, in places like the Czech Republic, Poland, and in Ukraine; and in Asia in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. But in the Middle East? It's hard for anyone who doesn't live there or isn't from there to imagine politics in that region as anything other than brutal and cynical. Apparently the Egyptians, and lots of them, imagined just such a thing, and (so far) made it happen. I think this is a tremendous accomplishment, and that the Egyptians deserve their celebrations.

Recorded history began in Egypt. The first event in recorded history is King Narmer's conquest of the Nile Delta (Lower Egypt) and his unification of Egypt under his rule about 3100 BC. He is the first recorded Pharaoh of a united Egypt. Egypt was history's first nation state, and its longest lasting. Egypt ended as an independent state only in 30 BC with the death of Cleopatra. It became part of the Roman Empire and would not be a fully independent state again until the 20th century.

The ancient Egyptians were keenly aware of the antiquity of their country and deeply proud of it. We can see how they thought about their history at what was once the holy city of Abydos (the name given by Greek historians to Abdju), today a site on the Nile several miles north of Luxor. Abydos was the sanctuary of the god Osiris, god of the dead, of regeneration, and of green plants. Osiris was the most popular and widely revered of all of Egypt's gods. Huge mounds of ancient pottery in the surrounding desert are what remain of the offerings of many generations of pious pilgrims to the place. There is so much broken pottery around the place that the locals call it Um el Qa'ab, "Mother of Pots."

The Egyptians remembered their dead and their history at Abydos. In the temples to Osiris built by Pharaohs Seti and by his son, Ramses II, there are the famous king lists. Seti's is the most complete. It is a list of Egypt's kings beginning with Seti and going backward all the way to Narmer, then to the Creation and the gods.

The Temple built by Pharaoh Seti I at Abydos, built ca. 1290 BC.

The columned hall of Seti's Temple at Abydos

The Osiris Chapel in Seti's Temple at Abydos

The Osireon behind Seti's Temple at Abydos; a mysterious structure that was once underground, under a high earthen mound planted with trees.

The King List in Seti's Temple at Abydos showing the king and the then Crown Prince Ramses II worshiping their predecessors.

A detail of Seti's King List; for scholars, this list is a far greater treasure than any gold from Tutankhamun's Tomb. This is the most complete list of Egypt's kings to survive from ancient times showing them in order of succession.

A drawing of the complete King List of Seti; the List is carved on the wall of a narrow passage making it difficult, if not impossible to photograph in its entirety.

A surviving fragment of the King List of Ramses II from Abydos, now in the British Museum.

The lists show an unbroken succession of kings going all the way back to the beginning. That's how the Egyptians saw their history, or wanted to see it anyway. In that sense, the lists are misleading. They are not unabridged lists. They are selective. Certain kings (like Akhenaten and Hatshepsut) were left off the lists deliberately. The lists create the illusion that Egyptian history was a long uninterrupted orderly succession. It certainly was not. Egypt's history was as filled with upheaval and turmoil as any other country's. But that's not what they wanted us to remember. What the Egyptians saw fit to record were not the great transformative events of their past, but what continued, what didn't change over time. The ancient Egyptians hated change. To them, change threatened chaos. At best, change was a necessary adaptation to new circumstances, but it was not to be sought out for its own sake. The Egyptians had only to look over at their Mesopotamian neighbors whose kingdoms and city states were always at war with each other or with successive waves of foreign invaders to see what change meant. Change to the Egyptians was a gamble that never paid off. The ancient Egyptians saw the continuity of their state as its greatest success.

I'm not so sure that we are all that different, or that the ancient Egyptians were entirely wrong to see things that way. Change is a gamble, for nations and individuals. I remember our own leaders in this country (born in revolution and itself a creation of momentous change) fretting about "instability" as waves of "People Power" revolutions swept through Eastern Europe from 1989 to 1992. The ancient Egyptians proclaimed "stability" in huge stone monuments that buried the memory of past turmoil. Seti's temple at Abydos was just such a monument, proclaiming the triumphant return to tradition after the long recovery from the traumatic disruption of Pharaoh Akhenaten's heresy. The ancient Egyptians, just like ourselves, tried to control history, to minimize risk, and to eliminate the element of chance.

When it comes to History with a capital "H," I must confess to being a complete atheist. Sorry Herr Doctor Hegel, I just don't see history as anything so tidy as "thesis"+"antithesis" = "crisis" which leads to "synthesis." I don't see those over arching reasons and laws behind the "workings" of history. I don't believe in "cycles" of history. I believe in the zeitgeist like I believe in the tooth fairy. As far as I'm concerned, history is always a roll of the dice. The future is always a big blank "not yet" in which anything can happen. I think that "historical inevitability" is an illusion of memory. Nothing was ever "inevitable." There are countless occasions when things as absurd as a sudden illness, a lost letter, or a missed phone call have completely altered the course of history. History is not a machine that imprisons us all in its great impersonal workings. History is ours to make or break. Nothing is inevitable and nothing is forever.

Perhaps the element of chance is not only a cause for anxiety, but for hope. The Egyptians are taking a chance and may well teach us another lesson in history, that anything can happen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak Goes

Brand new Vice President Omar Suleiman announces Mubarak's resignation in a short statemet. The crowd in Tahrir Square in Cairo erupts.


Bishop Christopher Senyonjo's Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury Concerning the Murder of David Kato.

Here is the full text courtesy of Leonardo Ricardo:
Dear Archbishop Rowan Williams, Primates and fellow bishops, clergy and people of our diverse Anglican Communion.

Peace from God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I give thanks on behalf of the family and friends of David Kato for your love and prayers at this difficult time. All over the world, human beings are longing for liberation, love, respect and the dignity to have meaningful lives. This week alone, we witnessed it in Egypt .We also see this longing in the struggle for human rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people (LGBT) through the sacrificial life and death of David Kato. As human beings, we must respect our differences and be united in our call for listening and sharing with each other. To understand God, we are all called to understand the mystery of each other, including our sexualities. God has given us this gift and to defame, condemn, imprison and kill human beings because of their God-given nature, is a great human error. The church has a tragic history of condemning Jews, Moslems, scientists and LGBT people. Our teaching and theology has a causal effect and if we do not learn from our own historical mistakes, we will repeat the same sinful destruction of lives, families and communities.

When European churches failed to protect minority communities during World War II, people were sent to the gas chambers and concentration camps. Many religious people in Europe emerged from that experience to help create the Declaration of Human Rights. We now have sixty years of building an internationally recognised framework for the protection of human rights in every country. If Anglicans in one country dehumanize, persecute and imprison minorities, we must be true to the Gospel and challenge such assaults on basic human rights. They key to our ministry must be to educate our people and encourage LGBT people to tell their stories and the impact of homophobia in their lives. Listening to the stories of LGBT people was the beginning of my own transformation. This work of understanding the phenomenon of human sexuality should be taken seriously in our theological seminaries and schools. The clergy should be well equipped to serve and not to ignorantly repel the people of God. A required course in Human Sexuality should be required of all seminarians and clergy.

Many African countries imprison LGBT people because of who they are. As a bishop in the midst of those countries, I am now a shepherd caring for the lost sheep that are persecuted by the Church and threatened by a pending anti-homosexual draconian bill in Uganda. I preach the new covenant of Jesus Christ sealed in love as we read in John 15:12. This is the heart of the Gospel-the Good News. This sacrifice of Love is mocked when sister churches tolerate or promote the violation of basic human rights. Life and liberty are at risk and we must hold each other accountable. A loving Anglican Communion should not keep quiet when the Rolling Stone tabloid in Uganda openly supports the “hanging of the homos,” including a fellow bishop who pleads for their inclusion and non-discrimination! Silence has the power to kill. We have witnessed its destruction this past week in the tragic and cruel murder of David Kato.

We African Anglicans have a rich and powerful history of speaking out on human rights in the most difficult of situations. Bishop Colenso worked with Zulus to establish an indigenous church while being fought by his fellow English bishops. Bishops Trevor Huddleston, John Taylor and Desmond Tutu resisted Apartheid. We must not demean our great tradition by oppressing LGBT minorities under any circumstances, even to maintain Anglican unanimity. The criminalization of homosexuality remains the greatest state and church sanctioned violence perpetrated against LGBT people and their allies in many countries. We must agree to demolish all forms of institutional homophobia beginning with the removal of all laws that punish human beings for being gay or living in loving relationships. This will be the first step in providing basic human rights to a largely invisible international community who live in daily fear of their lives.

So in thanksgiving for the unity and commitment we have together, let us continue to listen to one another, to protect the vulnerable and marginalized within our own societies and to bring our collective wisdom to the work of repairing the world and correcting the great injustices in our local communities.


Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo

Egypt At A Crossroads

Mubarak is digging in determined to hang on to power no matter what. He is now at war with his own people (the very definition of a tyrant).

I wonder if any Western leader could get away with a speech like his yesterday. Here is the opening line of that speech:

I am addressing the youth of Egypt today in Tahrir Square and across the country. I am addressing you all from the heart, a father's dialogue with his sons and daughters.

The word "paternalism" immediately comes to mind. It must have sounded galling to people struggling so hard and risking so much to be treated as adults and as equal citizens. You can read the full text of the speech on the BBC here. It does not get any better with further reading.

This tiny little insignificant blog stands with the people of Egypt as they struggle to claim their own history after watching it or suffering it for so long. I wish them every success as their struggle appears to be entering a critical phase.

May the Great Sphinx of Giza at long last greet a dawn where the sun rises no more on any pharaoh, emperor, foreign conqueror, sultan, imperial colonist, or dictator, but on a free people.

The Union of the Two Lands, the national emblem of ancient Egypt and the world's first national emblem. Hapi, the hermaphroditic god of the Nile, appears twice, tying the lotus of Upper Egypt in a knot together with the papyrus of Lower Egypt upon the hieroglyphic sign for "unity." It appears here on a monument to Pharaoh Ramses II (1279 - 1213 BC).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Coming When the Weather Turns Warmer ...

This year marks my 20th year living in New York. I've now lived in New York City as long as I lived in Texas.
This is also the 10th anniversary of the worst single calamity in the city's history, the September 11th attacks. I'd rather not commemorate it with a series of angry/ sorrowful rants.

I want to do a series of posts on my adopted city using some photos that I plan to take myself. I plan to borrow Michael's digital camera (or maybe purchase my own by that time), and take some pictures around town of neighborhoods and landmarks. The weather's just too cold right now, and my time is limited, so I'll put it off for the summer.

So, now I'm committed, and I'll have to do this.

Stay tuned ...

The War Over David Kato's Legacy

There is now a struggle over how David Kato's murder is to be understood. The Ugandan police, in moves strikingly similar to what police departments once did routinely in this country thirty years ago, is explaining away David Kato's murder with a "gay panic" defense, that he was murdered by a man he had hired as a prostitute. Somehow, this story, if true (and I think not; it's too clumsy and too obviously self-serving), is supposed to absolve Uganda's religious and political leadership (and their right-wing American backers) from their responsibility for creating the toxic atmosphere of paranoia and hysteria that puts the lives of Uganda's small LGBT community in great peril. We're supposed to assume that there was absolutely no connection between a major national tabloid putting Kato's picture on it's cover page under a banner headline that said "Hang Him!" and his murder a week or so later. We're supposed to assume that there is no connection between the unhinged and violent rhetoric of American evangelicals like Scott Lively, and the even more violent and unhinged rhetoric of their Ugandan followers and Kato's murder.

Fr. Mark Harris has some good commentary on the struggle over Kato's legacy, but what's really fascinating is the war going on in the comments thread. There's more fighting in the comment thread here. Yours truly freely fesses up to jumping in there and duking it out.

In one sense, the Phobes are right. David Kato had it coming. He was not a nice man. He did not play nice. Far from being a civil-at-all-costs Anglican, he fearlessly challenged the conventional wisdom of his country, calling people out and calling them names. He dared to live openly as a gay man in a country that wants to criminalize people like him. He knew he was in a minority, a tiny hard-pressed despised minority, but he dared to tell the majority of his countrymen that they were wrong. He paid for it with his blood.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no middle ground in this struggle. One side wants freedom and dignity for sexual minorities. The other side wants all sexual variation purged from the face of the earth. It doesn't matter if the means are the violent and final means used by Kato's murderers, or somehow "curing" the homosexual, the end result is the same. Same sex people and same sex attraction are exterminated.

Michael and I have made a nice home together over the last 7 years. I'll do what it takes to defend that home. I'm not going back to the bad old days without a fight. I'll do all I can by any means necessary to keep the clock from being turned back.

And there is no shortage of people who want to turn the clock back for sexual minorities, and then some. Take a look at what's making its way through the Iowa House.


Our enemies are the best! They alienate everyone around them including their own supporters.

Thanks to Mary O'Shaughnesy for this one.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"You May Say That I Ain't Free, But It Don't Worry Me." Robert Altman's "Nashville"

This movie has long been a favorite of mine, and has been on my mind lately.

It was filmed in the summer of 1974 all on location in Nashville and used a lot of the local population as extras. Many of the actors wrote and performed their own music. On the surface, it's another showbiz yarn of the kind Hollywood has produced for decades. There are the brave and plucky strivers on their way up, and the stars always anxious about finding themselves on the way down. Usually those stories are set on Broadway or in Hollywood. This one is set in "the Hillbilly Hollywood," Nashville, center of the Country Western music industry. On a deeper level, the movie tells a story about that combination of talent, celebrity, money, and politics that is American public life, and about its effects on the lives of individuals and on the country as a whole.

Altman used a large ensemble of actors playing a group of characters whose separate lives and ambitions gradually weave together toward the movie's climax. Altman's very novel techniques of fragmentary dialogue and editing make the story a little hard to follow at first, but we quickly find ourselves riveted by what unfolds before us. The story reveals itself through momentary glimpses into the lives of several individual people. Each of those people is a fascinating story in themselves.

The movie opens with Henry Gibson playing a very established Nashville star, Haven Hamilton, who despite his professions of political neutrality, is very transparently politically ambitious. Lady Pearl, played by Barbara Baxley, is the divorced Hamilton's companion. She owns and runs one of the larger and more famous night spots in Nashville, and ruefully obsesses over the late Kennedy brothers.
The songwriter Ronee Blakely plays the physically and emotionally fragile grand diva Barbara Jean, who is very loosely modeled on Loretta Lynn ("fragile" is one word I'd never use to describe Loretta Lynn). Barbara Jean's spectacular entrance in the movie, and her even more spectacular exit, bracket the film's whole narrative.
Allen Garfield plays Barbara Jean's over-protective, controlling, and even bullying husband-manager Barnett.
Karen Black plays Connie White, a star of mediocre talent who is Barbara Jean's bitter rival.
Barbara Jean has two obsessed fans who follow her throughout the movie and come together dramatically at the end. One is a soldier just back from Vietnam named Glenn Kelly played by a very young Scott Glenn. The other is a sad and mysterious loner named Kenny Frazier played by David Hayward.
There is the sad and troubled country-folk trio, Bill, Mary, and Tom. Bill, played by Alan F. Nichols, and Mary, played by Cristina Raines, are having a severe crisis in their marriage. The source of their trouble is the third member of the trio, Tom Frank, played by a scrumptious young Keith Carradine. For all of his political posturing (and ambition), Tom is a cold hearted narcissistic scoundrel, a womanizer and a backstabber. He's carrying on an affair with Mary while bedding down with about 3 other women in the movie. At the same time, he's trying to set himself up independently and at Bill and Mary's expense.
There are the strivers. A young waitress in an airport diner named Sueleen Gay (played by Gwen Welles) aspires to be a big time diva, but has no talent. When Sueleen's big moment of opportunity comes, she ends up painfully humiliated. Robert DuQuoi plays Wade Cooley, the cook at the diner who is Sueleen's close friend and protector. Barbara Harris plays an aspiring young singer-songwriter named Winifred who ditches her brute of a husband. He chases her throughout the movie, and we get little glimpses of her determined struggle for success. It is only at the end of the movie that we finally hear her sing as her big debut opportunity lands so suddenly and unexpectedly in her lap. To her great credit, she is ready for it.
Among the agents of power and money is local businessman Del Reese played by Ned Beatty as an affable good-ol'-boy cynic. Lily Tomlin plays his wife, Linea, a gospel singer who has her fidelity problems despite her devotion to their 2 deaf children. John Triplette (played by Michael Murphy) is a political operative from California for the mysterious presidential candidate Hal Phillip Walker. He's a cold calculating smooth-talker who feels nothing but contempt for the local people he must recruit into the campaign.
Comic relief comes in the form of a "BBC reporter" (most likely a groupie) named Opal played by Geraldine Chaplin who always interrupts at the most awkward moments inserting herself among the celebrities.

Yes, it's a big cast, and that's not even all of them.

Here's a sample of the movie that begins with Opal having a drink with Lady Pearl who gloomily remembers those Kennedy boys:

We see Bill confessing to his sadly correct suspicions about Mary. Mary and Tom are in bed together while listening to a tape of him singing. Then we see a beautiful and poignant sequence showing Sunday morning in Nashville and many of the characters in church. The scene underscores the role of religion as a sustaining force for people as individuals and communities. Sadly, it also shows religion as a very divisive force. Spouses are shown in separate churches. People are separated by sectarian, racial, and class differences in their respective churches. Then Opal waxes poetic in a junkyard in a hilarious scene that follows. Winifred still grabs that opportunity to sing even though no one can possibly hear her over the Nascar races.

Here is another splendid sequence with a taste of some of the magnificent musical performances in this movie. Ronee Blakely plays Country diva Barbara Jean performing at Opryland.

This movie came out in the immediate wake of Watergate, and was released the year the Vietnam War ended. The movie refers to them obliquely, especially at the end. The violence and assassinations of the 1960s make their appearance at the end of the film. Assassinations perhaps are the ultimate intersection of celebrity, power, obsession, and paranoia, so this movie suggests. This movie is about that tangled mix of yearning, preconception, possibility, and reality that is present in so much American public life. Sometimes, all of those things come together, but more frequently, they collide. The movie very strongly suggests the ability of power and money to manipulate those yearnings to fulfill ambitions for domination. People's hopes and dreams become turned against them in a siren song intended to lead them on. In the last 35 years or so since this movie came out, those basic insights only grew more true. Perhaps that is the source of this movie's continuing power and resonance.

More music from "Nashville:"

Rachel Maddow on David Kato's Murder

Perhaps this deserves a separate post and more attention:

There are so many Americans and so much American money involved in this. I agree with Rachel that perhaps our government should be taking the lead in this situation.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Silence of the Wolves

It appears that the Ugandan police are changing their story about David Kato's recent murder (another press report here). They've dropped the botched robbery plot, and now appear to be creating a "gay panic" story. That's the old saw about the faggot who had it coming because he made a pass at the murderer. That might play well with the Ugandan public (well, maybe most of them, but not all); but, that's a line of defense that no Western jury would buy anymore, not even in Mississippi. I'm dismayed, but not surprised. Police, district attorneys, and defense attorneys in this country used that same story for decades when gay men were murdered. They stopped using it only when juries stopped believing it was a legitimate excuse to murder anyone.

What I find striking is the broad silence about Kato's murder on the right side of the fractured Anglican Communion (Kato was Anglican). So far as I know, no primate or bishop who signed or endorsed the Jerusalem Declaration has made any public statement about Kato's murder. Archbishop Orombi of Uganda remains silent, as does "Archbishop" Robert Duncan of the splinter Anglican Church in North America. I hope that silence is out of embarrassment. I'm sure they are thanking God that the turmoil in Egypt knocked the story of Kato's death out of the headlines (Rachel Maddow's promised in-depth story of Kato's death got preempted by accelerating events in Egypt).

The only ones I know who are speaking out about Kato's death from the right are extremists and the anonymous paranoid ranters who lately have been dominating the comment threads on Father Mark Harris' blog, Preludium. I should think they are only compounding the embarrassed silence of the right wing leadership.

Scott Lively, a man who I hold indirectly culpable for Kato's death, hasn't backed down a bit. He recently issued this statement:

"These revolutionists of Sodom, who march triumphantly through all the major cities of the western world to flaunt their defeat of moral law, and who hold both Hollywood and the heart of America’s president in their iron grip: These very same zealots have fixed their malevolent gaze on Christian Uganda. [snip] There is indeed evil in Uganda today, but it is not the reaction of Christian and Moslem citizens to the rape of their culture. It is the pink-gloved hand of western powers that are cutting the throat of Africa’s most God-fearing country, and one of the world‘s most promising Christian democracies."

And here is a small sample from one of the anonymous ranters on Father Harris' blog:

That it is not Christian Ethics 101 to turn the tragic death of a man in Uganda into a cause? That it is not ethical to say that a man as killed because of Gay hate, when one does not know this for sure? That it is not correct to say that Christians who appeal to marriage as the teaching of Christ are on a slippery slope to violence against practicing homosexuals? but in fact love them and defend their civil rights even as they believe Christ calls them to a different life in Him? What we have observed instead is a kind of inversion of 'Pharisee self-righteous' condemning.

No wonder the bishops are keeping their mouths shut and hoping this all blows over.

We don't forget our dead. David Kato now sadly joins the ranks of Harvey Milk, Fanny Ann Eddy, Matthew Shepard, the victims of the Upstairs Lounge fire, and legions of others in our too-large necrology.

The other side may claim martyrdom, but their roll of those who died at the hands of the heathen liberals is blank.


President Obama pointedly referred to David Kato's death, without naming him, at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. Bishop Gene Robinson urged the President to mention David Kato, and the plight of Uganda's gays and lesbians in his speech. The National Prayer Breakfast is presented by The Family, the powerful right-wing religious group that is largely financing the anti-gay campaign in Uganda.


Rachel Maddow finally did her report on Kato's death last night. She proposes, I think very plausibly, that so much of this trouble is driven by impending national elections in Uganda. She also points out that the Ugandan police publicly dismissed any suggestion that Kato's murder was motivated by hatred even before they had begun their investigation (sounds so much like any police department here in this country about 30 years ago).

History Never Finishes

The Step Pyramid and Tomb Complex of the Pharaoh Zoser at Saqqara in Egypt, ca 2650 BC.

Entrance to Zoser's Tomb Complex with the Step Pyramid, Saqqara, Egypt

The Step Pyramid and Tomb Complex of Pharaoh Zoser is history's first major masterpiece of architecture designed by the first recorded master architect, Imhotep, the king's minister of public works. Stonehenge was still under construction when this pyramid, the first in Egypt, was completed. Imhotep's accomplishments were so celebrated in ancient Egyptian memory that later generations worshiped him as a god of medicine and the arts.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Egyptian people as they struggle valiantly to write a new chapter in the long history of their country, a country as old as history itself. I wish them success in their fight to take control of their own destiny, and to emerge at last out of the shadows of pharaohs, foreign conquerors, emperors, caliphs, sultans, imperial colonists, and dictators.

I have no idea what will ultimately happen, but I wish them well.