Saturday, December 27, 2008

location, location, location...

Of all the places in my parents house, why is it that my bed is the universal choice of place to bed down for all the various cats we have had down through the years. And even if I close the door, they always find a way to get in. At least this year, Okra (my brother's cat) is a much better cuddler than Waleena (my sister's cat) ever was.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

the fountainhead: Part III

(written early last year, during my second trip in Hawaii)

Ok, so I may have softened a little on the fountainhead. Yes, I still think it is mostly pompous rape/cuckoldry fantasy done up in flimsy drag as radical philosophy. But it can be a reasonably readable book when it isn't busy monologuing and explaining everything.

If you haven't noticed, I've been kind of hard on this book from the start. My irritation comes from three sources. One is obvious: the book itself is irritating. The hero worship starts on the first page and only get cringingly more fawning as it goes. The philosophy of the whole thing is so black and white and so condescending and pedantic that even when a good point is made, you want to disagree with it because you know that had that point been made in that same way in real life, it would have been made by someone you hate.

The second is a few well-meaning friends commenting when they heard that I was going to read it that I should be careful and not be taken in by Ms. Rand's wily storytelling. I know that they are afraid of me becoming as annoying as they were when they were fifteen and read it and thought it was mind-blowing that someone could suggest that being selfish was something to aspire to and felt it really spoke to their frustrations with all the mindless imbeciles that every teenager feels surrounded by (and not always without reason). I'm not exactly a teenager and don't exactly shy away from fairly difficult reading, so I'll admit to being mildly offended by this well-meant warning. Ok, initially miffed and increasingly full stop offended as I've proceeded through the book.

The third reason is that over the years too many people have made comments like, "Have you read the fountainhead? I think you'd like it. Your take on things reminds me of it." Which is not unlike when I worked at a summer camp one year and was told repeatedly that I was just like Dan Edge who had worked there the year before. "You are just like Dan Edge, except he was a total asshole." Thanks. So my take on things reminds people of the philosophy expounded in what may be the most annoying book I have ever read? Great.

So, yes, I walked into this with unfair baggage, already prepped to dislike the book. But the baggage was only unfair because I hadn't read it yet, not because the book wasn't annoying enough to deserve the derision outright.

Actually, I should be clear. If this were a random tome picked out of obscurity from some shelf, I would have nicer things to say about it. It is reasonably well written. The characters are well developed, even if annoyingly developed as one-note sychophants, and the plot keeps sort of twisting til the end. As just a book that had managed to get published, I would judge it kindly and might have finished it, though probably not and if I had would have found it reasonably thought provoking even if a little naked about its intentions. But it isn't just some random book. It is a book which tons of people hold up as this life changing experience and a brilliant mind expanding read. At the end of the day, it is a bold attempt at sexualized hero worship, a story about a woman getting to be bored by the mediocrity of the world and lashing out with her beauty and competence and status to keep it all at bay until she meets this powerful machine of a man-god to ravage her. Yawn.

the fountainhead: Part II

(written early last year, on my second trip in Hawaii)

I don't know if I am going to make it. I really don't. I'll put down a book because I think it is wasting my time or I'm just not in the right frame of mind to digest it at the moment; normally not a problem. But this isn't just a book which sucks, this is a book which sucks and has a rampant following of people who felt led to adolescent epiphanies by this book's bold declaration that most people are obnoxious and that only the defiant artist (and very few of them) could have true integrity. And being who I am, I'm certain at some point I'll end up surrounded by people whose lives were changed or whose minds were opened by the fountainhead and someone will see me roll my eyes and say, "What?" and I'll answer. And then it would come out that I couldn't finish the book and they'll smugly dismiss my opinion and suggest that I didn't have the strength of character to finish such a noble and challenging book blah blah blah. And I'd rather finish it and be able to say it all was annoying instead of having to listen to someone say that the last little chunk was where it was all tied together and that of course I didn't get it if I didn't finish it.

And I may not finish it, but if I can't, it won't be for lack of stamina but for lack of stomach. I finally took a break and decided to read something else, so I've just finished Battlefield Earth, the longest sci-fi novel in history. I'll write about that separately, but a total joy to read and let no one say it was the length of the novel that turned me off from the fountainhead. I'm trying, I really am.

I still think that the novel is pompous rape-fantasy, which at the end of the day is the most cowardly kind of fantasy, but perhaps also one of the most common. I don't think the prevalence of it as fantasy is acknowledged enough. The desire to be violated. It is the secret dark dream of the pious and holier-than-thou. It is the wish to experience carnal things but without having to experience any of the responsibility for the act. "I was forced!" This is not to make light of rape or to suggest that in real life that people who demurely suggest that they won't go any further are asking for it or that no really means yes; this isn't about that at all. I'm talking strictly in the realm of fantasy and how so many people use secret rape fantasy as the route to accessing taboo desires. If they imagine themselves as violated, then they couldn't be guilty of dreaming about sex or whatever guilty pleasure they dream of, can they? Not that this doesn't have its real world correlaries, with people who aren't yet comfortable in their sexuality seeking out predatory or manipulative types so they can feel compelled into something they desire but still feel guilty about.

Perhaps I am getting off track. I really don't mean this to be simply sexual or for it to all be simply guilt centered. (Unfortunately, I can't remember what the hell else I meant to write about it, though. This is the point where I cut it off when I was originally writing about it and never seemed to get back to it. I've read and reread it thinking I'll one day finish it and so have gone almost a year now without publishing these three essays on the fountainhead, but I've decided enough is enough so here they are in all their unfinished glory).

the fountainhead: Part I

(written early last year, on my second trip in Hawaii)

On my first trip, I headed to sea with far too few books. I didn't think this when I left; the weight of the books was a ridiculous addition to an already cumbersome collection of junk. But you never realize how quickly you can read books when you take away other forms of distraction. Suddenly held tight on a boat where only one other person really speaks english well enough to hold a conversation and you suddenly plow through books like a maniac. Not all because you necessarily love them, but simply by the fact of them being there. Anyway, this trip I swore I wouldn't spend three days straight playing Snood on my cell phone and grabbed books like crazy.

"Like crazy" may be a more appropriate description than I would like to admit. I had all these plans of going book hunting and buying tons of great books and reading them and being all excited, but somehow with all the days spent in the office and then running around doing all my other tasks in that short valuable time that we spend on land, I didn't go out book shopping. Thankfully, as I unloaded the books I had read, I picked through the assorted books left behind at the house and the gear shed and came away with a motley crew of things which I had thought perhaps in the past of reading, but knew there was no way on earth I would ever read most of them in any other situation. So here I find myself in the middle of the ocean with Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Jewell by Brett Lott, The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck, and the fountainhead by ayn rand (I also have Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood and A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes, but since these made the previous trip with me and have both been read and picked apart many times, they seem to require separate mention). For some unknown reason, I decided to pick up the fountainhead. It had to happen sometime.

Why do I persist in refusing to capitalize the title of the book or its authors name? Because I have begun reading the book. THIS is the heralded beacon of reason and objectivity that annoying goth kids in high school and pretentious college antagonists have gushed so enthusiastically about? Granted, I'm not finished with the book, but I wouldn't have trudged past the first chapter if I wasn't stuck on a boat and wasn't rationing my few precious downloaded episodes of America's Next Top Model like they were manna from heaven. But I am on a boat, so I'm going to finish the damn thing.

It isn't exactly a painful read. It might be reasonably enjoyable if it didn't have all that reverent hoojab about how great and life changing it is. It is written as poorly as Ishmael (speaking of reverently adored, eye-opening, badly written books), but at least Ishmael did have some eye opening insight to offer which wasn't found laid out as directly or as challengingly in other books, even if it was clunkily chinked into a silly story. the fountainhead doesn't have all that much which is eye opening and unavailable elsewhere. It is basically just elaborate rape fantasy spruced up as Frank Lloyd Wright fan fiction. If she manages to cram in the description of a shirt clinging to the shoulder blades of another man, I'll throw up. The book starts with a naked dude looking at nature and thinking about how he would control it and overpower it, how it was waiting for him to take control and improve upon it. Force himself upon it, if you will, but as it has been waiting for someone to do, for someone to bring it to that climax that only this ultimate man could deliver. Throw in some other characters, some time, a perfect beautiful stone-cold bitch, a nice trajectory to the bring them together... whatever.

The book is fine as what it is. The story is reasonably engaging, the characters sometimes border on likeable and you even find yourself wanting to see Mr. Roark's buildings get built. But unless there is something really waiting for the last half of the book to bring it all together and make this profound commentary that people have told me this book makes, this is just one more book that I really couldn't recommend anyone devoting the time to unless they find themselves stuck in the middle of the Pacific with only a few books at hand.


I've been away at sea for a few months so I've been a little quieter than I would like. And my laptop cord bit the dust early into the trip so I have less written word to share now that I'm back on land but I'm putting up what I've got. I'm also going to put up some back log, things written in the further distant path but which never made it up here for one reason or another. Hopefully amongst all this you will find something you consider worth reading.

wings... or not

(also written at sea, sometime in October)

If I could walk up on deck and take flight, would I? Where would my wings take me?

I want to say back to you, straight to New York as fast as I can fly. I'd fight the frigid winds and work my way across a continent back into your arms, the arms I'm missing so vividly right now. But we live in the time of choices. Choice and ability are the blessings of our generation. As is so often the case, our blessing is also our curse. The truth is wings would change nothing. I am not held on this boat against my will. I do find myself too far out to swim, but the only thing holding me in sway here was my decision to come here. I could have stayed back East. I wasn't stolen by pirates or at gun point. Not attached to my back, but there are metal wings which could sail me home faster than my fantasy wings could possibly transport me. There are few physical barriers which remain, certainly none between populated areas, only financial ones and those are the ones which put me on this boat and which wings wouldn't help overcome, except perhaps as a carnival attraction. Which has its appeal.

In a way I've already signed up as a carnival attraction. "Look at me! Look at how far I can go! Who else does what I do?" I'm not charging for admission, but it ups my hand in conversation, gives me currency when answering that inevitable query: What do you do? Honestly, what I'd really like to do is bartend or play music, but so far I've managed to do neither. There is a ukulele that I carry with me even at sea, a physical manifestation of a promise to myself to learn an instrument that taunts me with how little I have mastered it. Which I could if I practiced every day, which I don't.

I do do what I do because I like it and I'm good at it. I chose what I do, so wings aren't going to save me from it. I'd have to chose not to do it, which I could, at any time; but then I would have to chose something else and I still haven't mastered that ukulele or convinced anyone to allow me behind a bar. I'd also like to garden, but I grew up on a farm and worked for a landscaper: I know this is not a pleasant thing when it is for other people. And I do really like what I do, it just doesn't allow me to do so many other things which I love that it demands a frequent reanalysis. So do I go back to school, which I hate, and try to take it to the next level, which I might not enjoy and which would force me to interact with other people, which I do well but have less and less patience for?

The life of an artist tempts me from time to time. Perhaps I should say the life of a commercial artist, though I don't mean that in the typical way. I don't just mean someone painting signs or sculpting custom fittings; I mean artist who live off selling their work. All the artists represented by all those galleries, who would shit a brick if someone called them a commercial artist, are commercial artists in perhaps the baldest way possible. All they are selling is art. Their most intimately personal and expressive works are the ones made for public consumption. I like to think I live the life of an artist on some level (despite being horrified by how conceited and stupid that statement sounds), constantly processing and trying to express, sometimes through words, sometimes through images, sometimes through other materials. I don't do it as much as I'd like to, but I also don't do it for money. But I'd like to.

Wings can't give me that. If I were trapped by circumstance, carried away from a place I loved, prevented only by walls or distance from return, I could wish for wings and dream of taking flight. People around me would yell and scream, surprised and scared then awed as I took to the sky. They would either cheer or toss threats and warnings, but my wings would not be wax and I would be gone. An eruption of feathers, a rush of wind, the exhilaration of freedom. But I'm not held in a prison, I'm held by contract and identity and bank account. A take to flight would feel like a free fall: what now?

So I go back to my work, which is not forced upon me, which I chose. The only foe attacking me is impatience and laziness. I remind myself what holding you is like, how sweet it will be when I return and how stale I felt during the long days this summer with too much time and too little motivation. On return, I'll be crisp and fresh, something more pleasant and refreshing to cling to, instead of the sluggish, fading facsimile I was becoming. It might have taken years to fade, but I've seen it enough times to know that I wouldn't be happy that way. That I would take flight from, but that is what you can't fly away from, the feeling that you've wasted time and the dead inertia that you've adopted. So in motion I remain, coming and going. Not on wings of my own, but not dead weight.

"I love you." a brief personal history.

(written earlier in the fall, somewhere at sea)

"It will not be enough to say I love you. I know you have heard it before.

"I love you. Those words were not worn out two thousand six hundred years ago. Are they worn out now? Perhaps, but not by repetition, but by strain." from Art & Lies by Jeanette Winterson

On a whole, I didn't enjoy Art & Lies as much as I had other Jeanette Winterson novels. The story seemed more strained and less fluid, like something created to hang her thoughts on. The overall effect made the book feel more piecemeal. Still, as always, there was plenty to get entangled with and tremendous mental/emotional stimulation. The passage above was amongst the ones which stood out to me, partly because I agree with it, partly because I don't.

Others might object, but since I'm not really writing to analyze the book itself but rather as a leaping off point for my own thoughts, I'll leave this without context from the story. The context isn't the point.

"It will not be enough to say I love you. I know you have heard it before."

Beautiful line. And I suppose I agree for anyone for whom that phrase is over-used. I know there are people who just talk about love for the sake of love and mostly, they make me want to vomit. This isn't just my curmudgeonliness; I get stupidly serious about stuff like this and place way too much importance on love and all that shit. Really. I promise. Perhaps it would be easier to start from my usage of the word and work out from there, rather than blather about how other people (mis)use the term.

My parents have always said I love you. My father not as often, but my mother almost never let one of us walk away without saying 'I love you.' At the end of every phone conversation, every time I left the house, every time we said goodnight (even, during my adolescence when I was so rage filled that I refused to say 'goodnite', abbreviating it purposefully to "'nite" when trying to avoid all interaction failed). And doubly true with my grandmother. None of this is romantic of course, but it is the background of my understanding of the word (and the action): I've heard it, and frequently, all my life and the people who said it meant it.

I don't know if I initiated it, through habit of saying it with my family or if it just arose organically or if someone else initiates it, but the same goes with speaking to my friends. Not all the time, not every conversation, but I've noticed that with most of my close friends we say 'I love you' to each other, usually as part of saying goodbye over the phone, but it gets said. And (at least from this end) meant.

Things, of course, get a little squirrelly when we start talking romantically. Don't they always? For someone who says the words so often and so frequently, you would think they would flow so much easier in a relationship. You would be wrong.

Perhaps I get too serious sometimes. I take things too literally or too heavily; I've worked hard to be lighter and more zephyrus, and have mostly succeeded, but deep down, there is still an uptight virgo literalist in here. And I don't kid about love. Or I didn't; I'm trying to learn how; why should everything, particularly beautiful things be so serious? I'll dive into a little abstract relationship history to hopefully illuminate my point.

I've long have a serious aversion to saying 'I love you' to someone I'm dating. It always seemed to be a big step, somehow in my mind something akin to an engagement ring. That might seem a little bit exaggerated, but at least at one time this was true. I refused to say the words lightly. I could say them to my friends, but as soon as I was dating someone, there was this extra weight. A certainty that if I said 'I love you', I had to mean forever or at least with no end in sight, that it had to be some other level, a way of saying "You are the One," even if I personally didn't believe in 'the One'. This isn't exactly what I meant. I've never gone in for one-true-love bullshit, and certainly don't believe in meant-to-be, but I'm just trying to communicate something of the heaviness that I attribute to saying I love you.

I just don't feel that most of the time, in most relationships, when people say 'I love you' they mean what I want it to communicate, what I mean when I say it. They are saying "I love having a boyfriend" or "I love having someone there to hold" or "I love the way you make me feel" or "I love not being alone" or whatever. And those can be fine and sweet things to say, really. Those are partial reasons why we want relationships and love in the first place. The practical considerations are part of anything in life, and I don't begrudge them being said. I just don't want to hear 'I love you' as a stand in for all these other things. It may mean all of them too, but for me at least it has to mean something special, something more. This is what is meant in Ms. Winterson's text when she says the words are worn out, "not by repetition, but by strain." It isn't how often they are said, but how they are said, used to cover so many emotions, forced to carry so many meanings other than their own.

So I've worked hard to avoid straining these words, and refused to say them in ways I didn't mean them. I had more than a few serious relationships where the words were never said until after it was over, which I regard as a success rather than a failing. I'd rather them seem pointedly absent rather than pointlessly present.

I'm not as harsh as I used to be. This is mostly because I found someone who I could say the words to. They lost their threat: waste us now and you will never get to mean us. I get to mean them and not as stand-ins for other things I don't know how to say, but as exactly what I am saying. Having said them with full resonance, they've become lighter, gentler, more approachable. Having taken up this mantle, I hope I can avoid wearing them out in the way Ms. Winterson warns. If repetition could ear them out, I'd have already failed, but I think I can fairly argue that I at least have never stretched or strained them.

Having learned to say these words, they flow freely from me out into the world (I still mean them). I sometimes wonder if the significance of me being able to say this is lost on him who inspired me, as he never knew them as a protected commodity in my life. The water in a lake doesn't know how dry the lake bed was before; it has been wet since water arrived.

It is hard too for me to remember sometimes as well, but why bother. I like it wet.

"It will not be enough to say I love you. I know you have heard it before."

Oh, but sometimes it is enough...

Phoenix rising

(Written sometime in October, somewhere in the Bering Sea)

I might try my hand again at fiction in November. Why then? Not exactly sure, but it seems a good month for such an undertaking. November has always been my ill-placed month of rebirth. October scours me clean and in November I rise anew. Why these months over any others? Wouldn't it makes sense for my rebirth to be at New Year's, particularly since I've made a cult of it's celebration? Or maybe in the spring when new life springs forth or summer when it grows? Why be built fresh in the season of dying, with leaves falling and days shortening and temperatures falling?

If I had been consulted in the matter, I might have chosen differently but my rhythms seem to have been mostly preset. As to this one in particular, I grow restless in the fall. As soon as the summer starts to cool even a little bit, I get hit with wave after wave of ecstatic wanderlust. At first there is mostly wonder and joy in this feeling, calling me out to explore and enjoy. If, as I am doing now, I can heed this call and take flight and explore, then the feeling can keep some of the joy about it and I just flit about like a kid in a museum for the first time, all big wide eyes and gaping smiles. If I can't, the feeling turns dire and I feel like there is a freight train continually slamming against the inside of my skull, violently and persistently screaming for me to move. I have a hard time sitting still. I have a hard time dealing with other people and retreat deeper and deeper in myself and catch myself wanting to scream out loud or smash things. I do neither; I'm not the type to give into such whims, but I might manage better if I occasionally did. I find myself wanting to force away every familiar thing around me and start over completely. There were more than a few years where it was speculated that any relationship I was in could not survive October unless I was completely sequestered away from my beloved. This was both true and not: October doesn't inspire me to just destroy anything in my reach, it simply refuses illusions. Without illusion, many things fall apart.

Anyway, the point is that this time of year is when I'm rattled to the core. Pleasant or otherwise, every loose thing is shaken loose and all the joints and bends tested to see what will hold and what needs to be repaired or removed. Then comes November, whose main significance to me seems to lie in following October. And so I begin again...

isolation or not

(this was written in early October)

Fishing in the Bering Sea is not like fishing long-line off Hawaii. It isn't the weather that marks the greatest difference; it is the isolation or lack of it. Dutch Harbor itself feels cut off from the world because it is small and the people there are mainly there for one reason: fishing or somehow supporting or profiting off the fishing fleet. And internet access is slow and not so easy to come by and the cell phone service is controlled by a monopoly which wants you to pay through the nose.

But on the water... it almost feels crowded. This is ridiculous, of course, or at least relative. The boats are huge and comfortable and much more connected and modern. This opinion may change later as we venture further out, but two days into fishing and I can still see land! This is a stupid thing to be excited about, but in Hawaii, seeing land was so rare. After three weeks at sea, you would go on deck every few hours on the trip back to see if you could spot land yet and as soon as you could, you would just stare. The solid lines and bulk of it seemed so amazing and almost like a mirage after so long without. We were so far out and sighting anything but birds and fish was so rare that the light of a single fishing boat on the horizon would make you stop and stare and wonder which boat it might be. Even trash floating by became fodder for the imagination. Any little suggestion that there were things in the world beside your little floating prison.

Maybe it is also the contrast of having more people on this boat, it being larger, and the crew all speaking English that makes this feel less isolated, but I still haven't been out of sight of land and other boats are almost always visible. Even when we do leave sight of land, it is unlikely that we will ever be even 200 miles from shore, which is closer than we would start fishing in Hawaii.

This is early, it is still warm. Let's see how I feel about it all as the season wears on.

The Purpose Driven Tripe

I'm back from the provinces, however temporarily. Much to write about and hard to decide where to start, but before I scramble through a backlog of impressions from Alaska and crab fishing, I'm struck by an annoying bit of news that keeps popping up in headlines and irritating the shit out of me (and what is this blog for if not for griping about current events?).

It seems that richard warren is to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. I suppose that there are more toxic religious figures out there. It could be worse, much worse, but I have to register how much this decision irritates me. Why him? Why did they have that stupid thing at his bloated church before? Because he sells a lot of books? His books are stupid. My mother sent me The Purpose Filled Life back when it first came out and I tried to read it. I wanted to like it is theory, but it just isn't very good. The writing is crap and the ideas are vapid. And he's anything but a biblical scholar. It is just feel good crap for dumb middle class people not quite happy enough with all their excess who want a religious leader to give them a quick fix to feeling better about their lives. I read for a few days (it is a daily devotional guide) and then flipped through looking for anything that suggested it shouldn't be shelved then dropped it. When I admitted to Mom that I thought it was crap, she admitted that she had also found it kind of useless and quit reading after a few days.

I'm not the most religious fellow these days, but I'm pretty fierce about it when I've got to deal with it. I appreciate the desire to find and feel magic and the supernatural in everyday life (and that is exactly what religion at its best is about), but most of these modern bullshit artist peddling god for mass consumption and easy digestion kill all that with their assembly line vacuum packing of the Word. I was a uptight religious nerd in an earlier incarnation and read and poured through the Bible nightly, seeking and analyzing and praying and meditating. And I thankfully made my way out someone intact and avoided the looney bin that would be the likely end point of my trajectory had I gone to these false prophets and snake-oil peddlers instead of straight to the text. And even that would have likely left me mentally crippled had I not had people to challenge the popular interpretations and assumptions and force me to also find the Word scattered as it is through so much other text. All of this is just to say that having invested so much time in this subject matter I'm not inclined to be particularly generous to folks who condescend on it and proceed to talk out of their ass.

People are going on about mr. warren's support for prop 8 and of course that pisses me off. All his idiot blather about "a five-thousand year old definition" and crap about every culture having the same definition of marriage as between one man and one woman... has he even read the Bible? The definition of marriage changes through out the Bible and even if it doesn't endorse same sex relationships (other than David and Jonathan's love for one another), it certainly explicitly endorses polygamous marriages. I'm not so concerned that he is just one more homophobic prick (who, irritatingly says, "I'm not homophobic; be nice to gay people," right after saying vote to make the law say we are lesser citizens), but rather that he just isn't much of a religious leader. He is apparently effective and people seem to eat it up, but what the man may have in organization, he lacks in charisma. Billy Graham is a rock star; even if you disagree with the man, there is no denying that he has that umph. If we've got to have a religious invocation, could we at least have someone dynamic instead of some fat mega-church fool?

Most of religous leaders (at least on the national level) in this country are idiots. And so are most of their followers. Surely though, there is someone else? I suppose it is only fair, this guy gave Obama something of a fair shake and leveraged his visibility into an opportunity to reach out to evangelicals, so I can't say that it doesn't make some kind of sense. But it is still a dissappointment; it is a failure, if not of standards, then certainly of style.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

and again...

on land briefly, and back out to sea one more time before a much needed break.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Shortly after leaving land the last time, my computer cord decided to go kaput. So no solitaire, no watching movies in my bunk, and most tragically no writing. So my blog output, already sparse, will for the time being be even more limited. Power cables are hard to come by in backwater locals such as this. Hopefully there will be one waiting for me when I return.

The upside of this is that I have been drawing. Doodling might be the better term, but instead of the trippy pages of color that I normally produce I'm actually making pictures and some sort of narrative this time. I got these beautiful, simple notebooks at Muji a while back, and am slowly filling one with a sort of fantasy travelogue. In theory, when I am digitally capable again, I'll be sharing some of this on here. Sort of a continuation of my attempt to make this more than just a record of political rage.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Barack out with your cock out.

I haven't actually written that much about politics this election cycle. This is surprising only if you happened to have read this blog back in the beginning, before the last election. It originally was mostly politics. And not particularly demure political commentary at that. I started writing with hopes of expanding in to thoughts about all kinds of topics, but the first couple of years were dominated with me trying to sort out some of the rage that I was feeling at the state of our nation and what we were doing, and perhaps more frustratingly, why we were doing it.

The current lack of political spit-fire here should not be read as this being any tamer a beast who resides here. This trash can still contains a fully functional grouch. Partially, there isn't that much new in this election compared to the last couple. Still, before it is over, maybe I should record a few thoughts and observations before all this wraps up. I'm a week or so out of the cycle, so don't expect to find up-to-date breaking news, just what some cranky grump on a boat thinks about all this horse-shit.

in no particular order:

* The only reason to not vote for Barack Obama over john mccain is because you don't like black people or because you don't like democrats. In that order, because the current bunch of monkey turds who call themselves republicans are about as fiscally conservative as drunk who's won the lottery at Christmas time. What the republicans have spent the last thirty or so years selling themselves as are the people to protect you, the good normal (white) people from THOSE people (niggers, faggots, crackheads, drug-dealers, devil worshipers, etc.). There whole schtick is that there are all these horrible others out there trying to destroy you neighborhood, wreck your marriage, corrupt your children, knock up your sweet little virgin daughters. And it works because neighborhoods do get destroyed, marriages do get wrecked, children do get corrupted, and sweet little virgin daughters get knocked up; so just exaggerate, blame, take up the banner of protecting Us from Them, and you are good to go.

* Barack might be harder to slime this way because he actually is black. They can talk all they want about THOSE people, but in all the coverage, Obama comes across more like Bill Cosby than Malcomn X. He is likable and normal and the more you see or listen to him, the more likable and normal he seems. If they could keep him off the tv, then they might have a chance. They've got the crowd who only reads the illiterate, stupid fucking email chain letters they send about this shit, because if you read them and were actually stupid enough to not figure out that this stuff was mostly COMPLETELY MADE UP, then of course you wouldn't like this guy. But even if you read that stuff and it kind of makes you wonder, you see him up on the teevee and he isn't this scary crazy terrorist baby rapist they want you to believe in. John Kerry could be slimed with their scary vision of the encroaching Others, because they weren't trying to make you believe he was any kind of Other besides a 'librul', which is more like an annoying cousin, someone who doesn't know how to protect you from the very scary very real threats, not the threat itself. Barack Obama is their bogey fucking man. By their estimation, he is a Muslim and they've been painting him as foreign. Not true, but who cares, it is how they play. And he is Black. Chicago, community organizing, hollerin' in church B L A C K. And this really is their favorite bogey man. So they run their code words, say their thinly veiled bullshit and warn you all about this crazy fiend who wants to run off with the white wimmins... and then up comes this smiley kind of too earnest but friendly dude with a pretty wife and cute kids who if anything resembles the popular new math teacher/basketball coach at the local high school, not anybody's scary nightmare.

People who've gotten the subliminal messages telling them they aren't supposed to trust this man see him and ask themselves, "Why not?" Their message is deep and they are riding it hard and ugly, but it might just collapse under its own weight this time.

* john mccain is a jackass. No more of this honorable bullshit. He is a dickwad and always has been. And when he talks, he talks down. I don't see how reporters fucking put up with it. Seriously, how can anyone stand being around him when he is campaigning?

* cindy mccain looks like a lizard ice queen. Remember V? I keep waiting for her to eat a hamster.

*Everyone is sick of hearing about mccain's time as a POW but at the end of the day, it was his only qualification to be a senator and it is his only qualification to be president. I said early that the only reason to not vote for Barack Obama over mccain is because he is black and I meant it. This is not just saying that Mr. Obama is the most amazing candidate ever, even if I do think he is quite a good one, but it is to say that mr. mccain is a pathetic one. Whether it is age or temperament or just being surrounded by crappy advisors, he sucks as a candidate. He won by default and shoeshine. The rest of the candidates were beyond laughable. Oddly enough, Ron Paul is the only one who might have had a chance.

*I like Hillary, but I hate her supporters. They were a psycho bunch of freaks. I'm not talking about just people pulling for her, but you know the people I am talking about. They always seemed to corner me at happy hour and wanted to talk about how she WOULD win and would get all nasty about the uppity boy daring to get out of line and challenge her. In the end though, if she had won the primary, I'd be done with the race. Completely. Her campaign was in it to win any way it could, and sorry, I don't just want a democrat in the White House no matter what it takes to get there. If we have to do THAT to get there, I don't want to go there. The reason Obama is appealing is that his campaign hasn't tried to be shady, hasn't tried to manipulate and divide and conquer. Her campaign did. Maybe she could have wiped the floor with mccain, and fun as that would have been to watch, it wouldn't have mattered. We would have already lost.

*Picking sarah palin was the smartest thing the mccain campaign did the whole election cycle. Not because she is a good candidate or qualified or experienced or whatever, but it shook things up and gave people something to talk about... and took the focus off of him. The perky fembot handpuppet is apparently the political equivalent of being goth. You are saying "Huh?" Nothing against goth kids everywhere, but the point of being goth, the whole black hair with maybe some manic panic highlights and the theatrical clothing and eye-liner and studded collars and piercings is that it takes the focus off of YOU. You might be attracting more attention, but it is you as a character attracting it. Getting people to focus on your crazy ass hair or nose ring (which you control) keeps them from focusing on your acne or lisp or whatever they've been making stupid jokes about since kindergarten. It might bring new ridicule but in a weird way the corset and platform Doc Martins put you in control of an out of control situation like adolescence. Or the pretty governor lady brings ridicule but puts you back in control of an out of control situation like your campaign.

Forget Cheech and Chong: a drug movie for a new generation, The Last Mimzy

Just got finished watching The Last Mimzy. Not to give too much away, but the movie is basically about a couple of kids who do drugs. Their parents freak out, then their science teacher and his girlfriend start doing drugs too, but they can't really handle the shit like the kids. Their parents finally start tripping, but by this time the kids have stolen a van and started hitchhiking so they take a ride in a helicopter with Ving Rhames and he gets high. He takes off to find something to eat and the parents and the kids and the teacher and his babe go in the beach house to keep tripping and talk about the future where scientists hug stuffed bunny rabbits and aliens peel their skin off and are horny tweens underneath and kids go to class in fields of flowers wearing jelly shoes.

Then teach and his lady friend go buy lottery tickets.

(You think I am kidding; I am not.)

isolation or not

Fishing in the Bering Sea is not like fishing long-line off Hawaii. It isn't the weather that marks the greatest difference; it is the isolation or lack of it. Dutch Harbor itself feels cut off from the world because it is small and the people there are mainly there for one reason: fishing or somehow supporting or profiting off the fishing fleet. And internet access is slow and not so easy to come by and the cell phone service is controlled by a monopoly which wants you to pay through the nose.

But on the water... it almost feels crowded. This is ridiculous, of course, or at least relative. The boats are huge and comfortable and much more connected and modern. This opinion may change later as we venture further out, but two days into fishing and I can still see land! This is a stupid thing to be excited about, but in Hawaii, seeing land was so rare. After three weeks at sea, you would go on deck every few hours on the trip back to see if you could spot land yet and as soon as you could, you would just stare. The solid lines and bulk of it seemed so amazing and almost like a mirage after so long without. We were so far out and sighting anything but birds and fish was so rare that the light of a single fishing boat on the horizon would make you stop and stare and wonder which boat it might be. Even trash floating by became fodder for the imagination. Any little suggestion that there were things in the world beside your little floating prison.

Maybe it is also the contrast of having more people on this boat, it being larger, and the crew all speaking English that makes this feel less isolated, but I still haven't been out of sight of land and other boats are almost always visible. Even when we do leave sight of land, it is unlikely that we will ever be even 200 miles from shore, which is closer than we would start fishing in Hawaii.

This is early, it is still warm. Let's see how I feel about it all as the season wears on.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

on solid ground...

...but only for a short while, to be counted in hours, part of which must be spent working. My time at sea was lovely and I am in one piece and smiling.

Not sure if I'll get to post any of the stuff I wrote at sea (pending getting my computer near a wifi connection), but wanted to put out just a little note that I am still alive.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

look alike

Unfortunately I'll be at sea for the finals. I could use a new rifle. Look through the gallery accompanying the article and see if you can find me (it is easy, there aren't many Todds).


...out to sea.

Looking forward to the seahab and time to read. And play solitaire compulsively. And see what kind of crazy things we can drag up from the bottom of the sea.

Say a little prayer that my seasickness isn't too rough.


Monday, October 13, 2008

double Dutch

I'll enter again a time of radio silence, as I head out to sea after a hiatus on land. I'm in Dutch Harbor now, sitting in the only spot I've found so far with public wifi access, and in the background is a bar filled with Deadliest Catch people. They are filming in the hotel bar, making everyone sign releases before entering. Nothing against the show, but for now at least, I remain outside.

Dutch Harbor is unbelievably beautiful. Not the town so much, as the architecture remains the boxy functional crap that seems to be all the rage in Alaska, but the buildings are fewer and the landscape more dramatic and much closer. It doesn't simple fill the background, towering behind all the strip malls like in Anchorage; the town is stretched along the water at the base of mountains and hills here.

There are ravens everywhere, particularly around the hill I have to pass to walk to my boat. They make fun clicks and whistles and do a rolling dive when I go past; I'm not certain this has anything to do with my presence or is just something they like to do, but I'll pretend it is for me. I haven't spotted any eagles yet.

I got placed on my boat today. I make it a point to not discuss my actual job, as we all know that blogging about work is a recipe for disaster (even if temptingly cathartic), but I'll say that however much the Bering Sea is a more threatening body of water than the balmy expanse of the Pacific around Hawaii, I still think this is going to be a smoother ride than anything I've every experienced. Compared to what I'm used to, this boat is huge and amazingly clean and seemingly stable. I'm psyched. And most importantly, no smoking indoors! If you ever want to puke your guts out, shut yourself up in a floating prison with bad ventilation and chain smokers. Thankfully that does not describe my upcoming trip. Just being on the boat felt good. I'm anxious to get out on the water. Time on land has been nice, but I'm in work mode now, and there is something comforting about the water. It calms me and makes me feel, for a while, balanced. I'm really good at relaxing anytime anywhere, but most of the time on land I'm faking it. Not faking it so much as forcing it: I can sit and be calm, but I have to fight to achieve it, constantly fighting back nagging reminders of all the things I should be doing and need to get done. This is impossible at sea. I can think of things I wish I was doing and want to do, but not things that I should be doing. My tasks are limited and demand to be done when they present themselves, so no lost hours procrastinating. Reading here is not procrasting, it is its own task demanding its own time.

There is much I'll miss while out at sea, but I'm looking forward to the recharge.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I've meant to write about my impressions of Anchorage since I arrived, but there has always been something that kept me from sitting down and collecting my thoughts. Initial reactions to the place focused on how ugly the architecture is. And it is mostly ugly. Psuedo-modern, mostly boxy clunkers of buildings and lots and lots of strip malls. I have a hard time thinking of a place that I have been before that so struck me so seriously in how uniformly ugly the buildings were. I should admit that I have softened my opinion after being here for a few weeks, since I have found that there are some charming houses in the neighborhoods around downtown and flowers flourishing everywhere and the whole place is generally very clean.

I also wanted to write about gay life here. There seems to be more of it than I expected, with three gay bars thriving and even more homos hiding behind the scenes. And a bazillion lesbians everywhere. But perhaps the take-away thought that I had everytime I went out to the 'mo bars was that if I never see another piece of abercrombie and fitch clothing, it will be too soon. Seriously, I know that brand is a fucking plague and too many douchebags wear it, but at least half of all articles of clothing in a bar on a given night have that stupid logo assaulting our senses. I feel like the chick from Pattern Recognition, getting vertigo from the omnipresent branding. Apparently a&f is my Michelin Man. Anyway, there is some bad fucking fashion (I'm using that word loosely) in this town. But then sometimes there are some really rocking looks, just not often.

I said these are things I've wanted to write about, but I'm not going to write about them now. Because I've been crying for the last half hour.

Anchorage has a free paper that is obviously by the same folks who do the Village Voice and so many of the other free papers around the country. It has Savage Love and Free Will Astrology and News of the Weird, so it is comforting and makes me feel at home a little bit. And there are some good articles (and some insanely stupid ones, like when they take the side of the idiot suing their lawyer because they were so fat the chair broke in the lawyer's office when they plopped down in it). One bit of local flavor has stood out, though. The crime blotter is always good entertainment, because they pick the silly or funny crimes to feature. This crime blotter doesn't dissappoint, but it goes one step further and breaks your heart: they list the rapes that have occured in the week prior. Yup, a fucking rape list. Which, if they are happening, is probably good to broadcast. Warn people, make folks away that these things are happening. But you've got to admit, it is a little terrifying when a small city generates enough REPORTED rapes to have a weekly column listing them.

Our first week here, there were 10 listed. The second week, 10 again, so I began to wonder if that was just the cut-off point or there were exactly that many reported. Week three, the number was drastically lower, so we speculated about whether it was just a kinder, gentler week or cold weather keeping people indoors and safe that accounted for the steep drop. It was almost so disheartening that the only thing you could do with this rape report was make jokes about it, because really looking at what it suggested is too fucking grim.

I've been living in cities for quite a while now, and though I try to actively force myself to stay open to people and to listen to and help people on the street if I can, I still feel the walls go up when I see someone approach me who seems a little off-kilter. This is double for the middle of the night, so tonight when walking home from the bars, when I saw an older woman walking towards me, I started to put up shields and prepare to deflect her so I could keep walking and get home. Til I realize that she is truly upset. Because she had just been raped. Her cane was thrown in the bushes and she was using a stick of wood to walk with and he broke her phone so she couldn't call 911. So I did.

The dispatcher was polite and helpful and the police arrived quickly and seemed genuinely concerned and sympathetic, so I only have nice things to say about the emergency response in this town. But I didn't want to know how fast they respond. I didn't want a reminder of how calm I am in situations like this. I didn't want a reminder how much I break down and cry after the fact. But I got it, so if there is one indelible metric of Anchorage that I will take with me, it is the weekly rape report.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Multimedia message

sunlight on building in downtown Anchorage from September.

(going back through and looking at things I saved as drafts but never posted)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Anti-Palin protest in downtown Anchorage, Alaska

Hopefully I'll get back and get a few more shots before they disperse.

I overheard this guy telling someone that his daughter had made the sign for him.

This was the lone counter-protester, across the street before you get to the main protest. You can't see it in the picture, but he is standing in front of the cage where Star the reindeer lives. She was abandoned by her parents and raised in captivity. The guy who takes care of her was cleaning her cage at the time. When I stopped to take the douchebag's picture, she came over to the side of the cage and started rubbing the fencing with her horns. Her caretaker told me that she likes cameras and just wanted some attention. Before he told me that her name was Star, I had started calling her 'Jerome' when I greeted her when ever I walked past. I like my name better. Maybe I'll just start calling her Miss J.

view from mountain top...

from Flat Top Mountain.

Friday, September 26, 2008



growing in the rocks below a glacier.

up north...

In Alaska, geeking out about king crabs by day in prep for adventures out of Dutch Harbor. By night, when the homework is done we've so far found our way into riding a mechanical bull, entering a Sarah and Todd Palin look-alike contest, and diner parties at the bunkhouse. Tomorrow night we are headed to lesbian mudwrestling.

Life has been in a whirlwind lately, so the written word has suffered, but it is the times when finding pause to type is impossible which are the ones most in need of being being sorted through in text. Here's a meager attempt at diving back in. If nothing else I'm heading out to sea again shortly, so I'll have to type again to stave off the hobgoblins that visit a mind on the water.

Perhaps until going adrift again I could at least share a more images.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

High on a mountain top: putting 'those' people in their place.

Do the police target stings at heterosexual couples in popular make-out spots? And if they did, would those arrested be subjected to having their names and photos displayed by the local news station?

Monte Sano park in Huntsville is a beautiful place from my memory of it. As a kid, I went there with my cousins when visiting them in Huntsville. There was a pretty cool playground, but I liked it mostly because there were cliffs and rocks to climb, geographical features missing from the landscape around my house. When we were teenagers, we would sneak off up the cliffs so they could smoke or make out with girlfriends. They would tell me scary stories of how it was dangerous to go there at night because satan worshipers gathered there, but we mostly laughed at these accounts. We were no longer spooked by the drug users that we had been warned frequented the park when we were kids, since at this point someone with us was usually smoking pot. It is always funny to find that you have become the bogey man you were so strenuously warned against.

Again, it seems that I'm the bogey man that haunts that park, though not the pot smoking teenagers. I never knew about the cruising areas, probably because the public spaces that gay men frequent for cruising are usually those at the edges where other people rarely go. Guys trying to find someone for casual sex usually don't go places that are filled with kids and families; they don't want to be seen by anyone who isn't looking for the same.

Honestly, who fucking cares if someone has sex in a corner of a park. The guys positioned themselves in a place so they could see the parking lot and avoid being seen by outsiders, and the police and tv station go to extreme lengths to voyeurize the activity and take it from the fringes of the community and force it into every home via the nightly news. Why is the activity of consenting adults so news worthy? Because the people involved are gay (different) and refuse to submit to the desires of the authorities. And why is it ok for the the police and the tv station to subject these people, consenting adults, to public humiliation and extra-legal punishment? Because gay people matter less under the law.

This is what the gay marriage battle is about. This is what ENDA is about. This is what the fight to allow gays in the military is about. The fight is about having or not having laws that say, "You don't matter as much because you are gay. The law will not protect you. We do not have to treat you like you are fully human."

These men were consensual adults, participating in a non-violent, victimless crime. That the police find it necessary to go out of their way to harass and target these men with stings is offensive enough in and of itself, but to bring in the local news crew and work to exact an extra-legal punishment is disgusting. Why bring in the news, why publish faces and names? To shame them. To go beyond the law and exact punishment above and beyond that called for under the law. They feel emboldened to do this because the limits of the law are not the limits of the public's jurisdiction over the queer amongst us. Those people don't matter as much to the law, and because of this, the law is not seen as the boundary around how gay people should be treated. The law is for the real people, the good citizens, not the faggots.

This is why it is ok for the local news station to act as a branch of enforcement, to act as police and judges in this case. Gay people shouldn't be able to get married because law shouldn't treat them as real people or full citizens. Gay people shouldn't be able to serve in the military because the law shouldn't treat them as real people or full citizens. Gay people shouldn't have the same protections in the workplace because the law shouldn't treat them as real people or full citizens. This is the message.

These are hot button issues for the right wings because they do not want to be bound by the law in how they respond to the gay community. They do not want to be limited by the law in how they exact punishment on these 'others', we the bogey men.

Towleroad's article on this is full of comments about how the men got what they deserved or how they shouldn't expect to be exempt from laws. I'll forget for a moment that personally I don't think that having sex in public should be illegal unless it is some kind of disturbance of the peace. My argument here isn't that these guys should expect special treatment under the law. Instead the fight is about equal protection under the law, and limiting the jurisdiction for punishment to the legal system. The frequent, targeted stings were specifically enacted because the targets were engaging in homosexual behavior. For the police to go by and issue tickets wasn't enough, because the law was not the limit to the enforcement the police and others in the community felt entitled to. This was not a situation of "Do the crime, do the time." This was, "Get in your place, boy (or in this case, 'faggot'), or someone might put you there." It was meant to be intimidating and it was meant to exact a punishment for more than just the crime. It was meant to remind the public that gay people should not expect their rights to be the same under the law.

We can't fight for the right to marry and then turn our back on the rights of everyone to be treated the same under the law. The ability of the police and media outlets to participate in intimidation and demonization like this emboldens our opponents to treat all gay people like we aren't full citizens and aren't deserving of full protection under the law. Get out of the best-little-boy-in-the-world trap: "If we just act good enough, show them how like them we can be, then they'll treat us like we are real people too!" Bullshit. Capitulating to and encouraging the belief that individuals should be subject to punishment (legal and otherwise) for not conforming to majority approved roles and that personal expression and identity should be subject to public control only emboldens these fucktards to further try to mistreat anyone who is different.

This sting isn't just about some old closet cases fucking in a park; it is about me and every other gay person in this country. This is about me because I want to be able to expect the same treatment under the law as everyone else, because I don't want to have to worry that my behavior is subject to extra scrutiny and extra-legal judgement and punishment because I am gay.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Psychopsis papilio

(update: looked at the tag with my orchid, which identifies it as "Onc. Mendehall 'Hildos'". Let's ignore the capitalization of the species name, "mendehall". The genus was originally lumped in with Oncidium, but most recent sources I've seen concider Psychopsis a separate genus. I don't have access to a good guide to the different species of Psychopsis but will discuss it in more depth as I find out more about this lovely genus.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fine, lovely, brilliant folks (and for contrast, one gargantuan douchebaggy dissappointment)

You may notice that I've added to a few new links to my side bar. In all honesty I think I'm the only person who uses my links. It collects a few of the sites I like visiting in one place, but let's pretend my massive public following also uses it as their portal to the internet. This adoring following would have noticed most recently that I finally added Kung Fu Monkey, on whom I've long had the biggest blog crush in the world. Honestly, if I got to pick one web site that I'd feel honored to be amongst their links, this is probably it.

Enough fanboy bullshit (actually I am just getting started), the second one you would notice is a link to Charles Stross's blog. I found it because Kung Fu Monkey links to him. I cared and recognized the name because I read Singularity Sky earlier this year.

In Hawaii, in the office, there were books that were free for anyone to grab to read while out at sea. A significant portion of our job was simply not going batshit crazy while cut off from society, so taking lots of books out on trips is more than encouraged. I picked up Singularity Sky by Mr. Stross on a whim. In the last couple of years, with all the time away at sea trapped in various floating prisons under the pretexts of 'science' and 'employment', I've plowed through a shit-ton of books; and out of those books, Singularity Sky would easily be in the top three and probably number one if asked off the top of my head to make a recommendation for a fun and compelling read. It is perhaps one of those few great sci-fi adventures which stretches plausability in a challenging but believable way, forcing you to wrap your head in different ways than you are used to. All science fiction writer like to believe this is what they do, but few of them fully succeed. I've only read the one of his books so far, but I'd put him in a catagory with William Gibson. And like Mr. Gibson, his online writing show him to be a nimble thinker, playfully tinkering about with various problems our world presents us with and our imaginations can conjur.

The polar opposite to the two of them is orson scott card. This hurts to acknowledge, as Ender's Game was brilliant, also a compelling and fun read, even if you'd have to be dense as a brick not to figure out the ending well in advance. I read it and wanted more, but while Speaker For the Dead was well written, it wasn't as enjoyable. I actually found it outright irritating. Part of this will be because I'm a biologist and much of the plot of the book depends on him butchering science beyond the edge of plausibility. I'm fine for playing fast and loose with the limits of the material world, but make it somehow believable. Beyond the irritation of not being able to believe in the story or much about the characters, there was an obvious and irritating preachiness to the book that pissed me off. Again, a compelling and kind of fun read, but also nagging to the point that I was thankful when I finished reading it and passed on picking up any of his other books. I can't say that it is exactly surprising to find that he is a right-wing batshit crazy douche-bag. Dissappointing, but I'm completely willing to divorce beautiful works of art from their creators. I'd still recommend Ender's Game to friends, but I'd also recommend they borrow a copy rather than buy it new.

And also notice Mr. Gibson's blog also now residing in the side bar. This is long belated, particularly as I have linked to him before in specific posts. His blog posts don't tend to be so lengthy, but there are gems of insight and guidance to be found within. I just finished Pattern Recognition(absolutely fucking brilliant); now I've got to get my hands on more of his books before I cast out to sea again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Manhunt: a week in the politics of and a refusal to be a victim, a rejection of the desire to blame.

(A warning: sometimes I ramble on forever. This is one of those times.)

Sometimes I write simply as an attempt to put my finger on some little nagging feeling that won't stop bugging me. This is one of those times.

Last week, it was pointed out that one of the founders of Manhunt gave the maximun allowed personal donation to john mccain. This seemed to set off a weird little shit-storm that has been interesting to watch. That first little note on Towleroad about him being a republican and supporting mccain spread like wildfire. I like Towleroad, but really don't go there that often, so if word-of-mouth hadn't kicked in, I probably wouldn't have been aware of it at all. As it stands, every one of my gay friends that I have spoken to this week had already heard the news. These are pretty plugged in folks, but none the less, I overheard multiple conversations about it and this bit of news seems to have struck a cord in a way that I haven't seen in a while.

Who cares about a bunch of faggots griping about politics? Apparently, the shareholders at Manhunt. This isn't a mom-and-pop operation, but apparently this caused enough of a backlash that the co-founder and chairman of the board of the second stickiest site on the internet that rakes in around 30 million/year (not counting ad revenue) was asked step down! Really though, that isn't all that surprising. Our political clout as gay men and women comes from our economic clout. Asshole republicans might still enjoy bashing us to try and get a few extra votes, but corporate entities think twice about really pissing us off. By and large, we are vindictive consumers and we have enough cash to reject a company who rejects us. We aren't going to shut someone down, but a gay boycott can put a dent that hurts in a company's profit margin. Coors has been fighting for 20+ years to get back a chunk of the gay market. The religious right likes to scream and wave their hands around and call boycotts, but they just don't seem to vote with their dollars quite like we do. Just ask .McDonald's.

So I can't say that I was surprised to hear person after person voicing their decision to cancel their Manhunt account. All things being fair, I'll say that the response of the shareholders and the statement by the other cofounder Larry Basile seemed to readily acknowledge how toxic support of our enemies is in the gay community, so I'll give them a little nod of appreciation. Granted, I'll also not renew my subscription and amongst the people I've talked to or heard discussing it, the general gist seemed to be that this wasn't enough to get them back on board anytime soon. I'll guess that this moral stand is all the firmer because however effective Manhunt is, it is also irritating (all online searching becomes irritating after a while), so having a little bit of an excuse to stay away is all many people need.

All this discussion of Manhunt was made all the more potent and volatile by a recent article on by Michael Gross titled "Has Manhunt Destroyed Gay Culture?" Ok, I'll forgive the lofty hyperbole in the title, after all, I like hyperbole. And I'll agree that the article is interesting and damn if this article wasn't perfectly timed for maximum impact. How ever congradulatory I might be towards it's targeting and timing, my feelings about it are the ones that I've come here to sort out in text. Despite finding the article interesting, something in it really irritated the fuck out of me.

Let's leave aside for a second any of the back politics of Manhunt discussed earlier. Like I said, for me, it kind of came out at a draw and this article makes no claims about any intentional attempts by manhunt to steer gay politics other than using ad space to rally its members to fight attempts to require proof of age for people to post naked pictures online. Actually, I'd argue that Manhunt is successful precisely because it stays so on task. It is easy to use and has a minimum of bells and whistles, and changes to its user interface are rare and minimal. So this isn't about intentional attempts by Manhunt trying to destroy gay culture but rather what consequences are we seeing because of how we utilize it.

Says Mr. Gross about how we're using the internet:

"'Post-gay' social life grew mixed, and the physical drive that defines us as gay -- the drive to have sex with each other -- increasingly found vent online. This aspect of our lives became more private, and even secret, than ever. In 1993, 2.3% of gay men found their first male sexual partner online. In 2003 the number was 61.2%. (These figures come from the United Kingdom, and there’s been no parallel study in the United States, but sociologists believe the findings here would be similar.)"

and how our community is changing in response to this:

"'The implications of that trend are enormous,' says Jeffrey Klausner of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. 'It means that gay men who were once socialized in brick-and-mortar establishments, surrounded by other people, are now being socialized online.' Gay men still go out as well, but our nightlife habits are very different than they were 12 years ago. Jeffrey Parsons, professor of psychology at New York’s Hunter College, says his unpublished research confirms the common sense that 'when guys go to bars, they’re going to be with their friends, not to meet new people.'"

These statements I don't really disagree with (I'll not split hairs about it not being our physical drives so much as our emotional ones which define us as gay), but I do think they are mistaking the symptoms for the cause. Bars have shifted somewhat away from being cruisy hook-up spots towards places to go with and meet friends not because all the people wanting to get laid have run off to the internets to hid their ho-bagness but rather because being gay is more widely accepted and can more easily be integrated into a person's public social identity and so isn't as often restricted to being simply indicative of who you sleep with. That I sleep with men isn't what I'm communicating when I tell someone I'm gay these days. To some people that may be all they see, but more and more we are able to expand what it means to include how we interact with the world. It isn't just about fucking, though I'm sure I'm going to contradict myself about this in a moment. My point is that it wasn't the creation of Manhunt or any other online cruising site that destroyed the cruisiness of gay bars.

The visibilty of gay people in popular culture and politics has had a multitude of benefits for us, but with that visibility and acceptance into the community at large has left us more at the mercy of public opinion and in the irritating position of having to either assimilate and find ways to project an adoption of roles acceptable to the wider community or hide our gayness or at least the less palpable habits more deeply. This fuels Manhunt more than Manhunt facilitates its progression. We find ourselves having to accept these roles or more aggressively challenge them.

For those of us in major urban centers with large gay populations, we aren't as pressured to accomodate as those in smaller communities might be. I can surround myself with mostly gay friends and still be social with straight friends, and most of both groups think little of blending together. It is no big deal to take a straight friend to a gay bar. And our demographic seems more than comfortable with discussing sex and dating in pretty blunt and open terms. Even still, there are things about gay culture that I'm likely to either gloss over or not describe terribly graphically, but this isn't out of shame so much as manners. You don't bring up things which you think might make someone else uncomfortable.

This isn't significantly different than some of what is said in the Out article, but I hope that there is a difference in tone. His tone in the article seemed to be reinforcing gay shame, to validate the idea that these things are inherently shameful. This tone is enhanced by making the contradictory claim that while the sex has been disappearing from gay clubs and public places, Manhunt is causing more anonymous and unsafe sex.

Bullshit. I'll argue that casual, anonymous sex is more difficult to find now than it has been at any other time in the last 40 years. I'm stretching since that goes back further than my personal sexual experience, but I've spent enough time talking to the old guys I can find in whatever gay bar I've ever been to to at least have an anecdotal feel for gay life in this period. And the significant changes that have driven to less public cruising and sex are 1) public awareness via pop culture leading to closer scrutiny and sometimes public backlash (as with most public rest areas in South Carolina being closed in reaction to a few conservative public officials being upset by the depiction of SC as a hotbed of gay sex in There's Something About Mary), 2) attempts to clean up public areas and enforce smaller crimes to discourage larger crimes in communities, as described by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point (so, glory holes and bathroom graffitti get covered over, the health department shuts down cruisy theaters, more police patrol parks), 3)a loss of much a generation above us and particularly those who participated most actively in cruising prior to the identification of how to protect ourselves during sex, and perhaps most significantly, 4)the afore mentioned awareness of the general public of the ubiquity of gay people and less willful ignorance amongst the public, so cruisy behavior is more likely to be identified as such so the chances of getting caught are higher for those folks still in the closet. Going to a gaybar is more fraught with danger of being caught (even if perhaps the danger of being assaulted is somewhat less) for the closeted individual as people are more likely to be aware of gay bars or hangouts in their communities, these days you might even to run into girls from the office out dancing at the gay club.

You've got to be pretty ready to be known of as gay if you are going to participate in any kind of gay community things. It is no longer just between you and the people you sleep with or see at the bar. This was driven home to me when I visited home during college and ran into several girls I went to highschool with out at the gay bar some 50 miles away from my house. They were just out dancing, but suddenly, ready or not(I was ready), I was outed to everyone my age who I had known in rural Alabama (not that they hadn't thought I was gay all along...). These weren't fag hags or there with their gay best friends; going to a gay bar no longer involves an initiation or chaperone.

This isn't a complaint.

But this drives the movement of more illicit behaviour, particularly for those less comfortable with their sexuality, out of bars and public cruising spots and onto the internet. Manhunt didn't create this phenomena even if it does facilitate it remarkably well.

Hidden in this question, "Has Manhunt destroyed gay culture?" is the suggestion that gay culture has been destroyed and if it has been, there is a desire to have a scapegoat to blame. What exactly are we suggesting has been destroyed? The gay community is more visible than ever; we have more widespread acceptance, legal protection, and political clout. What has been destroyed? What is the damage, exactly, inflicted by Manhunt or people spending more time online? As said earlier, in some places, gay bars are struggling to maintain clientel, but again I argue that the retreat from gay bars is in response to outside pressure and bars no longer being the only place that gay folks can find others like them more than people abandoning bars because they can now find fellows to fuck online.

So where have we gone wrong? Says Mr. Gross:

"Beyond a certain point, though, perpetually settling for Mr. Right Now becomes a failure of hope. When you came out, you did it because you wanted something. Part of what you wanted was sex, but part of what you hoped for was the possibility of being loved as your true self. And when, as often happens while cruising online, we diminish the hopes that drew us out of the closet, we reduce sexy to a purely physical act.

"When we do these things we lie to ourselves -- and worse, we tell the same lies that our enemies tell about us. The fundamentalist canard about loving the sinner but hating the sin draws a nonsensical distinction between person and act. Cruising online, by encouraging us to separate sex from the rest of our lives, does exactly the same thing. These are falsehoods about human nature and about the place of love in our lives, and they undermine the belief that sex can be anything more than a pastime."

I don't buy that cruising online 'encourages' us to separate sex from the rest of our life; it can allow us to make this separation, but ultimately it is a tool and we choose how we use it. If we put up non representative profiles of ourselves online, WE have done that, not someone else, not Manhunt, not gay culture at large.

This irritates the fuck out of me when people so often take the ability to do something as an endorsement to do it. I'll agree that we as a community need to encourage and support certain boundaries. We should fight like cats and dogs to get decent sex ed back in schools, and we should work back to stigmatizing casual barebacking or at least keep bugging people to know their status and ask the same of their partners before participating in risky behavior, but we've also got to be real about personal responsibility in all this. This article seemed to want too much to have someone outside of ourselves doing the objectifying, the time wasting, the separation; and sadly enough, it isn't a website or anyone else. We each individually are going on these sites and looking for what we want. We make our representations ourselves and we post those dick pics. And if that is what you are wanting to do, do it. Enjoy it and fuck anyone who tells you to be ashamed about it. If you are ashamed and feel dirty about it, that's you. That is your baggage, not the website's. Don't do it if it makes you feel bad, but don't wish it all away to preserve you from the dark temptations. The sad truth is that on some level, we are all in real life something of the person we pretend to be online. If you have an online profile asking for hot sex now, that is part of who you are and what you desire, not something the devil or Manhunt made you do. Sure we can lie online about who we are, but what lies are told say something about who we are.

This was a defense of the article that friends made when I said it irritated me; they agreed with this statement that cruising online causes "us to separate sex from the rest of our lives". And? I'm not going about whether severing your sexual self from you personal identity can be traumatizing; that is exactly why the closet is so damaging: disowning pieces of yourself while deifying and mythologizing a carefully maintained exterior is how monsters are made. What I would argue is that online cruising isn't any more inherently dehumanizing than old school cruising in person; if anything, it demands more disclosure and accurate representation. Sure, if your online profile is a cock shot or a headless torso, it feeds into objectification of our bodies, but is this some how more objectifying that a dick stuck through a glory hole or under a bathroom stall?

Why do I keep coming back to anonymous public cruising? Because that is the real world niche that Manhunt is there to fill online. It is a built as a place for online cruising; it is there to facilitate finding someone to fuck, not someone to marry. Ignore that plenty of people search through it more for amusement or just to see who they can recognise or as a way to connect with other gay people when they more to a new town. Simply by force of size and ubiquity it has become something of a community center, but it was built to be a cruising ground.

It is the tone in the article that plays to the assumption that what we do, what we desire how we attempt to realize those desires is inherently shameful that I feel is so damaging. It is an extension of best-little-boy-in-the-world syndrome: if I'm good enough, if I show them that I'm just like they are, then they'll accept me. Fuck no! I'm not just like everyone else; I'm not interested in normal; I'm not waiting for the normal people, the real people to accept me or my desires. I'm also not interested in pretending like the 'normal' people are particularly normal.

Am I saying that no one should have to think about how their behavior affects their life or those around them? Hell no, but we also shouldn't be taking our cues on how to measure our worth from the standards set by our enemies. I'm fine with the thesis that online cruising can be an enormous time waster that the time could be better spent doing other things or that how we divide and sublimate portions of our identities can have detrimental affects, but I'm not interested in the complaint that big, bad Manhunt has created this new phenomena of dangerous anonymous sex that is destroying our once vibrant gay culture. It positions us as both victim and predator, helpless against this scourge and yet also the amoral sex fiends feeding off one another. If only it hadn't done this to us, if only we weren't such sluts and whores. If anything, it is this accomodationist guilt-trip attitude that prevents our progress in political arena's that Mr. Gross's friend suggests jokingly that we might have been able to accomplish if only we didn't "spend so many hours of so many days online, doing things that make us feel ashamed of ourselves.” We are going to accomplish these things when we quit spending so much time feeling ashamed of the things we do and instead of demonizing and repressing urges find constructive ways of channeling them and accepting ourselves. Part of this is looking long and hard at how promiscuous we are (and aren't) and what we will do with what we find, but this is an inward journey and a conversation with each other, not something to pretend has been thrust upon us. As we accept ourselves and our desires and our identities, we seem to be more able to find satisfaction and peace, and even, as I'm finding now, more enjoyment from a domestic existence and partnership, but this isn't the only way and it isn't a place I ever would have gotten if I still felt guilty for and controlled by my desires.

So let's ask the questions about what stands in the way of accomplishing our desired political goals. Let's ask ourselves what we want out of things like Manhunt and if we are getting it and if not, how we could. Let's talk about how our time is wasted or well spent. Let's talk about why gay bars are struggling (or in other cases, thriving) and how to counter it. But can we please get a little more real and dig a little deeper. We need discussions and analysis, not snake oil treatments and someone to blame.

Monday, August 11, 2008

White-bread vs. white trash: let's call a spade a spade (alternate title: "cokie roberts complains that Obama ain't acting white enough.")

The kind and talented folks over at Talking Points Memo have noted the asinine statements by cokie roberts suggesting that Hawaii is too foreign and exotic for Barack Obama to chose as a vacation destination. She thought Myrtle Beach would have been a better choice.

They sort of dismiss it with casual, bemused derision; asking for suggestions of better, more 'white-bread' destinations he might vacation at to please the pundinistas. Casual derision is all her stupid-ass comments deserve, but I think it ends up glossing over a couple of things illuminated by her statements.

Let's ignore how retardedly patronizing cokie is being in suggesting that she knows better than he where he should vacation. Actually, maybe we shouldn't ignore that. Would she have said that Hawaii was too exotic a locale for mccain to visit? No, of course not. And why not? Because he is white. For Barack Obama, with his brown skin and non-European name to be considered for president, folks like cokie roberts want him to jump through extra hoops to prove to them that he is American enough, white-acting enough, un-ethnic enough for them to dein to grace him with their votes.

This is the quiet, irritating racism which threatens to derail this race. I would bet a dollar that cokie roberts doesn't think of herself as racist. I'd even bet a second dollar that she thinks she is quite progressive. And in the larger sense of the world, she probably isn't an outright racist. Most of us, most Americans aren't. But it is the little, sometimes subconscious things which get sticky and can really get so irritating. Honestly, sometimes it is easier to deal with someone who will come right out and say, "I'm not going to vote for a nigger," than someone who says, "There is just something about him I just don't trust."

Is cokie saying she doesn't trust him? Not per se when she's positing that he is vacationing somewhere too exotic. Why is it too exotic for him to vacation there while it wouldn't be too exotic a place for john mccain to vacation? Because for a person of color, the general damns the individual. For Obama to vacation somewhere ostensibly 'exotic' is to be in danger of being seen as 'exotic'. If mccain visited an exotic locale, its otherness wouldn't become associated with him the individual. I'm ignoring of course that Hawaii is an American state and Obama's family is there, but again, if mccain had been born in Hawaii, his association with an exotic locale would be considered something that gave him extra dimension rather than a way to dismiss him as different. Because he is white, for all appearances fully of European decent. This is also why Barack's preacher was more of an issue than mccain's crazy preachers: with those in a different group than us, the sins of an individual become the sins of the race while the sins of someone in our same category are their own, not so easily contaminating those around them. So the actions/beliefs/statements of one black man, Rev. Wright, are considered indicative of the actions/beliefs/statements of another black man, Barack Obama, above and beyond their relationship and what either has said to the contrary. mccain's preachers shamed themselves, and only considerable flogging made the public conflate their actions with the candidate and so now are mostly forgotten to anyone who doesn't watch the campaign obsessively.

I don't mean to sound high and mighty in all this, like I'd never make such subconscious judgements. We all do. It is the nature of in group and out group relations. You are going to more readily identify with someone in your in group, with whom you recognize shared traits and so more accurately read between the lines with them and catch nuances. With people with whom you identify similarities, you are less likely to conflate negative aspects of an individual with the entire group because it also damns you and if it truly isn't a trait of the group you can recognize the lack of said trait in yourself. What makes this sticky and a bit nauseating while discussing this presidential race is how we are drawing the lines around 'Us' and 'Them'. This is part and parcel for the republican party to try to make their opponent into 'Them'. Their whole shtick is whining about how those people are ruining or threatening to ruin the country, and puffing out their chest and saying, "but we won't let them get away with it!" If mitt romney had been a viable candidate outside of just having a shit-ton of money to throw away on a vanity project, mccain et al would have hit him harder and done all manner of insidious thing to remind people that he was a Mormon, that he was different, that he was one of them. In the last election Kerry was a Northeast liberal elitist, and bush needed to be elected again to protect Us from all those scary brown people who hate our freedom and the gays that want to destroy the institution of marriage and corrupt the children. And now, mccain and friends are going to hit Barack Obama with everything they've got to suggest as subtly but clearly as possible that he isn't one of Us. They've already succeeded as painting him as Muslim for the seriously xenophobic folks and they're doing their damnedest to facilitate the belief that he might be the fucking antichrist (literally), so I'm not really going to hold my breath for them to be more sensitive in their message. They should be if they didn't want to be douchebags, but I don't think it is high on their list of concerns. This is why I don't vote for republicans or even very often capitalize their names. Willingness to try to win this way is also why I lost respect for the Clinton campaign.

Members of the press feeding this smear of otherness, however, do get me pissed off. How are they drawing the lines of 'Us' and 'Them'? For a presidential race, the in group is the entire country. The people following the race, the people who can vote for the president, the people who are to be represented by the president are every last American citizen. Not just white people, not just east coast folks, not just stuck-up, spoiled pundits. The treatment of a presidential candidate as 'other'(i.e. 'not really American') is pretty disgusting. The message in the message that ms. roberts was sending is that Barack Obama needs to prove himself as one of Us, as an American. And implicit in this suggestion that he isn't one of Us is also the suggestion that black people aren't really Us either, aren't really Americans at least until they've proven themselves.

I've gone in a different direction that this was originally going to go, as you might have guessed from the title. What originally got me going was TMP's call for more white-bread destinations than Myrtle Beach. cokie roberts wasn't suggesting that Barack should have chosen somewhere more 'white-bread', she meant that he should go somewhere more white trash. She didn't suggest Cape Cod or the Hamptons, she chose Myrtle Beach, the "Redneck Riviera". Why do I suggest that this more telling than choosing another equally or perhaps more 'white' vacation destination? Because it means that the press isn't finished with their stupefying grovelling to the fictionally monolithic Nascar demographic. There has been a sort of deifying of the redneck as this uniquely American beast (which it isn't), and the national press corps goes on and on ad nauseum about how these 'true' Americans will respond to this or that in the national press, as if these strange, otherwise cut-off country folks control the direction of the country and must be appeased before anything can go on. They are simple and should be spoken to like children and only given information in the broadest strokes so the message can't get lost in the nuance. Well, I find it pretty damn patronizing and insulting. Perhaps all the more so because to a certain extent it is true: their are plenty of people who are willing to believe anything they are told by an authority and are all too happy to view the world dichromatically. But I'd start with the press who ate the administration's bullshit on Iraq hook, line, and sinker if we really want to start naming whose shown themselves to be a crucially manipulable demographic.

In the same way that the press both trash and simultaneously idolize this idea of a culturally less sophisticated but somehow more genuine demographic in 'middle America', they also project onto them their own prejudices, using communication with this group as an excuse for airing their own biases. When ms. roberts suggested that Hawaii might be too exotic, to whom is it that she is suggesting it would be too exotic? To those down home folks in middle America of course! Her choice of the Red-Neck Rivera for his family vacation belies who she thinks might not be able to relate to his exotic Hawaiian gallivanting. Perhaps I am reading too much into her choice of vacation destination, maybe it is really a place she loves to visit herself and she is personally afraid of how international Hawaii is, but growing up in the South, Myrtle Beach was always synonymous with a fairly trashy vacation destination. Not that it can't be fun, but it is the kind of place that you go for spring break or graduation trips or possibly for family reunions if you live near there, not really a vacation spot for senators (except perhaps ones from SC, but get real, unless its for a fundraiser they're going to be vacationing on Hilton Head or Kiawah). I'm getting off track. The original point was that in choosing this location, suggesting who it is that might, in cokie roberts's mind, have issue with a black presidential candidate going somewhere that seems too exotic, reinforcing assumptions that he is too exotic(read: "not really American"), she is projecting her prejudices onto this middle America true grit demographic.

I'll stop flogging this for now. Ben asked me to put down the computer so he could sleep and proceeded to admit that he has new found love for nancy grace. I'm flabbergasted and appalled, but can't help giggling as he imitates her ridiculous hyperbole. He does perhaps have a point, "They could take any segment from her show to use as a Saturday Night Live skit and not have to change one word."

I hope that the Obamas are enjoying their Hawaiian vacation.