Short takes on politics, culture and life.
What does Mitt Romney have against France? Campaigning this week in Iowa, Romney warned that, even though America's unhappy with the war, it's "not about to take a sharp left turn and put somebody in the White House who would turn America into a European-type state." The day before, in New Hampshire, Romney trotted out the old GOP red flag against "big government, big brother, big taxes." "That's where Europe went," he added "That's what got them the economic challenges they had." Old Mitt's sticking close to a campaign strategy memo, written by his top advisers and reported in the Boston Globe earlier this year, that advised him to make "European-style socialism" the enemy. "That's where Hillary and the Dems would take us," the memo said, "Hillary=France." (Romney's also taken to comparing Hillary Clinton to Karl Marx.)
Perhaps he could me more grateful to his one-time host country. As a young Mormon, Romney received a missionary draft deferment and spent two plus years attempting to convert the residents of Bordeaux and Paris to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. According to his one-time fellow missionary, Dane McBride, the usual answer was "Non, merci."
Though Romney organized the 2002 Winter games in Salt Lake City, he's apparently lost the Olympic spirit of global goodwill. Meanwhile, the Americans in Paris featured in Michael Moore's SICKO seem quite happy with France--fries and universal healthcare included.
Bush's nominee for surgeon general, Dr. James Holsinger, has come under fire this week for his anti-gay politics (first documented by Bible Belt Blogger Frank Lockwood). By day Holsinger teaches health sciences at the University of Kentucky where he was chancellor of the Chandler Medical Center. By night, however, the good doctor is a bible-thumping Reverend with a degree in biblical studies from Asbury Theological Seminary and a seeming
fascination of antipathy towards homosexuals.
Holsinger founded the Hope Springs Community Church, a "recovery ministry" that caters to alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts and those seeking to "walk out of that [homosexual] lifestyle," according to its pastor Rev. David Calhoun. When not busy endorsing ex-gay conversion therapy, Holsinger served on the highest court of the United Methodist Church where he voted to remove a lesbian pastor from her position.
And today, the Human Rights Campaign released a document Holsinger authored in 1991 as a member of the United Methodist Church's Committee to Study Homosexuality. Titled Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality, Holsinger's religious tract-cum-scientific paper is a fascinating window into the perverse imagination of homophobia. In essence, Holsinger argues that male-female "reproductive systems are fully complementary" because "anatomically the vagina is designed to receive the penis." The remainder of his paper is a graphic account of the "delicate" rectum which is "incapable" of "protection" if "objects that are large, sharp, or pointed are inserted" into it. From there Holsinger continues to discuss what he imagines are the pains (and pleasures?) of anal sex, from "fist fornication" and "sphincter injuries" to "lacerations," "perforations" and "deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism."
Sharp objects! Deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism! Gadzooks! Now, I've been around the block one or ten times, and I don't know any gay men who have put scissors up their ass, much less died from it. Of course, the barely mentioned but palpably anxious context in which Holsinger connects "death" with "anal eroticism" is the AIDS epidemic. And it should come as no surprise that his paper was part of a larger, pseudo-medical, moral discourse in which gay men's mode of sex (and by extension gay men) were blamed for AIDS - the death we deserved, the sexual suicide we courted.
The flip side of Dr. Holsinger's lurid speculation is the dangerous presumption that because heterosexual sex is "natural," it is safe -- safe from HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and the trauma and injury that Holsinger seems so feverishly eager to attribute to gay anal sex. We now know, tragically and beyond any possible doubt, that heterosexual sex is not safe unless one practices it as such. And no amount of wishing and praying by our next Surgeon General on the "complementarity of the human sexes" will make it so.
A few years after Dr. Holsinger wrote his little brief against male-male anal sex, then Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested, at a UN Conference on AIDS, that masturbation might be taught to young people as a mode of reducing sexual risk. On this point she was absolutely correct, but for even daring to mention the M-word, she was lampooned by the Christian right and eventually asked to resign by a cowardly Bill Clinton who, in retrospect, might have paid more attention to Dr. Elders and spent less time inserting foreign objects into inappropriate places.
But no matter. The doctor who gave sound, clinical medical advice was fired, while the doctor who engaged in wild, graphic and unsubstantiated fantasies about gay sex will most likely assume the helm as "America's chief health educator." And you wonder why we have a health care crisis in this country.
In an era when every Ann, Isaiah and Tim can bask in the toxic green glow of homophobe fame just by throwing around the F-word a few times in public, it's nice to know that some people still have standards. To commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17), my friends over at Human Rights Watch have assembled a Hall of Shame. And they are not messing around with this GLAAD-Entertainment Tonight-Rehab-Apology bullshit.
This year's inductees include: Pope Benedict (for politicizing the Catholic Church's theological views on homosexuality), George W. Bush (for threatening the health of LGBT people by mandating abstinence-only sex education) and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (for launching a campaign against "public immorality" that has led to the arbitrary arrest of thousands). As HRW's Scott Long put it, the Hall of Shame "highlights leaders who have lent their authority to denying basic human rights." Jerry Falwell, may he rest forever, would be proud. You can check out the full list of dishonors here.
Speaking of Falwell, I'm just passing along news (via queerty) that the Lesbian Death Angels have claimed responsibility for hexing Rev. Falwell into the afterlife. This coven of self-described "pro-choice radical lesbians" seeks justice "one hex at a time." And they are looking for their "next target for early karmic justice." Ladies, I'm not sure human rights and witchcraft are compatible, but see HRW's list!
Last year I wrote a long article on the execution of two teenage boys in Mashhad and the firestorm that erupted when they were identified by some gay activists and bloggers as "gay teenagers." Suffice to say, since homosexuality and radical Islam are irresistible topics these days, the story did not end there.
Sometime Nation contributor Doug Ireland has written often on his blog and in Gay City News about what he considers a "vicious pogrom against Iranian gays." The New Republic's Rob Anderson chirped up and attacked US gay rights groups for not taking a harder line. Britain's Peter Tatchell (who publicized the original story) has organized a global protest against Iran. He's been supported by Anderson, Ireland, Michael Petrelis and a bevy of other activists (see Ireland's blog for the full list).
Missing from this list are Paula Ettelbrick of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Scott Long of Human Rights Watch's LGBT Rights Division. They've both been criticized by Tatchell in an open letter for their non-endorsement. (Full disclosure: I serve on the advisory board of HRW's LGBT rights program). Some of the dispute centers, still, around whether or not the two teenagers were gay and were executed for consensual gay sex (see my piece). But in the larger sense, the controversy represents two different strategies for pursuing sexual rights in precarious and fraught locations such as Iran. As Long puts it in his response to Tatchell, "I urge people to think very carefully about what the demonstrations are meant to achieve...What happens after July 19? How are these demonstrations meant to affect the Iranian government? How are they going to be seen in Iran? Are they only about publicity, consciousness-raising, the self-purifying effect of protest? Do you have a plan for change, or just for catharsis?"
It would take me another 5,000 words (and more strong coffee, cigarettes and vodka than my stomach can handle) to describe and explicate how the story has moved since I last wrote. So instead I urge readers to make up their own mind. New Yorkers can attend the protest outside of the Iranian Mission to the UN (622 Third Avenue at 40th St.). It's happening, like, now (5PM), so start lacing up those shoes.
And when you are done there, please attend the following event at the LGBT Center.
THINKING GLOBALLY, ACTING LOCALLY:HUMAN RIGHTS, IRAN, AND LGBT ADVOCACY
WHAT:The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Amnesty International OUTfront, Al-Fatiha and SoulforceNYC invite all interested advocates to participate in Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Human Rights, Iran, and LGBT Advocacy, a community dialogue about the persecution faced by LGBT people in Iran and how activists in the West can responsibly engage in supporting our colleagues in Iran as well as Iranian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in New York and elsewhere.
WHO:* Scott Long, Director of LGBT Rights Program, Human Rights Watch* Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of IGLHRC* Parvez Sharma, Director of the new documentary film "In the Name of Allah"* Hadi Ghaemi, Iran Researcher, Human Rights Watch* Kouross Esmaeli, Iranian filmmaker* Ayaz Ahmed, Al-Fatiha* Moderated by Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC
WHY:Numerous reports and stories of persecution faced by gay men and lesbians in Iran have been circulating. In particular, the executions of two young Iranian men last year on July 19 have been reported as gay-related deaths, prompting some activists to call for demonstrations in local communities to draw attention to these issues on the year anniversary of their hangings. This call raises important questions for human rights and LGBT advocates concerned about human rights violations globally, but unsure of how best to engage and respond.
* How do we situate campaigns for LGBT rights in the context of other human rights issues such as the death penalty and women's rights? * How do we respond in situations where facts are contested and documentation difficult? * What are the responsibilities--and dangers--for Western campaigners wanting to think globally and act locally? * How do we avoid reinforcing stereotypes and playing into hostilities prompted by our own government?
These are not abstract questions or ones relevant only to activists for sexual rights. While Iran will be emphasized in this discussion, the questions are relevant for all human rights advocates as we grapple with how global calls for justice can be made meaningful in the face of persecution and global hostilities.
While IGLHRC had initially offered to coordinate a public vigil to protest the use of the death penalty as a punishment for sexually-based crimes in Iran and elsewhere, conversations with colleagues have made clear that in New York City, dialogue, not demonstrations, would be the most productive way to build longer term strategies and understandings of how best to respond to human rights violations around the world.
WHEN: Wednesday, July 19, 20066:00 PM – 8:00 PM
WHERE: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center208 West 13th Street between 7th & 8th AvenuesNew York, New York
When the New York Times redesigned its website, I started to worry -- so dumbed down, so much white space, so many bells and whistles. Was the Times having another identity crisis trying to keep up with the Ipod-Slvr Phone generation?
This weekend's papers confirmed my concerns as the Times went VH1 over allegations that New York Post "Page Six" contributor Jared Paul Stern attempted to extort California billionaire Ronald Burkle. Over 48 hours, the Times relentlessly deluged readers with multimedia graphics, photos, charts, sexed up backstory and snarky quotes from irrelevant pundits. It doggedly tracked down former co-workers and associates who lurked in the "dark corners of nightclubs and parties" with Mr. Stern sipping on "champagne with supermodels." It obtained a copy of the key evidence (a grainy security tape of Stern with Burkle) and expertly analyzed it. It camped out at Stern's Catskills home and uncovered this vital piece of information: "he paid $220,000 for it." This revelation, however, paled in comparison to the bombshell that Mr Stern claims to "be the only child at his northern Ontario camp reading Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City." Ah hah!
Meanwhile the paper devoted far less space to Scooter Libby's revelation that Bush personally authorized intelligence leaks in the Iraq/WMD scandal -- referring to it as "no shock to official Washington" before launching into a numbingly dull rehash of previous coverage and intelligence leak history. The stories broke within 24 hours of each other, and here's the recount for the weekend:
Articles about Scooter Libby: 2 (plus one op-ed by Maureen Dowd)
Articles about Jared Paul Stern: 5
Number of reporters contributing to Libby coverage: 4
Number of reporters contributing to Stern coverage: 9
Total word count for Libby articles: 2,872
Total word count for Stern articles: 5,468
So on a story involving national security and the lies and misconduct of the President of the United States, the paper of record seems to be saying, "It's hard. And difficult. And boring. You wouldn't be interested anyway." Meanwhile, it practically launches a special section on a freelance gossip columnist for a rival daily. Gee, could the Times be trying an old trick publicists use to keep juice on their clients out of the news (give the reporters "better dirt on somebody else")? Could the Times be trying to deflect attention away from the prominent role a certain disgraced, former staff reporter had in the scandal that really matters? And why didn't the Times devote these kinds of resources to investigating the administration's case for war instead of relying on said reporter's tainted sources and canned information?
Only in New York, kids, only in New York.
If you want to see the pathologies plaguing the gay marriage movement in action, you need look no farther than this article penned by Jasmyne Cannick. Titled "Gays First, Then Illegals," Cannick's editorial spews the kind of xenophobic rhetoric now rarely heard outside of right-wing radio and white nativist circles -- unless, of course, it's coming from the mainstream gay press. Pitting gay rights against immigrants' rights, Cannick -- former "People of Color Media Manager for GLAAD" -- considers it a "slap in the face to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people" for Congress to debate immigration reform when same-sex marriage remains unrecognized. For your pleasure or fury, here are some of her greatest hits:
"Immigration reform needs to get in line behind the LGBT civil rights movement, which has not yet realized all of its goals. Which is not to say that I don't recognize the plight of illegal immigrants. I do. But I didn't break the law to come into this country. This country broke the law by not recognizing and bestowing upon me my full rights as a citizen."
"America needs to take care of its own backyard before it debates on whether to take care of its neighbor's backyard. Lesbians and gays should not be second-class citizens. Our issues should not get bumped to the back of the line in favor of extending rights to people who have entered this country illegally. Bottom line."
And in my favorite passage, Cannick quotes Audre Lorde, child of immigrants, on the necessity of speaking difficult truths before concluding, "While I know no one wants to be viewed as a racist when it comes to immigration reform, as a lesbian I don't want to move to the back of the bus to accommodate those who broke the law to be here."
Honey, if you don't want to be viewed as a racist, then don't write like one!
As my friend Terry Boggis, Director of Center Kids at the NYC LGBT Center puts it, "As long as we're dragging poor Audre Lorde into the fray and misusing her wisdom to make a point utterly contrary to all she represented, we should be compelled to resurrect her tried-and-true 'There is no hierarchy of oppressions' line. It's hard to believe that in this nation of incomprehensible, dazzling, shameless abundance, we still get this kind of paranoid thinking that rights for some will mean fewer rights for others. Social justice isn't a zero-sum game."
Along with former Clinton apparatchik and media whore Keith Boykin, Cannick is on the board of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization ostensibly dedicated to "fostering equality by fighting racism and homophobia," but which so far seems mostly devoted to persuading black churches and civil rights groups to support (or at least not block) the drive for same-sex marriage. If the other board members, some of whom I respect, take NBJC's mission seriously, they'd publicly denounce Cannick's editorial.
Sadly, Cannick's perspective may only be exceptional in its forthrightness. As public health activist Debanuj Dasgupta points out, "the 'gay rights movement' is largely dominated by an analysis that is rooted in the premises of citizenship and LGBT identity," without realizing how "citizenship status is a site of major oppression and social control." Moreover, from the enforcement of the Espionage and Sedition Acts to the McCarthy hearings, sexual dissidents and foreigners have historically been caught up in the same dragnets, and the regulation of marriage has long been a focus of racist U.S. immigration policy.
Next month Human Rights Watch's LGBT division will publish a report on binational couples in support of the Uniting American Families Act (formerly the Permanent Partners Immigration Act) which would add same-sex "permanent partners" to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Let's hope that debate starts a more generous, less invidious discussion about reforming both immigration and marriage.
I've long thought that the anti-war left makes a mountain out of a moron when they bend over backwards to praise right-wing ideologues who now criticize the Iraq war. Still, it's been a hoot to watch pro-war bloggers and pundits froth from one corner of the mouth and offer faint praise from the other as the list of conservative icons-turned-defectors grows longer and longer. The latest double-speak comes from Peter Wehner, deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives, in today's Wall Street Journal where he takes on "Messrs. Buckley, Will and Fukuyama."
Cheerily repeating the administration's line, Wehner writes that "In 2005, Iraq's economy continued to recover and grow. Access to clean water and sewage-treatment facilities has increased. The Sunnis are now invested in the political process, which was not previously the case. The Iraqi security forces are far stronger than they were." Is this the same Iraq that the NYT described Sunday in its lead article?
Meanwhile, for those who take faith in such signs, Bill Buckley's latest critique is reported by Bloomberg news. Charles Krauthammer's latest slap-down of "ex-neo con Fukuyama" is here. And over at townhall.com George Will tries to "face facts."
On behalf of all the angry Nation readers who protested Bernard-Henri Levy's "Letter to the American Left," I wish I had had a pie -- or at least Levy antagonist and pie-thrower Noel Godin in tow -- at Skidmore College's conference on "War, Evil, the End of History and America Now." The good folks at Salmagundi usually put on a good show, and this weekend was no exception. Bob Boyers brought historian Jackson Lears, poet Carolyn Forche, Jihad vs. McWorld author Benjamin Barber, "just war" theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain and Nation regulars Jonathan Schell and Michael Massing to reflect on the aforementioned themes. Too bad that the conversation was centered on the French buffoon in an expensive suit.
I'd never seen Levy in person before, though like most of you I found his writing vacuous, masturbatory hot air. I have to admit though that his keynote address was at least an amusing spectacle. His hair artfully askew, his English dramatically broken, Levy's most frequent words were "I" and "myself" and "my book" -- that is when he's wasn't referring to himself in the third person ("Bernard-Henri hates two things..."). His talk was mostly a self-hagiography and rehash of his book War, Evil and the End of History, and it was perversely satisfying to see his American interlocutors attempt to maintain civility while also upbraiding this self-styled Tocqueville in their midst. Lears objected to BHL's facile use of the word "evil" as akin to the neo-conservative expression "Islamo-fascism." Barber criticized BHL's evacuation of power and history from his classification of certain wars as "nihilistic, black holes of non-meaning." And even Elshtain -- whose latest book provides a morally bankrupt rationale for the Iraq War dressed up in ponderous and irrelevant philosophizing -- took Levy to task for the voyeuristic impulse of his reportage.
The most amusing, and in some ways most revealing, moment of the evening came, however, when BHL recapitulated his Nation article and excoriated U.S. left intellectuals for their impotence and docility. According to BHL, during the Vietnam War, America had a left intellectual class that mounted fervent, thoughtful and serious opposition to imperialism and war mongering -- unlike the present moment. Back then, BHL claimed "America had the kind of intellectual Martin Luther King...the writer Norman Mailer....and Jean Fondue."
"Jean Fondue?" I wondered. Who is this "Jean Fondue," and how come I haven't read her? About fifteen seconds later, the audience and I realized BHL was talking about Jane Fonda. Now I'm Kinda Fonda Jane myself, but I have to wonder: Does BHL admire and envy Fonda as an anti-war intellectual or as a the star of Barbarella?
As a film studies major I've been trained to sit through any cinematic experience -- from Andy Warhol's 8-hour long Empire (yes, 8 consecutive hours of the Empire State Building in real time) to Derek Jarman's Blue (an hour plus of an unchanging blue screen dramatizing Jarman's AIDS-related blindness) -- and never abandon ship (incidentally I loved both films). It took all this training and more to endure this year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Crash, which I saw this summer in, alas, its entirety. I've already written about how I'm not a huge fan of Brokeback Mountain, the other Oscar contender, but it's definitely a better film than Crash, which I would have walked out on had it not been for my stalwart companions.
White critics like Roger Ebert, who proclaimed it the best film of the year, and David Denby of the New Yorker loved it. Denby wrote that it "makes previous movie treatments of prejudice seem like easy and self-congratulatory liberalizing."
I couldn't disagree more; easy and self-congratulatory liberalizing is the epitome of the film. To my mind, Crash's central message is: There's a lot of racism in the world, but it's all rendered meaningless by a magical force. This force is called sheer coincidence. I'll happily spoil the denouement for anyone who hasn't seen it. The racist white cop (Matt Dillon) sexually molests a black women (Thandie Newton), but is really a good guy because he saves her from a car crash (oh, and because he loves his ailing poppy). His partner's (Ryan Phillipe) anti-racist protests are really irrelevant because he ends up killing an innocent black teenager (Larenz Tate). Meanwhile, a rich, racist white woman (Sandra Bullock) unfairly suspects a Latino locksmith (Michael Pena) of being a crook, but it's okay because her Latino maid (and best friend) takes care of her when she injures herself. And on and on and on through a "compassionate conservative" rainbow of cast members each with their own neatly moralistic (but totally individualized) racial melodramas. As with the well-awarded musical Avenue Q, the moral of Crash is: Don't worry, everyone's a little bit racist.
Anyway, my amateur film criticism aside, you'll find a good dissection of Crash by sometime Nation writer Jeff Chang and Sylvia Chan over at Alternet. LA Weekly critic Scott Foundas called it the worst film of the year. I agree.
The latest issue of Harper's Magazine contains a stunning 15-page article by well-known AIDS denialist Celia Farber (formerly of Spin magazine) that extensively repeats UC Berkeley virologist Peter Duesberg's discredited theory that HIV does not cause AIDS. Among the claims that Duesberg makes (and Farber recounts approvingly) are:
AIDS is actually a "chemical syndrome, caused by accumulated toxins from heavy drug use."
"Many cases of AIDS are the consequence of heavy drug use, both recreational (poppers, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc.) and medical (AZT, etc.)"
"HIV is a harmless passenger virus that infects a small percentage of the population and is spread primarily from mother to child, though at a relatively low rate."
"75 percent of AIDS cases in the West can be attributed to drug toxicity. If toxic AIDS therapies were discontinued...thousands of lives could be saved virtually overnight."
"AIDS in Africa is best understood as an umbrella term for a number of old diseases, formerly known by other names, that currently do not command high rates of international aid. The money spent on anti-retroviral drugs would be better spent on sanitation and improving access to safe drinking water."
The best rebuttals to Duesberg's hypothesis are here, here and here. Over at Slate science writer Jon Cohen has a piece examining the wave of "pharmanoia" afflicting mass media. As Cohen and others point out, conspiracy theories like Duesberg's warp and exploit some of the best political interventions made by AIDS activists: that patients should be engaged with their medical diagnosis and treatment, that clinical drug trials should be grounded in sound ethical practices, that the emphasis on virology has circumvented immunological approaches to AIDS and that attention to the effects of poverty, malnutrition and other diseases is vital to preventing and treating AIDS.
It's a shame that a magazine as well respected as Harper's has shirked its duty to report on these issues and instead published Farber's article. South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign has put together a comprehensive rebuttal of Farber's article documenting over 50 errors. I also post here a statement from HealthGAP and a letter to Harper's from Gregg Gonsalves of GMHC.
HealthGAP:"Harper's Magazine has stooped to new lows in publishing a lengthy article that rehashes old distortions by a writer who does not believe that HIV causes AIDS. Harper's should immediately publicly retract this article, and devote the same space to an accurate piece of news about the global AIDS crisis. We are very concerned that this inaccurate article will be used to fuel government inaction outside the US, where some heads of state, such as the South African President and the Minister of Health, have invoked AIDS denialist rhetoric rather than prioritizing antiretoviral treatment access for the 800 South Africans with HIV who are dying unnecessarily each day."
Gregg Gonsalves:"Dear Editors,I have been a long-time Harper's Magazine reader. I am sorry that the March 2006 issue is the very last that I will read.
With Celia Farber's article "Out of Control, AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science," your magazine has managed to destroy its 156 year-old reputation in 15 pages.
Farber is a well-known AIDS denialist and publishing her work is akin to giving the folks at the Discovery Institute a place to expound upon the "science" of intelligent design, Charles Davenport a venue to educate us about the racial inferiority of the Negro or Lyndon LaRouche a platform to warn us about aliens, bio-duplication, and nudity.
If Harpers was some fringe publication or supermarket tabloid then we could all laugh at Farber's weird conspiracy theories and pseudo-science. The sad thing is that unlike the hoaxes perpetuated on the New Republic by Stephen Glass several years ago, Ms. Farber's reputation as a crank is widespread. Thus, it seems that your editors, after careful research and despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, decided that Ms. Farber was a serious journalist with a real story to be told.
If you choose to report falsehoods as truths when it comes to HIV/AIDS, how can I trust the veracity of the rest of what appears in your pages?