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Archives, November 19 2002 to January 15 2003

Wednesday, January 15, 2003.

The Hangman’s Friend

By way of CalPundit yesterday, comes news that National Review columnist Rod Dreher has his doubts about the death penalty. That a conservative should speak out against it shouldn’t be a great surprise. I recall George Will once writing that some people who are appalled at the coarsening of society saw the death penalty as part of that problem. But Dreher puts it into less abstract terms:

I'm getting off the subject here for a sec, but I want to mention something that really got to me. An old man to whom I was close died a few years ago, well into his 90s. On his deathbed, he confessed that he was haunted by his participation in an extrajudicial killing back in the 1930s. He was part of a lynching party organized by the sheriff, who for his own reasons didn't want to have to worry about the courts. He got the men together, and they hanged this criminal. Well, it came out shortly thereafter that the criminal they hanged was completely innocent. For various reasons, all the men had believed him unquestionably guilty; anyway, the sheriff had told them it was so, hadn't he? Nothing was ever done to the lynching party, and the incident was forgotten. Sixty some-odd years later, as he lay dying, with an entire lifetime of experience behind him, this is what tormented that old man.

Well, wouldn’t it? Horrible enough to kill someone when events gave you no other choice. But this would be too much for a lot of people to bear. More people really need to ponder where the ones so eager, so completely at ease with the act of extracting that eye for an eye, are taking them. The ruthless sheriff and the blood lusting lynch mob are about as much democracy as some folks are prepared to endure.

I was watching part two of the PBS history of the city of Chicago last night, and learned a few things about the hysteria for blood that followed the bombing deaths of policemen during an anarchist rally. If you want a glimpse of those unfettered horizons the right wing dreams of, you need to see this history. In a time when the titans of industry felt it was perfectly reasonable to deny jobs and service to anyone who wasn’t white, protestant, and of a certain income level, when they could subject their workers to horrific working conditions with no more compunction then if the were cattle in a slaughterhouse, when they could foul every body of water within reach until it literally bubbled with toxins, fixing the system so that troublesome labor agitators would be executed for a crime whether they actually committed it or not was just another prerogative of their status, a part of a days work. One prospective juror at the anarchist’s trial made the mistake of telling the court that he wanted to hear the evidence against the accused before he passed judgement. He was excused from the jury, and when he went to work the next day, was fired.

My libertarian days are long gone, vanished when I saw hard working people living in tents with their children in campgrounds after the economy tanked during the scandal that was the consequence of deregulating the Savings and Loan institutions. I saw people who had done everything they were supposed to do, worked long hard hours, saved, lived within their means, totally screwed by the unchecked greed of a few, which my libertarian friends were busy telling me was the engine of all progress. It was an eye opener. I have since yet to hear anyone explain convincingly how a completely corrupted government, and desperate poverty and hardship for the many, can not be the unfailing outcome of a system of laissez faire capitalism. For capitalism to work, it needs a rule of law. For a rule of law to work, it must have more power then money. The irony in the execution of the anarchists in Chicago, was that it proved there was no rule of law in Chicago for them to destroy to begin with. One can doubt they took to heart the lesson, that where there is no rule of law, the result isn’t exactly a workers paradise, but more like an endless nightmare for anyone who isn’t ruthless enough to slash and claw their way to the top of the dogpile.

If we ever get back to a state in this nation, where the life and death fate of the accused can be decided not by the evidence, but the will of a city’s billionaire club, and jurors cannot deliberate without knowing that their paychecks will depend on their decision, then America is in for a long, long night. But that is exactly where Bush and Rove and all their cronies want America to go. Back to the days before the trust busting Teddy Roosevelt, when the federal government was weak, and the wealthy were free to make the rules, and break them, to suit themselves.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, January 13, 2003.

The Dangerous Neighborhoods Of Baltimore

I’m not one for throwing out old kitchen tools that work, just to get the latest in modern kitchen fashion. But I broke down the other day and bought one of those new Williams-Sonoma dish drying racks, because it looked like it could actually hold the new Fiestaware, which is way heavier then the old stuff, firmly in place while it dried. I was trying it out for the first time yesterday afternoon, when I glanced outside and saw a red shouldered hawk perched on one of my deck rails, looking at me with that riveting bird of prey stare that, had I been a dove just then, would have made my heart jump out of my mouth. Saw you first! As it was, I nearly dropped the plate I had in my hands.

I put the dish gingerly in the rack and backed slowly out of the kitchen. Then I ran scrambling wildly for my camera, which was upstairs. The nice thing about this new digital camera I have is that it’s ready fast. The old one would make me wait nearly a half minute sometimes before it would let me take a picture. When I had my camera in hand, I peeked carefully out of an upstairs window, but the hawk was gone. Drat, thinks I, and I looked around and saw the hawk had only moved to the next fence down the alley. I snapped off a few quick shots, then went back downstairs and shot a few more from the kitchen window. I watched as the hawk carefully walked along the fence rail, sat still and quiet for a while, then hopped onto a bush, sat still and quiet for a while longer, then abruptly hopped down to the ground on the other side, out of my view. All of a sudden it seemed like every bird in the alley was squawking up a storm. I’d been too intent on taking pictures to notice how deathly quiet the alleyway was up to that moment. After a while I carefully stepped out onto my deck to see if I could see around the bush, but the hawk was gone. I have no idea if it actually caught anything.

That makes two kinds of birds of prey I’ve actually seen and photographed on my property, the other being the little falcon, which I’ve seen in my yards three times. And mind you, this is the city we’re talking about here. I’ll add a shot of the hawk to this post later tonight.

(Update) After consulting my Peterson Guide, I’ve come to the conclusion that my hawkish visitor was in fact a broad winged hawk, not a red shouldered one. I’d assumed the red shouldered, since we have a nesting pair of those that regularly set up shop somewhere near the Institute every spring (we’ve named them Edwin and Grace…). But my visitor was decidedly smaller then those two, and while I thought at first that maybe it was an immature bird, looking carefully at the pictures, I can see clearly that the red shoulders aren’t there, and the tail feather banding is decidedly in the broad winged hawk style. So that makes three kinds of birds of prey that I’ve seen within walking distance of my little rowhouse.

Any Pigeons Hanging Out Around Here…?

...or a nice winter fattened squirrel...perchance...?

Hey…you…in the house…yeah you…your bird feeders need refilling…

Come out, come out, wherever you are...

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Friday, January 10, 2003.

The Conscience Of A Baptist

Fred Clark aka Slacktivist, runs a weblog that ought to be on everyone’s favorites list. Swear…if there had been a few like him in the church my mother took me to back in the 70s, I might still be a Baptist today. But I think I’ve strayed too far into Unitarian territory to think of myself as one now.

He posts a good one today about Ben Shapiro’s use of Tolkien imagery to bash Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular. It’s something I’ve seen a lot of bellicose right wingers do, starting with the release of Fellowship Of The Ring, and Andrew Sullivan’s bobby sockser embarrassing comparisons of president Smirk, first to Frodo, and then to Sam. It’s a bit like reading John Derbyshire fawningly compare Pat Robertson to Queer As Folk’s Justin. But then the scribes of the kook pews have a track record of not reading for comprehension, particularly when the subject matter touches upon compassion and sympathy and mercy and all the other bleeding heart liberal preoccupations they regard as material for dirty jokes. Slacktivist gets right to the heart of the books that Sullivan and Shapiro missed, by quoting a few lines from Tolkien on pity and mercy.

And I admit I can’t read Clark without feeling my own simmering anger at creeps like them challenged.

Tolkien has a lesson here for those of us forced to contend with a stunted, twisted and murderously hateful creature like Smeagol/Shapiro. Show mercy and mercy and still more mercy and mercy again.

He’s right of course. The author Mary Renault, in her book The Praise Singer, has the character of Simonides, one of the greatest of the ancient Greek poets, say “In all men is evil sleeping; the good man is he who will not awaken it, in himself or in other men.” I try to remember that. But when you contemplate an indifference to death and suffering as I describe in the post below, that is not merely haphazard and careless, but calculated and deliberate, damn it’s hard. The magnitude of it makes Reagan’s slow response to AIDS in America seem positively decent and humane by comparison. Millions worldwide will die needlessly because of policies enacted by this administration, designed to make sure they died needlessly, designed to make sure they died painfully, because they violated the commandments of the American Taliban. There may have been only one person who ever walked this good earth, capable of forgiveness under those circumstances.

But I know he’s right. Thank god for that anyway. I still know he’s right.

Why The Darkness Hates The Candle

You can see here and there, people just starting to get a clue as to the true nature of the Bush whitehouse. But watching it, you can tell it’s a painful process, and most still just don’t want to believe that what they’re seeing is real. By the time most of these manage to drag themselves out of denial, the damage the American fascist right has brought down on American democracy could take generations to repair.

Case in point, is today’s column in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Titled, The Secret War on Condoms, it recounts the growing success of the kook pews, now that their champion is in the whitehouse, to prevent the use of condoms in America. From teaching kids in school the lie that condoms don’t work, using junk science that makes the phony claims of creationists look honest and respectable, to altering fact sheets on condom use at the CDC web site to make them conform more to right wing political correctness then scientific fact, to demanding at an international conference the deletion of references to condom use as a way to fight AIDS and other sexual diseases, the thugs who strong armed their way to power in 2000, are now busy making sure that nothing, nothing, stands in the way of millions of world wide deaths every year, due to diseases which are easily preventable.

Kristof looks at all this in wonderment:

Evangelical groups do superb work in Africa, running clinics for some of the world's most wretched people - like poor AIDS victims. So it's baffling to see these same groups buying into junk science in ways that will lead to many more AIDS deaths.

At some point, like suddenly realizing that after decades of championing race discrimination Trent Lott was, oh my gosh, really a racist, you have to reckon people will eventually be shocked, shocked, to find that the fundamentalists really do want people to die of these diseases. Unlike the Taliban, the American fascist right cannot enact into law the soccer field executions of women, or the crushing to death of homosexuals. But if the law won’t take care of Americans who refuse bow down and tremble before their homicidal god who hates everything that is noble and beautiful and wonderful about life, then perhaps they can get the infidels killed in other ways.

On January 6th of this year, the Olympian, a Washington State newspaper, published a letter to the editor by a reader, who in response to a letter by Rich Pfouts, president of “Hands off Washington,” in support of condom use, wrote that Pfouts, “would have us believe in the old, shop-worn canard that when people do stupid things, we should support them by making it easier for them to avoid suffering the consequences for their stupid actions.”

As "enlightened" parents we know some of our children are probably going to have gay sex anyway, so, what the heck, we should encourage them by providing them condoms to protect themselves from any fear of HIV/AIDS.

By this same logic, if our young people want to drink alcohol and/or smoke pot, we as parents should provide a safe haven for them to party.

Now…never mind that this guy can’t seem to get his head around the staringly simple fact that having sex is, as homophobes are wont to emphasize, a necessary perquisite for continued human survival, whereas consuming drugs is not, and therefore to compare the one with the other is a little like comparing food to video games. But notice how off handedly he does it. Drinking alcohol is a learned behavior. Sex is an instinct with a pedigree hundreds of millions of years old, deeply and powerfully linked to the survival of the species (and homosexuality, far from negating that survival, contributes to it in social animals such as we, by insuring that there are always a few young, strong members of the tribe, available to provide for the needs of the whole). You just don’t switch an ancient drive like that off and on by wagging your finger at it. Yet to hundreds like the guy who wrote the above letter to the editor, it seems little more then mere self indulgence, like gulping down a few beers.

Something is missing here, something old and deep and intimately human. Something that has the power to draw us close to one another, to bind us together in wordless joy. Something that nurtures within us sympathy, trust, hope, faith, and a harmony of spirit deeper then words. Something that stirs within us a hunger to be the best within ourselves that we can possibly be, to honor the one we have taken into our arms, to bask in their smile. Something whose absence makes the fact that there are people in this world, in this country, in the Whitehouse right now, and on capital hill, who think kids and adults alike who have sex should suffer “the consequences for their stupid actions”…and die gruesomely painful deaths…understandable. Horrific, yes. The stuff of waking nightmares, yes. But understandable. Shockingly understandable.

[Edited slightly]

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Wednesday, January 8, 2003.

The Savages Among Us…

I ran across Scoobie Davis’ posts regarding a talk radio yapper named Michael Savage this afternoon. I’d never heard of the guy, but his homophobia sounds vaguely familiar. He’s published a book and from it, Scoobie quotes a so-called Al Gore “Contract Against America”:

1. Homosexuals in the military and homosexual marriage.
2. Affirmative action, or The Fairness for Dummies Act
3. Reparations for non-slaves by non-slaveholders
4. Hate-crime laws aimed at straight, white males
5. Racial profiling laws, aimed at straight, white police
6. A United Nations tax or a world tax
7. Free prescription drugs not only for the elderly but also for AIDS patients
8. Delegitimizing the Boy Scouts, or The Fairness to Predators Act
9. Outlawing homeschooling, or The Freedom from Learning Act
10. Arrest [sic], ban, or rewrite the authentic Bible as a hate book
11. Mandatory application of Ritalin to any child with spunk, or The Security for Children Act
12. Complete elimination of borders with Mexico, or, The Fairness to Latinos Act
13. Partial-birth abortion or infanticide and the sale of baby body parts, or The Senior Citizen Life Extension Act
14. Increased license for Hollywoodís violence and pornography, or The Freedom of Arts Act
15. Socialized medicine and a national health plan, or The Freedom from Bad Behavior Act
16. The No Limits on Lawsuits Act
17. Mandatory suicide for sick seniors, or The Saving Social Security Act
18. The Fairness in Talk Radio Act, i.e., the end of talk radio
19. The end of the Electoral College and the congressional redistricting of America to ensure that never again will the Demoncats [sic] be threatened, or The One Dunce, One Vote Act
20. The complete seizing of all guns, or The Freedom from the Second Amendment Act
21. The abolition of our existing Constitution or The Freedom From Freedom Act

Notice what’s at the top of the list.

Way back in the 70′s, after reading Mary Renault’s The Charioteer for the first time, I found myself searching the bookstores for a copy of Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus, which plays a part in the story. I checked out all the usual stores, but Phaedrus wasn’t in demand enough I guess, for the big chains to carry all by itself. I could get it only as part of an entire collection. So I went looking in the used book stores and eventually found a rather large, but nicely illustrated volume by The Heritage Press, compassing three of the dialogues on love and friendship: Lysis, The Symposium, and Phaedrus. That’ll do, thinks I, and I took it home, sat down and read Phaedrus in full for the first time in my life, tried to imagine a time when the love between men might be so commonplace and accepted it could be used simply as a device to illustrate some ideas on rhetoric, and while I chewed on that, idly browsed some of the commentary scattered throughout the book, by Benjamin Jowett. My eyes collided with this little treat:

...The state of his affections toward Socrates, unintelligible to us and perverted as they appear, is a perfect illustration of the power ascribed to the loves of men in the speech of Pausanias. Indeed, he is confident that the whole company will sympathize with him; several of them have been in love with Socrates, and, like himself, have been deceived by him. The singular part of this confession is the combination of the most degrading passion with the desire of virtue and improvement. The pangs of philosophy and of love work together in this abandoned soul. Such a union is not wholly untrue to human nature, in which there is a mixture of good and evil, far surpassing in subtlety any powers of human imagination to conceive. The Platonic Socrates...does not appear to regard the greatest evil of Greek life as a matter of abhorrence, but as a subject for irony, and is far from resenting the imputation of such attachments...

Dig it. The greatest evil of Greek life. Never mind that the Greeks in those days, like nearly everyone else, practiced slavery, and engaged in wars of conquest with just about zero compunction over killing innocent people for their land, and enslaving them, their women and their children. Oh no…the Greatest Evil Of Greek Life was homosexuality. Far better for a man to kill or enslave innocent men, then for him to love and be loved by one.

The pathology of homophobia is a Pit, a Hell House, waiting for some careful researchers of human nature to gingerly explore. How can love and simple human desire, tender or playfully exuberant, elicit such a visceral reflex of hate? The simple pat explanations range all over the board. Maybe some men are afraid of emasculation, afraid for their manhood, of a love that posits relationships of equals, afraid of not being in control, fearful of loosing oneself in the arms of another, terrified of loosing oneself in the arms of another man. Or maybe they just aren’t getting any of what they like themselves, and resent the happiness of others. Maybe they hate in others, want to destroy in others, what they can’t achieve within themselves. There is a marvelous scene in Mary Renault’s The Fire From Heaven, where Alexander’s father Philip, punishing his son and his son’s lover for a transgression, knowing that the punishment of his lover will hurt Alexander more then his own punishment, thinks, with equal parts contempt and a deep secret envy, The man does not live that I could feel that for…or the woman either. It feels like it strikes close to it. But then it also begs the deeper question: Why not?

So Savage’ number one item in the Right Wing Paranoid’s Guide To What To Look For Under The Bed Every Night, is homosexual equality. Beating out socialized medicine. Beating out nullifying the First Amendment. Beating out gun confiscation. Beating out Partial Birth (sic) Abortion and the selling of baby parts. Beating out anti White racism. Beating out a tidal wave of Latinos pouring over the Mexican boarder. Beating out United Nations One World Government. Beating out anti-Christian religious persecution. Most of all, hate the homosexuals. Most of all, hate the homosexuals.

And speaking of moral runts who never recognized a failure of personal moral character they couldn’t manage somehow to blame on homosexuals… I see that the Virgin Ben (see below) in response to the charge of misogyny is accusing some of his critics in the blog world of…wait for it…being homosexual:

Goblin Queen e-mailed me angrily about my Rolf Eden post, saying that as a woman, she should know about the state of womanhood. If she's any example of modern womanhood, it's safe to say that modern womanhood is in decline. Explore her website, and read about her desire to sleep with a woman as a man. If that's modern womanhood, it's surely in trouble.

Gosh. Ben also avers that if you want “more proof on the decline of modern womanhood, watch the new Fox series “Joe Millionaire”, which only goes to provide more proof that his critics were right about his misogyny, since not only is the Joe in “Joe Millionaire” a guy, but I’ll wager a few of the people bankrolling and producing the show are guys too, and what is more, so is a non trivial fraction of the audience…yet it doesn’t seem to occur to Ben to see any of that as an example of the decline of modern manhood, let alone an example of why homosexuals ought to feel perfectly free to spit in the face of any brain dead jackass who says same sex marriage threatens the scared place of marriage in society. One supposes that since Fox is a chord on the Republican Party Mighty Wurlitzer, such criticism might be a tad politically incorrect for a young and aspiring right wing guttersnipe. Sometimes you just gotta sit on your principles, if you want those big Scafie bucks.

Ah well… As TBogg said, “Well, if you won’t sleep with women, somebody has to do it…” You have to reckon it burns him every time he sees firsthand evidence of the fact that homosexuals these days, generally, are more comfortable with our sexual nature then he is with his own. It’s one thing to take sniggers and pity from your fellow heterosexuals. It’s something else to endure it from the traditional scapegoats for your own pathetic failures of character. And it must be murder to watch them, just as you were afraid would happen when the chains were taken off, quickly and surely rise above you.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, January 6, 2003.

A puzzlement

As I prowled the blog landscape today I noticed a fuss over comments made by Ben Shapiro regarding a seventy-two year old German who was offering $125,000 to any woman who could kill him with sex. I recalled seeing the news bite somewhere, and wondered why anyone was bothering to tell me this. Ben seems to have had a different reflex, and it’s one I’ve seen other ostensibly heterosexual men have before, and it confuses the dickens out of me. Seriously.

Ben avers:

No question, this guy is a pig, but this story really points out the state of modern womanhood. It brings to mind the old joke about a man who meets a high-society woman at a social event.

The joke being the one with the punch line that goes, “We’ve already established what you are. Now we’re just haggling over the price.” In other words, modern women are nothing but a bunch of painted whores. Now remind me…where have I heard this before? The Taliban? The Southern Baptist Convention?

Well…point of fact, you hear sentiments like that from a distinct subset of straight guys from all over the map. I’ve heard it from fundamentalist nutcases, and I’ve heard it from beer swilling barstool jocks. Women are whores. And whenever I hear it, I think, how sad it must be, how painful, to loath the sex you desire.

I’m by no means sticking this rap to straight guys only. I’ve heard it a time or two from gay guys. Men are pigs. No. Some men are pigs and that’s a fact. Ben Shapiro being but one example. But, gay man that I am, I find the male of the species absolutely riveting in the abstract, and breathtakingly noble and beautiful in the random particular. Beautiful guys are my proof that God is good, and life is worth living, no matter what. I could watch them for hours. Not the pigs mind you.

I’d heard Ben’s name batted about the blog world previously, with regard to random outbursts of homophobia, and given that, this latest couldn’t surprise me less. It’s an old bromide that if you scratch a homophobe you’ll find a misogynist. But why some straight guys loath women, can treat them with ridicule as a class, mystifies me. How do you maintain a sense of self worth and pride when your sexual instincts are drawing you toward something you feel little but contempt for? It isn’t exactly the same as the self loathing homosexuals over the ages have had to struggle with, until that moment of personal liberation, when the realization finally hits that there was nothing wrong with them to begin with. But it’s close. And it is a wound I’ve seen people who are far older then me still struggling to heal. It strikes at the bedrock of what we are.

As we grow from childhood into adulthood, juggling the different aspects of our human nature, our feelings, our ability to reason, our spiritual and physical needs, becomes an ever harder balancing act. We are not angels of pure spirit. We are not dispassionate intellects. We are not wild animals. We are human, we are all of this. We are reason, spirit, and the wild exuberance of hundreds of millions of years of life on Earth all together. How do you hope to see yourself as an individual clearly amidst such disparate inner voices? Sometimes it’s a personal crisis that solidifies the person within. Stories of people going to war, enduring great personal hardship and loss, and coming out of that with a better understanding of their inner humanity are legion. But that is the dark path to self knowledge. There is a better one: Love.

Our minds and our hearts, our bodies and our spirit, all weave into a single thread when we take the one we love into our arms. Love, spiritual and physical, gives us a context for seeing ourselves as a Whole being, not a collection of conflicting fragments. And with that comes a better understanding of our own nature, and how to manage it. In humans, sex is not only for making babies, but also for making adults.

It’s a little pat to say that jerks like Ben are bitter, resentful arrested adolescents who can’t get any, and lash out at women in frustration, like Goblin Queen does. Maybe that’s it exactly. But the bitterness may not be so much an artifact of not getting any, as the corrosive effects of consigning sex to the gutter. If you think that sex is dirty, then every time it taps you on the shoulder, which it will, you’re just not gonna deny an instinct older then the fish, let alone the primates, you’ll feel dirty. So the attractive sex, instead of being one of life’s perfect joys, becomes a dreadful reminder of your loathsome flesh and blood self. You come to regard the attractive sex with contempt, because it tweaks that part of you that utterly disgusts you. I’ve seen people dig themselves hopelessly into this Pit, and then set out to relentlessly murder the awe and wonder and joy of love and sex inside of anyone they can, so they won’t have to look at the toxic wasteland they’ve made of their own bitter hearts.

The author Mary Renault once said that “Politics like sex is only a by-product of what the essential person is. If you are mean and selfish and cruel it will come out in your sex life and it will come out in your politics when what really matters is that you are the sort of person who won’t behave like that.” The behavior of lovers towards one another is a seamless fabric of feeling and action. If your feelings toward the one in your arms is less then complete respect, then you need to leave them alone. During the course of this latest fuss, Ben has been making some moral hay over the fact of his virginity. Fine. If he can’t love women whole heartedly, then he needs to stay one, until he can.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Sunday, January 5, 2003.

I’m returning tonight from my little cartoon hiatus, a week early if you read the last Holiday schedule I put up on the cartoon page, or right on time if you only read the first version. It was mostly about being able to enjoy the holidays. I found as they approached, that I had to disengage from current events, just so I could rest for a little while. I ignored the papers, tuned out broadcast news, stayed off the web for pretty much everything except Boy Meets Boy. I even stayed away from my favorite web logs. It was good to feel like a human being again, to have a little peace and quiet in my life for a while. I think I can see better now, why some folks deliberately ignore politics and the current events. On the other hand, some people just drug themselves stupid to get away from it, and I wouldn’t do that either. You can’t leave the political discourse to a bunch of thugs and gangsters, or before long they’ll be the only voices anyone can hear, speaking for America.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Wednesday, January 1, 2003.

Happy New Year to everyone reading this. I’m back home in Baltimore now, and spent New Year’s eve, briefly, downtown. But I came back home before midnight, because I wanted to put a couple of the bottle rockets I bought on the way back to good use.

This was actually the first New Year I spent in my little rowhouse. Last year I spent it with friends. So I never really had a first hand feel for how the city celebrates New Year’s Eve, until last night. It was kinda fun down at the Inner Harbor, but I’d forgotten that Baltimore has another New Year’s tradition that the police here are trying hard to eradicate. And no, I’m not talking about personal fireworks, which are illegal in Maryland, although I’m sure they’d like to eliminate that too. People around here like to fire guns in the air at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Baltimore likes to call itself Charm City, and it is, but there’s a reason why they also call Baltimore Mob Town, and I heard a bit of it last night.

Last July fourth there were fireworks going off all over this neighborhood, so I reckoned there would be some tonight. I got home, grabbed my safety glasses, picked out a couple bottle rockets from my little stash of pyrotechnic joy, and walked over to a nearby field to wait for the Inner Harbor fireworks to announce that the New Year had arrived. I had it in mind to playfully answer back, but I didn’t want to be the first to go off and attract attention to where I was. I reckoned to just be a part of the general celebration. And when the big booms and the lights from the Inner Harbor reached me, there were more then a few cheerful replies in the neighborhood around me. But almost right away I heard the sound of gunfire.

Aw Shit…I thought the cops had cracked down on that…

It’s possible to mistake the sound of gunfire for firecrackers, and vice versa, in a given situation. But it’s also possible to tell the difference. The report of a center fire gun is more well defined, more to the point, then a typical firecracker, which lets loose a goofy kinda raggedy bang. And a chain of firecrackers all going off at once isn’t going to give a steady, regular, pop-pop-pop-pop sound, like the sound of someone pointing a semi automatic pistol in the air and emptying the clip. I’m happy to say that I didn’t hear anything that sounded like gunfire in my neighborhood. Mostly it was the Whissssh….BANG of bottle rockets and the Brraacck…blam crackity crack crack crack of small strings of firecrackers. Occasionally I’d hear the whiz of some spinner going off. But those were all cheerful sounds. In the neighborhoods to my west, across I-83, and to my south, came the steady, unmistakable pop-pop-pop-pop sound of a few brain dead jackasses with pistols, giddily winging slugs into the sky to fall god knows where. Sometimes, that was all I heard. I wondered if it was how door to door fighting in the West Bank sounded.

So do I want to light these, or do I want to just get the hell back inside…?

Every story I ever heard about people getting killed by stray slugs going where their shooters hadn’t planned for them to go was tapping me on the shoulders. The fun of the night evaporated. There are people who think teaching kids about sex promotes sexual activity, and so they teach them nothing, and then point to all the cases of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease as proof that sex is bad for you. And there are some folks who just don’t want to teach kids about firearms, on the grounds that doing so will promote gun violence, and so they teach their kids nothing, and then point to all the accidental gun deaths in this country as proof that guns are a bigger danger to gun owners then criminals are. I wanted to strangle them all just then.

Well, banning fireworks has sure made the holiday celebrations a hell of a lot safer around here, hasn’t it…

I gathered up my bottle rockets for another day, and beat a retreat inside. The shooting went on sporadically for another half hour, and I heard police sirens in the distance, and I wished them luck. Later that night, before bed, I checked on my two favorite handguns, my Smith and Wesson model 25, in .45 long colt, and my Colt Officer’s model. They are beautiful weapons. I try to be a worthy owner.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Friday, December 27, 2002.

8:45 PM

Yup…Definitely An Iron Will Alright….

MY HILTON HEAD VACATION DIARY AND PLANNER (a brief excerpt…)

Thursday Afternoon: Lunch with Keith. Spend most of the afternoon with him.

Friday Afternoon: Lunch with Keith. Spend most of the afternoon with him. Help him arrange stuff in his workshop/garage space, and take some stuff to the island recyling place. Visit his day employer’s shop.

Friday Evening: Dinner at resturaunt Keith works at. Spend some time chatting with him.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Friday Evening (late): Meet Keith at club where Cheryl, a friend of his and owner of the piano bar he used to visit, now sings.

Saturday Afternoon: Lunch with Keith.

Sunday Morning: Begin trip back to Baltimore. Sort out many thoughts while driving I-95 north. Try to pay attention to the road while doing it.

I’d say my plan to have a good time here on this island without Keith, and thereby replace some old memories with newer, less painful ones, was a huge fireball on the ground smoking debris flying everywhere crash and burn success. Oh…and I met the boyfriend too.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Wednesday, December 25, 2002.

8:34 PM

Have I Got An Iron Will Or What?

Well…I called him. Is there anyone reading this who didn’t see that coming? I sure didn’t see it coming. It… just… uhm… happened.

We talked for a while. We’ll talk more tomorrow. Moonjammers didn’t get kicked out or anything. It died due to lack of community support. They couldn’t make money at it. Keith says there’s another bar the island gays congregate at, but I won’t reveal the name of it here.

<Cue The Jerry Goldsmith Music>

As I was typing this, I just noticed that the Message Waiting light on my room phone finally turned itself off. For the past couple of days management here had been trying everything to get it to shut off, checking me out and back in again several times, and even going so far as to shut down the message system and start it back up again. Nothing worked. The damn light just kept blinking. At random times I would hit the button, only to hear the recorded voice politely tell me I had no messages. Then I’d hang up and the Message Waiting light would resume blinking. I was beginning to wonder if I had a message from the Twilight Zone in the system or something. And now, a few minutes after I lost my nerve and called Keith, and from a local pay phone no less, I come back and the light has suddenly gone off. No, I am not superstitious. But some days reality is perfectly capable of just plain weirding you out all by itself.

12:21 PM

I have family who winter in Florida, and here in Hilton Head, I can almost see the attraction in it. Obviously it’s warmer then in Baltimore. So far by about twenty degrees or so each day. But what really struck me this morning, was hearing birds calling at dawn. It was something I hadn’t expected to hear much of again until the coming spring.

Some bird I’ve never heard before, repeated a beautiful five note song for me as I woke up. As the sky grew light, other birds chimed in with their own songs. It was one of the more delightful Christmas mornings I’ve spent recently.

You really notice how solitary your life has become, when you’re alone in your car, driving around trying to find a place to eat breakfast on Christmas morning. I guess that’s doubly true if you’re trying to accomplish the feat in a resort town. Luckily the Hilton Head Diner was open, and doing a cash over fist business I might add, so I guess I’m not the only one around here disinclined to stay at home Christmas morning. Some seemed in worse shape then me. Last night at Big Bamboo, I heard several people at the bar say they weren’t doing much for Christmas this year either, some because they were estranged from their families. One guy, when asked what he was doing for Christmas, told the bartender, “This is it.”

I’m not exactly alone by choice here, but I’m away from home because I didn’t want to waste good vacation time, not because I’m estranged from my family. My father’s side of the family is on the west coast, and my mother’s in Pennsylvania, and Virginia. I have no family in Maryland to speak of, and so every Christmas I’ve had ever since mom retired and moved to Hillsville, I’ve touched base with everyone, and they to me, by phone. That’s what I’ll be doing off and on all day today too…with the little cell phone strapped to my belt. Technology allows be to be literally anywhere in the country and still stay in touch with family, and what is more, Hilton Head isn’t a roaming charge for me. So, I figured, why stay home for Christmas? But companionship would be nice, when you’re driving through an utterly empty resort town, looking for something to eat. I had to keep telling myself the streets were empty because it was Christmas morning, not because a hurricane was coming. One nice thing though, and this works almost as well during any off season day at the beach, you can actually see how beautiful the seashore really is, without all the people crowding it.

I’m getting better at placing myself around here, the more I explore. To really come to know a place, you need to explore it on foot. After I bought my rowhouse, I spent weeks on foot randomly walking here and there in my neighborhood. I was doing that yesterday here, whenever the rain allowed, and in the process refreshing my memory of where things are, and correcting my internal map where needed. The little Internet cafÈ that Keith helped get started is gone. The lovely curved bar he helped build now serves Mexican food, and I didn’t see any sign of an Internet connection anywhere in it. I wonder what they did with all the cabling. The site of Moonjammers the island’s little gay club, and Cheryl’s, Keith’s favorite piano bar, is actually right beside my motel. I hadn’t noticed this before because I was always walking out to Pope street before going toward the beach. This morning I decided to cut through the parking lots instead and I found myself right there. Good thing Moonjammers is gone I reckon, or I would have been tempted to try it, just to be able to relax in company I could be certain was gay friendly. I don’t know where the gay islanders go to hang out here now…from talking to Keith way back when, probably Savanna I reckon. I couldn’t find anything on the web, other then Moonjammers old number, which the phone company cheerfully tells me is disconnected.

The wind is gusting pretty fiercely out there now, and it’s kicking the fallen spanish moss around like it was tumbleweed. But the sun is out and the sky is bright blue, and I’m gonna walk the beach for a while.

Oh…and if you’re reading this and you’re alone for Christmas too…then Merry Christmas to you. And cheer up. Get out. Do something fun. If you can’t be good company to yourself, then how are you gonna be good company to anyone else?

Seashore With Vestigial Cannon

Seashore With Pre Fossil Palm Tree

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Tuesday, December 24, 2002.

3:06 PM

I woke up this morning to see the Message Waiting light flashing on my room phone. When I picked it up the recording said there was a message waiting for me at the desk. Only there wasn’t. Or none the morning manager could find. And now they can’t turn off the message light for some strange reason. I can’t imagine who would be leaving messages at the desk for me here, since I strongly doubt Keith even knows I’m here, and I am disinclined to tell him. Keith was never very technically oriented, and although most search engines will find my web page straightaway, I don’t think he even knows what a search engine is, let alone ever used one to find anything. His boyfriend might know…but what boyfriend ever helped their lover look up the one that came before him? Another desk clerk said that they’d probably have to check me out, then back in again, to turn the Message Waiting light off. In my profession, we call that a “work-around”.

Certain types of computer memory need periodic refreshing or they loose their state. I think brain memory is a bit like that. My first day on Hilton Head was a constant struggle to find my bearings, trying to locate places Keith and I had been to, and usually finding myself nowhere that looked like anywhere in the process. The irony here is that Keith told me many times that he was always getting lost, while I have just about no sense at all of being lost, even when I am. When your mindset is to explore, there is no such thing as being lost, though as Daniel Boone once said, occasionally I get a mite bewildered. I think the problem here was that on my previous visits here I’d never really paid much attention to anything but Keith. Keith led me everywhere I ever went on Hilton Head. My entire internal map of the island, was based around Keith. Today I began the process of making a non-Keith based map.

I found the pedestrian walk-through to the beach I’d been looking for yesterday. Part of my problem finding it was that I wasn’t really aware before that the walkway goes right through a condo parking lot. There is a traffic gate there, and a guard station, like there is around most beach condos here, and I assumed that meant there was no passage. Probably the condo owners want you to think so too. But if you look carefully, you see a teeny teeny tiny sign that indicates the walkway, just past the guard house, and for a short distance, lines in the pavement indicating where non-residents must confine their feet. Probably, every other time I walked it, I was busy being in love and not paying attention. The path could have zigzagged across the Washington beltway where it joins I-95 half a dozen times and I wouldn’t have noticed.

The seashore was serene, although I could see more storm clouds coming. As I walked to the main public beach entrance, I saw a group of four pelicans fly in low from the trees and then hover motionless in the sea breeze, right where the pavement gives way to sand. Some birds are wheeling, gliding acrobats that are fun to watch, but some birds just own the sky, and you see it in the effortless certainty by which they position themselves while moving though thin air. I’ve watched the red shouldered hawks back at the Institute fly through the woods around Johns Hopkins with the same breathtaking precision. These four pelicans paused in mid air, seeming to size up the breakfast crowd of seagulls and sand pipers, then in a single sure movement banked slightly, and let the wind whip them over to a spot just to my south, and about a quarter mile out to sea. From there they began trolling north up the coast. I watched while one by one, each made a sudden skydive, dropping like a precision guided torpedo into the water. They were too far away to tell if they actually caught anything, but it was an impressive sight. Pelicans are kinda ugly birds, but they are beautiful flyers and amazing divers.

For part of the morning and afternoon we were under a tornado watch. But the storms passed without doing much except toss a little thunder around. OhÖand rain. You forget how ferocious rain squalls can get the further south you go. It’ll be drizzling for a bit, then all of a sudden water just comes rushing down out of the sky, in these big thumb sized tropical raindrops that could fill a shot glass. I took a drive up to the mall after one of these, and realized that when your average height above sea level is maybe a few feet at best, runoff doesn’t tend to run anywhere. It more or less sits. I had to watch it several times as I drove around the main highway, particularly at intersections where the water had pooled up to my little green car’s axles. I saw one big obnoxious luxury SUV take one of those pools full tilt and hit it like a locomotive, throwing a plume of water that reached the top of the trees.

The worst of the storms seem to have passed by, although they are still calling for thunder tonight. Christmas day looks pretty good though, which is good because I’ll probably be spending a lot of it on the beach, or wandering around the island.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, December 23, 2002.

9:25 PM

This is an ad hoc kinda vacation, but I had one thing in mind to do when I got to Hilton Head. Call it jilted lover psychosis if you like, but I wanted to visit each and every spot on the island Keith and I walked together, and have a good time in them all on my own. Maybe it’s male territorial imperative or something. For years I’ve avoided Hilton Head, because I was scared to death that the moment I set foot on it, I’d run into Keith and the guy he dumped me for. You’d think on an island as big as this one is, I’d have nothing at all to worry about, and perhaps I don’t. But swear to god the first thing I did when I walked into Big Bamboo a few hours ago was set eyes on someone who looked strikingly like Keith. I stared at him in horror for a few moments, while the bartender wondered if a nutcase had just walked in. Then I realized the guy had more of a hair line then Keith does.

Moonjammers the one little gay club on the island is gone, or packed off to other digs, I haven’t a clue. I wouldn’t have dared gone in anyway. The piano bar around the corner from it, where Keith used to go to have a good laugh is gone. But Big Bamboo, thankfully, is still here, and just as good as ever. Big Bamboo is dressed up to be a replica of a WWII GI bar and grill of the same name on an island in the Pacific. The original was constructed from whatever the ex fighter pilot who opened it up could get his hands on…bamboo…corrugated galvanized steel sheets…palm thatch… It was, or so I’m told, a legend in its own day, until it got wiped out by a typhoon. The replica here at Hilton head is festooned with WWII antiques, and plays big band music from the period. The bar serves legendary GI drinks, and daiquiris, FDRs favorite. The food is fabulous. And this year they had t-shirts for sale! They were always out whenever I came to visit Keith. So I finally got my Big Bamboo t-shirt. Also lucky for me, they’ll be serving dinner on Christmas. Most places here will be closed. My little motel room has a referigerator, but nothing else in the way of a kitchen.

Of all the places I wanted to visit here, and make my own, the beach at night was the most important. The one memory I still cannot get over is of Keith and I walking slowly, hand in hand, down the beach at night, under a sky that was brilliant with stars. If I can’t erase that memory, I thought, I could at least add a few to it. That was the plan anyway.

First I parked along the circle, and started walking up Forest Beach Drive to find the public passage a block or so down the road. That was where Keith and I used to walk down to the beach from, when he was living near the circle. But walking down the main roads here at night is risky business, since Hilton Head seems not to have heard of such a thing a street lights. I’m not kidding, all the streets around here go pitch black at night, and you think the place has had a power blackout. So I’m walking down this pitch black road trying not to let the lights of oncoming traffic blind me enough that I mistakenly step out in front of it. The road cuts through tall spanish moss draped trees, and as I walk I hear two great horned owls hooting into the darkness from either side of the road. It was a bit spooky.

I walked several blocks and gave up. As I walked back to the circle I saw a heterosexual couple walk hand in hand across the street, and though one of the private parking lots, headed toward the beach, and presumably the same sort of quiet romantic walk under the stars Keith and I once took. But solitude isn’t usually the same thing for an opposite sex couple, that it is for a same sex couple. The opposite sex couple might want it for privacy’s sake, but the same sex couple usually need it for protection from hostile eyes too. But all I needed it for right then was to be alone to try and heal my jilted heart, and it started to look right then like that wasn’t going to happen. I felt resentful and knew it was unfair even as I felt it. I decided to go back to the circle and enter the beach from the main walk.

Overhead the stars were as brilliant as before. There was no moon. But a gathering storm was already starting to spread a thin sheet of clouds to the southwest, and the horizon was pitch black all up and down the coast. I stepped out onto the sand and instead of enjoying the peaceful waves and the twinkling stars above, I felt instantly alone and vulnerable. A couple of boats were trolling the waters off shore. Every now and then one would start its motor and its light would move a short distance and then the motor would stop and the silence would return. The waves did not crash against the shore, but rolled in a constant pulse like a heartbeat. Shadowy figures moved along the shoreline to my south. I was pretty sure they were just tourists like me, out enjoying the starry night. But suppose they were muggers, looking for unwary tourists to prey on? Suppose they were a group of drunken kids looking for some fun? What would they do if they ran across someone strolling the beach alone at night? It occurred to me that someone could put a knife in my gut, leave me for the tide to take out to sea, and no one would ever know what happened to me. You’d think after driving the southwest alone over and over, and walking out into the desert solitude every chance I got to gaze at the stars, a thought like this would have troubled me before now. Orion blazed in the night, exactly where he was when I pointed him out to Keith that night, and a meteor shot across his belt. But the horizon did not glitter, as it did then, but was a pitch black and formless void the sky and the sea simply disappeared into. It looked like the boundary between this world and oblivion.

I stared into it for a while, then turned back to the circle. I’ll see if I can try to make this beach my own Wednesday or Thursday, if I decide to stay here longer. But I am beginning to reconsider my plan too. Maybe I can’t fix every aching memory I have so easily. Maybe some wounds just won’t be healed. Tomorrow they’re calling for rain and thunderstorms all day. Luckily there is a shopping mall here that I can browse while the sky pours.

(edited slightly)

2:25 PM

I was hoping to post this yesterday, but the phone lines in the motel I stopped at for the night can’t cope with modems. Serves me right for not consulting my AAA guidebook, but I really wanted to stop, just once, at South Of The Border. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve never driven down I-95 anywhere around the Carolinas. South Of The Border is one of those road trip tourist traps and it’s billboards are strewn all over I-95 between Virginia and at least as far as Hilton Head. After years of passing it by, I decided just this once to take the bait. I was in the mood for a little highway tack.

Once I made up my mind not to waste my vacation time puttering around the house, and god knows there are a zillion Harry Homeowner projects I could fritter my vacation days away on, it was a straightforward thing to pack some suitcases, update the files on my laptop, and fling it all into my little green car. I picked up fresh AAA guidebooks Friday during my lunch break, and browsed them for ideas while I got ready on Saturday. My neighbors and the alarm company will housesit while I’m gone.

South Of The Border is your usual roadside attraction, which is basically lotsa eye candy, loud eye candy, having one purpose only: to get you to pull off the road and hopefully spend money. Some spots have giant plaster chickens or Paul Bunyons or some such. South Of The Border has a bazillion plaster cast giant Pedros, a racial stereotype that if it were a black man would be completely unacceptable. But I noticed driving down I-95 that the lazy sleeping Mexican in the drooping sombrero had been replaced on all the bazillion or so South Of The Border billboards, with just a giant sombrero and multi colored Mexican blanket, so I guess there are enough Latino customers on the highways now to make not offending them important.

There’s a fireworks store, which is always reason enough to stop anywhere in my book, and a few amusement rides. What was once an indoor miniature golf course, is now Pedro’s Concrete Bazaar: a showroom of cast concrete lawn ornaments, the likes of which you could buy alongside any highway. You browse them on, I am not kidding, the miniature golf greens, which I guess Pedro found too expensive to tear up before putting his Concrete Bazaar down. Outside, the sign for the old golf course remains, a giant neon gilded golf ball atop a tower, embossed with the words, Golf Of Mexico. That’s actually almost as good as the billboard for the UFO Research Institute and Museum and Musical Review I passed in Roswell New Mexico.

It wasn’t horrible, but it was cheap and tacky and I asked for it. Maybe a tad cheaper and tackier then during tourist season. The food was bad, not so much because it was bad, as because it was so highway typical. There were the tacos, enchiladas, and burritos you would have expected here, but there was no creativity in either the food or the eatery. I expected a little better from a roadside attraction with a plaster brontosaurus in a sombrero out front. Later, I spotted what might have been the premier South Of The Border restaurant, a steakhouse shaped like giant sombrero, that I might have stopped in, had I been in the mood for steak. But the resturaunt I did eat in was not worthy of a tacky roadside attraction. Taco Bell could have done a more authentic faux Mexican atmosphere. Eating at South Of The Border was like eating at a Wal Mart, but surrounded by more junk.

And not only was junk everywhere, so were signs telling you that if you broke any of it you bought it. I’m not just carping here…nearly every shelf full of South Of The Border mugs, South Of The Border t-shirts, South Of The Border shot glasses, South Of The Border ashtrays, South Of The Border flyswatters (no kidding), and all the other South Of The Border stuff had a “you break it, you bought it” warning of some kind on it. And stuck on the door to my room was a sign warning me that the contents of the room had been inventoried, and anything missing would be billed to me. Above that was another sign disavowing any responsibility for missing items that happened to belong to me. Now all of that is pretty standard fare for stores and motels, but waving it in the customer’s face isn’t something you usually see unless the proprietor is a resentful paranoid jackass. The employees I interacted with were courteous, but I thought I noticed that undercurrent you feel, when people really wish they had a better job. On the water tower in back, were just the initials, S.O.B. Whether that was intentional irony or not, I had a feeling that was how the employees usually refer to it.

The motel room was actually kinda nice, and in its day it would have really impressed people. The rooms had high beamed ceilings and even the little “standard” room I rented was huge. Each room had its own private car port, and you could back right up to the door, which makes loading and unloading a simpler chore. One side of the room was a nice heavy masonry wall that let in very little noise from the other room. The other wall was wood paneling, and I can’t answer for how quiet it is when the room on the other side of it is occupied, since that room wasn’t. I don’t intend to stay again, so I’ll never know. Since the phone circuit can’t cope with modem traffic, South Of The Border is unacceptable lodging for a computer geek. In the middle of the Navajo reservation, I had exceptional internet connectivity. Getting a connection on the Eastern Seaboard shouldn’t be too much to ask.

I made Hilton Head about 2 this afternoon, and booked a room for the next three days at the Holiday Inn Express, just a little way up Pope Avenue from Coligny Circle and the ocean. It’s back off the road a bit, a tad secluded, and surrounded by the meticulous landscaping that goes on just about everywhere on this island. I can walk to the seashore and some of the shops and restaurants around the circle. I want to stop by the Big Bamboo restaurant a few times while I’m here. First thing I did after checking in was make sure I had an Internet connection. Obviously I do, or you wouldn’t be reading this. But it’s slow. So far the best Akela, my little laptop can do is 26k.

(edited slightly)

South Of The Boarder

South Of The Boarder

Sombrero Brontosaur

Sombrero Brontosaur

Giant Pedro Head Picnic Grounds

Giant Pedro Head Picnic Grounds

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, December 19, 2002.

If I had a shred of middle eastern blood in me right now, I would be worrying that the fate of Japanese Americans during the second world war would be mine, and if I was lucky at that. Our president (sic) has no scruples…so much so obvious. What’s becoming painfully clear to more people now in the wake of the Trent Lott…unpleasantness…is that no one in that wing of the republican party does either. The republican congressional leadership has no scruples. Obviously the supreme court five have no scruples. The people Smirk has appointed to positions of power since he strong armed his way into power have no scruples. And lately they’ve been winging one slander after another at foreigners, mostly middle easterners and moslems, in a systematic campaign of dehumanization as prelude to political aggression that, as a gay man, I am all too familiar with.

I don’t know for sure what will happen when the bombs start dropping on Iraq. And they will, never doubt it. Nobody’s fooling me for an instant with that pathetic mantra that war isn’t inevitable…yet…if only Saddam complies with our demands. But war turns human inhibitions to ash, and quickly, and when the American fascist right looses what little inhibitions it still has left, I have a strong feeling that the first people to feel the falling axe at home will be anyone who even looks middle eastern…whether they are or not…whether they happen to be American citizens or not. Tell the Japanese it can’t happen here.

We got another wee taste of what is yet to come out on the west coast the other day, when our helpful government arrested hundreds of Muslim and Middle Eastern men when they voluntarily tried to register with the INS, as required by a new National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. They had, in most cases, letters from the INS stating that their applications for permanent visitor status was accepted. It didn’t matter. I watched on ABC news just a few moments ago, a mother of a sixteen year old Iranian boy, in hysterics because the INS told her son would be deported. She’s an American citizen. The boy was told, like so many of the others, that his green card application had been accepted. None of it matters. If the boy is deported the chances of his ever being allowed back into the country are zero. Let’s hear it for family values. But then, the party in power now is the very same one that has fought tooth and nail for policies which have brutalized minority families for decades. In some upright citizen republican households inside the Washington beltway tonight, without a doubt, they were having themselves a good laugh at that mother’s anguish, and another good laugh at the thought that anyone with that skin tone could even think of regarding themselves as American, let alone think they or their children had such a thing as rights.

The Orange County Register reports it thusly:

Traplci, of Santa Ana, said none of the men had expected any problem. All have lived in this country for years, and all are in various stages of obtaining their green cards. Most had received INS letters telling them their applications had been accepted. "These people who were at the INS office came from Syria, Iraq, Iran and other countries," he said. "They are everyday people, and they were treated like criminals. "They left their countries because they didn't feel free there. They love it here. Now they are scared here, too."

They damn well need to be. We all damn well need to be. Forget the fact that crap like this just makes it all the harder to gain trust and cooperation from the very Americans, and resident aliens we need to have with us, in the fight against Al Qaida. You think the people who believe America has no security problem a little serious ethnic cleansing won’t fix give a good goddamn about that? We have a man who strong armed his way into the White House, at the head of the most powerful military machine in history, who has announced that as far as he is concerned, he’s not merely president of the United States, but judge, jury and executioner, and answerable to no one. And while mouthing the sweetest moderate republican rhetoric you ever heard, he has appointed one gutter crawling neo confederate bigot after another to positions of power. So Trent Lott got caught with his hood on. Swell. Really swell. One less hood in that group doesn’t mean a damn thing. If you’re not scared right now, for your own future, and for the future of America, you are not paying attention.

UPDATE: Here is a link to a better the story about the round-ups, from ABC News.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Wednesday, December 18, 2002.

One spiff of being staff is paid vacation, and this holiday season I’m thinking of taking another road trip, this time south to hopefully warmer climes. Most everyone else in my department is taking some or all of the holidays off, and this year I decided to go along, thinking to stay home and catch up on some stuff around the house. But paid vacation is a new thing in my life, and a nagging little voice inside says I should make the most of it. So I reckon I’ll probably pack a few suitcases and some AAA Travel Guides in my car and just wing it, like I did last May when I prowled around the southwest. Figure I’ll go down to Hilton Head for a couple of days after Christmas, weather permitting, and then maybe go in to Florida and bop around the cost for a few days, then head home. I doubt I’ll go as far as the Keys, but maybe Fort Lauderdale, which I hear has a good gay resort area. Whatever I do, it’ll be an ad hoc kinda thing. Just drive somewhere you’ve never been to before and have a look around. I love doing that, though in all honesty I’ve already been both to Hilton Head and to Fort Lauderdale. But Fort Lauderdale was a long time ago, when I was still a kid in elementary school, and if I go to Hilton Head, it’ll be to see a place I think deserves a spot in my heart on its own terms, and not as the scenery of a failed romance.

In most workplaces the division meeting power point presentations are usually profit and productivity charts, new business proposals, and such like. In my workplace, they’re about confirming that the universe looks different the closer back in time you get to the big bang.

The director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Steven Beckwith, gave a talk at the start of our division meeting this week, about discoveries made with Hubble regarding the early universe, and how by looking at shots like the Deep Field, and the Tadpole Galaxy, they’re actually seeing that galaxies really do look different, the further back in space-time you look, and strikingly different the closer you get to the big bang. He also talked about the recent discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. In the near future Hubble will be doing more deep field style probes of the furthest reaches of space-time, working in partnership with other astronomers using other instruments, to see as far back as we can, and while we’re at it, try and catch as many ancient supernova as possible, to help validate the finding that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. He showed us some of the preliminary data from other instruments, and a plate containing thousands of galaxies from another instrument’s deep field look, and I swear no moment I ever spent in church gave me the rush of spiritual awe I felt in that instant, looking at the galaxies covering that plate. I was actually trembling a little when the talk was over.

It’s been two years now since I was officially hired to work there, three and a quarter since I came on board, and I still cannot believe I am being paid to be a part of this. Today we all found little Hubble Pins in our mailboxes, a tad smaller then the tenth anniversary of the mission ones we got a while ago, but another little something for me to keep and treasure, of the time of my life spent in exploring the universe. When Hubble’s mission is finally over, and newer technology has taken its place in space, regardless of where life takes me after that, I can say I was a part of it. Life pitched me a really good one.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, December 16, 2002.

Sorry for the lack of attention here, but the holiday season has me by the collar and I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment to post here. I was going to do all my gift giving this year on line, but the on line merchants I visited didn’t seem to be able to guarantee delivery by Christmas, and if I’m going to get my gifts where they’re going I have to get them shipped by today. I’ve got a bunch of cards I had to get ready for mailing by today too. I like to browse the latest Hubble images and pick out a good one for my holiday card. This year I picked the shot of galaxy UGC 10214, the Tadpole Galaxy, taken by the new Advanced Camera For Surveys, which was installed on the last servicing mission. This shot entranced me for a couple of reasons. First, the merging galaxies are beautiful. The new camera really picks up the delicate details in the structure of the galaxies, as they dance together. Secondly, and I think this is just awesome, the background in this shot is a field of galaxies older and denser then even that of the famed Deep Field. There are about six-thousand galaxies in the field around the Tadpole, some of which are the most distant objects Hubble has yet photographed.

Anyway…things are hecktic right now at casa del Garrett…and I’ll get back to posting here when I get caught up on my holiday chores.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Friday, December 13, 2002.

Atrios lights a righteous fire.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, December 12, 2002.

Any suggestion that a segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong... Recent comments by Sen. Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He (Lott) has apologized and rightly so. Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals. And the founding ideals of our nation and in fact the founding ideals of the political party I represent was and remains today the equal dignity and equal rights of every American.

-George (President Cartman) Bush, commenting on Trent Lott's praise of Strom Thurmond's racist campaign for the presidency, as noted by Joshua Marshal at Talking Points Memo.

Marshall also notes, but does not seem to fully appreciate the incongruity of, Smirk’s uttering these words while making a speech in support of his faith-based services initiative, which will allow government contractors to thumb their noses at federal and local civil rights laws, on the grounds of religious belief. Like…God says the races shouldn’t mix, so we don’t hire anyone in a mixed race marriage. Like…God hates homosexuality, so we don’t hire homosexuals. Like…it was the Jews who killed Christ, so we don’t hire jews. Now, thanks to Smirk, companies will be able to discriminate against damn near anyone, at the taxpayer’s expense. Segregation anyone?

Damn good Joe Conason column in Salon today:

As Gene Lyons and I reported in "The Hunting of the President," Lott deployed his old "seg" allies in the Republican assault on Bill Clinton in 1992. Among the unreconstructed racists who joined the GOP along with Thurmond was a former Arkansas Dixiecrat known as "Justice Jim" Johnson, who had led the violent resistance to the integration of Little Rock High School in 1957. As a young activist, Clinton had fought Johnson in more than one election during the '60s. When Clinton ran for president, Johnson called upon his old comrades to help ruin him.

I hadn’t read Conason and Lyons’ book, and always wondered where the violent passionate hatred of Clinton came from in the South. I’d always assumed it was the traditional hatred of the liberal by the conservative, made bitter in the south’s peculiar way. But that never quite seemed to account for the venom of it. Now it makes sense. This was about race. From the start of it, this was about race.

There is no hate in America, quite like the hate of its white supremacist class. Paul Krugman noted it this week , when he observed that you’d think states like Mississippi, being poor and largely dependent on Federal assistance, would support progressive politicians. “Why,” Krugman asked rhetorically, “do Mississippi and its neighbors support politicians whose economic policies seemingly run counter to their interests?” Then he followed that with “Do I really need to answer that?” The hate of the white supremacist class trumps everything else, even economic self interest. A poor white supremacist ditch digger, will cheerfully vote for politicians who will line the pockets of their fat cat friends with every dime of what little money he can make, so long as that politician hates black people as much as he does.

And also Homosexuals, Jews, Catholics, Asians, Latinos, Indians…and so on and so forth…

Hate is an undercurrent in American politics, only because journalists have insisted on turning a blind eye to it, when it reaches the highest levels of government. There, they take at their word, men and women with long supremacist pasts, who maintain friendly ties to supremacists, and supremacist organizations, when they say that they don’t have a prejudiced bone in their bodies, and that their policies serve only legitimate conservative aims, serve supremacist goals only co-incidentally, if at all. Back during the Nixon years, John Mitchell told the press “Watch what we do, not what we say.” But nowadays, the press does neither.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Wednesday, December 11, 2002.

Lately, my daily news digest has tilted more toward the internet, and the blog world, and away from the mainstream news media. If you think this kind of thing represents an example of self isolation, a turning away from reality, allow me to take a moment to gloat about the fact that Trent Lott’s giddy praise for Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential bid was old news to me, about the same time it started being news to everyone else who just watches the network newscasts. Point of fact, I am convinced that without the free and open internet, Lott would have pretty much gotten away with it, just like he did when he said almost exactly the same thing at a rally with dear old Strom in 1980.

Joshua Marshall at Talking Points Memo avers that it’s the sickening clarity of the fact that Lott really does believe that the days of Jim Crow were the good old days is what makes it hard for a lot of journalists to cover the story. My feeling is, anyone who can’t look into the Pit without flinching away has no business being a journalist. If Edward R. Murrow could tell his listeners what he saw during world war II, at a liberated concentration camp, and then say to his listeners that if they were offended by what he had just told them, he wasn’t sorry, then you pathetic unworthy followers in his footsteps can at least see the American Right for what it is, and tell the goddamn truth about it, regardless of whether or not it makes you uncomfortable, or offends someone. Or sure as hell that bottomless Pit is going to swallow the American Dream.

And speaking of life in the Pit…here’s a wee case in point that I found over at Atrio’s priceless web log, Eschaton:

A state senator who represents a portion of St. Tammany Parish was arrested and booked with lewd behavior during a raid at an adult video and bookstore on Chef Menteur Highway on Tuesday afternoon, the New Orleans Police Department said.

Sen. Jerry Thomas, 49, R-Franklinton, was arrested about 2:30 p.m. at A&N Kola Video Inc., 6420 Chef Menteur Highway, police said.

***

A police source said he was engaged in sexual activity with another man.

Atrios then helpfully gives us this link showing that the above republican state senator voted against same sex marriage, and voted against same sex domestic partner benefits while he was at it, and not content with all that, voted against repeal of the state sodomy law…which, presumably, he now faces prosecution under. Let it be said that he did vote in favor of an anti-discrimination in employment bill, and for one which allows homosexuals to avail themselves of any assistance provided by the Protection from Family Violence Act. But now…isn’t this familiar? Homosexuals don’t love…they just have sex… It isn’t the sex homosexuals have that offends homophobes, so much as the insistance on our part that homosexual intimacy is as fulfilling, as life affirming, as beautiful, as heterosexual intimacy. That is the line beyond which, hate cannot allow us to cross. Because once we’ve crossed it, we’ve become human, and the essence of homophobia, of any prejudice really, whether it’s that or racism or antisemitism, is dehumanization.

If I had a dime for every bigot I ever heard say they didn’t care what we do in our bedrooms, just so long as we left it there, I could pay off my mortgage, and maybe even buy a summer cabin in the mountains too. Beneath the sentiment, is the bedrock belief that homosexuals aren’t capable of any emotion higher then basic animal lust. We don’t trust and honor. There is no joy, no delight, no awe and wonder in our intimacy. We just rut. And in the relentless logic of prejudice, to suggest otherwise, is not to acknowledge the humanity of homosexuals, but to debase heterosexuality. So they’ll agree sometimes that homosexuals should be allowed to have jobs, maybe, but not to marry. When a Connecticut appeals court ruled, in a first of its kind same sex divorce case based on the Vermont Civil Unions law, that it lacked authority to rule on civil unions, Peter S. Sprigg, senior director of culture studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, said “Our position is simple: We don’t believe that homosexual relationships should be granted any legal recognition at all.” Because in the relentless logic of prejudice, there are no relationships there to speak of other then, as George Will once put it, “brief, barren, assignations.”

And look where they eventually caught Louisiana State Senator Jerry Thomas. In an adult bookstore. Fulfilling the role assigned to him by hate, the role he legislated to other homosexuals, who couldn’t be allowed to rise above a prejudice he himself could not. Gay conservatives just hate being called self hating homosexuals, but there is a simple way to prove the critics wrong: stop acting like you agree with the bigots about homosexuality, and that your essential human identity, your capacity for intimacy and trust and honor, and every possibility of love, and the awe and wonder of love, are so worthless to you that you’re perfectly willing to negotiate any or all of it away, for a place at the establishment table.

by Bruce Garrett | Link by

Sunday, December 8, 2002.

More Homicide In Baltimore…

Something ripped apart a dove under one of my bird feeders sometime in the early morning hours. I suspect one of the neighborhood cats, because I doubt the little falcon has stuck around for the winter. I could be wrong though: just yesterday afternoon, as I was cleaning the snow off my car, I heard one of the red shouldered hawks that nest near Hopkins calling just to my south-southeast, and what looked like a flock of starlings making a furious run for it.

You’d think the neighborhood cats would be well fed enough not to pick off my feeder customers, but I reckon the sight of so many birds in one place, against a snowy white background they can’t hide anywhere in, gets their hunting instincts going. My next door neighbor Joe has a dove nest under his back porch awning, and several doves, I think the nesting pair and their offspring, hang around his house and mine all year. I think the one that was eaten was one of them, because they’re the only doves I’ve ever seen in the neighborhood. I don’t have the heart to tell him. Doves don’t seem all that bright. Just a few minutes ago I saw two of them sitting placidly right in the middle of my sidewalk…they weren’t moving, it looked like they were just sunning themselves…about two feet from where I had just cleaned up a pile of dove feathers earlier.

Another one of my neighbors says he saw the falcon, about a couple months ago, sitting stone motionless on a nearby fence, staring at one of my backyard feeders, waiting for something to come and grab a snack. According to him, nothing did. I think the alley birds have wised up to him. There are at least two flocks of sparrow that hang out at my end of the alley, and one big obnoxious flock of rock pigeons that thankfully seems to have found somewhere else to eat while there is snow on the ground. The sparrows are nobody’s fool. I’ve watched them make idiots of the neighborhood cats, and anything that tries to crowd them off the feeders. A rock pigeon will perch on a feeder, and the second it turns it’s head from the tray a sparrow will land there. If it pecks at the sparrow, that sparrow will fly away and another one will land on the perch right next to the pigeon. If the pigeon pecks at that one, another sparrow will land on the tray again. And so on, until the pigeon is off the feeder and back on the ground. A sparrow is about a fifth or sixth the size of a pigeon, but they swarm.

And they’re brazen little dickens. As I was typing this, I saw a neighborhood cat walk up the alley and the sparrows eating on the ground below my backyard feeders didn’t budge, because they knew the cat had to jump over the fence to get to them. They seemed to know exactly how far through the fence the cat could reach, and stayed just that far away from the fence while the cat stood watching them. That went on for about five minutes and then the cat walked off. I saw two sparrows peel off from the flock and tail the cat up the alley for about fifty feet before flying back to eat.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Saturday, December 7, 2002.

According to Morgan Quitno Press, I am living in the fifth most dangerous city in the nation. Well…not. The whole city does not have a problem. Just (hey…big surprise here) the poorest and most neglected parts of the city. My neighborhood is almost suburban-like in it’s appearance, the streets are clean, you don’t see bars on the windows around here, people aren’t afraid to walk the streets at night, let their kids play in the parks, or leave things in their yards, and property values here are steadily rising. Yet, I could also walk about an hour from my doorstep into some really dire parts of the city that look like they’ve been through a war. The worst of the crime here is pretty much confined to those neighborhoods. The Wall Street Journal calls the people who live there “lucky duckies.”

John Steinbeck, in Travels With Charley, relates a conversation he once had with a southern friend who complained that the blacks didn’t appreciate how good they had it under the separate but equal system of southern apartheid. Their segregated schools weren’t merely as good as the white’s, said the friend, they were better. Steinbeck suggested to the friend that the solution was simply to let white and black switch places for a time, so the blacks could see the truth for themselves. The friend cheerfully called Steinbeck a troublemaker. Here’s my little recipe for trouble: if the jackasses who produce the Wall Street Journal think the poor in this nation have it so good, if they really think the poor are a “Non-Taxpaying Class”, then let them switch places with the poor for a time, so the poor can appreciate how good they have it, and all those hard working folks at the Wall Street Journal can take a break from the burden of having enough money to pay their bills, feed their kids, and live in neighborhoods where the schools are good, and the streets are clean and safe. A few days of that and in no time at all every Wall Street Journal poltroon will be scrambling madly to give away their possessions, and join the ranks of the lucky poor.

The picture painted of the big old cities is always that they are in decline, with little to no hope of ever finding their old glory again. But I see a real chance for the cities to pick themselves back up from the pit they fell into in the 60s and 70s. I grew up in the suburbs, and what was once a green and wide open idyllic place to live, is now choking to death in traffic, and out of sight property values. For those of us who now live and work in the city, life is actually pretty good. We can afford decent houses that aren’t made of chicken wire, staples and drywall. We can walk, or take a short hop on public transportation to work. I live within a short walk of two supermarkets and many great places to eat and shop. The streets in the city are narrow, and you don’t have the acres and acres of parking you do in the suburbs, but when you find yourself not needing your car as much for day to day living, it doesn’t matter. Mind you, the shopping in the suburbs is still a hell of a lot better then in the city, but if more people move into the city, that could change quickly. I am old enough to remember when downtown was the place you went to do any serious shopping. Those days could come again, and it isn’t a matter of attracting people who live in the suburbs to come shop in the city, but to live in the city. As the suburbs become ever more expensive and gridlocked, that is not an unlikely scenario by any means. In fact, the potential for an explosive rebirth of the cities is there, in the ever declining quality of life in the suburbs. But before it can happen, the cities need to get a handle on violent crime. People just won’t live where they don’t feel safe.

It’s do-able. But one radical change has to happen. We have to end the war on drugs. Prohibition not only wastes crime fighting resources, the astronomical profits made possible by prohibition are the high octane fuel of criminal violence. People don’t kill each other over drugs. They kill each other over money. People don’t steal for drugs. They steal for money. If they’re addicted, they steal because prohibition makes drugs wildly more expensive then they would otherwise be, and because they can’t get help for their addiction, without admitting to a crime and risking jail. If we can make the focus of the criminal justice system violent crime and property crime, and stop wasting resources on victimless crime we can, I believe, reduce crime enough that people, weary from suburban gridlock, unable to afford decent housing at sky high suburban prices, will begin moving back into the city. And with that will come jobs. And with that will come hope for the city’s poor. And with that will come even more reduction in crime, and a self sustaining cycle of urban rebirth.

The ingredients for rebirth are there. Violent crime is the thumb on the scale that keeps cities in decline, when they should otherwise be experiencing growth. But as long as the nation keeps fighting drugs, it’s fighting the wrong problem, and the cities will keep struggling, even when all the conditions are there for a renaissance.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, December 5, 2002.

Had my first real snowstorm here at Casa del Garrett today. Last winter was too mild for a storm like this; on this day last year the temperature was seventy-five, so I got a chance to see how well my little rowhouse and the neighborhood take to snow. I measured between seven and seven and a half inches around my property by three in the afternoon. That’s not all that much considering, but I doubt I’ll be driving my car anywhere for a while because the neighborhood streets are pretty risky. I called in to work around 7:45 and learned they’d closed due to the snow, which was a good call since the local TV stations here were all saying the streets were hazardous. The snow that came down all morning long was a fine powdery stuff that made the roadways slick and there were accidents galore all over the area. The birds began piling onto my feeders early, so I went down into the basement and cleaned up a couple of old feeders and put them up for the duration. I have enough seed to last maybe a month at this rate, and then I’ll need to get more. But hopefully the ground and the foliage will clear enough before them, that the seed eating birds can find more of their own natural food. While I was hanging the new feeders, a couple of chickadees stayed almost within arms length, chattering at me. The birds kept hanging off the feeders, even while I was busy shoveling snow right next to them.

My little brick rowhouse seems to stand up to bad weather really well. It never really gets too cold in here, I think partly because I am a middle unit, sandwiched between others, and so only my front and back walls are exposed. The last owner put in all new double pane windows, so I don’t get much heat leakage there. I still fret about the flat roof, but all my neighbors say the roofs on these houses can take even the severe multi foot snowstorms here without strain.

The neighborhood streets are a risky drive. I’m told the city does not plow the alleyways. The main roads a couple blocks from me all were looking pretty good by nightfall, but temperatures are supposed to take a dive tonight, and the fear is there will be a lot of ice all over the area by morning, even with the salt treatments. Tomorrow is my usual telecommute day, but I reckon a lot of people at work who can, are going to opt to do that tomorrow. Being that I can always walk in, I might still get asked to go in and take care of any machine that needs a hands on healing though. But even if I have to walk in to work through the snow every day for the rest of the winter, I’m still a lot luckier then those poor souls I saw on the local newscasts today, trying to drive down the main highways in this storm. Swear to god, if I ever have to find another job somewhere else, I’ll sell the house and move to within walking distance of that one too. I’ll flip hamburgers for a living again, if that’s what it takes to pay the bills, but I am not doing rush hour traffic anymore.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Bush Is America, As America Is Bush.

Bush has now assumed to himself, the power of judge, jury and executioner over American citizens. He can order the killing of American citizens and when he does, he is answerable to no one. Not that it would matter if he was anyway, because he can do it all in secret.

We are to trust in the word of the man who stole the election that put him into the White House, that he will not abuse this power.

Should I even bother asking what the response of most republicans would be, if this was Bill Clinton doing any of this? I know…I know…Bill Clinton was an immoral man. Bush on the other hand, is a supremely moral man. A supremely moral man, who just happens to need the ability to kill American citizens…at his discretion…and in secret.

We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude… Meanwhile, the mainstream news media is very concerned about how much money John Kerry paid for his haircut.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, December 2, 2002.

I posted three new cartoons last night, and am taking a break from cartooning, sort of, for the rest of the holidays. I say “sort of”, because current events may provoke one or two cartoons before the year end, and I think I want to do at least one Christmas cartoon to wrap up the year.

It’s been a year since I started cartooning again, after having left it behind in my school years. I started putting the cartoons up here as a way to distinguish my web site from others, and to get my drawing skills back to the point where I felt comfortable illustrating my Skywatcher stories. But the joy of drawing, that I remembered from my school years, has come back into my life, and now I am content to just keep doing it, for as long as I can.

Looking back at my initial output, I can see a slow but sure improvement. That helps mitigate the ones that didn’t quite hit the mark I was aiming for, and there have been a few of those. What’s really interesting is that even after all the years have passed, and all the new stuff I’ve done this year, I can still go into my box of old cartoons from High School and see my style of drawing crystal clear in both the old, and the new. When I was still in elementary school, and my teachers were giving me grief for taking more interest in my art projects then my other work (one of them actually wrote in my school record that I took “an excessive interest in personal art projects”), I had an insight, that your style was something that was just hard wired into you, like the way you sign your name, and that you should just go with what you have, and worry more about the mechanics of drawing, and the content of your work, then its style. For better or worse, and I can see this clearly now, all my artwork has its own distinctive voice. I’ve been trying for a while to verbalize it and I can’t. It’s just me. But it’s definitely me.

If I were to pick a personal favorite for the year, gosh…it would have to be the Not Family cartoon. But I’m also fond of the more recent Just Keep Walking cartoon, both because they hit the mark I was reaching for in terms of emotional content. The lettering in Not Family was done before I figured out I could do the lettering in a graphics editor without compromising the content of the cartoon. But it conveys the sense of outrage and helplessness in the face of the brutal, dehumanizing prejudice gay and lesbian people often face. Just Keep Walking reaches into the fear and apprehension I feel whenever I contemplate the next few years of total republican rule. Runners up would be Bush Health Policy, and Deviant Signs, both of which do what I think political art should do at its best: convey its ideas with simple straightforward imagery that hits right at the heart of the matter. I’ve received complements on many others though, with Busy Gay Mafia and (I’m a tad surprised at this one…) GOP Refuge garnering a lot of positive feedback. Seriously, that last one was just a snarky toss-off on my part, yet it seemed to have struck a chord out there.

I haven’t forgotten my Skywatcher stories, and I have a couple in the works that I might be able to put up here in the coming year. But the cartoons are a pure joy. That alone, and my love of the political cartoon form, would be encouragement enough to go on with it. But in this, my first year of return to cartooning, I’ve also had the most amazing complements from people who were directly involved in whatever it was that I was cartooning about on a given week. Some of them have given me heartfelt thanks for representing their particular struggles in the artwork. If I go on with this for the rest of my life, I’ll never get any greater complements then those. Whatever else I may set my sights on in this life, I know now, for sure, that I can do this.

Two of my three cartoons this week were not strictly about gay civil rights issues, which comes close to breaking a rule I’d set for myself when I started this cartoon. Part of my goal here was to work out some of the frustration I’ve felt over the years, at the silence of the mainstream political cartoonists regarding gay and lesbian civil rights. They were a lot less reticent in the fifties and sixties regarding black civil rights, and the rights of women. But anti-gay hatred is still largely a silent poison in American politics, where hardly a talk show can deal with gay people, and our struggle for equality, without the obligatory “balance” of one filthy lie after another uttered by a raving gay hating bigot, something no mainstream media would ever consider regarding racial minorities, ethnic minorities, jews or women. Even nowadays, the sight of a mainstream political cartoonist taking on anti-gay hate rare. So I set out to devote my space here exclusively to that issue, because it concerns me as a gay man, and because I am deeply disappointed in American cartoonists I have admired over the years. There are times when silence is appropriate, but when innocent men and women can have their children taken from them that isn’t the time for silence. When innocent people can find themselves thrown in jail for acts of human intimacy no heterosexual couple would ever dream they could be arrested for, that is not the time for silence. When people can be beaten to death, and their assailants can defend themselves in court by saying their victim made a pass at them, that isn’t the time for silence. When multi million dollar political machines feed on the incitement of fear and loathing and hatred toward innocent people, pitting neighbor against neighbor and sitting back to watch the dollars roll in, that isn’t the time for silence. American political cartoonists have raised holy and righteous hell in the past when it was necessary. It is necessary now. I hope to live to see the day when more mainstream political cartoonists start to realize it.

But it becomes harder and harder for me to stick within my topic, with each new Bush administration outrage. I believe America now faces very possibly the greatest threat ever to its core democratic values, and its promise, its shining dream, of liberty and justice for all. The coming years of total republican rule are looking bad now, and it seems every day they look a little worse then they did they day before, and I can no more ignore it, then I can ignore the glee with which our enemies are looking forward to rolling back every gain gay and lesbian people have made over the years, no matter how small. The threat the Bush administration represents to the lives of gay and lesbian Americans, is of a piece with the threat it represents to the future of the republic. I can no longer artistically represent the one threat, without representing the other.

So, in the coming year, I am changing the rules of my little space somewhat. The Log Cabinites love to talk about how their sexual orientation isn’t the core of their being, but it’s one thing to acknowledge there is more to a life then love, and another to sell the one out for the other. In the coming year, I’m still going to keep the struggle for gay and lesbian equality clearly in my sights, but the juggernaut that is the Bush machine, that is the American fascist right wing, is not just a threat to gay and lesbian Americans. It’s a threat to everyone, and I mean everyone, who believes in the American Dream. I just can’t, in good conscience, keep my focus here exclusively on the struggle for gay civil rights, when everyone’s most basic civil rights, which Americans have taken as their birthright for generations, are in jeopardy. I have to speak out against the threat to both. Otherwise there may come a time when I’ll regret, like Niemoller, that I hadn’t, when I had the chance.

And I promise to do one other thing: add to the mix the occasional cartoon about love and life as a breather from politics, and a reminder of why we fight.

(edited slightly for clarity)

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Random Notes…

Ted Rall is cooking with gas today! Damn! In my wildest dreams I could wish my political cartoons were anywhere near this good!

I probably get far less crank mail then most web loggers, but I’m not sure. The reason is that while I don’t filter for crank mail, I filter relentlessly for spam, and I reckon a lot of my crank mail gets caught in the process. But I get some. The other day I got a Jesus letter, telling me the good news about homosexuality is that people can leave it. Yeah, and people can drag their humanity by the hair to the bathtub and drown it too, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a better person for it. Thank you mister fundamentalist nutcase (who by the way thinks the Harry Potter books and films are the work of the devil), and by the way, I have some good news of my own about God: God is good, and my proof is all the thrilling, soul satisfying, life affirming times I have spent in the arms of another man, not to mention all the breathtaking moments when a beautiful guy has caught my eye. Hardly a day goes by that some comely guy with a beautiful smile, and a really really cute ass, doesn’t make me praise god. When I found out that Levi Strauss had reintroduced low rise jeans for guys I spent the rest of the week praising God. And if more of you pew kicking brain dead jackasses would spend less time with your noses in Leviticus, and more taking a goddamn look at what God Hath Wrought whenever it walks by, you might start praising God too.

Life is beautiful. Sex is wonderful. A few moments spent in the arms of the one you love will bring you closer to your maker then hours on your knees in front of anyone preaching that the way to love God, is to piss on everything God made. Now, the next time you see a same sex couple, peaceful and contented and happy in each other’s company, say “Praise God”, because the Good News is there, right there, in that couple’s love for one another; and if you want to hear the Good News too, instead of beating someone over the head with a bible, go find someone to love, take them into your arms, and make them happy to be alive.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Friday, November 29, 2002.

Those Gay Friendly Republicans…(continued)

Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefits On The Republican Chopping Block In Minnesota.

I'm not looking for confrontation. I'm not looking for a fight. I'm not looking to start the next round of negotiations in a bad way," Sviggum said. But, "We will not support the gay-lesbian same-sex domestic partner benefit."

What this Minnesota House republican is saying is that he and his party are willing to trashcan a state employee contract that settled the longest state worker strike in Minnesota state history, solely because of its same sex domestic partner benefit provision, forcing an immediate paycut for state employees, and leaving the union free to strike again. And now they have a republican governor to back them up. Ventura, let it be said, had no problem with the concept. The republicans absolutely despise it. And as in so many other parts of the country now, they’re in complete control.

Meanwhile, deep thinker Steve Miller over at the Independent (sic) Gay Forum notes the press release of the anti-Gay Family & Culture Institute, triumphantly asserting that opposition to the “homosexual agenda” propelled GOP victories nationwide, and then cheerily writes that he thinks “the anti-gays come up awfully short.”

Aside from a stray city council or state legislative race here or there, all the key victories they claim were decidedly not decided by "family values" issues at all.

And I suppose many homosexuals who voted republican in the last election didn’t make their decisions on those issues either. But that is not to say that they didn’t vote for them regardless. Ask the gay and lesbian citizens of Minnesota how awfully short the anti-gays came up.

I know this space may seem a bit liberal from time to time… so in the interest of balance here’s a word from a religious conservative…

You separate religion from your politics, contradicting the pure nature that affirms absolute authority to the Lord and your Creator. You permit acts of immorality, and you consider them pillars of personal freedom. You practice the trade of sex in all its forms, directly and indirectly. We call on you to be a people of manners, principles, honor and purity; to reject immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling and usury.
-Osama bin Laden

Not bad… A little public image makeover, a shave, a nice three piece suit, and the guy could probably get himself a place on any republican ticket in the union. They’d be pounding the pulpits all over the bible belt for him too. The talk radio jocks would love him. They’d be calling Osama their man.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, November 28, 2002.

Holiday Posting… For the time being I’m going to hit and run here on my web log. I’m holiday addled and so my web log is going to look a bit like a meandering stream of conscience after a rain.

I’m Thanksgiving Stuffed and contented. The first load is in the dishwasher and my stereo is tuned to my dish’s Big Band channel. It’s been a while since I could listen to Big Band music without thinking about my last boyfriend and getting worked into a funk. But tonight anyway, life is good. I’ve got another cartoon on the drawing board and between working on it and clearing out the wreckage from Thanksgiving dinner, and plinking around a bit with Linux, nursing a Flor de Florez cigar and a glass of 43, I’m content. A bit buzzed, but content.

For all you space cadets, here’s a very cool article in this month’s Scientific American regarding loop quantum gravity and the quest to unify general relativity with quantum theory. My friend Stuart and I used to have a running gag between us about the nature of nothing, but in physics it’s no laughing matter. Space is not nothing, and if you think only dorks wonder why it exists then go read some other web site willya.

Because the speed of light is finite, you can see only a limited slice of the universe. Your position in spacetime is unique, so your slice is slightly different from everyone else's. Although there is no external observer who has access to all the information out there, we can still construct a meaningful portrait of the universe based on the partial information we each receive. It's a beautiful thought: we each have our own universe. But there's a lot of overlap. "We mostly see the same thing," Markopoulou Kalamara explains, and that is why we see a smooth universe despite a quantized spacetime. "I actually think theoretical physics is very much like art," concludes Markopoulou Kalamara, the daughter of two sculptors. "Putting these things together is like taking clay and making something out of nothing, and it should work from every side. I like the creative part, but I also like that you can check."

Let it be said that not everyone likes that aspect to science. There are times I feel blessed to be living in this day and age. Then I see that smirking chimpanzee in the White House on the TV screen again and I wonder how much longer America is going to be able to do any kind of science. Not too long ago a congresswoman tried to insert an amendment to an education bill asserting nothing more remarkable then that sex education classes should teach what is medically and scientifically understood to be true. She failed. The American Taliban wanted only abstinence taught, even when that teaching is contradicted by the evidence. In other words, if the teachers have to lie to children, then according to the American Taliban, that is what they must do. Pretty nifty huh? You can call a political movement that exalts itself over any considerations of truth a lot of things, but moral isn’t one of them. Jacob Bronowski wrote of the tragedy of the quantum theory of uncertainty, what he called the principal of tolerance, being refined in Germany in the 1930s, while all around the physicists tolerance was crashing to the ground beyond repair. Yeah. It’s kinda like that here in America right now.

According to SullyWatch Mr. Conscience Undetectable is now claiming (or rather, insinuating, as is his wont when he’s busy thumping his steriod laden chest) that antisemitism is something that eurpean liberals taught to the Arabs. Swear to god he’s going to start quoting from Lively and Abrams’ The Pink Swastika before long…

Aggghh! I’m home alone this Thanksgiving, doing the single guy home alone for Thanksgiving thing. Making myself a huge Thanksgiving dinner and taking stock of all the things in my life I have to be thankful for. I have a house of my own, my pantry is full, I live within walking distance of the job of my dreams. Life is good. Even when you just noticed that for the first time in your life you need your glasses to peel the Thanksgiving potatos.

<Sigh> Oh well…back to peeling…

I’m geeking out this thanksgiving, fiddling with Mandrake Linux, and trying out a new text editor, Crisp, that’s a bit less pricey then Visual SlickEdit. SlickEdit is nice, but my trial license expired a few days ago and at about $270 for the downloaded version (almost $30 off the regular price) it was still too much money. Crisp sells for about $150 and so far it looks pretty good. I’m having difficulty getting used to the way it handles the ALT key though, and Edit->Copy, Edit->Paste don’t work as you’d expect. This despite the fact I am allegedly running under CUI key mapping. It’s a mystifying annoyance. The spell checker has no option to just check a single word under the cursor. There is no word wrapping. I could wait for MultiEdit for Linux, but based on all the problems I’m having with the new MultiEdit 9 (I’m still running version 8 until they get 9 fixed) I’m starting to wonder if that’s a worthwhile thing to wait for

I got KMail to talk to my main mail server and while it still won’t read and write to my existing Eudora mailbox files, at least I can tell KMail to leave things on the server until I get a chance to download it to the Eudora mailboxes. One thing that irks me about KMail, is that I can’t seem to get it to not automatically display the message body when I highlight it in the inbox list. Some spammers embed image calls in the message body with a unique ID that tells their web server that at your mailbox has actually opened and looked at their spam. So the second you open it you’ve basically told them your address is a valid one. The spammers also charge their customers based on the hits their web servers get off the opened mail. A friend of mine who runs the ZZapp.Org ISP blocks the spammer’s web servers, so his customers don’t rack up their hit counters whenever they open spam and look at it. What I’ve been doing is looking at suspect mail offline. But I have to be careful in KMail not to even highlight the item in the mailbox or I’m had.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Tuesday, November 26, 2002.

Looks like our first snowfall of the season is on the way. It’s the same weather pattern that brings the really heavy ones to this part of the world, but they’re saying this one will only give us about a couple of inches here in Baltimore. From the sudden burst of rainfall we’ve had here this fall, I’ve been concerned that this winter will be a snowy one. Last weekend I began laying in winter supplies, which I can do in earnest now that I have a house with a basement to stockpile stuff in. When I was a kid, mom would fill the pantry with stuff all fall long, in preparation for winter. I reckon it was a habit she carried over from her childhood, living in the Pennsylvania hills, in the 1930s, and it’s one her son carries on, because it makes living through the winter that much easier. I put up some shelving in the basement, and I’ve been laying in a four month supply of everything that won’t parish in four months. I’m not going survivalist, I just hate having to go out for supplies in a freezing winter storm. And the minute the weathercasts start calling for snow, the people around here dog pile on the supermarkets. I just want to relax, sit at the window, and watch the snow come down. Snow is beautiful when you don’t have to lug groceries through it.

We Report…We Decide.

Next time somebody uses the phrase “Liberal News Media” at you, laugh in their face. Eric Alterman does a good job on George Will’s little Stalinist rewriting of history. But if that isn’t enough to help you along, try this amazing example of journalistic malfeasance. Why are these people still getting paid by professional news organizations? Seriously. This is beyond having a bias. This is outright, utterly without any shred of conscience lying. Liberal news media? Hell…there is no news media any more. Makes you wonder why any of them were bellyaching about fraud in the accounting industry last summer. Somebody ask the publishers of the Washington Post, and the chiefs of NBC News, why the hell they care if anybody lies about anything.

Yes I Love You Hal…Now Open The Damn Pod Bay Doors…

Wired.Com posts this story about a gay guy who obsessively dated another guy by computer over the internet, even going so far as to set up mutual web cams so they could watch each other sleep…only to realize later that it wasn’t the guy he liked, so much as his computer. But that’s the risk a go-between always runs.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Sunday, November 24, 2002.

The Grand Old Prevaricators…

I see the Mighty Wurlitzer is complaining that Paul Krugman’s attacks on GOP nepotism are hypocritical because the democrats have engaged in the same behavior. I see. Now can somebody please remind me:

1) When did Paul Krugman write a column applauding democratic nepotism?

2) When did corruption in political party A, become an excuse for corruption in political party B?

3) In what sense can an administration that trumpets its superior moral virtue over its predecessor, be said to be excused of its sins, because the previous administration committed the same sins?

Who would have guessed that the moral compass of the republican party, points to the democratic party. I know…I know…the republicans have no moral compass. Its why they love rules over substance. When you don’t have a conscience, you need a dogma.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Friday, November 22, 2002.

Light to no blogging this weekend, as I take care of some things for work and home.

In the meantime, check out this righteous fire and brimstone post from James Capozzola regarding the sweet deal between Smirk and Eli Lilly & Co., that fed America’s children to the wolves. Never mind the lie this puts republican rhetoric that the democratic party is the party of special interests, if you still think Smirk has a shred of humanity left in him somewhere, that he isn’t willing to sell for political gain, then read this. Even Nixon wasn’t as bald faced in his cronyism as Smirk is. But then of course, Smirk is about to turn as much of the federal workforce as he can into a political patronage kingdom. As usual Paul Krugman has the story covered. And speaking of Krugman, check out this column in the Washington Monthly, about the man who is almost single handedly holding the Smirk White House accountable for it’s lies in the mainstream news media. And then there is this scary little tale from The Sentimentalist, concerning where your bill payments are really going. And if you think Andrew Sullivan’s attempt at coinage is as inane as I do, then don’t miss this hilarious Neal Pollack post about Beagles.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002.

I just want to give a (much) belated thanks to SullyWatch for linking to me twice recently. I am sorry to say I missed it both times, but while googling the other day happened on them both. Which I guess evens things out a tad since they linked to me after googling around a bit themselves. It’s a small world after all. Or at any rate, a thoroughly search engined one.

SullyWatch and Smarter Andrew Sullivan do the unpleasant job of keeping tabs on Mr. Conscience Undetectable, so the rest of us don’t have to keep ratcheting up his hit counter, just to know what in-your-face lie he’s trying to get away with today. I couldn’t thank them enough. Sometime last summer reading Sullivan started feeling like having a babbling naked street lunatic in my face. You just wish some kind soul would offer him a towel, a bath and a thorazine.

Rittenhouse Review has my little web log listed in their “better blogs” spot, and I’ve been linked to at least once over at Eschaton. I do very much appreciate the notice guys. Not for the hits it brings my way, but just for the company of other thoughtful, decent people here on the web. Thank you. Thank you much.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

We Believe In The Right Of Private Organizations To Set Their Own Standards Of Membership…Unless They Happen To Include Homosexuals Too…

Nine republican congressmen have sent a letter to President I Am A Uniter Not A Divider, asking him to exert pressure on the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Of America to keep gays out. Let’s just add this to our ever growing list of examples of liberal homophobia. Oh…wait…these are republicans…

Isn’t it cool how they can be all for government leaving private groups (i.e.: the Boy Scouts) alone in matters of discrimination, or as they like to say, the right of free association…but when it comes to organizations that elect not to discriminate, then they’re scrambling over one another for government intervention. I know…I know…they abandoned pretense back in November 2000. Only the media keeps pretending they didn’t see it…

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Tuesday, November 19, 2002.

It Can’t Happen Here…

Ted Rall tells us a story with a familiar ring. I’m sure people will bristle at the comparison being made here, insisting that Smirk, whatever you think of his political views, is not the hater that old Mr. Schicklgruber was. And that’s possibly true. Or at any rate, he doesn’t rant the way the paperhanger once did. But for the hating and the ranting, you don’t have to look far behind the white house curtain…:

The party believes that the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country's founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable 'alternative' lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should 'family' be redefined to include homosexual 'couples.' We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, recognition, or privileges including, but not limited to, marriage between persons of the same sex, custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.
…from the 2002 Texas Republican Party Platform.

In recent years the Democrats have not embraced moral degeneracy outright. They have contented themselves with hiding behind the slogan of "liberty." If accused of encouraging pornography, the Democrats have said, "No, we are for liberty of expression." Charged with supporting abortion-on-demand, the Democrats insist, "No, we are the party that gives women freedom over their own bodies." Caught distributing sex kits and homosexual instruction manuals to young people, the Democrats protest, "We are merely attempting to give people autonomy and freedom of choice."

But what is the need for this coyness? The Democrats should stop hiding behind "freedom of choice" and become blatant advocates for divorce, illegitimacy, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and pornography.
-Dinesh d’Souza, A Solution for the Democrats The National Review Online.

Yeah. It can happen here. Matter of fact, it may already be happening…

by Bruce Garrett | Link

The Conscience Of The Gay Hating Right.

The right wing Media Research Center bellyached when actor William Hurt, playing convicted Soviet spy Robert Hanssen in the CBS docudrama Masterspy: The Robert Hanssen Story, said on screen:

"Anybody who ever voted for Gore ought to be shot. The very thought of Gore daring to be President, toitering up to that psychopath and sociopath Bill Clinton for eight years. Makes my blood boil."

Well apparently a lot of things made his blood boil, including the thought that homosexuals might be allowed to work for the FBI openly and with dignity. National Review hack Rod Dreher no less, acknowledged that Hanssen and the American right had a few things in common:

I see why the MRC is upset, but I have to tell you, I had a phone conversation with Hanssen that wasn't far in tone and content from that. This was several years ago, before he was exposed. He was a source of mine for a story I was working on about the politicization of the FBI under Bill Clinton. He spoke in this manner about Clinton and Janet Reno, and was particularly outraged over what he called Reno's forcing the FBI to hire lesbians. He told me gruffly that if Gore were elected, he was going to retire, because the lesbian left was going to complete its takeover the Bureau. His vehemence and intensity made it a real Strangelovian moment

Robert Novak, another right wing homophobe, has acknowledged Hanssen as a source too. If to love America is to love its promise of liberty and justice for all, then Hanssen betrayed nothing that Dreher and Novak don’t routinely piss on for pay every time they sit down at a keyboard. He had no conscience, he had only that simmering resentment for people he regarded as his inferiors, and the American Dream that declared them his equals if not in fact then in the eyes of the law, that every American right winger mistakes for a conscience. If only they had known, Dreher and Novak could have told Hanssen there were better ways of selling out America that were equally, if not far more lucrative, and perfectly legal.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Not Exactly The Life Of Christ…But Close Enough For Some.

Benjamin Williams, White Supremacist, antisemite, homophobic murderer, and all around religious fundamentalist, has spared his community the dirty job of putting him either to death, or behind bars for the rest of his life, for the murder of a gay couple who had once sold them flowers for their landscaping business. The man who said killing homosexuals was his religious duty, was found in his cell Sunday, dead by his own hand.

Williams had previously stated his wish to become a christian martyr. His younger brother, whom he had insisted all along had not participated in the murder of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, will now face his own capital murder trial, alone. Ben Williams bore the love of brothers with the same care he bore the love of god. The righteous heroic garb he waved at the public was nothing more then last ditch excuse of every bar stool failure who can’t bear to look themselves in the face anymore. His last act of religious devotion in this life was to try and kill a prison guard with a homemade hatchet. His companion in that crime will now pay the price for it, that Williams will not. They just don’t make martyrs like they used to.

But Williams and his kind are the grist of the right wing hate machine, and all its Limbaughs and d’Souzas, all its Dobsons and LaBarberas. They are not the foot soldiers, so much as the movement’s suicide bombers. Another one was arrested the other day in California, for the brutal beating death of a transgender teenager, while elsewhere in California another man was arrested when, after asking his neighbor why he never had women over to his house and the man acknowledged he was gay, he beat him. At Morehouse college one student beat a gay peer with a baseball bat nearly to death, telling police afterward that he did it because he thought the student was peeking at him in the shower. And meanwhile the Yasser Arafats of the American right insist that they cannot control the mob, and aren’t responsible for what it does.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


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