I’ve seen some Facebook posts lately that friends should not “defriend” friends over mere political disagreements. Well…okay… But mere political disagreements are not always as mere as they seem.
I once had someone in my friends list over there who I’d known for many years. We worked together back in the day and then went our separate ways, only to find each other once again on the social media pastures. I’d always thought of him as a nice guy, basically decent, thoughtful, intelligent, even though his taste in newspapers tilted toward the Murdoch zone. I felt it was something I could just let slide. It lasted all the way up to the riots in Baltimore over the Freddy Gray verdict, when I saw him venting that maybe closing the city food banks would teach them a lesson. And in the next instant he was off my friends list. No warning, no theatrical unfriending announcement given. I pushed the button and that was that.
I appreciate that we Americans need to talk to each other about the issues. I appreciate that if we can’t talk to each other nothing can get done. But there are limits to the scope of that discussion. If your idea of justice is taking food out of the mouths of poor people and their families well then I hope the ghosts come to visit you Mr. Scrooge and I hope you learn from the lessons they teach, but I want nothing more to do with you. Because “friend” is more than a line item on a social media list of names, it’s a connection…between mutual souls of a kind, birds of a feather, cut from the same cloth, comrades…and you just told me we are not that at all.
by Bruce |
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September 8th, 2016
I was 17, and me and mom were in her car fleeing westward to California and the half of my family tree I’d never seen, and never known. I won’t go into the details of the family tensions at that moment, just that they were huge and mom was making a heroic effort to keep them away from me. She felt it was time for me to get to know my father. And in truth, she still loved him very much. All I knew was I was born in California, and it had called to me my entire life. I ached to be there. Now, hopefully I would finally walk its ground and see the people who were the other half of my bloodline.
I’d had my driver’s license by then. I was driving, mom was resting in the front seat beside me, it was night and we were on the interstate driving through Ohio, into the darkness beyond the headlights, driving to whatever was ahead. I had the radio on. In those days the radio was all you had to keep you company on the highway. The radio stations faded in and then faded out as the miles passed. I had a classical music station tuned in. This began playing.
Somehow, it just captured my emotional state just then. It was as if the composer wrote it just for me, just for that moment, driving from one world I knew, into an unknown one. Fleeing the relentless iron grip of one, but into what?
As soon as I could I began searching for this music. All I heard from the radio was “…Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra…” Eventually I learned the name of the composer. He was a Russian…Dmitri Shostakovitch. And it was his first symphony, as performed by the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra. I later learned he composed it when he himself was a teenager. I have always imagined listening to it, that this was his statement on coming of age, and finding himself in a country where the artist’s only duty was to the State. Somehow, raised in a rigidly authoritarian faith that was nothing like the state imposed atheism of the Soviets, and yet everything like it, I could relate. The Man was a soul sucking bastard whichever side of the iron curtain you were on.
This is intense, amazing music. It aches. It burns. It is sarcastic, ironic, broken hearted and proud and defiant. Shostakovitch became my musical companion through the rest of my adolescence and young adulthood. He went on to compose 15 symphonies, all of them masterpieces of 20th century music. And his music never lost that bitter, ironic, defiant bite. His 8th symphony, composed during the siege of Leningrad is the most perfect expression of the soul crushing inhumanity of war I have ever listened to. (Get the version by Kyril Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic.) Later, I discovered Vaughan-Williams and Rachmaninoff. They speak to my heart in a different, more settled and romantic way. But some days I dig into my collection of Shostakovitch because nobody expresses this feeling of bitter, laughing resolve better, and especially the piece he composed while a teenager, in Joseph Stalin’s Russia.
Note: only the Russian conductors seem to really understand Shostakovitch, and especially this piece.
by Bruce |
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September 6th, 2016
Staring Into It
Some days I read something in the news and it angers me or depresses me but my vision of the human status withstands it and I put it somewhere it belongs, filed away in some sort of hierarchy of categories of bad things which are outweighed by the good and beautiful things, and I carry on. But some days, like today, I read something that so profoundly disturbs and depresses me that I just can’t. I won’t say which story it was but it really did me in. I really don’t like staring into that Pit. I really don’t like losing my sense of the human status. But this afternoon I did.
So a someone or someones did something truly evil, and against the advice of some inner voice telling me to beware I read the entire account. And it leaves me without any inner resources. I just can’t come to terms with it. I can’t find some place to put it where it makes any sense in the grand scheme of things. I can’t help imagining myself seeing these events unfolding, over and over again in my mind’s eye, and being shocked and horrified over and over and over. Wishing, imagining, I could have done something to prevent it. Knowing, logically and rationally there is nothing to be done for it. Oh yes, we can bring the perpetrator(s) to justice…sort of. Guilt can be pronounced, verdicts read, sentences handed down. But what of it? How do you punish crime that is so utterly beyond the pale that no amount of retribution can ever adequately punish the guilty? Death sentence? Maybe if you believe in hell. I don’t. As far as I can tell, death removes the possibility of punishment entirely. Oh you can argue that at least the dead won’t reoffend. Yes, but they feel no pain either. It’s the living that feel it. And will, always. Life in a torture chamber? Leave aside that torture dehumanizes both the victim and the torturer together, reason enough to turn away from it, the fact is you just can’t do that to a flesh and blood human being for very long without the human eventually succumbing to madness or death, and so release from punishment happens anyway. The bitter fact is the guilty go free eventually, the living never.
But even if it were not so, what would a perfectly tailored punishment for such crimes really accomplish? Really? The dead do not return to us. Their last moments will always be what they were. None of it can be erased. Punishment is irrelevant. There is only prevention, and even that is hard to come by. Jail yes, but is that ever a sure thing? Parole, forgiveness, rehabilitation…some people will always be a danger, and some crimes telegraph that fact with certainty. And yet they can and often do go free, to kill again. Death penalty would surely prevent at least that much, but an institutionalized death penalty is bound to catch an innocent in its wake, and then it commits exactly the crime against humanity it stands to avenge. Then what? And if torture degrades the human soul, what of institutionalizing deliberate killing. George Will, whose conscience I have little regard for, wrote once that while some people see a death penalty as addressing the deepening coarseness of human behavior, others see it as encouraging it. So it turns out that even punishment can turn on us, dig us deeper into the Pit the initial crime threw us into.
The despairing truth is some crimes against humanity can never be adequately punished. The darker dismal truth is they can’t even be prevented always. I heard it said once, during a retelling of crimes of the Holocaust, that evil sometimes gets its turn at bat, and hits a good one. And you can’t stop it from happening. You come to realize that evil leaves scars in the world that just don’t heal. And then you find yourself wondering if all the good humanity is capable of actually really does outweigh the bad. You find yourself tarrying with misanthropy. Surprising considering the work I do, the thing I participate in every working day. I’m on the long walk into old age now, and that is not what I want to become. But age has its way with you. It’s not the lines in my face that worry me, so much as the lines in my heart.
This came across my Facebook stream the other day…
But the IPR’s most fascinating piece was published a few months earlier, in August 1993. The article, written by IPR Foundation senior fellow Col. Ronald D. Ray, purported to be an argument against allowing gays to serve in the military. “The homosexuals are not as a group able-bodied,” Ray urges. “They are known to carry extremely high rates of disease brought on because of the nature of their sexual practices and the promiscuity which is a hallmark of their lifestyle.”
That’s fairly conventional anti-gay obloquy, especially for the time. But from there, the polemic quickly descends into a stunningly graphic description of gay sex acts…
Link to the article Here. Coincidentally, or not perhaps, I saw this a day after I was reading another online rant about how us gays are obsessed with sex. I say “perhaps not” because these things tend to percolate up from the sewer all at once and you just know someone read an article about how gays are preoccupied with sex somewhere and the next thing you know it’s making the rounds and all the usual suspects are repeating it as if it was some new groundbreaking discovery. But it’s an old lie, one part meant to dehumanize us, reduce us to a sexual urge, and one part projection. If we’re the ones so obsessed with sex, what are you then, so obsessed with talking about our sex.
There’s a scene in Patricia Nell Warren’s groundbreaking novel The Front Runner where Harlan Brown, the coach and lover of out gay Olympian Billy Sive, is having a chat with some old friends who work as sports reporters. They confront him on the rumors about his having a sexual relationship with Sive, and while Brown tries to stand up for the honor and the dignity of their love, the reporters, old friends, try to make Brown understand that in the mass media, honor and dignity won’t even buy you a cup of coffee. Which only makes Brown angrier…
“Did it ever occur to them that maybe Billy and I don’t merely go to bed together? That we love each other?” I was really getting mad now. “That neither of us wants anybody else? Do they know so little about human nature?”
“You’re the one’s a dummy about human nature,” said Aldo. “They want to think the worse…”
Finally one of the reporters, Bruce, suggests that they do an interview with the two of them which would hopefully allow the readers to see them as human beings apart from the ugly stereotypes of homosexuals common in those days.
Brown agrees, thinking it a great idea. Aldo pointedly asks if they can dispel the other rumors too…
“What other rumors?” I said.
“You really want to know?” Aldo asked. He was furiously tearing up a piece of bread.
He started to tell me. When he’d finished I’d had one more sociological revelation. Society had tried to teach me that the gay mind was an open sewer. Now I knew, beyond any doubt, that it was the straight mind that was the sewer…
The next scene is Brown back home telling Billy what Aldo had said to him…all the carefully specific and brutally ugly sexual perversions cataloged against gay people back in the early 70s when Warren was writing her novel. All I have to add to it is either Warren or her editor chose to keep a bunch of it away from the page, otherwise her readers might have become so completely disgusted they simply stopped right then, or she herself chose to stop digging into it when it got ugly enough. I’ve had a bunch more of it waved in my face since I read that book, and I’m here to tell you there is no bottom to the grotesque sexual fantasies of bigots. But it’s unfair to lay all that at the feet of heterosexuals. Now I knew, beyond any doubt, that it was the straight mind that was the sewer… No. It’s the mind of the bigot that is the open sewer. And the fact is, sexual corruption is something they throw at all the hated Others, be they gays or Jews or Blacks or (Hi Donald!) Mexicans.
They say gays are obsessed with sex but if you look carefully what you find is that it’s the bigots who are obsessed with it, to the point that it’s all they can see when they look at us. Homosexuals don’t love, they just have sex… We have to be inhuman, so persecuting us can be righteous.
Don’t take that “Must Read” in the Slate article headline there too seriously if that sort of graphic talk about sexual kinks bothers you. It bothers me but I’m use to it, ironically enough because A) the bigots keep waving it in my face and B) I got an eyeful of heterosexual kink back in the day every time I went to buy my gay newspapers, because back then the only places I could find them were in those seedy little “adult” bookstores you find tucked away in decaying strip malls or certain city neighborhoods. I’ve written about this before: for a period of time in my life I had to walk a gauntlet of heterosexual pornography just to get my damn newspapers. I mention it here so you know why A) I became inured to graphic discussions about sex at an early age and B) why I’m laughing in your face if you just tried to tell me gays are perverse in ways heterosexuals just aren’t.
Seriously, go browse the wares in any of the charming stores down in Baltimore’s The Block and ask yourself how you’d like it if your deepest most intimate feelings for the love of your life, all the wonderful moments you were in their arms and they in yours, were judged always by what the people on the covers of those magazines are doing. Would it make you angry? Ask me how it makes me feel.
The fact is that some gay people are horrible human beings. We can name a few: Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s right hand man during the red scare, Ernst Röhm, leader of Hitler’s SA, Jorg Haider, Austrian fascist leader who spent his last hours in a gay bar with a hot young blond. And that ugliness of character is bound to come out in the bedroom…
“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.”
-Mary Renault, as quoted in Mary Renault: A Biography by David Sweetman
But it’s a mistake to lump all gay people into some faceless mass of humanity for exactly the same reason it’s a mistake to lump people together for the color of their skin, or their religion, or the color of their hair, or whether they’re right or left handed. And it’s a mistake bigots want you to make, because it’s one they make themselves. So they can see themselves as righteous people. So they don’t have to name the sewer they’ve made a home in.
I’d tentatively planned to take a wee road trip up into Pennsylvania this holiday weekend, but the hurricane is getting in the way of that. As I write this it looks like central Maryland won’t take a direct hit like it was looking earlier, but the thing is now predicted to stall off the Jersey coast and dump tons of rain, mostly on the coast, but also it seems, here in Charm City. So instead of a road trip, I’m going to stay home and pretend for three days to be a working artist. No seriously, I’m going to put my nose to the grindstone on some projects I have going, including the next two episodes of A Coming Out Story, and try to make some progress. I also have a fun thing about how visits to the doctor get creepier the older you get I’ve been plinking with off and on for way too long. It’s a stand alone strip I am thinking about submitting somewhere, most likely to a gay comic if I can find one taking submissions from unknowns. Paul Cameron makes a cameo appearance.
I’m also hoping to get some time in with my oil paints…
But mostly I’m really needing to make some progress on A Coming Out Story. There are fun things to come, if I can just get past the current block. So when I get up tomorrow I’m going to start my day as if I’d been doing this for a living all my life.
And because…deep down inside…I’m really hurting. And the more it hurts, the more I need to go find that life I dreamed of first, when the world was new and everything seemed possible.
by Bruce |
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August 23rd, 2016
Please Walk A Mile In Our “Social Stigma”
A blogger I gained some measure of unexpected respect for, when he turned around from being a supporter of forcing teenagers into ex-gay therapy to being in opposition when confronted by the evidence of what it was actually doing to those kids, wrote a brief-ish blog post critical of this new paper (he called it a study that isn’t a study and you may notice I’m not calling it a study either because it isn’t) asserting that there is no scientific evidence that gay folk are born not made, but seemingly agreeing, or at least he quotes someone who agrees with, the conclusion that “social stigma” is an insufficient cause for the higher than average mental health issues gay people in general experience.
I would like anyone who thinks you can bundle the stresses imposed on gay people, and in particular on gay kids, into a tidy little package labeled “social stigma” to take a step back and appreciate just how hard it is to grow up gay, even these days, let alone try to live a whole and happy life as a gay adult. It isn’t just “social”, it’s “family”. The stories I’ve heard from other gay people about growing up in a unsupportive family environment, let alone a hostile one, would make a brick cry, if not a fundamentalist. Here’s one from my own past I’ve posted about before…
Perhaps we were just not right for each other after all. The hard lesson to learn about love is you can find someone who is just right for you, who seems to complete you in all the places you never even knew were empty, until you met that one person, saw them smile into your eyes. And yet even so you may not be right for them. They may have a completely opposite feeling about you. Ask me how I know this. Perhaps we were not right for each other.
Or perhaps it was something he told me one night as we lay together, in a very quiet, emotionless voice. About the day he came out to his parents. About how the next morning before dawn his father had gone into the household office, fired up the computer, and created a brochure filled with verses condemning homosexuality and what God does to nations that tolerate that which is an abomination in His eyes. About how his father printed up dozens and dozens of copies of the brochure and as the sun rose, walked around their neighborhood and put one in every door of every house, for blocks around. Then he told his son what he had done.
I ended that one with these words…please pay attention: What gay people know is this: strangers can beat you, can take your life away from you, but only family can chew your heart up, and spit it back out.
You can’t write “social stigma” on that knife to the heart and say you understand anything about how deeply it cuts.
Anti-equality organizations are enthusiastically promoting a new study on sexual orientation and gender, hoping it will be new culture war ammunition.
The study by Dr. Lawrence Mayer and Dr. Paul McHugh appears in “The New Atlantis,” a journal co-published by the right-wing Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Center for the Study of Technology and Science, which shares an address with EPPC. The New Atlantis is not a peer-reviewed journal, and has critiqued peer review, widely considered the gold standard in scientific publishing.
I first caught wind of this from a headline on a religious right website that appeared in my Google news page. I did a search to see what I could find out about it. There wasn’t much at that point, and I got less than a page of hits back. But Every Single One was to a religious right website, or a political website deeply aligned with the religious right.
That’s telling. A real science paper will appear first in the science journals and then percolate out from there into the commercial press depending on the popular interest in its topic. But for some time now what we’ve seen is that junk science from the anti-gay industrial complex first hits some right wing vanity publication with a sciencey sounding name, or a small journal easily compromised by a big right wing foundation with buckets of money, and at the same exact time it also hits one or more of the big players in the religious right echo chamber, and from there it spreads; first via the usual suspects like World News Daily, and talk radio, and then into the commercial press when it smells a controversy. That was the pattern with the Mark Regnerus paper on children (allegedly but actually not) raised by same sex couples. What this is telling you is that the paper is part of an orchestrated campaign. Real science doesn’t work like that. Religious right junk science only works like that.
I haven’t read the paper yet, but the press releases say it makes two basic points. You need to understand that both of these points are actually long standing religious right anti-gay tropes: First, that there is no evidence that a homosexual orientation is innate at birth…Second, that social stigma does not account for how mentally unstable homosexuals are. These have both been a part of the homophobe chorus since at least the 1970s.
The first simply digs in its heels and refuses to accept any of the mountains of evidence that sexual orientation is innate, at least in part if not wholly genetically determined, and cannot be changed through any kind of therapy. And that, as I read the first wave of reviews, is what this paper does, although it seems to acknowledge that the twins study does indicate a genetic “predisposition”, but that is homophobe doublespeak. The dogma is homosexuality is a perverse sexual addiction that people are either lured into or fall into through godlessness, bad habits and low morals, and which they can always choose to not act on. These arguments quickly start sounding like arguments about creationism versus evolution, and that is no coincidence. It is the same exact mindset.
The second point the paper makes neatly dovetails with the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness and removing it from the list of known mental illnesses only happened because militant homosexuals pressured the psychiatric profession into it. This knife in the back mythology as to how the understanding of homosexuality and sexual orientation evolved and changed among social scientists and professionals has a long, long history, and it is a foundational belief among the few still practicing reparative therapy like Joseph Nicolosi and his organization NARTH.
Which makes the smarmy dedication Lawrence Mayer places at the beginning of the paper he co-authored all the more loathsome…
In his preface, co-author Mayer dedicates his work to the LGBT community, “which bears a disproportionate rate of mental health problems compared the population as a whole,” and to “scholars doing impartial research on topics of public controversy.” He declares himself a supporter of equality and opponent of anti-LGBT discrimination.
You have never had spit flung in your face so sweetly. This bullshit about being an LGBT supporter is also one with a long pedigree, going back to every 1950s movie with a sick and pathetic faggot character and a plea for sympathy for the mentally ill…
“And here I was and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t stop. I thought if I could have just one night, I could get it out of my system. Just one more time…”
We should not be cruel to these poor sick creatures, they can’t help themselves… But to say you disagree with abusing the mentally ill is not to say you are supportive of LGBT people, let alone our civil rights, let alone the pursuit of science. There is nothing wrong with us. The science has been demonstrating that for decades now. If you can’t see that it’s because you are not interested in the science.
Which the two men who wrote this paper manifestly are not. They did not publish in a respected peer reviewed journal but in a right wing vanity publication in tandem with what was clearly a prepublication publicity campaign in the religious right echo chamber. That is not how science works.
But it’s how the kultar kampf is waged in the kook pews. There is a pattern to this that is becoming routine. A new paper is published in some science publication nobody has ever heard of before, that refutes the last 50 years of research on homosexuality and sexual orientation. The echo chamber picks up on it and next thing you know the entire religious right is trumpeting this new research that proves homosexuality is a cancer on society, or at the very least a tragic mental illness a civilized society should find a cure for, but certainly not grant special rights to. From there it moves into the popular press, and suddenly it’s in all the papers and news broadcasts.
Now it starts getting the critical attention it had been avoiding in the vanity press. But no matter that: critical attention always lags behind that first exuberant wave of publicity. Debunking takes time, and usually demands the attention of the reader more than the initial sound bite headlines the paper has already generated. So several news cycles, maybe even a year can go by before the debunking takes hold. In the meantime the homophobes have the stage practically all to themselves. This is what happened with the Regnerus study.
And then…it stops. The sails lose their wind. The curtain is drawn back. The lies are exposed. The commercial press moves on. Gay folk and our allies learn how to debunk the latest round of religious right junk science. The public conversation turns away from the latest faux controversy…
…and the haters duck back into the shadows…back into the echo chamber…repeating the same lies to themselves over and over…embellishing them even…holding onto them as long established truths that no amount of fact checking can touch…because in the gutter the only facts that matter are the ones prejudice and hate tell them that matter…
Soon there will be a new study…another paper…another round of it to go with the human gutter. Ask the Jews how long they’ve been dealing with it. Ask your black neighbors. Ask any hated minority. They say love always wins. Perhaps. But hate never gives up. Because it has nothing else.
Took a wee day trip into Pennsylvania to wander around a bit with my cameras, finish off the roll of color film I started on the road trip last June, and hopefully clear my head so I can get back to work on A Coming Out Story. On the way home I saw a signpost advertising a scenic overlook beside the Susquehanna river and I turned off and started climbing. You really notice how nicely a diesel engine’s torque helps navigating a little twisty state park road when the switchback curves don’t even bother trying to smooth out the elevation gain. The car simply did not care how steep it got.
The view at the top was lovely. In retrospect I should have brought out the color film camera, and I did consider it, but then I thought of the millions of other photos everyone had probably taken at that same spot and I figured I couldn’t add anything to it so I didn’t. But I did snap off a few with the iPhone for memory’s sake that I might post later. Then as I turned back to the car I saw the sky doodling all over Spirit and I had to snap a shot of it.
“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.”
-Mary Renault, as quoted in Mary Renault: A Biography by David Sweetman
I keep coming back to this quote because it really gets to the heart of it, and to which I would only add Religion. If you are mean and selfish and cruel it will absolutely come out in your religious beliefs and practices too, though I concede some might say religion is just another kind of politics.
Someone I follow on Facebook posted a link to an article about this. Rather than copy the link here, since it goes into the theology of it, I’ll just cut to the chase…
Daley was deeply upset over his performance…so I’m told he was in tears afterward. And it does my heart good to see the static on Twitter Christian Voice is getting about this. But you need to see how prejudice works in a person, how that moment of weakness in the hated other amounts to the perfect time to stick the knife in. And of course, it didn’t stop there…
…because why on earth would they want to stop at all? If prejudice is good at doing anything it’s taking away your brakes. That crack about Black seducing Daley is par for the course and just never you mind that the two of them saw it differently. The mindset is homosexuals don’t reproduce, they recruit. The thought that maybe love and desire work their way on gay folk the same as they do heterosexuals is never entertained. The notion that Daley saw something he liked that first time he beheld Black precisely because he was a gay man can’t be considered….
“I was in Los Angeles for the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, and a friend organized a dinner, and got there at least 45 minutes late. I’m not going to lie: I had no clue who Dustin Lance Black was, or what he did. I just remember thinking, Oh wow, who’s that? He was wearing a white T-shirt with a thin red hoodie, and a leather jacket over it, and I thought he looked like a swimmer, because he has quite broad shoulders. As the dinner progressed, I kept on looking at him, and he kept catching me, which was awkward at times, because I would always look away.” -Tom Daley, “DLB + TD Forever“, OUT Magazine, May 2016.
…because everything about the hated other must be seen as unnatural and perverse. Homosexuals don’t love, they just have sex.
A brief perusal of the Christian Voice Twitter feed (I’ll not link to it) turns up the usual stuff. They’re very much pro Brexit, they don’t much like Muslims, or Europe, and of course…
But this is enchanting…
The Good News not being good enough for everyone’s ears apparently.
If it saddens or appalls you to see avowed Christians behaving like this, if you’re saying to yourself right now, Oh that’s how these religionists are, that’s because you’re paying too much attention to the religion and not enough to the person.
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.
I have met many wonderful, decent, kind hearted Christian people. And likewise I have met a lot of knuckle dragging bigots who’ve called themselves Christian. They have come to me thoughtful and curious, as well as gleefully ignorant and suspicious. And I’ve said this before and I reckon there’ll be disagreement, but I’ll say it again: religion doesn’t matter. I say it to my fellow atheists, who see religion as a corrupting influence on humanity, I’ll say it to the believers out there, who see it as a path to hope and redemption. Religion does not matter. That is what my 62 going on 63 years of life on this good earth has taught me.
What matters is the heart. That is all that matters.
by Bruce |
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August 17th, 2016
Oh Microsoft…How I Love Your Pretty Little Lies…
Mostly, I do business software. That may seem surprising since I work for the Space Telescope Science Institute and we not only operate Hubble for NASA but we’re also working on the James Webb Space Telescope, which is the project I’m deeply involved in at the moment. So you might think the work I do here is all sciencey and stuff and it mostly is, but not in the flight engineering sense of it. I do business software, and science like everything else has to account for its money and time. So as it turns out, a lot of my work still revolves around Microsoft products, and doing traditional business client-database applications. The other day I was tweaking something I’d done in Excel VBA (Visual Basic for Applications…a product Microsoft hasn’t upgraded in decades, probably because there is so much legacy stuff out there in their business user base). It was your basic fetch some data from a backend database server and feed it to Excel and let Excel make tables and charts out of it for management to ponder. And I needed to do something that I figured I could use a custom document property for. Which I could, but not exactly in the way Microsoft’s documentation said I could.
You run into this phenomena quickly in this trade: The Documentation Lies. Or more charitably, it is out of date. The documentation is buggy. The documentation is written by people who write software and hate writing documentation. If religious fundamentalists had to actually use passages in the bible like we software developers have to use the documentation and example code snippets we’re provided with maybe they’d stop waving that thing at everyone, and try a little figuring things out for themselves like we’re always doing…desperately at times. Oh you’re worried about the second coming are you? Let me show you my project’s Gantt chart…
See…I hate using Magic Numbers…
In programming, a “magic number” is a value that should be given a symbolic name, but was instead slipped into the code as a literal, usually in more than one place.
It makes the code hard to understand, which makes it hard to maintain. This is something a programmer is wise to avoid, even if it’s code you are nearly certain only you will be maintaining. Time passes, the universe expands, and you open a code file you haven’t touched in years to make a small change and you’ve forgotten what ThisWorkSheet.CustomProperties.Item(1).Value referred to. Better to write it ThisWorkSheet.CustomProperties.Item(“GetsGraph”).Value. And lo and behold the documentation says I can call that property with either a numeric value (the property index) or a string value (the property name). But it does not actually work that way.
Let it be said Microsoft is hardly the only culprit here. My first experience with this sort of thing happened right at the starting gate of my career as a software developer many many moons ago, when I was a youngster doing volunteer work for a gay BBS system (before the Internet Tubes came along) and I was asked to write a system for a local gay activists organization to generate welcome letters and membership funding letters and mailouts and so forth. They had a licensed copy of Ashton-Tate’s dBase IV which back then was the powerhouse database system for PCs. It was working my way through the dBase documentation while trying out their code snippets I had the displeasure of finding out that computer documentation will lie though its teeth at you and laugh at your pain and suffering. In those days I hurled many a programming book across the room. Nowadays I glance at the time and do a quick rough calculation of how many minutes until Happy Hour.
So I got through my little difficulty the other day by creating a sensibly named numeric constant that I can pass in lieu of actually passing the value of the name of the custom property whose value I want to check. That’s what we call in the business a kludge, because I’m not certain the property I want will have that index value Every Time. I think it’s likely since I’m the only one maintaining this code, for now, and I only have that one custom property in there. But what happens when someone else gets into this code? Okay…I’ve commented my useage of the property. But maybe the next update to Excel changes the starting index from 1 to 0? Surprise!
Oh well. So I get things working to a close approximation of my satisfaction. Then I sit back and I ponder the Five Stages of Software Development…
Denial: Oh I probably just forgot to close a parenthesis somewhere.
Anger: Oh F*ck Me…that is a COMPLETELY LEGAL FUNCTION CALL!!!
Bargaining: Maybe if I use single quotes instead of double quotes…
Depression: I should have gone to art school…
Acceptance: My software tools are buggy, the vendor is shady, the next upgrade cycle will probably depreciate my entire code base, but the bar at Rocket To Venus is open late.
by Bruce |
Comments Off on Oh Microsoft…How I Love Your Pretty Little Lies…
August 11th, 2016
This came across my Facebook stream just now…
Since the late 1970s, conservative Christian leaders have claimed their political engagement is about morality. They have claimed it is about character. They have claimed it is about values. They have claimed it is about biblical principles. Pious preachers, thunderous televangelists, and moralizing activists have sold America a bill of goods about their pure motivation for decades. But evidence indicates that evangelical political engagement is really about cultural influence, social dominance, and power.
I was raised in a Baptist household. A Yankee Baptist household, as opposed to a Southern Baptist, but let’s not go into that now. The backstory is my dad was…not the best of examples for a young boy and the elders of mom’s side decided that the best thing for his spawn was that he go into the ministry for the sake of the stain on his immortal soul. And also possibly, as a rebuke to the father. Well, it didn’t take. Most of it. But something of the pulpit thumping fire and brimestone tent revivals I attended did. H.L. Mencken once said “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” But for me it’s step up to the pulpit, spit on my hands, wave the Good Book high and start pounding and sweating.
In the USENET days I argued against the bigots from what I regarded as the moral high ground. Once as I began a sermon, one of them shot back at me that I really, Really didn’t want to get into an argument about morality and homosexuality. I told him that was exactly what I wanted. Then I cleaned his clock. Because: what Jonathan Merritt says here. It was all just a fake. A fraud. A pose to sucker in the rubes. To reassure themselves they weren’t just a bunch of bar stool bigots. We are decent moral people who object to your imposing your sinful lifestyle on the rest of us. But no…Al Capon had more moral scruples than any of them ever did.
If I could say just one thing to my people it would be this and I’m stealing now from a certain author who I also despise, but had a few good lines: Reason and morality are the only tools that can deliver us to that better tomorrow. And now we see, in their wholesale support of Trump, finally, unambiguously, that the right has dropped them. Because ultimately their claim to them was false: They were unwilling to pay the price, to walk the walk not just talk the talk. So they just swiped them out from under the rest of us. And we, t the extent we bear any blame at all, let them convince us that reason, and especially morality, were against us. We were unbiblical, unnatural, immoral sexual outlaws. Our sexuality was irrational, a defiance of the natural order, perverted and degenerate. Reason and morality said so. They said. And we listened. But listen to them now. Listen to them venerate Trump.
Reason and morality. They say that men do not change, the reveal themselves. And so they have. Reason and morality. They were the ones who had no right to bear those things.
A co-worker is back after several months recuperating from surgery for a torn rotator cuff. As the link to WebMD says, it is “…one of the darkest fears of pitchers, tennis players, and many other athletes.” Tennis players. Yes. And also probably anyone whose work requires constant lifting and moving things around. My co-worker said she’ll be in physical therapy for months more to come. Possibly years. That’s how it is with major injuries like that. Four months and she can still barely raise her arm now. But she was all smiles to be able to finally leave the house and be out and about. She’ll still have to be careful though…very careful…not to re-injure it. Luckily for us, our jobs are all mostly low impact desk jobs. But those also have their risks. I’m wearing a Fitbit now, to attend to one of those risks, which is the opposite of having a job that requires a lot of physical activity. As it turns out, the physically cushy job might even be a bigger hazard to your health.
So…good thing my co-worker doesn’t have to come back to a job like…oh say…working in a restaurant all day long slugging around great big platters of beer and dirty dishes. You just don’t go right back to work with just three months of recovery from surgery after something like that. So when you see factory workers or other folk who do heavy physical labor all day long striking for or just generally agitating for better health care, or getting workman’s comp for some injury you could work around at your desk job, don’t be pointing a finger at them and calling them moochers.
by Bruce |
Comments Off on Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Selves
August 8th, 2016
Some Of Us Will Always Be Living In A Time Of AIDS
Time passes, the universe expands, science does its thing, and where once a diagnosis of AIDS was a death sentence, now it is a largely manageable illness. Treatments are out there that can reduce a person’s viral load to undetectable levels. And there is even PrEP, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis…a little blue pill that us HIV negative folk can take if we’re still sexually active, that can reduce the risk of HIV infection by over 90 percent.
But AIDS still has the power to make me cry, even now, so many years after it first began taking people away from me, so many years after the worst of it. Friends I’d made on the GLIB BBS (the Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau), gay folk I’d come to know in other settings, artists, musicians, people who made life beautiful. I used to have nightmares of walking among the Names Project quilt panels and suddenly coming upon a name I really, really didn’t want to see there. It seemed like it would never stop. And it hasn’t really. Just yesterday I learned a classmate from high school, Rocky, had been taken, back in the late ’80s.
I’d had no idea. We weren’t friends back in Class of 1971-72, but he was in the Drama Seminar and as student newspaper photographer I got to watch him in rehearsals, and capture something of him on stage. And Rocky just came to life on the stage. I still vividly recall a moment when, during a rehearsal of “Beggar on Horseback”, after one of the characters delivered a dark, melodramatic line, Rocky suddenly ad libbed running across the stage laughing maniacally, flapping his cape behind him. Everyone laughed. The director said, “Keep it.” And that was how they performed that scene.
When I got my film developed I showed him some of the shots and he asked for copies. These two of him on stage below, are my favorites of him. And all these years later I’m still kinda proud he liked them. He was really something special on stage, and when another artist like that gives your art some respect it lifts you up.
In retrospect I should have seen it, but it’s testimony to how naive and clueless I was back then (years later at a class reunion I was clued into some student gossip of who was doing who back then and you should have seen my jaw dropping). I was posting to the Woodward 1970s Alumni Facebook group the other day, I began to remember, and wonder, and I asked if anyone knew what had become of him. And yes, I asked with a touch of apprehension. You had to have lived through it to understand how reflexive that flinch is. And…I was told.
And it all comes back…all the misery. It just keeps on happening. He was a sweetheart, and so very talented and alive. Way more than I ever was or could be. Here’s to you Rocky…and to everyone who loved and was loved by you. If I could have one hour of time to go back to, I would spend it back then on the Woodward stage with my camera, being the student newspaper photographer, watching you and all my other classmates in the Drama Seminar. We had so much fun and we didn’t even know how much.
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