Thursday, November 30, 2006

The miasma of denial

Unfortunately, denial about the reality of Iraq is not limited to Bush and his circle. Each morning I open the New York Times, expecting some sense at last. I look in vain. On some days I go to the library and look at other print media, with the same result. As with the runup to the war, only a few blogs tell it like it is.

Today the Times has an op-ed by Thomas F. Powers, an individual I formerly respected for his expertise on espionage. Powers suggests that we are in the same stage in Iraq as we were in Vietnam in 1965, when President Johnson was faced with a choice of abandoning the hapless and corrupt South Vietnamese regime, or sending in vast numbers of troops. He chose the latter.

Of course we are not in 1965, but 1974, when we had to leave Vietnam.
As if that were not bad enough, Powers echoes the absurd claim that presidents can create their own reality.

When will the media pundits and experts, so wrong before, finally fess up to the truth? There are no choices left in Iraq. We must get out.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gay Los Angeles

During my adult lifetime I have seen vast improvements in the status, self-esteem, and life chances of gay people. A half-century ago, when I sought to come to terms with my sexual orientation, things were very different. I had to reckon with the fact that, by no choice of my own, I had joined a criminal, hated minority. Advancement in my academic career required continued residence in the closet.

Now we live in a different world. Things are not perfect, of course, but we have reason to believe that full equality will not be long in coming.

These changes were a national and international phenomenon. Yet they were played out on a number of local stages. Especially in the early years, the advance of America’s gay people reflected the circumstances of particular cities. Carefully researched monographs on these places have begun to appear. Recently, we have seen the publication of important books on gay life in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, among others. Los Angeles, arguably the most important center of all, has been lacking. It has had no monograph.

Now that lacuna has been filled, handsomely and solidly, by Gay L.A: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians (Basic Books), co-authored by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons. Clearly written and well-documented, this book spans the history from pre-Hispanic times to the present. Unfortunately, some aspects will never be known very well, owing to the long history of persecution and obloquy. The picture becomes clearer in more recent decades. Thanks to the efforts of Faderman, the senior author, women are particularly well covered.

In my view the centerpiece of the LA story is the emergence of the modern American gay movement in Los Angeles during the years 1950-50. In the forefront was the Mattachine Society of Harry Hay. In the book the contributions of other figures, such as Edith Eyde, Dorr Legg, Jim Kepner, Don Slater, and others, are appropriately mentioned.

Yet the authors sidestep the important matter of causality. Why did the gay-rights movement emerge where it did and when it did? After all, there was an earlier effort in Chicago in 1924-25 that failed.

By way of full disclosure, let me acknowledge that I grew up in the LA of the forties and fifties, the era in which the Mattachine Society made its appearance. Southern California seemed as conformist as the rest of the country, and we were astonished at the rashness of the upstarts. Many predicted that their efforts would fail. Deep-seated prejudice and the horrendous efficiency of the Police Vice Squad would see to that. But the movement grew, and began to colonize other localities across the country

Of course there is no such thing as historical inevitability. Yet we can hazard some reasons, always acknowledging that the explanatory mechanism must remain tentative and incomplete. What follows is an attempt to capture something of the cultural ecology that fostered this development, which was revolutionary for gay people. In the following remarks I draw upon an essay I wrote ten years ago to honor Jim Kepner, one of the most tenacious and devoted of the pioneers.

Let me start with the factor of place.

Thanks to suburban growth, the interstate highway system, and mass ownership of automobiles, the pattern that once seemed specific to Southern California has become increasingly characteristic of the American lifestyle everywhere. A half-century ago Los Angeles was a bellwether.

In its own setting, the new style of life had a broad appeal. During the twentieth century Los Angeles changed from a low-population desert region to a vast and complex mix of people and industries, virtually a nation to itself. Three factors made this transformation possible: a ruthless policy of water acquisition, massive real estate promotion, and a continuing advertising blitz. Lured by the advertising, unceasing waves of people flocked in by rail and car--air travel was then rare--from back East. In a single decade, from 1920 to 1930, the population of the city of Los Angeles jumped from 576,000 to 1,238,000.

As regards ethnicity the population was not homogeneous, though it could seem so in some neighborhoods. Most of the newcomers were English-speaking Caucasians, leading to the marginalization of the Californios, the original Spanish-speaking population. Their legacy persisted mainly in certain particular features, including the names of streets like Pico and La Brea Boulevards and of districts and towns replacing the ranchos; the quaint fragment of the old Mexican pueblo known as Olvera Street; the severely functional architecture of the Franciscan missions; such literary memorials as Helen Hunt Jackson's romantic novel Ramona (1884); and some carefully programmed ceremonies, as the movie star Leo Carrillo's appearance on his horse. There was much immigration from Mexico, and these newcomers settled at first mainly in East LA, where they tended to be ignored by other Angelenos. But not always. In the forties the aggressive assertiveness of the Pachucos with their zoot suits gave notice of visibility. Although some Anglo gays began to take an erotic interest in Latins, there was generally little mixing.

A new white element appeared in the "Okie" migration, consisting of lower-class rednecks. While they could be scary, their toughness struck some of us as appealingly butch. A little later, others, like my Texas uncle Burnis, came to work in the defense factories. Attracted by similar opportunities, African Americans also came from the South.

Perusal of my 1952 Yearbook from Los Angeles High School shows that considerable numbers of Jews and Armenians enlivened the initial appearance of sameness. There were also a few Japanese-American fellow students. Together with their parents, they had spent the war in the "relocation camps" situated in remote desert areas.

It is fair to say, however, that the ethnic pluralism that is now the city's chief hallmark had not yet prevailed. Yet there were big class differences. In his 1939 novel Day of the Locust, Nathanael West posed a stark contrast between sophisticated Hollywood types and the ultra-square retirees. The latter formed a large reservoir of people who were both socially and politically conservative.

For most of us growing up in those days, the Hollywood of the movies was a world apart. Distance gave rise to stereotyping and gossip. There was a general notion that a special form of decadence, including homosexuality, flourished around the edges of Hollywood. To cope with this image problem the studios undertook a pervasive self-censorship, which was reflected in the films themselves and what was reported about the stars. Defying the official version, the gay grapevine supplied some gossip. In the early fifties I was informed that Rock Hudson was gay, but I wouldn't believe it. Those queens!

Culturally, a major contribution stemmed from a relatively small number of émigrés from the European continent and from Britain, part of the Transatlantic Migration engendered by the rise of Hitler and the approach of World War II. After the war some of these figures, including Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann, went home. But many stayed, and some were openly gay. The writers Christopher Isherwood and Gerald Heard, as well as the fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, played a significant role in the emergence of the gay movement. Isherwood and Heard were drawn to the Indian mysticism of the swamis, foreshadowing the counterculture and New Age interest in Asian religions. While not many gays shared this enthusiasm, the very novelty of these systems of thought provided a model different from the Western mentality we have since come to understand as permeated with homophobia.

Born in 1949-50, the American gay movement was not as homegrown as it seemed, for the émigrés knew about Magnus Hirschfeld and his Institute in Berlin. Alas, few of us could read German in those days, and had to rely on a few scraps gleaned in conversation.

Even more, perhaps, than with Hollywood, LA is associated with the culture of the automobile. Yet during the first half of the century the region rejoiced in a superb mass-transit system, connecting the remoter areas with the center city. But the freeways, launched just before World War II but really burgeoning only in the fifties, changed all that, forcing the streetcars out. However, disastrous it may have been for the ecological balance, the shift to automobile dominance yielded certain benefits for gays. There has always been a not-so-hidden connection between the car and sex. If one didn't have a car--and many, including my parents and myself did not--one could hitchhike. Once the driver and the hitchhiker were seated, a hand placed on the other guy's knee was generally understood as an invitation to something more.

Hustlers, young men renting their bodies, lingered alongside certain well-known boulevards and highways. Unfortunately, the police knew this too, and took advantage of the situation to entrap gays.

After having passed through a period of corruption in the early years of the century, the Los Angeles police force was reformed by proponents of good government. These centurions proclaimed themselves incorruptible. Unlike their counterparts in other cities, such as the New York to which I repaired in 1956, they generally could not be reached by bribes. Moreover, compared to the present, real crime was low in those days, and the cops had a lot of free time on their hands to plan and execute proactive strikes against "degenerates."

The repressive activity of the vice squads was a national plague that reached its height in the 1950s and 60s. But it was particularly noxious in LA because of the zeal and self-righteousness of the police brass. Over the years most of my gay peers in LA were entrapped and arrested, requiring their presence in court with a lawyer. Getting legal representation was a considerable expense, and the publicity could devastate one's employment prospects. In those days the vice squad was truly the serpent in Eden.

A number of suburbs of Los Angeles, such as Santa Monica and Long Beach, were separate cities--and so they have remained. The political geography of the Los Angeles basin was a patchwork quilt. It used to be said, no doubt with considerable exaggeration, that if one was going to get hit by a car, be careful not to have it happen near a civic boundary, because the ambulance drivers would leave you on the ground as they disputed over jurisdiction. This governmental pluralism offered some succor to us "deviants," because while repression was cresting in one jurisdiction it might be absent or low in another. Until the early 1960s a number of bathhouses and bars flourished in Santa Monica, outside the LAPD's reach. Unfortunately a local ruckus caused these places to be closed. Keeping a low profile was always advisable.

During the 1950s California's commitment to public education was uplifting the cultural level of the state and laying the foundations for a high-tech work force. When, in New York City in 1970, I was told that open admissions in college couldn't work, I knew that it could. I had been a beneficiary. My experience was at the University of California at Los Angeles, where tuition, amazingly enough, was $50 a semester. The dead weight of conformist Joe College types was relieved by the presence of many older students attending on the GI bill, together with a sizeable contingent from foreign countries, especially the Middle East.

UCLA also had its incipient version of a student counterculture. The Annex to the main cafeteria, which was open late, served as a gathering place for Bohemians, political radicals, and gays. Those of us in the gay contingent consisted of almost equal numbers of blacks and whites. We were drawn together in part by our outcast status, but also by genuine concern for one another. Unbeknownst to us—for the geographical dispersal the car culture entailed had its disadvantages--this salt-and-pepper tendency also characterized one of the early gay groups, the Knights of the Clock, animated by Dorr Legg.

With the brashness of youth, those of us in the UCLA student group had a naive sense of defiance--and a false sense of security. There were shots across the bow. The dean told our most "outrageous" member, Victor S., to clean up his act or he wouldn't graduate. About the same time a popular gay English professor was lured into making damaging statements by his department head, who tape recorded them. As was common practice in those days, tenure or not, he was summarily fired.

Interest in high culture was fairly rarified. In painting abstract expressionism was an exotic Eastern import--though it was associated in some quarters with Bohemianism and social experiment. In philosophy we found inspiration in the writings of Parisian Jean-Paul Sartre, with his ideas of personal authenticity and his castigation of bad faith. Some of us, including myself, longed to settle in--or at least visit--such European countries as France and Italy, which we knew had no sodomy laws.

But popular culture was pervasive. Elvis Presley was an almost overnight phenomenon in 1955-56. According to one observer, he did a striptease without clothes. He was perhaps the first male star to come across in a way that paralleled female sex objects; today he is rightly paired with Marilyn Monroe. Presley was not gay, but his example reinforced our interest in Marlon Brando and James Dean. Dean's gayness has only become confirmed after his death, but for many of us he was an icon. The young performer showed vulnerability--as did even more clearly his gay costar in the film “Rebel Without a Cause,” the slight Sal Mineo.

Since the nineteenth century, the term Bohemia has served as an umbrella term for people opting out of bourgeois norms. In southern California, the Bohemian site was Venice. A real estate scheme that went sour, this beach suburb provided affordable, though flimsy housing. Many UCLA students lived there because it was cheap, and connected to campus by a public bus. To mention only two people I knew, Venice was home to David McReynolds, who moved from a rather strict temperance activism to an advocacy of leftwing pacifism, and Bruce Boyd, a Beatnik poet and bonvivant.

In the emerging Beatnik movement San Francisco's North Beach and New York's Greenwich Village ranked as the main centers. However, in 1958 Lawrence Lipton's manifesto in book form, The Holy Barbarians, put our Venice on the map as a secondary center. Coffeehouses thrived and tour groups multiplied.

For most of the fifties, however, the Beat movement was under wraps. Their numbers grew slowly--dropping out and drugs had not yet been glamorized. Although Burroughs and Ginsberg were gay and Kerouac bisexual, new recruits tended to be straight. Once they got caught in the media searchlights, Beatnik men were stereotypically viewed as eunuchs, the women as nymphomaniacs. Somehow the two seemed to coalesce to have "orgies." But Beats overlapped with gays as sociosexually subversive. And once the drug busts began, many straights got dramatic insights into what gays--and Blacks--had long had to face.

Implicit in what has been mentioned is the era itself. The events could not have taken place in LA but for the times.

In the nation as a whole, after the tremendous collaborative effort of winning World War II had achieved victory, there was a deliberate shift of emphasis. Although the 1920s slogan of a return to normalcy was not widely used, that is what the Establishment eagerly sought. At the same time there was widespread fear of a recurrence of the 1930s Depression, especially as defense industries were quickly run down. Rampant inflation and contentious strikes marred the late forties. This situation lent a certain topical vitality to the Left--though this was not to last. In 1950, however, Left thought still attracted many, especially those who had lived through the Depression when intellectuals gravitated to Communism.

Most of the founders of the Mattachine Society had a Communist Party background, which was an asset organizationally (and arguably less so conceptually). Gay organizers looked to the history of Left dissidence, which had repeatedly been forced underground, as a model. The Communist example of clandestinity (a necessity in the European Resistance movements against Hitler) was a kind of dynamic closet, to coin a phrase. One could stay under cover to emerge later. Yet this furtiveness was often held against those who practiced it, lending a spurious plausibility to Senator McCarthy's wild charges of conspiracy and subversion.

In America the postwar Left peaked in the Progressive Party, which ran Henry Wallace for president in 1948. The personality and goals of Wallace, who served as Franklin Roosevelt's vice president in 1941-45, have always been somewhat opaque. Recent research suggests that he was guided by Theosophical mysticism, an interest that helps to explain the disconnect between him and his Left-wing following, including the gays. At all events, the Wallace candidacy was not the noble cause that gay pioneer Harry Hay and his friends thought. Although it was widely denied at the time, his fellow-traveling and Communist advisers manipulated Wallace, as the playwright Lillian Hellman, who knew the reality as few others did, has attested. With some exaggeration, socialist Irving Howe denounced the candidate as "a completely contrived creature of Stalin."

For the early gay leaders, the Communist Party background had provided training in organizational skills. It also taught one to question the normative assumptions of American society--including antihomosexual attitudes (which straight Communists, however, did not question). As times changed and insights deepened, most moved on to other political stances: New Left, liberal, libertarian, and even Republican. (Dorr Legg had always been a Republican.) Only a few managed to retain their earlier admiration of the Soviet Union to the bitter end.

Internationally, the fifties belonged to the era of the Cold War. Some have seen the antihomosexual bias rampant during the period as an offshoot of this conflict. This claim is too sweeping. Homophobia was not new, as it had flourished for centuries in Europe. Moreover, the repressive activities of the American vice squad had started in earlier decades, and were a manifestation of native Comstockery, that puritan impulse to control the behavior of others.

To be sure, Joseph McCarthy, the opportunistic and unprincipled Senator from Wisconsin, did link gays as "security risks" to the Communist danger. Ironically, his chief legislative assistant, the now notorious Roy Cohn, was himself gay. McCarthy's direct influence on gay/lesbian employment and welfare was largely limited to government workers and the military. Actually, it was his attacks on the United States Army that led to his censure by the United States Senate in 1954.

The Hollywood blacklists, resulting from acquiescence in the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities deprived many of work, but apparently there were few gays among them. Yet this threat probably had a chilling effect, deterring some gays and lesbians, especially if they had leftist leanings, from seeking employment in the movie industry.

Latter-day progressives tend to interpret the "red scare" as a simple morality play, with the opponents of communism as the villains. In reality matters were more complex. The gay Whittaker Chambers, a one-time Communist turned conservative, charged Alger Hiss with transmitting information to the Soviets. Although much vilified, Chambers' testimony helped to convict Hiss of perjury. Ever protesting his innocence, though with decreasing plausibility, the embittered Hiss (who died in 1996) could not resist the temptation to gaybait Chambers.

It will come as a surprise that the American Civil Liberties Union offered no help at all during this period, regarding gays who fell afoul of the law as common criminals or worse. Only in 1965, as a result of the determined efforts of Professor Vern Bullough and Attorney Herb Selwyn, did the organization's policies regarding homosexual behavior begin to change. Ultimately the resistance to the progress of homophile rights resided in the very climate of the times. The fifties were above all the era of social conformity, of the "Lonely Crowd" to cite the title of a sociological bestseller of the period. Psychotherapists, then held in high repute, preached "adjustment." Only in the sixties did psychiatry's critics establish that adjustment meant regimentation and control, hardly the best foundations for human happiness.

From politicians to school principals, the enforcers of conformity believed that they must hold the line even in such seemingly minor spheres as the dress and hair styles of young people. The neat and clean look of boys' styles aped the military in World War II. Girls' styles did not, for they had to signal a return to traditional femininity. In 1947 Christian Dior's "new look" ushered in an era of tightly cinched waists and projecting bosoms to emphasize gender difference. Heels became higher and toes more pointed so that it became almost dangerous for women to walk. As a consequence butch lesbians who kept the wartime Rosie the Riveter look became more conspicuous.

In the face of these norms, very limited deviation was permitted. In my high school a few assertive boys tested the limits by allowing a tuft of hair to project at the back of the head, the "duck's ass." This mild infraction was considered daring and sexy.

Juvenile delinquency was a widely noted problem, but by later standards the gravity of the misbehavior--staying out late, riding fast in cars, disrespecting one's parents--was minor, thus proving the general effectiveness of the social controls. One could only push the envelope so far. As noted above, the Beat revolt (then the proverbial dark cloud the size of a man's hand) involved only a few individuals, who garnered little media attention.

But for those who abided by the rules there were solid rewards in the form of ballooning income. We found ourselves in an enormous boom. In constant dollars the GNP grew from 1950 to 1960 from 355.3 billion to 487.7 billion, a staggering increase of 37%. The credit card appeared in 1950; supermarkets opened everywhere. Those who could went on what seemed to be a permanent spending spree. But many could not afford it. These included the elderly and most members of ethnic minorities, as well as many gays who found themselves fired for being "obvious perverts" or who restricted their own employment aspirations for fear of running into trouble of this kind or being pressured to marry. All too often, we imposed our own "glass ceiling."

The carnival of consumption was accompanied by a pervasive drumbeat of inanity in popular songs, movies, and television. A popular radio program was "It Pays to Be Ignorant." Two typical Tinpan Alley tunes were "Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer" and "How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" The social protest of a Bob Dylan lay in the future. In the gay bars, we searched the jukeboxes for the occasional revealing hint (or so we thought) of what the scholar Rudy Grillo has called "gay moments in straight music."

Movies would occasionally attempt serious themes. The American film “Tea and Sympathy,” based on a Broadway play, dealt with gayness--up to a point--but generally one had to go to art houses to see imports like the British “Victim,” with Dirk Bogarde, and “This Special Friendship,” based on a boy-love novel by Roger Peyrefitte. (It was to Britain that we looked, as a matter of fact, for guidance on law reform.)

Television was new and much was expected of it. Yet what some today look back on as TV's "Golden Age" was very bland. Television was for "family viewing," and even hints of sexual irregularity were excluded.

Drugs were little known (as late as 1960 heroin was unfindable in LA, though marijuana was) and even alcohol--perhaps fortunately---could be hard to come by because we had little money.

For the theme of these remarks the towering landmarks of the period were the two Kinsey Reports (1948 and 1953). Recently the figures about the incidence of homosexual behavior have been disputed, but Kinsey and his associates showed that this was vastly more common than anyone (ourselves included) had imagined. Particularly impressive was Kinsey's nonjudgmental approach, which meant that he implicitly regarded homosexual behavior as within the normal range. I remember some daring souls who actually read passages from Kinsey aloud in Pershing Square. This small park in downtown LA was our equivalent of New York's Union Square, a place for political speech that was also a cruising ground.

Typically, Pershing Square was later closed to build an underground garage, and when the mutilated park reemerged it had been sanitized so that the political and sexual activity did not return. This kind of repression of gay behavior through seemingly beneficial public works under the sign of "urban renewal" was a common device in the period. The buildings housing my two favorite bars of the fifties, the Tropical Village and the Captain's Inn in Santa Monica, were condemned and bulldozed to make parking lots.

Things were stirring in the field of publications. Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953. For a considerable time there was no gay equivalent, for ONE Magazine, The Ladder, and the Mattachine Review shied away from anything explicit. At the time this was just as well, for thanks to its respectable content ONE was successful in fighting off an effort by the postmaster of Los Angeles to exclude it from the mails. This was our first Supreme Court victory.

Those in search of something more visually stimulating had to content themselves with ogling the beefcake in the popular physique magazines. Actually, this was not quite all there was. In southern California one could sometimes get pornography that had been smuggled in from Tijuana, just south of the border. These items were crudely produced. The first "Tijuana Bible" I saw, in 1955, was mimeographed, but it produced quite an effect all the same. As the legal situation eased, the demand for such publications was the basis for the pulp porno industry that later emerged in San Diego and North Hollywood. During the fifties, visitors to Europe could acquire the classier publications of the Olympia Press, including the works of Henry Miller and William Burroughs. It took court decisions in the sixties to make this material available, as it now is, in every serious bookshop.

These developments in American culture helped to bring more freedom for everyone. But for gay men and lesbians there was a more rigorous and demanding model, the civil rights movement. Bayard Rustin (a closeted gay) in 1947 organized the first freedom rides. The years 1955-56 saw the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. This prolonged struggle garnered little white support (that was to come only later, in the 1960s). But the event, which was well reported by the media, showed that a minority could do something for itself. The city of Montgomery had tried to make boycotting illegal, but the Supreme Court affirmed it as a right. This example opened up a technique, the boycott, which has often been used by gay people, though it remains controversial.

Perhaps the most important principle affirmed by the civil rights movement was an ancient tradition going back to Pericles and Sophocles and sustained in America by Henry David Thoreau and the abolitionists. One could--and should--violate the laws on the statute books in obedience to an Unwritten Law of Justice.

Since we were few, our efforts in seeking these rights were accomplished in an atmosphere of cooperation that seems almost utopian today. Male-female relations were generally better--though my own perception of the ONE efforts is somewhat less cosexual than some participants now remember. Betty Friedan’s scathing critique of the “feminine mystique” had not yet energized women. Arguably women's economic situation was worse than it became later. This was especially significant for lesbians who, faced with meager economic prospects, could be steered--coerced, really--into marriage. Later many would find the courage to dissolve these unions, bringing up the children on their own, or with a woman partner. In fact by pleading economic need two women could live together more easily then than men. Like men, they generally conformed in dress and hair styles.

In terms of nurturing the gay movement it was (in the Dickensian phrase) the best of times, the worst of times. The war and the car culture encouraged the emergence of new patterns. Religious “kooks” made other nonconformists seem less outrageous. Conformity, however, was the watchword everywhere. As noted above, the LA vice squad was particularly zealous. For those who fell afoul of these repressive measures, a new determination emerged—to do something about it. That we certainly did.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Great Rip-off

For the last six years our national government has been engaged in the biggest credit-card binge that could possibly be imagined. Even if we end the Iraq war in six months or so, the bills must eventually be paid. And those costs are only a portion of the deficit spending that the Bush administration and the Republican Conghress has been engaged in.

A major element has been the almost incredible increase in "earmarking" (pork) in Congress. A story in the New York Times this morning indicates that this orgy of "delivering dollars to constituents" (only well-healed ones, in actually) will continue apace under the Democrats.

Why is this happening? The answer, I think, is that hard times are coming. Already the foreign-exchange markets are nervous that out Chinese creditors will pull the plug, as of course one day they must. The only question is the timing, as our Asian friends want to crack down in such a way as to minimize their own loss.

I am reminded of the following situation. When I started graduate school at New York University in 1956 the college had two campuses: the historic location around Washington Square in Greenwich Village and an uptown campus in the Bronx. The latter was a beautiful Beaux-Arts design, rivalling the Columbia Campus. It became clear, though, that one of the campuses had to go.

It was decided to sacrifice the uptown campus. As the rumors circulated, people who worked there began to privatize--small pieces of office furniture, books, electronic equipment, and so forth. By the time that New York State took over in 1973 there wasn't much left.

Is this is what is happening to America now?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

History's lessons

What is this world coming to? Now even Henry Kissinger says that we have lost the war in Iraq. Doesn't he understand that we must continue to fight there for the next ten, twenty, thirty years or more? We must fight to the last Iraqi! Then we can keep the oil and repopulate the country with more docile inhabitants, ideally of non-Islamic variety. I dare to hope that President Bush, with his almost unique foresight, understands this point very well.

Speaking of President Bush, his visit to Vietman recalls some history that I must rehearse once again, though it is familiar to all of us. After we pulled out of Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand all fell to red insurgencies, as the domino theory had so accurately predicted. All these countries, with Hanoi at the lead, formed a united Communist bloc in solidarity with China and the Soviet Union. It was our failure of nerve that led to our present predicament. I hate to be pessimistic, but it looks as if we will never escape from the menace of the unbreakable Moscow-Beijing-Hanoi alliance.

Let us recall this True History (with apologies to Lucian) in this grave hour. With this experience, how can we even think of withdrawing from Iraq?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Immigration a gogo

We New Yorkers generally favor of immigration. The cliché that the city is a mosaic of immigrants and descendents of immigrants is true. My own encounters with immigrants--in taxis, at the supermarket with newsagents, as well as at the ethnic restaurants I frequent--are generally pleasant. We are all happily practicing capitalism. They have goods and services I want. I get them and pay for them, and all is well.

Still I must remind myself that much of the country does not share this view. Far from being the dumb rubes of the caricature propagated by the Eastern elites, they detect an insidious alliance between left and right that is not good for this country. While the left-liberal faction is generally not honest enough to say that they favor open borders, they are quite content with the present situation of looking the other way. Many secretly harbor the hope uncaring, individualistic ice-people like us will be countered by the growing presence, soon to be a majority, of compassionate, communitarian sun-people. The new America is to “look like the world.” For its part, business doesn’t care what the ethnicity and language of its workers are, as long as they have access to a docile work force.

The two groups overlap in the way that Hollywood stars, professors, pundits and the whole tribe of well-healed symbolic analysts benefit from cheap maids, nannies, and kitchen help in the fancy restaurants they favor.

Absent any real discussion, we are undergoing a fundamental reconfiguration of the demography of this country. It is a revolution by stealth.

Now comes Aristide R. Zolberg with a big book, A Nation by Design, that is intended to support the policy of immigration a gogo. Zolberg cites a 1965 law as evidence that the United States “redesigned itself as the first nation to mirror humanity.” We must be grateful to Mr. Zolberg for stating so clearly the aims of the unlimited immigrationists. Yet the 1965 law had no such purpose. It allotted a quota of 20,000 to each country in the Eastern Hemisphere. Many European countries failed to fulfill their quota, while third-world countries did. But that was not the intention. Also unforeseen was the “family reunification” scam, whereby one immigrant can bring in, through a chain process, an unending series of others. A single baby born in the United States can anchor this process. The US is indeed coming to look more like humanity, but when did we as a nation agree to adopt this policy?

Zolberg further claims that there is no way to stop immigration without turning the United States into a police state. This is nonsense. Japan, which allows virtually no immigration, is not a police state.

To be sure, Japan is a series of islands, and its borders are easy to protect. We could protect our borders too-—if the power elite would only allow it. Many of those who say that a fence would never work acknowledge, ruefully or not, that Israel’s fence is effective. And that fence is not even complete.

We are seeing a shell game here. Congress has passed a bill for a 700-mile fence, but without allocating the money to build it. We can be sure that if such a thing is ever created, the honchos in Washington will see that it is constantly breached. Business needs a cheap workforce, and liberal Harvard professors and Hollywood stars need maids, nannies, and landscapists.

We have been told that one thing Bush and the Democrats agree on is the “comprehensive” immigration bill. That, of course, will make sure that the spigot is kept turned on. The scenario may be a little different, but not much so. It seems certain that if we do not get the “comprehensive” bill, we will get the status quo. Either way, the floods of immigrants will keep coming.

Cynicism is amply justified, but it is also important to understand why the chicanery is happening. The virtually unimpeded flow of immigrants across our Southern border is a facet of the Washington Consensus, a set of arrangements that suit the power structure in the most important countries in the world, but which are inimical to their peoples. NAFTA is a good example. It has done us in the US little good, but has allowed Mexico to be flooded with US businesses that choke out native enterprise.

H. Ross Perot was right when he said that we were going to hear a loud sucking sound as jobs left this country. He was only wrong about the source of the sound. It is coming from Asia, not south of the border. In addition, bilateral arrangements masquerading as “free trade” encourage of flood of cheap goods from China and other Asian countries, driving down US wages and killing many of the manufacturing jobs that managed, just barely, to survive. In the meantime third-world countries are suffering because advanced Western nations keep out their agricultural products with quotas and high tariffs. This too is “free trade.”

The insidious thing about the Washington Consensus is that it doesn’t matter which party you vote for. You will get it anyway. NAFTA, for example, was the joint creation of Clinton and the Republican moneyed interests.

Let the elitists beware, for revolt is in the air. The arrogance of the Washington consensus is one of the principal factors fostering the rise of blue-state populism. This new orientation will be protectionist and xenophobic. It will probably consort with socially repressive policies regarding freedom of speech, abortion, and gay rights. Watch out elitists, the nativist yahoos are organizing.

I see nothing to celebrate here. If it happens, though, this repressive populism will constitute yet another baleful legacy of the Washington Consensus.

There is a concluding issue that is personal. When I buy food at my local minimarket or get into a cab, I do not ask my server for his papers. For all I know many of these people are “undocumented,” as the anything-goes types like to put it. Could it be that in my small, small way I am one of those business people who is looking the other way at illegal immigration?

I could do better in daily life, I suppose. But what's the point. I am irretrievably damned because I live in the People's Republic of Manhattan

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Imitatio Christi, or Getting naked for Jesus' sake!

In 1973 Professor Morton Smith, a distinguished biblical scholar, published two books analyzing a remarkable text he claimed to have discovered at Mar Saba, a Greek Orthodox monastery in the Judean wilderness. Ostensibly, the document contains a missing portion of the Gospel of Mark, which orthodox editors had excluded because of its anomalous character.

After meeting a woman of Bethany Jesus reluctantly agrees to visit the garden where the woman’s brother was entombed. “And approaching, Jesus rolled the stone from the door of the tomb, and going in immediately to where the young man was, he stretched out his hand and raised him, taking hold of his hand. But the young man, having looked upon him, loved him and began to entreat him to be with him. And going out from the tomb they went into the house of the young man; for he was rich. And after six days Jesus commanded him; and when it was evening the young man came to him wearing a linen sheet about his naked body, and he remained with him that night; for Jesus was teaching him the mystery of the kingdom of God. Then arising, he returned from there to the other side of the Jordan.”

Marshalling elaborate textual arguments, Morton Smith maintained that the text was an authentic portion of the gospel of Mark, one that had been censored from the version we know. The text contains Jesus’ original initiation rite. This tradition, he further argued, continued to be honored in antiquity by the Carpocratian sect, while the Orthodox rejected it.

Since the implication of homosexual conduct is inescapable, it would seem that Jesus was gay, and promoted this behavior among his disciples. Jesus never married, so that he was, in effect, a Kinsey Six-—a person whose sexual practice was only with his own gender.

The find has been accepted by a number of scholars, while others continue to doubt its authenticity. My own feeling is that it is a forgery, whether by Smith or someone else.

Some thirty years ago the volume containing the fragment was transferred from Mar Saba, its original home, to a library in Jerusalem. In the year 2000 Professor Nikolaos Olympion of the University of Athens photographed the pages, which had been torn out of the volume in which they were inscribed. (Color reproductions appear in the Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2005). Then the pages were mislaid. For this reason it is impossible to carry out chemical test that might confirm its authenticity.

The whole matter has been reopened in a book that has just appeared: Peter Jeffery, The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery (Yale University Press). This book discusses many interesting aspects of the cultural construction of homosexuality, both ancient and modern. Jeffery strongly inclines to the view that the text was a hoax perpetrated by Morton Smith. But he cannot prove this. The likelihood, then, is that, like certain disputed art objects, the text will continue to have its defenders. It also seems to have enjoyed some circulation in counterculture circles.

Could Pastor Ted Haggard have known this text, accepted by serious scholars as authentic? Publicly, he has attributed his dalliance with the hustler Mike Jones (who was probably not his first same-sex partner) to his “dark side.” He had been struggling with this component of his personality for many years. Perhaps the struggle was unsuccessful because he kept in the back of his mind the possibility that Jesus himself had authorized the behavior. Can imitation of Jesus be wrong?

After all, the text of the Secret Gospel has found its way into quite reputable reference books, e.g. J.K. Elliott, ed., The Apocryphal New Testament (1993). Haggard may well have consulted such sources when he was a seminary student.

There may be a parallel instance. As Gayspecies aptly remarks, “Self-loathing Evangelical Gays certainly do not have a corner on the market. Msgr Tony Anatrella, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family at the Vatican, seems to have a similar problem to that of minister Haggard. Saying that ‘homosexuality results as a lack of plenitude and an immaturity of human sexuality,’ Anatrella went on to opine on the difficulty of the ‘homosexual person to incarnate effectively this symbolic reality of spousal tie and spiritual paternity’ and that gay priests ‘will need a special care, and regular interventions on part of the authority, and a life set in a constant medical and psychotherapeutic cure.’ But, according to a complaint, filed on 30 October in Paris, a French ex-seminarian named Daniel Lamarca said that, while being treated by Anatrella in 1987, he had sexual relations with the cleric, who Lamarca went to in the hope of ‘curing’ him of his homosexuality."

To be sure, “curing” does not sound like something out of the Secret Gospel. But it may be in accord with it. To the cleric falls the duty of initiating the young men in the mystery of heaven and earth. For the candidate one such initiation is enough. To the clergyman, though, falls the heavy duty of repeatedly putting his body on the line. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

I readily admit that my hunch may be mistaken for both Haggard and Anatrella. However, I feel certain that there are some clergymen who regard the Secret Gospel as authorization for their same-sex activity.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Skip the champagne

Of course the election results were heartening. They are satisfying not just to me, who identifies with neither party, but also to those Republicans who have been extolling the benefits of divided government for some time.

Further reflection is less reassuring. For some time now the RINOS, the Rockefeller Republicans in the Northeast, have been on the endangered species list. Now Senator Chafee of Rhode Island has gone down. With the engoing trimming away of centrists, the Republican Party--based on its office holders--has moved to the right.

So too, paradoxically, have the Democrats. In Pennsylvania the views of Bob Casey scarcely differ from those of Rick Santorum. And Heath Shuler's victory in North Carolina suggests that the only way forward for Democrats in the South is to ape Republicans as completely as possible.

There will be tensions in Congress as the ageing liberal lions, such as Rangel and Frank, face an increasingly skeptical cohort of so-called centrists. The leadership of the dim-witted Nancy Pelosi, an affirmative action appointment if there ever was one, is scarcely encouraging. (If only she actually merited the sobriquet of Lugosi awarded her by the attack dog Michael Savage!) She was afraid to get out in front on the Iraq War, so she got Murtha to do it. Under Pelosi the Democrats will back symbolic issues like the minimum wage. This is largely meaningless since most states have already passed such legislation. Raising the level of the minimum wage will have the perverse effect of making cheap, illegal labor even more appealing to cost-cutting employers. And guess what California representative is alleged to be employing illegal aliens in her vineyards.

Of course the Democrats will continue their cowardly policy of dithering about the Iraq War. The only way to have any influence in that disaster is to make a credible threat to cut off funding, but they are too scared to even consider this. Instead they will hide behind the commission being headed by the old Bush operative Baker. Since its report is likely to be anodyne, that will be a further reason for waffling.

Dismissing Rumsfeld offers emotional satisfaction, but nothing more. He did maximum damage in the early stages of the war, by not putting in enough troups and by having no plan for post-invasion administration of the country. Getting rid of him now is too little and too late. Time will tell, but my guess is that the appointment of Robert Gates will turn out to be just a device to continue the failed policies by other means. Bush is determined to hand Iraq over to his successor, who will (he thinks) get the major share of the blame.

Other news was also mixed, if not downright discouraging. Seven more states passed initiatives defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Only Arizona held out.
This means that we now have even more antigay legislation to content with.

Last night some pundit expressed the cliche that the pendulum of American politics switches direction every 20 years. Well, it doesn't. We have only had Republican rule for six years (or fourteen if you count Congress). What is actually happening, alas, is that, except for minor glitches, the country is moving more and more to the conservative side. This development cannot be a good one for individual freedom.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Haggard the horrible

The Ted Haggard affair presents a number of interesting aspects. Air America host Rachel Maddow probably speaks for many gay and lesbian people when she says that it was right for Pastor Ted Haggard to be outed. After all, he was working against gay interests. Well, was he? Not every gay person favors gay marriage. In fact there is a growing body of opinion on the gay left that questions whether this step is actually a good thing.

Haggard declined to oppose another proposition on the Colorado ballot that would extend the privileges of marriage (without the name) to gay people. Here he was actually helping us.

My own belief is that outing people is almost always wrong. There is an additional
wrinkle in this case, though. Haggard was outed by a disgruntled sex partner, not by some gay-liberal busybody group. It was a case of kiss and tell. The hustler told.

According to the hustler's report, he and Haggard had not had sex since August. It may be that a rift had developed between them, and the jilted one was getting back.

I generally tend to resist the stereotype that all evangelicals are stupid. But in Haggard's case it is hard to resist that conclusion. It is not only stupid to take crystal meth, but stupid to admit buying it. That is a criminal offense. Having gay sex is not.

Apparently, some evangelicals think that taking hard drugs us is less bad than engaging in homosexual acts. Their own belief, supposedly, is that any sin can be erased by sincere contrition. But not, it seems, sodomy. That stain remains forever.

Finally, the conservative pundit David Frum (in National Review's blog) seems to think that the only problem is that Haggard was found out. Do what you want, just don't let your supporters down by having your transgression publicly known.

But of course the last act has yet to be performed. That is the one where Haggard calls a press conference and announces "I am a gay American." Then he becomes a director of Soul Force, Mel White's organization.

False consciousness: who has it?

Central to the liberal project has been the principle of popular sovereignty, the idea that the people are ultimately the source of political legitimacy.

Since the middle of the 19th century this ideal has animated the struggle to achieve universal suffrage (“one person, one vote”). This goal was attained in the United States with the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1920. The process took longer in other Western democracies. But the principle was established. Others on the extremes of left and right might flirt with authoritarianism, or with some form of “guided democracy,” but for liberals the people must be sovereign.

But something funny has happened on the way to the Forum Populi. In fact it is happening right now. I quote a couple of paragraphs from an essay by the pundit Michael Kinsley (“Election Day,” NY Times Magazine, Nov. 5, 2006).

“How can people want what is so obviously wrong? Democracy must be flawed to produce an electorate so badly mistaken. No one forces me to believe what I believe. I believe it because reason has told me that it is right. Reason is equally available to every citizen. If self-interest cut the other way, that would be one thing. But the self-interest of most citizens coincides with what I believe, or so it seems to me. So in a fair fight my side should win. If my side doesn’t win, that proves the fight is not fair. The other side is cheating.

“Thought like this must have gone through the minds of some liberals over the past few decades. After all, apart from cheating, there are only two possibilities: either you are wrong (and need to undergo intensive self-flagellation followed by extensive reinvention), or the voters are wrong (and even to think this is a severe violation of democratic etiquette). It is unattractive to say that the voters are wrong. But if reason has led you to a certain set of political beliefs, the fact that others disagree perhaps should give you pause, but it should not automatically change your mind, no matter how many others there are.”

If the people would just educate themselves! At least enough so they could be halfway as savvy as Michael Kinsley.

Yet why must we all morph into political junkies? Especially since even those who immerse themselves in the muck of retail politics readily grant that it is just that: muck.

We hear the following refrain often now. People in Kansas (and the heartland in general) don’t know what is best for themselves. That is why, according to Thomas Frank and others, they keep “voting wrong.” Could it be, though, that by their own standards they are voting right?

A little detour into the realm of the history of ideas affords helpful perspective. Those who adopt this idea of the masses voting against their own interest have unwittingly adopted a neo-Marxist concept stemming ultimately from the critique of ideology in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In line with this thinking ideology is conceived not as conscious deception but as a “necessary false consciousness,” a mentality that is shared by the rulers and the ruled. Characteristic of the capitalist version of ideology is the fetishization of money, profit, and consumerism—as well as reification. Those who subscribe to this approach cast a veil over real social relations. The distorted perception that results is taken to be nature itself.

This way of thinking was adopted and extended by the so-called Western Marxism of Ernst Bloch (1918) and George Lukács (1923). The image of reality that afflicts the masses is one that masks true perception of the way things are; hence it is “false consciousness.” It is in the interest of the ruling class to propagate such views. In doing so, however, the rulers often end up believing them their selves. The false consciousness is “necessary” because otherwise the bourgeois order would fall apart.

Needless to say, the neo-Marxists assumed that this collapse was already under way. The only thing one need do is to heighten the contradictions. Then the whole edifice will come tumbling down. It did not happen, of course.

So much for the history of this flawed idea. Even taking it at face value, two heretical thoughts intrude. What if the false consciousness is a perennial, perhaps eternal characteristic of the human condition? We all know people—perhaps even ourselves—who get through life by cherishing illusions that make them feel better.

An even more serious problem is the following. It may be that those who are allegedly prisoners of false consciousness actually have true consciousness. Take those conservative white voters in Kansas. What do they have to gain from racial quotas and affirmative action? The rich and powerful will always takes care of their own. But what of the offspring of the little guy and the little woman? And speaking of those offspring, people in the heartland believe that if possible their children should not grow up gay. It is too bad that they are not more enlightened. Yet how are we supposed to sell these heterosexuals on the idea that they must be indifferent as to whether their children turn out to be heterosexual or homosexual?

Then there is the matter of border control, that cause championed mainly, we are told, by such purported bigots as Lou Dobbs. Without saying so directly, the liberal elites favor the current policy of looking the other way at the tide of illegal immigrants. (At least the PC expression “the undocumented” is no longer obligatory). The Wall Street Journal, which also favors the open-door policy, understands the matter perfectly. Business loves these illegals because they make docile workers who hold everyone’s wages down. And yes there are illegals in Kansas too. This flood of immigrants is helping to destroy the living standards of native-born American workers.

In a related phenomenon, jobs continue to go overseas in the interest of free trade. To be sure, the rubes have the solace of buying cheap Chinese-made goods at Walmart. But for how much longer? Buyers’ budgets are shrinking, and because of our enormous and growing debt to the Bank of China the whole arrangement may unravel.

But all this is of no moment in the Peoples Republics of Santa Monica, Berkeley, Madison, and Manhattan. Those arrogantos cheer because the liberal elites have stuck it to the rubes in the heartland. Then they add insult to injury by saying, “We know what is in your best interest, and you don’t. So shut up and obey.”

One Democrat definitely gets it. He is Jim Webb, who is running to replace “Senator Macacawitz” (George Allen) in Virginia. In his book published some years ago, Born Fighting, Webb characterizes the elite assault on the heartland folks as follows. “For the last 50 years the Left has been doing everything in its power to sue them, legislate against their interests, mock them in the media, isolate them as idiosyncratic, and publicly humiliate their traditions.”

Before I conclude this jeremiad, let me acknowledge that there is another group that requires critique. It is my own tribe (in so far as I have one). According to Libertarians, we should all favor limited government and personal liberty. With this dual commitment we can all reach our real potential.

Yet what if people prefer big government as long as it favors their interests? The heartlanders are not opposed to big government as such, but only reject it when, in their view, it has been hijacked by the special interests of the blacks, feminists, and gays. Many lower middle-class people live from one paycheck to the next, rarely in the best neighborhoods. Security is important to these folks. And that means both efficient policing (with not too much attention to the niceties of civil liberties) and a strong national defense. After all, for many in those circumstances military service still offers a chance to better oneself. In addition, ordinary Americans tend to equate personal freedom with anarchy. Freedom is fine, as long as it is practiced within the limits of godliness. Uh, oh, here is another allegiance that the bien pensants are certain that the folks shouldn’t have.

As always, the liberal elitists know what is best for others. They also know, without the shadow of a doubt, that the others should know it too. Alas for these dreamers, the peasants are not cooperating.

I am not a big-government guy. If I have any redneck background, it has long since withered beyond recognition. I’m a gay activist. I live in Manhattan.

If someone in my circumstances can imagine what people in the heartland are thinking, why can’t Michael Kinsley, Thomas Frank, and their ilk do so? Unfortunately, these pundits seem to be in the grips of the very false consciousness they ascribe to the rubes. They believe the stuff they are peddling because it suits their ideology, not because it is true.

The immediate prospect-—almost everyone seems to agree-—is that the Democrats will win back the House of Representatives on Tuesday. I certainly hope so. In all likelihood, though, long-term prospects will continue to be bleak.

It will be a great victory when Lugosi, the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives, is installed. Yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, in their bottomless arrogance and self-satisfaction, the bien-pensants will keep on and on and on. Some folks never learn.