Friday, January 25, 2008

Responding to Rudy

Tim Egan had a most enjoyable column on the self-destruction of the Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign in the Times this week. {
} though I can't say it was quite the delicious dessert of the piece earlier in the week {} on what it was like to live in New York when he was mayor. That's the piece I want to send to anyone who considers voting for Il Duce.

Here is my comment (#111) on Egan's post:

An enjoyable column. I’m not crazy about any of the candidates, but Rudy is the one who terrifies me. I don’t know quite what HRC, for example, believes any more (I think she believes only in the polls), but I’m not afraid she’ll lock me up if I look at her cross-eyed, and that’s a real possibility if Rudy has the to-heck-with-the-First-Amendment powers Bush has arrogated to himself in this disastrous, anti-constitutional presidency. It is lucky for the reputations of both Nixon and Reagan (and probably LBJ) that they did not have remotely such fascist tools in hand when they were in charge — does anyone doubt they’d have used them? The thing that checked them was a Congress willing to fight them — Bush has never had to face that, so he’s trashed the U.S. at his leisure and whim.

I’m still terrified that Rudy will get on the ticket, aspiring to be the new Dick Cheney (which one is more ghastly? well, Cheney loves money and power as much as Rudy loves only himself — you do the math) and roughshodding over whoever the poor shlumpf is atop the ticket. That could be neat sabotage to electability, a la Ford-Dole, but I’m terrified of even the possibility of Rudy near the White House.

On the other hand, I’m still not crazy about any of the Democrats (though of course I’ll vote for anyone they nominate). They’re so good at losing. That was one good thing (not the only) about Bill: he knew how to win. It didn’t rub off on Gore, a much better and deeper man with NO bonhommie, no gift for interaction with the common folk — and I don’t think it rubbed off on Mrs. C either.

I too have lived to realize Nixon wasn’t as bad as he seemed, that there are worse possibilities … and Reagan and W have incarnated them already, thanks. But a new Nixon wouldn’t charm me. And a Nixon with Bush’s powers …? Time to think of retiring to Nova Scotia.

-- That's what I said to the Times. Here I will add a P.S.:

A book I picked up and reread for, I think, the first time since it came out nearly twenty unimaginable years ago: Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On. What a difference a couple of decades make! Almost impossible to remember the early 80s when we were all (anyway, the gay men among us) so shell-shocked and so terrified and so mystified by this ghastly thing, and no one knew what caused it, or how to stop it, or how not to get it, and we were all of us kind of hysterical. As late as 1984, I just didn't think about it. It was always at the back of my mind. But. No one I knew was sick. (I thought; I was wrong.) More important, no one I had known – carnally, y'know – was sick. (I thought; I was wrong.)

In 1984, if Shilts is to be believed (and why not? I just wasn't paying attention) the run from diagnosis to death was often to be measured in months. Remember that? "See you next life!" gay guys would sometimes say, bidding farewell to a friend visiting from the opposite coast. Unimaginable now – as is the reluctance of the culture at large, the public culture, even to mention the situation.

1984 is the year (the epidemic had been going on, perceived by the medical authorities, for three years, though government response had been infinitesimal) when my friend Chris de Blasio mentioned that our friend Calvin Hampton had pneumonia, and that he, Chris, would be spending occasional nights sleeping in Calvin's hospital room. It all seemed excessive to me – pneumonia was perfectly curable in a young (Calvin was 44, and seemed venerable but certainly not old to me) and healthy man. It was a month or two, not till Calvin (looking none the worse for wear) had got out to celebrate Christmas, that I got the message: that kind of pneumonia. And of course he went down hill – there were no effective treatments. He was dead before the end of the year. And then the relentless parade through the clique: Roger, Eric, Joel, Clint, Chris, scads I didn't know. (The tops didn't get it; the bottoms and the versatile did. Nobody wants to talk about that, but it's true.)

So I'm reading through Shilts's not always measured but very well pieced together narrative of these events from his West Coast perspective (he died in 1993, like Joel and Chris, just a year before AZT and "cocktailing" finally slowed the death rate) and the thing that really gets me (as it did Shilts) is the fucking scandal of government lack of response, of the years of ignoring (while insisting they were not ignoring) a potentially (and, we know, actually) devastating, world-shaking medical emergency is a principal legacy of Ronald Reagan, who is saluted on all (almost all) sides as the man responsible for America "feeling good about itself" again.

Is it all labels and Morning in America – leap out of bed and put on your imperial new clothes, and no one thinks about substance as long as the grin is unfazed? Well, yes, I know the answer to that: we live by TV, not reality. I am out of the loop because I never turn on the tube.

But what a ghastly figure to emblematize America feeling good, recovering from the horrors of Vietnam and Watergate! And the result of all that? We feel so good we get into wars and demolish our military and our constitution. As Cole Porter put it, "Sometimes you feel so happy you land in jail." That is our national motto. In God we do not trust – we trust our Old Man's ability to pay off the judge and set us free to do more harm.

Another words: French Letters: the bank fraud scandal
Can you even imagine stealing seven billion dollars and not even enjoying it? Being so stuck to your computer that you don't go out – and it's Paris out there for goshsakes – and blow a few mill on champagne, truffels, a chic blonde (gender unspecified), a chateau, a Maserati? The French do not live up to their reputation when the chips are down – Belmondo they're not. (But we've known that since at least M. Butterfly.)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Addendum to previous: What I said in the Times

The question is: when, in the evolutionary process, was the soul inserted? Other life forms do not have them; we think we do. Is this entirely imaginary? It can't be proved by science; you believe it or you don't. (I don't, and have fights with all my friends, and they all believe devoutly in both evolution and the soul.)

But the reality or unreality, as objectively provable, has nothing to do with Religion. Religion is not God; it is all about human societies. It may or may not be true, but that isn't necessary for it to be useful. Religion has produced so much of what society found, and continues to find, valuable, and the objective (not a member of any organized religion) observer finds most interesting in the human-created universe: the architecture, the music, the painting, the poetry, the prose, the theater, the traditions of learning and debate - not to mention a selfless attitude among many religious and a place to hang out and feel part of "family" with other people at least once a week. Far too useful. God, the question of God, is only an excuse to be human. Soul food, you might say.

I agree with everyone who blames the debate on lousy reading habits and low teaching standards in this society.

Faith and Evolution and Judy (and Punch)

My favorite paragraph from the readers' debate in today's on-line Times about Evolution vs. Faith {}:

"Religion isn't science. It is the belief in the unseen and untestable. Does evolution mean God doesn't exist? No. But God, as a hypothesis cannot be tested from personal experience. The assertion, "I have a personal relationship with God" doesn't wash. There is no way to determine whether that personal relationship is with the Almighty or with the Ever Hopeful/Needy Self. I once thought I had a personal relationship with God and, specifically Jesus. The sensation of that relationship was palpable. Then, one day, I was watching "A Star is Born" with Judy Garland. When she stood up at the end of the movie and said to the Hollywood crowd, "My name is Mrs. Norman Mane," I had an experience that was so close to my religious experience that I suddenly realized that I had no clue as to whether my religious experiences were, well, religious."

(The contributor is named Thurly. Thanks, Thurly! Judy forever! Art is religion!)

By the way: all the contributors, believers and otherwise, are pro-evolution -- but it IS the Times, and early in the morning - only 25 contributors so far. Wait till there are 400. Wait till the Bible Belt gets out of bed and starts reading. But who would want to read them all then?

I agreed with all the posters who said the problem was the lousiness of the educational system in this country coupled with the fact that people no longer read. My current reading is a terrific novel, Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, about a society - Turkey in 1591 - where people are murdered by religious fanatics for deviating, artistically, from tradition. Or were there other reasons for the murder? Lust? Greed? Fear? Among the narrators are a corpse, a murderer, a woman in love, a Jewish go-between, a small boy named Orhan, several miniaturists, a dog in a storyteller's tale, a horse in a miniaturist's drawing, Death, Satan, a counterfeit gold coin and the color red. So much better than The Name of the Rose.

Pamuk rules, dudes, I mean, effendi. (No - that can't be true - or he wouldn't have been prosecuted under the anti-Turkishness paragraph of the constitution.)

P.S. I did not contribute to the NYTimes discussion. Gaea drew Ouranos from Chaos and they mated and had the Titans and the hundred-armed Giants ... Hesiod said it, I believe it, that settles it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bad dreams for the new year

I don't entirely rule out the influence of the smoked turkey I munched at midnight, but I had ominous bad dreams on New Year's Night. New Year's Eve I was mostly sleepless, wondering why I'd rejected the advances of the Russian (Seryozha) who wanted to come home with me from Ty's (ten years younger, looked ten years older - I blame cigarettes). But then I wouldn't have slept at all, because the presence of unfamiliar folk in my bed keeps me awake like nothing else, and I can't even turn on the light and read.

Anyway, the first part of this morning's dream was fun: attending a Handel opera, David Daniels playing Hercules (which opera was this? Perhaps Ercole sul Termodonte, or Hercules Among the Dinosaurs, Vivaldi score based on an old Steve Reeves script), and I had a complimentary press seat, and all was hunky-dory, except that they kept pausing the performance to reconfigure the bleacher seating, and the audience would patiently move around, and each time they did it, my seat was harder and harder to find, and I felt conspicuous, as if it were my fault that the performance was being delayed, and there was no sign of Mr. D!

But then I found myself in a lab with my beloved Dr. Ellen Gold, my oncologist, who cured me of lymphoma way back when (1997), who was doing some sort of routine exam, and I was fixating rather on her hair, as black as I remembered it but far longer and more exotic seeming (I've been reading too much poetic Orhan Pamuk fiction, eh?) , with spangly colors in it like a peacock's tail, and all this (perhaps she had removed it while she went to do some tests) in a blasé frame of mind until she returned with something or other, some removable body part, or some petri dish, or some X-ray, and said, "This isn't good."

She sounded so calm that I did not fluster. I asked, "Not good as in ... how?" And she said, glumly, "Very not good." I said, "It's back?" and she replied, "Yes, it's back." And we both knew, on the instant, that chemo would not work this time, that the cancer would kill me this time, that I had rolled the dice (or played the hand) and lost big-time. Did I still have time to visit St. Petersburg? Palermo? Isfahan? Havana? Did I still have time to get to 500 operas? (I'm up to 484.) Did I still have time to finish writing a book? Did I -- ?

"I don't know," she said. She sounded hopeless, as despairing as I felt. I certainly didn't blame her. If anything I felt lousy about letting her down. E muoio disperato.... No doubt that will come in time. But not yet. We were examining the bloody sample, whatever it was. It didn't look good. Even I could see that. Too depressed to ask for a second opinion, I took the easy way out - I woke up.

This would depress me but I'm too busy with various jobs to give it a thought. And Chris wants to haul me to Film Forum for a Joan Crawford film noir.