All That Meat and No Potatoes – The Trouble with Anthony Weiner

Audie Bock is not a household name.  Only California based political nerds like myself even remember her.  She was, for a brief moment, the highest ranking Green party politician in the country.  Happenstance got her into that position.

Ron Dellums’ retirement from the US Congress in 1998 started a daisy chain of special elections.  Then-State Senator Barbara Lee took Dellums’ seat.  Then-State Assemblyman Don Parata took Lee’s seat.  When Parata’s State Assembly seat became vacate, a special election was held in which Audie Bock ran as a Green Party candidate.  Says Wikipedia:

Although she received less than 9 percent of the vote in the February 2 special election for Perata’s assembly seat, no candidate received 50 percent of the vote; this caused a runoff among the top-vote getter from each political party.

I don’t remember who the Republican candidate was for the seat or if there even was one.  This district is one of the bluest of blue districts in the country.  It includes Berkeley fer Christ’s sakes.  A Republican winner?  Fuggedaboutit.  Normally the Democratic candidate would therefore be a shoe-in, but not this time.  That candidate, Elihu Harris, who for years was in the State Assembly and later became mayor of Oakland until he was termed out, ran a sleepy-eyed campaign which culminated in allegations that he tried to bribe people to vote for him by promising them fried chicken — a chicken in ever pot, KFC style.  That didn’t go over too well.  So Bock, a virtual unknown, won in a squeaker.  The Greens thought they had arrived.

Buyers’ remorse soon followed.  A political neophyte, Bock quickly went from being the Green’s brightest star to one of its greatest embarrassments.  Though she had just been elected, she had to face election again in a year for a full term, because the 1999 election was only to finish out the term of then-Assemblyman Perata.  She fretted about facing opponents so soon after gaining her seat and allowed herself to be convinced that her odds would improve if she switched party affiliations from Green to Decline-to-State.  So she summarily dumped her Green party status without so much as a by-your-leave.  Then, to add insult to injury, she accepted political donations from oil companies.  Alienating everyone who once supported her, including legions of Green Party volunteers ready to pound the pavement on her behalf, she lost miserably in the 2000 election.  Bock has since faded from the political landscape.

When thinking about Congressman Anthony Weiner, the maelstrom of the every evolving Weiner-gate scandal, I’m reminded in a strange way of Audie Bock.  Bock did not e-mail compromising pictures of herself — Twitter didn’t exist in 2000 — but she was self-destructive and she ultimately did damage to the thing she purportedly supported, that is, the Green Party.  Now one could make the argument that she never really believed in the Green Party and just used them as a stepping stone to elected office.  I’d buy that.  But still, she did do damage to the Green brand.  She came off as a self-serving flake with little political acumen.  I fear that the same may well become Congressman Weiner’s political epitaph.

Weiner screwed up in two ways.  First, he helped the otherwise questionable Andrew Breitbart gain creds.  During the denial phase, Mr. Weiner all but accused Breitbart of hacking his Twitter account and trying to slime him for political reasons.  Given Breitbart’s track record of going after people for political reasons (Shirley Sherrod, anyone?) and using questionable means to do so, the charge, on surface, seemed a legitimate one.  But Weiner knew it was bullshit from the start.  He had sent crotch shots to young women via Twitter, with and without undergarments on apparently, and Twitter being the medium it is, it was entirely possible for Breitbart to get a copy of these photos.  And he did.  And he made hay about them.  After Weiner finally fessed up, he put himself in the unenviable position of having to kiss Breitbart’s ass and apologize to him.  Had he done the right thing and owned his crazy immediately, he wouldn’t have turned Breitbart into a vindicated victim of false accusations.  The next time Mr. Breitbart goes on the attack in a more Shirley Sherrod kinda way, he’s more apt to get away with it again because now the media will view him as more legitimate.  Thanks Weiner.

Second, Weiner was a fire-breathing dragon with perhaps more smoke than fire.  He annoyed his own caucus, even as he developed an ever-increasing fan base of lefty admirers.  Videos of him lambasting Republicans on the House floor over the ill-fated public option in the health care debate went viral.  Raw emotion and passion sells.  There are few lefty firebrands and he is certainly one of them.  And raw emotion and passion are cool, so long as you have the creds to back them up.  Apparently, this has come into question now that he’s under a very tight microscope.

But even before his teary live-feed admission to his friends and family — especially his wife, Huma Abedin, a close aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — colleagues in the New York congressional delegation said they had serious reservations about the incongruity between his high media profile and what they considered his low impact in pushing legislation behind the scenes.  (Washington Post)

It’s one thing to be a loudmouth that has garnered the support of colleagues through nose-to-the-grind-stone work.  It’s another to just be a loudmouth who sometimes went against the wishes of your own caucus, as the article above documents in quotes from anonymous Congress-reps.  If you fall into the latter category, don’t get caught up in a stupid sex scandal that can not only derail your career and leave you with few friends to come to your defense, but also threaten to bring down the very causes you support.  Progressive voices are too often dismissed as flaky, pie-in-the-sky, hippy-dippy, tree-hugging, unrealistic, idealistic, unworkable, unthinkable, ludicrous, and silly.  It doesn’t help when one of them actually has at least some of those attributes.

Congressman Weiner’s sexcapades are his own affair.  This is something he has to work out with his wife and family.  Meanwhile, if he wishes to stay in politics, he needs to kill the fiery speeches, severely curtail his TV appearances on Rachel Maddow, et al., and focus on being a politician.  Work it, don’t jerk it.  Develop creds, not ego.  Then he’ll become a more useful servant to the ideas he supports and the constituents he represents.

Lady Day & Gil Scott-Heron

You’ve changed
That sparkle in your eyes is gone
Your smile is just a careless yawn
You’re breaking my heart
You’ve changed

One of the last songs Billie Holiday recorded, accompanied by strings, horns, and an angelic female chorus singing high soprano, a delicate arrangement that only enhanced the delicate state of her voice.  Her delivery of those words tears right through you.  She spent her whole career living the blues through her life and music, making each performance an event, a moment, until her body just couldn’t do it anymore.  A year after recording this track, she was gone.

Just a few weeks ago, after hearing one of his tracks on KCSM Jazz 91, I googled Gil Scott-Heron.  I found a chilling article on Black Agenda Report:

From the start, he was weak and weary, like whiskey watered so far down that only the barest hint of its kick remains. We winced at his pain, glaring naked in the spotlight, and at the death-mask smile he flashed, which made him look like the Grim Reaper. Even as his high was intensified by the thrill of making music, he seemed to be mocking our enjoyment of his performance, our witnessing his once prodigious gifts now so threadbare and wan.

TaRessa Stovall, May 4, 2009

Stovall later remarked that her mother had a similar experience seeing Billie Holiday in one of her last performances.  And then came the bombshell:  Scott-Heron had contracted HIV.

In 1970 he sang about the evils of substance abuse in “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” and “The Bottle.”  In 2009, on his first album in 15 years, a voice cracked and aged rasped “Me and the devil, living side by side.”  He had lived the life he warned about 40 years earlier and it showed in his art, warts and all, making it that much more powerful and depressing.  On the same album he sang “New York Is Killing Me” and that he wants to be buried in Tennessee.

And now he’s gone.

He sang of fear and hope and love and pain and freedom and slavery.  And he lived it all for us to see.  Sometimes we watched wide-eyed, sometimes we winced through our eyelashes.  He informed us through his art and his life until his body just couldn’t do it anymore.

Fortunately, his art will continue to inform us for many years to come.

Ever feel kinda of down and out and don’t know just what to do?

Livin’ all of days in darkness, let the sun shine through

Ever fell that somehow, somewhere you lost your way?

And if you don’t get help you won’t make it through the day

You could call on Lady Day!

You could call on John Coltrane!

They’ll wash your troubles, your troubles away

“Lady Day and John Coltrane” Gil Scott-Heron (1949 – 2011)


Tightly Rapt

I had never heard of Harold Camping.  I am familiar with Family Radio, the station he helped to establish in the 1960s.  It was one of many evangelical shortwave stations I encountered on the dial during my long years of traveling international radio.  I paid it no mind.  Evangelical stations are typically, though not exclusively, owned by Americans and I listened to shortwave to hear the opinions of those not from my homeland.  The one exception was the late Reverend Gene Scott’s programs.  He’s been dead for six years, but you can still hear him nearly 24/7 online and on shortwave.  He’s still a hoot.

But Camping never registered with me.  And probably never would have if it weren’t for this rapture business.  Somehow, I missed the first rapture prediction in September of 1994.  Now let’s see, what was I doing in 1994?  Well, that’s the year my partner and I met and got together.  Maybe I was too rapt with that to notice much else.  So if the ’94 prediction made the media, I missed it.  The world didn’t end in ’94 or ’95.  It’s safe to say that the prediction was a red herring.

However, Camping appears to be a never-say-die kinda guy, so he’s back again with a new prediction:  May 21, 2011.  This extraordinary prediction grew out of his realization that the Bible contains numbers of particular importance:  5, 10, and 17.  Multiply these together, square the result, and you get the number of days after Christ’s crucifixion that rapture will envelop the earth.  Curiously, when I use my calculator to project 722,500 days from April 1, 33 AD — the date Camping claims the crucifixion took place — I get May 22, 2011, a day later.  Maybe there’s something wrong with my app.

If I seem less than convinced it’s because, well, I’m less than convinced.  One of the harbingers of the rapture is chaos in the world.  And as evidence of this, Camping sites the increased rights for and acceptance of homosexuality and lesbianism.  And here we come to an old, familiar saw.  Have a group of people you don’t like?  Come up with a prophecy that calls for the group’s total destruction.  In a recent video, Mr. Camping noted the irony of his ministry, located in Oakland, California up the road from the airport, being just across the bay from Sodom itself, i.e., San Francisco.  Maybe San Andreas is about to slip again.

Here we have yet another example of someone using religion as a weapon to beat people with.  Homosexuals, lesbians, non-believers, holders of different faiths are all no count.  Such thinking makes it so clean, so simple to dismiss others one doesn’t care for.  It reduces religion, and the God behind it, to the level of The Big Bully, the one who will protect you from the others whose mere existence is an intolerable threat.  “My God is gonna kick your ass!  You’ll see!”  In that sense, Camping’s rapture is nothing more than the biggest of Big Bullies.  The Ultimate Big Bully.  One who will not only beat the tar out of his opponents, but will carry him off to safety before the whole world is destroyed, thus ridding him of ever having to deal with the Nasty People, be they homosexual, lesbian, Muslim, Jewish, or Wiccan, ever again.


Let’s have a different kind of rapture, one that brings joy and pleasure, not pain and suffering.  Come May 21, listen to your favorite music.  Play your favorite sport.  Volunteer and help others.  Have a good meal with friends.  Have sex.  Do whatever consensual, pleasurable, positive activity turns you on and get rapt in that.  And while you’re doing it, hope that others very different from you are able to do the same.  That would be pure rapture indeed.

(p.s.:  Are we really to believe the homophobic rantings of someone named ‘Camping’?  Come on!)

Short Story: The Burrito Kiss

I saw him sitting in the bleachers looking my way.  I rationalized that he’s probably looking at the new computerized scoreboard our piss-poor high school just installed.  Everybody does, more in disbelief than anything else.

I kept running around the track, eyes forward.

Then I ran in front of the billboards.  They’re bright and colorful and eye catching.  He’s reading them word for word, I told myself.  We all do.  During every game.  Even though we’ve seen them a thousand times.

I kept running around the track, peripheral vision set on high.

But then came the real test.  There’s a wall along a stretch of the track, at the far end.  Where will his eyes be after I come from behind the wall?  I stared into the blue sky, aiming for detachment.

Oh god, he’s really staring at me, I thought.  At the same time, I wondered if he’ll be in the shower room later on.  I ran faster.

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Birther-gate: the silliness that ain’t silly

So President Obama persuaded Hawaiian officials with a personal, handwritten note to send him copies of the sacred “long form” birth certificate so that the White House can distribute the document widely and bring a hoped for end to the “silliness” about the origins of his birth.

Until this week, Hawaii officials said they wouldn’t release original birth records for anyone, under any circumstances. Even if it was President Barack Obama.

reported by AP and quoted from the Washington Post.  But a personal note from the President on White House stationary caused a change of heart and copies of the “long form” birth certificate were made available to the White House, and soon the world.

If only the world were that simple.

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Spam, spam, spam, spam

Since its launch last fall, the gar spot has received a goodly amount of traffic, some comments here and there, and . . . SPAM!  The spam comments are caught in the snare of a spam filter, an electromagnetic mesh affair that captures the little phishing spams while allowing the more wholesome content to pass through unimpeded.  Be sure to get the custom built filter; never buy the ones off the rack.

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No, Really, Seriously, It Was About Slavery

This week Live Science published the article 6 Civil War Myths, Busted in time for the 150th anniversary of the start of the bloody battle.  The first myth busted is that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War.  The article presents this alarming statistic:

Across America, 60 percent to 75 percent of high-school history teachers believe and teach that the South seceded for state’s rights, said Jim Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” (Touchstone, 1996) and co-editor of “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The ‘Great Truth’ about the ‘Lost Cause'” (University Press of Mississippi, 2010).

State’s rights.  Not slavery, but state’s rights.  A couple of quotes come to mind.  One is George Santayana’s famous, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  The other is a favorite line from Doctor Who, uttered by the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, in The Pirate Planet, as he was mocking a boastful enemy:  “Bafflegab, my dear!  I’ve never heard such bafflegab in all my lives.”

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How Many Queer Folks Does It Take To Achieve Equality?

Groggy from lack of sleep, I rolled over early one morning just before Get Up time and put on my reading specs then turned on the Touch to read the latest headlines.  At the SF Chronicle mobile site I find this:  Demographer: US has 4M adults who identify as gay.   Really? I thought in my groggy haze, four million?  That seems kinda low.  The story goes on to say that 4 million represents about 1.7% of the 18 and over population.  (Under 18s are always heterosexual — goodness knows I was (NOT) — but that’s another story.)  Still, 4 million?  Hell, aren’t there 4 million gays and lesbians in New York City alone?

The article was based on a report by Gary Gates, a scholar at UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, a think-tank that works in the areas of sexual orientation law and public policy.  Mr. Gates notes the difficulty in assessing the LGBT population for a couple of reasons.  One, the data is spotty.  Quoting from the Chronicle article:

… because so few national population surveys have asked about sexual orientation and the ones that have were not conducted consistently over time, the data on which to base a firm conclusion does not exist…

The other issue Mr. Gates raises is that the surveys that do exist often do not differentiate between those who self-identify as LGBT and those who have ever acted upon a same-sex attraction.  His report focuses on and makes conclusions about the number of adults in the US that self-identify as gay or lesbian, hence the low number.

Citing surveys from California and Massachusetts, Mr. Gates places the nation’s transgender population at 700,000, or 0.3% of the national population.  Again, this is the self-identified population.  In his report, Mr. Gates states:

Defining the transgender population can also be challenging. Definitions of who may be considered part of the transgender community include aspects of both  gender identities and varying forms  of  gender expression or nonconformity. Similar to sexual orientation, one way to measure the transgender community is to simply consider self-identity.

(Not sure what he means by “nonconformity” — that sort of rankled me a bit.)

Using self-identity as the sole criteria for doing an accurate count can be a slippery slope when dealing with issues of sexual orientation and sexual identity.  As we all know, there are way too many reasons (cultural, religious, societal, safety, to name a few) for people not to self-identify themselves as LGBT.  Mr. Gates even notes in his study that surveys dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity are more reliable if they are done anonymously, say over the internet, than if they are conducted in person.  Some say that the US Census should ask explicitly for people to identify their orientation, along with race, gender, etc.  I agree, but even that would be fraught with inaccuracies.  For example, a person in a heterosexual marriage who plays around with same-sex partners on the side is not likely to answer “bisexual” or “gay” on a form that his/her spouse might see.  I wouldn’t have answered the question honestly over 23 years ago, because I was not being honest with myself at that time.  Such is the power and the tyranny of the closet.

Some have complained that the low number will play into the hands of those who wish to deny LGBT folks proper and full civil rights and the freedom to exist without fear.  So the question becomes, how many queer folks does it take to justify proper treatment?  10?  200?  756,210?  What’s the threshold where suddenly discrimination against LGBT folks will vanish?  In a just society, those questions are irrelevant.  A just society does not require a magic threshold where it’s suddenly OK to treat LGBT concerns seriously. As a matter of decency, no society would allow a minority group to be set upon by the will of a vocal group self-identified, associated, or aligned with the majority.  LGBT folks are in the minority.  That point cannot be denied.  Are we then to suppose that this minority status delegitimizes our very humanity?

Hell no.

While standing up and being counted is important, and I’m glad that there is serious scholarship in this area, we must also keep in mind that there are very real forces that make accurate counting an educated guessing game at best.  And that ultimately, we must address the issues that make the counting a guessing game, for in that lies the reasons for LGBT oppression.

And then there were none: A Different Light, A Remembrance

It sat in a little white building nestled on a small block squeezed by Santa Monica and Sunset. I always had problems finding it exactly, and then there was the parking which was challenging even for a motorcycle.  I didn’t drive cars in those days.  It was small and crammed, the way all independent, hippy-ish bookstores should be.  The staff always smiled.

That’s my recollection of visiting A Different Light Bookstore in its original location in Silver Lake.  Someone was about to do a reading that evening, I believe, but I didn’t hang out for it.  Don’t know why, really.  Freshly minted out of the closet, maybe I was just shy.  But I do remember the friendly, welcoming vibe at the store and I remember visiting once or twice more before hanging out regularly at the closer and bigger store in West Hollywood.

Boys Town largely meant attitude for this black queer.  But A Different Light was still a safe haven.  It could get pretty cruisy on weekend nights — searching eyes slyly drifted off the pages of skin mags to the bodies nearby — but I largely concentrated on the books.  Anthologies were the in thing at the time.  In them I read about women in the life, Latinos in the life, blue collar workers in the life, South Asians in the life, and black folks in the life.  I have two copies of Joseph Beam’s In the Life, one which I bought myself and one which was given to me by a friend as a coming out present.

The store hosted readings frequently and always had a full calendar of coming events posted near the door.  Little did I know that I would read there myself.  “Get anthologized!” many writer friends recommended when I attended the first OutWrite conference in 1990.  And in time I did.  To help publicize the anthology, I read at ADL West Hollywood and SF.  By that point, I had been living the Bay Area for a few years, so reading in the West Hollywood store was a wonderful homecoming.  Friends I hadn’t seen in a while attended.  Siblings attended.  It was very cool.  We were well received, those of us who read.

I’ve only been to New York once in 1998 (yeah, I know, I’m a loser that way), but I did get a chance to see the NY ADL.  What a wonderful space it was.  Huge.  And it had a large community space for readings and other events.  How sad it was when it disappeared.  It was the first.  Then came the West Hollywood store (the Silver Lake store had been closed long ago, having been supplanted by the WeHo store).  I was quite shaken when the West Hollywood store closed.  All the memories of hanging there in my short-shorts and reading books flooded over me.  Cinders stood at the gates of my eyes.  It had been such an important part of my coming out.

And now the San Francisco store, the very last one, is closing.  Truth be told, it was a long time coming.  The readings and cultural events had long since faded.  The book stock grew scarcer as did the number of bookshelves.  It used to be that navigating SF ADL was a challenge.  There were shelves and bins everywhere and bodies filled the all the gaps in between.  And the magazine rack was just as cruisy as in the West Hollywood store.  But it all faded away.  The last time I visited, just a few weeks ago, there was so much free space, you could practically do a tango in the middle of the store and not run into anything or anyone.  The staff, still friendly, were tinged with melancholy.

I often wonder why some bookstores make it and others don’t.  Take Cody’s Books, for instance.  A Berkeley staple that dated back to the McCarthy Era, it shut its doors for good in 2008 in a pathetic store-front location far removed from its original, grand, taylor-designed space on Telegraph and Haste.  But then there’s Moe’s Books right next door, still surviving.  Why?  In the Castro, Books Inc. opened a store on Market Street many years ago.  It continues to thrive in a way the ADL used to in its heyday.  Why?  Bad economy, bad decisions, bad luck, bad landlords, the Internet.  Take your pick.  But I find the end of this quote, attributed to current ADL owner Bill Barker, puzzling.

“We have been challenging ourselves — what does it take to stay open?” he said, noting that the SF location had six employees who he did not want to put out of work. He also cited cultural shifts in identity as a reason for flagging business: not as many queer authors (or their publicists) booked tours in gay and lesbian bookstores and he thought literature had moved away from overtly gay themes. “[I] think that you can only tell the gay and lesbian story so many times,” he said.

Source: The Bay Citizen (

Running out of stories is not one of the reasons for losing queer bookstores.  If anything more of us our finding our voices and telling our many, varied stories now than ever before.  And we have more options for telling our stories.  Though as wonderful as the internet is in this regard, it cannot supplant the face-to-face interaction offered by places like ADL.  What spaces we have we must cherish and keep.

Brother Huey Got His Back

{Editors Note:  The dialog between Jameel and Alfonso was taken from my unpublished novel Sin Against the Race.}

He knew Hegel.  He knew Marx.  He knew Lenin.  He knew Trotsky.  He knew Mao.  He knew Ché.  He knew Cleaver.  He knew a whole bunch of others that none of the rest of the group knew.  And he knew Brother Huey got his back.

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