Thursday, August 30, 2007

Senator Larry Craig

I suppose it's time to weigh in on the Larry Craig situation.  Craig, a senator from Idaho, was recently exposed as having plead no-contest or guilty to a crime stemming from lewd behavior in a Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport men's lavatory.  Apparently, Craig sent out signals, such as toe-tapping, foot pressing, and finger wiping, that amounted to, in the opinion of his stall neighbor, a solicitation to a sexual tryst.  The neighbor in question happened to be a police officer engaged in a sting operation.

This makes the third GOP sex scandal in about as many months.  Florida congressman Allen, Senator Vitter, and now Senator Craig.

Idaho is not a state which is fond of gay people.  When I lived there, back in the mid-90's doing the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, it still had a statewide sodomy law.  I regret to say I broke that law.  I apologize to the good people of Idaho, but I don't feel I owe any debt to society.  In any event, it's not the place to be faced with a sex scandal and then come out of the closet as a proud gay man, as Barney Frank and Gary Studds were able to do as democrats from Massachusetts.

The republicans, who have for the past 20 years held forth as the party of moral and family values, takes a particularly difficult hit when confronted with sex scandals.  Just one, that of congressman Mark Foley, caused congress to shift to control of the democrats.  What can three highly publicized scandals do?  Clearly the republicans, because of the image that they seek to sell, are much more vulnerable to sex scandals than democrats.  Everyone expects it of morally relativist demoncrats.  (Sorry, Freudian typo).

A little bit of history.  Sex in men's restrooms is as old as Western Civilization.  In fact, in the 20th Century, these came to be known in the lavender patois as "tea rooms."  Airports, bus stations, libraries, almost every one of these has a tea room.  From time to time, law enforcement runs a sting, like the one that caught Larry Craig, and the tea room shifts to another spot, but before long, the action is back.

The concept of the tea room is time-honored, and reflects an era of oppression, when simply gathering together could cause gay people to be rounded up and put in stir.  Back in those days raids on gay bars were common and a person could be arrested for just having a limp wrist or wearing a red tie.

In our more enlightened age, the crime is not in being a degenerate, but demonstrating it in public.  Sex in restrooms, public parks, etc., can get you pinched. 

All that leads me to -- what?  Craig says he isn't gay.  That's quite correct, even if he is a homo.  Being gay means being in some way public to a greater or lesser extent about one's sexuality.  Craig may be, in the Roy Cohn tradition, a straight man who just happens to have sex with other men.  Because divorcing one's wife and taking up with a younger man, as Ariana Huffington's husband did, means being in some way honest about one's sexuality.

The motivating factor to not be honest?  Shame.  Being gay--open and somewhat honest--means that you have in some small way faced the shame and dealt with it.

Because Craig is incapable of being honest about this, he will go down in flames. 

All that said, I'm not sure that what Craig did was a crime in my view.  All he did was solicit--using ambiguous "signals" in the opinion of the arresting officer.  If, for example, someone did that to me, I would say, "I'm not interested," and the behavior would doubtless stop at once.  Personally I believe that solicitation should be protected under the first amendment, and that in order to be arrested for lewd behavior, one should have to have one's lips around someone's Tom, Dick or Harry.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Deception, deception, deception . . .

What, precisely, is MySpace selling?  Or more appropriately, giving away?  For the most part, MySpace is free for users.  One puts up a MySpace page, which acts as an internet billboard.  On the page, one can list one's interests, put up pictures, write a blog, etc., in essence a personal website.  One can also ...

(My coworker just made a funny: "...driving under the influence of what?  Of denial?")

Anyway, back to MySpace.  Does MySpace have a duty to insure true and accurate information on user sites?  Consumer Protection Acts prohibit unfair and deceptive business practices.  Essentially what MySpace is doing is similar to "personal ads" in newspaper classifieds.  Are newspapers liable for deceptions placed in personal ads in their paper?  Yet, MySpace goes beyond what classified personal ads offer, in that they provide a set of tools for interacting online.  So, is the telephone company responsible for deceptions or misrepresentations made during fraudulent phone calls?

I think the parents of the abused teens are going to have a difficult time proving liability on the part of MySpace. 

*    *    *

Once again I'm reminded of how pragmatic and centrist I am.  I was reading Susan Estrich's blog over at Fox News.  Estrich is a liberal democrat who was Michael Dukakis' campaign manager.  In this piece she bemoans the quality of public discourse over the Internet.  She's getting flamed by liberals to the left of her.  This is what I can't stand about far left liberals any more than the far-right wing: polarization.  What ever happened to digging in and finding common ground?  I have lived long enough to form an opinion as to who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs.  I believe it began with Lee Atwater and continued with his homonculus, Karl Rove.  They pushed liberal hot-buttons into critical overload.  Liberals are just as truculent and intractable as neocons.  Essentially what her readers were doing to Susan Estrich was faulting her for being politically incorrect, simply for receiving a paycheck from Fox News. 

Personally I like Susan Estrich's opinions no matter where they're posted.  I enjoy hearing her point of view--just as I enjoy hearing the point of view of Bill O'Reilly from time to time, Keith Obermann, Jon Stewart and in very small doses, Pat Buchanan.  I find Ann Coulter too intellectually defective that I cannot bear to read much of her.  That said, I have read a few of her columns, along with those of Maggie Gallagher, William Buckley, George Will and others.  And though I will never vote for any Republican for the rest of my life due to the evil that they have wrought with this particular administration, I am not a true believer in any political philosophy.  What we need to do in this contentious, polarized society is find common ground. 

This is what Hilary Clinton has tried to do in her years in the Senate.  To fault her for trying to work with and achieve common goals with Repuglicans (sorry, that's a Freudian typo) is to engage in the most self-defeating politics.  For liberals to stand on the narrowest of principles is to engage in the same posturing that Operation Rescue's Randall Terry did over the Terri Schaivo debacle, when he demanded that Jeb Bush stand on principle, sacrifice his political career, place himself above the law and prevent the feeding tubes from being removed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Goodbye Gonzo

I must apologize to Octavia Butler, who apparently wrote a manifesto on her creative writing process entitled "Furor Scribendi."  When time and creativity intersect at some point in the future, I may retitle my blog.  But in the meantime, I'll just go ahead and use this Latin phrase that I picked up on a list of Latin phrases somewhere.  I can't remember.  I can't recall. 

I do recall meeting Octavia Butler, though.  At the Foolscap writing conference in Tukwila.  Must have been oh, 10 years ago now.  She was gracious, elegant, poised--a wonderful conversationalist.  I and my writers' group had the great good fortune to be present at the kickoff party, which was not very well attended, with GOH Butler.  She spoke about her time at the Clarion Workshop.  She then went on to be a linebacker of science-fiction, winning every prize under the sun (and a McArthur Fellowship).  I asked her advice on whether I should attend Clarion, and she said she would only recommend attending for someone very new.  If you've been writing for a long time, or have had a lot of classes, it might be too difficult to give yourself over completely to the ego-busting and refining that goes on.  Thank you Octavia.  She died in a fall a couple of years ago.  I saw her one other time at the Post Office at 3rd and Union--the downtown branch.  She was busy with business and seemed distracted.  I almost tapped her on the shoulder and said hello.  I wish now that I had.

Alberto Gonzales has resigned.  I watched his resignation speech.  Sorry, my liberal friends, but I feel sorry for the guy.  Not because I feel he got a raw deal.  But because, like his boss, he had risen to the level of his incompentence.  I think he meant well.  He clearly was a quality individual.  But it's sort of like using your family attorney to negotiate a book contract.  Gonzo was GWB's attorney.  He kept being GWB's attorney at the DOJ.  He needed to be strong, independent and wise.  John Ashcroft, for all his faults, was a prince by comparison.  But it just goes to show you that trivial, banal evil can happen, even when one has a pure heart with the finest motives.  All it takes is having unfettered power and unquestioning loyalty.

Ashcroft wasn't going along with the philosophy of the Unitary Executive, if he had ever even heard of it.  With Gonzales, the Bushites found their stooge, their team player, their man.  If you read the description of the Unitary Executive Theory at the Wiki, linked to above, it will curl your hair and give it split ends.  The Bush Administration and its allies have tried to create a 4-8 year dictatorship in the United States (or for however long they choose to claim we're at war).  Gonzales was not the architect of this edifice--that was the neocons, and their brain trust, one of whom is John Yoo.

I don't know about you--but I don't want to live in a dictatorship, even if/when we're at war.  It will be interesting to see who Bush picks for the next AG.  If it's Professor Yoo--run for the hills.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Television II

Yesterday I stumbled upon an idea that has stuck with me.  In what ways has technology influenced the substance and form of television?  I have never given this idea much thought.  In fact, when I have thought about the evolution of storytelling on TV I have usually linked it to societal changes, politics, the economy, current events and film. 

But I'm starting to think that technology has played a larger role than I have given it credit.  The switch from black and white to color caused an explosion of sunny, happy shows: Happy Days, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, variety hours with Carol Burnett, Sonny & Cher, Dean Martin, everything filmed in glorious, saturated color.  Perhaps this was due to geopolitical concerns: denial of the Vietnam zeitgeist.  But it was equally programming that took advantage of the color technology.  Sure there were dark shows: Night Gallery, for example, but their shock value was based more on twist endings, than any evocation of mood.

Another innovation in technology was larger and more affordable screens.  When the largest TV screens were 13 to 20 inches, closeups were de rigeur.  With a 26 to 30 inch screen, establishing shots, traveling shots, panning shots, the language of filmmaking, could be utilized on television.  This changed the way television looked and worked.  Television had always been closer in essence to radio than film.  With larger screens and the employment of cinematic techniques, television became more and more a visual medium. 

I anticipate that with the super large screens of today employing High Definition technology, this trend will strengthen rather than diminish.  Within two generations cinemas will be rare, home entertainment will stream from a central hub (whatever the internet turns into) and packaging will no longer exist.  Intellectual property--anything which is capable of being sold digitally, will be.  While it is tempting to consider this negatively, I don't think it will be.  Television has improved with the advent of VHS technology.  The business model changed, but it still supported higher and higher quality of work. 

Where will it ultimately end?  Three-dimensional entertainment of course.  Total immersion and the assumption of a point of view.  Whether that's a holographic "room" or a set of goggles and gloves, or a biomechanical symbiosis of hardware and wetware ala William Gibson.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

TV Shows that Deliver

Television as an artform has certainly gone through its ups and downs.  While I generally have an idealized vision of my youth, that certainly doesn't include the quality of the TV shows during the 70's.  They don't hold a candle to what's available now.  Why?

First, I think we owe a huge debt of gratitude to a trio of gentlemen: Stephen J. Cannell, David Lynch, and Chris Carter, and to a lesser extent Dick Wolf.  Stephen J. Cannell developed and produced of The Rockford Files and The A-Team, but it was his visionary work on Wiseguy that really took television in a new direction.  This series, which starred Ken Wahl as a cop very deeply under cover with the mafia, ala Donnie Brasco, refined the concept of season arcs.  Though arcs within television shows were not unheard of, Wiseguy featured complete arcs over an entire season.  A new set of villains would be featured in the second season, and yet a third set in season 3.  The story arcs within these seasons were resolved.  Within each episode there is also a central challenge for Vinnie to overcome.  It meant action packed television that rewarded viewers who watched the entire season. 

At this point, it is necessary to mention that the rise of videocassette recorders made this kind of television possible.  A person could record the episode to watch at their convenience--they didn't have to worry about missing an eposide and falling behind on the story arc.  In this way, VHS technology improved the quality of television.

Taking the next step, David Lynch in Twin Peaks offered a story arc that was really a pretext for showing the lives of a large cast of small town characters.  Its odd, quirky mix of humor and darkness created a legion of fans.  More than any other TV show, Twin Peaks brought cinematic lighting, editing and acting to the small screen.  The visuals were complex and carefully constructed.  Compare any episode of Twin Peaks with Charlies Angels, The Bionic Man or Happy Days.  The washed-out studio lighting of the latter is flat and inert.  On the other hand, Twin Peaks offered a wide range of color, from super saturated reds to almost black.  The richness of the visuals hinted at something powerful and ominous under the surface--which is a quality in all of David Lynch's film workas well.

Finally, Chris Carter took the groundwork laid by Cannell and Lynch and combined it in the X-Files.  Not only the filming techniques, but also the storytelling concepts.  Carter's first season featured stand alone episodes, but with each one, certain elements began to stick--who was that mysterious smoking man that never said anything?  What mysterious, powerful invisible forces stood in the way of Mulder's search for the "truth?"

The cinematic quality of the X-Files is also plainly evident.  Perhaps it was simply the TV studios had finally recovered from their love-affair with color television, that they permitted a darker chiaroscuro.  In some ways, X-Files feels more like a black and white show than a color show--it has the same sensibility of light and shadow.

These three series form the transition from 70's cheesecake to 80's grit to 90's noir.  There were others to be sure: The Streets of San Francisco; Law & Order; Miami Vice; NYPD Blues all come to mind.  But for sheer innovation, Wiseguy, Twin Peaks and The X-Files are peerless.

They have ushered in the 21st Century and made The Sopranos possible--which in itself is the culmination of the novel for television concept, a work of series storytelling genius.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Period of Adjustment

Currently going through a period of adjustment with my adopted dog Molly.  Molly is a 7 year old cairn terrier who has a striking personality.  Striking in that she seems to have moods and attitudes that confound me.  Sometimes she loves going for a walk and is excited and energetic.  Other times she takes one look outside and wants to head back for the apartment.  She is disinclined to walk in the rain or upon wet ground, which is a problem in the City of Seattle.  Just wait until she encounters snow!  She has skin problems and scratches herself or rubs her back on the carpet.  She has medication for this condition which I have been giving her like clockwork.  Nancy (Janice's sister) told me that when they cut her hair very short for the summer her skin was much better.  Molly has an appointment with the groomer this weekend.  She'll be getting what we used to call "a Butch."

A butch for the bitch...

This past weekend Molly and I went up to Whidbey Island for a writing seminar.  The seminar was 7 hours long (wayyy tooooo long) and Molly got restless about halfway through.  So I unhooked her lead and let her walk around the room.  What should she do, but start grinding her hindquarters on the rug.  I'm sure you've all seen dogs do this.  One of the attendees pipes up--"she's got worms!"

Doubtful.  I researched the condition and found that it most likely is the result of obstructed anal glands.  Yes, you read correctly.  Anal glands.  Dogs have them--that's why they sniff each others' butts.  It's how they recognize each other.  When they have a good diet and such, the glands get cleared when they go poo.  But sometimes they become clogged and full and then it's like a doggy hemorrhoid. 

The solution is to express the anal glands.  Isn't that quaint?  That's the technical term: Express.  As in "freedom of expression."  One can do it oneself.  I put Molly on the counter, and tried to find them (poked around her butt for a little while) but I couldn't locate the glands.  So I took her to the vet and the technician took her into the back room and a few minutes later she came trotting out.  Federal express.  "They were pretty full" said the tech.  So hopefully that takes care of the problem. 

She was still spinning last night.  She sits down and then twirls around.  Sort of the "sit and spin" method of butt relaxation. 

But it still doesn't answer the question of why, if her butt is bothering her, does she wait until she's in a room full of strangers to begin demonstrating the fact.  Sheesh.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Malaise of the Modern Age

Years ago I read renowned feminist critic Elaine Showalter's book Hystories (unfortunately out of print) which is utterly fascinating.  Showalter's premise is that hysterical syndromes clearly point to the hidden fears and needs of a culture.  That's important.  The hidden fears and needs of a culture.  Not of an individual.  Showalter lumped together several disparate phenomena: False memory syndrome, Satanic Ritual Abuse, Alien Abduction; and closer to reality and which caused her to be a lightening rod for vituperous criticism: chronic fatigue syndrome; Gulf War Syndrome; recovered memory of all stripes; multiple personality. All of these exemplify what Freud and Charcot would have termed "hysteria."

Although hysteria is somewhat different, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome bears an uncanny resemblance to the 19th Century diagnosis: neurasthenia.

Here's a quote from the medical record I was typing today:  "Tired all the time; don’t feel well; weak; weight problems; headache, dizziness; blurred vision; loss of vision-R. eye; double vision-L. eye – several times a week; leg pain with walking; joint pain; neck pain; low back pain; indigestion; abdominal pain; anxious; tense; irritable; trouble sleeping; sexual difficulties; nocturia; leg and feet and L. arm go numb a lot and remain numb for hours; lots of muscle spasm..."

So what's to be made of this?  Perhaps the neurasthenic is in a constant state of what John Bradshaw called "hypervigilance," and the host of physiological effects of stress find their expression in musculoskeletal strain, joint inflammation, and fascitis.  Perhaps, we are literally "tearing ourselves apart," dealing with the stress of our culture.  Perhaps this is why less freedom can feel more comfortable.  I wonder if people who live under rigid, predictable, draconic regimes have less physical pain than those who live in a democracy with its chaotic factional distress.  It would be an interesting study.

Myk van Dyk

Little motivation to work today.  Hard to get enthusastic about laboriously transcribing dozens of audio tapes that have been prepared by a paralegal dictating a person's medical records.  A good deal of fatigue this morning.  It is 10 degrees cooler, which felt pleasant.  Molly was in a mood this morning.  She was bad yesterday.  Got hold of a bag of treats (foil, with a vacuum seal) and tore it open and ate every single one. 

That's what dogs do when you're away. 

This weekend I'm scheduled to run up to Whidbey Island for a writing seminar.  I'm looking forward to that.  Involves a short ferry ride, which will be very nice on a Friday evening. 

My shingles outbreak is fading, but it still itches like I went wading in poison ivy. 

My offer on the triplex in Decorah was countered and I accepted the counteroffer, which means that we've stepped closer to a purchase.  I think now that the sale is "pending". 

The subject line "Myk van Dyk" is just a jesterly attempt at a nom d'plume

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sin, Sinner, Sinnest

A Texas church that promised to host a man's funeral reniged after it learned the man was gay.  Apparently it wasn't an issue until the slide show that was intended to provide a retrospective on the man's past, contained images that showed "kissing" and affection between persons of the same gender. 

"Some of those photos had very strong homosexual images of kissing and hugging," Simons told the [Dallas] Morning News. "My ministry associates were taken aback."

I thought that the Biblical proscription was limited to the act of sexual intercourse by unmarried persons of the same gender--how does hugging and kissing conflate with that?

In the end, the nondenominational church said it would not hold the funeral because Sinclair was gay, which went against High Point's doctrine. "Can you hold the event and condone the sin and compromise our principles?" Simons said ... "We can't."

Again, conflating the "sin" with the state of being--not a presumptive sinful act.  The "sin" in this case was being gay and happy and having friends.  Sufficient basis to be cursed, ridiculed and ostracised by the good conservatives among us, who want us all to be better people, and shun us when we don't measure up to their standards.  Christians?  Or is it just Texas?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Barak Obama--Too Inexperienced?

Last night on the Daily Show (rerun from the night before), Senator Biden inadvertently boosted Barak Obama's presidential campaign.  Early in his first term, President Bush asked him, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to come over to the white house and brief him on Europe.  When Biden arrived the President said, "I'm going to Europe for the first time."  Biden said, "As president?"  No.  For the first time in GWB's life.

How can Barak Obama be any more inexperienced than that!

Biden recounted how confused the President was over Chancellor Schroeder, the recently elected German head of state who was a member of The Green Party.  "Why is there such friction with him?" asked the man who pulled us out of the Kyoto accord.

Although I am adverse to calling Bush an idiot, his cluelessness in this instance was idiotic.  Further evidence that Bush lives in a bubble surrounded by sycophants and cronies hand-picked by the Machine, who give him bad advice which he trusts too much.  Not stupid precisely, but certainly naive.  Obama, I feel, would be his own man.  Bush is enamoured of the mystique of being President, I think.  He likes being insulated, contemplating his place in history, crafting his image as a righteous defender of democratic liberty.  In other words, he's deluded by the very people who should be challenging him.  If he is a King, like many are saying, he's not George III, he is Richard II.