Thursday, January 31, 2013

Resist Empire!

Medea Benjamin at UMass Lowell, Jan 31, 2013
Lest you think all I ever do is post about Steve Garvey and Jodie Foster and Paul McCartney... Today I want to post about something completely different.

Today I went to a talk given by Medea Benjamin of Code Pink.  Her talk was called "Resisting Empire", and it was part of a class called "Peacemaking Alternatives" (taught by Prof. Richard Hudak at UMass Lowell -- Richard is also the current president of the UUCiA).

The talk was excellent, and the questions by the students were quite impressive.  Medea Benjamin recently wrote a book called Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control.  I highly recommend this book.  As the back cover of the book says, "Drone Warfare looks at the growing menace of robotic warfare: who is producing the drones, where they are being used, who are 'piloting' these unmanned planes, who are the victims and what are the legal and moral implications."  
Medea was kind to sign my book.
I brought my own copy of the book with me, which she was kind enough to sign for me... (see picture to the right)

It is an outrage, to me, that the media has not been letting the public know more about our drone warfare.  Where the media fails, Medea succeeds.

She was asked about whether it was hard to speak out publicly, sometimes contentiously, about these important issues.  She directed us to check out this short video, which was on C-Span:

She said that it was hard. But as you can see, she doesn't miss a beat as she is hauled away.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Our reaction to Jodie Foster's speech: the struggle between political correctness and activism

In case you hadn't heard, Jodie Foster got the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes this year, and her acceptance speech has us all talking.  (To read the transcript of her remarks and/or to watch the video, go to this link.)

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm another lesbian with a Jodie Foster fixation.  Ever since my own coming out (in 1994/1995), I'd heard the rumor that Jodie Foster was gay too.  But rather than feeling a kind of lesbian pride about this, it was all whispers and "but she should get to come out when she wants to come out".  So Jodie has been in my lesbian-psyche from day one, from the earliest and tender time of my own coming out... and she's always been stuck in my psyche as I struggle with whether being a lesbian is something that's private, or something that's no big deal, or something to be proud about -- or somehow all of the above.

Coming out can be a hard experience. Every person's coming out is unique to them.  There are almost infinite variables. What time (date in history) and place (country, city, neighborhood, etc.) are you living in? Under what other social circumstances (class, race, gender/sex, family of origin, religion, etc.)? And what is your personality type? Coming out is different for those who are naturally extroverted and/or who enjoy being non-conformists than it is for those who are naturally introverted and/or who don't particularly like to be different (in general) or to "stand out".

One reason I've always been puzzled by Jodie Foster's seeming reticence to come out (at least to the public -- I don't know how she's handled being out in her private life) is that it seems like (to me -- but what do I know?) that her circumstances for coming out are pretty favorable.  She's wealthy, white, attractive, and privileged in all sorts of ways... what would/does coming out really cost her?

Some will say that it could limit her in Hollywood, that she might not get cast in certain roles if she's "out".  In earlier times, this would no doubt have been true.  But is it really true now? Has it really been true for the last decade?  I personally don't think so.  I think most people are quite happy to cast Jodie Foster, or to have her direct their film.  I don't think her career is in a precarious position.  (She just got the Cecil B. DeMille Award, remember?)

But, then, there is the matter of her own unique personality. We all have one, after all. I don't know Jodie Foster personally. But I take it that she's a very private person, perhaps somewhat understated in her private life.  And therefore, it makes sense, on a human level, that making a big public proclamation about her sexual orientation would be very hard/awkward/foreign to her way of being.

I first watched her acceptance speech live, and it puzzled me.  Frankly, in the moment, it confused -- and sort of annoyed -- me.  I never expected her to come out or make some big personal revelation at the Golden Globes. I thought she'd get up there and share insights/memories/etc. about the art of movie-making.  So I wasn't expecting anything along the lines of a coming out.

But then, she kind of did come out. I mean, technically she did. But it was done in a round-about, almost angry-sounding way.  She was very defensive about her privacy.  She acknowledged her ex-partner in a way that was pretty clear, to be fair.  But still. I think most were left with a feeling of, "She just came out... right? Didn't she?"

She also sort of came out in 2007 when she acknowledged her (then) partner when she accepted an award (I forget which award... she's had quite a career!).

But if you come out on national television twice and we're still not sure you came out, I don't think you're doing it right! Just sayin'!

I'm sort of joking, of course. And there were lots of funny comments on Twitter.  One of my personal favorites was by @BillyEichner: "Just rewatched Jodie Foster's speech - pretty much the worst It Gets Better video ever."  But there were an amazing variety of responses to her speech. There were those who seemingly thought it was the most amazing thing they'd ever heard, and were very moved.  And there were those who were angry with her.  And there were those who were just puzzled, or bemused.  (Go to this link to see some of the variety of tweets on the topic.)

I watched her speech a second time today, and actually... I liked it better the second time.  I'm still a little confused.  But it no longer annoys me.

I think I feel ambivalent about it in part because she seems to be so ambivalent about coming out in public. Which makes me think... maybe she should just leave it alone for now. As I say, I don't think we were expecting her to come out at the Golden Globes. Were we?

The politically correct and empathetic part of me thinks her speech was just fine.  After all, every LGBT person should decide when to come out, and in what way.  And I appreciate that for whatever reason, it's a personal struggle for her, still.  And I appreciate that LGBT people are left with the challenge of coming out at all, and being critiqued for how/when/where we do it -- whereas straight and cisgender people never have to face any of this at all.  That's not fair. I get that.

But the activist in me wishes she would have just said, loud and proud, "Yes, I'm a lesbian." I wish she'd just said it in a clear, positive-sounding (rather than defensive-sounding) way.  Because the lesbian in me feels like until Jodie is okay with being a lesbian (publicly), who am I to be so okay with being a lesbian (publicly)?

Also, to what extent is my being a lesbian my "private life"?  I'm married, legally, in the state of Massachusetts, to another woman. That's a matter of public record.  So you can presume from that that I'm a lesbian (or bisexual). (I'm a lesbian, lest I confuse you!) Is that really my "private" life?  The nature of my relationship with my wife is private. But the fact that I have a wife (and therefore am presumably queer)? I don't see it as private.

And for me, this gives the lie to the whole matter.  What do I mean? Well, remember when Hilary Swank won the Oscar a few years back, and she neglected to mention/thank her (then) husband, Chad Lowe? There was a bit of a fuss and stir over this.  Why had she not thanked her husband publicly in her acceptance speech? Surely that was a faux pas, a social error!  It's just assumed that a wife would thank her husband in public for an award (and that a husband would thank his wife in public, too).  So therefore, being in a heterosexual marriage is apparently very public. But a homosexual marriage/partnership?  I guess that's private?  It's a ghost marriage? It's a lesser marriage?  It seems like a double-standard to me.

Yes, I know, I know. Sometimes being "out" is dangerous in this crazy world.  But I continue to struggle with out-ness as a private matter for someone privileged enough to come out in circumstances that involve minimal danger.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A few thoughts on Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame

Yesterday (or was it the day before? time is running together for me!), the word came out: NO one would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 2013.

The most obvious first-year inductees would have been Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, except for the strong suspicions that they were using steroids (or other rule-breaking, performance-enhancing drugs) during their careers.

I've been a huge baseball fan all of my life.  The whole steroid-era saga makes me so sad. There's so much there that's sad.  It's sad that players felt pressured to take drugs to play better, in spite of the many dangers of these drugs.  It's sad that the formerly magic record numbers (like Hank Aaron's 755 homeruns) have been broken with the help of drug-enhanced performances... and there's not much that can be done to "fix" it.  It's sad that Major League Baseball looked the other way for so long, though it was obvious that performance-enhancing drugs were widespread.

But it's sad in other ways, too.  To the left is a picture of my childhood hero, Steve Garvey.  In spite of the fact that he was one of the dominant players of his era... in spite of the fact that he went to the World Series five times in his career... in spite of the fact that he was an All Star many, many times... in spite of him being the MVP of all sorts of things -- the National League, the All Star Game, the National League Championship Series, etc.... in spite of all his Gold Gloves.... in spite of a decade where he basically never missed a game (he has the National League record for consecutive games played), batted .300 with 200 hits a season, had about 25 homeruns a season, about 100 RBIs a season... in spite of all of this, Steve Garvey will likely never be in the Hall of Fame.

There are a few reasons for this.  One is, though he had one of the all-time squeakiest-clean reputations during his years as a player, just after he retired he was hit with the scandal of having had a few girlfriends at once, and impregnating a couple of them at essentially the same time (and then marrying a third girlfriend).  Not that womanizing is a big scandal by the standards of Major League Baseball, mind you -- but it seemed so out of character for Garvey that it really hurt him; it made him a fallen angel.

But the other reason Garvey will probably never be in the Hall of Fame is that his numbers -- which seemed impressive during his career -- started to look tiny shortly thereafter.  Garvey retired just before the steroid era.  When he played, his 25-ish homeruns every year was solid, seemed impressive. Just afterwards, in the steroid era, 25 homers (especially for a first baseman) seemed anemic.  Same with his 100+ RBIs. 

So Garvey, and some other players from the era just before steroids, is being penalized for not being drug-enhanced.  And even his image has been (literally) diminished.  Remember, Garvey's forearms used to be considered "huge" -- commentators would often remark on his "Popeye" forearms.  But after the steroid era? Nothing about Garvey looks big.  Which is strange and sad, because from 1974 - 1984 (if not longer), everything about Steve Garvey was larger than life.

And so, the victims of the  steroid era of baseball are many. And baseball, at least for me, will never be quite the same.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Finally checking back in... thoughts.

I haven't blogged in some time.  I was one of those flu victims that you're hearing about in the news.  I'm all better now!

I've thought more about the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT, as I said I would.  I think most of my thoughts have already been articulated by others by this time... thoughts about gun control; mental health; a culture of violence; a culture of alienation; etc. But also, thoughts about the attention the media gives to tragedies in upper middle class towns, versus the attention given to tragedies in inner cities, or in lower income towns... and also, thoughts about the attention the media gives to the death of innocent Americans, versus the attention give to the death of innocents in other countries.

Singing "Silent Night", December 24, 2012, UUCiA.
I touched on some of this in my Christmas Eve homily -- sick though I was!  The gist of my remarks were this:

On Christmas Eve, as has been the tradition of the UUCiA for the past several years, we ended our nativity scriptures with the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2, verse 12.  But this year, it seemed impossible to leave out “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey might say).  What happens next, starting at Matthew 2:13?  This is the story known sometimes as “The Escape into Egypt”, sometimes – an especially poignant title this year – it is called “The Massacre of Innocents.”  In this part of the story, "an angel of the Lord appear[s] to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he sa[ys], 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'

And so, Joseph gets up.  And he takes baby Jesus and Mary "during the night and le[aves] for Egypt,  where he stay[s] until the death of Herod. 

But before Herod’s death, there is a horrific tragedy.  The nativity story goes on to say that “when Herod realize[s] that he ha[s] been outwitted by the Magi, he [i]s furious, and he … orders [the killing of] all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then [as the Gospel of Matthew tells us] what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

‘A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.’

The timelessness of ancient scriptures means that each year we hear the familiar old stories, but we hear them in a slightly different way.  We see them in a new light; the light of our days, and the days just passed.  This year, perhaps this part of the story makes us think of current events – whether in the suburbs of Connecticut or in inner-city neighborhoods or in war-torn countries – and think of the tragedy of young death, and the inconsolable weeping of those left behind.  We know that innocents do indeed die, and we remain “creatively maladjusted” to such horrors, to quote Martin Luther King, Jr.

But I hear something else in the familiar, ancient stories this year.  I hear, more poignantly than I have in some years, the nativity story from the Gospel of Luke telling us to “be not afraid” – “fear not”.  The world has dangers, and there is much of which we feel afraid.  But we cannot focus on fear.  We cannot give in to the culture of fear.  Perhaps fear tempts us to turn our world into a guarded fortress.  But this is not the way we want to live.

In the midst of the headlines of 2012, the angels in the Gospel of Luke arrive to remind us of the ancient wisdom: “Be not afraid!” … “Fear not!”

It’s not that there’s nothing to fear.  The angels, in addition to saying, “Be not afraid” also give many warnings of dangers, after all.... The angels say “fear not” because there is too much to do to retreat into fear.  Be not afraid, because the world needs you to be courageous!

As my colleague the Rev. Wendy Bell of the Harvard Unitarian Universalist Church (whose thoughts helped inspire my own words on Christmas Eve) put it, the voices say to Mary, “Be not afraid because we need you to bring forth new life and to bless the world with your capacity for creativity – EVEN IF – or perhaps especially if – you don’t feel up to the task, if you feel it is unreasonable or even impossible.  Don’t let your fear get in your way!”

To Joseph (as Rev. Bell put it), the voices say “Be not afraid because we need you to stand up for this new life, to affirm it, to sanction it, to give it legitimacy and therefore afford it some protection.”

To the shepherds (as Rev. Bell put it), the voices say “Be not afraid because we need you to honor and celebrate this new life and to nurture it with your gifts. Shepherds were in the business of keeping their sheep safe and leading them to green pastures and to water, protecting them from wolves and wild dogs. Be not afraid because we need you to nurture and protect this new life/creativity until it can grow into its own.”  I would add, the voices say: “Rise up shepherd, and follow!”

The ancient nativity story reminds us: We need to be creatively maladjusted to cruelty and tyranny in the world.  As Rev. Bell put it, “We need you to bring forth new possibilities. We need you to nurture and protect them and help them grow.”

This is the hope of Christmas. And you – no matter what you might think – you have a role in bringing about the Beloved Community.... And that’s the rest of the story.