Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Traditions hold for Mardi Gras despite Katrina

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Even amid the typical debauchery — including early morning drinking, flashes of bare breasts and skimpy costumes in the French Quarter — there was no escaping reminders of the storm.

Zulu, the 97-year-old Mardi Gras club, or krewe, that lost 10 members to Katrina, paraded amid homes that still bear dirty brown water marks from the floodwaters that covered 80 percent of the city. Another krewe, Rex, King of Carnival, paraded past a boarded-up store bearing a spray-painted warning that looters would be shot.

Kevin and Marie Barre, a husband and wife from New Orleans, wore white plastic coveralls bearing the all-too-familiar spray-painted "X" that denotes a home that has been checked for bodies. "It's a reminder. A lot of people who are coming down here don't understand what we've been through," Kevin Barre said.

Members of another club called the Krewe of MRE covered themselves with brown labels from the Meals Ready to Eat that were served to thousands who huddled in the Superdome after the storm. Others dressed as giant maggots, recalling the days when city streets were lined with abandoned refrigerators full of rotting food.

Mayor Ray Nagin, wearing a black beret and camouflage uniform, portrayed cigar-chomping Gen. Russell Honore, the military man who led the first big relief convoy into the city.

Click here for the rest.

I wish I was there--couldn't make it this year because I was working on a paper until very late last night; maybe next year. I get the feeling that Baton Rouge's Mardi Gras celebration is but a shadow of what happens in New Orleans, Katrina or not. You know, being here in Louisiana, getting a taste of what the state is all about, sharing in its fear and anger about Katrina and all its fallout, I'm coming to realize that the hurricane and its aftermath is a defining event in my life. It all happened at just the right moment for its fullest effect. I had been living in Louisiana for a little over a year when the storm hit. I had only come to know and love New Orleans within the last six or seven years, only truly appreciated the city's old school jazz sound for about as long. Only within the last seven or eight years have I understood the depraved depths to which the Republicans have fallen, mad in their orgy of power and America-dismantling. Only within the last decade or so have I come to understand fully how the rich exploit the poor, how anti-black racism continues to be one of this nation's worst problems. How capitalists always have their way. It all comes together with Katrina. The still-devastated city symbolizes everything to me. Everything. Everything I love and hate all wrapped up in mold and storm debris. I know that no American alive right now will ever forget what happened to New Orleans, but I can honestly say that it's become a part of who I am forevermore. Not only will I never forget, I'll never stop thinking about it.

UPDATE From Real Art comments:

Hey Ron,

Let's credit the photog on that end photo....my bud Alex Brandon/AP... a great guy who stayed through the 'cane and spent days dropping cameras to help with rescues while boating with NOPD SWAT... I wish you bloggers would give more of us mainstream news folks our well-deserved props...


So I said:

You're right, Dave. I've been trying to do that more, actually, but, for me, laziness often gets in the way. I should especially try harder on this if only because you're watching...and know where I live.



Nothing Stops Mardi Gras


Adding to the emptiness, Calliope and Magnolia, two public housing developments in the neighborhood that were mostly undamaged, remain deliberately empty; most residents have not been permitted to return.

In fact, this week our at-large city council representative, Oliver Thomas, declared publicly that many of the residents should not be allowed to return. Reinforcing the stereotype that people are poor because they don’t want to work, Thomas stated, "There's just been a lot of pampering, and at some point you have to say, 'No, no, no, no, no,” and added, "we don't need soap opera watchers right now."

At the same meeting, Nadine Jarmon, the appointed chief of the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) declared Thomas’ position reflected their policy, adding if “they don't express a willingness to work, or they don't have a training background, or they weren't working before Katrina, then (we’re) making a decision to pass over those people.” These statements were made while, six months after the hurricane, thousands of undamaged units sit empty, thousands more homeless New Orleanians face eviction from FEMA hotels on March 1, and tens of thousands of renters that lived in damaged homes have no where to move to, and no governmental officials seem to care if they come back. In the midst of this crisis, Thomas, two other council members, and the chief of HANO blamed the victims. What about single parents and caretakers? What about the elderly, injured or disabled? Don’t they deserve housing, even if they don’t have training or an extensive job history? Why are only public housing tenants asked if they intend to work?

At a recent demonstration organized by New Orleans Housing Emergency Action Team (NO-HEAT), former residents of the St Bernard Housing Development, many of them visiting for the day from their exile in Houston, expressed their desire to return to their homes. One resident proclaimed that he was going to move back into his home as a form of civil disobedience. While his action is inspiring, the idea that it requires civil disobedience to move back into your own undamaged home is profoundly disturbing. Is this what we’ve come to?

here for the rest.

While Mardi Gras goes on, for which I am truly happy, it is becoming increasingly clear that New Orleans' African-American population is getting royally dicked. It's very easy to dismiss this thought as being alarmist, paranoid, or conspiracy-minded, because most people don't really know what's actually going on in there. Indeed, even if you're in the Big Easy, odds are that you're in the parts of town that weren't terribly damaged, and simply don't see the inaction in the rest of the city. Rebuilding after Katrina is a wildly complex operation, and, obviously, those with power and money are working the system for their own benefit: some of those people simply don't care about New Orleans' black people; some actively want them out. But make no mistake about it, the Big Easy's African-American community, the city's cultural life blood, are being driven out. Permanently. If things don't change right now, that's the city's future, lily white and Disney bland. Makes me sick.


What a drag: 'Reefer Madness' of teen sex in Kansas

The Boston Globe's left-leaning columnist Ellen Goodman, via the Houston Chronicle:

Kansas is one of 12 states in which underage sex (under 16 in this case) is a crime even when it involves teen peers. In 2003, state Attorney General Phill Kline, a bandstanding pro-lifer, interpreted that law to require educators, counselors and health care workers to report virtually all sexual activity by those under 16 to the state.

The Kline Theory goes something like this: If sexual activity between teens is illegal, there's no such thing as consensual sex, and thus every act is harmful. These acts include "any lewd fondling or touching of the person ... with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires." In short, health care workers have to rat on 15-year-old sexual criminals who are lustily and mutually "abusing" each other in the back seat of a Toyota.

The health care workers sued, and the recent trial produced some pretty odd exchanges. When lawyer Bonnie Scott Jones of the Center for Reproductive Rights put Kline on the stand, she asked if anything beyond kissing was acceptable? Is oral sex performed by a boy a reportable crime? Yes, said Kline. Oral sex performed by a girl? "I'm not certain," he said.

here for the rest.

Man, Reefer Madness is so right. This country's gone insane in so many ways that I've lost count. This notion that teenagers simply shouldn't have sex is such a load of crap. I was shocked the first time I heard of this weird new Puritanism back when I was a high school teacher: a parent casually asserted to me in a conversation about something else that teens had no business having sex. Such a thought was so incredible to me that I forgot to argue with her about it. My god, if any humans should be having sex, it's teenagers! Evolution has made their bodies such that it's all many of them can think about. Why the hell do you think that, historically, most people were married by the time they were sixteen? Duh. Obviously, it was society's attempt to make sure their raging hormones didn't get out of hand. Today, people marry much later, and that's most likely for the best, but people's bodies remain as they always have been. It is foolish and impossible to repress human nature the way they're trying to do in Kansas. Instead, we ought to be teaching comprehensive sex education, you know, the kind with condoms, from early childhood on, so that there are no unwanted pregnancies or STDs. Man, these people are crazy!!! Teach abstinence, undermine the importance of condoms, and criminalize hormones. Fucking stupid. A recipe for disaster.

Didn't the twentieth century teach us anything?



Lieutenant Uhura!


Sunday, February 26, 2006


The biggest and bawdiest Mardi Gras parade in Baton Rouge was yesterday, and Becky and I were there. Now when I say "bawdy," I mean by Baton Rouge standards. Red Stick, despite it's French name, was
actually founded by the English on the site of a failed French trading post, and reflects the uptight national character of its founders, just as New Orleans, obviously founded by the French, reflects that nation's more easy-going sexual attitudes. "Bawdy" here means one bared breast, and you'd miss it if you blinked.

But enough of that. Onto the pictures. We started out by parking on Anal Street.

Okay, it's actually Canal Street, but when we pulled up, this is what I saw, and just had to record it for posterity. Somehow, however, it all seems fitting because Spanish Town is Baton Rouge's equivalent of Houston's Montrose. That is, it's a trendy, upscale gay neighborhood, and, well, you know...

Look, I promised "bawdy" and I'm trying to deliver.

Anyway, as with the Southdowns parade Friday night, it opened up with a small marching band.

Becky said that she thinks it's the same band that was at Southdowns, but I couldn't really tell. Anyway, after the brass band, the floats moved in.

As with
last year, I was amazed how most of these floats, while very cool to look at, effectively served as high-volume, efficient bead-delivery mechanisms. The audience, in addition to partying down, did their damndest to snag as many strands as possible.

Of course, to some extent, their hands are up in the air in celebration, as at a rock concert, or in the "We Are the World" video, but don't be fooled: the main reason everybody's reaching up is so they can catch the beads flying in their general vicinity before anyone else can. Occasionally, it gets a bit agressive. But that's cool. It's all part of the event.

And doesn't everybody look pretty with all their beads on?

Anyway, here's another couple of floats.

As with the Southdowns parade, New Orleans and Katrina was the theme. Virtually every float was somehow riffing on the idea, and some were appropriately brutal.

This was my favorite.

I think they did "a heckuva job" with that float, myself. While many floats pulled no punches in displaying Louisiana's anger about the White House's total failure to do its job, some were simply whimsical.

Like this one.

Whimsical and bawdy. Speaking of bawdy, I've never seen more blowup dolls assembled in one place.

Do people actually use such things? I've only ever seen them as comic relief. I mean, I assume that somebody somewhere gets some kind of sexual thrill out of blowup dolls, but, either I've never met these people, or all my friends are lying to me.

I hope they're lying to me.

Anyway, here's some more Spanish Town bawdiness.

These guys were throwing both beads and condoms. LifeStyles Tuxedo Black, to be precise. For formal occasions, I suppose.

These guys below appeared to have the best seat in the house, but kept slowly slipping down, and were continually having to readjust themselves.

Hee hee. "Adjust themselves." I promised "bawdy," didn't I?

Here's an interesting moment.

I think the guy holding the sign is from the same outfit that did the preshow for the Southdowns parade. Annoying, but part of the landscape down here. Actually, I've come to enjoy the absurdity of these fire-and-brimstone types, and look at them as simply being part of the show. I certainly don't feel threatened by them or anything.

On the other hand, some of the drunken revelers did have a problem with this lone Jesus freak and started pelting him with beads. Hard. The scuffle only lasted about a minute, but for an instant, I worried that it might turn ugly. I understand how they felt: everybody's there to get drunk and wild, and along comes Christie McChrist to dampen their spirits, clearly an unwelcome presence. But I thoroughly condemn their response. I mean, like it or not, this guy's got a right to express his views. Argue with him, flip him off, counter his speech with your own, but never intimidate, never get hostile.

That's what comes from mixing politics with alcohol, I guess.

Here are some of my LSU friends who attended the parade with me.

From left to right, Chris, a doctoral student in theater criticism, Reuben, a fellow MFA acting student, Derek, also an MFA acting student, and EJ, a faculty sound designer.

And then it was over, as the street sweeper always signals.

I'm really beginning to think that the street sweeper really is simply a "get the hell out" messenger: they never seem to do that good of a job of sweeping.

Happy Mardi Gras!


Don Knotts, alias 'Barney Fife,' dies at 81

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The West Virginia-born actor's half-century career included seven TV series and more than 25 films, but it was the Griffith show that brought him TV immortality and five Emmys.

The show ran from 1960-68, and was in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings each season, including a No. 1 ranking its final year. It is one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top: The others are I Love Lucy and Seinfeld. The 249 episodes have appeared frequently in reruns and have spawned a large, active network of fan clubs.

As the bug-eyed deputy to Griffith, Knotts carried in his shirt pocket the one bullet he was allowed after shooting himself in the foot. The constant fumbling, a recurring sight gag, was typical of his self-deprecating humor.

Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of the Fife character and doesn't mind being remembered that way.

here for the rest.

I wasn't much of an Andy Griffith Show fan when I was a kid, although I liked his work on it a great deal: it was Knotts' films and his work on Three's Company that most influenced me. It's weird, I was actually drawing on Knotts for inspiration as recently as the show we closed last weekend, but I think I've always been ripping him off. He was an absolute master of physical comedy, a real life counterpart to Warner Brothers cartoon characters, but it was the complete seriousness with which he approached his comedic roles that has inspired me the most. It's just not funny if the character is somehow in on the joke with the audience. To Knotts, the trials and tribulations of his characters were extraordinarily important, nothing funny about them; his characters were constantly in danger of total and devastating failure, and the humor came out of his flailing attempts to avoid disaster--I've long believed that something's not really funny unless someone gets hurt, and Knotts always illustrated that perfectly.

I think many of today's comedic actors and comedians, especially the usually forgettable cast of SNL, would do well to study him. Because, you know, they're not really funny.

Farewell, Don Knotts.


Rain postpones New Orleans parades

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

A healthy crowd lined St. Charles Avenue today for two of the day's Mardi Gras parades, but a threat of showers postponed one of the city's biggest and glitziest processions on the last big weekend of Carnival.

Rain held off during the morning as the Krewe of Iris headed down St. Charles, with the Krewe of Tucks behind them.

However, the celebrity-studded Krewe of Endymion's parade on elaborate floats through the Uptown area, relatively unscathed by Hurricane Katrina's floods, was put off until Sunday because of the threat of evening thunderstorms. It will roll after the Krewe of Bacchus, another "super krewe," police said.

Click here for the rest.

Postponed, but not cancelled. Indeed, some parades managed to make it before the rain started. Really, it's marvelous that Mardi Gras in New Orleans is happening at all. Meanwhile, here in Baton Rouge, everything is going as scheduled, and the devastation of the Big Easy and its reconstruction are major parade themes (see below). Becky and I attended BR's biggest and bawdiest, although nothing compared to New Orleans, event Saturday afternoon, the Spanish Town parade. It rained lightly off and on throughout, but it didn't start pouring until it had ended. Almost like fate.

Anyway, I'll try to post pics of that one tomorrow.


Friday, February 24, 2006


Okay, another year, another Mardi Gras. Earlier this evening Becky and I attended the Southdowns parade here in Baton Rouge. This year's theme was "Going Back to New Orleans," so there was a lot of Big Easy imagery. But, hey, don't listen to me talk about imagery when you can see for yourself.

Actually, before the pictures, I've got to show you what happened about ten minutes before the parade actually came by:

I had heard rumors all last semester that after Katrina, the evangelistic weirdos who used to be in the soul-saving business on Bourbon Street in New Orleans brought their whole weird caravan to resettle in Baton Rouge. It wasn't until last week, when I saw a guy that I definitely recognized from the French Quarter preaching in front of the student union on campus at LSU, that I was finally able to confirm those rumors.

They came in force to warm up the crowd: there were about ten of them, with big signs and megaphones that blasted messages of hell and brimstone. It's funny how the loudest thing coming out of these types usually isn't about Jesus' love. But then, who wants to worship a pussified loving god? Not me, let me tell you. No, I prefer a badass god who smites and smites and smites the wicked all day long. Of course, "the wicked" means anyone who disagrees with me.

Anyway, onto the parade:

A brass band, if you can't make it out in the darkness:

Dancing construction workers:

I hope I never see another helicopter again:

Little LSU fans:

Satanists demanding equal time after that loud fundamentalist warmup group:

A "Chocolate City" protest float. If you read Real Art regularly, you know that I already think the whole controversy is
dripping with anti-black racism. This next shot simply confirms my belief:

Again, it's hard to see in the dark, but the guy to the right is a white man in black face makeup (
here's a much bigger version). Maybe this idiot doesn't realize that doing such a thing was decades ago determined to be absolutely tasteless and racist. Maybe he thinks it's okay because it's a joke, and Nagin deserves some reverse racism as...what...punishment? At any rate, it's obvious that more than a few white people disturbed by the "chocolate city" remark are disturbed because they're racists.

Anyway, back to the parade:

Bubbles being spewed out of the tail end of a fire truck (it looks even cooler here):

I kept asking these guys for
beignets, but all I got was beads:

And, just like that, it was over. The street sweeper always signals the end of the event:

But Becky and I did okay; we got lots of beads!

Mmmm. Beads.

We also got what are apparently something of a rarity these days, Mardi Gras doubloons. I understand that these little trinkets were all the rage back in the day, but one doesn't come across them so much anymore. Indeed, I didn't get any at the Spanish Town parade last year; it's nice to know that Southdowns still keeps up the tradition.

Happy Mardi Gras!








Thursday, February 23, 2006


In response to my recent
post on the White House decision to green light the takeover of a British firm that provides port administration services to five major US ports by state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates, which has been accused of helping the 9/11 terrorists and transferring nuclear technology to Iran, my old friend Matt writes in Real Art comments:

I'll take the opposing view on this one, as I actually agree with the administration on this one (wow, that felt weird to write): 1. the UAE is small potatoes next to Saudi Arabi when it comes to owning things in the US and supporting terrorism. To talk about the UAE and continue to ignore Saudi Arabia makes congress look uninformed and only interested in token resistance to the admin. 2. blocking an arab company or country from participating equally in our free market system will look incredibly racist and anti-moslem outside of our borders

So, i think congress looks panic-stricken, directionless and anti-arab doing this and hence I (gulp) agree with Bush.


Okay, I'll take these in reverse order.

My own problem with this deal is not that it's an Arab company, but a state-owned company, literally an organ of government, from a nation that may very well be aiding terrorists, despite it's being recognized by the White House as an official ally in the "war on terror." I'll grant the possibility that this may create the appearance of anti-Arab discrimination, but, at this point, the only public voice I've heard criticizing opposition to the deal in those terms is the President's. That doesn't mean Arabs aren't angry about it, just that I haven't heard of it yet. Furthermore, I'm not even advocating blocking the deal just yet: for now, I want to know why the White House thinks this is going to be safe; "We've checked it out" doesn't really cut it, given the serious accusations against the UAE. Once we've heard some answers, then a real debate can begin.

My personal bet is that there aren't any answers--from what I'm hearing, this thing was approved by a board of cronies, a real FEMA style operation, that doesn't really have any qualifications to determine the security ramifications of the deal. But more on that below.

As for the point about Saudi Arabia, all I can do is say, "yeah," and just kind of stare at the ground. Really, the point here is that Congress really is uninformed, as is most of the US public about the situation there. Most of the Islamic world's resentment toward the United States comes from its support of Israel no matter how low it goes in dealing with the Palestinians, but a great deal of resentment also stems from American support of despotic rulers in the Middle East. The Saudi royal family is utterly corrupt, stealing the wealth of the nation, while repressing its citizens. Most Americans don't even realize that Bin Laden's own brand of Islamic extremism, Wahhabism, was born in Saudi Arabia; because all other forms of dissent have been crushed in the desert nation, Wahhabist mosques, strongly supported by the royal family, became by default the only place where radical rhetoric is tolerated. Thus, the mosques became the birthing ground for anti-Saudi and anti-American politics on the Arabian peninsula. In other words, US support of the Saudi family indirectly contributed to the rise of the man who masterminded 9/11--that's why the vast majority of hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Nonetheless, exposing the schizophrenic nature of American foreign policy in the region still doesn't explain why it's okay to allow a nation that may have aided those hijackers to take control of several important gateways into the US. Nor does the observation that Congress is "panic-stricken, directionless and anti-arab," a true enough statement by itself.

So I guess that my overall problem with this whole thing is that there are a lot of unanswered questions that,
until today, Bush didn't seem interested in answering. I'm very curious as to how he's going to defend the deal. Because...

A lot of new info has come out about this in the last couple of days since Matt made his comment. A lot. So much, in fact, that I'm taking the lazy route and doing what the bigtime bloggers call a "blog round up." Here goes.

the Daily Kos:

Ignorant, yet defiant

Of course, the big question is who reviewed and approved the deal, since we now find that a decision with major national security ramifications was made without input from either the president (supposedly) or the Secretary of Defense. Or perhaps the better question is whether the administration has decided to hang Chertoff off to dry. The dude is on his way out anyway, might as well tar him with this disaster as well. Because as far as we can tell, we have no proof the committee that McClellan assured us yesterday had unanimously approved the deal has even met.

Furthermore, while the administration was required under law to conduct a 45-day investigation into the deal, none took place. Of course, "laws" are those pesky words on paper that King George and his infallible administration are allowed to ignore and discard at their own perogative.

Yet this is a case with national security ramifications so obvious that even Republicans can't sit on the sidelines. I mean, we're talking about a nation that impeded our ability to take out Osama Bin Laden because half its royal family was chillin' with the terrorist mastemind himself. We attacked Iraq because one of the 9/11 terrorists allegedly met with an Iraqi security official in Prague, yet we give control of our ports to a nation whose leadership is on a first-name basis with Osama himself and got together for tea and crumpets.

here for more, including source links.

Again from the Daily Kos:

Secretary Snow Wasn't Aware of Deal--
Despite Law Requiring He Chairs CFIUS

So far, we know that the Secretary of Defense, who is supposed to sit on the committee, didn't. We know that the Secretary of the Treasury, who is supposed to chair the meeting, didn't. Did ANY cabinet-level official do their duty as required by law? Or was the Dubai deal approved by a dozen Yoo-like marionettes of this administration? A list of who exactly participated in the meeting needs to be disclosed. Immediately.


And from
Eschaton, this little bit of CBS News transcription:


BORGER: Here's one explanation. The president and his senior staff couldn't brief Congress because they didn't know. That's because the panel that makes these calls, the Committee on Foreign Investments, is not run by the high-level Cabinet members listed on its Web site. Those guys usually rubber-stamp decisions made by staffers. Richard Perle is a Bush ally who sat on the panel during the Reagan years.

Mr. RICHARD PERLE (Former Assistant Secretary of Defense): The committee almost never met. And when it deliberated, which it did from time to time, it was usually at a pretty low bureaucratic level.

BORGER: So, is it a joke?

Mr. PERLE: I think it's a bit of a joke if we were serious about scrutinizing foreign ownership and foreign control, particularly since

here to see it in context (I just copied and pasted the entire bit, actually).

Eschaton also gives a nice little overview of three separate stories which also put the security situation about this port deal in doubt.

So, obviously, I've got a lot of questions. Unfortunately, the White House's track record on answering questions is generally pretty bad. I guess we'll see what happens.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006


From Real Art comments about my post lauding
Willie Nelson's new ode to gay cowboys:

At my blog I explain why the lyrics to this song are stereotypical and not worth taking seriously.

"Well, okay," I thought, so I clicked through and found this from
Blogging Gay Cowboys:

Willie Nelson and That Gay Cowboys Song

At the very least, the lyrics convey the incorrect (but widely held) idea that being a gay male means being feminine and letting the woman inside the man come out. In the parlance of all things country, that kind of thinking is just plain bullshit. Back in the good ole 1980s, Rock Hudson died shattering that stereotype.

There are plenty of gay men around in real life who prefer to emphasize masculine qualities. Yeah, there also are gay men who like to emphasize feminine qualities, too. But, come on. If you’re a gay man and you want to emphasize a feminine mystique, the very last thing you do is dress up like a cowboy.

The songwriter chose to reiterate the false but popular stereotype that to be a gay man is to be both “strange” and feminine. I don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with a gay man who wants to be feminine. But, it is stereotyping to call any gay person “strange” merely for being gay. And the reality is that there are gay men in real life who are masculine and somehow are also very happy with their masculinity.

here for the rest.

Okay, I cut my teeth on the issue of stereotyping when I was studying RTF at the University of Texas back in the 90s, so I could go on and on about this, but it's getting late, and I think I can make my point concisely, anyway. So I'll try to be brief.

For starters, I agree with a lot of what this fellow has to say. Being gay isn't necessarily the same thing as gender-bending or transexualism or being in touch with one's feminine side, whatever you want to call it. There are, obviously, as many different kinds of gay people as there are straight people. On the other hand, I think that his analysis of the song is something of a knee-jerk reaction. That is, upon a second reading of the lyrics (see above link to my original post), the song does not at all appear to be attempting to straightjacket gay men into some kind of narrowly defined picture of what it means to be gay. In other words, the song seems to be about one guy's take on one kind of gayness, and doesn't really try to present itself as anything but that. I mean, he's obviously not writing about all cowboys, so I think it's unfair to assume that he's writing about all gay men.

But then, there aren't that many pop songs about gay themes out there, either. Consequently, songs and other cultural artifacts containing gay themes that manage to break through into the mainstream are often put under a microscope and end up, whether intended or not, as representative of all gays in many people's eyes. Like it or not, that seems to be the cultural environment in which we live. Unfortunately, this presents a dilemma for artists who wish to deal with gay themes. Because such works of art will most certainly be taken as speaking for or about all homosexuals, it becomes almost impossible to artistically examine gay subpopulations or gay individuals in ways that are honest and thorough: artists dealing with gay themes are virtually forced to be universal.

But then, there are competing ideas about what is universally gay, competing ideas about what is universally masculine or feminine, yadda, yadda, yadda. In other words, gay art, transgendered art, etc., are problematic in our society from the get-go. Indeed, the concept of homosexuality, and heterosexuality, too, for that matter, is problematic itself, as is the concept of gender. What, exactly, does it mean to be gay? Clearly, one can engage in homosexual behavior, but not listen to Judy Garland records or go to gay bars. What, exactly, does it mean to be a woman? Clearly, one can posess female biological traits, but not enjoy cooking or sewing or children. Same thing with men in reverse. So it's not just cultural behavior, not just biology, not just sexual orientation. It's an extraordinarily complicated discussion to which, at this point, there are no clear cut answers.

Indeed, the complexity of the issues here have been understood for the last decade or so in academia, where all these issues have been bundled into one bigtop subject area known as queer theory.

From Wikipedia:

Queer theory

Queer theory is an anti-essentialist theory about sex and gender within the larger field of Queer studies. It proposes that one's sexual identity and one's gender identity are partly or wholly socially constructed, and therefore individuals cannot really be described using broad terms like "homosexual," "heterosexual," "man," or "woman." It challenges the common practice of compartmentalizing the description of a person to fit into one particular category.

In particular, it questions the use of socially assigned categories based on the division between those who share some habit or lifestyle and those who do not. Instead, queer theorists suggest complicating all identity categories and groups.

Additionally, queer theory also analyzes the "queer" aspects of a humanist work (such as in literature, music, art, etc.) that are not necessarily sexual. In this regard, "queer" is used to mean "strange" or "different" in the sense that a particular work does not fit within the general rules of a particular genre or category, yet is still classified as being a part of that genre or category.

here for the rest.

So I think what this blogger is hitting his head against is this kind of complexity arising from the paradoxes, contradictions, and ambiguities that arise from our culture's understanding, or lack thereof, of sex and gender. Ultimately, the bottom line for me with Willie's new song is that it clearly celebrates alternative sexuality, clearly celebrates gender exploration. It's not only pro-gay, it's pro-queer. Whether or not the song's writer is on whatever is ultimately decided to be the right page, as far as these subjects are concerned, is, for the moment, irrelevant: this is a song that makes it okay to be gay, and okay for a man to be a bit girly, and the fact that Willie is performing it means that a lot of Americans are going to hear that message.

Surely that's a concept that gay-friendly people can get behind.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Yet another disturbing sign. From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Bush says he'll veto effort to block port deal

Earlier, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist urged the administration to reconsider its decision to allow the transaction, under which a British company that has been running six U.S. ports would be acquired by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates. Frist said he'd introduce a bill to delay the deal if the administration doesn't do so on its own.

The British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., runs major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.


Critics have noted that some of the 9/11 hijackers used the UAE as an operational and financial base. In addition, they contend the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.

Click here for the rest.

So the point is, if you haven't been following the story, that even though the United Arab Emirates may be officially listed by the US as an ally in the "war on terror," there are serious doubts about where their loyalties may really lie. And this isn't simply a Middle Eastern company that's buying these port operations; this company is actually owned by the UAE. So if the UAE, in fact, supports terrorism, allowing them to take over these ports is essentially handing terrorists the key to the city. Not a good idea. Bush claims that everything has been checked out, but seems unwilling to share his information. As far as I know he hasn't even tried to refute the allegations about 9/11 and nuclear tech transfer.

So what's going on here? Maybe Bush is right and it's just a case of arrogance on his part: I can do this; I'm the President and don't have to explain my actions. That wouldn't be surprising given how up against the wall they seem to be at the White House. It is, however, politically stupid. On the other hand, I'm inclined to believe what I wrote as the title to this post. Bush just isn't interested in homeland security. I've written several times about mind-boggling examples of how, over four years after 9/11, America seems completely unprepared to deal with terrorism at home, which includes, but is not limited to FEMA's dismal response to Hurricane Katrina, unguarded chemical and petroleum plants, and weird border incidents such as allowing the psycho-killer from Canada into the US with his bloody chainsaw.

It's almost as though Bush wants another high profile terrorist attack here, which is also not surprising, because fear has been the one thing that he's been able to consistently turn into votes. At this point, most of the nation has had it with his overall agenda. Except for anti-terrorism, which still seems to be polling above 50% approval. Another successful attack might be just the thing to send frightened citizens to the ballot box to support the tough guy Republicans in November.

But then, I'm fairly paranoid these days, myself. Here's a saner opinion on the subject from CNN's Jack Cafferty, courtesy of Eschaton:

Wolf, this may be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back, this deal to sell control of six US ports to a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates. There are now actually Senators and Congressmen and Governors and Mayors telling the White House "you're not gonna do this." And it's about time. No one has said "no" to this administration on anything that matters in a very long time. Well this matters. It matters a lot. If this deal is allowed to go through, we deserve whatever we get. A country with ties to terrorists will have a presence at six critical doorways to our country. And if anyone thinks that the terrorists, in time, won't figure out how to exploit that, then we're all done. Nothing's happened yet, mind you, but if our elected representatives don't do everything in their power to stop this thing, each of us should vow to work tirelessly to see that they are removed from public office. We're at a crossroads - which way will we choose?Here's the question: What should be done to stop a deal that would allow an Arab company to run US Ports??

Click here for some video of the commentary courtesy of First Draft, courtesy again of Eschaton.

Well, okay, Cafferty sounds pretty nutty too, but I guess that's just the times in which we live. At any rate, this whole deal stinks. Bush needs to either explain where he's coming from much better, or call the whole thing off. I bet neither happens.


Monday, February 20, 2006

"big government liberals"

From Eschaton in response to a post made by conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan:

I don't know any "big government liberals" in the sense that Andy means. I don't know anybody who gets a stiffy at the thought of raising taxes and increasing government spending as a share of GDP just for the hell of it. Liberals I know tend to think there are things government should do and we should, roughly, figure out how to pay for those things, though we're not entirely allergic to deficit spending. When taxes have to go up to cover interest and debt repayment costs no liberals I know are going to go "YAY! HIGHER TAXES! WOO HOOO!"

For a long time the Left was tarred as idealistic utopians, addicted to ways of doing things no matter what the consequences. I have no real opinion on whether that criticism was ever true, but in any case it's something which has been embraced wholesale by the Right. They have a small government fetish, and that fetish is linked almost entirely to the top marginal federal income tax rate. Liberals have no such corresponding fetish for "big government" even if they tend to be fans of some government programs conservatives like to demonize as being "big government liberalism." No one's going to enjoy sweeping up after Bush's fiscal train wreck.

Click here for the rest.

This kind of echoes something I was saying saying last week when I was writing about Paul Craig Roberts:

Roberts reminds me that I'm less of a liberal and more of a pragmatist. That is, I have a certain set of social goals, food, clothing, shelter, and health care for all, for instance, that I want to see achieved, but I don't really care how we get there: if conservative programs can do it, then sign me up. It just so happens that most conservatives don't really seem to care about my social goals, so it's progressivism for me, for now.

I should clarify at this point, that this is not to be construed as meaning that someday I might again embrace conservatism. Even though I think there are some good conservative ideas, generally I want change, lots of change, which makes me forevermore a bleeding-hearted liberal. However, as a liberal, I want to keep an open mind about how that change can be accomplished, which means seriously considering conservative ideas and proposals.

All of this means that I may or may not be a "big government liberal" depending on the circumstances--sometimes my assertions may even make me look like a "small government conservative." But then, as Atrios observes, the term "big government liberal" is so weird and vague as to not have any real meaning. I don't want more government for its own sake. Really, even suggesting such a thing is downright insulting. Who the hell wants more government just because? This particular government I certainly don't want more of. No, I believe that government does both good and bad things. I want to see it do more of the good and less of the bad. Or, ideally, as much good as possible, and as little bad as possible.

That seems sensible to me, but the conservative notion of smaller government being better just because simply boggles my mind. It's almost like a religious belief. All bureaucracies suffer a certain amount of waste and inefficiency, and this includes the businesses that conservatives prize so highly as a model for organizational performance. What I really think is that the whole small government meme came out of conservative frustration with decades of Democratic dominance in Washington: not being able to implement their own programs, conservatives simply began to rail away on the concept of government itself. See what's happened now that the GOP is in power? Government has continued to grow, picking up the pace even, and while the small government concept survives rhetorically, it is essentially dead in practice.

Apparently, everybody is in favor of big governement when it's doing what they want it to do.


Can You Say "Permanent Bases"?

TomDispatch, courtesy of Washington Monthly's blog Political Animal, courtesy of the Daily Kos:

How can anybody tell if the Bush administration is actually withdrawing from Iraq or not? Sometimes, when trying to cut through a veritable fog of misinformation and disinformation, it helps to focus on something concrete. In the case of Iraq, nothing could be more concrete -- though less generally discussed in our media -- than the set of enormous bases the Pentagon has long been building in that country. Quite literally multi-billions of dollars have gone into them. In a prestigious engineering magazine in late 2003, Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq, was already speaking proudly of several billion dollars being sunk into base construction ("the numbers are staggering"). Since then, the base-building has been massive and ongoing.

In a country in such startling disarray, these bases, with some of the most expensive and advanced communications systems on the planet, are like vast spaceships that have landed from another solar system. Representing a staggering investment of resources, effort, and geostrategic dreaming, they are the unlikeliest places for the Bush administration to hand over willingly to even the friendliest of Iraqi governments.


There are at least four such "super-bases" in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with "withdrawal" from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and military commanders say -- and they always deny that we seek "permanent" bases in Iraq -– facts-on-the-ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream "permanency."

Unfortunately, there's a problem here. American reporters adhere to a simple rule: The words "permanent," "bases," and "Iraq" should never be placed in the same sentence, not even in the same paragraph; in fact, not even in the same news report.

Click here for the rest.

In terms of my post about journalist "objectivity" and narrative construction from a few days ago, it seems that the storyline here is that, despite a great deal of unreported evidence to the contrary, the Pentagon and White House's goal is to eventually get out of Iraq when it's "democracy" is ready to roll. Obviously, that's just a storyline. I've been saying for some months now that I feel pretty certain that the US will never leave Iraq, not as long as the world economy depends on oil. Look at it this way, assuming that the neo-con architects of the invasion aren't as stupid as the missing WMDs or futility of Iraqi democracy might suggest, one must conclude that those motivations have always been cover stories, and that the real goal in Iraq is something else. And what might that be? It really is about the oil. Not in a simple now-it's-our-oil way, but in a corner-the-market way. That is, establishing a strong and lasting US military presence in the middle of the world's largest oil deposits essentially gives the American elite control over the spigot. Everybody's spigot. The kind of influence, sway, and leverage such a move gives the US in all dealings with other nations is unimaginable. The neo-cons have effectively transmuted America's unsurpassed military power into vast economic power. In the long term the US will have the ability virtually control the world's flow of oil, control all oil markets. And control of oil means control of everything because everything depends on oil. That's why we're building permanent bases in Iraq, and that's why not even a change of administration, even from Republican to Democrat, will make one bit of difference. The prize is just too tempting.

We'll have bases in Iraq for the rest of my life and longer. Sick, isn't it?


Sunday, February 19, 2006


Hello there blogosphere. Tara here, not feeling the least bit pressured to make my official first entry here at Real Art (thanks Ron). I decided to write about what I know; or at least what I have been thinking about as of late. I am an avid NPR listener (to listen online or find your own public radio station go to http://npr.org) and heard a broadcast recently about the anniversary of the death of Francois Mitterrand. Mitterrand was the first Socialist president of France. He led for 23 years, abolished the death penalty in France, etc. etc. This is all well and good, but the topic of my first official blog is his last meal. Before dying of cancer in 1981, he and 30 friends dined on a fancy French dish known as ortolan. The meal is made by capturing a thumb-sized yellow-throated songbird (the ortolan), force-feeding it, drowning it in a brandy-like liqueur called Armagnac, plucking it , then baking it. It is eaten head, bones, and all under a white linen cloth to retain the aroma. It is also thought that originally the bird is eaten under a cloth to hide from God the sin of killing one of his smallest creations.

Now being the bleeding-heart, liberal, vegetarian that I am, I was mortified at the thought of of this now illegal meal (the little tiny ortolan is endangered thanks to the cruelty of French cuisine). I thought, this man and his 30 buddies must have been cruel people, sadists. And then I heard more. The ortolan is thought to enbody the soul of France. Mitterrand, after eating the bird in the traditional way, refused to eat another bite for the next eight days until he succumbed to his cancer. Even thinking of it now brings tears to my eyes. This man wanted to find the perfect way to end his life, in my humble opinion. He wanted to pay tribute to the country he loved with the people he loved. He found a peace or a sense of closure by ingesting the very soul of his country. And having attoned or taken in or whatever he thought he had done by eating that dish, he was done. He allowed himself to leave. He chose his own ending.

The ability to end your own life in your own way is a really hot-button topic in our country and I am an advocate of an individuals right to chose (in many areas of life and death). And I am a fan of symbols in our own life, of symbolic gestures. I know little to nothing of Francois Mitterrand outside of his last meal, but the class of his final gesture touches me. It is truely beautiful. DISCLAIMER: I think I would still hit someone trying to catch a little tiny bird to torture and eat-- Mitterrand didn't change my mind about that.

Abbreviated parades roll in N.O.
to smaller but enthusiastic crowds

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Thin crowds and a rapid stream of floats from several downsized parades made for an abbreviated burst of Carnival activity Saturday in New Orleans.

Chilly temperatures and overcast skies did little to add a sense of festivity to the first day of the city's condensed 2006 parade season. But thousands of hardy celebrants made the best of the situation, many of them happy simply to have Carnival back at all.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the city reduced this year's parade schedule to eight days -- two days this weekend and six straight days starting Thursday -- and booked parades one after another on most days, all following the traditional Uptown route along St. Charles Avenue.

The krewes of Pontchartrain, Shangri-La, Pygmalion, Knights of Sparta and Pegasus paraded Saturday.

here for the rest.

The Big Easy really needs this: Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout Louisiana, and in other states, but only in New Orleans does it fully flower into a true world class
Carnival. It is one of many aspects that makes the Crescent City unique. Pushing through with the parades and celebrations this year is a statement to the world that New Orleans will not die.

I've never done Mardi Gras in N.O. before. Maybe Becky and I'll take the hour and a half drive there next weekend to scramble for beads.

Hand crafted leather Mardi Gras masks sit in a Decatur Street shop last May waiting for February. Did they make it through the chaos after Katrina? I don't know.


Pat Robertson Accused of Damaging Movement

From the AP via the Washington Post courtesy of
Crooks and Liars:

Fellow conservative religious leaders have expressed concern and even open criticism over Pat Robertson's habit of shooting from the hip on his daily religious news-and-talk television program, "The 700 Club."

The Christian Coalition founder and former GOP presidential candidate has said American agents should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for pulling Israel out of the Gaza Strip.

Some observers say Robertson, who'll turn 76 next month, courts controversy as a strategy to stay recognizable and keep his followers mobilized. Others say he remains important to the evangelical movement that he helped create when he established the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network in 1960 but he needs to stop damaging it with his words.

here for the rest.

So, Robertson is an inflammatory nut even by fundamentalist standards. I suppose that would make me feel better about fundamentalism in general except for the fact that the entire movement itself is also completely psychotic. According to the article, one of Robertson's critics observes that "he tries to interpret contemporary events as 'being part of the drama of God's activity in the world." That's true enough, but ignores the fact that most fundamentalists see current events as part of a larger spirtual struggle. The whole lot of them are millenialists. That is, they believe that humanity is now experiencing the first days of "the end times," wherein the forces of good and evil will do battle in the Middle East--good will eventually win and will establish a holy worldwide regime, ruled by Jesus himself, that will last a thousand years. Then the Earth will be destroyed and all who are not evil will live in eternity with the Father. Actually, their interpretation of the strange visions of the apostle John found in the book of Revelation is even weirder than that, but you get the idea. Fundamentalists also believe that human society is permeated by invisible demons and angels who are locked in constant spiritual warfare over each and every soul. Yes, that's right: they're fighting right now, right next to YOU. They're totally nuts. My best bet is that these fundamentalist leaders have more of a problem with Robertson creating controversy and turning off supporters by speaking so frankly than they do with his theology.

Oh yeah, don't forget that our President is also a fundamentalist.




If you check out Real Art regularly, which most people don't, which is okay, really, you know that from time to time my former student from Baytown, Miles, who now attends my old school the University of Texas, will make a post here. He's welcome to post more, which he knows, but is clearly quite busy studying journalism in Austin. (C'mon, Miles, post more!) Actually, the whole idea for him posting here was his; he tried his own blog for awhile, but decided it was too much trouble to keep up with, and pitched the concept of writing here part time. It's worked out well, I think: we don't agree on everything, but we're close enough ideologically, and it's always cool to get another perspective.

With that in mind, I recently invited my buddy Tara from LSU, who often comments here, and who got her MFA in acting last spring and has moved on from Baton Rouge to another part of the country, to join what is now the Real Art team. Like me and Miles, Tara and I don't agree on everything, but we're both quite liberal, and with the added benefit of her concern for art and culture. Which might make for some interesting debate. She's a good writer, with a keen analytical mind. I'm looking forward to whatever she has to say.

So sometime in the near future, expect to hear from her--be sure to check the name tag at the bottom of each post to see if it's Tara, me, or Miles.

the real art team