Monday, April 30, 2012



This story broke a couple of weeks ago and will hardy surprise anyone who knows the Catholic Church's attitude toward women and GLBT people. I'll be the first to admit that after suffering under semi-iterate nuns in grammar school who enforced party line and physically abused children, I was astounded to find a nun in my class at a Jewish-affiliated graduate school, Brandeis University. Her entire convent had voted to go out into the world, each woman studying a different subject and then, two years and a Masters Degree later, regroup and decide what major social issue (there were many in the late 1960s) in which they would work to affect change. I quickly understood that at a time of huge transformation in American culture, these women were going to be the adults in the room -- compared to the all-male Catholic hierarchy -- by doing serious, much-needed work. The following article (from Towleroad) makes it obvious that they've remained steadfast and are still working toward their various and admirable goals.

Vatican Cracks Down on American Nuns for Not Being Anti-Gay Enough

The Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America's 55,000 nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women's ordination. America's Catholic nuns are getting too out-of-control for Rome, the Washington Post reports:

The Vatican called "inadequate" an explanation from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that it did "not knowingly invite speakers who take a stand against a teaching of the church when it has been declared as authoritative teaching, and suggested that the nuns are not loud enough on abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage. The Vatican announcement said that "while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church's social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death."

It added that "crucial" issues like "the Church's biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by bishops, who are the Church's authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not comparable with its purpose."

The New York Times adds:
Word of the Vatican's action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group's leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the investigation, which began in 2008.

"I'm stunned," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Cathoic social justice lobby founded by sisters.   Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping "silent" on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Melinda Henneberger wrote a follow-up article in the Washington Post:
The response from the general public was enormous and overwhelmingly sympathetic to the sisters. The forced reform immediately sparked online petitions, tributes and T-shirts that say, "I'm with her."

And the response did not neatly break down along partisan lines. "I always see the priests at the country club," a conservative Catholic friend wrote me in response to my earlier column on the slap from Rome, "while the nuns work their heads off and eat at home."

A commenter on the Washington Post site put it this way: "The American Bishops should be washing the feet of these nuns and sisters!" And after the Jesuit writer the Rev. James Martin asked Catholics to express their support by tweeting #WhatSistersMeanToMe, his Twitter campaign went viral.   "Several of my sister friends told me how saddened they were by the new document on the LCWR," Martin told me.  "So I thought it would be a good time to express gratitude for the unbelievably inspiring work that Catholic sisters do and have done: For God, for the Church and for the poor . . . I couldn't imagine my life or the Church without these women."

"Thanks to the Poor Clares for praying for me when I had cancer," one man wrote. "I don't believe any bishops did that."

UPDATE: this op-ed piece by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times appeared on line today (Tuesday).  Major excerpts :

"Even as Republicans try to wrestle women into chastity belts, the Vatican is trying to muzzle American nuns. Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns? While continuing to heal and educate, the community of sisters is aging and dying out because few younger women are willing to make such sacrifices for a church determined to bring women to heel. Yet the nuns must be yanked into line by the crepuscular, medieval men who run the Catholic Church. How can the church hierarchy be more offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor than by priests’ sordid pedophilia? How do you take spiritual direction from a church that seems to be losing its soul?

It has become a habit for the church to go after women. A Worcester, Mass., bishop successfully fought to get a commencement speech invitation taken away from Vicki Kennedy, widow of Teddy Kennedy, because of her positions on some social issues. And an Indiana woman named Emily Herx has filed a lawsuit saying she was fired from her job teaching in a Catholic school and denounced as a “grave, immoral sinner” by the parish pastor after she used fertility treatments to try to get pregnant with her husband.

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic lobbying group slapped in the Vatican report, said it scares the church hierarchy to have “educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.”  Given the damage done by the pedophilia scandals, she said, “the church’s obsession, at times, with the sexual relationships is a serious problem.”
Instead of looking deep into its own heart and soul, the church is going after the women who are the heart and soul of parishes, schools and hospitals.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

One thing bothers me more than most -- it is when erroneous information is published when the truth is easily available and, in fact, relatively well known.  (In the case at hand I am not referring to the current presidential primary race, although it could stand as a landmark event in the spreading of outright lies).  No, the subject is a very interesting piece of art recently rediscovered and which is now claimed to be something it is not:

Earliest Painting Of Transvestite Uncovered in London Gallery
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor at HuffPost Arts,  4/20/2012

 An 18th-century portrait sold in New York to a British gallery as a "woman in a feathered hat" turns out to actually portray a man dressed as a woman, becoming the earliest known painting of a transvestite.

Image courtesy of Philip Mould Ltd.

"The transvestite painting, now called the "Chevalier D'Eon," is currently hanging in the Philip Mould Ltd. gallery in London and will possibly become a permanent feature in the British National Portraits Gallery, said art dealer and art historian Philip Mould, director of Philip Mould Ltd.

"We spent 30 years honing our skills at looking at British portraits, and you begin to spot anomalies," Mould told LiveScience. "Portraiture, despite the diversity of odd-looking people in the world, particularly in the 19th century, before advances in cosmetic science and dentistry and medical advances had taken place, but portraiture is always extremely straight-laced."  The finished portrait was typically a compromise between the artist (who was painting what he or she saw) and the sitter (who wanted to look their best); that means anomalies of facial features can be subtle.
"Something about the "muscularity of his face" and a "suggestion of stubble" caught Mould's eye as odd. So Mould and a team of his "lost faces bureau" went to work to figure out the sitter in this painting, and along the way ended up finding the actual artist of the work.

"Once the painting had been cleaned and restored, "his masculine traits became far more manifest," Mould said, including the masculine-angled face shape and the facial hair stubble. The other thing they noticed was the signature of the artist, which had been listed as Gilbert Stuart, actually was "T. Stewart."  Putting the pieces together, including the fact that Charles D'Eon spent a fair amount of time on the stage fencing, the team nailed down the painter as Thomas Stewart, who also spent a lot of time in the theatre, Mould said.

"Since the painting's unveiling this week, "we've had an interesting succession of individuals coming to pay homage," Mould said. "It's a combination of mirth and respect for a man who was bold enough, brave enough, but also extrovert enough to state his case."  In fact, D'Eon apparently lived the second half of his life as a transvestite during a time when cross-dressing was essentially unheard of.

"Here's how D'Eon's transvestitism came to pass: He joined King Louis XV's secret service in 1755, had his first major military posting in London in 1763, before being appointed Plenipotentiary Minister to London. However, within months, he had a falling-out with the ambassador appointed to replace him in London, accusing the ambassador of trying to murder him. D'Eon also made public secret documents and ended up being sent to prison, which he escaped.  

"Once escaped, D'Eon concealed his identity, reportedly, by dressing as a woman. Gossip about his gender began in 1770, with rumors that people were even betting on whether he was a man or a woman.  "D'Eon refused all offers to confirm or deny the rumor," Simon Burrows, professor of modern history at the University of Leeds, said in a statement in 2010. "He also demanded the French government pay off his debts and they agreed, terrified he would betray state secrets, including plans to invade England."

"And after that, apparently D'Eon was forced to adopt female dress, and others accepted him as a female. So much so, that the truth was only revealed upon a medical examination after his death on May 21, 1810, which revealed his very male anatomy. Reportedly, his housekeeper did not "recover from the shock for many hours," according to the gallery.  The term "eonism," which is used in psychiatry to describe male adoption of female dress and manners, was derived from D'Eon's name."

OK, so the painting was sold in New York and then shipped to the UK.  Exactly on what basis the painting was declared to be the earliest transvestite portrait really isn't mentioned in the article.  From reading Mr. D'Eon's biographical note on the web, however, a date for the painting in the second half of the 18th century is certain, particularly after 1770 when his cross-dressing became habitual and tongues started wagging.

BUT, there is another transvestite painting, with strong connections to New York City and also to the 18th century British government, that has been "out" for a very long time, and is on permanent exhibit at the New York Historical Society.  It's subject is well-known and its story circulates at intervals as writers and reporters discover it by chance, or by historians researching the period.

Above is the portrait of The Honorable Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury (1638–1709) who was named Governor of New York and New Jersey by Queen Anne (a relative of his), from 1701 to 1708, in which position he earned a very foul reputation.   His story is told in his Wikipedia biography:

Cornbury came to be regarded in the historical literature as a moral profligate, sunk in corruption: possibly the worst governor Britain ever imposed on an American colony. The early accounts claim he took bribes and plundered the public treasury. Nineteenth century historian George Bancroft said that Cornbury illustrated the worst form of the English aristocracy's "arrogance, joined to intellectual imbecility". Later historians characterize him as a "degenerate and pervert who is said to have spent half of his time dressed in women's clothes", a "fop and a wastrel". He is said to have delivered a "flowery panegyric on his wife's ears" after which he invited every gentleman present to feel precisely how shell-like they were; to have misappropriated £1500 meant for the defense of New York Harbor, and, scandalously, to have dressed in women's clothing and lurked "behind trees to pounce, shrieking with laughter, on his victims".

Cornbury is reported to have opened the 1702 New York Assembly clad in a hooped gown and an elaborate headdress and carrying a fan, imitative of the style of Queen Anne. When his choice of clothing was questioned, he replied, "You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman (the Queen), and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can." It is also said that in August 1707, when his wife Lady Cornbury died, His High Mightiness (as he preferred to be called) attended the funeral again dressed as a woman. It was shortly after this that mounting complaints from colonists prompted the Queen to remove Cornbury from office.

Given that Lord Cornbury died in 1709, his portrait must predate the D'Eon painting by at least 50 to 60 years.  But, come to think of it, there have been other transvestites who have been portrayed in art who predate both these men by centuries -- this one, for example:

The very well-known Joan of Arc who, once she began her famous mission to lead the French in ousting the English from France,  renounced female clothing completely.  This painting dates from 1485. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

And here, as a native New Yorker, I thought it was just the NYC sewers that had alligators in them: 

Alligator captured in Charles River

Ah, the pleasures of canoeing on the majestic Charles River. The splash of the paddle in the water, the geese flapping through the air, the turtles and fish finning their way through the water, the alligator sunning itself on a log.

Whoa, hold on there. An alligator?  Yes, an alligator.

An alligator spotted Thursday by a canoeist paddling on the Charles River south of Boston was captured this morning, state officials said.  The reptile was captured at about 6:30 a.m. by a specialist from Rainforest Reptile Shows in Beverly, said Wendy Fox, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Topher Cox, 38, of Needham, an advertising photographer, said this morning that he had bought a canoe on and was taking it out for a spin Thursday afternoon when he saw the alligator, which he estimated was about four feet long, on the river off of Needham Street in Dedham near the Needham line.

Cox took a picture with his cellphone, then maneuvered closer.

"I thought it was fake at first. ... But I bumped the log and, sure enough, it jumped on into the water," said Cox.  Cox admitted he was a little bit afraid. "Of course," he said. "There's an alligator in the water, albeit not huge."

Cox called 911 on his cellphone and once people figured out that he was serious, the Dedham police dispatched officers, and the Needham animal control officer also responded. An expert from Rainforest Reptile searched Thursday afternoon, then returned to the spot this morning, eventually grabbing the animal with his bare hands, Cox said.

The animal slipped away, but Ralbovsky knew it would return, seeking warm sun this morning, so he was out on the water at daybreak, he said.  "He set up house right in that area. I knew we were going to be able to find him," he said.  Ralbovsky said he reached into the water and grabbed the alligator by the neck. The animal didn't fight much because it was cold.

Ralbovsky said somebody who owned the alligator had turned it loose illegally. The animal was healthy and will now be used in Rainforest Reptile shows until it gets too large -- it's expected to grow to 12 feet long -- when it will be transferred to an alligator farm in Texas or Florida, he said.
For Cox, who will be shooting a bank ad in Maine next week, it was a unique experience.
"I certainly wasn't expecting to see an alligator that day and I don't know that I'll ever be paddling down the Charles and see one again," said Cox. "So I feel pretty honored to have seen this animal close up."


In all the stories and technical explications that have been published about the sinking of the Titanic on its hundredth anniversary, one bit of melancholy history came out that wasn't mentioned in the famous Water Lord book or anywhere else to my knowledge.  From an article about what happened to the Titanic's lifeboats by Mike Pollock in the April 13th New York Times:

One of the Titanic's collapsible lifeboats approaching the Carpathia

"A coda to the rescue of the lifeboats came on May 15, 1912, exactly one month after the sinking, according to “Titanic Tragedy.” The Oceanic, steaming west, encountered one of the Titanic’s collapsible lifeboats, riding low in the water with three bodies in it. One was a passenger wearing black tie and a fur-collared overcoat; the others were a coal stoker and a seaman. After Oceanic crew members brought shrouds and a Bible for burying the dead at sea, the boat was hauled aboard and it, too, was taken to New York."

Pollock mentions that when the rescue ship Carpathia arrived in New York City where friends and relatives of the survivors were anxiously waiting for them, the Carpathia went first to the pier of the White Star, owners of the Titanic, and dropper its lifeboats there before proceeding back south to Pier 54 to let the survivors reunite with their loved ones.  The Titanic's boats were used on other White Star liners as it was obvious no other ships could ever again operate without lifeboats for every person on board.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Miracles Do Happen: Gay Imam Blesses the Union of Same-Sex Muslim Couple ~ item from the blog Queerty

It seems that there is at least one Muslim clergyman out there willing to break ranks with Islam’s unfavorable view of gay people.

According to Al Arabiya, a gay Mauritian imam named Jamal presided over the marriage of Ludovic Mohamed Zahed, a French man of Algerian origin, (on right in photo) and Qiyam al-Din (left) in Din’s native South Africa earlier this year.  Furthermore, Zahed says Jamal introduced him to his new life partner at a conference on AIDS in South Africa a few months earlier.

Zahed tells France 24 TV of how he met his new partner through the gay imam:
“I was in the lecture hall when an imam, who incidentally is gay himself, introduced me to Din. We discovered we had a lot in common and a mutual admiration was cemented. I stayed on after the convention for two months, deciding to get married, since South African laws were more friendly [to same sex unions]…
“Being married in front of my family, was like a new start of life for me, I could have never imagined such a day would come, seeing the joy in my parents’ eyes after they had battled with my sexuality and tried with all their might to change the course of my sexual orientation.”
Zahed and Din returned to France recently, but have been having trouble getting their marriage recognized by the French government. Continues Al Arabiya:
"Zahed wants to pursue his doctoral studies in Islam and homosexuality and he also heads an organization that researches issues relating to Islam and homosexuality. He said his absolute priority is to get a legal permit for his new spouse to stay and work in France.
The couple does not intend to travel to an Arab or Muslim nation for fear of being discriminated against. “We want to stay in France, because my husband really likes this country. However, if it becomes impossible for him to stay, we will return to South Africa to live.”
What an amazing, inspiring story. Zahed and Din can hold out hope that Francois Hollande will beat Nicolas Sarkozy in the upcoming French presidential election. Hollande has stated he will push the legalization of gay marriage as a priority in 2013.


I included a picture from our walk-around in Nashua, NH a couple of posts ago.  Here's another of the pictures I took, a gilded eagle on the tower of a church on Nashua's main drag.  I'm not sure what the intent of the sculptor was but I don't see the configuration of the eagle's head and "neck" (do eagles have necks as we know them?) as being  anatomically correct.  We went up close and underneath, we went far away, we went across the street and on the side, but no matter where we viewed the eagle, that angle never worked.  I came to think of it as Brokeneck Eagle, and wondered if it wouldn't have looked better as a hood ornament on some massive 1950s Buick or Chevrolet.


I found this picture on the web -- I don't remember where -- and fell in love with it.  The closeness of the man and his dog, who was perhaps not feeling very well or simply scared to be going to the Vet, is so sweet.  And the big dog looks like a cuddly stuffed animal.


New England has several Shaker villages, most open for the public to visit.  The Shakers are for all intents and purposes extinct; one or two young people have in recent years elected to become Shakers, but after the lengthy continuing tradition of large numbers of Shakers living communally according to well-defined gender roles had ended.

About an hour by car from us is the town of Canterbury, NH. where Mother Ann, the leader of religious dissidents from England called the United Society of Believers (popularly, Shakers because they engaged in ecstatic dance as part of their worship), who had immigrated to the American colonies in 1774, established the Shakers' seventh community in 1792.

Shakers practiced celibacy, so if their numbers were to be maintained or to grow, it had to be by attracting new members from outside the community.  While Shakers lived in specific, self-contained agricultural and industrial communities, they did not deplore or wish to escape from the world at large, but to engage with it toward the goal of improving the quality of life.  In the 19th century, which saw experiments in utopian communities of varying kinds in several places in the U.S., the Shakers were extremely prosperous.  Their "brand" grew to include not only their famous furniture and wooden goods, but also garden and farm seeds, preserves and patent medicines, and a great many devices invented in the Village's workshops, among other products.

At its height in the 1850s the Canterbury Village numbered 300 men, women, and the children of members who joined as existing families; its lands consisted of 3000 acres on which there were 100 buildings including the original Meeting House dating to the 1792 founding, as well as many other 18th and early 19th century structures, most of which survive.

The 20th century saw a long, slow decline in membership which ended in 1992, exactly 200 years after Canterbury's founding, with the death of the last Shaker in residence, Ethel Hudson, who had helped arrange the conversion of the village into a non-profit museum and education center.  (The last few surviving Shakers from other communities were taken into secure retirement at the Sabbathday Lake, Maine Village.)

The Village has extensive gardens from which seeds and plants can be purchased, an appealingly simple restaurant serving food prepared from Shaker recipes, and a superb store that features art and craft items built by contemporary craftsmen working to the designs and standards of the original artisans.  The Village is a national Historical Landmark.

We are members of the Museum and visit it occasionay, sometimes with vacationing friends or relatives.  We've also bought gifts from the shop.  And over the years we've seen the development of many supportive events and programs the museum has instituted to generate funds sufficient to maintain its many buildings, and the vehicles and machinery that do the heavy work on the property.  Here is the latest, from the Village's announcement posted on the internet:

Days of Peace and Harmony  May 16 - May 20

"The Drepung Gomang Monks will visit the Village in the days leading up to our season's Opening Day on Sunday, May 20, when tours will begin and buildings will open.

"Witness the creation of a sacred sand mandala, participate in traditional Buddhist stone painting, and see the monks' costumed Snow Lion Dance. Learn about the parallels between Shaker and Buddhist traditions and the monks' concepts of community, compassion and the monastic life.

"This is a joint fundraising event in support of Canterbury Shaker Village and the Drepung Gomang Monastery. In lieu of an admittance fee, we would appreciate a suggested donation at the time of registration."

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The rusting hulk, below, is a Japanese shrimper ripped from its moorings when the tsunami hit; it was then swept out to sea and into the Japan Current when the masses of water receded.  It was expected that a huge floating debris field from the disaster would eventually reach the west coast of the U.S., some of which seems to have arrived early during the past winter--more apparently is still to come.

This battered derelict was more dangerous than the rest because, drifting aimlessly, it represented a major hazard in the shipping lanes and because its fuel tanks were at least partly filled.

The American Coast Guard was afraid of the diesel oil polluting coastal waters. So, instead of towing it into a port and pumping its tanks, they shot holes in it, setting it on fire and, finally lobbed an artillery shell at it, sinking it.  So, its tanks will now corrode in the salt water and all the oil will seep out directly into the very coastal waters they claimed they wanted to protect.  Does this make any sense?


This interesting bit of news came from the BBC:

The Vatican owns about 20% of Italy's properties

"Italy's Catholic Church faces an annual multi-million euro bill over government plans to strip it of its tax-exempt status.   Prime Minister Mario Monti has announced the Vatican must pay taxes on non-religious property, from which it previously enjoyed an exemption.
"The annual cost could be up to 720 million euros ($945m; £598m) according to municipal government bodies.  Italy's Catholic Church has 110,000 properties, worth about 9bn euros.  It includes shopping centres and a range of residential property."

I don't expect to see it happen, but I would love it if all church properties in the U.S. were made subject to taxation.


The America the right wing Churches and a large segment of the Republican Party would like to return to -- the American woman as some combination of indentured servant and harem wife:

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?