Saturday, December 29, 2012

 

Stories, New and Old



After the recent re-election of president Obama, along with the surge in support for gay rights and same-sex marriage across the nation (if not in all the states), I felt that we might be at a tipping point in this country much earlier than I had anticipated.  But the fall out from the statement made by the the vice-president of the NRA in the wake of the Newtown, CT elementary school massacre convinces me that we may indeed be there. 

These cover pages from the two leading tabloid newspapers in New York City would have been unthinkable even last year so conservative are they (the Post even more so than the Daily News).  But Wayne LaPierre's belligerent justification of ownership of assault weapons along with his proposals to arm progressively more and more people was denounced by the president, by lawmakers from both parties, and by a significant number of educators, mayors,
police chiefs, and governors across the country.  The negative reaction certainly happened in liberal states as you might imagine.  In Boston, the mayor, chief of police and superintendent of schools all
denounced LaPierre's proposals.  But negative statements by a great many conservatives indicate that Newtown was a slaughter too far.

I don't buy for a moment that massacring adults or high school students is in any way acceptable, but it seems to be the death of five to seven year olds that has finally gotten people to think, and think hard, about the dangers of the mass of weapons that are in in the hands of almost half the population of the United States.  Opinions are changing among former NRA supporters and defenders of universal gun ownership.  About time!

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A mystery three and a half centuries old has been solved this year by a 21 year old math major from Brown University.  Lucas Mason-Brown, with no previous experience of cracking code, nevertheless succeeded in breaking and translating the shorthand code of the Separatist Puritan Minister, religious thinker,  and founder of the Rhode Island Colony, Roger Williams.

Beyond Rhode Island, where Williams is a major figure to this day, he is perhaps the least known and understood of the early English colony founder/leaders.  Part of this obscurity can be laid at Williams' own feet; he was not a particularly easy man to get along with, iron-willed and unyielding when it came to his core beliefs.  Arriving in Boston in 1631, one year after its founding, he condemned the town's Puritan religious establishment as not separated from the Church of England.  He was in negotiation to take over the churches in Salem, Massachusetts but Boston pressured Salem to withdraw the invitation, leaving him with no employment.

Williams headed south to the Plymouth Colony, which was fully Separatist but, always contentious, he soon found it wasn't Separatist enough by his standards.  He went back to Salem and was soon in political trouble there; Boston laid charges of sedition and heresy against him and banished him out Massachusetts for good.

Joining with religious dissident and proto-feminist Anne Hutchinson, herself banished out of Massachusetts, and her husband Will and a small group of others, Williams founded Rhode Island.   It began on an island in the middle of Narraganset Bay and attracted many who were in search of the true religious freedom that was not to be found in Boston, but that was the foundation of Willians' beliefs.  He declared that he cared not if one were Catholic, Protestant, Jew or Turk; all were welcome as were their various religions.   By the early 1680s, Jews were beginning to arrive in Rhode Island's  after fleeing other colonies and countries where they had been persecuted. 

Williams would not allow the conversion of Native Americans by force, believing them fully entitled to their own ulture.  He fought with Boston over the colony's appropriation of Native Americans' land, claiming that the King of England could not give the colonists land he did not own, and that the Massachusetts Bay Colony must purchase the land from the Pequot tribes (Boston's quick and dirty solution was to exterminate virtually the entire Pequot nation and take the land it wanted ).

So, back to the story of Reverend Williams' secret code (excerpted from a Boston Globe story):

Lucas Mason-Brown, a 21 year old senior at Brown University, was an unlikely candidate to help unlock the secrets of a centuries-old New England manuscript; he’s a math major and not exactly an expert on 17th-century theologians.  “When we started,” said Mason-Brown, “I knew absolutely nothing about Roger Williams.”
 

The mystery of the code had stumped researchers for years.  Mason-Brown used a mix of statistical analysis and historical research to reveal the meaning of some of the theologian’s last writings, a series of extensive notes written in the margins of a 234 page book by an unknown author. 

The deciphered content of the shorthand, while interesting, isn’t groundbreaking: some of it is notes on other essays, while one section outlines Williams’s beliefs on baptizing Native American children. (He was against it.)  Mason-Brown called it an “original commentary on several hot-button theological issues of the time.”  Williams championed the separation of church and state and advocated for the rights of Native Americans. 

The university’s John Carter Brown Library acquired the book in 1817. Inside, almost every square inch of white space was covered in a cryptic scrawl made up of strange characters dashed off in one or two strokes.  For librarians, the only clue to the origins of the handwriting came from an accompanying note, barely legible itself: The writing, the note said, belonged to Williams.  But how could historians be sure?  That puzzle continued into recent decades.


After the Brown Daily Herald published an article about the unsolved shorthand, Mason-Brown wanted to get involved. Four other undergrads joined up as well.

The first step was math, Mason-Brown’s forte. He used a method of statistics called frequency analysis: Guessing that each character stood for a sound or English letter, he found the characters that appeared most frequently in the handwriting. Then, he matched them to the letters that appear most frequently in English — E, T, and A respectively.

Next, the students compared the shorthand with a little-known shorthand dictionary from that era. Williams had based his writing system off standard shorthand from the day, though he changed the characters to suit his needs.  By the end of last spring, progress was made, but much of the contents remained hidden. 

Most of the other students on the team graduated, and Mason-Brown took up the mantle, garnering a grant from the university to spend his summer staring at high-resolution images of the notes on his computer.  After almost a year of analysis, Mason-Brown says he’s decoded about 75 percent of the writings. 

The secret hope was that the writing would reveal new information on Williams and his unique views for the time.  “This is a further elaboration of his views,” said historian John M. Barry, who wrote a book about Williams. “We know that he strongly opposed the use of any kind of pressure or compulsion to convince anyone of any religious belief.”  And perhaps, he said, solving the mystery will bring some much-needed attention to a little-known founding father.

Mason-Brown, who will graduate in May and pursue a Mitchell Scholarship in Ireland, doesn’t plan to pursue cryptography professionally. His ambitions lie more in “pure math” — the secrets of elliptical curves, for example. But he will miss the collaborative nature of his Williams research.  “It’s not often,” he said, “that a math student gets to work on a problem that people in so many different disciplines get to appreciate."



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This year's version of the indoor/outdoor tree.  The indoor section has one of the three trunks of the original tree that we planted about a dozen years ago as part of a grove of future Christmas trees. 

The tree is about 14 feet high; using only half a tree indoors allows us to have a tall one that doesn't use up too much space in the room.

My granddaughter helped trim the outdoor half of the tree.  It's made up of the other two trunks and beautifully fills the center gable of the living room window array.


The part of all this that we like so much, apart from the fun we have doing it, is the delight our friends have when they come to visit .

Monday, December 24, 2012

 

A Very Happy Christmas to Everyone!


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As those of you who read DesignerBlog regularly (and sincerest thanks for doing so!) may have noticed, the posts which are put together in the Compose mode and which look great with uniform type style and size in Compose, sometimes appear as a patchwork of fonts and sizes on what you see.  I usually catch this problem as soon as I publish a new post, at which point I go into HTML mode and edit the random type faces and type sizes Blogger has assigned to my work.  About 85% of the time that works (although I haven't the slightest idea why I should have to do the patch-up work) but sometimes, no matter what I do, the post appears as a jumble as did the one of my recent ones.

The other thing I really don't understand is why the type face Times New Roman sometimes appears as TNR on the published blog but usually as either Ariel or Verdana.  Over this I seem to have no control whatsoever.  Also, Blogger, in its goodness and wisdom, recently changed everything without sending out any word to explain the changes it was making.  I found many of the new pages and procedures unclear and confusing whereas the old system was quite clear and uncomplicated.  Perhaps the younger users need regular shots of change and complexity to keep them alert and interested.  For my money, clear and uncomplicated may not be "sexy," but it works.

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This picture appeared on One Step at a Time recently.  The blogger had shared it from the Dogably Pawfect site and it brought in quite a few comments.  The situation could be very simple, master and companion waiting for a routine procedure, or it could show the moment those of us who live with and love our animal companions fear most, the realization that maybe this is the time for the shot to be given to prevent further pain and suffering.  Whatever the scenario I found it profoundly moving.

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A delightful comment on Parisian women from French writer Andre Maurois:
At 20 Parisiennes are adorable; at 30 irresistible, and at 40 charming.  And past 40?  
No Parisian woman is ever past 40.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

 

This Christmas, The Return of the Indoor/Outdoor Tree

About a month ago, Fritz and I went down to the stand of Christmas trees we had planted a dozen or so years ago and discovered we had two candidates for an indoor/outdoor tree like the one that was so popular with our families and friends a couple of years ago.  One wasn't tall enough yet (our living room is fourteen and a half feet high) but this one had the goods especially the three trunks you can see if you look closely above . . .

. . .  or more easily in this shot.  The trunk to the right was perfect to be the inside half of the tree, with the trunk that divides into two on the left great for the outside.

Cut down and ready to go.

The outside half is wired to the house at the cross beam. 

The inside half sits in a standard tree base but a wire stretching from one of the roof trusses to the other keeps it safe from toppling over.

Immediately post-sunset sky through our trees to the southwest.  There was a striking, almost metallic silver quality to the sky that the camera didn't capture.

My elder daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter from Oregon arrive tomorrow to spend a couple of days with us before heading to his parents in Philadelphia.  We'll trim both sides of the tree with them.  I'm making moussaka and Fritz has made a rice pudding for dinner tomorrow night -- very Greek, which none of us is, but we do love the food!  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

 
I got this from Erik Rubright's blog, Gambrinous with Griffonage*:


Is your beard as soft as it looks? Is it due to constant maintenance, or is it naturally that way?  What's on my cheeks is fairly soft.  I keep it trimmed neatly and don't let it get too long.  The mustache part is made up of stiffer hair and I have to be careful to keep it clipped back or I can inflict irritation or pain on others during certain activities.

Does your area have a food or dish that it’s known for? Something that was invented there or that just isn’t the same anywhere else?  Yes, many like Boston baked beans with steamed brown bread, or lobster with drawn butter, but one of my great favorites is New England clam chowder. Properly made with onions and diced potatoes sauteed in butter, crumbled crisp bacon, cream (or at the very least, half and half), a bit of sage, salt and pepper, and good cold water clams coarsely minced, it is incredibly good.

Do you follow any webcomics?  No.  I know they exist and have seen some episodes of them occasionally but have never gotten really interested.

If money were not necessary, how would you spend your days? Where would you go to do it?  I'd live where I live in this wonderful house with my wonderful man and travel wherever we liked as often as we liked, but always coming home to "our place."

Would you ever consider visiting Canada… as in Vancouver Island?
Been there, done that.  I've also visited Quebec province and its main cities, Ontario province for Niagara Falls and the Stratford Festival, and Victoria and environs on Vancouver Island.  I like Canada.  I'm looking forward to visiting the city of Vancouver, hopefully in the not too distant future. 

Are you a musician? Do you/have you ever played an instrument or sung, have you ever written a song?  Sadly I never had any musical training but music has been a driving force in my life since I was about seven.  I have "sung" in Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury which I directed and starred in, and have co-authored two librettos for operas for others to sing.

Do you swim? Was Jacques Yves Cousteau ever a figure of legend for you?  I do swim.   Monsieur Cousteau was someone I deeply respected.  As a kid I saw some of the earliest movies made profiling his work, particularly his invention of the aqualung, together with French engineer Émile Gagnan, and the explorations it made possible.

Have you ever done drag? Do you ever *want* to do drag?  I played with it on one occasion during one of our big New Years house parties but it's not something I've ever had a compulsion to do.  I've read a lot of queer theory about drag, and while I support men who do it, I honestly don't "get it" for myself.  

Have you always wanted to be a man? Ever wanted to be a woman?  Absolutely Yes, and absolutely No (see above) in that order.  I LOVE being a man and getting to love (etc!) men, one very much in particular (see below).

How did you meet your husband? Where, when and what did you do on your first date?  I met him at a gay men's massage group that met once a month in Cambridge during the years I was living in Boston.  I was on the massage table, looked up and saw these two lively French blue eyes looking down at me, along with the beard and sweet smile -- and that was pretty much it.  For our first date, Fritz invited me up to his place in New Hampshire for lunch.  We did on the first date what people say you don't do if you're seriously interested in a LTR (and we did it at the BEGINNING of the first date), then we drove to the coast, walked along the beach and talked.  That's how it began.   

Have you ever had a cross-generational relationship?  A couple, actually.  As long as everybody is of legal age, I see it as the business of the two partners and nobody else. 

How do you wipe your ass?  With toilet tissue, in the conventional manner.

What is the worst thing you have ever done?  I've stayed with lost causes a couple of times in my life, one in particular, because I'm essentially a very loyal person.  When I make a commitment I do my best to stick with it even if it isn't necessarily in my best interests.  In this one case I had a very painful couple of years, but came out of it and eventually arrived at the best years of my life (see How did you meet your husband?, above).

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? How did those dreams change as you aged?  I remember writing an essay on that very subject in grammar school.  I said I wanted to be either a woodworker or a painter.  When I became fascinated with the theater and scenic design, I essentially became both, along with developing a wide variety of other skills.

What are you longing for?  To live in a country that is back on a firm footing, with a government that once again functions in a rational, productive manner.  I'm not holding my breath but that's what I long for.

What are your small and large passions, the things that move you at a very deep level?
Poetry? Sunrises? Sunsets? Kittens? The bite of the tattoo needle into virgin skin for the first time?  I've read poetry but have never become truly engaged by it.  Sunrises and sunsets always catch me if they're really good, which means color in particular;  vivid, multi-layered ones get me big time.  Kittens and cats have been, and I hope will continue to be, a great part of my life.  Living with and communicating with a cat approaches a spiritual experience for me.  I began to design my own tattoos at an age when I wanted to kick the last vestiges of Christianity out of my life and become involved with other kinds of spirituality, particularly gay spirituality.     

Other? Music: classical music and opera ARE spiritual experiences for me.  I discovered both at age seven and never looked back.  Both, and opera in particular, have been huge in my personal and professional life.  If any of you know the number, "Everything was beautiful at the ballet" from A Chorus Line will know what it was like for me to discover opera.  Life at home was pretty bad, as I've mentioned before.  But opera, via its enormous emotional gesture, the thrill of the human voice unleashed to the fullest, and its inclusion of just about all the visual and performing arts, was a refuge, consolation, inspiration, and eventually an integral part of my profession as a stage designer.  Fritz does not particularly care for opera but he's a theater man who understands dramatic structure and knows good dialog; co-authoring opera libretti is just one more tie that binds us together.

Thanks, Erik!  I enjoyed doing this one.   

* Gambrinous: 1) a mythical king of Belgium who invented beer, 2) to be happy because of a stomach full of beer;
Griffonage: 1) crude or illegible handwriting, 2) scribbling.


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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

 

My First 12-on-12 to celebrate 12/12/12



Yes, I understand that 12-on-12 is virtually over except for a very few bloggers who drop one in occasionally.  I've never done one, although I've meant to, but I always found myself on the 15th or 16th remembering I'd missed the 12th.  I thought that if I were ever going to do one, it would have to be today on the most significant 12th of all, the triple twelfth!  So, here goes:

Circa 6 am and dawn begins to lighten the southern sky.  I'm usually awake by 5:30, the pattern for most of my life.  I've never needed more than about five to five and a half hours of sleep at night.  This morning I awoke earlier still, put my light on and read while Fritz slept.  I usually get up around 6:30, feed Starr, head for the kitchen to set up the tea pot and kettle (I set the breakfast table the night before) and do the first check of email while the kettle heats up.  An English kettle, its whistle isn't the high, shrill type, but a deeper tone like an old locomotive whistle.  When it goes off, it's Fritz's signal to get up.

Our shower isn't a stall shower but a small shower room, 5-1/2 x 3-3/4 feet with shower heads at opposite ends.  We designed it so that sauna guests (the sauna holds six) can take the cold "plunge" together, and so that we could both shower comfortably together in the morning.

Breakfast.  Occasionally Fritz will make an omelet or a scramble with diced ham and veggies, but our usual breakfast is granola in soy milk for him and non-fat yogurt with honey and occasionally some almond extract for me.  I often have a banana, and we both have toasted home-baked bread and tea.  This is done while watching Good Morning America.

To live in New Hampshire, at least here in the southern part, is to accept the inevitability of Daddy Long Legs spiders.  They get in everywhere and they survive on a random collection of threads rather than the classic spider web.  Those random threads quickly pick up dust and what an aunt of mine used to call phlug.  I make the circuit of the house every so often, as I did this morning, with a vacuum cleaner and clear as many spiders and what we call "spider crap" as possible.

Our Christmas cards are 90% finished and mailed, but I had to get to the post office to send a carton of big cones from our white pine trees to a niece of Fritz's in suburban D.C.  She and her family were here for Thanksgiving and liked the swags and pendants I had made with pine cones to decorate the outside of the house in winter.  She wanted some but couldn't take them on the plane.

This afternoon, I started work on the next production that Intermezzo Chamber Opera is doing, the second of Benjamin Britten's Church Parables, The Prodigal Son.  We had a huge success several years ago with the first Parable, Curlew River, and had wanted to do Prodigal Son a couple of years ago.  When the big recession hit, grants and contributions fell off so it had to be delayed.  Twice.  This year the Britten Foundation came through with a very generous grant -- we'll perform during the first week of April next spring at the First Church that faces the Common in Cambridge, MA.

I keep up with a number of blogs and have developed some wonderful friendships with fellow bloggers.  Starr knows that when I sit down at the computer I can be held captive for a tummy rub.

Last night we finished the libretto to our second opera by incorporating a few changes and additions the composer, Dan Shore, had asked for.  I'm getting the file cleaned up and ready to read through with Fritz this evening to make sure everything sounds right, is spelled correctly, and that no details are missing.  Writing this one has been exciting and a great pleasure.  We learned a tremendous amount while writing the text for our first, one-act opera; this one is a full-length two-act opera with a more complex structure.  Happily, the entire creative team is very enthusiastic about it.

And yes, thank you, I think I do have pretty good taste in wall papers.  :-)

The exercise ball for my daily afternoon routine from the physical therapist which has given me great relief from the pinched sciatic nerve pain I was having.  The only pieces of equipment I need are the ball, an elasticized latex strap and two five pound dumbbells.  The exercises (including some work on posture correction) are aimed at strengthening the muscles that line the spine to support better, contain a bulging disc, and eventually push it back into place.  I had told my doctor that I didn't want to approach the extremely painful problem with either spinal surgery or lots of painkillers, if at all possible. 

Dinner!  Fritz cooked tonight: Chicken Parmesan, butternut squash, snow peas sauteed with chopped onion and, for dessert, his freshly baked New England apple cake.  Which is to die for.  Wine was involved.

After we finished reading through the libretto, correcting a few typos and doing a little bit of polishing, I sent it off to the composer and the head of the opera company.  Then we adjourned to Modern Family, one of our two favorite comedies, the other being Big Bang Theory.

Bed time.  I read in bed for an hour at the end of the day.  There's usually a small pile of books and maybe a magazine or two on the night table.  I'm actually reading another book right now, a collection of gay-themed short stories by Bob Vickery that are really nicely written but the cover's just a bit . . . let's say that I'm not ready to have the adult warning slapped on on the blog right now.
 

Friday, December 07, 2012

 

The Party's Over, It's all over, my friend


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 It was some two years ago in the wake of the 2010 mid-Term elections that I mentioned to Fritz that I didn't know how much longer the Republicans could continue to countenance the Tea Party within their midst.  What had begun as a grass roots popular movement in the interests of limiting the size of government and solving the national debt crisis, had gathered some high-powered support and some even higher-powered financial backing.  Interestingly, in light of Conservative jeering at the equally grass roots popular Occupy movement for not having a leadership structure, the Tea Party had no actual leader or national organization.

In time for the 2010 elections, however, they had some Major Figures in the Republican Party cheering them on, and had begun efforts to push the Party ever further to the Right.  What was interesting was that their efforts to unseat certain incumbents in the Senate and House, and to defeat certain candidates for Congress, were directed less at Democrats and more at Republicans whom the Tea Party had decided were not radically Right enough to meet its standards.  Several popular, effective and well-respected moderate Republicans, the type I think of "sane Republicans," were voted out of office, largely due to the Tea Party's growing muscle.

The question of how long this would be allowed to go on is now being answered.  Earlier this week, Speaker of the House John Boehner and the Republican Steering Committee instigated instigated a purge of four Representatives who are so radically Right that they refuse any and all compromise, and vote against the Party's wishes if they feel it's too "soft" on an issue.   Reps. David Schweikert of Arizona and Walter Jones of North Carolina were removed from the Financial Services Committee; Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas were removed from the Budget Committee.   Amash and Huelskamp were held particularly guilty for voting against failed Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's proposed economic plan which, wacky and mathematically challenged though it is, still wasn't radical enough for them.

Hostile reaction was immediate from Tea Party members (if there can be "members" of something that isn't organized) and supporters.  Leaders of several conservative political organizations protested stridently (Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham called Schweikert’s ouster “unthinkable”) while failed half-term Alaskan governor and failed Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin leveled a threat to Party leadership that their action “won’t be forgotten come 2014.  We send good conservatives to D.C. to fulfill the promises they made to the electorate, and yet when they stay true to their word, the permanent political class in their own party punishes them."

I'm not sure how much clout Ms. Palin still has with the Republican Party given the multiple embarrassments she's laid on their doorstep, but the situation did at least give her something to do other than watch her daughter fail one more time on Dancing With The Stars.  In a statement oddly similar to Ms. Palin's (I wonder who cribbed who's press release), Rep. Jim Jordan told Breitbart News, “It’s unfortunate and unhealthy for our party that principled conservatives are being punished for voting their consciences and keeping the promises they made to their constituents.” 

Furthering the "Republicans eat their own" movement Ned Ryun, president and CEO of American Majority Action fired off: “Speaker Boehner has been an abysmal failure as Speaker, and his latest purge is the nail in the coffin for conservatives.  Boehner has never won a negotiation battle with the White House or Senate — and he’s been nothing short of an embarrassing spokesman for the conservative movement. It’s time for him to go.”  AMA's strategy is to get 16 Republians not to vote for Boehner when it is time to re-elect the Speaker in January, which would throw him out of the position and give it to someone (they hope) much further Right. 


There was even reaction over in the Senate where Senator Jim DeMint, who had supported the Tea party and campaigned tirelessly for its candidates,  resigned abruptly and unexpectedly to assume control of The Heritage Foundation, Washington D.C.'s most conservative think tank.  He plans to use the THF position to drive the Republican Party further and further Right even as it's picking its way through the election debacle and finally beginning to realize that Radical Right is wrong according to the American people.
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Another victim of the Tea Party in the Senate was the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities treaty (excerpted from the Boston Globe):
 
Since the United States is already basically in compliance with this treaty, it is bizarre and unfortunate that the US Senate fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify it. Passage would have allowed the United States to participate fully in UN meetings on this issue, joining 126 other countries that have already ratified it.
The vote would have been easier to take had the treaty’s opponents offered rational, factual arguments to secure its defeat. Instead, the treaty fell victim to scare tactics, wildly inaccurate statements, and rote ideological claptrap.  Jim DeMint of South Carolina, for instance, claimed the treaty would give “international bureaucrats” control over “issues that should be addressed by states, local governments, and American parents.” In reality, the treaty only sets up a committee that makes non-binding recommendations.

Mike Lee of Utah claimed that the treaty threatened home-schooling. In reality, it doesn’t change US law at all, but merely asserts that disabled children have a right to an education.
Pro-life groups claimed that the treaty had a stealth agenda to sterilize and abort the disabled. In reality, the treaty merely calls on countries to provide disabled people with “affordable health care including in the area of sexual and reproductive health.” 
Perhaps the most alarming thing about the vote was how starkly it illustrated the extent to which the Tea Party has taken control of the Republican soul. Old-guard Republicans supported the treaty, which was negotiated under President George W. Bush. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, was one of its fiercest champions. To support the treaty, former Senator Bob Dole, who was once among the party’s most powerful figures, showed up in his wheelchair during the vote. Yet the Tea Party — which treats collaboration with other governments and the United Nations as a surrender of US sovereignty — killed the treaty -- a small number of extremists managed to block progress for millions of people. 

My own personal feelings (not surprisingly): The last American Tea Party featured tea being dumped overboard.  For the good of the American people, let alone the Republican Party, the time has come to dump the Tea Party itself overboard.
 

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Sunday, December 02, 2012

 

Totally by chance, I came upon this screen capture of a scene in New York Harbor during the height of the now-infamous Hurricane Sandy.

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Although the recent election signaled that some vestiges of sanity and reason still exist in the populace, if not among many of our elected leaders, Fritz was struck by this quote from an essay called "What I Believe" written in 1938 by the gay British writer E.M. Forster.  It could be an Op-Ed piece in today's contemporary New York Times:

"I do not believe in Belief.  But this is an age of faith, and there are so many militant creeds that in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one's own.  Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious  and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp."

Quoted in A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster, by Wendy Moffat   A Picador Paperback


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I still get a jolt seeing the AIDS memorial ribbon hanging in the White House portico, remembering all the decades when such a recognition would have been unthinkable, and the chief resident of the house totally unsympathetic to the epidemic and its victims.  Sadly, many in government still are.


I am importing this story whole from Stephen Rutledge's blog, Post-Apocalyptic Bohemian.  Stephen devotes his blog to the stories of gays and lesbians, many of whom have had to live their lives "underground."  This story of Elliot Blackstone, a straight man of extraordinary vision and generosity of spirit, came as a total surprise to me and to others who commented on Stephen's post:

Born On This Day- November 30th... Elliot Blackstone


Our allies can come from the most unexpected places and change the daily lives of gay people through the dignity that they bring to the work they do.

Sgt. Blackstone was born in Montana on this day in 1924. After finishing high school, he served in the Navy during World War II. He joined the San Francisco Police Department in 1949.


Sgt. Blackstone was a pioneer of community-based policing, once remarking that being a cop was like being "a social worker with a badge." In 1962, after the "gayola" scandal involving police demanding payoffs from gay bar owners, he was appointed the first SFPD liaison to the gay community. He was present during a police raid of a gay New Year's ball in 1965, where an officer shoved his wife, assuming she was a drag queen.


Asked why he, as a straight man, took such an active role on behalf of gay and transgender people, Sgt. Blackstone replied: "Because it was the right thing to do."


Blackstone was the 2006 San Francisco Pride Parade Grand Marshal. He also received commendations from the California State Senate, the California State Assembly, & the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.


He says he was just doing his job, although at the time police brass gave him no support.


Elliot Blackstone planted a seed to grow San Francisco into a city that was welcoming; a place that all people are treated equal. He became the first retired officer to receive a commendation from the Police Commission. Blackstone was the first police liaison to the GLBT community in 1962, after a bribery scandal involving gay bars and the police. At that time, the issue for gay rights at the department was different.

Blackstone: "They hated me. They thought it was wrong for a policeman to associate with these faggots, but they needed help, so I helped."


Blackstone worked with what were then called "homophile" organizations, such as the Mattachine Society & The Daughters of Bilitis, to end police entrapment of gay men in public bathrooms. He trained police recruits on how to handle the community by bringing in gays, lesbians and transgender people to talk about their lives.

He helped establish an anti-poverty office in the Tenderloin that employed transsexual workers. When the city was unwilling to pay for hormones for transgender people, Blackstone took up a donation at his church and distributed the drugs for free. He attended gay galas and was the face of the department for the community. He was a pioneer; somebody whose amazing, considerably brave accomplishments have been forgotten for too long.


Blackstone fought against prejudice and stigma at a time when the rights of gays were ignored, and helped to create a ripple of positive change.


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Stephen's story put me in mind of the Garden of the Righteous in Jerusalem where memorial markers honor gentiles who went to extraordinary lengths and took chances to shelter Jews from the Holocaust.  Perhaps there should be a memorial in thanks for the efforts of people like Officer Blackstone and others who stood with LGBT people against anti-gay prejudice, legal oppression, and governmental refusal to support AIDS research -- while demonizing those who were dying by the thousands.  San Francisco, where Elliot Blackstone worked, might well be the place for such a memorial.   




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