“Mistah Kurtz – he dead.”
Oh, come on, you know:
The novel, and the poem, about the terminal termitic decay of what we laughingly call “civilization,” and the “hollow men” who (barely) populate Western society?
With all that scarecrow and “straw men” and trophy-heads-on-pikes imagery?
“This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a wimper” and all that?
Or maybe you don’t.
And you don’t want to know, either. Not anything.
In a world where “Benghazi was a long time ago,” expressing what used to be called “common knowledge,” or asking what once was considered “a normal question,” is verboten.
Jason Collins is gay, therefore Jason Collins has always been gay.
That he’s gay is everybody’s business, but it’s nobody’s business that John Maynard Keynes was.
The bravest part of Jason Collins’s coming-out feature in Sports Illustrated was not the part where he revealed he is gay. It was this:
I celebrate being an African-American and the hardships of the past that still resonate today. But I don’t let my race define me any more than I want my sexual orientation to. I don’t want to be labeled, and I can’t let someone else’s label define me.
I have a prediction: Collins is going to ruffle a few feathers in the gay world for that comment.
It normalizes gayness, instead of letting one counterculture, ultra-liberal, activist niche own the image of homosexuality. If you can be a gay NBA star, why not a gay conservative? If your sexual orientation is just one part of your life, why does it have to dictate your entire worldview?
You can’t be easily herded if you insist on being yourself.
If you’re skeptical that the gay activist Old Guard would be against lifestyle diversity, read this Slate article about how some of them are reluctantly accepting of the “Gaybro” movement. The subtitle says it all: “They like sports, hunting, and beer. They make the gay community mad.”
Jason Collins: thanks for making them mad. It’s time someone shook this place up a bit. And I don’t mean the hetero-normative sports world. I mean the liberal-normative gay world.
Jazz and Islam, Part V
John Coltrane and Bilal Philips: two musicians, one famous, the other obscure, but both men who in the course of their lives found themselves at an absolute impasse and underwent a dramatic conversion. And in those conversions, they chose two radically different paths for life and society.
Coltrane changed the sound of the tenor saxophone. When he arrived on the scene, tenor players tried to sound like Stan Getz or Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young or Ben Webster. Coltrane did not, and was at first even derided for the clear, sharp intensity of his tone. After his career and untimely death, however, virtually everyone who has taken up the instrument has tried to sound like John Coltrane.
But an arguably even greater change that John Coltrane made was within himself. In the first rush of success, he was caught up in the jazz musicians’ culture of the 1940s and 1950s, began drinking heavily, and became addicted to heroin. But then, as he recounted later: “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.”
Picked this up from the Washington Post:
Cliburn was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. on July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, La., the son of oilman Harvey Cliburn Sr. and Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn. At age 3, he began studying piano with his mother, herself an accomplished pianist who had studied with a pupil of the great 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt.
The family moved back to Kilgore within a few years of his birth.
Cliburn won his first Texas competition when he was 12, and two years later he played in Carnegie Hall as the winner of the National Music Festival Award.
My family had a music store when I was growing up, and Van Cliburn was generally considered a demigod at least by every piano teacher in the Southwest — the Texas boy who had beaten the Soviets at their own game, winning the First International Tchaikovsky Competition so decisively the Russians couldn’t deny it. I met him once when I was about 10, and vaguely recall that he seemed awfully young — he would have been about 36 — and that he seemed to have big hands.
He died of bone cancer in Fort Worth, where he made his home.
The second season of Shahs of Sunset started airing on December 2. I know I’ll be the skunk at the Iranian-American garden party after admitting that I love the show. But I’m throwing down the gauntlet and challenging my fellow ex-pats (or anyone else for that matter) to refute any of the important points I’m about to make in defense of the flamboyant Reza Farahan and his Tehrangeles set.
To elaborate, I should explain that numerous Iranian-Americans, who seem to have even less objectivity after 30-plus years in exile, have whined about this show being an insult and/or a misrepresentation of Iranians-Americans: a Kardashianized disgrace, fabricated by the sacrilegious and intellectually challenged Hollywood producers.
In ’79, Iranians just flocked to Los Angeles and turned it into the hub Iranian enclave. They came because there had already been a thriving little Iranian community there since the ’40s; and also because the weather is nice. This is very likely what Iran would have looked like had the Khomeinist hordes not occupied the country. It’s basically Iran outside Iran, Tehran through the looking glass, a non-plus ultra.
It turns out that professors — even the ones with the authority to hire other professors — watch schlocky basic-cable programming. And from the Midwest to New England, curious members of hiring committees wanted to know: Does the show, which follows six Iranians in their 30s living in Los Angeles, accurately reveal what Iranian-Americans are really like?
Well, yes. This show offers so much more than just a snapshot of Iranian culture. It offers a glimpse of well-assimilated and prosperous Iranians.
In fact, I don’t see anything in the show that I don’t already know or cannot recognize as pretty darn Iran-American. In fact, some of these people could be my cousins and a perfect depiction of the Children of Cyrus, a man (the Achaemenids in general) who himself paraded his era’s bling-bling, not via reality TV but on bas-reliefs in the family “crib,” Persepolis!
Iranians are hostage to their own set of dizzying dichotomies and paradoxes, and our long history adds a hefty helping of the maudlin and precious. We learn at a tender age to surf Persian social riptides and chart crosscurrents like an art form, deconstructed by a few like Omid Djalili.
Madonna came out of the closet in St. Petersburg, Russia, a few days ago.
In a courtroom that reporters present described as being the size of a walk-in closet (photos), Madge was summoned to face charges of inciting the decent citizens of Russia to homosexuality. If convicted, she faced a $170 fine and a claim for moral damages in excess of $10 million by the group of plaintiffs who had sued her. She declined to make a personal appearance, and was tried in absentia over the course of a single day.
There was no jury. The lone judge hearing the matter, one Vitaly Barkovsky, listened to testimony for about five hours, deliberated for an hour and a half, and then acquitted Ms. Ciccone on all counts.
The charges stemmed from a Madonna concert staged in Piter, as the locals call their city, earlier this year. She urged her listeners, many of whom sported LGBT paraphernalia like pink wristbands or rainbow insignias, to stand up for gay rights, notoriously under siege in today’s Russia. She exhorted: “Show your love and appreciation to the gay community.”
Such statements can amount to criminal acts in today’s Russia. Piter is supposedly Russia’s most liberal city, but like many others it has a law on the books forbidding anyone to encourage or support homosexuality. The author of the law, Vitaly Milonov, had put Madonna on notice before the show, stating ominously:
I heard at the concerts on this tour she pulled off her tights, and we will not have that here. We warn the organizers of the concert so that everything goes well. Otherwise they will face the harsh laws of St. Petersburg.
Reviewing the account of the trial offers many insights into what passes for justice in the Russia of proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin.
As the trial began, it was totally unclear whether Madonna had been given proper legal notice of the lawsuit. The first of the plaintiffs began his attempt to prove Madonna’s violation of Russian law by quoting extensively from the Holy Bible. He then asserted that the support of rights for homosexuals amounted to a violation of basic human rights (i.e., because homosexuals are not humans).
One consequence of studying the contemporary Middle East is the two-fold worry that all new writing on the subject will, first, say what has already been said and, second, say it in a particularly long and tiresome way. To both of these points, ask yourself how many more turgid Edward Said-like riffs on “neo-colonialism” or “neo-imperialism” you could stomach, or how many analyses of the sociopolitical effects of Islam you could read, before you resolve to cast off such an ossified field for good.
It is refreshing, therefore, to pick up a collection of brief personal essays on the subject of what has been naively termed the “Arab Spring” and to be relieved with both clarity and brevity. Arab Spring Dreams, edited by the reformers Nasser Weddady and Sohrab Ahmari, brings together the personal vignettes of brave young writers from the region. The genre is what one might call flash non-fiction: brief, searing, emotional snapshots of life in repressive environments. Flash non-fiction works on the micro, not macro, level. We are spared geopolitical theorizing in favor of local color, to wit:
“The screech of tires snapped him back to attention, replacing the thoughts buzzing around his brain with an anxious immediacy. He stared at the cab driver behind the wheel, her mouth opening and closing over and over for no apparent reason. Her fillings flashed silver at him every few seconds. Her windows were up, rendering her comically mute despite her traffic-induced rage. He had had enough. He would walk the rest of the way. As he did, his mental disarray did not prevent him from giving due respect to the nonexistence of traffic laws in Cairo.”
The very slightly confusing pronouns aside, this passage could be many things: the beginning of a Frederick Forsyth novel, for instance, or one of those off-beat profiles of global eccentrics from The New Yorker. In fact, we have just been introduced to the twenty-two year old anonymous author-narrator of a piece titled “I Am Not Ayman!” Why is he not Ayman? Well, Ayman, a pseudonym for the author, is a gay man in Egypt, which is kind of like being a Jew in 15th century Spain: your identity is contingent on the whims of creed-obsessed despots. You can pretend to be something you’re not or you can take your chances on being who you actually are. In this case, the narrator is contemplating whether to identify himself to a potential lover. Doing so brings with it the possibility of being “outed” to the Egyptian secret police, as well as the more revolting possibility that the potential lover himself is the secret police.
Indeed, sexuality and intimacy figure prominently in many of these accounts, and this may be because these are always the first human impulses to be squashed by any kind of tyranny. We are reminded elsewhere that in Iran, gays are faced with the “choice” of either execution or “sex reassignment.” This is only slightly better than the Sudanese notion of “corrective rape,” which is as literal as it sounds.
Other stories come from writers in Morocco, Yemen, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. The themes are similar — political repression, inequality, family tension — but each story is beautifully unique in its style and delivery. It is hard to imagine a more enlightening and human book on a subject that is most often the province of robotic wonks and “analysts.” If there is one problem with the book, however, it must surely be the foreword by the aging feminist carnival-barker Gloria Steinem. This mendacious and pointless essay is written in the self-promoting tones of someone long out of ideas.
“This collection of brave and honest voices from the Middle East will inspire you,” writes Steinem, doing her best impression of a moderate. Those with longer memories may recall Ms. Steinem’s interview last year with Newsweek, in which she claimed that Mohammed Atta, leader of the terrorist-murderers of American Airlines Flight 11, was driven by his being “ridiculed by this authoritarian lawyer father who told him that even his older sisters were more masculine than he.” Therefore, “he became addicted to proving his masculinity. How clear is that?”
Does harm prevention actually prevent harm? This is not always an easy question to answer, for by making dangerous behavior safer it could help to spread the dangerous behavior itself, thus offsetting the harm prevented.
The question is bound to arise with the approval of the combination of emtricitabine and tenofovir, known as Truvada, as a prophylactic against the transmission of HIV to the healthy sexual partners of those who are infected with the virus. Interestingly, the name of the company that produces the drug is Gilead Sciences: “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the daughter of my people recovered?” At least there is likely to be consolation for some in the share price of Gilead Sciences.
According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Truvada reduces the rate of HIV transmission from homosexual acts performed between men (one of whom is HIV positive) by 90 percent if the drug is taken consistently, and by 44 percent if taken inconsistently. The drug is expensive, at $10,000 a year; but since the cost of treatment of patients with HIV is even more expensive, prescription of it might save money in the long run. The article suggests that, if the drug were 44 percent effective, it would be cost-effective for prescription to HIV negative male homosexuals who had 5 or more sexual partners a year.
There are two or three ethical problems that trouble the authors of the article. The first is the possibility that the existence of a prophylactic drug against HIV might increase unsafe sexual practices. This they rather airily dismiss as follows:
If unsafe sex were to increase with [such prophylaxis], it could theoretically offset effectiveness in practice. Behavioral disinhibition, however, was not observed in clinical trials. Moreover, a substantial increase in unsafe sex would have to occur to offset the benefits of PrEP on a population level.
It is well-known, however, that what happens in clinical trials is not necessarily what happens in normal, non-trial conditions. It is not safe, then, to conclude that “behavioural disinhibition” would not occur with general availability of the drug.
Many commentators have suggested that the passing of Gore Vidal at age eighty-six on July 31 marks the end of a remarkable generation of postwar American novelists the likes of whom we shall never see again.
When people speak of that generation of novelists, they are usually referring to exactly three people: Norman Mailer (born in 1923), Truman Capote (1924), and Vidal (1925). All three made splashy literary debuts in the years shortly after the war. All three were not just writers but celebrities. Their arrival on the national scene was followed shortly by the advent of television and the TV talk show, on which all three excelled in their different ways at making an indelible impression.
Vidal was the pompous, formidable intellect and wit, serving up well-turned putdowns of those he considered his inferiors – which included pretty much everyone – in an authoritative upper-crust dialect. Capote was the flamboyant quipster and gossip with the pronounced Southern accent, more explicit on national TV about his sexual orientation than any other gay man in America would dare for another generation. And Mailer, in contradistinction to these two gay men, was the embodiment of post-Hemingway machismo – a Brooklyn Jewish kid by way of Harvard with a chip on his shoulder and a determination to prove that he, and no other, was the natural heir to Papa Hemingway.
Back then, big authors were big TV. These three loved doing the talk shows – and the talk-show hosts loved having them on. Both Vidal and Capote were regulars on Carson (Carson actually invited Vidal to be a guest host, and Capote died at the home of one of Carson’s ex-wives, who’d become a close chum); Vidal and Mailer appeared together on a legendary episode of The Dick Cavett Show (whose wife and Vidal became good friends) on which they all but got into a fistfight on the air.
Nowadays they’d all be lucky to get on C-SPAN.
Over the past day, I’ve seen more than a few discussions amongst Christians that we should not have done the Chick-fil-A event on Wednesday. After they ignore, reject, or exclude the free speech element of the event — which I will copy in order to counter their arguments — they have two lines of reasoning. First, this is Dan Cathy’s personal problem and therefore not “a hill to die on.” Second, the left feels like we hate them, and we are wrong to do anything that makes them feel that way. Whether we actually hate them is not the salient point. Both seem to think along the lines of one commenter, that this is a time to “keep our heads down” and practice our faith quietly.
Keep our heads down. I don’t recall such instructions anywhere in the Bible. I recall that we are to loudly proclaim our faith, that we are to offer succor to fellow Christians persecuted for our faith, and that we are to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. As if my resolve to never keep my head down needed a boost, I received the “heads down” comment in my inbox as I walked out of my second viewing of The Dark Knight Rises, which is not exactly a modern morality tale about the “virtue” of keeping one’s head down.
A prominent Christan has been ridiculed and his company banned from certain public venues because of his Christian values. He needs our support, and we are called to give it. The left may feel hatred from our actions, but whether we actually hate is the paramount question. We are judged both by God and by criminal courts of law on our actual intent, not by someone’s perception of our intent.
Furthermore, is this not all backward?
The director of “The Matrix” and the highly-anticipated film “Cloud Atlas” has become the first major Hollywood director to publicly come out as transgender.
Lana Wachowski revealed she has transitioned while promoting her new film, the New York Post reported.
Lana has been transitioning for years now, the Post also reported. This new clip for “Cloud Atlas,” starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, appears to be her first public appearance since transitioning.
In the trailer, Lana introduces the film with her brother, Andy Wachowski, and director Tom Tykwer.
“Hi, I’m Lana,” she says with her hair styled in pink dreadlocks.
Lana’s personal life has been a source of headline fodder for years now.