Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | July 4, 2009

Remember What it Cost

“Happy” 4th.

The singer’s name is Rene Marie.

On July 1, 2008, jazz singer Rene Marie, flanked by elected officials and civil servants, calmly approached the microphone before Denver’s State of the City address. She was there to perform a time-honored ritual: the singing of the national anthem.

But her arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner left residents divided. The melody was the same, but the words she chose were written by James Weldon Johnson in 1899. They belong to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as “The Black National Anthem.”

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | June 30, 2009

h * u * m * a * n

For the second year in a row I sat on the sidewalk on the side of Broadway enjoying the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago with a close friend from college. She had mentioned to an acquaintance down there that I was coming to visit during the parade, and this acquaintance asked, “why, is he gay?”

Seriously, though, why would anybody who WASN’T gay go to Pride?

Well, thanks to that movement, and the women’s rights movements, and all of the other humanist movements in our history, many of us can build roles for ourselves beyond the straightjackets imposed by superstition and tradition. Not just free to explore and enjoy our own personal sexual identities, whatever those might be. Free to be fathers who are emotionally available to their children, not slaves to endless labor and a place in the home as a cold, hard disciplinarian. Free to be mothers with lives outside the kitchen, nursery and bedroom. Free in so many ways that we take for granted, as imperfect as those freedoms are.

I mean, why would you want to celebrate, to commemorate, a movement that fought not only for themselves, but for all of us, unless you were gay?

What Have We Learned From Stonewall?

On the late night/early morning of June 27-28, 1969, all that changed.

By the time the police knew what had hit them, four of them were in the hospital, one with a broken wrist, and were chased by an enraged mob back into the gay bar from which they’d just emerged. Armed with nothing more than garbage, bricks appropriated from a nearby construction site and their bare hands, the gay community of Greenwich Village rose up in a screaming, quivering fury and said with one voice, “No more.” What seemed to set the crowd off were eyewitnesses who saw NYPD officers beat and tear the shirt off a lesbian patron.

What is most readily and easily forgotten, however, is that the riots were conducted not merely by white young gays but also straight sympathizers, lesbians, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and the middle-aged and even elderly as well as the young.

Oppression and control don’t always rely upon raids and beatings, they rely upon the FEAR of those things, the fear of being exposed as not “normal”. When cops and the religious nuts who command them go after one segment of society for being dirty or evil, they can do it to anybody.

When I was a kid, my world revolved around music. I’ve had music being poured directly into my ears starting with a little GE 9-Volt transistor at the age of five up until the iPod that is surgically attached to me now, and two of the artists I loved most from the very beginning were Elton John and Queen. Oh, the taunting and abuse once junior high and high school rolled along, for liking those ‘fags’ … why do I listen to them?

Must be a fag, of course. Which struck me as insane.

I wasn’t all that focused on Elton’s or Freddie’s sexuality … though I admired that they didn’t give a damn what anybody thought about it. I loved the way their music and their personas were THEIRS, that they had created “Elton John” from the dreams of Reginald Dwight growing up in his staid English home, and “Freddie Mercury” from the ambitions of immigrant Farrokh Bulsara. As I was growing up in my sheltered, lily-white suburb, that there was a world where someone could BE who they wanted to be, CREATE their life out of whole cloth … what could be more glorious than that?

As I got older, went to college, I learned from GBLT people I met along the way the pain and rejection that so many experience, and the opportunity that so many create for themselves out of those rejections, the blossoming of a personal freedom out of the ashes of those rejections. What can be more human than looking at a world that says you aren’t wanted and refusing to submit to that kind of rejection, that kind of bigotry and hate?

Look back at the sweep of human history and so much of what is beautiful and grand about people was created by people who refused to be pigeonholed, refused to be restrained by tradition and the farce that is “human decency”, as expounded by authoritarians and self-loathing haters.

Queer Culture is a celebration of that basic human potential, to create one’s own life, own’s own persona, one’s own opportunities. Queer culture is a creation of communities of people who’ve decided that the world can be a beautiful place where they belong, and no one is going to tell them otherwise.

My life is richer for the gay rights movement, as it is richer for the women’s rights movement, and the civil rights movement, and the aboriginal rights movement and so on and so on. This straight, middle-class, white man enjoys a better life with more opportunities thanks to those queens who went toe-to-toe with brutal thugs in uniform thirty years ago, and it seems to me the least I can do is go to a parade and cheer for them and their spiritual children and grandchildren, with grateful thanks.

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | June 15, 2009

Bitter Charity

It’s not charity if only some people are due help with true compassion. I heard this today on NPR’s Marketplace program and it made me throw up in my mouth a little:

Stickle applied for food stamps right after he was laid off. But he was told that he made too much money to qualify. Benefit Bank counselor Erin Sprouse says many people apply too early.

Interviewer #3: They take your last 30 days of income. So if you were just employed last week, then it looks like you’re making more money. But once you’re actually unemployed, lose that income, your eligibility changes.

She also helped Stickle fill out applications for assistance with the heating bill and home weatherization. Each year, in Ohio alone, a $1.5 billion in benefits goes unclaimed. Food stamps and children’s health insurance are two of the most overlooked benefits. And many families also miss out on tax credits.

A typical low-income family with kids that uses the Benefit Bank often gets about 15-thousand dollars worth of tax credits and untapped services.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt: To date, we have helped low and moderate-income Ohioans secure over $100 million in public benefits and work support programs that help them meet their basic needs and weather the storm.

That’s Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks — which manages and operates the Benefit Bank. She says the system for public benefits is fragmented and confusing.

Fugitt: For the new poor, they are very embarrassed. They don’t want to be seen at the local welfare office.

Hamler-Fugitt says people are more comfortable visiting one of the 800 Benefit Bank sites set up around the state in community centers and churches.

The whole thing is sad, yes, and the driving people to churches to get help is typical of this benighted excuse for a civilization, but it is THIS that made me feel sick and angry:

Fugitt: For the new poor, they are very embarrassed.
They don’t want to be seen at the local welfare office.

Why don’t they want to be seen at the welfare office? Because they don’t want to be one of THEM. You know, the “there will be poor always” people, the forgotten people, the by-definition BAD people, who somehow deserve their station in life. The people for whom the welfare offices have been made such hopeless, understaffed, unpleasant places. No, the “new poor” aren’t THOSE people. They’re “good” people who’ve had some bad luck, NOTHING like those people that have been neglected and mistreated and abandoned and shunned through the actions of our corporatist government. The government that is the “good” people and their votes and taxes and eager aping of the hateful rhetoric of the Rush Limbaughs and Bill Clintons and Barack Obamas of the world.

Oh, what … I can’t link Bubba and Barry to Rush?

“It doesn’t matter how much money we put in–”

“Come on now–”

“–if parents don’t parent.”

Shrieks and trills from every corner again interrupt.

“It’s not good enough to say to yourself, it’s the school, and you don’t turn off the TV, you don’t help with the homework, there’s not a book in the house–”

“COME ON NOW–” In my ear, she’s stentorian, bossy and encouraging, like a rancher birthing a calf. Will Obama be able to utter the truth? To get it out? She’s sure he has it in him.

“You got a video player on–”

“Come on, Obama! Come on, Obama! Come on!”

He is drowned by the roar, loud as falling water, and now the traveling press, realizing that something is actually happening, snap to. They sit up, swivel and stare. Unfortunately, the standing cameras are trained in the wrong direction, on Barack. One photographer hoists a big hand camera that he turns on the crowd, out of their seats and gesticulating, leaning forwards and back in a kind of a dance.

“So turn off the TV set, give the video game away, buy a little desk, or clear the kitchen table, from September help with homework–if they don’t know how to do it, give them help. If you don’t know how to do it, call the teacher. Make them go to bed at a reasonable time. Give them some breakfast. . . . If your child misbehaves at school, don’t cuss out the teacher. Don’t cuss out the teacher.”

“OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA!” These 750 in Beaumont are louder than the 20,000 in Houston’s Toyota Center last week. The din stuns. Stupefies. Really, there aren’t words to describe it.

A few minutes later, Obama, in answer to a question about diabetes research, tells the crowd, “we can’t keep feeding our kids junk.”

“Hold on! Hold on! Come on! TELL THE TRUTH!”

“Eight sodas a day . . . Popeye’s for breakfast.” He pauses and waits for a little opening. “I know some of y’all–” Obama speaking in Texas during the campaign

Never mind the factory food that is only available at overpriced fast food restaurant and tiny over-priced corner markets. Never mind the abandoned, overburdoned and underfunded schools. No, lazy poor people … it’s YOUR fault.

And those “new poor”, they’re NOTHING like those people … no no NO!

Americans, I suppose, aren’t special in this, but for a “christian nation”, we’re amazingly insistent that those for whom we show charity and compassion demonstrate that they deserve it, and when more of us fall into the abyss that is BAKED INTO the very structure of how this society works, those newly swallowed up are shocked and surprised to see the mess they allowed to fester out of sight and out of mind.

Was there a part of the Parable of the Good Samaritan where the Samaritan demanded a police report, income tax statement and a home visit before he gave aid that I missed? Not to throw their fairy tales back at them, but I’m pretty sure the Cosmic Muffin left that part out of the Book that he dictated to Luke.

This is not to say that I don’t feel for the “new poor” … I was one of them for several years, starting in 2001, right after Bush was installed into office. My unemployment ran out, after an extension, shortly before 9/11, and I was living in NYC at the time. I too remember my shock, once I did find (under)employment shortly before Christmas, at the condition of the NYC welfare office I visited to see if I qualified for a grant to help me catch up my back rent.

I saw hard-working people, proud people, people helping each other and trying desperately to make their way in a country that didn’t give a shit about them. I saw overworked, stressed out civil servants trying to stay ahead of a neverending wave of need that they didn’t have the resources to overcome. I saw paperwork and requirements designed to obstruct obtaining help, demands to go to multiple meetings and welcome home visits and answer infantilizing demeaning questions to obtain what people were, by law, ENTITLED to. I saw women, and they were mainly women, watching each other’s kids, and friends and relatives running in to pick up kids when the wait for help stretched to hours, and resilience and an incredible strength.

People shouldn’t be treated like that … not the “new poor” or the EVER POOR. NO ONE in a civilized, compassionate, DECENT country should be treated like that.

I’m sorry for these new victims of our rapacious capitalism, but their shame is a shame that many are subjected to throughout their lives, from cradle to grave, for want of one opportunity, one inate gift, one mentor or bit of luck … and who has that happen in their lives WITHOUT the balancing out experiences of loss and bad luck and ill health?

Our sainted President may have worked hard, but he was also LUCKY, the recipient apparently of a supportive family and successive mentors and teachers. How easy to forget that and pretend it was all the right choices and the harder work and the “god-given” gifts.

It is a sign of a deeply sick culture that the act of finding and receiving HELP is considered shameful, and even more sick that it is shameful to get that help from government structures but somehow more acceptable to accept help from tax-free cons that demand obedience and obescience.

That’s not charity … it’s control.

Hopefully some of those who’ve gone overboard will learn from the experience, if they climb back out again. The line between dismissive middle class and forgotten underclass is a fine, fragile boundary. Perhaps they’ll think that it might be easier to avoid embarrassment when help is needed by humanizing what passes for social services in this country.

I’m not going to hold my breath …

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | June 14, 2009

Isn’t Heaven Enough?

Why can’t they just stay in their damned churches and keep their debates about how many angels can circle jerk on the head of a pederast priest’s cock to themselves?

Another skirmish between religious progressives and the religious left has broken out. The group Catholics for Choice, which supports abortion rights, has come out against the appointment of a progressive Catholic activist to direct the federal Health and Human Services Department’s faith-based office.

The new HHS faith-based director, Alexia Kelley, is certainly not a hard-core conservative. An adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, she has since led the progressive Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which has came under attack from the conservative Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights for its messaging around abortion.

“The Catholic Church believes that every human life—whether young or old, guilty or innocent, born or unborn—is both precious and sacred,” Catholics in Alliance says on its website. “It remains as the foundation for all principles and elements of social teaching.” But the group is more focused on social justice issues like fighting poverty and has promoted ways to reduce abortion that avoid curtailing abortion rights.

Excuse me, but that IS a “hard-core conservative” position.

Catholics for Choice’s president, Jon O’Brien, has issued a withering attack on Kelley’s appointment because of her apparent support for some abortion restrictions. An excerpt:

From the beginning, Alexia Kelley directed CACG to ignore the question of access to abortion and reframe the debate in terms of reducing the number of abortions—although polls consistently show that the majority of Catholics support abortion rights. This language around reducing the number of abortions should be a huge red flag to anyone who believes in and seeks to defend a woman’s right to choose. While evidence-based prevention methods can go a long way towards reducing the need for abortion, some women will always need access to safe and legal abortion and we must recognize that and ensure public policies support that access.

Alexia Kelley is on record with her support for restrictions on access to abortion, despite her organization’s efforts to avoid the question of legalization at every turn. In an audio press conference prior to the 2008 election, Ms. Kelley agreed with other speakers who spoke out in favor of restrictions on abortion, saying, “Catholics in Alliance supports these restrictions as well.”

It’s bad enough that the permagov allows a movement of religious zealots to murder healthcare providers with impunity for years, and that one of the permagov’s sanctioned political parties has long been the province of those religious nuts, but now the OTHER party has to elevate them too?

Why isn’t heaven enough? Why isn’t it enough for them to know they have the Truth, that their warm and fuzzy, angry and authoritarian, fatherly and judgemental, forgiving and slaughtering God is going to grant them life forever in Paradise?

Why can’t they leave the rest of us alone? It’s bad enough that they subject their children to narrow-minded superstitions, not to mention molestors, that some of them would rather let their children die than take them to a doctor.

No, that’s not enough.

It’s not enough that the rest of us will rot forever, or burn forever, or be tortured forever in their imagined afterlife … no, they have to muck around in other people’s lives, tell the rest of us which of our wives, lovers, daughters, mothers and sisters get to live or die because they’ve made it impossible for them to access the reproductive healthcare when they needed it. They get to tell who some of us get to love, who we can commit to … all because their Imaginary Friend “told” them so.

It’s bad enough, but now they have to run BOTH political parties? Not that there is much difference between the parties already, not that our entire ruling class, wearing donkey mask or elephant mask, doesn’t spend most of our tax dollars on endless war and the ever-expanding for-profit prison system … but at least one of them used to pretend that grifters wearing vestments were supposed to be kept away from the government. Okay, maybe just be less aggressive about the god bothering, the scolding and book burning and woman stoning, but at least there was one ostensibly “secular” party.

Why isn’t heaven enough for these people? Why can’t the obsess about their own sex lives, their own moral quandaries, their own fucked up lives … why must they condemn women to pain and death in the name of an arbrary standard based upon a fairly recent interpretation of a bunch of old fables?

A better question … why do women who call themselves liberal or progressive VOTE for this fraud in the White House and the rest of that con known as the Democratic Party? For that matter, why do GBLT people support a party that promises them support only to file homophobic cant like their recent DOMA court brief? How many lies to you need to be told while you watch President Born Again Ivy League Messiah stab you in the back over and over again?

Maybe when his pet religious nuts are gathered together with President Barry about how to screw over the Democratic Party’s supposed base they AREN’T arguing how many angels can circle jerk on the head of a pederast priest’s cock, but rather how many times they can screw the rubes over and still rake in the votes and campaign contributions. History does show that when the pious get together they spend much more time on counting the gold they’ve gathered in the collection plates than they do on making people’s lives better, especially if they’re women. President Barry is in on that con, running it hard, and it’s only going to get worse.

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | May 27, 2009

Belated Memorial Day Wishes

Hat tip to Dennis Perrin.

The wars will go on … and on … and on … and he ain’t changing that.

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | May 26, 2009

Steve Earle – “Townes”

I don’t know that a bunch of words can tell you why you should buy this disk. Townes’ work over the years always inspired a lot of words of celebration, from critics and from us fans who managed to learn about him and from the many other musicians who loved him and his songs, who covered those songs and tried to get him noticed.

The words always fail though, as they often do with “cult” artists, because you’re either going to be captured by the music, or you’re not. We’ve forgotten, in this age of factory-produced and hype-promoted “art”, that music and other expressions of the human experience are ineffable. You’re touched, or they pass right by.

Steve Earle is paying tribute to his friend by playing his songs on this wonderful, understated, beautifully produced and performed album, and he does it as a singer should pay tribute to a great songwriter … he finds the places where the songs speaks to him and pours them out in his own stripped-down style. There is a great bunch backing him up on this, his wife Allison Moorer (I saw them together months ago at the Pabst Theater), mandolin virtuoso Tim O’Brien and Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine fame), to cite the more familiar names. Here’s the link to Amazon if you want to pick it up, but if possible try to find a local independent music store to get your copy.

Here’s a video of Townes playing “Marie” back in 1993.

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | May 7, 2009

Chickenshit Nation

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Oooooo, boogity booogity look out for the monsters who might be coming to your town!

The National Republican Congressional Committee also got into the act Thursday, unveiling a slew of news releases challenging targeted Democrats in states where prisoners may be released on whether they support the White House policy. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is expected to follow suit Friday with releases targeting 2010 Democratic incumbents Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

GOP pollster Glen Bolger called the strategy a homerun for a minority party that has had difficulty finding a potent issue to play off of.

“Gitmo is NIMBY on steroids,” Bolger said. “All in favor of having Gitmo terrorists housed in your Congressional District raise your hand. Whoa — no hands go up!”

Be afraid, you wimpy cowards, even though (m)ost of the detainees are not, in fact, the hardened terrorists the Pentagon often claims it is holding.

Of course, frightened children citizens who see threats that are far out of proportion with reality will do and believe and support all kinds of horrible things in order for that feeling of fear to be taken away from them.

“Roughly one in five Americans believe those techniques were torture but nonetheless approve of the decision to use those procedures against suspected terrorists,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. “That goes a long way toward explaining why a majority don’t want to see former Bush officials investigated.”

Coward politicians to perfectly represent a nation of ethics-challenged cowards, frightened babies scared of every loud noise and perceived threat and unfamiliar person or thing that makes them feel uncomfortable.

We deserve everything we have coming to us …

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | April 19, 2009

Forty Six

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Today I’ve been on this beautiful ball of dirt for forty six years.

Sorry, not much more to say about it, wisdom or insight wise. If anything, I “know” less than I’ve ever known before, I believe less than I’ve believed before.

Well, to be honest, I really don’t know what all to say about it that will be of any use to anybody else, but that’s never stopped me from spewing forth my usual bile and existential angst.

All I know is that I’m here, and it’s kinda cool, most of the time. The rest is just sad observation and depressed disgust.

Anyway, on my natal anniversary, here are some things that come to mind.

I suspect that most of what passes for “progress” is mere muddling through, and “improvements” are accidents.

I used to have a certain faith in reason, and in “truth” and “history”. I used to think that people learned from the past, that we could advance if we would learn from past mistakes. I love that old hoary Santayana chestnut, about pasts and learning and repeating et cetera.

I see absolutely no sign that any of that is true.

No need to go into the current politics, the abject failure of what passes for liberals to stand up for the mythical “rule of law” or even “human decency”, since a clear-eyed view of both shows only myths and self-serving lies. While it’s good to see some recitation of the American past to be presented with more context than usual, to see new leaders from so-called Latin America, mestizo / mixed blood leaders who try to inform the latest Imperial leader or call the US on our support of targeted assassination

… wait, why am I wandering that far afield?

Always looking for the big pattern, the grand scheme … I don’t know where that tendency comes from. Lets start closer to home:

  • the police forces that resemble paramilitary forces more than peace forces.
  • the prison complexes that serve as huge sources of slave labor and corporate profits.
  • the empire and supporting war machine that spreads death and hate across the globe, in the service of corporate profits and simple-minded American exceptionalism.
  • the resolute resistance of this country to never, EVER, live up to the intent or meaning of our supposed founding documents, let alone the promise of the various treaties and laws that we’ve passed over the years.

The simple, sad, terrible, horrible fact is that Americans expend a great deal of effort, treasure and blood on hating, fearing and punishing each other and “foreign” others, that we cling to a pernicious form of capitalism that is as close to a secular version of feudalism that the human mind can devise. Every fucked-up dystopic variation of evil science fiction corporation has some current analogue.

I used to have a rough humanist faith that we could learn, that we could advance, that we could care for and love each other, that we would learn to cooperate and create together. Human history is repleat with examples of the good that comes from multicultural cooperation and learning, of forgiveness and second chances, and we don’t need made-up human sacrifices on crucifixes to find those examples … yet we still act little different than medieval savages with better tech.

So, forty six years and I’m learning, at least trying, to step away from my childish faith and hope in human progress. The enlightenment was a glitch, a mere blip, a shimmering mirage floating over the usual greed and powerplays and bloodlust. I’m falling back on a sad, resigned decision to just accept what is, for now anyway, to try to concentrate on the local and the beautiful, to treasure friends and family and the beauty of this world we seem so determined to despoil.

Forty six years, and I know so little, though I’ve absorbed a lot. Forty six years, and I’m falling back … on the void, I guess, and acceptance, and trying to just enjoy watching the passing parade, to read and watch and treasure and OBSERVE. How very American, but I’m just disconnected and acting as an audience member … it’s been made terribly clear by the charade that is the “change” offered by that fraud Obama that there is little or no political outlet for resistance from a humanist direction, unless one is willing to step completely outside what passes for American “civilization”, and I’m not that guy, too bourgeois and comfortable to risk the confrontation necessary to effect that change, if it is even possible.

Forty six years … a blessing, though it’s hard not to feel terribly sad we handle this treasure our lives are the way that we do.

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | March 27, 2009

Neko Case

I can’t wait to see her at the Riverside in a month. The new album, Middle Cyclone is wonderful, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Not that it matters (please have the strength to seek out what touches you PERSONALLY, not what people tell you you MUST like) but lots of folks agree that it IS a wonderful effort.

Since I’m too lazy to do a longer review tonight, here’s the new video for “People Got A Lotta Nerve”:

And just because this caught my ear when I heard a review on NPR the other day, Marianne Faithful covering Neko’s “Hold On Hold On” from her new disc of covers “Easy Come, Easy Go” (which I need to go pick up):

Posted by: Madman in the Marketplace | March 9, 2009

Superhero in Chief

No, this isn’t another post about all those Obama appearances in comic books the last few months. It’s more about how eager Americans seem to be to anoint someone as a savior, a post-modern Great Man, elevated to an instant Founding Father before he’s actually done anything. Comic writer Grant Morrison:

“I’m not even sure if there is a superhero genre or if the idea of the superhero is a special chilli pepper-like ingredient designed to energize other genres. The costumed superhero has survived since 1938, constantly shifting in tone from decade to decade to reflect the fears and the needs of the audience. The current mainstream popularity of the superhero has, I think, a lot to do with the fact that the Terror-stricken, environmentally-handicapped, overpopulated, paedophile-haunted world that’s being peddled by our news media is crying out for utopian role models and for any hopeful images of humankind’s future potential!”

I think that’s so much on point, except now people project the archetype onto real world people, finding ideas that aren’t in evidence, beliefs not deeply held, possibilities in clueless hacks like Obama, just another over-educated ladder-climbing handmaiden to an entrenched system that has increasingly failed in every way, other than to give more to those who have more than they need. Power given to men unworthy of it, because they fit some ardent need for us to be saved dramatically.

Which, of course, unlike American’s silly belief in our own exceptionalism, makes us like every other Empire brought down by the hubris and incompetence of the tyrants and criminals we elevate.

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