Friday, December 05, 2008

Joke of the Day

Q: What is the difference between the Mormon Council of the Twelve Apostles and the Legion of Doom?

A: One is a secretive group of diabolically evil freaks of nature dedicated to the destruction of civil society. The other is a group of villains who battle the Super Friends.


From the Annals of Bizarre Questions...

A teaser for this article in today's Daily Beast:

Ummm. Only if he gets tired of sea monkeys.

Commenters: do you have a better answer?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Night Out: Rancho Las Trancas

As mentioned previously, Fosco and Oz went out last night for Oz's milestone birthday. Because Fosco is trying to feature more food lately, Fosco decided to take some picshas.

We were just looking for a casual evening last night (bigger, more elaborate celebration TBA), so we went to our favorite "dive" Mexican place: Rancho Las Trancas in South SF.

It's a sorta neighborhood place: affordable and super yummy. They offer fresh warm tortilla chips with TWO salsas (a really tasty spicy chipotle and a fresh mild). We always get enchilada plates. Fosco gets one beef, one cheese with green sauce:

Oz does two cheese with the traditional red sauce (and no beans):

Even though Oz and I always intend to order dessert, we always stuff ourselves so full of chips that we can barely finish our enchiladas. Last night was no different, so no yummy dessert pix. But a nice hearty birthday dinner, nonetheless.

Freedom-Loving Neighbours Cry Maple Tears

[This one goes out to all of Fosco's peeps from north of the border (this is for you, M&L).]

We (Americans) can be forgiven if the horror of the George W. Bush era has distracted us from noticing that Canada managed to elect its very own W as prime minister (since 2006!). His name is Stephen Harper and you can see him in the photo at right about to devour a helpless kitten. Harper and Bush share a "philosophy" (as if anything George Bush believes could be described as a "philosophy"...) Actually, you might even say that they are "friends." At least that's what GWB says in this official State Department transcript:

PRESIDENT BUSH: We talked about -- well, we talked about a lot of subjects, and that's what you'd expect friends to do.

Mr. Prime Minister, the floor is yours. I'm proud you're here, and thanks for coming.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President, for the invitation and for the kind words. And thank you for doing something I never thought I'd see, which is have the Canadian media stand when I entered the room. But we certainly enjoy that.

(Begins to speak in French.)

(Returns to speaking English.) The United States and Canada have a strong relationship, strong and firm relationship based on the largest commerce and social interaction in the history of any two countries of the world, and we were able to discuss a wide range of bilateral and international matters where we, more often than not, share common values and common objectives.
Can I just note that my favorite part of this official State Department transcript (no lie!) is the parenthetical "(Begins to speak in French)" which is not only not translated into English but not transcribed at all! That's how much the State Dept. cares about French. Harper could have said that he was the meat in a Bush daughters sandwich and no one would have noticed--at least no one at the State Dept.

But back to the point at hand. Apparently, Canada is having second thoughts about re-electing Harper (only two months ago) and Parliament (the Canadian word for "Congress") is preparing a confidence vote that will effectively end Harper's prime ministry. Except that the vote won't happen, because today Harper suspended Parliament until the end of January. Fosco's grasp of the details is fuzzy, but somehow it involves the Queen of England, the word prorogue, and a hell of a lot of angry Québécoises (or is that adjective a redundancy?).

And--wait a minute... is he wearing eyeliner?

Ooooh-kay. But anyway...

Naturally, MPs (the Canadian word for "Representatives") are crying foul:
[Stéphane] Dion, who would become the coalition’s prime minister, addressed reporters before the closed doors of the House of Commons. “For the first time in the history of Canada, the prime minister of Canada is running away from the Parliament of Canada,” he said.


“A prime minister cannot request that the Parliament be prorogued to avoid a confidence vote,” [Dion] wrote. “It would be an abuse of power on the part of the executive branch without precedent in the history of Parliament.”
Hmmm. "Abuse of power." That sounds familiar.

But seriously: does Harper think he's going to be any less popular in six weeks? Especially after doing this?

Actually, there is part of Fosco that still wonders whether Bush might try something like this. Well, except that Bush doesn't actually seem to want to keep his job anymore (it gets in the way of his jigsaw puzzle time).

So join me, friends, in a journey north to liberate our Canadian brothers and sisters! Do not fear, Canadians, we will bring you a candidate of HOPE and CHANGE! A Barack Oubama, you might say...

May Become?

From an article in the NYTimes:

If you doubt this, Fosco can let you talk to any number of his students (and they are students in California, which is one of the few states with relatively affordable higher ed.).

For a more well-considered take on all of this, read KFR's commentary.

Also from the Times, a story about how college students are working on applied town planning in rural Vermont. Maybe if other communities realized that their local colleges and universities could be resources for improving everyday civic life. Maybe there would be less resentment toward public universities (and the concomitant unwillingness to adequately fund them) if people realized that public universities can help to improve everyday life in very local ways.

Gays Respond As They Should: Musically!

Look what Fosco's boyfriend Oz found! And on the day after his birthday!

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

And here's some back story, just posted by the SF Chronicle. How can you not love Marc Shaiman? And NPH (can we please start calling him NPH?)!


"Arrested Development" Film Tracker: Mega Update from Defamer

Cornell is great. Also poor.

A great piece this week from Michael Roth at the HuffPo on the benefits of a liberal arts education. As Roth notes, a liberal arts education (like the one you could receive at, say, Cornell) is excellent preparation for changing the world:

A quick look at several members of President-elect Obama's leadership team can stand as an example of how those with a liberal arts education are shaping the future of our society.
Of course, a liberal arts education ain't what it used to be, as the financial crisis hits even the most sterling Ivy League institutions. Even super-studly Harvard University (pictured at right) is in trouble. According to Fosco's old patron, the Harvard Crimson, Harvard's gargantuan endowment lost 22 percent this year (which translates to 8 billion dollars). Sadly, this means major budget cuts and austerity measures to be enacted by Harvard President Peri Gilpin Drew Gilpin Faust (who, by all accounts, does not deserve such an unpleasant and thankless duty). As the Crimson reports:
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences placed a freeze on staff hiring last week, following a cautionary letter from Faust a month earlier that warned of cutbacks ahead.
Sadly, this probably means that Harvard will have to lay off former president and Chinese water heater tycoon "Bell Johnson."

Of course, even in this time of crisis, the Crimson cannot resist a subtle dig at other, lesser universities. As the article notes,
The decline, which amounts to more than $8 billion, is larger than the endowments of all but four other universities—Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT.
That's right, Cornell: Harvard lost more money this year than your university is worth. Pwned!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Your Santa Cruz Postcard

For Fosco's friends who are trapped in much less desirable places (like South Bend or Paris), allow me to provide a dose of Santa Cruz (still self-congratulorily super-liberal).

Today, the sea was much clearer than the past weekend--a gray-green glass color. Fosco's new favorite birds, the black oystercatchers, were working the tidepools pretty heavily. Some overcast, temp in the mid-50s. Winter is in da house.

A Very Special Day

Today is the birthday of Fosco's boyfriend Oz. And it's a milestone birthday! Fosco is not going to reveal which milestone, but let's just say that the cake below would be very appropriate for Oz--especially if Oz's name were "Terry" and he loved soccer.

Fosco and Oz are going out for a casual dinner tonight as a low-key celebration. But, at some point in the next few weeks, there will be something much more elaborate (hopefully involving a cake wreck).

Happy Birthday, Oz! I love you.

Quote of the Week: The Stanford Anus

Fosco doesn't always swoon for the cultural writing of critic Stanley Crouch, but he found a certain enjoyment in this passage from Crouch's piece on The Daily Beast:

Then there are men with the intelligence of Shelby Steele, who sits in a conservative think tank in the cultural and intellectual anus of the nation. Steele was surrounded by white people while writing that Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan had somehow "allowed" white people to feel free of their racism if they just embraced those outstanding individuals. Negro, please! I wonder if those white people who work with you and are your peers assume that they are not racists only because they know and like you. I hope it takes more than that.
The main thrill in this quote is the part where Crouch calls Stanford University the "cultural and intellectual anus of the nation." Teehee! It's funny because it's true.

Another Explanation for the Mumbai Attacks

The attacks in Mumbai were horrible. We are still learning the full details of the events there, from the horror of those trapped in hotels to the moments of heroism. We are also still learning about the causes of the attacks--as much as we can ever know about the causes of mass murder. We have been told about the reputed link to Pakistan, the role of Kashmir, and the suggestion that al-Qaeda used the attacks to draw attention away from their hideouts along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

In the NYTimes, Suketu Mehta offered his own explanation for the Mumbai attacks in an essay called "What They Hate About Mumbai." Mehta offers an eloquent tribute to "his city" as a "a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia." And yet, there are people who hate the city. For Mehta, the hatred of Mumbai is driven by religious fundamentalism, a fundamentalism that hates Mumbai's materialism and sensuality. The terrorists hate Mumbai because

being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against.
It is the traditional fundamentalist hatred of pleasure and earthly gain that has led them to single out Mumbai (as well as cities of the Western world) for punishment.

And Mehta has watched this religious fundamentalism grow in his city. As he notes,
In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.
For Mehta, Mumbai has become a front in the war of fundamentalism against Western life. And for him the appropriate response to the attacks is for the West to fight back even harder:
But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever.
The key to winning the war against religious fundamentalism, Mehta says, is to have more fun.

Fosco has sympathy for much of Mehta's analysis. Indeed, religious fundamentalism does seem like a reasonable explanation for the Mumbai attacks (especially as we learn more). And far be it for a self-described "hedonist intellectual" like Fosco to put a limit on pleasure. But, even so, Mehta's analysis and his prescription sound eerily like those offered by George W. Bush after 9/11:
  1. the terrorists hate us because our way of life is just too awesome.
  2. the best way to respond to the attacks is to go shopping.
Instead of recycling these lies/platitudes/idiocies, Fosco would like to suggest a more complex way of thinking about the causes of the hatred directed against Mumbai (and the West).

Part of Fosco's response to the news of the attacks (on Thanksgiving Eve here in the US) was colored by the fact that he was reading Mike Davis's remarkable book Planet of Slums at the time. Planet of Slums examines the hellish underworld of poverty that comes into existence simultaneously (but invisibly, to Western eyes) with the rise of glitzy Third World megacities. One of Davis's case studies is, of course, Mumbai, a city of 19 million people with 10-12 million of those people living in tenements or squatting (in fact, probably 1 million people in Mumbai live on the sidewalks). This is the Mumbai that Mehta does not talk about in his essay, the Mumbai where
  • breathing the air is equivalent to smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes a day.
  • in the Dharavi slum district, the population density is 18,000 people PER ACRE.
  • about half of the population does not have access to a toilet.
This Mumbai is indeed far removed from Bollywood dreams.

Now, I don't want to blame Mehta for glossing over this side of Mumbai; he is not trying to mislead--Mumbai is also the rich and glamorous city that he loves. However, I do want to follow Mike Davis in suggesting that there are consequences to the type of economic inequality that we find in Mumbai (and all over the Third World). When you consider that similar conditions of inequality hold in cities across India (Delhi, Kolkata) as well as in the cities of India's (frequently hostile) neighbors (Karachi, Pakistan; Dhaka, Bangladesh; etc.), you have to start to wonder about the political and religious consequences of extreme inequality. It should be no surprise that terrorism (especially religious terrorism) seems to grow best in the slums of places like Karachi, Kabul, and Baghdad (in fact, the dangerous Sadr City area of Baghdad is the largest slum in that country).

This is not to say that the Mumbai attacks had social inequality as their explicit motive. Nor is it to excuse the attacks in any way. However, it may be time for the rich First World to start asking itself whether the economic abjection of the Third World is breeding resentment, discontent, and ideologies of violence. Maybe instead of bombing the hell out of Pakistan (and other Third World slum societies), the First World should think about creating a livable existence for the global poor. This might be a case of how the right thing to do is also in our best interest...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

You Should Superpoke Lindsay Lohan (If You Know What I Mean)

When Lindsay Lohan recognizes that a trend is over, that trend is, like, so over. And so, it is time for all of us to delete our MySpace pages and switch over completely to Facebook.

Sadly, however, Firecrotch's foray into the Facebook was not without incident: apparently, Facebook administrators thought her new profile was a fake and disabled it. Apparently, there are just oodles of people who want to register on FB as "Lindsay Lohan." Read about her harrowing experience (as per a posting on her MySpace page):

wow! i was in i am loving facebook (as well as myspace-hehe) but going on facebook to talk to some of my friends and they are thinking that I AM THE "FAKE" OF MYSELF!!! hahahahahaha.. at first i laughed, and then i got angry. angry because, with ALL the people that PRETEND to be me on facebook, they decide to say I AM THE FAKE- of myself.
Now on first glance this tirade may seem to be borderline literate; however, Fosco would like to suggest there are some serious philosophical questions in play here. Really! Think about it: how can you prove that you are not the fake of yourself? Or, to put it in Lohanese, who decides that YOU ARE THE FAKE- of yourself?

So why are all the redheaded rats leaving the sinking MySpace ship? Some insight today from an interview with Rupert Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff (Murdoch's NewsCorp owns MySpace):
if you’re on MySpace now, you’re a [expletive] cretin. And you’re not only a [expletive] cretin, but you’re poor. Nobody who has beyond an 8th grade level of education is on MySpace. It is for backwards people.
Classy! Fosco at least tried to sugarcoat the same observation when he pithily noted (in this post) that "Facebook is the Target to MySpace's WalMart."

But because Michael Wolff wants to make sure you really get his point, he will even put it in advertising-speak!:
That is one of the interesting points of Murdoch. He wants to make money off of what he rightly saw as a rising lower class. He came to this country and he sees, that’s just not really true. No one really identifies with being lower class [in the US]. As soon as it comes to you—‘I am lower class’--you run, and you have to rehabilitate all of your aspirational identifiers.
Yes, MySpace users, it's true: you have to rehabilitate your aspirational identifiers.

El Yummy

In a recent survey of Fosco Lives! readers, a substantial number of respondents called for "more food, less politics." While Fosco will not abandon his recent political bent, he does realize that food coverage has been sorely lacking since the site's October "relaunch." Let's remedy that omission.

See that pastry on the right? That, mis amigos, is an individual custard pie (in charmingly garbled local parlance, a "crema custer") from the El Rosal Panaderia, just down the street from Fosco's abode. Fosco stopped there for a post-lecture breakfast treat this morning.

The panaderia staff is friendly and kind, if not competently bilingual (that's okay--Fosco habla espanol). The "crema custer" has a crumbly pie shell (not too sweet) with a nice creamy custard center (see right). Oh, and it retails for 89 cents. That just can't be beat!

The political advantages of TRUE LOVE

Sad news, ladies: the silverest fox since James Brolin will soon be off the market. That's right, Florida Governor Charlie Crist is getting married. Yes, and his intended must be quite something, as Governor Crist is willing to give up after thirty years of confirmed bachelorhood. That's thirty years as a very tan confirmed bachelor in Florida... Hmmm.

Now, Fosco isn't saying that Governor Crist is gay... (of course, some of his constituents are only too happy to do it for me). But, as HuffPo points out, the timing of Crist's engagement is a bit suspicious as it seemed to coincide with his bid to become John McCain's running mate (hey, how did that all work out?). And yes, as Chris Kelly points out, there is delicious irony in the fact that Crist's fiance owns a Halloween costume company that actually makes beards.

What makes this story even more fun is that, if Governor Crist actually drinks enough Cosmos to show up at his heterosexual wedding, he will be greeted by gay rights protesters!

According to the story,

The group Impact-Florida has called on its members to gather in pink T-shirts outside First United Methodist Church of St. Petersburg on Dec.12 to "congratulate" Crist and Rome while their wedding takes place inside. The demonstration will continue outside the wedding reception at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in downtown St. Petersburg.

"After the positive congratulatory observance, there will be a candlelight vigil close to the [Vinoy] in downtown St. Pete to mourn the loss of gays right to get married," the group's Web site states, referring to a gay marriage ban [in FL] that passed by ballot initiative in November.
Of course, the fact that Governor Crist himself may be a bit pink on the inside just adds another level of fun to the whole thing.

All of us here at Fosco Lives! would like to wish Governor Crist and his wife-to-be the happiest of marriages. We would also like to suggest that the future Mrs. Crist keep handy the home phone number of Suzanne Craig.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The (Other) Gay Tom Cruise?

Do you know who this gentleman is? He calls himself Cheyenne Jackson, which is not (to Fosco's knowledge) a stripper pseudonym. He's a Broadway actor (Damn Yankees!) and a television guest star ("Lipstick Junkie Jungle"). His film credits include a starring role in the too-upsetting-for-Fosco-to-even-think-about-seeing United 93. He is also, if we are to believe this article by Larry Gross, a "credible candidate" to be the first openly-gay actor to portray a leading man in a Hollywood film.

Gross's article is good fun to read, as he describes all of the reasons why a gay blockbuster like Milk doesn't star any gay actors in major roles. Fosco's favorite parts are the honest assessments of gay actors and celebrities who have failed to become leading men (or women). Some excellent diagnoses:

Ellen DeGeneres may be Hollywood’s most prominent lesbian these days but, like her East Coast counterpart Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen is a misleading example, because acting was never her strong suit. [...] Her current success as a talk show host depends on her personality and her willingness to keep her sexuality tacitly unspoken.

Similarly, Melissa Etheridge, Hollywood’s other leading lesbian, is a singer who never played to the male audience’s romantic fantasies.

In movies, there are the British queers, Ian McKellen, who is not the leading-man type, and Rupert Everett, who thinks he should be.
The problem with an openly gay movie star, of course, comes down to money. As Gross notes,
Would teenage girls still make “High School Musical” a megahit if they knew the romance between Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens was limited to the screen?
Wait. Did he just out VanHudge? Did she take those nudie pix for Miley Cyrus?

So should gay movie fans pin their hopes on the "mysterious" Mr. Cheyenne? Fosco is unconvinced. While he's never seen Cheyenne act, Fosco isn't that impressed with his face--he's much too chiseled for Fosco's taste. And did he borrow those eyes from Jason Patric? However, Fosco can believe that many middle-aged women (of the Claymate variety) might find Cheyenne to be sexy enough to help "open" a film. What about it, commenters: is Cheyenne Jackson your Mystery Date?

Catholicism Keeps Getting Worse

You may have noticed that Fosco has had a Catholic bee in his bonnet lately. Mostly, this is because of Fosco's anger at Catholic support for Prop H8. While this current story is not about Prop H8, Fosco thinks it clearly illustrates the kind of coercive tactics that the Catholic Church now uses on its members in order to influence politics in the (supposedly secular) public sphere.

From the SF Chronicle: Calif. priest tells Obama supporters to confess.

That's right, a parish priest is asking his parishioners to confess if they voted for Obama:

A Roman Catholic priest has told parishioners they should confess if they voted for Barack Obama because the president-elect supports abortion.

The Rev. Joseph Illo says his parishioners at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto shouldn't risk losing their "state of grace" by receiving communion sacrilegiously. He delivered the message in a Nov. 21 letter and during mass.
"Father" Illo then goes on to note that voting for Obama would qualify as a "mortal sin." A mortal sin, as per Aquinas, is one that would exclude the sinner from heaven (if not confessed and repented).

First things first. "Father" Illo is a douchebag.

Second, let's take a minute and unpack this whole thing a bit. This is actually a remarkable move on "Father" Illo's part. Note, this is not the Catholic Church supporting a specific policy proposal (such as a ban on abortions or, say, gay marriage). While Fosco may disagree with the Church's position of these issues, he can understand how the Church may choose to urge Catholic voters to adopt the Catholic position in voting on these issues (of course, threatening any Catholic with damnation for their vote is repulsive). But this is not just about voting on a specific issue, rather, the Church here is weighing in on a candidate--a candidate who (like almost any political candidate) holds complex views on policy. "Father" Illo has essentially reduced Barack Obama to a pro-abortion caricature.

This is wrong for several reasons. The first of which is that Barack Obama is not exactly "pro-abortion." You can see that here. Obama (like all of us who support Roe v. Wade) would actually like there to be fewer abortions. And how do we reduce abortions? I think comprehensive sex education and improved economic opportunity might be a good place to start. Obama, like many of the rest of us, recognizes that we can reduce abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies. Guess what, the Democratic party even has a plan!

So, if Barack Obama's plan to reduce abortion is not good enough for the Catholic Church, then John McCain must have been planning to outlaw abortion altogether, right? Well, not exactly. Apparently, McCain's entire plan was to appoint enough conservative justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, "returning the abortion question to the individual states." Hmmm. That doesn't actually seem like much of a plan, does it? I think we all know which states would outlaw abortion if RvW were overturned. And I'm guessing that most women, even those who live in the South, would be within one day's drive of one of the legal abortion states. Of course, overturning RvW would still cause a lot of pain and hardship for women in abortion-illegal states. And there would certainly be women too poor to travel for an abortion (although some might consequently risk their lives for unsafe illegal abortions). So this plan probably would reduce abortion as well. But overall, it's not entirely clear to me which plan would actually reduce abortion more: Obama's or McCain's.

But isn't the point of this sort of thought experiment that it is possible for intelligent people with a moral conscience to disagree about how best to reduce abortion? This is what "Father" Illo and the Catholic Church is denying here. They are being intellectually dishonest by ignoring the fact that there are numerous ways to reach goals that, in some degree, we all share. But clearly, disagreeing with the Church on the "right" way to reduce abortion means eternal damnation for your soul.

Do I even have to note that, by focusing on abortion in determining who to vote for, the Catholic Church is ignoring several other social justice issues that the Church used to care about? You know, issues like poverty and war. Does "Father" Illo really think that John McCain would save enough aborted fetuses to make up for the hundreds of thousands of people in Iran that he would kill? Although, come to think of it, those Iranians aren't Christians so presumably they count less...

What We Have Lost

As you can see on the right, today is World AIDS Day. Fosco Lives! is participating in a Bloggers Unite event to keep AIDS in focus as a global epidemic.

This is what I'm thinking about today. Two weekends ago, I saw the Passageworks exhibit at the SFMOMA. One of the highlights was the giant golden bead curtain (Untitled) by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. It is sensuous and gorgeous and fun all at the same time. Here is my picture taken through the curtain:

Of course, as beautiful and joyful as Gonzalez-Torres's works are, there is still an element of sadness to my experience of them. That's because Felix Gonzalez-Torres died in 1996 of complications from AIDS. He was almost 40 years old. In the years since his death, I have watched many museum-goers experience Gonzalez-Torres's art (usually with laughs and smiles of delight). Yet, such experience is bittersweet because Gonzalez-Torres's voice is no longer with us. That we can hear his voice at all is lucky; we have his early work as a testament to what he would have produced in a long, full life. But there are millions of voices that we will never hear, millions of people we will never get to know. They are the artists, musicians, writers, and thinkers that are absent from our lives because of AIDS. And that's what I think about when I think about the cost of AIDS.

Here's something else to think about today:

"CDC recently published national HIV incidence (new infections) that showed an estimated 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in 2006—that’s substantially higher than the previous 40,000 estimated annual new infections. Visit the CDC’s website to learn more."
Want to get tested? You can find an HIV testing site near you.

Some other World AIDS Day blogposts:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Prop H8 Updh8

Yes, it's been literally days since Fosco talked to you about Prop H8. Don't worry, there is still Prop H8 news and Fosco is digesting it for you (so you don't have to!). Here are two Prop H8 titbits from the last couple of days:

  • Tom Ackerman has a great trick to try on your married straight friends. As Ackerman writes:
    I no longer recognize marriage. It’s a new thing I’m trying.

    Turns out it’s fun.

    Yesterday I called a woman’s spouse her boyfriend.

    She says, correcting me, “He’s my husband,”
    “Oh,” I say, “I no longer recognize marriage.”

    The impact is obvious. I tried it on a man who has been in a relationship for years,

    “How’s your longtime companion, Jill?”
    “She’s my wife!”
    “Yeah, well, my beliefs don’t recognize marriage.”

    Fun. And instant, eyebrow-raising recognition. Suddenly the majority gets to feel what the minority feels. In a moment they feel what it’s like to have their relationship downgraded, and to have a much taken-for-granted right called into question because of another’s beliefs.
    Feel free to try this at home. Passive aggressive and funny... Fosco likes.

  • In an NYTimes op-ed piece, Charles M. Blow considers how to sell same-sex marriage to Black people. Blow notes that Black women are likely to be the most hostile toward gay marriage (for a number of reasons, most of them unsurprising). Black women are also more likely to vote than are Black me.

    Blow argues that the arguments the gay community has adopted to promote marriage equality are not likely to convince Black women. Rather, he suggests we frame the debate in terms of the health of Black women! Here's the logic:
    [B]lacks overwhelmingly say that homosexuality isn’t morally acceptable. So many black men hide their sexual orientations and engage in risky behavior. This has resulted in large part in black women’s becoming the fastest-growing group of people with H.I.V. In a 2003 study of H.I.V.-infected people, 34 percent of infected black men said they had sex with both men and women, while only 6 percent of infected black women thought their partners were bisexual. Tragic. [...]

    So pitch it as a health issue. The more open blacks are to the idea of homosexuality, the more likely black men would be to discuss their sexual orientations and sexual histories. The more open they are, the less likely black women would be to put themselves at risk unwittingly. And, the more open blacks are to homosexuality over all, the more open they are likely to be to gay marriage.
    While this is worth a try, Fosco isn't convinced that it will make much of a difference. Really, what woman (of any race) is going to listen to the suggestion that she may be having sex with a closeted homosexual (or secret bisexual)? Blow's logic may make sense, but I just can't imagine any woman believing that his logic applies to her.


The weather here was finally beautiful today. Fosco walked down to the beach. The waves were the color of tea and they were large. Lots of surfers. You can sorta see them in this video:

Fosco is a very enthusiastic amateur bird-watcher and so he was quite excited to see a new bird today: the Black Oystercatcher. Fosco couldn't get a good picture, but here's the picture he would have like to have taken:

There were three of these guys browsing the tidepools this afternoon.

This was a nice afternoon and that's what Fosco needed today. To be honest, Fosco has had some trouble feeling appropriately thankful this Thanksgiving season. In many ways, Thanksgiving felt like a bit of downer this year, even though Fosco spent the day with family and his boyfriend Oz.

For one thing, Black Friday was even more distasteful than usual, what with the trampling death of a WalMart worker and the general economic meltdown (although, in the interests of full and somewhat-embarrassing disclosure, Oz and Fosco did buy an Xbox on Friday). And then there were the horrible attacks in Mumbai (more on that in an upcoming post).

Part of the problem is that Fosco is pretty ambivalent about the emotion of gratitude. What does it mean to feel grateful for something? And why should one feel that way? These questions are not that easy to answer if you think about them in terms of something like Thanksgiving.

Obviously, there are simple gratitude situations in everyday life. Say I'm 25 cents short at 7-11 (buying my favorite Chinese melamine chews) and the surfer dude behind me gives me a quarter. I'm grateful. Easy enough. Fosco is not a monster.

The problem is when a holiday like Thanksgiving comes around and the conventional wisdom is that you feel something we might call ontological gratitude--that is, gratitude for one's way of being in the world. By this, I mean feeling gratitude for one's essential position in the world, e.g.,

  • I'm grateful that I'm smart.
  • I'm grateful that I live in a rich Western society.
  • I'm grateful that I have a family and friends who love me.
  • I'm grateful that I'm alive.
These are the "big things" that Oprah is always telling you to journal about.

There are two problems with this kind of gratitude as Fosco sees it. The first is that gratitude is an other-directed emotion. If you are grateful for a good thing, you are feeling grateful TO somebody/something for that good thing. Gratitude implies an agent who produced that good thing for you (like that dude who helped me buy my melamine chews). So who do you thank for one's talents, one's relatives, one's nationality, one's existence? I suppose that's where God comes in, but that's not very helpful for those of us living the post-God existence. The God substitutes don't really work well for Fosco here either--being grateful to "The Universe" just feels stupid.

The related problem here is the question of desert (and I don't mean dessert). I'm not sure that you can feel grateful for something that you don't feel like you deserve (even just a little). Can you feel grateful for dumb blind luck? Fosco can't. This isn't a problem for most everyday applications of gratitude--after all, there is certainly part of Fosco that feels he deserves his melamine chews at 7-11 (as he's already paid almost all of the purchase price) and the surfer dude who gives him a quarter is just helping him get what he deserves. But what exactly did you (or Fosco) do to deserve not to be born in the Third World? What did you (or Fosco) do to deserve to be born with all of your limbs?

What I'm trying to suggest is that there is something slightly obscene about being grateful that you are much less existentially miserable than most of the world. After all, if you are the person who misses a plane that crashes, are you grateful that you didn't make the flight? Or do you just feel stupidly, guiltily, undeservingly lucky? The difference here is that lucky (unlike grateful) is not an entirely pleasant feeling. With luck, there is always the recognition that there is no reason why you have good things. That's why no one keeps a "luck journal."

And so, how does one feel on Thanksgiving, when one has a table full of food and a safe place to live? Fosco feels lucky, not grateful. And while you can still enjoy the good things that are yours because of luck, you cannot do so without some ambivalence, without the recognition that you have those things over other people for no good reason. Happy Thanksgiving.