Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Value

On the anniversary of The Hurricane (oddly enough, my best friend's first name is Katrina), it's important that we remember some things we may not want to. We have to remember that although 3000 lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, more than 200,000 have still been unable to rebuild theirs. It's estimated that approximately half of New Orleans' population has yet to return to the city. Although the families of 3000 people, including 300 safety officers (firefighters, police officers) were instantly changed by circumstances out of their control, at least they've had more than a fighting chance at putting their lives back together. Millions of dollars given by individuals, corporations, and governments, has been distributed to the surviving families and anyone affected by the attacks, with some families becoming instant millionaires. In comparison, poor families displaced along the Gulf Coast, are barely surviving in FEMA-provided trailers. Their neighborhoods are still littered with debris. Dilapidated houses, with corpses still inside, still stand. It took months for debris from the World Trade Center to be removed.

I'll probably take some flack for what may be insensitivity. Please don't misunderstand me. A tragedy is a tragedy; loss is loss. I can't imagine what it's like to see a loved on in the beginning of the day, only to never see them again, never hear their voice, see their smile, feel the warmth of their hand, by day's end. I can't imagine what it's like to wonder where they are, walking the streets looking for them just as families of 9/11 victims did just hours after the towers fell and families of Katrina victims did, walking around the New Orleans Superdome. The posting of names and pictures, with cell phone numbers of seekers. The anguish of finding out someone has perished before help became available.

I remember my one visit to New Orleans to work a convention at the very Convention Center that became home for thousands. Obviously, it was a different place then, lit festively, decorated with products for sale and Christmas promotions. I walked the streets of the French Quarter imagining what it must have been like to hear jazz in dark rooms. I tasted gator for the first time, much to the amazement of the colleagues I was traveling with (it didn't taste like chicken, more like swordfish). It was hot, steamy. I can only imagine what the steamy heat was like with pressurized, stormy air filling a house while water is rising around you like a plugged sink. I remember taking the PATH train from the World Trade Center to New Jersey, taking what seemed like an endless escalator from the bowels of the earth to the street. I remember the first time I got lost in the World Trade Center complex, looking for my train in 2 WTC, only to end up at 7 WTC. And I remember loving the massive towers of steel and concrete. I remember walking across the Manhattan Bridge on September 11, 2001 to get to my Brooklyn home, turning my head to watch the billows of smoke shrouding lower Manhattan. I'll never forget the look on the face of my dear Telios when I turned the corner onto our street. I can only imagine what a mother separated from her child by rising flood waters, or a firefighter's wife must have felt when they were reunited after hours of uncertainty.

Every life has value and we have to treat every life as valuable. Is it more appropriate to spend money fighting a war abroad that's supposed to help people rebuild their lives or to send that money to help people rebuild their lives here? Is it more important to spend five years trying to create a memorial that makes every surviving family happy (which won't happen) or to get a neighborhood cleaned up after a year?

Let us not allow our local pride, wherever we may come from, blind us to the value that we all have, wherever we are.

Monday, August 28, 2006

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Ridiculous -- The Flavor of Love 2. It wasn't bad enough that Flavor Flav, the court jester of hip hop's Public Enemy, subjected us to his antics, first with Brigitte Nielsen in VHi's "The Surreal Life," or that we had to suffer, sometimes painfully, through the sharing of his desires in The Flavor of Love, but this dude's back for a second season, with a new bunch of fame-seeking freakazoids. Ugh. I don't like to speak ill of folks because I don't want folks to speak ill of me. However, I am one of the millions who are repulsed but fascinated by the insanity that is Flav and the women willing to do pretty much anything to "be" with him, all for a shot at stardom. I'm sure Flav is a nice guy; certainly someone who asks his mother to provide input on a potential woman for him can't be all bad, but my sexual orientation aside, Flav's not my cup of tea. And the women willing to resort to fisticuffs to resolve conflict on any kind -- in the first few minutes of FOL2, 2 women get to swingin' over sleeping quarters -- are definitely not take-home-to-mom-worthy either.

And then there's Spike Lee's incredible documentary, "When The Levees Broke," an intense look at New Orleans the week of and the days following Hurricane Katrina. The devil is truly is in the details, and details like a study revealing that 170,000 New Orleans residents didn't have access to a car, select levees were purposely dynamited in the 1920's to protect pricey real estate and improperly built in the 1960's (with another devastating storm in 1968), show how poor New Orleans, without regard to race, have always been treated like trash. Get HBO, or get to an HBO-having friend's house to watch, or look for the DVD when it's released.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Music, Life & Love

Society is always looking for something to define it. Catchphrases abound, things like "every generation has an event that defines it" (from the trailer for the new movie "World Trade Center"), and my favorite "music is the soundtrack of our lives." We crave a little piece of definer to help us make sense of life because we are completely incapable of simply accepting that life just is. The premise behind one of my new favorite movies & books, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy" is the search for meaning in life, boiled down to explanations of almost everything, neatly gathered in a resource called The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy (my feelings on this are the subject of another post for later).

According to reports, a Mew York researcher has found that young men who listen to certain types of music are more likely to put themselves as risk for HIV. The music styles range from hip hop that glorifies materialism, which is different from traditional/ancestral hip hop that discusses urban life and politics, to club music, defined as techno and electronica (although I believe the researchers are really talking more about house, hard house, and jungle), and gospel. The researcher spoke to young men in three New York neighborhoods, and judging from the styles of music cited, these guys were probably mostly Black and Latino, and many were probably gay or bisexual.

Yes, I'm generalizing. I have to say that I don't know too many young White men who could identify Israel Houghton or Hezekiah Walker. And, I'm sure there aren't a lot of straight guys who could sing the main lyrics of "Din Da Da" or tell you who Frankie Knuckles or Junior Vasquez are. But, I think it's a bit simplistic to say that music styles will influence your sexual decision making. The pelvis-swirling antics of Elvis Presley were thought to be the beginning of moral decay in the staid 50's, yet we now revere Elvis as a cultural hero. White kids were dropping acid, dropping their drawers, and dropping out in the 60's, yet the aforementioned phrase "music is the soundtrack of our lives" came from that era. The resentment of the children of the working class who didn't have the luxury of dropping out became the incubator for the borderline racist and homophobic Disco Sucks campaign of the 70's, complete with the destruction of thousands of disco records in a baseball field, yet the now-senior rockers of that time have also become cultural icons. Was not the drug addiction and sometimes criminal behavior of these pseudo-heroes not responsible for just-as-destructive behavior involving drugs and alcohol, and yet we don't think of rock as responsible for moral irresponsibility?

Some repressive conservative somewhere will use this discovery as yet another reason why this or that lifestyle is destructive. I think we have to do better. Let's do a better job of teaching kids about sex in schools -- not telling them anything is not working, and not making condoms more available isn't working either. Let's make parents be more responsible for their children. Let's make our neighborhoods more livable, increase employment opportunities, and make it easier to get a real education and perhaps sex won't be such a dicey form of recreation. But don't say that a thumping beat or scantily clad girls in videos are making kids more likely to put themselves at risk.

Monday, August 07, 2006

We Are In Our Last Days For Real

Although slightly cheeky, my title is for real. Several states have expanded their self-defense laws which, for example, allow you to shoot, and possibly kill someone in self-defense, even if you have time and opportunity to flee to safety. And, in Florida, you can shoot to protect your property. Your property. You can shoot, and possibly kill someone to protect your home and your stuff. I've known about this madness for a while now since my brother, who lives in Nevada, proudly owns a gun and did almost shoot a young man that hopped his fence to retrieve a ball. Bro says he protects his property thusly because liability laws are a drag; if aforementioned kid had fallen and broken his ankle in aforementioned fall, he could sue my brother for damages, even though he had no business in my brother's yard.

I can't imagine that in states where gun possession is highly regarded that we'll necessarily have responsible application of this law. The self-defense argument supported by this law doesn't only apply to you on your property, but also to you on the street, feeling threatened. Throw a little racial profiling in, a little queer panic, and you have possible abuse of self-defense.

And, in other last days news, the Times reports on a new genre of "reality" t.v. (which, interestingly enough is as scripted as a sitcom) where homeless people are paid as little as five bucks to fight, injure themselves, and perform other humiliating acts, which are then recorded and released on DVD, a la chicks doin' crazy things. Needless to say, these DVDs have raked in millions, with no remorse for their perversion, from the series creator. He claims he's simply providing something new and entertaining. We truly are in our last days when we think watching people without options do the most humiliating things possible all for five lousy dollars.

I recently shared my views on violence in our world, and now I'm thoroughly convinced we have a huge problem on our hands. We in America are baffled by the behavior of suicide bombers and terrorists, but we don't value life. We call the aggressive response to a threat self-defense, but if you look at how these laws are structured, particularly Florida's, you'll find cases where an opportunity to flee was present, and not taken. Is the answer now to become a wild west-type society where everyone is armed and people are disposable? Why should we teach our children to avoid violence when adults don't have to? Why should we enact laws that supposedly protect life by outlawing abortion when the only lives we're interested in protecting are those that a few people think are worth protecting? I'm not some random tree hugger; I wear leather and eat animal products, including foie gras and lobster. I think far too many people who could be gainfully employed in non-strenuous work are sitting at home collecting disability and too many people who don't make enough of an effort to gain an employable skill, preferring, even for multiple generations, to collect welfare and live in subsidized housing. I am in support of our armed forces, police, and firefighters because it takes a hell of a lot to willfully put onesself in harm's way, and I believe if you can't reasonably and optimally take responsibility for what the results may be from having unprotected sex, you shouldn't. However, I don't believe we're fighting a war that makes sense, we'd rather spend money on private schools that only a few can afford to attend instead of public schools for everyone, and I don't believe that racism, sexism, homophobia and classism no longer exist. We don't respect life enough, and that will ultimately be the fall of our society.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Iron Fist

I've been thinking about violence a lot lately. I'm not a violent person, nor do I advocate the use of violence to solve conflict. I will, however, do what I must, including resort to violence, to protect myself or my family, and only as a last resort for I believe I am prayerful enough and wise enough to try other means first.

I've been concerned for years about the ever-escalating situation in the Middle East. Briefly, the U.S. has been a big supporter of Israel since its founding in 1948. Much of Israel's expansion has depended upon the thrashing and conquering of surrounding nations that lived in relative peace for years prior. Essentially, Israel has been a bully. Don't take my word for it. Go to The History Channel's site to learn for yourself. And, by the way, being anti-Israel is not the same as being anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic, so keep your flaming to yourself.

Here in the U.S., violence against LGBT people, particularly Black LGBTs, continues unabated. A Black lesbian in Washington, D.C. was murdered, allegedly for cooperating with the police in a murder case where the victim was a Black lesbian. Last year, another Black lesbian was murdered in D.C. Here in New York, one Black gay man was murdered, and two others savagely beaten. On the island of Jamaica, one young gay man was severely beatn by a mob egged on by the young man's father, two gay men were murdered, one in his home, reminiscent of murderous home invasions that were rampant in the 1970's and 80's, and in recent weeks, a young lesbian couple were murdered.

What can we attribute this brutality to? I don't have an answer, nor do I necessarily have a theory. I do know that Western society, particularly those countries with easy access to the Internet and those into video and electronic games are becoming more desensitized to violence, blood and gore. When you can take a life with the push of a button, it's just as easy to do it for real. But that's a pat and elemental theory. The reality is that when you have nothing to live for, you aren't afraid to die or help someone else to die by taking their life.

I said earlier that I thought I was prayerful enough and smart enough to find alternatives to violence. Many aren't. Today, I saw a sign posted outsied a community garden that said that planting corn meant you were interested in committing to an area, a community. When we stop directing money to the public school system, preferring to give it to vouchers for private schools, schools that often were (and still are) used to exclude many students, we stop committing to public schools and their improvement. When we provide increasing support to "luxury" housing, which really means nothing more than putting some dude at the door to accept your packages, a few mediocre exercise machines in a spare room and calling it a gym, throwing some stainless steel appliances that aren't necessarily high end, just highly finished, we stop committing to improving neighborhoods for the people already in the community who exercise at the Y and whose stoves have white enamel finish. The rich and nouveau riche are increasing, while the poor continue to get poor and stay poor. And all of that, coupled with lousy nutrition, substance abuse, and mental illness make for pissed-off people receptive to negative messages that lead to violence, irrespective of the source of those messages, e.g. the government, the church, or the media.

This post is not so much an offer of solution as much as it is a sad and angry rant. Our societies are self-combusting and something needs to change.

Aaarghhh!!!!!