Thursday, April 26, 2007

Remembering War: Iraq, Iran, Vietnam ....

April 23, 2007 (third time, first two attempts crashed)

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. -- George Santayana

This past week Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) engaged in a bit of controversy. In addressing a news conference on the administration’s policy in Iraq, Sen. Reid appeared to ramble a bit, and during it, uttered the four words that stopped clocks on both sides of the Congressional aisle: “this war is lost.” Yeah, that was about as sorely welcomed as a freshly laid, steaming cow-pie next to the dinner table.

Personally, I have no real disagreement with Sen. Reid’s sentiment. It was actually an unusually gutsy, king-has-no-clothes moment. But uttering this, no matter how valid, is practically like begging conservative screaming heads to a noise contest. You might as well call out a bunch of bull-riding rednecks and tell them they’re sissy punks while you stand peeing on the Alamo. What reaction was the senator expecting?

Yes, those four words will be played over and over and over and over, ad nauseum, during election time. You can hear Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee salivating already.

A bit earlier, Republican pundits and pols alike were in a dither over house Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) trip to Syria. When you consider the foreign policy success this administration has had in the Middle East, Speaker Pelosi certainly couldn’t do any worse.

But conservative critics lobbed accusations about her talks with Syrian President Bashir Assad in which she tried to bring Syria to the negotiation table. This caused Vice President Dick Cheney to act like his first name, blasting Speaker Pelosi for allegedly setting her own foreign policy agenda, taking a stand not first approved by President Bush, and undermining the president’s authority.

A question to the Veep: have you never seen any other government official circumvent a standing president? How about President George Bush 41 negotiating with the leaders of Iran while we were on the verge of outright war with a nation that held American hostages? And to think, all of it was done to exquisitely time the release of our hostages a bit later, to coincide with election day of newly-elected President Reagan.

Perhaps he doesn’t remember.

Do you suffer from long term memory loss? I don’t remember … -- Chumbawamba

Speaking after Pelosi’s trip to the middle east, the vice president spoke to the conservative Heritage Foundation about the Democrats’ policy for the Iraq war. It was a red meat crowd, so he conjured up memories of the beginnings of liberal marginalization by noting the “hard left turn” the Democrats would harken back to, mirroring their anti-war McGovern era. – certainly a crowd pleaser.

Then dilapidated Dick probably caught a case of dementia as he pull from the next memory, declaring the Iraq War as important as, and drawing parallels to the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War!!! Did he really mean to dredge up that memory?

Did he forget that it was scarcely over a year ago that he and the president were both blasting Democrats or anyone else for attempting to tie the Iraq War to the Vietnam War? Now Cheney was going to … tie Iraq to the Vietnam War? It sounds like someone else didn’t vet their speech through Karl Rove and the administration.

I can imagine George W’s response would go something like this: “Dick! Buddy, what are you doing to me? I’m tryin’ to keep this thing together, get people to thinking it’s a good war. Vietnam was not a good war! People didn’t like it. Now you’re pissing away all our marketing and tying our war to Vietnam. You’re killing us, man!”

If by some chance the administration claims this was a valid point, part of a broader strategy, how do they expect anyone to swallow that? You really have to be pretty addlepated, if not outright brain-damaged, in order not to remember something that recent. This administration obviously plays the American public as fools. The message it sends is clear: if you own the media and spin your propaganda with such conviction that you believe it and stop at nothing until others agree, who needs reality?

Who’s going to remember? That’s what history’s for.

And if you’ve got enough power and wealth consolidated, you can revise history too. If that doesn’t happen, raise tax breaks by slashing budgets and cutting educational programs. At least the extra money will help buy more revisionist's reality.

Friday, April 20, 2007

War from All Sides

April 20, 2007
My first post's title "Time to Write" turns out to have a nice double-entendresque relevance. Not only can it be the time to write, but you must also find time to write. In workaholic America, writing on the side can be a spotty affiar unless one doesn't need sleep. That's one of those "used to's" that just "ain't" any more.

It's also frustrating as there has been no lack of material to write. Most of this week, as I get home and grab a late dinner, I've been watching the "America at the Crossroads" series on PBS. It's certainly a riveting series that's really examined the biology of the war on terrorism (especially Iraq) from numerous perspectives. Watching how this war was conceived, birthed and is being schooled schizophrenically in its adolescence is no surprise, but still compelling to see the hindsightful tying together of the various loose ends.

But even beyond that are even more surprising elements in other segments dealing with subjects as wide as Richard Perle's defense of the war in Iraq, to hopeful Muslims -- American and Iraqi -- trying to plot a future away from the radical fundamentalists of Islam, and the military's and Americans' concerns with our own government's direction. But what should be required viewing was a segment of Iraq viewed from the rank-and-file's own eyes and in their own words. The soldiers' views aren't monolithic but rather varied. Yet when candid and given the forum, these men and women who appear superficially to be simply "fighting machines" are quite adept in expressing their sentiments.

They are also very ccanny in their ability to recognize all that transpires around them, describe it in professional detachment, and yet still manage to simultaneously place themselves firmly in the midst of this harrowing warscape they describe. Perhaps it's always been this way through wars immemorial, and that what we're seeing is only now evident due to the computerized information age.

While some of the views run toward the "Hadji hating" that some might pigeonhole troop mentality into, most of those expressed actually took that stereotype and unceremoniously tossed it in a dumpster. A number of the soldiers quite solidly recognized the humanity of the Iraqis they protected and even fought at times. They noted the commonality of their desires, hopes, fears and dreams ... and yet still had to pick up their rifle and battle them at times, human contemporary or no. How they keep themselves centered in the midst of such madness and chaos and yet still manage to not only report, but artistically describe their viewpoint, is like watching Michael Jordan make one of his patented jaw-dropping moves and improbable baskets. It leaves you standing agape in amazement with only one thought: "I couldn't do that on a bet!"

In contrast to those in the war trenches with their sensibility and humanitarian concern, we share a lesser degree of that Christian grace here at home. It's far too easy to remain fixed on "enemy as object" here at the homefront. There's still folks who feel that bombing the whole landscape and "turning it into glass" -- after we pull out our own troops -- would be the best option. The folks in Bubba-ville, with can of beer in hand and propped up in a recliner, are still going to stick to their views ... and will be more than happy to cheer the war from the sidelines while imploring the troops to surge and to win. U-S-A! U-S-A! Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!

Yet I can't help thinking that if more of the soldiers' views were prime-time, talk show views spilled out of the TV sets -- more shows like the soldiers' writing segment on PBS' Crossroad series, instead of the platitudes of the talking heads who've never seen a day in combat -- that we'd be in a far better place in America today. Unfortunately, we've got the neophytes talking down to the experienced and the uninformed directing the battle-schooled.

Until we recognize that all sides in this war are human, indeed the war is lost.

More on this in the next post....

Friday, April 13, 2007

Measuring Yourself ... and Remembering

No, this isn't a post about something crude or vain. Maybe I should've chosen a better title for this post. But then again, perhaps this is good marketing: giving this a vague, almost controversial-sounding title that's a bit underwhelming and misleading after all.

Got a note today from a couple of friends I hadn't heard from in quite some time, asking how I was doing, curious they hadn't heard from or about me in a while. In talking with them, the subject briefly steered toward reminiscences. The memories briefly bathed me in those warm memories, kinda like a warm spring barefooted walk in the sand on Padre Island (or simply "the Island" as we used to refer to it). The conversation touched upon folks we used to know, our second-youth in those transition days, and a seeming sense of invincibility in those heady days ten years ago. Promise was there for the taking, we all appeared on an upward track, dreams were bearing fruit and our voices were clear and strong and making a difference.

That was only six, eight, ten years ago. Now, looking back on the Millennium era, it seems like a lifetime ago. Somebody else's lifetime, even! It's amazing how vastly different things are less than a scant decade ago. It's like waking up the morning after a bender in a cheap honky-tonk and asking yourself, "Did I really do that? Did all this really happen?"

As the reality sets in, you realize everyone drifted in different directions like branches on a live oak tree. You also begin wondering what became of not only them, but yourself and the initial directions we set out in. Just as with the live oaks, where influences or natural conditions cause the tree or branches to move, bend or twist in different directions, our lives likewise grow places we didn't see ourselves. As with nature, sometimes we can't control that portion of the outcome -- only survive it.

The flipside of memories is that they do require a visit to those headier days, and the obligatory comparisons. It's a way of measuring your "now" to the "past" and all the hopes, dreams, plans that were still vivid at that time. Sometimes measurements are reaffirming, showing the ambitions and their results based on your gameplan. Often, though, it shows what reality brought *instead* of the initial idealized desires. Kinda like hoping for Homecoming Queen and getting awarded Miss FFA Hog Farmers instead.

For most of the transsexual community, surgery and going on with a successful life was the goal, with a happy relationship being the icing on top. For a few, it came to fruition in greater or lesser degrees. For most of the rest, it became life's mocking reminder. Indeed, I started out with the intent of a life of seamless transition, surgery, job, relationship and woodworking (stealth) lifestyle. But as I mentioned to my friend Kristin last night, circumstances got in the way. Unemployment, then the retirement of a local activist pushing for name-changes sans need of legal (i.e. expensive) resolution, the creeping realization that I was part of a massive rank of similarly marginalized, acceptance of no safety nets or escapes, taking action, working hard and seeing the beginnings of change and progress.

Then the bottom fell out.

Where we once had our own voice, we later were muzzled in favor of new more equivocating voices forced upon us. Where we once saw promise, we now saw a circling of the wagons with us firmly locked out in favor of the acquiescent supplants. Where there was once a ladder for upward mobility, there's now ashes of what burned beneath our feet and the firm affirmation that privilege is for the chosen few, whether by birthright or deigned so by the power-holders.

"Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for the cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk on part of the wall
for a leaf-roll in a cage?" -- Pink Floyd

We gradually awoke to a creeping awareness of how vulnerable and imperiled we trans folks really are. If you don't believe so, read closely the federal Real ID Act, for starters. The ball of clay we once held and hoped to mold our lives with morphed into a ball of feces, much to our horror. We never even realized how hypnotic our media-fed complacency is, and most of us still don't. These things only become clearest in hindsight, measuring where we once were with where we are currently -- and also where the trend points toward.

Personally I view my own history in advocacy as a lesson in punitive failure of the most severe kind. Not only did it deter me from pursuing any of my personal goals or desires, it was extremely expensive, emotionally taxing, and (thanks to Google and the information age) a career-killer. Dreams disappeared upon the awakening. The future died a few years ago. Now is the reckoning of the lesser-life and moving on to what's next, in activism and especially in personal life. The lesson in this? Don't make sacrifices to your own detriment, it will only kill you. If you're an unwavering trans activist, this only plays into the hands of the vindictive types who wish to make examples of you. Speak out any way you possibly can, stay in the fight, but play smart and do so without the personal sacrifices.

Yes, there will be a measure of progress -- but only enough to placate the restive masses. Keep in mind that used car salesmen aren't in business simply for the altruistic desire to see that every used vehicle has a loving home and doesn't spend a minute more than it should orphaned on a dirt lot somewhere. It's about making the sale, and maximizing the profit, baby. We'd be unrealistic to think that those we rely on, politicians or professional advocates, will be working themselves out of business any time soon. Perhaps that was the grassroots trans advocates' downfall: we worked to find the quickest way possible to get our community whole into jobs and businesses in order to make successes out of producing whatever in our respective professions. We didn't view advocacy as a product.

Don't curl into a ball and just die off. Keep your voice, and keep it strong. While the carcass-feeders would appreciate your silence, it does nothing for us personally nor any of the lower 90-something percentile that remain firmly and unmistakenly marginalized.

"A man saw a ball of gold on a mountaintop;
So he climbed for it, and eventually he achieved it --
And found it was only a ball of clay.
... but when the man went back down the mountain
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold." --- Hart Crane

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hate Crimes bill?

Well, it will be a short entry tonight due to a long day at work. Any overtime that comes down the pike will be taken in times like these ... make hay while the sun shines, ya know?

We got word late last night about introduction in the Senate of a Hate Crimes bill that will, for the first time, be transgender-inclusive. It sounds very promising, but we need to refrain from celebrations until we know for certain that it's trans-inclusive and get a chance to see the language. While the person who broke the news is a prominent trans activist, truth be told she's not known for the truth being told. She comes from a sales and marketing background where making the sale is paramount, regardless of how little the marketing lives up to the advertised product.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the ponies are getting restless in anticipation of heading up to DC to round up support from our Congress-critters. Surely the critters are getting restless as well, trying to figure out how to duck, dodge and weave and trying to decipher whether voting or not voting for hate crime protections for all will keep them from being unseated from their Congressional seat. And if the critters get skittish around the trannies, will the gay and lez-peradoes work in the dark to bushwhack or bolt on us, grab the herded critters and try to make a break with the entire kit and caboodle, leaving us behind to choke in the dust? Again?

Time will tell. One thing that is well-known is that DC is the treacherous Badlands, and we must go to their inhospitable environs to get this done once and for all. It is worth the fight though, if for no one other than Gwen Araujo and the Guerrero family ... for Stephanie Thomas and her mom Queen Washington ... for NTAC Chair Ethan St. Pierre and his mom Ellen, and for Ellen's sibling, Debra Forte. For all the loved ones gone due to bias violence, and their families that remain involved in the fight to live without fear of hate.

While it wasn't necessarily a hate crime, Don Imus got canned today for his bias -- albeit of the verbal variety. To be sure, his attempt at humor was both cheap and astonishingly boneheaded. However, the press surrounding this story is rivaling Anna Nicole Smith in over-importance and overkill. Note how an idiot toadie like Michael Savage can savage (what a wonderfully appropriate surname he has!) the transgender community after what is apparently another hate crime. And note the hue and cry -- or rather the lack thereof -- in response! Oh well, it's not like we're human, right?

Trans people are still viewed as objects of humor, a freebie for portraying the butt of sick or debasing jokes or comments. And it's PC -- even in a Gay Comedy Showcase I saw on cable a couple years back! To paraphrase Danielle Rosengarten, a legislative aide in Rep. Christopher Shays' (R-CT) office, "you would think they, of all people, would know better!" God's got a wonderful sense of irony. Sadly, trans people haven't progressed beyond "object" in the eyes of most of America -- even a sizable portion of Gay & Lesbian America.

Yet any attempt by us to point this up is beaten back with criticisms of "being too shrill, having no sense of humor," etc. And how free are other groups able to engage in similar shows of unified outrage? Beyond the Don Imus incident, note the public outcry over the Snickers Bar commercial series during the Super Bowl, where two mean nibbled on the same candy bar until (horror!) their lips touched. Admittedly the ad execs' concept wasn't in good taste, but it was relatively innocuous compared to Savage's savages (sorry, couldn't help it). Note that it bought gay and lesbian leadership a lot of cheap national press for the talking heads to natter about. But note how the transgender leaders who point out objectification, subjugation, or outright hateful speech are, at best, benignly ignored if not targets of whisper campaigns and malignant isolation. I suppose it's our fault for noticing.

Perhaps someday we'll all be considered equally. But for now Don Imus is out and inexplicably Michael Savage is still in. And transgenders are still "lesser than --fill in the blank" Perhaps someday we'll be equals ... Or maybe I have completely lost touch with reality.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Time to Write: Blame Molly Ivins, Post #1

Guess it was beyond time to sit down and do this. For far too long I'd self-moderated or self-silenced myself from editorializing. There's certainly the argument that this is ultimately just a self-promotion of one's own self-importance. I kinda like the humility side of life, and this stuff is generally anathema to me. At least it has been. Additionally, my belief is that opinions are like a$$holes: everyone has one, virtually no one wants to see or hear anyone else's, and we all believe ours is the only one on the planet that doesn't stink!

But today was as good a day as any to start, I suppose. The date was numerically interesting -- 411. Another reason is the company I worked for -- one that was wanting to hire me permanently but was in the midst of a hiring freeze -- dropped the news today that the Houston office was being eliminated in favor of merging the tasks with the corporate office in Colorado. No great shock in this day and age, but a disconcerting moment almost begging for a response.

Ultimately, you can blame this on Molly Ivins. Or Molly Ivins' ghost ... or maybe someone who just looked like her, I don't know. At least I think it was her, but it was a dream and dreams typically don't make much literal sense. I need to call my friend Kathy and ask her some questions to verify -- she's met her and would likely shed some light. For those unfamiliar, Molly was an Austin fixture, an editorial columnist who wrote for many years for the Texas Observer, even transcending to a regular column in many major papers and even on CNN's website. She was also a no-quarter, unrepentent populist of the first order -- even throughout Texas' and the nation's most harrowing arch-conservative blitzkrieg. In a word, Molly was Courage.

And yes, the dream was odd, but compelling for some reason. In the dream I was riding / driving / floating through west Texas (or maybe Arizona -- someplace desert-ey), drifting through some desolate, dusty town in what seemed like summer. Then I suddenly find myself standing in an expansive dusty parking lot (maybe a truck or Greyhound bus stop?) looking diagonally across the lot at some stereotypical western county sheriff, replete with cowboy hat and long drooping white mustache, giving me a hard stare. He asks me "what would you say if I told you I wanted to talk to you?" I didn't have a good answer and just mumbled an okay -- even in my dream this question didn't make any sense!

Next, I'm suddenly sitting in a wooden chair in this empty sheriff's office, looking out the window, kicking myself for being in this predicament (whatever it was) and feeling like I'd just been railroaded. Then the door at the back of this empty office opens and in walks this woman -- not the sheriff. Familiar -- but from where? She appeared to know me, though. She grabs me by the arm, pulls me up out of the chair, and hollers "What are you doing here?!? Why aren't you saying something about it?!? You know what you need to say to him! Now get out there and tell them!!!"

Truth told, I didn't know what this meant nor what this was in context to. But whatever it was, it was compelling. And I kept replaying the dream trying to discern what this metaphorical message was, or who this lady in the sheriff's office was.

Finally a couple days after, it hit me: Molly Ivins! It was Molly Ivins in my dream (or at least I believe it was). What the hell was Molly Ivins doing in my dream?

Well, however little sense the rest of the dream made, the message came through loud and clear: stop silencing yourself. As the Scissor Sisters song says "Ain't no one gonna listen if you haven't made a sound." You can forever hold your tongue out of humility or courtesy or whatever, but it won't make anyone think better of you nor have them follow suit. They'll just think you're without opinion, mute or dead. And if there was ever a time in life to speak up, it's now. Whether it's GLBT politics, national politics, the increasing class warfare, or even the sorry state of the planet or life itself, it's all become an oversized batch of depression stew.

The Age of Cynicism is in full bloom, and we're in for a very long season. It'll be a rarity to find anything in this era that's not born of, or evolved into purely profit and/or self-interest motivations. If you do find it, enjoy the brief respite for the moment. Like a south Texas summer, the rest of this season will be punishing and relentless.


So how does the name of this blog relate to the above post? It doesn't really. Ultimately the name will relate more to the direction of the later entries, focused mostly on Transgender issues, Political issues in Str8 (straight) America, and any combination of the two ... along with other items that just happen to fall in between the spaces and catches my attention.