What a momentous day! America couldn't be more proud to have the Supreme Court legalize gay marriage nationwide. This year's Pride celebrations will reach fever pitch with our country's step towards "making our union a little more perfect," as President Obama said in his address. The fight for LGBT rights has been a long and arduous one—and it isn't over yet. For Pride month, we have a short list of recommended readings to sink your eyes into, a list that outlines some of the complex issues at large in the LGBT community throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We thank Ann Pellegrini for suggesting this eclectic mix of classics and brand-spanking new titles.
Before it was published in 1956, Baldwin’s publisher told him to “burn” the novel. Its theme of homosexuality would purportedly alienate him from his black readers. We’re thankful that Baldwin did not heed these words. The story of an American expatriate whose life changes dramatically after he begins an affair with an Italian bartender speaks to the broader issues of social alienation—Baldwin had recently emigrated to Europe—as well as homosexuality and bisexuality.
Lorde’s collection of fifteen essays and speeches takes on racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and class disparity from her unique black lesbian feminist perspective. In her unflinching, lyrical, and trenchant prose, Lorde proposes social difference as the mechanism for action and change. Her messages of struggle and hope are still relevant more than twenty years after they were first published.
Sedgwick argues that our standard gender binary, limiting sexuality to homosexuality and heterosexuality, limits freedom and understanding. It is also just too simplistic. Focusing largely on language’s impact on sexuality, her book propounds queer sexuality, the “third sex”, to attack the binary system set up by society. This is one of the inaugurating texts in what is now LGBT studies. Especially wonderful is her introductory chapter “Axiomatic,” where she provides a deceptively simple list of axioms for thinking about sex and sexuality, beginning with Axiom 1: “People are different from each other.”
Hot off the presses, Petro’s book is the first to chart the history of religion and the AIDS crisis in the United States. He draws from a broad gamut of religious people, not just the religious right, to reveal the origins of the rhetoric, both secular and religious, that fuels the debates over public health, birth control, and gay marriage.
Can straight white men be just as sexually fluid as straight white women? Ward explores the social spaces—fraternity and military hazing rituals, online personals ads—where heterosexual man-on-man action isn’t indicative of going gay, but rather it reasserts their racial and gender identity. Indeed, as time goes on, notions of heterosexuality become increasingly complex. This hotter than hot book will be published on July 10.
A true mark of today’s paradigm shift is seeing how quickly the media and American society at large learned to address Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox by their new gender identities. The widespread visibility of diverse LGBT identities continues to expand. This is the kind of progress that’s important to see, especially for children who are gay, trans, or nonconforming to binary gender.
Myth 16: There's No Such Thing as a Gay or Trans Child
Over the past two decades, more and more young people have been declaring, and at younger and younger ages, that they are gay or trans. But these gay and trans youth are consistently told that their feelings are not real and will just go away. Some parents fear that if mainstream culture accepts same-sex desire and gender noncomformity as normal, healthy, and positive, their children may be encouraged to engage in it. They are correct. Different models of sexual behavior and gender, especially the widespread visibility of LGBT identities, do offer new ways for people of all ages to behave and identify themselves. The increase in children actively identifying as trans is a direct result of the greater cultural visibility of transgender adults since the mid-1990s.
This is more than a question of identity, and adults know it. Think about all the work parents and educators put into teaching children how to be proper young men and women and shielding them from sexually explicit material. This considerable labor reveals the fear that underlies the myth that there are no gay and trans children: a child, especially your own, might somehow become gay or trans. Given this cultural tension, it is no surprising that when young people assert that they are gay or trans, many adults become very nervous and upset. Clearly, these young people not only know too much about sex and gender, but they know far too much about the wrong forms of sex and gender—and are willing to say so publicly.
The best way to silence to voices of children and ensure they grow up the "right way" is to create a special social category around them that adults control. This may sound odd to us now, but it is exactly what has happened. In the not-so-distant past, adults created this category. It is called childhood. Conceiving of childhood as a separate phase of life is a distinctly modern way of defining an individual by age. In his 1962 landmark book Centuries of Childhood, Philippe Ariès dates the invention of the child to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Equating science with atheism is one of the most dangerous byproducts of America's culture wars. This strange polarization portends disaster, as the country divides into factions that cannot find common ground on the way the world operates. And it goes without saying that there will be no agreement on what should be done when scientifically significant issues need political action.
In the book I show how Adam evolved from an obscure character in Jewish literature to the "Central Myth of the West," and now stands as an almost impenetrable barrier to millions of Christians accepting modern science.
Many Christians, unfortunately, believe their faith requires a "first man" who sinned and brought trouble on the world (feminists can thank two millennia of patriarchy for getting the "first woman" off the hook). The central Christian theme is "Creation-Fall-Redemption": God creates a perfect world; Adam "falls" by sinning, wrecks everything, and God curses the creation with death and suffering; and Christ redeems the world. In this picture Adam and Christ function as symmetrical "bookends": Adam breaks everything and Christ fixes it.
At the start ofLove & Fury, Richard Hoffman's father tells him that his will is pretty simple. The same could not be said about their relationship. In his memoir, Hoffman writes elegiacally of his upbringing in a working-class Pennsylvania family where he would inherit the abuse, racism, sexism, and other toxic values he would come to terms with. Juxtaposed with these toxic values was his father’s tenderness, making him all the more mysterious. Hoffman was, in his own words, “a boy made of coal and steel and violence and trucks and shame,” filled with a yearning to escape but also a longing to connect with and understand his enigmatic, difficult father. A father who, as he would come to understand later, carried a different kind of class shame. With this opening passage, Hoffman brings all the nuance of his complex relationship with his father to life.
We’re sitting in the kitchen, at the scarred Formica table, my father and my brother Joe and I, having just finished the kind of meal we have had innumerable times in the twenty-three years since my mother died: take-out hot dogs from “Yocco, the Hot Dog King” with a side of deep-fried pierogies, or maybe it was microwaved Lloyd’s Roast Beef Barbecue from a plastic container in the fridge, or strip steaks on the George Foreman Grill, with a side of microwaved instant mashed potatoes. I can’t recall for certain what we ate that night, maybe because my father has asked us to meet with him after supper to go over his will, and the two steel boxes have been there on the table next to the tall plastic bottle of orange soda throughout the meal, keeping their secrets to themselves. I know what’s in at least one of them, though: birth certificates, death certificates, account numbers, records, directions, the deeds to graves. It’s two weeks since he’s been diagnosed with MDS, myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition that, at his age, eighty one, almost always becomes leukemia. He has everything in order, he says. It’s all right here in the boxes.
“Now the will’s pretty simple,” he tells us, “everything’s split down the middle so there’s nothing for the two of you to fight about.” He has told each of us the same thing in the past two weeks, and Joe and I have talked about it on the phone. “You want the toaster oven or the Foreman grill?” my brother joked. It’s true that there wasn’t much to split up.
My father had a story he liked to tell about sitting down with my mother at the kitchen table once each month to pay bills and putting all the bills in my mother’s stockpot and drawing them out one by one, writing checks till the money was gone. “And that was that,” he’d say. “If we ran out of money before we got to you, well then you went back in the pot next month.”
Once when I was young and knew, according to my father, neither the difference between shit and shine-ola, nor my ass from my elbow, on a holiday visit home from college, I chimed in with a lame coda to my father’s anecdote, trying to augment the good humor of it, give it a little extra spin. As my father drew the story to its canonical close, “well then you went back in the pot next month,” I wisecracked that I finally understood why we never had a pot to piss in, another expression of my father’s. “You guys were using it as the Accounts Payable Department!”
My father looked at me blankly as if he didn’t get it. Then, before I could compound my mistake by trying to explain it, he rose from his chair.
“You little punk,” he muttered as he left the room.
I had tripped a switch and plunged my father from the safety of his lyric, humorous, emblematic scene into deep shame and remembered desperation, the very emotions that his ritual telling, with its shrug and goofball smile, its cavalier “fuck ’em” attitude, was meant to exorcise. I was of course the one who didn’t get it, sitting there on my elbow with a shine-ola-eating grin on my face. I was not the one who had stood against a wall at six in the morning for the shape-up, hoping to get picked to work like a donkey for the next twelve hours. I was not the one who’d had to go down to the PP&L office with money made from cleaning out somebody’s suburban garage just to get the lights turned back on. I was not the one who felt humiliated the year our Christmas presents came from the Salvation Army, complete with tags that said, Boy, 6–8 years old. My father had taken all those years and all that shame and locked them in a little box of a story, and just when he was clicking it shut again, as he had so many times before, I propped the lid open a moment longer with my fatuous cleverness, and a monstrous cloud, a genie of shame, escaped.
Everyone in my family considered themselves middle-class, all my aunts and uncles, each and every household, whether anyone had a job or not, regardless of what kind of work they did when there was work, regardless of whether or not they had “a pot to piss in.”
We never used the word “class.” My father called us working people. He always said we were working people, and he wanted me to be proud of it. I was a good student. School came easily to me, and I couldn’t wait to be the first in my family to go to college. And my father, conflicted in ways that he showed by barking, shouting, kicking things, and occasionally knocking me down, let me know that he was scared for me, jealous, proud of me, and betrayed.
Toward the end of his remarks on the shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, President Obama quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Eulogy for the Martyred Children”, written in memory of the four little girls who were killed in a bombing at a black church in Birmingham, AL. Indeed, Mother Emanuel's nine victims died as nobly as those little girls. King’s words ring true more than ever today as they did half a century ago. Although he wrote specifically about Birmingham, he could have been writing about Charleston fifty years into the future. The passage from which Obama quotes speaks not only to the martyrdom of the victims, but also the bigger picture of the system that needs to change. And, as always, King calls for peace and hope.
These children—unoffending, innocent and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious, heinous crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.
Yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. So they have something to say to us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who passively accepts the evil system of segregation, and stands on the sidelines in the midst of a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about WHO murdered them, but about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which PRODUCED the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly to make the American dream a reality.
So they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. History has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as the redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city. The Holy Scripture says, “A little child shall lead them.” The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland from the low road of man’s inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood. These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilt blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed, this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience.
So in spite of the darkness of this hour we must not despair. We must not become bitter; nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. We must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and worth of all human personality.
Our thoughts are with the nine victims of Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting: The Reverend Clementa Pinckney, The Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, The Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, Sr., The Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson. We offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the victims. In the wake of the tragedy, we would like to share a few prayers by Martin Luther King, Jr. in their time of need.
"All God's Children, Black, White, Red, and Yellow"
O God, our Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this golden privilege to worship thee, the only true God of the universe. We come to thee today, grateful that thou hast kept us through the long night of the past and ushered us into the challenge of the present and the bright hope of the future. We are mindful, O God, that man cannot save himself, for man is not the measure of things and humanity is not God. Bound by our chains of sin and finiteness, we know we need a Savior. We thank thee, O God, for the spiritual nature of man. We are in nature but live above nature. Help us never to let anyone or any condition pull us so low as to cause us to hate. Give us the strength to love our enemies and to do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us. We thank thee for thy Church, founded upon thy Word, that challenges us to do more than sing and pray, but go out and work as tough the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon thee. Then, finally, help us to realize that man was created to shine like stars and live on through all eternity. Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace, help us to walk together, pray together, sing together, and live together until that day when all God's children, Black, White, Red, and Yellow will rejoice in one common band of humanity in the kingdom of our Lord and of our God, we pray. Amen.
"We Are Made to Live Together"
O God, our gracious Heavenly Father, help us to see the insights that come from this new nation. Help us to follow Thee and all of Thy creative works in this world. And that somehow we will discover that we are made to live together as brothers. And that it will come in this generation; the day when all men will recognize the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Amen.
"Free at Last! Free at Last!"
God grant that right here in America and all over this world, we will choose the high way; a way in which men will live together as brothers. A way in which the nations of the world will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. A way in which every man will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. A way in which every nation will allow justice to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. A way in which men will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. A way in which men will be able to stand up, and in the midst of oppression, in the midst of darkness and agony, they will be able to stand there and love their enemies, bless those persons that curse them, pray for those individuals that despitefully use them. And this is the way that will bring us once more into that society which we think of as the brotherhood of man. This will be that day when white people, colored people, whether they are brown or whether they are yellow or whether they are black, will join together and stretch out with their arms and be able to cry out: "Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty, we are free at last!"
In his interview with Terri Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, Barron H. Lerner, author of The Good Doctor, discusses the paternalistic approach his father, a physician, would take with some of his patients. His father would withhold information from them if he felt it was in their best interest. As a bioethicist, Lerner began to question his father's practices. Some patients, for example, would not know their cancer was terminal. But his father's practices were a product of his time, the 60s. In the end, he was still the caring and gifted physician Lerner respected as loved as a father. As the countdown to Father's Day goes on, we share with you an excerpt from Lerner's book. In the first chapter, he writes about why his father chose to become a physician.
My father's decision to become a physician stemmed from his upbringing in a close-knit, working-class Jewish community during World War II. Although he was largely unaware of the mass murder of Jews as it was occurring, what he learned later would affect many aspects of his medical world. His career trajectory was also greatly influenced by his attending a medical school that was in the forefront of efforts to train humanistic physicians. And he had an inspiring mentor who practiced a particular type of patient-centered, case-based medicine that hearkened back to the practices of some of America's greatest early doctors and reached its apogee in the mid-twentieth century.
As a historian, I was not surprised by what I read in my father's journals. After all, everyone is, to some degree, a product of his or her times. Yet as a doctor, I was amazed by much of what I read. Indeed, my dad's medical school training and early career would probably be unrecognizable to most modern physicians.
Founded in 1906, Children’s Institute, Inc. (CII) is one of the oldest and largest children’s service organizations in L.A. County, serving more than 24,000 children and families each year. CII serves Los Angeles’s most vulnerable children—those harmed by family and community violence, abuse, or coping with the challenges of poverty. At the core of CII’s work is the agency’s comprehensive service model, which addresses the evolving needs of the whole child and entire family. Out of that innovative approach grew Project Fatherhood,SMa program created in 1996 by the late Dr. Hershel Swinger, the agency’s former Senior Vice President of Programs, to address the problem of absentee fathers.
Dr. Swinger had long observed that fathers were most often left out of programs designed to strengthen low-income urban families, and prevent child abuse and neglect. He envisioned a way to increase their involvement in the lives and upbringing of their children, especially those involved in the child welfare system. Through clinical, family support, and child enrichment services, the program gives fathers the tools to become actively engaged parents.
Over the past 20 years, Project Fatherhood has reached more than 9,000 fathers and 12,000 children across Los Angeles County. Fifty area organizations have been trained to deliver the program model and CII continues to operate numerous fatherhood groups. Project FatherhoodSM continues to exemplify Children’s Institute’s commitment to developing leading-edge programs that deliver lasting impact to the children and families the organization serves.
CII provides services throughout central and south Los Angeles County, including three comprehensive campuses: the Otis Booth Campus—just west of downtown Los Angeles; the Mid-Wilshire Campus in Koreatown; and the Burton E. Green Campus in Torrance. Additional service sites are located in Watts and Long Beach, as well as 32 early childhood centers and 60 family child care homes throughout the County.
A year ago, when UUA/Beacon left our location on Beacon Hill to move to the Innovation District, I sorely regretted the change of scenery on my morning walk into the office. No more expanses of grass, tree-lined paths, dogs frolicking, tourists feeding the squirrels, songbirds chirping, the occasional hawk soaring over the Common. Instead, the walk through concrete—despite the oasis of the Greenway—was decidedly less green. I had hopes of observing sea life from the bridge on my daily walk over the channel, but the water seemed devoid of anything but ubiquitous seagulls. No happy little seal face broke the surface, no fish jumped, no migratory waterfowl paddled. And yet, over the year and much to my surprise, I learned much about the natural world.
For one thing, I’ve never lived on the shore, so I had never had the opportunity to observe the tides week after week. I noticed the normal high and low water mark on the pilings in the channel. One day, I was surprised to see the water reaching almost to the top of the pilings, and perilously close to the boardwalk attached to the buildings on the eastern side. Soon after, I noticed the lowest tide I’d seen, revealing more of the gravelly “beach” below the channel’s western wall. What was going on? Had there been a storm? I seemed to recall learning in school something about the tides and the moon, so I looked it up. As most people are probably aware, the tides reach their highest and lowest extremes as the moon is at its most full and when it is new, at the turning of its cycle. But to me, this was an opportunity to observe in the real world a long-forgotten lesson in action: when the sun, moon, and earth are in a line, the gravitational pull is strongest, causing the greatest range of tides.
I also learned that while the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, it also moves north and south. My route to work fell between two tall buildings, and each day the sun shone directly in my face. Of course, it was morning and I was walking east. Yet as the months wore on, I noticed that I no longer needed to shade my eyes. Wait—I walked in the same direction at the same time every day, but the sun had moved to the right and behind a building. I had just read a book on Cape Cod, The Outermost House, in which Henry Beston writes, “All these autumn weeks I have watched the great disk going south along the horizon of moorlands beyond the marsh…” Now I saw what he meant. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the sun moves south in the fall and north in the spring. Again, maybe this is common knowledge, but I hadn’t really made the connection and only noticed it because of my daily walk in the concrete jungle.
One prominent theme of the oral arguments on April 28 in the Supreme Court marriage equality cases (Obgerfell v. Hodges) was the justices’ fear that recognizing same-sex marriage would lead to child marriage, incest, and polygamy. “Slippery slope” is the phrase we use in law-school classrooms to describe a trajectory, or “parade of horribles.”
As we wait for the decision, it’s worth asking how slippery this slope is. Is it like a forested hillside or more like a playground slide? If the legal and social context is like a forest, then a person skidding from the top of a hill would be blocked by the trees. But if it’s more like a slide, she would almost inevitably reach the bottom. The answers are different for child marriage, incest, and polygamy.
Before getting into specifics, I should say a few words about how I see marriage, since the institution has meant so many things in different times and places. As a contracts professor, I focus on its contractual aspects. (If you, too, like the idea of consent and reciprocity in relationships, check out my new bookLove’s Promises: How Formal & Informal Agreements Shape All Kinds of Families.) Linking love and contracts has a long history. Since the founding, US law has seen marriage as a mix of status and contract, in different proportions at different times. Generally speaking, a status relationship is forever; while contractual relationships usually can be dissolved by the parties according to the contract’s terms.
As feminist reforms such as married women’s rights to hold property and make contracts took root in the mid-nineteenth century, Sir Henry Maine famously observed in Ancient Law that the trend in progressive societies has been from status to contract.
Training a contractual lens on the slippery slope reveals that marriage equality for gay people is unlikely to lead to child marriage or incest. Polygamy, though, is a different story. For a decade now, the movement for marriage equality and gay rights litigation more generally has inspired fundamentalist Mormons to seek to decriminalize their sacred institution, and if that succeeds they may well seek marriage equality for themselves.
Think of it as instructive as well as tragic public spectacle, the bizarre eruption of violence between police and members of biker gangs in the parking lot of a Twin Peaks Restaurant in Waco, Texas on May 17, 2015 that produced a wide swath of casualties—all of them bikers.
Nine people were killed by gunshot, 18 people were sent to hospitals, and approximately 170 were thrown into the clink on felony charges related to the commission of organized criminal activity, with absurd bail set of $1,000,000 per person.
This unusual armed confrontation among predominantly white participants produced competing (and ludicrous) storylines—about victimization, persecution, danger, and safety—that drove the sensational media story. In largely unexamined ways, the Waco debacle also illuminates the dynamics and public discourse that keep the dominant American imagination stuck in the mire of false assumptions about violence (and who perpetrates it) and public safety.
We might well regard the lethal Waco events, the politics, and the mass media discourse surrounding the violence as a house of mirrors.
As we move into LGBTQ Pride month we are being met with a deluge of public discussions, events, breaking news stories, and potentially groundbreaking legal decisions that impact not only the queer community but American social and political life. The Supreme Court is poised, by the end of the month, to make a major decision. Not on the fate, but the expansion of marriage equality. Caitlyn Jenner’s blossoming appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair moves the public discussion of transgender lives forward in major and surprising ways. The Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision set a new bench mark for legal definitions of “religious exemptions” and the constantly contested interplay between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom in America.
A decade ago, executive editor at Beacon Press Gayatri Patnaik asked me to edit Queer Ideas and Queer Action, two new series for Beacon Press. We were acutely aware that while smart books on LGBTQ issues are always needed, the news cycle of these issues, not to mention the rapid advances that the movement has been making, could easily render today’s vital topics less important, or even passé and obsolete tomorrow. The challenge was to identify contemporary, critical social and political issues, and find people to write about them in ways that would transcend the political moment and shape and form the conversation for years to come. Looking back, I believe we have done that and more.
We embarked upon a journey to test whether two people could come to grips with deep, traumatic, historic wounds and find healing. We had no idea where we would end up.
I burst into tears in the parking lot of the Lowndes County Interpretive Center in rural Alabama. Tom and I were five days into the 6,000-plus mile healing journey that informedGather at the Table, the book we wrote about healing the many wounds Americans inherited from the legacy of slavery. We had just crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where, in March 1965, John Lewis (now a 15-term U.S. congressman) and more than 600 protesters tried to begin a 54-mile march to Montgomery. On a day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers confronted the peaceful marchers and viciously attacked them with billy clubs. I watched these events unfold on television as a 14-year-old child embraced in the warm comfort of my family home in Chicago.
My great-grandparents were enslaved in Lowndes County, Alabama, which is at the heart of the historic march route. They lived a lifetime of Bloody Sundays. My great-grandmother Rhoda Reeves Leslie was alive when I was a child. I knew her. I loved her. I had no concrete idea, until that very moment in the parking lot, what anguish she and other members of my family had suffered as slaves, and then as people who were terrorized by Jim Crow laws, disenfranchised from voting, and kept from becoming full citizens in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In 1965, there were zero black voters in Lowndes County because of voter suppression through poll taxes and intimidation. Even today, it is deeply impoverished. Tom's face morphed into a representation of all white people and everything they had done to people like me.
I didn't know what to say. So I said nothing. I sat in the passenger seat next to Sharon while she sobbed. Twenty minutes earlier, on the drive from the Voting Rights Museum, I had asked her, What would you do if you had lived here then?
I would kill them, she said, staring straight ahead as she drove, clutching the steering wheel in a death grip. I watched the first tear roll down her cheek.
I am often accused of being a Kumbaya kind of guy. I believe seriously in love and peace and want everybody to get along. I also believe that people are born with a basic sense of humanity that can enable them to changenot just themselves but the communities in which they live. I know Sharon shares that belief, but it is sometimes hard to keep the faith.
I don't know about you, but I'm already missing AMC's "Mad Men": nevermore will I see Joan's clothes and fulsome figure striding into the office; Peggy's terrible design sense regarding her own clothes, coupled with her rising sense of self-worth; Roger's off-handed remarks, full of irony and wit; and most of all, Don Draper, who has it all—striking good looks, sexual magnetism, business acumen, and finally, lots and lots of money. But these are not my reasons for regretting Don's departure. I am drawn to him because he is struggling mightily with the worm at the core, a value system that is way off kilter, causing him and those who love him a plethora of pain.
Why are we so compelled by Don? Well, it is true that a good man is hard to find—but the bad ones are so much more interesting, at least in fiction, if not also in life. Don is not Machiavellian, he doesn't really mean to hurt his wives, his lovers, his partners—no, he is an unconscious bull in the china shop of relationship. He keeps a dark secret that would undo him if it were revealed, but that secret becomes a preoccupation in his subconscious, so distracting that he quite unwillingly becomes a person who undermines his own formidable gifts and leaves a trail of broken hearts and lives in his path. The fact is, Don can't be intimate. He can be gentle, kind, generous, but no not intimate, because he has a hidden history that defines and undermines him at every turn.
And Don is undone not only by his history, but by the consumer culture that has been the context for all our lives since the '60s—the inundation of advertising driven by corporations, and the ad agencies that manipulate for money. Don has become a hired gun, and no one is better at the fast draw. So the man who is living a lie in his personal life fits perfectly into a culture that is grounded in anything but the truth. The brilliant visuals which open each episode show a man in a suit, spiraling down, out of control. The theological term would be "fallen."
Since Timothy Caulfield’s Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? went on sale this month, the media have been abuzz with cuts against bogus movie star beauty and health regimens. In the first half of his book, Caulfield, professor of health law and science policy at the University of Alberta, debunks the pseudoscience of deep cleanses, snail facials, and super juicing, just to name a few. No matter how deep the cleanse, or how super the juice, your body and well-being will not glow from the purported benefits endorsed by the rich and famous. Caulfield's certainly did not. That his research has practically divested Gwyneth Paltrow of her dubious title of queen of health and beauty is what most media hubs have latched onto.
But there is more to Caulfield’s book than Ms. Paltrow’s misinformative lifestyle tips. The heart of his argument, featured in the second half, focuses on the sociological implications of celebrity culture obsession. The countries with the highest level of social disparity are the most obsessed with fame—fame to be earned effortlessly by being one’s self in front of a camera for a reality TV show or by dint of becoming a rock, movie, or sports star. Striving toward fame, or even aspiring to it, is not what it is cracked up to be. In the following passage, Caulfield lays bare some of the adverse side effects. Interestingly enough, the celebrity industry is not entirely responsible.
The countries that seem the most obsessed with celebrity culture (i.e., the United States, United Kingdom, South Korea) do not score particularly high in rankings of population happiness. According to the 2013 World Happiness Report, a study prepared for the United Nations, the happiest countries in the world are Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland. Canada ranks sixth. The United States and the United Kingdom, two countries that both produce and consume a great deal of celebrity culture, rank seventeenth and twenty-second, respectively. These same celebrity-loving countries also have a terrible record when it comes to social mobility. The United Kingdom ranks last among the thirty-four nations in the Convention on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the United States is third from last. In other words, in these countries, moving up the socioeconomic ladder is nearly impossible. If you are born into poverty, you are likely to stay in poverty. If you are a middle-class kid, chances are you will be a middle-class adult. Ditto your kids. (Incidentally, the country that has the highest degree of social mobility? Happy Denmark.)
Some commentators have gone so far as to call the American dream a myth, a topic I discussed with Howard Steven Friedman, a well-known statistician with the United Nations and author of The Measure of a Nation. “The idea of social mobility, of becoming rich, is core to the American mythology,” Friedman says. “But, ironically, American performance in this area is consistently one of the worst of the developed nations.” Friedman has observed that the statistics are depressing for those “who subscribe to the notion that America is a meritocracy and a ‘land of opportunity.’” And the data tell us social mobility is getting worse.
According to the Sixth Amendment, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, was entitled to a public trial at which he would be judged "by an impartial jury of the State and district" drawn from the community where the crime occurred. Yet while well more than half the people from the Boston community opposed the imposition of the death penalty, Tsarnaev was nevertheless sentenced to death. How did that happen?
A day after the verdict, a handful of major media outlets, including Esquire magazine and MSNBC, reported the news by observing that it was a big loss for Judy Clarke, Tsarnaev's lead defense counsel, as if the trial were a baseball game, and Clarke had struck out with bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The reality is, to switch metaphors, Clarke and her team had about as much chance as saving Tsarnaev as a craps player has against the house rolling loaded dice. In fact, it would have been miraculous if Clarke and her team had eluded a death sentence for their client, because Tsarnaev's fate had been sealed long before he ever met his lawyer.
So when exactly was it sealed? It did not happen on that spring day in 2013 when Tsarnaev placed a homemade bomb in front of the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street, which exploded and killed Martin Richard, an eight-year old child, and Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old graduate student from China who was studying at Boston University. Nor did it happen on January 30, 2014, when the U.S. Justice Department announced it would seek the death penalty. It was not even sealed on March 4, nearly two years after the horrific bombing, when Tsarnaev's jury was finally selected and his trial began.
And it wasn't even sealed during the trial itself. Quite the contrary: According to media reports, three jurors believed Tsarnaev had acted under the influence of his older brother; two believed he was genuinely remorseful. Considering that all it takes to avoid a death sentence is a single juror who holds out for life, the fact that these jurors accepted at least one of the major themes of the defense narrative suggests that Judy Clarke and her team did their job well and that fact reinforces the same question: Why, then, was Tsarnaev nevertheless sentenced to death?
In Love’s Promises, Martha M. Ertman, a law professor at the University of Maryland’s Carey Law School with an extensive background in contract law, explores how deals and contracts create and transform all kinds of families. Love’s Promises forces us to radically “rethink our commonplace—often wrong—assumptions about how we love, commit, trust, and thrive in relationships,” writes Beacon Press’s Queer Action/Queer Ideas editor, Michael Bronski.
In advance of my wedding this month, I thought it would be beneficial to check in with Ertman to see how couples (including yours truly) can use her book as a roadmap to “plan for the expected and the unexpected.”
Nicholas DiSabatino: In Love’s Promises, you talk about the difference between contracts and deals, with contracts being enforceable by the courts and deals being as simple as “I pay the bills and you do the grocery shopping.” In my own relationship with my fiancé, Josh, we have a sort-of unspoken rule. He’s always going to be the brains behind dinner, planning ahead with Ms. Rachael Ray’s 30-minute meals (because who has time for more prep than that?) while I’m always on clean-up patrol. Should we put this deal in writing?
Martha M. Ertman: First, congratulations!! It’s an amazingly exciting thing to find someone you want to spend your life with, and better still one with whom you enjoy dinner rituals. Your deal is probably the most common one of the many I read and heard about while writing Love’s Promises. While some couples do put this kind of domestic swap into writing—sometimes a playful document that no-one expects will be legally binding—you’re also typical in making an implicit deal through your actions over time. That’s the same way my wife Karen and I came to put gardening on my to-do list and balancing the checkbook on hers. The most important thing is that you and Josh both see the deal. Then if you start sloughing off on the dishes he may suggest you step it up or take over one of his tasks. Grocery shopping perhaps??
Rajeev Goyal was in the Kavre district of Nepal when the April 25 earthquake struck and has been involved in relief work since then. He and his team quickly mobilized and have distributed 2,000 waterproof tarps. When the second earthquake struck on May 12, he and his team were in the city of Kattike Deurali. They are all safe and intend to continue their relief efforts. Their goal is to give out 10,000 tarps to families hit hard the most in Kavre. Right now more than 40,000 families have lost their homes. More than 8,000 Nepalese have lost their lives.
The destruction of homes and deaths reminds Goyal of the terror of the Maoist War in Nepal. In 2001, the Peace Corps deployed him at Namje, a remote village in the eastern hills of Nepal, as a volunteer translator during the conflict. He chronicles his experiences in The Springs of Namje. The passage below recounts the harrowing environment he encountered when he arrived in Gaur, a town at the border of Nepal and India.
The moment the landing skids hit the ground, we were in a cloud of twirling dust. When the blades finally stopped whirring, it was so quiet that I imagined we were in some desolate location, but outside a thousand dark-skinned men, fresh after the kill, stood motionless, staring at us. Normally the site of a UN helicopter in a village would bring all the schoolchildren out, cheering and howling, but not on this day. We had landed at the site of unspeakable crimes in a Terai town, with the unfortunate name Gaur (pronounced like the English word gore), just a few kilometers from the Indian border.
“I hope you’re ready for this,” Lena Sundh whispered in my direction as her cloth shoe met the warm ground. As the country representative for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), she had more than a vague sense of the horrors that lay ahead. The men parted and allowed her to pass as she made the slow walk toward the Gaur hospital. I zipped up my blue and white vest and scurried after Lena.
Video used by permission of The School District of Philadelphia. All rights reserved.
It’s the time of year when our newsfeeds are filled with posts highlighting the best commencement speeches of the season. This got us thinking about what Martin Luther King, Jr. might say to young people today who are heading into the next chapter of their lives; his speech “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” immediately sprang to mind. In it, Dr. King, speaking at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, encourages students to be the best people they can be, regardless of their status in life.
Now, you can watch this rarely seen film of that speech. Recorded on October 26, 1967, just six months before his assassination, Dr. King’s words will still resonate with young people today and encourage them to keep moving in the struggle for justice and make our nation a better place in which to live.
“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would enlist an army of young people to help each other and America in the education process. He would trust them to bring their energy and sense of justice to end gang violence and to reverse the feeling of helplessness that hurts so many of our young people. He would keep marching against unjust laws, racism, war, and poverty. Dr. King made America a better place for all people to live during the turbulent years of the civil rights struggle. Using his insights, his courage in tackling difficult problems, and his loyalty to nonviolence both in action and in the language we use with each other, perhaps we can continue building the America he once thought possible. What do you think?”
My mother kind of freaked out when I told her about the proposal for Sex Workers Unite! I never thought of her as a prude. When I was growing up, she rarely seemed embarrassed about sexuality matters, and her several non-traditional relationships definitely influenced my critique of the whole white picket fence family idea. But for her daughter to write about prostitutes’ rights threw her for a loop.
There are huge stigmas against sex work. For my mother, who came of age after World War II when the sexual double standard was as popular as drive-ins and girdles, embracing the women’s movement and sexual liberation of the 1960s was a radical rejection of her parents’ protestant conservatism. As a feminist, she rejects the idea that a woman’s sexual history is evidence of her worth or her integrity.
But sex work and the sex industry are another matter. For her, women “shouldn’t have to” be prostitutes; women should have education and employment opportunities and enjoy wage equality and childcare. My mother is also a successful businesswoman, a pioneer in a field that had very few women when she entered it in the early 1970s, rife with sexism, harassment and even sexual violence. She’s a feminist because the movement was supposed to liberate women through economic independence so they didn’t have to exchange sex for money or other support.