Tag Archives: heroes

The Americanization of Emily: The Profits of War

19 Aug

the-americanization-of-emilyWe just watched Paddy Chayefsky’s The Americanization of Emily for the second time.  Wow!  What a brilliant movie that should be mandatory viewing.  As I have been reflecting lately on the cost of human lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other wars in the past 20 years, I have been saddened by the inability to justify any of these wars.  Granted, I am a pacifist and navigate the world in ways that hold me to my principals of what a pacifist means.

Chayefsky (writer of Network) does a brilliant job addressing the hypocrisy, greed, profiteering, and complexities of wars.  I don’t want to give a way too much of the movie, because I am hoping many of you will rent the movie or get it on the Hulu or however people rent movies today.  I will say that Chayefsky pushes the audience hard to think and reflect upon our core values, our core beliefs and ask us to look at how easily humans are manipulated.

Julie Andrews and James Garner give nothing less than stellar and complex performances and it is easy to see why their chemistry garnered another film,  Victor/Victoria nearly 20 years later.  Candidly, I was also amazed they were willing to make such a film that would question the American government and push back against sexism and misogyny in such a forthright manner. I’m not wholly convinced we have actors with such talent and moral fiber who would take these roles today. The movie is a clear indictment of the United States and of other countries that profit from warring and pillaging. It is also telling that both actors consider this their favorite personal work given the rich depth of experience they both have.

With that being said, I could imagine recasting this if an updated version were to be created — just for the record, I usually think it is a mistake to remake movies of this caliber.  However, I could see George Clooney in the James Garner role and Kate Winslet in the Jule Andrews role.  The movie also contains a homoerotic relationship between Charlie Madison (James Garner) and his superior, Adm. William Jessup, played by the late Melvyn Douglas.  This relationship would be interesting to explore in further detail.  Charlie Madison is a “Dog Robber,” so perhaps the homoerotic tension is an indication of the how accommodating a “Dog Robber” has to be.   I could easily see Robert DeNiro playing Adm. William Jessup.

I strongly encourage people to watch this movie and examine the word cowardice.  What does it mean in the movie what does it mean personally in a time of war as opposed to the word hero.  How many wars are defensible?  Feel free to share your thoughts.

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Pardoning Alan Turing: Too Little Too Late?

24 Jul
Turing

Hero and Victim

Nearly 60 years after his tragic death, a hero of World War II Britain and a pioneer in computer science may finally have his name cleared. Thanks to my friend and staunch LGBT ally Jennifer Carey for pointing me to this story.

Alan Turing was born in 1912. His teachers and family noticed his immense talent for mathematics early on, and he began a rigorous education. He became a fellow at King’s College at the age of 22 and began work on computation. His pioneering work earned him the title: Father of Computer Science. During the war, he worked for the British government as a code breaker. His methods helped crack critical German codes. Some have gone so far as to give him credit for Britain making it through the war without surrender. Turing’s contributions to computer science, cryptology, artificial intelligence, and mathematics are immense, and his gracious style made his ideas approachable, helping spark further innovation.

He was also gay. He was generally careful about this fact, given that any homosexual activity was still criminal in the United Kingdom, but he did have partners. In 1952, after reporting a break-in at his home, he admitted to the police that he was in a gay relationship with the other man living there. He was arrested charged with “gross indecency.” While he felt no guilt about simply being who he was, he pleaded guilty to avoid the negative publicity of a trial. He opted for injections of artificial estrogen — chemical castration — rather than go to prison.

The conviction revoked his security clearance and ruined his career. It kept him from travelling to the United States to expand on his work. It left him alone and bitter, his promising life in ruins at the age of 40 just because he wanted to live his life honestly. In 1954, he died of a cyanide overdose that was ruled suicide. What a pointless end to an amazing life and we must ask ourselves who is culpable–who has blood on their hands?  How do we learn from this tragedy and learn how to support our LGBT brothers and sisters?

While very well known in math and science circles, the scandal kept his work and life from greater renown. It wasn’t until 2009 that the British government — in a statement from Prime Minister Gordon Brown — apologized for what Brown aptly described as “appalling treatment.” (The Brits did better than the Catholic church, of course, with its habit of taking centuries to apologize for its legal abuses…) In the past four years, a bill has slowly worked through the parliamentary process to formally pardon Alan Turing. It appears poised to pass in October.

It will be wonderful for the charges against Turing to be formally erased. But his life cannot be returned. The amazing things his mind would have accomplished will never come to pass. The horrific impact of homophobia and abuse of power cannot be fully calculated or undone. Over 49,000 men were sentenced for the same crime in Britain — including Oscar Wilde — before the law was finally removed from the books.

There are still many countries with laws like this. There are still jurisdictions in our own country with laws like this. Let the dark example of Alan Turing be a call to action — every life deserves dignity, legalized oppression and discrimination must be stopped. In the end, Alan Turing was a victim, not a criminal. He does not need to be pardoned, the British government does, and this one positive step is simply not enough to wash the blood of thousands from its hands.

Update: Apparently, Benedict Cumberbatch will play Turing in the upcoming movie The Imitation Game. I hope they do not gloss over how poorly Turing was treated for being gay.

Gay Graduation Gratitude

17 Jun

MHSGraduation“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Walt Whitman)  In the last two years I am grateful that I have learned how to start being comfortable with my largeness and my contradictions — to sit in ambiguity and reflection.

I started this journey with great trepidation.  I was going back to get my MSW as a middle aged gay man who felt like a cross between Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda Morgenstern; I was scared to death no one would like me and feared it was too late to reinvent myself as a social worker.

I have learned a lot about dignity — how to help people retain their dignity and keeping mine, which means working with resistance and understanding how people need resistance to protect something.

My first experience after being accepted into the program was my visit to the IT Department.  You see, I did not know how to access my student account.  I explained this to the very nice young woman who was trying to help me in earnest.  She very politely explained that she did not have the answer to my query, but would make a phone call (she was standing no more than two feet from me).  She picked up the phone and said: “Yes, I have an elderly gentleman here from the MSW program and he can’t get into his account.”  Of course, I looked around to see who she was referring to, and it dawned on me that she was talking about me.  I had become “the elderly gentleman” just two days before the term had started.  Of course, I wanted to take the tennis ball off my walker and throw it at her, but decided just to walk away and appreciate that she was genuinely trying to help.

While I am exceedingly grateful for my professors and their time, dedication, and belief in me, I have to say that I am also in awe of and grateful for so many members of my cohort.  I listen to their individual and collective narratives full of passion and reflection and I have learned a great deal from these absolutely lovely people. It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge and thank these people for also embracing me and making me feel so welcomed and integrated into the community.

There have been many times during the last two years that I have submitted to my misanthropic woes and have often reflected: “Maybe I can’t do social work.  I don’t know that I do believe everyone is capable of a transformative experience — what if I’m not capable of a transformative experience?”  Then I hear one of my peers talk about standing in solidarity with me around marriage equality and I get verklepmt and I reflect: “How lucky am I? How on earth did I get here?”  I must confess, I don’t always feel worthy of being in such amazing company and I hope I have been able to add just a tiny significant gem to those I have touched and have touched me.

In the larger scheme, I know most of us are desperately wanting to change systems that are wholly unfair.  We are wanting to eradicate poverty, racism, homophobia, and ageism and underscore the power of interconnectedness and interdependency.  The energy and dedication to creating equity both locally and globally is palpable.  One can feel that amazing energy walking down the halls of the school of social work, or running into each other at the Occupy Movement, or posting activist events for us to attend.  When I look around me today, I feel so much optimism that maybe, just maybe we can actually do it!

I have been fortunate enough to have many “social work” heroes through my lifetime: Bayard Rustin, Nina Simone, Gloria Steinem, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, several of my professors and peers here at PSU, and of course Walt Whitman.   The common thread that ties all of these folk together is that they are all radical progressives — the gatekeepers of truth.  None of us can remain neutral.  If we do not work to interrupt oppression, we are as culpable as the oppressors. As radical progressives, we must not give into systems that collude with oppression, but rather we must stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.  Collectively and individually, we are the Bayard Rustins, the bell hooks, and the Walt Whitmans.

Whitman also wrote, Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you. I find at this point in my life, I am both searching and waiting and I could not be in finer company to do so.

Hero of the Week Award: April 12, the Trans100

12 Apr
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week it is a true pleasure to celebrate the first publication of the Trans100, a project to celebrate heroes in the transgender community. Curated by Toni D’Orsay of This Is HOW and Jen Richards of wehappytrans.com and supported by GLAAD, it’s the first effort of its kind. It is intended to become an annual effort and very much a work in progress. Richards notes in her introduction:

If you recognize that this project is incomplete, and yet still has much to offer, then we trust you will find what we did: an awe inspiring collection of one hundred amazing people doing important work. Not the only hundred. Not the hundred you agree with. But one hundred that reveal a cross-section of trans people active in the United States right now, that indicate the breadth and depth of the work being done by and for the community.

The focus is clearly on the work, as emphasized by the many wonderful people celebrated on the list. It’s a marvelous project, helping raise awareness and provide contacts and context for growing media attention around trans issues in the U.S.

It was a particular pleasure to see my dear friend Jenn Burleton celebrated on the Trans100. Jenn is the Executive Director  of TransActive here in Portland, a pioneering organization providing services to transgender and gender nonconforming children and youth. TransActive will be hosting an Open House on April 17 from 4 to 7.

Honorable mention this week goes to Gail Simone and DC Comics for introducing the first out transgender character in mainstream superhero comics. Simone is an immensely talented writer with a unique connection to her fans. She understands that the comic industry is still overdependent on characters that date back to the 50s and before, frequently falling short of representing modern readers and their communities. She introduced Alysia Yeoh in Batgirl #1 (Sept. 2011) as Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon’s roommate. In Batgirl #19, out this week, Alysia tells Barbara that she is transgender. Simone notes that comics (especially independent presses and “mature audience” books) have had some trans characters before, most of whom achieved gender-fluidity through fantastical means like magic, shape-shifting, brain-swapping, and cloning.

Those characters exist [and] that’s great, but I wanted to have trans characters who aren’t fantasy-based. And I feel like there’s a lot there yet to do.

Thank you, Gail Simone for your continuing efforts to move mainstream comics forward.

Social Justice For All

7 Apr

SJALL BlogI started my blog, The Solipsistic Me, three years ago.  I must confess it started off as a lark and at that point, I did find the whole process of blogging a bit solipsistic.  However, three years later and my surprise at the success of the blog have made me reflect that blogging can be far more than just a lark.  I have found there is amazing power and impact through blogging.

The content of the blog is exactly the same, but now the name of the blog actually reflects the mission of the blog.  Social Justice for All will continue to address: misogyny, homophobia, racism, ageism, bigotry, discrimination, hypocrisy, power differentials while also celebrating the heroic acts of our fellow human beings who work to expand social justice and civil rights for everyone with a focus on the marginalized and underserved and those living poverty.  Of course, I hope most of the stories published here will also contain some humor, for if we can’t laugh at our selves and the world around us, we lose a great part of our humanity. Thus you can count on another interview with my friend the Dowager Countess Goosenberry, and we must keep vigilant, now more than ever, for that scary Gay Agenda! 

Welcome to Social Justice For All, same blog with a new name.  Let us hope that I and all of you readers learn how to create a space that provides a counter narrative to the dominant discourse and celebrates allies and those that stand in solidarity while spotlighting and embracing with joy those voices that are marginalized and oppressed.

True Christmas Heroes in Connecticut

26 Dec
True Heroes

True Heroes

One of the few bright spots about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary has been the stories of heroism emerging from the dark events. Most people are familiar with the bravery of the faculty and staff, some of whom lost their lives defending their charges. Great credit goes to the first responders as well, especially the Newtown Police and the local medical examiners. They faced a horror the likes of which most people can never truly imagine and did their jobs with quiet grace and dedication. Between investigating the killings, serving as honor guards at the far too many funerals, and carrying out their usual duties, Newtown police have been working exhausting hours, even with the capable aid of the Connecticut State Police.

Enter the holiday spirit. On Christmas Day, Newtown police Sgt. Steve Santucci released this message:

Patrol officers and sworn personnel will be given the day off to be home on Christmas. Officers from surrounding towns will be patrolling Newtown.

One of the organizers, Lt. Bob Kozlowsky of the Shelton police department said “It’s a police thing.” His chief went to Newtown to pitch in as many other officers from around the area pitched in all the duties necessary to keep Newtown safe. Meanwhile, exhausted Newtown police were given the day to celebrate and relax with their families, something especially important to them this year.

The substitute police tried to keep the story quiet, wanting it to be a gift, not a press release. When it was leaked, they just went quietly about their business. Most of the volunteers either refused to accept pay or donated their one-day check to Newtown and Sandy Hook charities. In a year where public employees have been much maligned by Teahadists and union busters, this story is just one more example of the true dedication exemplified by most public servants.

Our usual Bigot of the Week and Hero of the Week stories will be suspended this week for the top 5 Hero and Bigot of the Year awards. This story, however, was just too wonderful to pass by. Enjoy your holidays, however you celebrate them.

NFL Stars Tackle Homophobia

8 Sep

Ayanbadejo and Kluwe

What a delightful surprise! Not one but two NFL players have recently shown strong support for LGBT equality. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has been a vocal supporter for some time, participating in HRC campaigns like NoH8. Because marriage equality is on the ballot in Maryland this year, he has supported Marylanders for Marriage Equality. Enter Maryland House of Delegates member Emmett C. Burns.

In a shocking display of homophobia and free speech trampling, Burns sent a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti demanding that Ayanbadejo “concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.” Ignoring the fact that civil rights matter for everyone, Burns illogically says that being a celebrity removes the right to have opinions (that disagree with his). That Burns is African American and ignores the intersections of oppression is even harder to believe.

The response to Burns has been wonderful, however. Ayanbadejo said he would like to “thank him more than anything for bringing national attention to the issue” and questioned Burns’ merit as an elected official. Then enter Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. Minnesota is facing a one-man-one-woman hate amendment this November and Kluwe has recorded three ads opposing the equality ban. He wrote an impassioned letter to Burns defending his NFL colleague and marriage equality. It’s a wonderful letter in full; here’s a good sample.

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

Well said, Mr. Kluwe, and thank you! Given the homophobia in most professional sports and the small number of athletes who are willing to be out and proud, players like Kluwe and Ayanbadejo are important heroes. Let’s hope their voices make life easier for the next generation of athletes and help establish better equality for all.

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