new column: Sorry, but I’m Skeptical About a ‘Day Without a Gay’

December 10th is supposed to be a Day Without a Gay - call in "gay" day, if you will. I love the spirit of it, but I think it is a strategic error.
Okay, so who am I to talk strategy? My attempt at activism, the Always Choose Love Initiative, didn’t quite go according to plan. Maybe the tee-shirts were too expensive. Maybe tee-shirts in general didn’t suit people’s fancy. I definitely should have had buttons and stickers. (I do now, but more on that later.) At the very least, I don’t have Obama’s capacity to inspire. But having frankly admitted my limitations, I still don’t quite agree with the current strategy underlying Prop. 8 opposition. At the very least, I’m sitting on the fence.

Read the rest of
Sorry, but I’m Skeptical About a ‘Day Without a Gay’


new DVD review: death of a president

With assassination fears and an increased number of threats directed to President-elect Obama, it seems appropriate to review another hypothetical Presidential assassination, one I suspect many people never have heard of let alone seen. When released in 2006, “Death of a President” created quite the hubbub with its realistic depiction of a sitting President’s assassination – the President of the title being none other than George W. Bush. But the filmmakers were aware of the controversy – a controversy fully realized as many have condemned the film as shocking and tasteless. In crafting the film’s style and presentation, director Gabriel Range and his crew successfully avoid face-slapping sensationalism; even the assassination scene itself is too gritty, too quick, too chaotic to be perversely exploitative.
Read the rest of Shots Fired in Controversial Film.

Also at inkandashes.net.


you've lost that lovin' feelin'


what is baseline veganism? part 2

However, a few qualifications are in order. First is that humans are, indeed, omnivores. Our body has evolved to eat a variety of food. However, just because we CAN eat a variety of food types doesn’t mean that we SHOULD. Based on what I’ve read, I’ve come to see nutrition like this: as with sweets and alcohol, we can eat meat in small quantities, but for long term-health it’s best to follow a vegan diet. This brings me to a second point, namely, that in terms of ethics an absolute injunction against eating meat doesn’t really make sense. For one thing, all life is predicated on the consumption of other life, whether we like it or not. Carnivores eat meat, and unless we’re prepared to slaughter lions and wolves and the like because they are fundamentally immoral, then we have to admit that survival is a mitigating factor. Carnivores kill other animals because that’s how they evolved, and meat is what they need to survive. In human, omnivorous terms, this translates to: if the choice comes down to killing and eating an animal or starving to death, I certainly wouldn’t choose to starve to death. Veganism doesn’t work as an absolute.

There are more aesthetic reasons not to be so absolutist: not everything animal-related is harmful to animals. Milk, for example. Even though it’s not especially healthy in large quantities, it doesn’t hurt the cow to drink it. Same thing with eggs, or honey. The point isn’t to argue for vegetarianism, but to say that flexibility in a vegan diet means that we can be sure that the occasional treat of milk and eggs can from well-treated, free-range, organic animals that have not been made to suffer. Even eating meat, on occasion, may be acceptable if we take Michael Pollan’s point that there’s more to food than nutrition. Food is intrinsically tied to culture, to socializing, to enjoying the good life. I happen to enjoy sushi – forget beef and chicken – and like indulging in a good Japanese meal on special occasions. I don't necessarily see a problem when this is the exception and not the rule, although this does play fast and loose with the actual rule.

So this brings me to the rationale behind “baseline” veganism. Baseline, because the vegan diet serves as the, well, baseline for eating on a day to day basis (as opposed to vegetarianism, which allows animal-derived food as part of the diet). But a baseline is just that; a starting point. A guideline from which it is okay to deviate on occasion. A baseline vegan, or bVegan, is someone who adheres to veganism while allowing for limited compromises and deviations.

Or, a bVegan is a vegan who isn’t propped upright by a stick up the ass.

what is baseline veganism? part 1

When it comes to food, whether eating out with friends or partaking in the product lunch presentation at work, the fact that I am vegan inevitably creates a bit of a problem. Not so much in a logistical sense, although of course there’s an issue there, but more in terms of labels. While I consider myself essentially vegan, I don’t think the word “vegan” as commonly understood is an accurate label. Reason the first; too many vegans have an insufferable self-righteous attitude, and I’m insufferably self-righteous as it is that I don’t need any more encouragement. I’m talking about folks who refer to people who eat meat as corpse-eaters, for example. I’m talking about PETA, who are otherwise commendable in their efforts for securing humane treatment for animals. Reason the second: the word “vegan” does connote an absolute stance – absolutely no meat, no animal products, never-ever – and I don’t think this is either philosophically justified or realistic in terms of living life.

I’ve resorted to using pragmatic vegan or non-absolute vegan as alternatives, but these are just weasel words, as Wikipedia might put it. After working the ol’ neurons for a long time, I’ve settled on the term “baseline vegan” to label my nutritional stance. Before explaining it, though, I’d like to get on the soapbox and answer the question, “why vegan?” The short answer is predicated on the principle of avoiding or minimizing death and suffering:
  1. It’s healthier for us.
  2. It’s good for animals.
  3. It’s good for the planet.
Nutritionally, it’s Dr. McDougall’s books that persuaded me of the science behind nutrition, along with stuff I’ve read by Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food) and others. Basically, to be healthy and reduce incidence of diseases like cancer, diabetes, what have you, it’s best to avoid processed food and “edible food-like products” and just eat food. Good ol’ natural food, straight from the planet – veggies, fruits, and grains – chock-full of vitamins and nutrients. But it’s also that excess meat and dairy, with high fat, underlies many diseases associated with the Western diet.

Beyond nutrition, the huge planetary population entails a large-scale meat industry, which comes with barbaric practices like debeaking, close confinement, electrocution deaths, and other abuses. I once rationalized these industrial processes as necessary for feeding a large population, but I can’t accept that anymore. Animals are sentient - to varying degrees, of course, but sentient nonetheless. They may not be “human,” but they feel pain; there’s more to animals than we think. To be consistent with acting with compassion, it’s necessary to treat animals humanely, with empathy - not just humans. Not eating meat means not treating animals with cruelty.

Then there’s the planet. The meat industry is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gas that contribute to global warming. Yes, you can say cow farts – the methane of livestock is a greenhouse gas. Between that and the fertilizers, land use, transportation, and so on, the meat industry as it is now is bad for the environment. Other points of contention is how much grain goes to feed cattle (seven pounds of corn to one pound of beef, for example) when it could instead to feeling people directly. The excess consumption of meat, fast-food and otherwise, impacts not only the environment, but the quality of our human civilization.

To be continued...


new column: are the gay rights protests mob justice?

A few thoughts about the tyranny of culture and Mormon hypocrisy....
Although I’m not convinced that the protests serve a strategically useful purpose – and I wonder where the heck everybody was before Nov. 4 – I don’t buy accusations that these are mob justice or disrespectful of “the people’s will.” Insofar as the mob justice canard is concerned, Prop. 8 not only revoked a legal right, it did so on the basis of portraying gay marriage as harmful to children and a threat to social stability. When somebody calls you a threat, immoral and the like, then pulls a stunt like Prop. 8 to interfere in your life, getting upset and exercising free speech rights strikes me as a natural human response. Prop. 8 supporters may not like being the object of anger, they may not like being called intolerant and bigots, they may not like these protests and boycotts, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. People don’t like to be insulted and treated like second-class citizens, and it was, after all, the Prop. 8 people – who don’t seem to understand or care about the pain they are causing – who started it. They could have left well enough alone, living their lives according to their beliefs and leaving others to theirs, but no. Read the rest of Are the Gay Rights Protests Mob Justice?


new film reviews: madascar 2 and quantum of solace

Escape 2 laughs with Madascar: Escape 2 Africa.
So it’s not “Wall.E.” There — I’ve said it. Maybe I’m defending the film from an accusation that hasn’t been made – does anyone really expect a “Madagascar” film to be “Wall.E”? – but,hopefully, with that kind of snootiness out of the way we can get to what makes this sequel to 2005’s “Madagascar” a tasty puff of animation. And there’s nothing wrong with being a tasty puff of beautiful animation. Read the rest here.
Get a wallop of action with your smidgen of comfort - and no, referring to Quantum of Solace as Smidgen of Comfort hasn't gotten old yet.
It’s like that moment on a roller-coaster right after the endless suspense of getting pulled up the ramp and right before the sudden, terrifying drop. And that’s just within the first 10 minutes. “Quantum of Solace,” the 23rd film in a series that needs no introduction, has stunts that fall in the category of unbelievable. Car chases, foot chases, aerial dogfights – if it moves on air, land or sea, it’s in a stunt extravaganza that pounds hearts and drops jaws. Bond’s pursuit of an environmentalist who uses his “green” company as a front for sinister geo-political machinations couldn’t be pumped up with any more adrenaline. Read the rest here.

goths and politics: a survey

Unlike punk, goth has never been associated with the raised fist of revolutionary fervour. Yet with goth being so notoriously difficult to pin down beyond “I’ll know it when I see it,” could it really be so easy to separate politics from goth?
Discover the answer in Goths and Politics at Morbid Outlook.

The results of a survey I conducted to find out what, if any, relationship there is between politics and goth culture have been published at Morbid Outlook...Limited space forced me to set aside some specific questions. For example: how did self-described anarchists respond? Were there any conservative goths? But stay tuned to future blog posts for a breakdown of the survey's results...


a special comment about special comments and anti-prop 8 protests

So this video of Keith Olbermann's very moving special comment on gay marriage and Prop. 8 has been making the rounds:

And the headlines have been, if not dominated, then at least strong-armed, by the anti-Prop.8 protestapalooza that's been going on.

It's all very well and good. Although I question the tactical value of the protests at this stage of the struggle - it's in the hands of the lawyers and the courts now - and worry that too much protesting will dull the impact of these mass gatherings, I not only understand, but share the outrage.

Yet I have to ask: where was Keith Olbermann before November 4th? Where were the people of influence, the soap-box orators, the movers and shakers? It's easy to get upset now, to wave fists and signs after the fact. But setting aside the No On 8 reactive campaign - shouldn't that ad narrated by Sam Jackson have aired sooner rather than in the waning days before the election? - the unfortunate truth is that we didn't do enough. I include myself in this "we." I - we - didn't do enough to reach out to the people to let them know the real cost, the high price, of discrimination. We just didn't. Maybe we took it for granted, thinking that surely in this brave new 21st century, in this golden state, people would not be so cruel as to vote for something so base and mean as Proposition 8. Maybe those hesitant, fluttering spikes in the polls gave us a fall sense of hope. Whatever the reason, we didn't do what we had to do.

Olbermann's comment is a model of eloquence and passion - and of the cavalry arriving too late.

new theatre review: school of night

I love the theatre space at the Mark Taper Forum...the things they do with sets that assemble and move like clock is quite impressive. Too bad I can't be similarly enthusiastic about the play currently on stage...
An alleged Elizabethan-era association of free-thinkers devoted to science, philosophy, poetry, politics and the repudiation of religion, is an inspired topic for a play – especially when this association encompasses the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe. The School of Night’s history is so murky – even the name is, apparently, a retroactive indulgence by modern writers taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour Lost – that it lends itself to intriguing historical speculation. Toss in a turbulent political climate under Queen Elizabeth I and we have a fertile setting for a provocative drama involving freedom of religion and thought and the birth pangs of science. Read the rest of No Need to Stay Up Late for the School of Night.


capsule review: suspect zero

Most critics, understandably, view Suspect Zero as an overly stylized (read: insubstantial), derivative and even pretentious genre effort. But while it doesn’t escape from the clichés that come with serial killer procedurals, Suspect Zero does have a few flashes of inspiration – call them twists of the knife – that make the film worthwhile. Begin with E. Elias Merhige stylish direction, marked by fascinating, off-kilter camera angles that, along with clever editing and scene splicing, create a visually arresting film. At times slow to take in the scenery, at times fast to convey the disturbing imagery that haunt two of the film’s characters, Merhige puts in a lot of artistry in the film’s composition, the result of which is a film drenched in atmosphere. It’s worth noting that despite the gruesome deaths, the film isn’t particularly gory and has very little on-screen violence. Suspect Zero is, above all, an exercise in creeping, skin-burrowing dread.

The story has its own flourishes, the first of which is the way in which the paranormal ability of remote viewing is woven into the film. Without the self-consciousness of an X-Files episode, where the premise of the FBI using clairvoyance to remotely find criminals would be right at home, Suspect Zero is a science fiction film that doesn’t make a fuss about being a science-fiction film. In fact, the premise is so effortless presented as plausible that we are free to focus on the other nice flourish, namely, the notion of a serial killer who preys on other serial killers, and the Suspect Zero hypothesis of a serial killer who is truly random in his method, motive, and choice of victims. Cue in a deliciously intense performance by Sir Ben Kingsley as the man who may or not be “Suspect Zero,” along robust performances by Aaron Eckhard as Agent Mackelway and Carrie Anne-Moss as his partner Fran Kulok, and Suspect Zero becomes, not so much a crime thriller, but a psychological thriller on the nature of confronting evil in the world punctuated by intensely dramatic character moments.

Where Suspect Zero stumbles is in failing to flesh out its ideas. There are worse things, however, than being left with wanting more, and the film proves surprisingly enjoyable.


new column: Obama won, yet I'm not ready to celebrate

I've remained silent on the November 4th election - AKA liberation day for the sensible and the Russian Revolution for the hard-nosed right - mostly because I've been utterly depressed over Prop. 8 passing. But now that a bit of time has passed, I'll chime in with a few semi-contrarian thoughts on Obama's victory.

Okay, so the headline isn’t, strictly speaking, true. I am plenty pleased that Obama won. President Bush and the GOP had eight years of governance, they botched it, and now comes someone new. Obama brought to the campaign a better set of policies and, more importantly, a superior vision and temperament than McCain. That Obama inspired so many to become involved in the political process is commendable. That the world is jubilant about Obama’s win and looking forward to renewing diplomatic relations that frayed under President Bush is encouraging. And, except for the hardcore Republican base who see Obama’s win as the Russian Revolution and will continue to see it that way no matter what, Obama stands a good chance of truly achieving a government that doesn’t shut people out the way Republicans have shut out Democrats and dissenters in the past eight years. Read the rest of Obama Won, Yet I’m Not Ready to Celebrate.
As for Prop. 8, well, the short answer is that it's in the lawyers' hands now.


new review: body of lies

A devious spymaster, the wary and morally conflicted field operative, the relentless enemy, the high stakes, a larger-than-life plot, the inevitable reach for analogies involving spiders, flies, and webs – the military-espionage thriller gang’s all here, albeit dressed up by Ridley Scott into a gripping, uncompromising, brutal portrait of the global war on terror as fought in the Middle East. Scott’s ability to direct clear action scenes possessed of a visceral, documentary nature – unmuddled by unnecessary cuts and quirky camera angles – strips “Body of Lies” of a superficial exploitative sheen, much like “The Dark Knight” stripped Batman of his comic book-ishness, to deliver a film that entertains without sacrificing its topical integrity.
Read the rest of 'Body of Lies,’ a Very Moral Film With a Certain Vagueness


because a spade is a spade

A fellow named David Link writes to the LA Times:
I agree with so much of your editorial against Proposition 8. It is a shame you had to invoke bigotry in its final thought.

I have been working on securing legal rights for same-sex couples since 1985, and I served on the task force that led to Los Angeles becoming one of the first major cities in the world to recognize same-sex couples and offer them benefits, in 1988. Although I have seen my share of bigotry against lesbians and gay men, calling Proposition 8 supporters bigots insults many people who are struggling with this issue. Gay or straight, we all grew up with an understanding of marriage and civil society that did not include homosexuals or viewed them as sick, sinners or criminals.

It is only in the last 50 years that homosexuals have fought to take their rightful place in our communities as equal individuals. And it is only since the mid-1980s that we have begun to achieve legal recognition for our relationships.

The domestic partnerships that L.A. helped pioneer have helped a lot of people -- very possibly a majority -- understand that our relationships are as important to us and our children as the ones that we were raised in were to our parents. But 20 years is not a long time.
People of goodwill who are still wrestling with this are not bigots. This is the kind of intemperate language that makes it harder, not easier, for same-sex marriage to ultimately prevail.
But suppose we made a slight alteration to that second paragraph:

I have been working on securing legal rights for interracial couples since 1985, and I served on the task force that led to Los Angeles becoming one of the first major cities in the world to recognize interracial couples and offer them benefits, in 1988. Although I have seen my share of bigotry against blacks and other minorities, calling Proposition 8 supporters bigots insults many people who are struggling with this issue. White or black, we all grew up with an understanding of marriage and civil society that did not include blacks or viewed them as sick, sinners or criminals.

Of course it’s bigotry. While it may hurt people’s feelings to accuse them of being bigots, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re actively supporting discrimination, and the vast majority justify themselves using the Bible. But since going around saying “God hates fags,” a la Fred Phelphs, or with a milder “God loves fags but hates homosexual behaviour,” doesn’t exactly inspire the warm and fuzzies, Prop 8 supporters hide behind alleged risks to children and society. It may be that this bigotry is culturally ingrained and that many are, indeed, “people of goodwill” – but good is as good does; intentions are bricks for roads in hell. Much like the racists who kept black people down and worried about the end of civilization with black suffrage and full equality, these “people of goodwill,” intentionally or not, are acting like bigots in supporting discrimination. Maybe David Link is right that we should be nicer – but nice doesn’t see to get anywhere. There’s no call for being nasty, but please, let’s call a spade a space and a bigot a bigot.


a reminder to vote NO on prop 8