Sunday, November 30, 2008

Roxie's Watching: Australia & Milk

(Photo Credit: Bill Bray, Focus Features; Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Milk.)

When you are so full that gravy is oozing out of your pores and you've already made your way through the safe topics of conversation -- both of them -- with your family, what do you do with the rest of Thanksgiving weekend? You go to the movies, of course. The moms ventured out with the Mother of the Moosians to see Baz Luhrmann's Australia on Friday and caught Gus Van Sant's Milk Saturday evening after the MotM had safely returned to the heartland of America. Both films earned a paws up from the tough critics of Roxie's World, though Milk comes with a serious hankie alert. It will make you cry, kids, repeatedly, even if you aren't a menopausal queer still furious over the passage of California's Prop 8. We command you to see it, but be prepared for a little public weeping. Don't worry -- Everyone else in the theater will be wiping their eyes right along with you.

If you like Baz Luhrmann, you will love Australia. It's big, it's meta, it's gorgeously filmed, it's at least 20 minutes longer than it needed to be -- and yet no one in our party snuck out for a potty break before the closing credits had stopped rolling. A couple of pithy sentences from Ann Hornaday's Wa Po review capture the whole adventure rather nicely:
[Australia] doesn't wink as often as it genuflects toward its massive subject and, even more worshipfully, toward old-school Hollywood schmaltz. A wildly ambitious, luridly indulgent spectacle of romance, action, melodrama and revisionism, Australia is windy, overblown, utterly preposterous and insanely entertaining.
Insanely entertaining, people -- because you want to see Nicole Kidman fly across the screen on a horse as if she were born with a whip in her hand. Because you need to see Hugh Jackman without his shirt on. Because you love a multi-culti cutie-pie, and Brandon Walters, who plays the mixed race child of an Aboriginal woman and a white man, steals the show with his winsome smile and his remarkable affinity for The Wizard of Oz (told you the film was meta, didn't we?). The racial and colonial politics of Australia are no doubt a whole lot more complicated than its earnest message of love conquering difference and history seems to imply. (A telling detail is that, as in most such fantasies, dark-skinned characters who are allied with good-guy white characters tend to get killed, while mixed-race characters survive -- even though, as is the case here, tribute is paid to the necessity of a connection to Aboriginal culture.) Nonetheless, Australia succeeds because it isn't interested in nuance or analysis. It is interested in sentiment and spectacle, and it delivers both in spades. If you get that, you'll enjoy the long, bracing ride Luhrmann has in store for you. (Manohla Dargis's NYT review of Australia is here.)

Van Sant's Milk would be a remarkable film at any moment, but in this moment -- thirty years after Harvey Milk's murder, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, in November 1978 and three weeks after the passage of California's Prop 8 -- it has a poignancy and a political urgency that one can't quite imagine it having at any other time. Just three weeks before his death, Milk was the driving force behind the defeat of a California ballot initiative that would have led to mandatory firings of gay teachers in the state. As told in the film, the story of Milk's triumph on Prop 6 is a thrilling come-from-behind victory made possible by shrewd organizing and a politics of visibility. Over and over in the film, we see Milk demanding that queers come out, insisting that the battle for equality will be won by getting the heterosexual majority to see the homosexual minority. "If they know us," he insists, "they don't vote against us." Milk's tactics stand in stark contrast to the mealy-mouthed campaign waged by opponents of Prop 8, who were reluctant to place LGBT people and families at the center of the battle, pitching it instead as an abstract matter of rights.

Dennis Lim has an excellent piece on Milk in Slate that muses on whether Prop 8 would have passed if the film had opened in October rather than last week. (Van Sant himself entertained this question in an interview with the San Francisco Bay Guardian and conceded that Milk, wily tactician that he was, would have opened the film earlier.) That question is, of course, impossible to answer, and we needn't burden the film or its maker with such responsibility. What we can do is use the occasion of the film and the painful passage of Prop 8 (and the other anti-gay initiatives that succeeded on Nov. 4) to re-acquaint ourselves with Milk's legacy and to re-assess the priorities and tactics of an LGBT political movement that has been far less effective than he was in the sole statewide referendum battle he fought before his tragic death. In the shadow of Prop 8, it is excruciating to watch Sean Penn's sublimely human Milk agonize on screen, thinking the battle against Prop 6 is doomed, and intoxicating to watch him revel in the unexpected victory. Thirty years later, we should be angry that the foes of equality are still subjecting LGBT civil rights to popular votes, but we should be ashamed that we haven't yet found a more effective means for waging these ballot battles. Thirty years later, we can honor Milk's memory by finally proving we have learned the lessons in democracy he worked so tirelessly and courageously to teach. See the film -- and then get to work.

(A. O. Scott's NYT review of Milk is here. Christie Keith has a review up on After Ellen. Keith also has an interview with Alison Pill, who plays Anne Kronenberg, the lesbian who managed Milk's successful campaign to get on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It's got some comments from Kronenberg and Van Sant as well.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Female Gaze

(Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton [access by clicking here and then going to "Photo Gallery"]; Moose [on the left, looking up] and Goose's sign, Comcast Center, 11/23/08)

We've been woefully remiss in our basketball blogging so far in this young season, so we'll begin to make amends this Thanksgiving eve by letting you share in the greatest accomplishment of Moose and Goose's lives as sports fans: the photo above, snapped at Sunday's Lady Terps game against UCLA, which is featured in a gallery on the team's web page. Word on the street is that the Terps got this solid win against a pretty good UCLA team (after LOSING their season opener to -- if you can believe it -- Texas Christian University) because they are beginning to find their groove and chemistry, incorporating new players into a team that still relies heavily on the experience of seniors Kristi Toliver and Marissa "Shoulders" Coleman, both veterans of the 2006 national championship team. There's probably some truth to that, but here in Roxie's World we give a lot of credit to the passionate devotion of Moose and Goose, whose neighbors in the Comcast Center fondly refer to them as "the Sign Ladies" because of the hand-painted signs they bring to every game. I mean, really, people, look at the neat penmanship on that sign! Consider the elegant simplicity of its kick-butt feminist message. Then look at Moose's laser-like eyes, gazing fiercely up at the scoreboard. What is she thinking? Is she worried that Shoulders won't score her 1600th point (which she did, moving into 6th place all-time among Maryland scorers)? Is she annoyed that the scoreboard refuses to count points for Marah Strickland, though Moose knows for a fact that Strickland sank at least two free throws in the second half? Is she wishing Goose had gotten her a hot dog when she went to the concession stand, thinking she could really use a hunk of meat by-product slathered with mustard right about now, and why the heck is Goose hiding behind that sign anyway?

Oh, who knows, kids? Write your own caption. Tell us what you think. Beats hell out of trying to talk to your family, doesn't it? (By the way, the Lady Terps prevailed against South Dakota State this afternoon down in Cancun, 68-56. They play Montana at 7 p.m. tomorrow.)

And because all the other bloggers are passing along Thanksgiving recipes, we'll share with you the reason dog invented cranberries: this delicious recipe for Cranberry, Cherry, and Walnut Chutney. It's from Cooking Light (or, as Moose calls it, Food Porn for the Conscientious), and it'll be on our table tomorrow:

Cranberry, Cherry, and Walnut Chutney

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup port or other sweet red wine
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
2/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Orange rind strips (optional)

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Add cherries, and cook 1 minute. Stir in cranberries; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until cranberries pop. Remove from heat. Stir in walnuts, grated rind, and extract. Garnish with orange rind strips, if desired. Cover and chill.

Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 1/4 cup)

CALORIES 108 (25% from fat); FAT 3g (sat 0.2g,mono 0.7g,poly 2g); IRON 0.3mg; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 11mg; CARBOHYDRATE 19.7g; SODIUM 2mg; PROTEIN 1.5g; FIBER 1.8g

Cooking Light, NOVEMBER 2005

Love you, kids, and wish you a bounteous feast and every happiness. We're hunkered down at home, with the Mother of the Moosians and delicious odors wafting through the house. Peace to you and yours and the whole damn planet.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pre-Holiday Eye Candy

(Image Credit: Maksim, [You'll have to scroll way down through a lot of other images to get to this one, but if you enjoy the parodies of Shepard Fairey's iconic Obama poster, it's worth the trip.])

Why pre-holiday eye candy? Several reasons. One, it has no calories, and you need to save room for all the gorging you'll be doing over the next several days. Two, we think some of our readers might be in need of a snuggly, cuddly, and slightly ironic image of Winnie-the-Pooh to gaze at as they steel themselves for whatever dramas and disappointments may arise over the holiday. We realize it's an emotionally fraught time, and you might not be able to take your dogs with you on your trips. We suggest you take a laptop along and come click on this post whenever you feel the need for a little virtual hug. That's what Roxie's World is here for, kids, and dog knows you need us. We'll be here when the last piece of pie is gone and you're still not done trying to plug up that hole somebody put in your heart. We'll be here after your drunk aunt has broken the last of the crystal wine glasses you inherited from your grandmother. We'll be here when your racist step dad has gone off on his fourteenth tirade about the Muslim socialist who's getting ready to move into the White House. And, yeah, we'll even be here when your littlest nephew takes his first tottering step and throws you a look of delight and dawning self-confidence that takes your breath away. We'd love to hear about that.

Holiday angst and sentimentality aside, our main reason for tossing out some snappy images is to pass along the results of research recently undertaken by the powerful Office of Eye Candy here at RW Enterprises, LLC. The team of old yearbook editors and skinny kids in tight jeans who work there has been surfing the internets looking for information on Shepard Fairey, the graphic artist who designed the Obama poster parodied in the image above as well as the to us far more compelling "Love Unites" poster he did in the wake of the passage of California's Prop 8. We found a couple of interesting news articles, including one in Wa Po and one in the LA Times focused on Fairey's reaction to the pilfering of his work. Not surprisingly, given his roots as a street artist, Fairey is blasé about such appropriations and variations, seeing them as confirmation of the power of his original image: "When something becomes pervasive enough, it becomes a reference point that people are going to use for commentary and parody," Fairey said. "They build their own thing off of it and use it for their own agenda."

If, like us, you loves you some parody, you will want to check out the impressive collection of riffs on Fairey's Obama assembled by Rene Wanner. It's well researched and beautifully presented so that you can easily see all 149 parodies he has compiled. We also give a grateful hat tip to Wanner for helping us answer a question that has gnawed at us ever since we tossed up the image of a parody that used the Pope in place of Obama in a post we did back in September. Our blog pal and top-notch scholar Historiann liked the image, too, and asked about its provenance, to which we offered a sheepish, "Dunno, dude, we stole it off the internets." Well, Historiann, we can now tell you that the Pope poster was designed by Michael Ian Weinfeld and commissioned by ANIMAL, an extremely hip online magazine, in connection with Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to the United States. (More links to Fairey and Obama parody stories here. You know, if my typist weren't already complaining bitterly about overwork and fragmented attention, I would order her to delve more deeply into the whole underworld of cool graphics and image freaks on the internets. Y'all would love it, wouldn't you?)

The truth is that eye candy is another of the answers to the deep-thoughtish question we were pondering here the other day -- "Why do we blog?" We blog in part because we deeply and freakishly heart the way in which the (plat)form allows us to think with images, to play with them, to work with them and re-work them -- as a way of telling stories, as aspects or objects of critique, as a means of arresting the fast-moving eyes of our impatient readers as they careen through cyberspace. Slow down, our pretty pictures implore. Slow down. Stay here. Look at me. See me -- truly. I am here for you.

We'll close with Fairey's favorite of the Obama parodies, the hilarious, if in some ways predictable, cover Mad magazine ran in October. "I loved Mad as a kid," Fairey said of the spoof of his work. "I think Mad’s satire heightened my understanding of irony and hypocrisy. I’m very excited to be a part of Mad’s history." We would be, too, and, if it were us, we'd probably be so excited that we'd also overlook that what Mad is satirizing in this instance is the obvious lack of irony in the cringe-inducing secular religiosity of Fairey's original Obama poster. Sweet pea, we won't bother to explain to Fairey, you're the reason we started calling Obama "His Hopeness." That Pope parody? A no-brainer, man -- bound to happen. But never mind -- We'll cut Fairey some slack in the hope that he won't come after us for prominently displaying his "Love Unites" poster in the side bar. Can't help it, kids -- We are suckers for any combination of red and yellow and graphics that hearken back to WWII propaganda posters. Can't. Get. Enough.

What are we thankful for in Roxie's World? Why, you, of course -- always and forever. Peace out.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Who's the Boss?

Roxie's World refuses to comment on positions that Senator Hillary Clinton may have been offered and might have accepted in the administration of President-Elect Barack Obama. Why? Because we've noticed that every time we get all puffed up and confident about something having to do with the junior senator from New York, it disappears into thin air and we are left with egg on our faces, ashes in our throat, and disappointment in the depths of our leaky heart. So we will say nothing, nada, not a word, not a peep, not a whit, not a woof, not a yelp, not a whistle, not a whisper, not a whoop, not a holler, not a shout, not a cheer, not a chant, not a huzzah or hurrah or hooray or yee-haw about how happy we are for Senator Clinton, how impressed we are with the cabinet the president-elect is assembling, and how thrilled we are at the prospect of the country's tattered global reputation being mended by one of the smartest girls on dog's earth. But we are not saying anything, doggone it! We are not saying anything. In an effort to continue not saying anything about Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of state in the Obama administration, we are going to amuse ourselves by coming up with a caption for this photo that ran on the front page of this morning's New York Times (although it was taken in October, when Obama and Clinton were campaigning together in Florida).

(Photo Credit: Damon Winter, New York Times)

Our Caption: No, no, Barack -- It's, "Out came the sun and dried up all the rain,/And the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again," not "up came the sun." Trust me, 'kay? It was Chelsea's favorite song.

What's your caption? And what are your thoughts on the emerging shape of the Obama (hey, it turns out the Clintons weren't wrong about everything) administration? So far, we'll give it a paws up on smarts and experience, even as we try to stifle the chortles from the Department of We Told You So (as in, we told you there was no substantive difference on policy between Obama and Clinton, we told you he was a centrist, we told you he wouldn't close down the Pentagon his first day in office and turn Kumbaya into the national anthem). Turns out the Hopey Changey Crowd realizes the business of governing requires the expertise of those who have spent some time in the sausage factory, no matter how much it offends the delicate sensibilities of the blogger boyz. There, there, boyz. Have yourselves a nice bowl of tofu and spinach. Barack and Hillary have a country to run and a world to repair.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hurry

The Washington Times reports this morning that the administration of President-Elect Barack Obama will not move forward on repealing the ban on openly gay people serving in the military for months and perhaps not until 2010. The rationale for the delay in overturning the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy -- under which more than 12,500 service members have been discharged since its implementation in 1993 -- is to allow time to build a consensus among the Joint Chiefs of Staff before presenting legislation to Congress. Even Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, seems on board with the delay. He has spoken with the Obama transition team about how to proceed on the issue and has the last, discouraging (to us) word in the article:
"What's the reality for the new administration?" he said. "Financial crisis. Economic upheaval. Health care reform. Environmental challenges. Where does 'don't ask, don't tell' fall in all this? I would say it is not in the top five priorities of national issues."
Question: Will the Obama administration order investigations and discharge proceedings arising from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to be halted during this period of consensus-building?

Question: Should we be concerned that the delay will serve not to build consensus but to give the implacable foes of repealing the ban a chance to recover from the bitter defeats of the election and use this issue to re-energize and organize their base? The beast must be fed, after all, and we have a hunch it won't be satisfied with a few hunks of bloody Alaskan turkey.

Question: Golly, isn't it getting a little crowded under that bus? We never really thought Obama was a great friend to teh gays, but at this point overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hardly qualifies as a profile in political courage. A Wa Po/ABC News poll this past summer showed that 75% of Americans now support allowing gays who are open about their sexual orientation to serve in the military. Earlier this week, more than 100 retired admirals and generals released a statement calling for a repeal of the ban. Heck, Mr. President-Elect, you could even justify the repeal on cost-saving grounds. SLDN estimates that "the cost to replace and train service members discharged from fiscal years 1994 through 2003 exceeded $363.8 million." The nation is in the midst of two wars and a deep recession, Mr. Obama. We can't afford to lose a single individual willing to serve!

We get that the mantra of the incoming "No Drama Obama" administration is to avoid all of the alleged mistakes of the supposedly inept early days of the Clinton administration, but our long memory tells us that the real mistake around gays in the military was Bill Clinton not having the guts to stand up to Sam Nunn and do the right thing by executive order. He could have. He didn't, and the result was a disastrous compromise that resulted in an increase in prosecutions and discharges of soldiers who refused to lie about something that had no bearing whatsoever on their loyalty or service. Justice delayed is justice denied, Mr. President-Elect, and America's gay soldiers have already waited far too long. Don't blink. Don't delay. Do the right thing.

(Photo Credit: Getty, via The Advocate)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Transgender Day of Remembrance

For C. -- Apple of our eye. Wherever the journey takes you, know that you are loved. Be brave, be true, be ragged and uncertain, be provisional and contradictory, be both/and, neither/nor, be you. Be safe. And may the world let you be . . . safe.

Remember those who were killed in 2008 because of anti-transgender hatred or prejudice here.

Video from Fight Out Loud, "Hate Crimes in 2008," picked up at Pam's House Blend:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dear Liss

An Open Letter to Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan

We started this letter a few days ago, in the middle of your discombobulating (to us) weeklong absence from Shakesville, the magnificent bastion of feminist/progressive commentary that you have painstakingly built in the blogosphere over the past four years. We were delighted to find you back in action today, with several posts and a long message about the crushing sense of fatigue that had driven you to consider abandoning the project for good. We decided to go ahead and finish this letter, because, like most such public epistles, it was always about much more than the occasion that produced it and the person to whom it was addressed – which is perhaps to say that it was always more about us than you, but here it is anyway. We want you to know how much we missed you and how fully we understand how you’ve been feeling.

You don’t know us, but we know you. We are a humble dog blog – a pimple on the butt of the blogosphere, as Moose says when she’s had a couple of drinks on a day when traffic is slow. We bow in homage to the mighty force of the teaspoon-wielding cadre of smarty-pants writers and fighters for justice you have assembled at Shakesville. We express our gratitude to you for your extraordinary effort to create and sustain an island of sanity, civility, and daily kitteh in a world too often lacking in such qualities. Even we dog bloggers can appreciate the importance of a daily dose of kitteh, I swear.

We understand that you are tired. Broke. Feeling near the end of your rope from months of overwork and under-appreciation through the course of an overly caffeinated presidential primary race and the general election. Ready to quit. Pack up your teaspoons and maybe head back to the real world.

We know how you feel, Liss. We’ve suffered from our own periods of blogger fatigue and anxiety disorder around here, though Roxie’s World is so much smaller than the vast left-wing empire that is Shakesville. By June 7, when Hillary Clinton formally suspended her presidential campaign, we thought perhaps we had embedded our last link, come up with our last synonym for “gritty,” and finished scouring the internets for flattering photographs of the junior senator of New York. What was the point, we asked ourselves? We lost or alienated friends during the primary campaign and saw our generally happy little comments section turn tense and weird. Oh, and our candidate lost, which kinda made us feel like our teaspoon had a hole in it or something. For reasons not entirely clear, we rallied our forces for the general election and wrote on, maintaining our principled refusal to endorse Barack Obama for president because of our objections to the way the party had resolved the nomination battle. Many of our readers were baffled (to put it mildly) by our perverse preference for the dry martinis of dissent over the brightly colored Kool-Aid of unity, but we soldiered on together, even bellying up to a virtual bar we set up in a blatant rip-off of the virtual pubs you host every Friday on Shakesville.

That’s just one of the many cool tricks we stole from you as we tried to turn Roxie’s World into a bigger, better, bloggier place. You’ve taught us so much, Liss, about the nature of online communities and the kind of political and analytical work that might be done there. Once we learned our way around Shakesville, it became one of our favorite blogospheric destinations. It’s rare to come upon a place where the writing is so consistently strong and the integrity so high. We admired the fact that you were as diligent in tracking misogyny aimed at GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin as you had been in tracking that aimed at Hillary Clinton, because, as you patiently explained, that’s how feminism works. Would that other “progressive” commentators had been as committed to feminist principles as Shakesville was. We were grievously disappointed to see so many left-leaning citizen journalists willing to traffic in lies and the most toxic forms of misogyny – rape and murder fantasies – in order to tear down women candidates. We admired your willingness to call everybody out on his or her bad behavior.

Back to your burnout, though. We get it, Liss. We really do. Our situation is different from yours, in that blogging is your fulltime job, while I am an old dog who has never been expected to bring in much income for my household. My typist, on the other hand, does have a fulltime job that requires her to keep her head out of the blogosphere for extended periods of time to make sure that the world is safe for Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, and a generation of college grads going out onto a depressed job market armed with expertise in all things gay, queer, bi, and trans. (I know – Nice work if you can get it, right?) Though blogging is a labor of love for us, there are times when my typist feels overwhelmed by the demands of what almost feels like a second fulltime job. On her worst days, she feels that she doesn’t do either one of her jobs very well, that each suffers for not receiving her full attention and that she suffers from lack of sleep and the kind of regular exercise she got back in the days when she didn’t spend hours every single day hunched over a laptop trolling for material. She feels guilty about neglecting friends, family, and a range of obligations. She’s even gotten bad about paying her bills! Goose has learned to recognize a quality of distraction in her eyes and voice that means she’s lost somewhere in the blogosphere, either gathering or generating material, trying to help me find just the right angle or frame on some fresh news or outrage. “Are you listening?” Goose will say. “No,” Moose will sheepishly confess, as she peers up over her laptop screen.

There is a certain irony for Moose in the pressure she feels to research and write quickly for Roxie’s World. It is the opposite of what she is expected to do in her day job and more like what she experienced as a newspaper reporter during her misspent Midwestern youth. Moose left daily journalism for academia because she disliked having to process information so quickly and crank out words with the awful tick-tock of a deadline clock pounding in her ears. She craved time to reflect, to read deeply and to write without the constraints of journalistic formulae. For years after she escaped the newspaper business, Moose reveled in being able to let an idea unfold in a paragraph that went on for more than two sentences, though she has always credited her early training with making her writing crisper and clearer than typical academic prose.

Why do we blog, Liss? It all boils down to that question, doesn’t it? An old friend and one of the loyalest of my loyal readers once told Moose that Roxie’s World is the newspaper column she always wanted. There’s a lot of truth to that. She might never have left journalism if she could have skipped the thankless years of covering school board meetings and schlepping to the police station to record the weekend arrest reports and gone straight to having a platform for popping off a couple of times a week. Imagine how nice it would be to bump into Moose in the pages of the New York Times rather than the execrable Maureen Dowd! She loves being able to hold forth on whatever happens to capture her – and, er, my – attention in our crazily cluttered, hyperkinetic, multi-media universe. When she doesn’t feel burdened by the pressure to keep the blog fresh, she delights in the spontaneity of what we do here – the quick bits that stitch together two jokes, three links, a video, and a clever title; the longer pieces that analyze or brood upon some issue of the day, trying to capture some neglected piece of a story or the emotional penumbra of an event; the goofy slice-of-life vignettes that invite readers into the radically ordinary space inhabited by a dog, two moms, and a lone surviving goldfish on the outskirts of Washington, DC. She loves our experiments in comedy, because she is a funny girl at heart, even though she has never before in her life as a writer tried to put humor onto the page or screen. One of the great appeals and the enduring mysteries of blogging to Moose is that something in the medium allowed – indeed, impelled – her to try to “write funny,” as she puts it. If she ever stops blogging long enough to write the scholarly book about blogging she has been threatening to write recently, perhaps she will be able to plumb the depths of that mystery.

Oh, dear. As this letter goes on, I sense a crisis of persona management developing. All this talk of Moose’s writing and blogging may give readers the idea that my typist is something more than a typist. Paging Mark Twain! Paging Mark Twain! We are hemorrhaging credibility with every word! Please come to the elegantly appointed conference room on the third floor of RW Enterprises, LLC, immediately!

The thing is, Liss, Moose has a theory about identity in the blogosphere – a whole weird poststructuralist kind of thing about the voice of every blog being a persona made out of words, links, videos, and interactions with a constantly changing set of readers. She’s also been thinking through some stuff she picked up from Donna Haraway about how dogs and humans “make each other up” in and through their relationship as companion species. “Roxie the blogger is no more a fiction than I am,” she’ll say when we’re in the throes of composition. “No more – and no less.” The work and play we engage in here is all about intimacy and imagination, connection across difference, the mystery of what each of us sees in the eyes of the other. All love is mostly make-believe, don’t you agree, Liss?

This post has gone on so long that fans will think I have decided to become Bob Somerby in my old age, but I can’t close without touching on one more essential answer to the question of why we blog, because it has saved us from any temptation we’ve ever had to give up and just go back to being a simple dog and a more conventional English prof: the audience, of course. We don’t deny that blogging would be fun even if no one but Goose ever visited Roxie’s World, but it’s a richer place for all that my legions of loyal fans and those who stumble in through Google searches on Jodie Foster or Rachel Maddow bring to it. I know that big blogs like Shakesville have terrible problems with trolls and spam and the general difficulty of managing huge volumes of comments, but at its heart every blog is also a space where strangers – for even those of us who know each other in the “real” world are strangers in the not-quite-reality of cyberspace – experience moments of encounter and connection akin to what Samuel R. Delany (in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue) calls “contact."

Shakesville gets thousands of unique visitors per day, Liss. That’s thousands of possibilities, thousands of dreams, desires, and questions that lead restless fingers to click into the world you’ve called into being. I know you feel them out there, and I know you know that for every jerk, every naysayer, every stubborn ideologue, and every foul-mouthed creep, there are hundreds of friendly folks trying to figure out how to get through the day with integrity, purpose, and a sense of connection with like-minded others. Forget the jerks, Liss. Hold the friendly readers in your mind, and let us hold you in our hearts while you are tired and hurt and trying to re-kindle the beautiful energies that sparked the original conception of Shakesville. We owe you that much, you who have given so much of yourself to us – practically every day, for free, for so long. Gratitude feels inadequate, but that – and a tip in your jar – is what we have to give, and we give it gladly.

Thanks for all you do, and thanks for coming back. We hope you will feel you can stick around Shakesville for a good long while. We need you, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do next. Although you are a cat person, we hope you will accept a face lick and a five-paw salute from Roxie’s World, with our best wishes for your success and happiness.

Very truly yours,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

DC Protest Against Prop 8

Roxie's World was there in force, and our hearty band of queers was not deterred from marching, even when the heavens opened up for an "Auntie Em!"-worthy moment not long after step off. The crowd assembled at the Capitol Reflecting Pool and slogged down the south side of the Mall, eventually making its way to Lafayette Park. Security was tight but friendly. We ran into DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier at the corner of 17th and Constitution, who smiled broadly at our greeting and promised to get us stragglers to our destination safely. (Oh, and qta spotted Andrew Sullivan in the crowd just before the storm broke.) There was no real "rally" at the end of the march, so we hung out in Lafayette Park for a few minutes and then sensibly repaired to the Old Ebbitt Grill for the traditional (for Moose and Goose) post-protest snacks and beverages. Hard to estimate the size of the crowd -- Maybe 3000, but the mass got a little fragmented during the storm before reconstituting itself for the second half of the march. A highlight was a rainbow that briefly appeared behind the Washington Monument as we made our way across 17th. Moose tried to capture it in the photo below, but you'll have to squint to see it.

Enjoy the pics, and tell us about your experience of the day, kids. The fight goes on. Hope you've got your comfortable pumps and a lifetime supply of Tempra paint so that you're always ready for a protest. Oh, and dorky LL Bean rain jackets, because it will rain, and then you won't care what you look like.

All photos by Moose.

(qta and Goose at the Reflecting Pool. "It's the Equality, Stupid" sign by Moose.)

(The crowd gathers.)

(Stepping off.)

(Moose swears there is a rainbow in this shot.)

(The few, the proud, the bedraggled. Goose pulled the sign out of the garbage after Moose had given it up for dead. Goose's faith in lost causes is one of the things we love about her most.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Foggy Friday Gay Blogging

(Image Credit: Shepard Fairey [whose Obama posters probably caught your eye during a recent presidential contest], by way of Towleroad.)

Brief Memo on How to Choose Sides in a Political Dispute: Go with the one that has the prettiest posters. Oh, yeah, and the position consistent with the principles of liberty and justice for all. Cool tee-shirts a plus but not mandatory.

Snarky Reply to HRC President Joe Solmonese's Invocation of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in Calling on Queers to Become "Extremists for Love" in the Wake of a Solid String of Defeats for Gay Rights on Nov. 4: So, Joe, goin' all civil rightsie on us now, are you? Hopin' to turn San Fran into Selma-on-the-Pacific, since your previous strategy of trying to turn politics into a Pottery Barn catalog of lovely, non-threatening celebrity spokespeople who are adorably gay but not threateningly so failed so spectacularly? Go right ahead, Joe, and we will sit down at the lunch counter with you and maybe order up a no-carb snack, but we think you should re-read the memo about not blaming black voters for the passage of Prop 8 before you head out to organize in the African-American community. Your smarmy lines about it being "particularly jarring" that a majority of Af Ams voted for Prop 8 and "why the community that has endured the most violent and persistent discrimination in our country's history failed to understand our struggle for human rights" drip with condescension. We'd recommend that you think twice (and perhaps stop by The Angry Black Woman) before marching into the churches with your Quotable MLK to lecture black folks about discrimination.

Short Bibliography of Prop 8 Protest Coverage and Reaction Pieces: Save a tab or two in your browser for Pam's House Blend and Towleroad, which are all over this story. They make us proud to be queer, here, and in the blogosphere.

Update on Things We Have in Common with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow: Maddow wore pajamas on her show the other night in solidarity with bloggers, who so often get trashed as non-serious for working in their jammies. Maddow said she thinks of herself as a blogger on TV. Dear Butch PhD -- What an amazing coinkydink! My typist works in her jammies and thinks of herself as an incredibly witty TV host with a computer! You two should meet -- in your jammies, perhaps, over a nice bottle of -- Goose, step away from the computer. You know we're just kidding! Here's the vid of Maddow en pyjamas (picked up on the YouTubes by way of Towleroad, because that's what we're reading this morning, in our snuggly purple robe that we've had since the last millennium):

Helpful Hint for Foul-Weather Activism: Someone left the protest sign out in the rain, but don't worry -- It's weather-proof! Forecast for Washington, DC tomorrow is pretty dreadful, but the veteran rabble-rousers of Roxie's World don't think that should deter you from attending the DC March for Equal Rights, which starts at 1:30 at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. The moms attended the protests at Shrub's first inauguration in 2001, on what was, in so many ways, one of the dreariest days in human history, but their hand-painted signs held up beautifully, thanks to an impervious combination of Saran wrap and duct tape. The same cannot be said for their hair, but the moms have always been willing to sacrifice beauty to the causes of orneriness and justice. They were honored to be among the clouds raining on Shrub's pathetic little parade, so get out your Tempra paints and join them tomorrow for the latest round of "What part of 'Equal Justice Under Law' do you not understand?" Be there, or be square, kids.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Repetitive Motions

Moose spent part of Sunday afternoon raking leaves. She thought fresh air and some light physical activity might help her work through the complex mix of thoughts and feelings she’s had the past few days as she pondered the election results. For an hour or so, she moved steadily around the yard, clearing off decks and porches, shaking the crisp leaves out of bushes and shrubs, sweeping off the walks. Moose is not a gardener, but she enjoys the occasional bout of yard work, deriving from it the dual satisfactions of playing outside and tidying up. And yet, of course, in early November the project of raking leaves is a Sisyphean task. Every time she paused in her work, Moose noticed that the huge pin oak in the front yard was creating more work for her to do. As new leaves dropped silently to the ground, she put the rake away and urged Goose to join her in a walk. She still hadn’t figured out how to make sense of the triumph of the nation electing its first African-American president on the same day that voters in four states approved measures prohibiting same-sex marriage (in Arizona, California, and Florida) and adoption by gay couples (in Arkansas).

Tuesday’s results are only ironic, Moose realizes, if one imagines that all of the voters who support one candidate or another define equality or justice in precisely the same way and vote in accordance with that definition all the way down their ballots. That sense of irony is in play in the commentary Jon Stewart offered on Thursday night’s Daily Show, in response to a report that 69% of African-American voters had voted for California’s ban on same-sex marriage, suggesting that the large turnout of such voters in support of Barack Obama was responsible for the passage of Prop 8. “Ah,” Stewart quipped, “it appears the oppressee has become the oppressor! What’d that take, about 24 hours? ‘Free at last, free at last – Whoa, whoa, where are you two going?’” Moose has a hunch that joke probably didn’t go over well in communities of color, and it might have helped fuel anger within the white gay community toward African-American voters. Such anger has been evident in protests that have occurred throughout California since the election and in flame wars that have erupted in blog comments when the issue has come up.

Part of the challenge in making sense of Tuesday is to let go of a stubborn American belief in “the march of progress” – i.e., the idea that the nation is moving forward in linear fashion toward the perfection of itself, the fulfillment of its ideals. Such a framework narrates the history of civil rights in the United States as a steady movement from formal equality, first for African Americans (secured legislatively and judicially through the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court decision overturning laws against interracial marriage), then for women (Roe v. Wade, Title IX) and, inevitably, for LGBTs (who now seek the freedom to marry and protection from discrimination in employment and accommodations). Within such a framework, it is impossible to imagine that a right achieved, as same-sex marriage was in California, might be taken away. It is also impossible to see that, far from being linear or inevitable, the movement of progress is ragged and uneven, its outcome never assured in advance. Finally, in its crude reduction of human beings to groups defined by only one characteristic (race, gender, or sexual orientation), the march of progress narrative does a bad job of accounting for how all three of those (and other) vectors of difference play out within individual lives and of how they operate simultaneously within the social field. To suggest that equality for LGBT people follows inevitably from the equality achieved first by blacks and then by women is to miss the ways in which race and sex/gender have produced one another as categories and been entangled with one another in law, in history, and in cultural logic.

At this point in her raking and walking, Moose realized she was ruminating not just on Obama and Prop 8 but on the much larger question of how race, sex, and gender had played out through the whole course of the 2008 campaign, from the Clinton cleavage kerfuffle to the Palin wardrobe malfunction, with a brief fainting fit over the New Yorker cover of the Obamas in between. She also realized she was having an internal colloquy with a friend who has written extensively on how the categories of race and sexual identity were imagined in relation to one another in the US throughout the civil rights era. What she wanted was an intersectional analysis of the presidential race that would more adequately account for, among other things, how Obama’s privileges in relation to gender and sexual identity might have overcome the disadvantages of race. She wanted a way of looking at the whole madcap adventure that would make its apparently contradictory outcomes explicable. She wanted not a blog post but a scholarly disquisition on the tangled roots and insidious branches of the American race/sex/gender system. I told her to brush the leaves off her shirt and scale back her ambitions. This is a humble dog blog, I reminded her, not a peer-reviewed journal, thank dog.

Her expectations adjusted, Moose went back to the internets and tuned into the lacerating postmortems that were taking place online. She read widely in Pam’s House Blend, which for most of the weekend was a forum for Prop 8 reports and assessments. She watched Rachel Maddow’s interview with Princeton poli sci prof Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who chastised No on 8 organizers for failing to do “due diligence” in communities of color by not going into the churches and arguing for the parallels between interracial and same-sex marriage. Butch PhD, as Maddow is fondly known around here, responds with a bit of concern about setting up equivalences between different oppressed groups, but Harris-Lacewell sticks to her guns, insisting that the separate-but-equal argument will resonate in the black community. (Moose has heard field organizers for Maryland’s state LGBT civil rights organization arguing exactly the opposite view on this point. See also next paragraph.) Richard Kim in The Nation concurs with Harris-Lacewell’s criticism of Prop 8’s opponents for being out-organized and out-maneuvered by the well-funded supporters of the marriage ban. He spoke to queer of color activists who said that outreach to the African-American community began very late in the game and to other critics who complained about slow efforts to raise money and a weak advertising campaign that seemed diffident about emphasizing LGBT couples and the impact a defeat would have on them.

Some critics said the failure of Prop 8’s opponents was about more than tactics or money. Jasmyne A. Cannick, an LA-based black lesbian journalist/activist, offers a broader, withering critique of the crusade for marriage as reflecting the values and priorities of a white gay community uninterested in deeper conditions of inequality affecting communities of color and ignorant of the history the black civil rights movement, particularly the role of the church in promoting social justice. “To many blacks,” Cannick writes, “civil rights are grounded in Christianity – not something separate and apart from religion but synonymous with it. To the extent that the issue of gay marriage seemed to be pitted against the church, it was going to be a losing battle in my community.” The Angry Black Woman, though more sympathetic to the cause of same-sex marriage than Cannick is, suggests that framing same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue comparable to interracial marriage misses the crucial point that interracial marriage was a priority for predominantly white organizations such as the ACLU, not of black civil rights organizations focused more on the right to vote, work, and have access to a decent education. She notes that for older African Americans the effort to establish a parallel between same-sex marriage and black civil rights struggles feels like an arrogant attempt to “ride on the coattails” of those earlier struggles. Moose really appreciated TABW’s lengthy post, which acknowledges homophobia within African-American communities, expresses compassion about the anger being experienced in LGBT communities over the outcome on Prop 8, and nicely dissects some of the exit poll data to show that it is unfair to try to blame African-American voters for that outcome.

Sometimes Moose wonders if it isn’t time to shift the ground of the battle to something other than marriage, even if California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is now urging supporters not to give up. She has her own anger toward LGBT political organizations that seem adept at racking up celebrity endorsements yet spectacularly bad at mustering votes. She wasn’t the least bit interested in marriage until majorities of her fellow citizens started telling her she and Goose were some big yucky threat to the sanctity of it. Child molesters, rapists, and adulterers were welcome to the party, but a couple of cranky old dykes with a nice house and a cute dog – Wow, that is some scary stuff! Still, if the issue is gaining legal protections and economic benefits for queer households, does it matter if we call it “marriage”? If the straight majority is dumb enough to grant us all those things – and I do mean all, including the full panoply of federal benefits extended to married couples -- as long as we call it anything other than “marriage,” then maybe we should take the deal and throw ourselves a victory party. I know, I know, separate is still unequal, but, but, but – Aren’t we tired of going through these motions over and over again and never really getting anywhere? Aren’t we sick to death of seeing the collective energies and resources of our small community sapped by the ridiculous effort to prove we deserve access to an institution that has been oppressing women and stymieing the relational imagination for centuries?

For all we don’t know or can’t make up our minds about, there is one thing about the marriage mess we know for sure: It is useless for communities of sexual and racial minorities to waste time blaming one another for the outcome of these votes. The real enemies are the groups and individuals that have funded and organized ballot initiatives all over the country aimed at subjecting the rights of a small and in some ways stigmatized minority group to popular votes. In the case of Prop 8, People for the American Way’s Foundation President Kathryn Kolbert helpfully reminds us of who would be the appropriate targets for our righteous anger:
Conservative evangelical leaders who are unremittingly hostile to the rights of gay people and who put Prop. 8 on the ballot and bombarded pastors, churchgoers, and the public with lies about gay people wanting to destroy their religious liberty and come for their children — even suggesting that Christians would be thrown in jail if Prop 8 passed.

Mormon Church leaders who turned Prop. 8 into a national religious crusade against gay couples, badgered Mormons nationwide to give heavily to the campaign, and recruited thousands of footsoldiers for door-to-door canvassing (special kudos to the courageous Mormons who challenged the Church leadership)

Conservative Catholic leaders who betrayed Catholic teaching about human dignity by enthusiastically joining forces with campaign organizers who portrayed supporters of gay equality as evil and satanic

“Yes on Prop 8” leaders whose view of the campaign as a battle between good and evil led to an “ends justifies the means” campaign that included grossly distorted ads, mailings, and robocalls directed at African Americans and falsely portrayed Barack Obama as a Prop 8 supporter.
The good news is that efforts are taking shape to take the fight to the organizations and institutions that brought us Prop 8. Roxie’s World urges its legions of loyal fans to stay mad, get engaged – and fight the real enemies. Be safe, beloveds, be strong, and bear in mind that an army of extremely clever fashionably dressed people cannot be defeated. Peace out.

(Photo Credit: Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times; Times caption: Police try to break up a confrontation between pro- and anti-Proposition 8 sides in front of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that drew hundreds of people, 11/6/08.)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Transitional Moves

How's America handling the dawning of the Age of Obama? Well, as with all epic transformations in the zeitgeist, there have been a few glitches, a couple of hiccups, a few signs that not everyone has read the unity memos. Cases in point:

1. Barney Bites Reporter

In a move clearly orchestrated by Dick Cheney to let evildoers know that the White House is still under the control of a bunch of bitter old meanies, First Dog Barney was dispatched yesterday to bite a reporter. Roxie's World officially protests this cruel and cynical exploitation of a sweet little terrier who clearly just wanted to be left alone to tinkle. Watch the vid and judge for yourself:

2. McCain Aides Bite Sarah Palin

And CNN's Alma Dale Brown righteously rips them for it. You go, girl -- And you'll have to go over to CNN to watch the vid, because for some reason we can't get it to embed. Sorry. We'll update later if we can find it out on the YouTubes, but click on over. It's a fine piece of high dudgeon in which the Steel Magnolia of American journalism reminds the dagger-wielding McCainiacs that the woman they are now calling the Wasilla Hillbilly was put on the ticket to throw a little populist red meat to the Republican base. Point taken, Alma Dale!

3. Awkward Encounters Across the Color Line in Post-Racial US of A:

Goose was dozing on a Metro train last night, coming home late from a dinner downtown. As the train pulled out of Union Station, she was jolted awake by a heated conversation two black guys were having about the president-elect. She and the other (mostly white) passengers had no choice but to listen in on the discussion, which went something like this:

Black Guy #1: That man has never been an N-word -- not one day in his life!

Black Guy #2: How can you say that? He certainly has been an N-word!

Black Guy #1: No, not ever! You've been an N-word, bro, I've been an N-word, but he has never been an N-word, and he ain't gonna do nothin' for us! He is whitey's choice for this country, not mine!

(Goose shifts in her seat, accidentally makes eye contact with a white guy seated across the train from her. His glance says, "Goodness, this is awkward, isn't it?")

Black Guy #2: You crazy. Surely you voted for him!

Black Guy #1: Did not, bro. I live in the District of Columbia. Don't make no difference who I vote for.

(The guys argued all the way to Ft. Totten and then got off the train together, taking their argument with them into the muggy November night. Goose closed her eyes and reflected on how much the new America looked and sounded like the old one. Plus ça change, she would have thought, if she were inclined to think in French, which, hélas, she is not.)

4. Judith Butler Kills Your Buzz

Or at least we think it's Judith Butler. We picked this up off Angry White Kid, by way of a Facebook pal. Its provenance isn't entirely clear, but even if it isn't Judith Butler, we think it's so damn smart about "the heightened modes of identification" and the dangers of appeals to unity that have fueled Obamania that we think it's worth passing along. We'll continue to try to confirm the source, but in the meantime here's a big cut-and-paste job for you to contemplate over your Wheaties on this first Friday after the election that redeemed our nation from its sordid racial history -- even as it decided that, on second thought, queers really should be relegated to the status of second-class citizens. If we were a philosopher rather than a humble dog, we would have come up with the term "uncritical exuberance" months ago, but we're glad Butler came up with it for us. Take it away, Judy. (The piece is dated Wednesday, Nov. 5, by the way. Damn, she's not just smarter than we are -- She's faster than we are!)

Uncritical Exuberance?
Judith Butler

Very few of us are immune to the exhilaration of this time. My friends on the left write to me that they feel something akin to "redemption" or that "the country has been returned to us" or that "we finally have one of us in the White House." Of course, like them, I discover myself feeling overwhelmed with disbelief and excitement throughout the day, since the thought of having the regime of George W. Bush over and gone is an enormous relief. And the thought of Obama, a thoughtful and progressive black candidate, shifts the historical ground, and we feel that cataclysm as it produces a new terrain. But let us try to think carefully about the shifted terrain, although we cannot fully know its contours at this time. The election of Barack Obama is historically significant in ways that are yet to be gauged, but it is not, and cannot be, a redemption, and if we subscribe to the heightened modes of identification that he proposes ("we are all united") or that we propose ("he is one of us"), we risk believing that this political moment can overcome the antagonisms that are constitutive of political life, especially political life in these times. There have always been good reasons not to embrace "national unity" as an ideal, and to nurse suspicions toward absolute and seamless identification with any political leader. After all, fascism relied in part on that seamless identification with the leader, and Republicans engage this same effort to organize political affect when, for instance, Elizabeth Dole looks out on her audience and says, "I love each and every one of you."

It becomes all the more important to think about the politics of exuberant identification with the election of Obama when we consider that support for Obama has coincided with support for conservative causes. In a way, this accounts for his "cross-over" success. In California, he won by 60% of the vote, and yet some significant portion of those who voted for him also voted against the legalization of gay marriage (52%). How do we understand this apparent disjunction? First, let us remember that Obama has not explicitly supported gay marriage rights. Further, as Wendy Brown has argued, the Republicans have found that the electorate is not as galvanized by "moral" issues as they were in recent elections; the reasons given for why people voted for Obama seem to be predominantly economic, and their reasoning seems more fully structured by neo-liberal rationality than by religious concerns. This is clearly one reason why Palin's assigned public function to galvanize the majority of the electorate on moral issues finally failed. But if "moral" issues such as gun control, abortion rights and gay rights were not as determinative as they once were, perhaps that is because they are thriving in a separate compartment of the political mind. In other words, we are faced with new configurations of political belief that make it possible to hold apparently discrepant views at the same time: someone can, for instance, disagree with Obama on certain issues, but still have voted for him. This became most salient in the emergence of the counter Bradley-effect, when voters could and did explicitly own up to their own racism, but said they would vote for Obama anyway. Anecdotes from the field include claims like the following: "I know that Obama is a Muslim and a Terrorist, but I will vote for him anyway; he is probably better for the economy." Such voters got to keep their racism and vote for Obama, sheltering their split beliefs without having to resolve them.

Along with strong economic motivations, less empirically discernible factors have come into play in these election results. We cannot underestimate the force of dis-identification in this election, a sense of revulsion that George W. has "represented" the United States to the rest of the world, a sense of shame about our practices of torture and illegal detention, a sense of disgust that we have waged war on false grounds and propagated racist views of Islam, a sense of alarm and horror that the extremes of economic deregulation have led to a global economic crisis. Is it despite his race, or because of his race, that Obama finally emerged as a preferred representative of the nation? Fulfilling that representative-function, he is at once black and not-black (some say "not black enough" and others say "too black"), and, as a result, he can appeal to voters who not only have no way of resolving their ambivalence on this issue, but do not want one. The public figure who allows the populace to sustain and mask its ambivalence nevertheless appears as a figure of "unity": this is surely an ideological function. Such moments are intensely imaginary, but not for that reason without their political force.

As the election approached, there has been an increased focus on the person of Obama: his gravity, his deliberateness, his ability not to lose his temper, his way of modeling a certain evenness in the face of hurtful attacks and vile political rhetoric, his promise to reinstate a version of the nation that will overcome its current shame. Of course, the promise is alluring, but what if the embrace of Obama leads to the belief that we might overcome all dissonance, that unity is actually possible? What is the chance that we may end up suffering a certain inevitable disappointment when this charismatic leader displays his fallibility, his willingness to compromise, even to sell out minorities? He has, in fact, already done this in certain ways, but many of us "set aside" our concerns in order to enjoy the extreme un-ambivalence of this moment, risking an uncritical exuberance even when we know better. Obama is, after all, hardly a leftist, regardless of the attributions of "socialism" proffered by his conservative opponents. In what ways will his actions be constrained by party politics, economic interests, and state power; in what ways have they been compromised already? If we seek through this presidency to overcome a sense of dissonance, then we will have jettisoned critical politics in favor of an exuberance whose phantasmatic dimensions will prove consequential. Maybe we cannot avoid this phantasmatic moment, but let us be mindful about how temporary it is. If there are avowed racists who have said, "I know that he is a Muslim and a terrorist, but I will vote for him anyway," there are surely also people on the left who say, "I know that he has sold out gay rights and Palestine, but he is still our redemption." I know very well, but still: this is the classic formulation of disavowal. Through what means do we sustain and mask conflicting beliefs of this sort? And at what political cost?

There is no doubt that Obama's success will have significant effects on the economic course of the nation, and it seems reasonable to assume that we will see a new rationale for economic regulation and for an approach to economics that resembles social democratic forms in Europe; in foreign affairs, we will doubtless see a renewal of multi-lateral relations, the reversal of a fatal trend of destroying multilateral accords that the Bush administration has undertaken. And there will doubtless also be a more generally liberal trend on social issues, though it is important to remember that Obama has not supported universal health care, and has failed to explicitly support gay marriage rights. And there is not yet much reason to hope that he will formulate a just policy for the United States in the Middle East, even though it is a relief, to be sure, that he knows Rashid Khalidi.

The indisputable significance of his election has everything to do with overcoming the limits implicitly imposed on African-American achievement; it has and will inspire and overwhelm young African-Americans; it will, at the same time, precipitate a change in the self-definition of the United States. If the election of Obama signals a willingness on the part of the majority of voters to be "represented" by this man, then it follows that who "we" are is constituted anew: we are a nation of many races, of mixed races; and he offers us the occasion to recognize who we have become and what we have yet to be, and in this way a certain split between the representative function of the presidency and the populace represented appears to be overcome. That is an exhilarating moment, to be sure. But can it last, and should it?

To what consequences will this nearly messianic expectation invested in this man lead? In order for this presidency to be successful, it will have to lead to some disappointment, and to survive disappointment: the man will become human, will prove less powerful than we might wish, and politics will cease to be a celebration without ambivalence and caution; indeed, politics will prove to be less of a messianic experience than a venue for robust debate, public criticism, and necessary antagonism. The election of Obama means that the terrain for debate and struggle has shifted, and it is a better terrain, to be sure. But it is not the end of struggle, and we would be very unwise to regard it that way, even provisionally. We will doubtless agree and disagree with various actions he takes and fails to take. But if the initial expectation is that he is and will be "redemption" itself, then we will punish him mercilessly when he fails us (or we will find ways to deny or suppress that disappointment in order to keep alive the experience of unity and unambivalent love).

If a consequential and dramatic disappointment is to be averted, he will have to act quickly and well. Perhaps the only way to avert a "crash" – a disappointment of serious proportions that would turn political will against him – will be to take decisive actions within the first two months of his presidency. The first would be to close Guantanamo and find ways to transfer the cases of detainees to legitimate courts; the second would be to forge a plan for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and to begin to implement that plan. The third would be to retract his bellicose remarks about escalating war in Afghanistan and pursue diplomatic, multilateral solutions in that arena. If he fails to take these steps, his support on the left will clearly deteriorate, and we will see the reconfiguration of the split between liberal hawks and the anti-war left. If he appoints the likes of Lawrence Summers to key cabinet positions, or continues the failed economic polices of Clinton and Bush, then at some point the messiah will be scorned as a false prophet. In the place of an impossible promise, we need a series of concrete actions that can begin to reverse the terrible abrogation of justice committed by the Bush regime; anything less will lead to a dramatic and consequential disillusionment. The question is what measure of dis-illusion is necessary in order to retrieve a critical politics, and what more dramatic form of dis-illusionment will return us to the intense political cynicism of the last years. Some relief from illusion is necessary, so that we might remember that politics is less about the person and the impossible and beautiful promise he represents than it is about the concrete changes in policy that might begin, over time, and with difficulty, bring about conditions of greater justice.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

About Last Night

There is bone-crushing weariness in Roxie's World this evening, my dear, content-craving readers. (You do remember that my typist has a morning class on Wednesdays this semester, don't you? And you realize she was up awfully late last night following returns and helping clean up after the election watch at Ishmael's, the seedy yet cozy bar around the corner from the global headquarters of RW Enterprises, LLC? And fielding phone calls from drunken friends hanging on the White House fence at 1:45 a.m.?) We've barely begun to wrap our paws around the many stories of yesterday's elections -- the resounding triumphs of Barack Obama and the Democratic party, the sea-to-shining-sea repudiation of Shrub and the once respectable party he and his cronies destroyed, the heart-breaking defeats suffered in the battle for LGBT civil rights. We're not ready yet to try to make sense of it all for you, the members of our far-flung, motley, beloved pack of fighters for justice.

If we made a joke, it would fall flat. (What's the difference between a pregnant pig and a California queer? The pregnant pig has rights recognized in the state's constitution.) If we tried to get analytical, it would sound (and be) shallow. (Beware the rush to declare Obama the poster boy for post-ness [post-race, post-civil rights, post-partisan . . . .]! We still have a ton of work to do!) (If you want some good analysis along these lines, see Tenured Radical's post today, the message of which is, Beware the temptations of instant history.) Heck, kids, we're even too tired to weigh in on the question upon which this blog is most equipped to advise America's new president-elect and first-family-in-waiting: the burning issue of what kind of PUPPY the Obama girls will get to take to the White House with them. (Dad promised them one early in his victory speech last night, and I'm figuring that's the kind of promise even the slickest politician wouldn't dare break.) Fortunately, the New York Times has already pounced on this story and has some good advice for Malia and Sasha as well as some adorable photos. Roxie's World has only one word to offer on this subject, but we think our readers, with the possible exception of Dudley the Beagle, will agree it ought to settle the matter: TERRIER.

So we're tired and cranky and not feeling the same kind of political exaltation that many of you are probably feeling right now. We were moved and encouraged by much of what transpired yesterday. We were as amazed as Shakesville's Melissa McEwan was that Moose's home state of Indiana actually did turn an extremely light shade of blue in the middle of the night last night, which is why we've borrowed Liss's cleverly doctored map of the election results to send a friendly little shout out to all the folks back home:

We are thrilled to imagine what it will be like to see the president-elect and his family settled into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We have long felt that what this country really needed was a 6-foot tall black woman in peak physical condition running the show in the White House. This Queen of America is going to take Washington City by storm, of that we are certain. And the English profs 'round here are getting an extra-special kick out of knowing that the odious culture warrior Lynne Cheney is about to be replaced as Second Lady by Jill Biden, a community college English professor. We haven't fact-checked this one yet, but we're willing to bet Biden will be the first member of any sitting presidential or vice-presidential family to have a listing on

Elections matter, or we wouldn't have been writing and thinking as obsessively about this one as we have been for the past year and a half. Historical firsts matter, because they do signal deep transformations in a nation's politics and in what we might call, for lack of a better term, its soul. But yesterday's defeats are, in their way, as important as yesterday's triumphs. Even as we savor the victories, we must unflinchingly assess the defeats and prepare ourselves for the difficult work that lies ahead. (Pam Spaulding gets that analysis started here.)

Which is why, my friends, the denizens of Roxie's World are headed off to bed. Congratulations, dear ones, and sweet dreams.

(Photo Credit: Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune; Tribune caption: President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle take the stage with their daughters, Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, in Grant Park, Chicago, 11/4/08.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voters Drink Free

Update, 11:02 p.m.:

(Photo Credit: We'll never tell, though DC-area readers may recognize it. Hint: Close to White House, excellent crab dip, and the plot for Iran-Contra was hatched there. It looks a little snazzier than the "seedy yet cozy" image we've been conjuring up for Ishmael's, the bar around the corner from the global headquarters of RW Enterprises, LLC, but what the hey -- We're feeling festive!))

Open Bar! Open Thread!

Whatcha drinkin'?

Whatcha thinkin'?

Who ya watchin'?

We'll try to update, but Moose and Mark Twain are already hunkered down at the bar, fighting over fried mozzarella sticks and the sociopolitical implications of America having a biracial president. Goose has been helping out in the kitchen at Ishmael's this afternoon, preparing hearty casseroles to keep the nervous crowd of profs, students, and neighbors fat and happy.

Remember: Moose says we'll know who the winner is by 7:51. Goose says it'll be 8:13. Eitan is betting on 8:14. What do you predict?

Love you, fellow citizens and loyal fans. Let us know what's on your minds -- and hearts -- tonight.

Update, 7:03 p.m.: McCain leads 8-3 in electoral votes based on ABC projections of his winning Kentucky and Obama taking Vermont. "Oh, no!" Goose shrieks. "Get the razor blades!" Our tongue-in-cheek drama queen. George Stephanopoulos' tie is crooked! We may need to change the channel. . . .What is Rachel wearing?

Update, 9:07 p.m.: The CNN bloviators are having a somber discussion about race in America. Friends, the fat lady is about to sing.