Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stars in the Firmament (Oopsy-Daisy Comments Division)

   We here at First of All adore the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. He has been a hero and spirit guide to us for nigh on forty years. 
   His autobiography, Life, due Oct. 26, is bound to be a good read, if excerpts in the current Rolling Stone are any indication. Keith's always been a great interview: lucid, funny, smart, knowledgeable. Even at his most drug-addled he was always elegantly spoken and possessed of a sharp wit and a penchant for analogy. 
   The book is an as-told-to (the writer is James Fox), so it'll be like reading a fifty-hour interview with the musician, a lifelong drinker who says he's not taken cocaine since incurring a head injury in 2006. He gave up heroin in the late seventies after ten years' use. 
   That opiates had a less than salutary effect on him is suggested by these two photographs, the first from 1973 and the second taken on the band's 1975 American tour:  
   The fact that he's good in an interview (and a book), however, does not mean Keith doesn't occasionally put his foot in it. Today's New York Post ran a story retailing some of the book's highlights (as has every other media outlet in the known galaxy), including, alas, this "advice" for singer George Michael, recently incarcerated on drugs charges: 
   "I say stay in jail, George. There's probably some dope and some gays. He probably won't leave." 
   Even allowing for the fact that Keith is old school (he'll turn sixty-seven on Dec. 18), sharp-tongued and provocative, the comment is disgraceful. It trucks in the tired cliche that violent rape between men is "gay" sex. Prison sex isn't "gay"; it's homosexual - that is, same-gendered sexual activity. And in this case it's about power, not intimacy. 
   This is not the first time Keith has heartlessly referenced gay men. In the late seventies, complaining about Studio 54, the au courant beautiful-people New York disco, he said, "They took a perfectly good theater and ruined it with a bunch of faggots running around in boxer shorts waving champagne bottles in your face." 
   It's true that these comments are of a piece with Keith's conversational style; he also refers to women, whom he professes to love, as "bitches." He's a seventies man. 
   Still, it is dispiriting that he needed to make the George Michael joke, because it's dumb and unfunny. It diminishes him. And it's odd, too. His wife, Patti Hansen, was a model; some gay men and lesbians are no doubt part of the Richards/Hansen inner circle. 
   Plus, the Rolling Stones, in their way, had an enormously liberating effect on postwar England and America. They were more than "rebels," though that they were. They were more like aliens, especially in the late nineteen-sixties. 
   Though possessed of a ferocious appetite for women, Mick Jagger back then appeared limp-wristed and lispy; his body, even in his twenties, was that of a thirteen-year-old boy, and he favored eye shadow and outrageously androgynous clothes:
   Keith, too, challenged male norms, although he always had about him the air of a decidedly heterosexual man. Still, dressed in satin shirts and blue jeans, wearing kohl eyeliner and blue eyeshadow, with a scarf wrapped around his neck and a high, frazzled pile of randomly chopped hair topping his head--itself precariously balanced on a heroin-and-cocaine-thinned frame--he cut a dashing if decayed figure, aged twenty-eight, when the Stones toured America in 1972 to promote Exile on Main Street, their masterpiece.

  It is, therefore, a disappointment that, so many years later, Keith would stoop to making a joke as low as the George Michael one. As a friend responded when I emailed him the Post link, "This from one of the main people who helped culture free itself from the old world's conservative shackles? Ouch." 
   A side note: you may have noticed we refer to the guitarist as "Keith" rather than, as we are wont to do, "Mr. Richards." This is because Keith is so casual and familiar that he feels like a pal. He is indeed, even when blitzed beyond belief, a friend to all, except perhaps George Michael and incarcerated men the world over. 

Stars in the Firmament (Speech-making Division)

   A few years ago, the actress Sharon Stone gave a short speech introducing the Dalai Lama, who was giving an address at the University of California at Berkeley, a school the sports mascot of which is the Golden Bear. The event, held in the outdoor, ten-thousand-seat Greek Theater, drew students, alums, and supporters of the Tibetan leader. 
   Ms. Stone (pictured left) will never be accused of - how is it best put? - living with her feet squarely planted on planet Earth. Her speech that day was inspiring in essence but baffling in execution. As a service to our readers, First of All has transcribed the address as it was recorded on a video now available on YouTube. 
   (The URLs linking to a video strictly of Ms. Stone's address and to one which includes both her and the Dalai Lama's speeches may be found at the end of this post. We would hyperlink them but for the distressing fact that even now, nine months into the existence of First of All, the goddamned hyperlinks disappear from posts within twenty-four hours. We have posted a question about this on a Blogspot discussion forum and eagerly - by which we mean dispiritedly - await answers. In the meantime, keeping in mind the compassion that Ms. Stone and the Dalai Lama tout in their addresses, we will just add this: fuck those assholes at Google.)
   Take it away, Ms. Stone: 

   It's just wonderful to be here in this beautiful open air theater on this glorious, glorious day, for such a wonderful and great opportunity. 
    Um. Wow. Um. It's a great feeling, uh, and we're here at a time when the world is full of so many different emotions and thoughts and feelings and changing times, changing opinions and assignments of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and when we're told that there is a structure of feelings, emotions and changing tides.
Unicorn Fantasy
   In fact, we're told that we're in a time of scarcity. But if we look to our genuine selves, our genuine truths, and depart from the illusions of that which is put upon us to that which is within us, of course we know that there is never a scarcity, but that there is a wealth of greatness, and that within us [...... six ...... second ...... pause......] there is much. 
   For every one of us has a dream. Every one of us has a destiny. Every one of us has a giant opportunity. It is upon us to follow our destiny and to fulfill that dream. It's our choice with how much integrity we meet that destiny. There's a giant puzzle in the world and it is ours to take our piece and fulfill that particular piece of the puzzle and glorify the destiny of the universe. 

    [......... Nine .........second ......... pause .........]

   I'm sure each of you sitting here has some beginnings of the understanding of what your dream is, and that's why you've come here today. It's the compassion within your heart, that you're reaching out in the hopes that you can simply let go and end that bit of fear that is restraining you [....... seven ....... second ....... pause .......] from the power of your generosity and wholeness to fulfill yourself as a world citizen. 

   'Cause we're no longer individuals. No matter what you do, you're no longer an individual alone in your tiny space. We now know for certain that we're world citizens, walking together hand in hand to fulfill our destiny as one. And the day is upon us. 
Magical Unicorn
   Ever practical, Ms. Stone, having offered a few pleasantries to gathered dignitaries, ended by adding this: "And before I go, I have one thing I'd like to say - go Bears!"
   The transcribed speech is, in itself, a wonder, but it really has to be seen to be believed and, as Ms. Stone might say, received. 
   *Ms. Stone's remarks:
   *The full event, including Ms. Stone's and the Dalai Lama's remarks:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Crime of the Century (Purloined Cruiser Division)

PORT ARTHUR, Texas - It is cheering to know that the women of America are stepping up their efforts to match and even to best the country's men, including in arcane pursuits such as stealing police cars and leading cops on exhilarating high-speed chases. 
   As sport and leisure past-time, pilfering police cruisers is nothing new. As we recently reported, a Greely, Colo. man named Adam Segura, who was allegedly drunk, allegedly pinched a cop car and allegedly raced down a highway for a bit, after which he allegedly came to a halt at the entrance to a mall, where, alas, he was arrested. 
   Not to be outdone, a woman named Candace Broussard pulled a similar stunt late last month. Ms. Broussard, who hails from Beaumont, TX. (pop: 110,099 in July 2009), was arrested for creating a disturbance on the campus of Lamar State College - Port Arthur ("A Great Place to Begin"), according to a Sept. 24 report on the Web site of the Beaumont Enterprise
 Welcome to Lamar State College - Port Arthur      
   Ms. Broussard apparently kicked up a bit of a fuss when police attempted to guide her into the back seat of a cruiser. So they cuffed her hands behind her back and sat her in the car, the engine of which, as it happened, was running. 
   The Enterprise reports that Ms. Broussard managed to maneuver her hands so that they were in front of her. This Mr. Segura also did. So at this point in the cop-car-filching competition, the two are pretty much even.     
   But in a daring move that requires no little skill - and which, therefore, elevates Ms. Broussard's alleged crime head-and-shoulders above Mr. Segura's - Ms. Broussard then slid open the screen separating the cruiser's front seats from the back ones. She wiggled her way through the foot-wide slot and into the front of the car. 
   Let us just pause here to say that, according to statistics that Blogspot is kind enough to provide, First of All has readers from as far away as Denmark (2), Canada (1), the United Kingdom (1), Lebanon (1), and, bewilderingly, Malaysia (1). (Evidently, they simply can't get enough of ironically re-interpreted odd news stories there.) We have a full ninety readers in the U.S., for a readership grand total of, it turns out, roughly ninety-six. 
   It  possible that some of our U.S. followers hail from, or live near, the Port Arthur area, or are familiar with it. It is with them in mind that we mention that Ms. Broussard, having gained the driver's seat of the police cruiser, shot down Proctor Street and turned north on Woodward Avenue. She managed to hit what the Enterprise referred to as an "occupied vehicle at Lake Charles and Proctor...." No one was injured. In time, she raced up northbound U.S. 69, zipping along at speeds of up to 100 mph. 
   Presently, coppers managed to lay down spike strips, the second pair of which did the trick. Her tires shredded, Ms. Broussard inexplicably pulled into a Conoco gas station. (For our Port Arthur readers, it's the one at U.S. 69 and FM 366, a name which suggests a radio station in a distant galaxy far above the world, where the stars look very different today.) 
   It was there that she was re-arrested, according to a police source, quoted by the Enterprise, who goes by the arousing name of Major Raymond Clark. 
   Major Clark (no relation to Major Tom, who, incidentally, is herewith encouraged to contact Ground Control) told the Enterprise that Ms. Broussard has a history of mental illness. 
   He added that he had no knowledge of whether or not she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs - colloquially, drunk as a skunk or high as a kite, which, incidentally, Major Tom was known frequently to be. ("Ashes to ashes/Funk to funky/We know Major Tom's/A junkie....")
   The mentally ill often excel in particular areas of life, and Ms. Broussard appears to be no exception: her stolen police vehicle of choice happened to be a Dodge Charger that, at that point, had been used for only four months. 
   The moral of the story is this: if you're going to steal a police car, steal a fast, new and sexy one. Doing so will give you something to tell your grandchildren, provided you are not strung out in Heaven's high, hitting an all-time low. 

Queer Notes From All Over (Gay Teens Kill Selves Division)

AMERICA - You've no doubt heard about the gay teen suicides - responses to bullying - that have clotted the cosmos (and this country) in the past few weeks. In their reporting, the media have rightly focused on the nature of bullying and the need to address it in schools and homes. 
   Plenty of pubic figures have had their say, too. Among them are the comedian Kathy Griffin, who spoke to teens in a "message from" video; the writer Dan Savage, who founded the It Gets Better Project, which has a Web site and YouTube page (on the latter, folks post vids telling their stories of being bullied and offering hope to kids currently in a similar situation); and Lance Bass, former boy-band member, who appeared on Larry King Live Oct. 4 to decry bullying and share his experiences as a (now) openly gay man. 
   Lesser known figures have contributed to the dialogue, too. Over at the music blog The Popsucker, Jared Stearns bravely and brilliantly wrote about his experience as a gay teenager who was bullied in high school. The Good Men Project, a Web magazine, ran Jared's blog post and a companion piece about what makes a bully and what solutions to the problem might be workable. 
   It is with this in mind that we now turn our attention to a man with the refreshing name of Jim DeMint. Would that his outlook on gays and lesbians were as bracing as his name. 
   Mr. DeMint (pictured below) is a Republican Senator from South Carolina. Recent press reports noted that at an Oct. 1 rally, held at a Spartanburg, South Carolina church, Mr. Senator DeMint said that those who are openly gay and lesbian shouldn't teach in public schools. 
   Dear Mr. Senator DeMint: We'd like you to meet a former California politician named John Briggs. Back in the day he sponsored Proposition 6, aka The Briggs Initiative, which set out to remove gay/lesbian employees (including, obviously, teachers) from the state's schools. The measure did not pass, not least because a man named Harvey Milk bested Mr. Briggs in a series of high-profile debates. This was in 1978. 
   Nineteen seventy-eight. Either you're a time traveler, Mr. Senator DeMint, or a nostalgist, or a Capricorn. Or you are cynical beyond compare, a possibility that wins our vote. 
   At least Mr. Senator DeMint sticks to his guns. During a televised Senate-race debate way back in 2004 (but not 1978), Mr. DeMint said more or less the same thing. 
   An Oct. 4, 2004 story (yes, 2004; now we are time traveling) posted on the Web site of WIS-TV, which is located in  Columbia, S.C., reported that during the debate Mr. Senator DeMint and his opponent were questioned about their stance regarding a state Republican party platform stating that gays and lesbians should not teach in schools. The WIS-TV story noted that "[Mr. Senator] DeMint says he supports that because government should not endorse particular behaviors." 
   Mr. Senator DeMint later walked the comment back after an outcry from queer and other groups, saying, oddly, that it was "something as a dad I shouldn't have said." 
   Later that month, the minty-fresh Senator appeared on Meet the Press, where then-host Tim Russert pressed him on the comments. 
   As any political junkie knows, high profile politicians are handed (by staff or their party bosses) "talking points" with which to smooth over dopey off-the-cuff comments. Mr. Senator DeMint's Meet the Press talking points involved referring the gay-teachers issue  to local school boards, and "apologizing" not for his comments about said teachers but for "distracting from the debate." 
   How do we know this? Because the other day the Huffington Post printed a transcript of the conversation, which here we selectively excerpt. Each of the ellipses represents a question Mr. Russert asked:  

Mr. Russert: Blah blah gays should not teach in schools blah blah?
Mr. Senator DeMint: I believe that's a local school board issue. And, Tim, I was answering as a dad who's put lots of children in the hands of teachers and I answered with my heart. [Editor's note: Huh?] And I should just say, again, I apologize that distracted from the real debate. 
Mr. Senator DeMint: ...I am apologizing for talking about a local school board issue when the voters want us to talk about blah blah blah. 
Mr. Senator DeMint: Listen, I have my personal beliefs, Tim, but I honestly believe that the teachers should be hired by local school districts. They [the school districts] should be making the decisions on who should be in the classroom. 
Mr. Senator DeMint: I apologized for answering a local school board question. 
Mr. Senator DeMint: I think the local school board should make that issue, not Senate can - I mean, make that decision.  [Editor's note: Heh. Senate can.]
Mr. Senator DeMint: And I apologize for that, Tim.
Mr. Senator DeMint: Yeah, for distracting from the real thing.
Mr. Senator DeMint: Tim, who hires teachers should be decided by school boards. 

The Tally: 
   *Apologizing/distracting: 5
   *It's a school board issue: 6
   *A dad putting children in the hands of teachers: 1, but a very weird 1.

   This type of circular, not to say dizzying, conversation is typical of obfuscating politicians. 
   But the time has run out on these shenanigans. The proper answer to the Mr. Senator DeMints of the world is: 
   "It's because of people like you and your stance on gays teaching in schools that America's gay kids are killing themselves." 
   If you are of the mindset and temperament, you may add, "So go fuck yourself, you self-serving sack of shit," which, while not actually elevating the debate, would have the salutary effect of adding the words "fuck" and "shit" to the conversation, always a fine thing. 

   UPDATE: An Oct. 7 Huffington Post report noted that gay/lesbian and women's groups roundly hissed Mr. Senator DeMint's ill-advised (and super dumb) comments. So did two of the nation's largest and most powerful teachers' unions. No surprise there. 
   No surprise here, either: Mr. Senator DeMint's communications director, a man named Wesley Denton, told the Huffington Post that "[Mr.] Senator DeMint believes that hiring decisions at local schools are a local school board issue, not a federal issue." 
   That bumps the above "It's a school board issue" tally to a whopping seven (well, six in one interview and a seventh free-standing). This makes clear that Mr. Senator DeMint is the type of person who offers passionate opinions the fallout from which he then skedaddles away from as fast as his little legs will carry him. Sometimes he even hides under the skirts of his undoubtedly  unfailingly dependable communications communicator. 
   In grown-up land, this sort of behavior is considered, and therefore called,  "craven and cowardly." In politics, it is called, alas, "campaigning."