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Oh, the Caucasity! Right Rages at Jeong’s White People Jokes

It’s an article of right-wing faith that white people are oppressed by people of color, enabled by nefarious liberals (who are, in this scenario, always imagined to be white). Last week the conservatives got a chance to indulge this fantasy big-time when it was revealed that the New York Times’ latest hire, tech journalist Sarah Jeong, who is Korean American, had over the years made a bunch of OMG-white-people jokes on Twitter; wingnut shit-stirrers circulated these, proclaimed Jeong (everybody say it with me now!) the Real Racist, and demanded white people be treated like a protected group under the 14th Amendment.

“Jeong’s Twitter account is replete with racial insults against white people, whom she has described as ‘groveling goblins,’ ‘bullshit,’ ‘miserable,’ and ‘dogs,'” harrumphed National Review.

“At one point, Jeong tweeted a crude graph claiming that as whiteness increased so did awful,” said Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Thursday. “Later she said that white people smell like dogs.” Carlson suggested Jeong’s tweets could lead to a Nazi purge of white people — a honkycaust, if you will: “Is there really an entire race of people so repulsive, so morally repugnant that it is ‘literally impossible’ to wrong them?… It’s not hard to guess where ideas that like that wind up. We’ve seen it. All of us should be afraid of it.” First they came for the Caucasians…

As an old white man I guess I’m supposed to be offended by Jeong’s tweets, too, but maybe I’m not watching enough Fox News, because to me they’re just bitchy-funny eye-rolls — like her complaint about “white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants”; to me that’s a laugh, while to Tyler O’Neil at PJ Media it’s “not only a profanity-laced tirade, but a tirade comparing people to dogs because of the color of their skin!”

Then there’s her apparent response to news stories about declining white birth rates, “White people have stopped breeding. You’ll all go extinct soon. This was my plan all along,” and sass like “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” etc. Not nice, but I mean are these guys new to Twitter?

Some Jeong material conservatives just wrenched out of context. Take her 2014 tweet, “Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins,” which PJ Media’s Tyler said “suggested a whole race of people were unfit for above ground habitation due to the color of their skin”; but that tweet Jeong had preceded with “G O T T A H E A R B O T H S i d e s — Andrew Sullivan,” suggesting it was a reaction to Sullivan’s widely-known insistence that he only promotes Charles Murray’s theory that black people are intellectually inferior to whites because otherwise that theory would be unfairly suppressed.

Still, many conservatives pretended Jeong’s  “White Guys Drive a Car Like This” jokes were hate crimes and leapt to defend white people from her genocidal rage.

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When people tried to explain that minority-group punching up is different from majority-group punching down, conservatives pretended to be mystified. At Hot Air John Sexton said Jeong was “the elite punching down, not the victim punching up,” because “the average household income of Asian Americans is higher than it is for whites or any other group,” plus she went to Harvard, while “there are plenty of white people out there who are not doing particularly well in terms of wealth, or drug addiction, or life expectancy at the moment.”  Jeong’s the real oppressor, attacking whatever poor hillbillies were following her on Twitter.

David French even suggested at National Review that Jeong’s tweets might get white people killed: “The problem with anti-white racism is…it can and does create individual injustice in those instances where anti-white racism manifests itself in more than just tweets and academic journals.” It’s an intersectional knockout game!

At The Federalist Joy Pullmann actually topped French, comparing Jeong to alt-right neo-Nazis. “Put the shoe on the alt-right foot, and it fits perfectly,” Pullmann claimed. “‘We were just imitating the rhetoric of people who called us racists by actually being racists.’ ‘We were just counter-trolling.’ ‘Our racism was intended as satire.’” Of course, the alt-right guys, unlike Jeong, actually physically attack their enemies, and in fact killed a woman in Charlottesville — which Pullmann knows, because she mentioned that in her first graf.

“If it wishes to be consistent,” Pullmann continued, “The New York Times owes President Trump, Jordan Peterson, and the alt-right an apology for labeling them racists for doing the precise same thing The New York Times did this week.” Wait, so the Times put brown-skinned immigrant babies in cages to be sexually abused, and deported a U.S. veteran’s brown-skinned wife? The Mainstream Media is more powerful than I ever imagined!

“‘Cops f—king suck’ and ‘they’re f—king horrible,’ according to this Harvard Law alumna, who hates the men and women whose job it is to enforce the law,” sputtered Robert Stacy McCain — yes, the American Spectator honest-to-God got McCain, a former member of the neo-Confederate League of the South, to bitch about Jeong. McCain also wrote, “Ms. Jeong has routinely expressed her total contempt for males,” and lamented that “no one at Harvard or at the New York Times will speak a word in favor of white people, Christians, heterosexuals, or police officers.”

Andrew Sullivan inevitably weighed in, seeming less mad at Jeong than at the white race traitors who refused to be as enraged as he was: “Scroll through left-Twitter and you find utter incredulity that demonizing white people could in any way be offensive,” he gasped. “That’s the extent to which loathing of and contempt for ‘white people’ is now background noise on the left.” They’ve gone native, like the white captives in The Searchers!

Sullivan iced the cake by complaining about the “goblins” line — he said Jeong was treating “an entire race as subhuman” — without knowing, or at least pretending not to know, that Jeong had been responding to his own writing.

Amazingly, the Times didn’t fold like wet cardboard, but said they’d had a talk with Jeong, asked her not to do it again, and would keep her. Not exactly John Peter Zenger, but not bad for the Times. And Jeong’s former employer, The Verge, basically told the wingnuts to fuck off, saying “journalists have been increasingly targeted by people acting in bad faith who do not care about the work they do, the challenges they face, or the actual context of their statements,” and “online trolls and harassers want us, the Times, and other newsrooms to waste our time by debating their malicious agenda…. This is not a good-faith conversation; it’s intimidation. So we’re not going to fall for these disingenuous tactics.”

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Once it sunk in that Jeong wasn’t going anywhere, conservatives responded that they didn’t want her fired, really — they just wanted to make the point that Jeong, The New York Times, and liberals are racist against white people.

“We don’t want to see her fired because of a mob,” wrote Twitchy (which, given their ten posts on Jeong in four days, clearly qualifies as part of that mob). “The whole thing just makes it perfectly clear who The New York Times considers a good addition to the team.”

“Jeong should not be fired…. But we must be clear that The New York Times is being dishonest,” wrote David Marcus at The Federalist. “It is now acceptable to insult and denigrate white people as a whole in a way that even a decade ago was viewed as entirely unacceptable.”

“It is actually better for us that the NYT not fire Jeong,” wrote one of many “free-speech activists” on Twitter. “If they were to fire her, it might cause anti-whites to hide a little more, but keeping anti-whiteness in the shadows prevents redpilling. Not firing her provides clear evidence to all of the NYT‘s anti-whiteness.”

They obviously think this’ll work out for them. After all, their leader has shown that you can win the presidency at least once with almost no POC support — why can’t conservative media do the same? In fact, for many of them it’s obviously liberating: Last weekend on Fox News, Jesse Watters, a racial humor expert, had comedian Terrence K. Williams on to call Jeong “Chinese, Japanese, or Crazy-nese” and say “something is wrong with the fortune cookies Ling Ling is eating.”

Conservative commenters on Twitter exulted over this: “I’m sorry but the press just got done saying racist comments were ok,” “Aren’t these fun new rules the NYT created great for everyone!” etc. Count me in, too: I’m looking forward to these guys coming out with ever more racist material and explaining to the public that it’s the fault of some tech columnist 99.9 percent of them have never heard of. Let’s see what normal people think about that. One way or another, it’ll be an education.

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Hello, Brooklyn: Eric Adams Is Your New Borough President. Here are Your City Council Reps and Judges, Too.

Brooklyn has spoken: former police officer and state senator Eric Adams will succeed Marty Markowitz as borough president. Adams has said the latter turned Brooklyn “from the ugly duckling to a beautiful swan.”

Election day brought fresh blood to Brooklyn: Ken Thompson beat incumbent District Attorney Charles Hynes (again) — in spite of the latter’s bizarre dancehall campaign jingle. A new crop of City Council members were voted into office, too.

Borough President
WINNER: Eric Adams, Democratic Party, 90 percent
Elias J. Weir, Conservative Party

District Attorney
WINNER: Kenneth Thompson, Democratic Party, 73.5 percent
Charles Hynes, Republican Party, Conservative Party

City Council, 33rd District
WINNER: Stephen T. Levin, Democratic Party, Working Families Party
John A. Jasilli, Conservative Party)

City Council, 34th District
WINNER: Antonio Reynoso, Democratic Party, Working Families Party)
Gladys Santiago, School Choice Party)

City Council, 35th District
WINNER: Laurie A. Cumbo, Democratic Party, Working Families Party)

City Council, 36th District
WINNER: Robert E. Cornegy Jr., Democratic Party)
Veronica L. Thompson, Republican Party)
Kirsten John Foy, Working Families Party)

City Council, 37th District
WINNER: Rafael L. Espinal Jr., Democratic Party)
Michael Freeman-Saulsberre, Conservative Party)
Kimberly Council, Working Families Party)

City Council, 38th District
WINNER: Carlos Menchaca (Democratic Party, Working Families Party)
Henry Lallave (Conservative Party)

City Council, 39th District
WINNER: Brad Lander, Democratic Party, Working Families Party)
James E. Murray, Conservative Party)

City Council, 40th District
WINNER: Mathieu Eugene, Democratic Party, Working Families Party)
Brian W. Kelly, Conservative Party)
Sylvia G. Kinard, Rent Is 2 Damn High Party)

More results on page two

City Council, 41st District
WINNER: Darlene Mealy, Democratic Party, Working Families Party)
Bilal Malik, Independence Party)

City Council, 42nd District
WINNER: Inez D. BarronvDemocratic Party, Working Families Party)
Ernest Johnson, Conservative Party)

City Council, 43rd District
WINNER: Vincent J. Gentile, Democratic Party, Working Families Party)
John F. Quaglione, Republican Party, Conservative Party, Independence Party)
Patrick Dwyer, Green Party)

City Council, 44th District
WINNER: David G. Greenfield, Democratic Party, Conservative Party, Independence Party)
Joseph Hayon (Republican Party)

City Council, 45th District
WINNER: Jumaane D. Williams, Democratic Party, Working Families Party)
Erlene J. King, Rent Is 2 Damn High Party)

City Council, 46th District
WINNER: Alan Maisel, Democratic Party, Working Families Party)
Anthony Testaverde, Republican Party, Conservative Party, Independence Party)

City Council, 47th District
WINNER: Mark Treyger, Democratic Party)
Andrew J. Sullivan, Republican Party, Conservative Party)
Connis Maurice Mobley, School Choice Party)

City Council, 48th District
WINNER: Chaim M. Deutsch, Democratic Party
David Storobin, Republican Party, Conservative Party, Independence Party
Igor Oberman, Working Families Party
Alexander Lotovsky, ForwardBrooklyn Party

Justice of the Supreme Court, Second Judicial District
WINNER: Betty J. Williams, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Conservative Party
WINNER: Dawn M. Jimenez Salta, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Conservative Party
WINNER: Desmond A. Green, Democratic Party, Republican Party
WINNER: Kenneth P. Sherman, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Conservative Party
WINNER: Bernard J. Graham, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Conservative Party
Kevin A. Finnegan, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Working Families Party
Ilan Schoenberger, Working Families Party
Ross Brady, Conservative Party
Mendy Mirocznik, Working Families Party

Judge of the Civil Court, Kings County
WINNER: Shawndya L. Simpson, Democratic Party
Vincent F. Martusciello, Conservative Party

New York City Civil Court, Kings County, Second District
WINNER: Theresa M. Ciccotto

New York City Civil Court, Kings County, Seventh District
WINNER: Kathy J. King,

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The Gestapo Inheritance

Soon after real-time terror hit home, the president gave the CIA authority to interrogate suspected terrorists in its secret prisons, wholly outside our laws or the UN International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of prisoners. Eventually, hard evidence of torture kept emerging from victims of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” (as the president likes to call them); from human-rights organizations; and from reports in the European and American press (including this column). In response, the Republican-controlled Congress gave CIA torturers immunity from prosecution in the 2006 Military Commissions Act.

Now that The New York Times, in its October 5 issue, has exposed two secret 2005 Justice Department opinions specifying the CIA acts of torture that can continue
in combination, the Democratic-controlled Congress should finally conduct penetrating investigations of these war crimes and be prepared to go all the way up to the Oval Office—if the Democrats don’t again falter in fear of being tarred as soft on terrorism at election time.

What has recently—and startlingly—been revealed are the eerie parallels between these CIA “enhanced interrogation techniques” and the
verschärfte vernehmung (German for “enhanced interrogation”) methods of persuasion used by the Gestapo.

I’m not claiming that the CIA—which has indeed studied the torture methods of the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, and Syria—is the equivalent of the Gestapo. Nor is George W. Bush the mirror image of Hitler. The president is an ingenuous, too often vacuous tool of such formidable advisers as Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, who fiercely believe that the American rule of law is far too weak to deal with the growing epidemic of terrorism.

If I’d been German and had written what follows about the verschärfte vernehmung while Hitler was in charge, I’d soon be on my way to the gas chamber. But I and others are still free to try to awaken Americans to understand why much of the world that used to respect us for our principles—however sometimes frayed—now mock our leaders’ preening hypocrisy.

For example, after the story broke of the Justice Department’s secret 2005 licenses for the CIA to continue torturing, the president habitually—and ludicrously—assured us:

“This government does not torture people. You know, we stick to the U.S. law and our international obligations. Trained personnel do the questioning—and we’ll keep on.”

Nonetheless, the parallels between our current “enhanced interrogation techniques” and the Gestapo’s have been researched and documented by the widely published libertarian Andrew Sullivan (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com), as well as by international human-rights lawyer Scott Horton, whom I consult often on treaties and laws that have been deep-sixed by the administration.

Sullivan’s website has links to other reports on these verschärfte parallels. He notes that the German lexicon of torture began in 1937, to be used “only on Communists, Marxists, members of the Bible-researcher sect, saboteurs, terrorists, members of the resistance . . . asocial persons, Polish or Soviet persons who refuse to work, or idlers.”

The list is taken from a directive by a Gestapo chief, identified only as Muller. No marks were to be left on subjects (an instruction, as I’ve reported, that can also be found in certain orders to CIA interrogators).

In 1948, Sullivan reports, there was a U.S.-run war-crimes trial in Norway prosecuting Nazis convicted of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the Second World War. The victims had been “paramilitary Norwegians, operating as an insurgency, against an occupying force.” Various implements of torture were used, including “cold baths and blows and kicks in the face and all over the body.”

Previous Nazi records actually show that “the use of hypothermia and waterboarding (both later authorized by Bush and Rumsfeld) were initially forbidden” by the Nazis—but, Sullivan adds, “historians have found that all the bureaucratic restrictions were eventually broken or abridged. Once you start torturing, it has a life of its own.”

At the Norwegian war-crimes trial, “The Nazi defense of the [enhanced] techniques is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration: ‘The victims were not in uniform . . . and the acts of torture in no case resulted in death.'” (This became the Bush position in the 2002 Justice Department “torture memos” drafted by John Yoo.)

Significantly, in the Norwegian war-crimes trial, Sullivan writes, “The Court came to the conclusion that such acts, even though they were committed with the connivances of superiors in rank, or even on their orders, must be regarded and punished as serious war crimes.”

He adds that “there is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007; what I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved by the president are not new. . . .

“Freezing prisoners to near-death, repeated beatings, long forced-standing, waterboarding . . . stress positions (
Arrest mit Verschaerfung), withholding of medicine and leaving wounded or sick prisoners alone in cells for days on end—all these have occurred at U.S. detention camps [not only in CIA secret prisons] under the command of president George W. Bush. . . . ”

At the 1948 war-crimes trial in Norway, such methods were judged to be war crimes, and the punishment for the German torturers was death. But all Bush and his accomplices need fear is the permanent condemnation of history.

In this country, Congress is the “handmaiden of [our] torture program . . . having granted amnesty to officials who may have violated the torture and war crimes provisions of our laws; allowing a defense for future abusers if they relied on legal advice; authorizing the president to redefine cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and permitting the use of evidence derived from torture or coercion,” writes Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (emphasis added). The center is heavily involved in litigation against the Bush administration, particularly its contemptuous refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions. Yet, as of this writing, the Democratic (so-called) leadership in Congress has yet to insist on a thoroughly penetrating investigation. Such an investigation cannot rely on the Justice Department, which has also been “a handmaiden” of torture—and Michael Dukasey, if he becomes attorney general, has made it clear that he believes we have to go beyond our present system of justice in dealing with terrorism.

I am aware of the danger of runaway special prosecutors, but to head that much-needed independent investigation into the torture policies of this White House, I strongly recommend the appointment of constitutional scholar Bruce Fein, a former official of the Reagan Justice Department, who has written and testified, brilliantly and insistently, on the crimes against the Constitution—up to and including war crimes—committed by the Bush administration.

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Hook Up With the Experts: Savage, Sullivan, and Jong

These three names alone should guarantee a full house: Dan Savage, Andrew Sullivan, Erica Jong. Savage edits Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, writes a nationally syndicated sex advice column that appears weekly in these pages, and originated the term santorum (Google it, if you don’t know what it means). Sullivan is the strangest of creatures, a gay, openly Catholic conservative; his 1996 book Virtually Normal helped spark the national coming-out of the late 1990s, and his Daily Dish ranks among the most popular blogs on the Web. Jong has been challenging the sexual-correctness establishment since 1973, when her novel Fear of Flying encouraged legions of women to realize their lustiest desires. Her newest book, Seducing the Demon, contains juicy tidbits about, among other things, a tryst with Martha Stewart’s ex-husband. They gather with Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychoanalyst and contributor to NBC’s Today, for—no, not therapy—what’s billed as a “no-holds-barred” discussion of gay marriage, Internet porn, HIV, nontraditional families, and other political hot potatoes of the type that makes the fundies’ skin crawl. Don’t be afraid to ask your most burning questions—it’ll be hard to shock anyone on this panel.

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Caught in the Web

Like Howard Dean and Andrew Sullivan, Norwegian new-wave-dance-pop singer Annie and California hearth-pop duo Fisher both owe some of their success to Internet support. Way back in 1999 Fisher put their “I Will Love You” on MP3.com. The song, written for but excluded from the movie Message in a Bottle (which sucked just fine without it), found favor with bargain-mad fans of overwrought ballads, and has reportedly been downloaded 3 million times. Annie, big in Norway, midsize in England, hit stateside record shelves accompanied by Web-driven brouhaha. The same blogs and websites that earlier big-upped Dizzee Rascal and M.I.A. have noted and reiterated the transcendent blah blah blah of Annie’s by turns bubbly and melancholic music. Some of those folks helped her “Chewing Gum” and “Heartbeat” place 31st and 32nd on last year’s Pazz & Jop singles list, impressive showings for import-(download)-only specimens of continental girl pop. Pitchfork even named “Heartbeat” 2004’s single of the year. “Haven’t heard of it,” retorted Usher.

Praise for Annie from the blogosphere (surely some of these people are shills) has been intemperate—likewise from British record reviewers, who are paid by the hyperbolic adjective. But let’s not punish Annie for being overrated. An overrated good record is still a good record, and “Chewing Gum” may well have been last year’s 31st best single. “Oh no, oh no, you’ve got it all wrong,” she sings, “You think you’re chocolate but you’re chewing gum,” a memorable hook written by Hannah Robinson and producer Richard X (an exception; Annie co-writes most of her material). Robinson and X are savvy retrofitters. For Rachel Stevens’s “Some Girls” they underscored the kinship between ’70s glam rock and ’00s lady pop with a lemon highlighter. On “Chewing Gum,” they hotrod the “Cutie Pie”-“Genius of Love” beat, wrap it in a sigh, and correctly surmise that some boys always go mad for dating songs centered on oral metaphors, even those involving mastication, expectoration, and trampling.

“Chewing Gum,” proudly cute and disposable, is also singing to itself. Which isn’t to say it won’t sound fine in five or 20 years. Anniemal‘s “The Greatest Hit” is from 1999, and still parties as if it were. The song samples from and betters young Madonna’s “Everybody,” employing the reefer-toking cymbal from the original for the new tune’s Puff the Magic Dragon conceit. “Greatest Hit” was co-created by Annie and her then musical and romantic partner Tore “Erot” Kroknes, who died of heart complications in 2001. If you’re inclined to conjure it, Kroknes’s ghost will haunt Anniemal and lend gravity to songs such as the wistful “Heartbeat” and the forlorn “My Best Friend.” Unfortunately, neither Annie’s singing (puerile, glassy, something like a less expressive Kylie Minogue, also something like the red Teletubbi) nor her lyrics (bland, hard to make out, occasionally charming) live up to the album’s tragic subtext with any regularity, though “My Best Friend” is indeed a heartbreaker. And Kylie comparisons notwithstanding, Anniemal isn’t long on gay-disco abandon, either. The double-time section of “Heartbeat” gets close, but the forced club epic “Come Together” sounds more like faking it alone.

Still, small pleasures are abundant here: the bent synth-bass on the great title track; the dub-style delayed snare on “Always Too Late”; the quavering mope-funk of “No Easy Love,” written and produced with Röyksopp’s Torbjørn Brundtland and an effectively slowed-down variation on that group’s “Remind Me.” If much of Anniemal isn’t vibrant enough to move physically or resonant enough to move emotionally, its peaks suggest a worthy midway state. To expand on an image from “The Greatest Hit,” this is music for moonlight drives with friends in rented convertibles, during which a certain baseline of despair is mutually understood and even savored. Or this is music for a car commercial depicting such a scene.

Speaking of which, “Beautiful Life” by Fisher is surely the finest song ever written for Toyota. Expanded into legitimacy for The Lovely Years, the song remains an outstanding jingle, irritating and irresistible. Its chorus harmonies are rich enough to sell or buy yachts. Kathleen Fisher is an affected but not humorless vocalist, while husband Ron Wasserman is a junior Lindsey Buckingham hiding in broad daylight. I’m an even bigger fan of “Biggest Fan,” narrated by a likable star-stalker and given another textbook chorus, this one complete with horns imported from “Penny Lane” by Howard Jones. After that it gets dodgier—squishy new-parent ballads, something inspired by Sylvia Plath. But download “Life,” “Fan,” and the sweet “Be Here” and you might have the alt-MOR three-song EP of the year. For three bucks!


Annie plays Hiro Ballroom June 28 and Scenic June 29.

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Bullshit Happens

Almost exactly a year ago, I received word that Andrew Sullivan, the gay conservative Republican blogger celebrity, had nominated me for an award. That prize, called the “Poseur Alert,” celebrates “examples of the absurdly pretentious, pseudo-intellectual and massively self-regarding among the nation’s intelligentsia (and beyond).” I can’t say I felt honored.

Bullshit calls come in pairs, and the same week of Sullivan’s blast, I found myself dangerously close to Jon Stewart and a wiffleball bat. He was in Boston to perform stand-up, and at the behest of the Harvard Lampoon, came Cambridgeside to play wiffleball after accepting the humor magazine’s award for “Best Journalist of All Time.”

Stewart decided teams with simple logic: Jews versus Gentiles and Hindus. Since I was a Gentile, I went to that side of the field. But when I approached the plate, Stewart refused to pitch to me. “You’re not a Gentile!” I explained otherwise, but his dismissal was curt. “Don’t bullshit me.” I put down the bat.

Then I went a year trying my hardest to avoid these sorts of accusations. I had succeeded, I thought. Bullshit, like diamonds, is forever though, and a few weeks ago, when Stewart brought to his Daily Show Harry Frankfurt, Princeton professor emeritus and author of newly hardbound 1985 essay On Bullshit, I received more than a few e-mails from friends telling me about “a book I might enjoy.”

Keen on common sense, common parlance, and some ostensibly no-bullshit etymological rigor, Frankfurt bravely sets out to define his “vast and amorphous” subject. The distinction he makes between bullshit and its cousin, the lie, yields him his biggest breakthrough: While a lie must have some obedience to the truth if it is to succeed functionally, the “lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are” is to Frankfurt “the essence of bullshit.”

Frankfurt goes one step further, though: Bullshit’s indifference to the truth makes it that much more dangerous than the lie, especially in public life, “where people are frequently impelled—whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others—to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.” Bullshit means empty politicking, a set of “issues” every politician is supposed to have an opinion about, and the inevitable beatings around the Bush.

The flip side, of course, is quite romantic. Frankfurt’s appeal to the absolute truth suggests he thinks we can actually know how things “really are”—that we don’t invent our own realities, and that as a system of ethics, “sincerity is bullshit.” Like Stewart, his call to arms has a protective and wholly positive bent.

But hey—bullshit happens. Frankfurt doesn’t expect otherwise, but suggests the mythical beast best stay within the confines of the fabled bull session. Here, “the purpose of the conversation is not to communicate beliefs,” but “to make possible a high level of candor and an experimental or adventuresome approach to the subjects under discussion.” To Frankfurt, statements made within a bull session are hardly dangerous, since each contributor understands that what someone says isn’t what he necessarily believes. This is thinking strictly for kicks, and as a point of leisure, presumably far less valuable to Frankfurt than the development of a bullshit-proof canon of essential truths and modes of thought.

What’s one man’s bullshit though is another man’s bible or an entire culture’s pantheon. Making claims to essential truths and definitive canons is an inherently exclusionary process. With each cry of “bullshit” we push back the boundaries of the bull session still further, marginalizing that volatile spirit of free thought that, for every billion misfires, yields one massively important breakthrough, or at the very least, some colorful and truly affecting mythology that engages a people.

In short, bullshit needs to happen.

Take the alternately maligned and celebrated Hieroglyphica of Horapollo. The purportedly fifth century C.E. Egyptian Horapollo had prepared his own translations of nearly 200 hieroglyphics, some of them logical, most of them entirely fantastical. He thought the glyph of a snake eating its own tail symbolized “the universe”; and in addition to believing in such a thing as an “electric catfish,” he translated its glyph to mean “a man who had saved many in the sea.”

Before scholars realized hieroglyphics weren’t strictly iconic, Renaissance bourgie had taken up the Hieroglyphica for its elite codified system of emblematics, or mute-writing, while artists wrote secret, glyph-informed messages for viewers in-the-know to decode. One man’s bullshit, his something-from-nothing alchemy, played an undeniably important role in art history—and at the very least, comprises an essential truth for anyone looking to impress his date at the art museum.

That’s just accidental history, sure. But maybe that’s the point—maybe bullshit’s worth comes precisely from the dialogue between someone accidentally taking it seriously and someone else who then puts that bullshit to the rack. And maybe that dialogue is ultimately more important than what either has to say.


Frankfurt, believe it or not, seems to agree. Curiously, aside from a few cheeky one-liners, I haven’t seen anyone tease out the extent to which On Bullshit is one of the more brilliant and worthwhile instances of bullshit in recent history. Even physically the essay mocks itself with high bravado: hardback, throwback, big print, and margins so wide only about a hundred words can fit on a page.

Instead of subjecting bullshit to any rigorous a priori pressure, Frankfurt culls instances of the word from literature at large (especially poetry), making questionable claims based on a series of OED etymologies and arriving at his definition quite haphazardly—more the stuff of half-baked, last-minute seminar papers than definitive inquiries. In fact, Frankfurt openly admits, “I have not undertaken a survey of the literature, partly because I do not know how to go about it.”

Other times Frankfurt’s clearly toying with us, as in his lengthy comparison of bullshitting to blowing hot air:

Excrement may be regarded as the corpse of nourishment, what remains when the vital elements in food have been exhausted. In this respect, excrement is a representation of death that we ourselves produce and that, indeed, we cannot help producing in the very process of maintaining our lives. Perhaps it is for making death so intimate that we find excrement so repulsive.

And too perfectly, the crux of Frankfurt’s definition rests on the essay’s best irony. Setting up the truth/lie distinction, Frankfurt recalls fellow bullshit caller Ludwig Wittgenstein’s 1930s reaction to Fania Pascal explaining her latest bout of sickness: “I felt just like a dog that has been run over.” With motives perfectly unclear, Wittgenstein responded, “You don’t know what a dog that has been run over feels like.” Frankfurt then spends several playful pages justifying his use of the anecdote as evidence, asking first rhetorically, “Now who knows what really happened?” then writing defensively of Fania’s account, “She knew him, and she knew what to expect from him; she knew how he made her feel.”

This—like Frankfurt’s essay as a whole—is great slop, its true worth revealed only to those who struggle with its fraudulence. We need bullshit, precisely to expose it as such—or maybe I’m just being defensive.


Nick Sylvester is an associate editor at Pitchforkmedia.

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Pay You, Pay Me

The big news just now, in some circles, is that Jason Kottke has gone pro—the related question in most circles being, of course, Jason who? Which only shows how far the mainstreaming of blogs still has to go, since Jason Kottke is not just any blogger but—as one smartass put it last week, soon after the veteran Web designer announced he was quitting his day job to blog full-time on whatever donations his readers cough up—”the Matt Lauer of the blogosphere.” Consistently among the most linked-to bloggers, Kottke has been an engaging, likable omnipresence on the scene for as long as it has existed, serving up a daily blend of clean-crafted personal aperçus and fresh, literate links to tech, pop, and political news that is as brisk and cozy as Folgers in your cup.

None of which accounts for the buzz that attended Kottke’s latest career move. Chalk that up to the move itself, which is fraught with blogospheric import and essentially without precedent. Sure, bloggers have often held out the PayPal begging cup for help with expenses, and professional polemicist turned blogger Andrew Sullivan has for a couple years now made decent bank from his online readers’ generosity. But until now the scarcely traveled path from amateur to professional blogging has invariably been paved with advertising, and Kottke’s high-profile option for the more intimate alternative of what he calls “micropatronage” comes at a pivotal moment for bloggers: If 2004 was decisively the year of the blog, what now? Kottke’s wagering his livelihood that the blogosphere can continue, trends notwithstanding, to thrive as much on curiosity and community as on commerce and contention. And if nothing else, seeing how the bet turns out is one more reason to click on his site in the morning.


Please visit juliandibbell.com

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God Save This Book

Amazon.com is god. This is often said of Google, a mere tool. But the big-river bookstore, in its capitalistic omnipotence, actively shapes the world. Particularly the world of writers.

So when my friend Tony Hendra’s book Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul was released to near-universal praise May 18, I didn’t watch the numbers from Book Sense and BookScan, the all-seeing archangels of the bookselling world. I watched Amazon.

The book was set to spend its life “midlist,” meaning the publisher considered it too esoteric (in this case, too Catholic), and more importantly its author wasn’t famous enough to make it a bestseller. Random House printed between 10,000 and 15,000 copies, depending on who you ask. That seemed light to me, since I’d read the manuscript and knew the book resonated with even devout atheists like me. They also hadn’t factored in Hendra’s otherworldly ability to borrow other people’s fame.

At 5 a.m. May 20, I sent Tony a telegram-style congratulatory e-mail trumpeting the book’s Amazon sales rank: 51. “Not bad! Go, Joe!” Two hours later, Don Imus, whose seal of approval can’t be bought, threatened his radio audience, “If you don’t buy this book, I’ll beat the hell out of you!” My next congrats was for hitting No. 4 by noon, and by midnight I was popping virtual champagne corks because Father Joe was No. 1 on Amazon.

Random House printed another 90,000 copies.

For the next few weeks, Amazon’s customer reviews gushed. Five stars across the board, except the decorous four-star from an obviously planted associate of Tony’s.

The New York Times Book Review‘s first redesigned edition under its new editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sicced conservative Catholic pundit Andrew Sullivan on the leftist Hendra’s book, presumably to watch the sparks fly. But Sullivan’s blindingly glowing review literally begged people to read Father Joe. The book disappeared from store shelves everywhere, so fast that the New York Post wrote that it was impossible to find a copy anywhere in Manhattan.

The print run soared to 300,000.

The Amazon customer reviews sang, laughed, and sobbed. Readers of every stripe loved this book. A minor flame war broke out when someone who plainly hadn’t read the book lobbed a one-star review (the lowest possible) that claimed Father Joe was right-wing propaganda akin to the “Left Behind” books, and a couple of five-star reviews muscled in to beat down the anonymous nonreader.

It surprised me to see customer reviews for a nonpolitical book appear so partisan. In fact, just as Sullivan had spent a few sentences of his review disdaining Hendra’s politics, some Amazon reviewers started focusing on the book’s few jogs into ’80s-era Reagan- and Thatcher-bashing. But these were aberrations in the steady stream of positive notices.

After the Father’s Day rush, the book settled into a respectable Top 50 place on Amazon’s bestseller list. It was destined to be a steady-selling classic, and for the best reason: intrinsic quality, not hype.

Nosing around the New York Times website June 30, I caught a preview of the shitstorm set to be unleashed the next day, in a piece by N.R. Kleinfield. Tony’s 39-year-old daughter Jessica had written to the Times weeks before, alleging he had molested her when she was a child, a charge Tony categorically denied when ambushed by the Times the day before publication of Kleinfield’s article. (On July 11, Times public editor Daniel Okrent wrote that the “rather late in the process” interview wasn’t an ambush, which he defined as calling the accused “an hour before deadline.”)

Newspapers around the country splashed cutesy mini-stories about the issue in their entertainment sections, along with Britney Spears denying that she was pregnant. The New York Post christened Tony “Molest Scandal Scribe” for a headline, his demi-fame obviously not affording him the name recognition of Jacko or Martha. Curiosity and attention pushed Father Joe up into the 20s in Amazon’s sales rankings. And the Father Joe reviewers on Amazon went insane.

A flood of anonymous one-star reviews appeared, some offering sympathy to the daughter, many with vicious and unsubstantiated accusations against the father. At least one professional enemy of Tony weighed in anonymously, saying this scandal vindicated him for hating Tony all these years.

Amazon has now purged most of these slurs, but for a week or so that was all people saw when they shopped for this book, driving the sales down immeasurably. There is no equivalent in the brick-and-mortar world. People can’t spray-paint “accused child molester” across the hardbacks in all the Barnes & Noble stores.

Because I’m a friend of Tony and I’ve been a vocal advocate for this book—I interviewed him for The Village Voice before the scandal broke (the piece never ran because of it) and have reviewed the book elsewhere—people keep asking my opinion on the allegations. I have no special insight into the matter, though. I know only one of the players, and although I shudder to imagine the charges are true, I have to admit that, this long after the alleged events, they’re as plausible as Tony’s denials. Judging exclusively from the Times articles and the “Molest Scandal Scribe Hits Back” piece from the Post, the daughter appears to believe she was abused, and the father appears to believe she wasn’t. As far as I know, there is no legal action in the works, and they seem to have co-existed on polite terms, like any other dysfunctional, post-divorce family, for the past couple of decades.

I write this not to defend Tony Hendra nor to praise him. I write this hoping to defend a provably innocent victim: the book.

The impetus for Jessica Hendra’s revelation to the Times was that the sins at the center of her accusations weren’t included in Father Joe. Indeed, the epic headline of that 2,500-word story is “Daughter Says Father’s Confessional Book Didn’t Confess His Molestation of Her.” Without getting too academic—I’d argue, for example, that it’s inaccurate to describe Father Joe as a “confessional book”—I have to say Tony’s family-related confessions are comprehensive:

“No father could have been more selfish—treating his family like props, possessions, inconveniences, mostly forgetting them completely in his precious mission to save the world through laughter.”

On Jessica and her older sister: “A sweet little girl was on the way—and then another—whom for most of their childhoods I largely ignored and certainly resented because I had to be a father, which prevented me from fucking as many hippie chicks as everyone else appeared to be. . . . I who had been given the keys to the kingdom, had held the pearl of great price, had dropped them in the mud, ground them in with my heel, and headed downtown to score.”

But at least as importantly, Father Joe is about Father Joe—Dom Joseph Warrilow—not Tony Hendra. (Believe me, Andrew Sullivan would never beg you to read a book about Tony Hendra.) Rather it’s a love letter from a sinner to a saint, from an intellectual to an intellect, from a tragically flawed soul to, perhaps, God. The magic of the book is not in any Behind the Music account of Spinal Tap, Spitting Image, or National Lampoon. It’s in the breathtaking wisdom, love, humor, and humanity of a little man with big ears and flat feet.

Despite the monk’s clasped hands on the cover and the soul-saving subtitle, this is neither a Catholic book nor a necessarily religious book. (Don’t try to tell that to Borders, which shelves it under “Catholic Motivation.”) That is to say its appeal isn’t bound by religion or lack thereof. That was true of the man as well, who was counted as a spiritual adviser to the obviously not Catholic archbishop of Canterbury and the wandering Anglican Princess Diana. He never abandoned or judged Tony when he left the church. Father Joe paradoxically told the then atheist author, “God loves atheists as much as he does believers. P-p-probably more.” His selflessness, insight, and particularly his boundless joy remind me more of the Dalai Lama than anyone else, an impression echoed by a Buddhist friend who read the book.

Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul is more about ethics, values, the almost impossible art of listening, and the philosophy of self than any particular angle on God(s). It’s also an utterly enjoyable, funny, and poignant read, in ways that far transcend books usually described with these adjectives. It’s probably not, in the end, about saving Tony’s soul, the subtitle being an invention of the publisher. But whether you believe its author is a righteous man or not—I don’t and I don’t imagine he does—you won’t leave this book unimpressed.

When you finish it, whether you think I’m right or wrong, confess to Amazon.


 

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State to Church: I Want a Divorce

In ruling that states can’t be forced to use taxpayer dollars to train students for the clergy, the Supreme Court last Wednesday upheld the separation of church and state. It was a heartening if muffled affirmation, coming as it did in the same week that the Second Coming took place at the cineplex and George W. Bush called for a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage from queer infidels. (And I always thought that a leather necklace sporting a nine-inch nail meant “See you at the Spike on Saturday.”)


Throwing a bone to his base, Bush wasn’t just making a cynical election-year calculation. He was speaking as a true believer, taking some faith-based initiative to try to write discrimination into the Constitution. At least he has the courage of his convictions—unlike the waffling Democrats—and thus Bush revealed the key trouble at the heart of the issue: Marriage itself violates the establishment clause by defining matrimony according to particular religious beliefs.

Take the sacral out of the state, and what reason can it give for preferring hetero to homo couplings? Not a one. It can only cite, as the president did, “cultural, religious, and natural” traditions. But not all religions forbid same-sex nuptials. (I, for one, was hitched under a chuppah to another woman in 1992.) As Rabbi Arthur Waskow puts it, “God forbid—and I do mean God forbid!—that as a country we dig ourselves into a pit where Orthodox Jews and Southern Baptists are affirmed by the Constitution while Reform Jews and Episcopalians are ghettoized.” Besides, various religions restrict rites in other ways—my rabbi won’t perform interfaith marriages, for example. But should endogamy be the law of the land? Evangelical activists see gay marriage as a wedge issue for driving their theology into the Bill of Rights. The spirit of sharia law has been written into the new Afghan constitution, and apparently is making its way into the Iraqi one as well; Bush and his flock see no reason not to have their own version inscribed in ours.

The prospect of a “defense of marriage” amendment proves how urgently the state needs to sue the church for divorce. And there is one clear way to do it: Grant civil unions to all—including straights. If government must insist on offering special privileges to pledged pairs as a means of social engineering and sexual containment, let it provide them through a properly secular arrangement. Leave holy matrimony to the church, mosque, and synagogue. Folks can register at City Hall for legal recognition of their bond (and the tax benefits, inheritance rights, and all the rest that go with it). If they want their union blessed—or simply celebrated among family and friends in a secular bash—they have to go elsewhere.

That’s largely the system we’ve got now, of course: Practically speaking, the license and the benediction are issued from different offices. And when it comes to benefits, only the former counts. (That’s why I pay income tax on the health insurance my partner gets from the Voice.)

Nonetheless, even atheists, anti-clericals, the party-averse, and those in a Vegas-style hurry can’t just sign a paper. For the knot to be tied, they need to undergo what philosophers call a performative act—a deed that is committed through words. What actually makes them married is that someone in whom the state has vested authority pronounces them husband and wife. For the vast majority of Americans, that ritual affirmation occurs in a religious setting with a clergy member uttering the magic words. This melding of ecclesiastic and bureaucratic functions lies at the core of today’s marriage debate. The evangelical right seeks to blur the boundaries between church and state even more. Their arguments find easy assent from so many Americans because (apart from plain old homophobia) the realms of church and state have been merged in the marriage ceremony for so long, the fusion has come to seem organic.

But if queer studies has taught us anything, it is to show how what may look natural is indeed constructed—and to what ends. The institution of marriage has been in constant flux since its establishment as a form for promoting patriarchal control over property—understood to include women and children. Upon saying “I do,” women lost the rights to sign a contract or own property. Until 1967, the U.S. permitted states to ban interracial marriage. When Bush warned of the danger of “redefining” marriage, he sounded just like those who railed against restoring women’s individual rights in the late 19th century, or who rioted to oppose giving state sanction to lovers who crossed the color line. But because resistance to same-sex marriage is argued solely on the basis of scripture, our relationships will never be accorded equal protection under the law until those acting in the name of the Bible or Koran or Torah are not part of proclaiming them into legal being. The queer-marriage movement needs a divestment campaign: The only way we will win is if the state’s authority to pronounce is stripped from ministers, rabbis, imams, and priests. They of course would be able to declare “according to the laws of Moses” or “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” but not on behalf of the state.

There’s a wider advantage to promoting civil unions for all as the simplest and most constitutionally sound solution to the vexations over queer vows. Once queer folks’ emotional need to see their love recognized is separated from the practical need for various economic and legal benefits (especially revolving around children), the community can look more clearly at what the state proffers to those civilly united—and why. Should a home with an amorous relationship at its center be any more deserving of the option to file taxes jointly than, say, a couple of single friends who have decided to set up a household together? Sure, I’d like to be rid of those extra income taxes, but I’d rather see our movement fighting for universal health care so nobody’s coverage depended on having a spouse with a job with insurance benefits.

As we win this the right way—and help lead America away from establishing fundamentalism as the law of the land by getting the state out of the business of holy matrimony—we can pick up the many issues that have been the bridesmaid for almost a decade now: the rising epidemic of violence against transgender youth and the homophobia faced by LGBT elders, to cite only two. Andrew Sullivan has infamously said that once gay marriage is won, the movement can pack up and go home. On the contrary.

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The Fight Club

Each Gay Pride Day, half a million homosexuals come together to play at being a community. The rest of the year, we are a series of infighting sub-minorities. Political progress has been stalled for over a decade, as older gays abandon activism and a younger generation misequates “visibility” with “equality.” Meanwhile, syphilis and other STD infections are multiplying—as they did just before HIV invaded our lives—and we still cannot get a gay rights bill passed in Albany. But Richard Goldstein, in his new book, is worried, deeply worried, about something else—Andrew Sullivan getting too much TV airtime.

Instead of exploring the variety of politics and beliefs among the increasingly visible and vocal conservatives and moderates that Goldstein unites as “the gay right,” The Attack Queers demonstrates why a discriminatory category that once forged itself into a politically mobilized community now languishes in a limbo of bickering and apathy. The problem begins with this book’s jacket, on which a blurry two-toned photo of white men in tuxes rests above a full-color shot of spiky-haired drag queens (or transsexuals) and a lesbian in festive attire. Why such a separation? Because Goldstein constantly draws a line of fire between sexy, revolutionary gay leftists and oppressive, power-hungry conservatives. The book helplessly traffics in such stereotypes as Goldstein wages a war against gays he is too angry at to see clearly or critique insightfully. Goldstein views gays who do not identify as left-wing and their eagerness to win political battles of their own as a threat to gay progress and an affront to gay history. But is either suspicion valid? Gay Republicans pressure Democrats to stop taking gay voters for granted. A visit to a gay Republican club might show Goldstein that its members are far more representative of our community than he imagines. Much praise has been lavished on “diversity” in gay groups dominated by leftists, but such superficial celebration frequently masks a demand for ideological unanimity, making concerted efforts by gays of every political stripe almost impossible. (Veterans of activist groups like ACT UP and Queer Nation can attest to the phenomenon of middle-of-the-road members becoming so antagonized—even demonized—that many of them burned out.)

That Andrew Sullivan is Goldstein’s bête noire is not surprising: He certainly has a knack for media ubiquity. What Goldstein fails to recognize is that Sullivan doesn’t have much else. Although Goldstein views Sullivan as the standard-bearer for insidious backlashers out to destroy revolutionary sexual politics, it’s almost impossible to find gays who consider Sullivan their spokesperson or leader. Sullivan prospers because some news organizations favor minority group members who confirm pre-existing stereotypes. (Al Sharpton is another example.) (In the interests of full disclosure, I was a member of bq-friends, a conservative listserv Goldstein cites ominously. I was recently banned from that list, in part, because I was Sullivan’s most vocal opponent.)

The book has an unsettling air of vehement personal aggrievement. Goldstein’s writing, so often impassioned and vivid in The Village Voice, is surprisingly marred here by unfortunate wordplay: “Like porn, [Camille] Paglia was bad to the boner.” In one heated passage he writes, “The fact that Mark Bingham, the gay hero of 9/11, was a rugby champ gave his fans an added lift. Here was proof that a gay man can master the butchest of sports.” Few today still need “proof” that gay men are not uncoordinated pantywaists: That Goldstein thinks otherwise, and says so at the expense of a guy who died trying to save a planeload of people, is disturbing. And when he ridicules conservative writer Norah Vincent, Goldstein neglects to admit Vincent’s Voice appearances were contested by his own outspoken opposition to her, even in The New York Times (he is, of course, a Voice executive editor). At such moments, Attack Queers transforms personal disagreements into the struggle between Good and Evil.

There isn’t much of a gay community left to rule over these days, and it’s no longer possible for one political coterie to lead it alone. Goldstein’s willingness to exile certain gays from all political endeavor illustrates a big reason gay civil rights activism has stalled of late: We’re too busy deploring each other to bother about our oppressors. In addition, gay activist groups today are often out of touch with their community. Goldstein and those who share his view that gay people will save their political souls from the devil only by returning to the glory days of left-wing gay activism haven’t noticed that the rest of the community has diversified so abundantly that the old approaches and speeches simply no longer work (as a survivor of those days, I must admit fighting against AIDS and anti-gay violence felt frightening and frustrating, not glorious). At this year’s parade, ACT UP was greeted with “Are they still around?” whispers from a crowd that was prepubescent when the group first rushed the barricades. Marching about four dozen strong (at parades 12 years ago, they numbered in the thousands), the ACT UP contingent was accompanied by a float depicting a giant Coca-Cola bottle—inspiring not activist fervor but befuddlement. (“Are they telling us to fuck each other and ‘Drink Coke’?” a lesbian near me asked friends.)

As much as Goldstein and others believe in the corrupting influence of conservative fellow travelers, our current dearth of gay political activism cannot be blamed on Sullivan, Paglia, and the Log Cabin Republicans; it’s happened because we have come out in such numbers we often forget how little freedom we really have. We don’t know how to react when the murder of a Matthew Shepard or another humiliation at the hands of Albany legislators reminds us that we may be TV stars and characters, but beyond the tube we remain second-class citizens. Such self-destructive inertia will only change when gays of all kinds give up the infighting and figure out which issues we need to address, and do so together. Justice is never a fight one can walk away from. How to make this happen should be the subject of the next important gay book—one those of us worried about the gay future impatiently await.