SPACE PUSSY

There aren’t many rock concerts where you can tell a friend, “Hold on a minute. I’m going down to the front to check on the gender of the drummer.” But last night’s performance by Space Pussy at Provincetown’s Crown and Anchor was one such concert. The band included a hot ’80s style keyboard player, complete with British school tie, Union Jack wristband, and eye-shadow, a lesbian bass-player with curly black mop-top and shapeless blue smock, a skinny, pale straight-looking (and awesome) electric guitar player and a drummer out of an acid trip: extremely tall, male, with a long, Cher-like wig and a red bikini outfit. Of course they did a cover of Psycho-Killer by the Talking Heads. The crowd was varied – a few hairy bears, a mosh-pit of sorts full of dykelings, grungy straight couples tonguing in the back, and a smattering of punky townies, exhausted from a summer of service jobs. Gay? Straight? The categories are blurring all the time. Pop? Rock? Heavy metal? The genres are as varied as the sub-sub-cultures. But we had a blast. For any gay kid who grew up on rock and roll, it was an assimilative epiphany – one of so many now occurring as the culture churns on. It’s on nights like this that I feel like I’ve seen the future of gay separatism and identity politics. There isn’t one.

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A CAMILLE AUGUST

Here’s one last August entry from Camille Paglia, who has filled in for me manfully this past month. It’s a dissection of the decline of the Left in America and elsewhere. Some sharp points as always. I’m really grateful for her contributions. The last one garnered 75,000 visits in a single day. From the hammock, I’ve been monitoring the latest twists and turns in the debate on war with Iraq. It’s been a deeply revealing month – both because of what it has revealed about those who oppose war with our enemies under any circumstances and those who have merely spent the month taking no position themselves but quibbling at every possible element of a pre-emptive strike. The good news is that sooner rather than later, the anti-war left will actually have to take a stand – against war with Iraq, against preventing Saddam from getting nukes, against continuing the war against terror to its sources in the terror-sponsoring Islamist states of the Middle East. So far, very few have had the cojones to take such a stand, especially in Congress. (There are some honorable, principled exceptions among traditional pacifists, leftists and hard-core foreign policy ‘realists.’) But soon, even Howell Raines will have to take responsibility for backing a passive policy of leaving America and our allies vulnerable to massive destruction. Far from ducking this vital debate, those of us who believe our national security is at stake should embrace the discussion enthusiastically. And each side should be held accountable for the difficult and unknowable consequences of our respective stands. After all, what is at issue is the possible future murder of thousands of American citizens, nuclear blackmail from a rogue state, or chemical warfare waged in American cities by agents in close contact with the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Saudi axis. It’s hard to think of a graver moment in recent American history. For my part, I’ll leave you with a quote from an unpublished piece of writing by Michael Oakeshott. He wrote it in 1943, and I discovered it in a new doctoral dissertation on Oakeshott’s work:

“No settlement with our enemies will ever be satisfactory unless it arises from a real confidence in our civilization.”

That’s the rub, isn’t it? Do we believe in the fundamentals of Western civilization? Or do we think they can bartered and appeased away?

CAMILLE RETURNS

In her inimitable style, Camille Paglia set about answering your questions but managed to produce 1500 words for the first one. So here’s our second Camille installment. She’s indicated that perhaps later this year, we might send her some questions again. Here’s the question and answer. As to me, I’m still in the hammock, having a wonderful August. See you after Labor Day.

READER QUESTION:

I am interested by what Camille has to say regarding the Palestine-Israel situation. Her past viewpoint in Salon has been that the U.S. has an obligation to support a democratic state like Israel, but yet at the same time she seemed largely sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. The following is an excerpt from her October 21, 2000 article in Salon:

Many Americans, myself included, have wondered for years why our safety and security are compromised by an inflexible foreign policy that has set the entire Muslim world against us. From the 1988 destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, to the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center, the American mainstream media has been in denial, blaming those heinous acts of terrorism on small cadres of madmen funded by outlaw regimes — as if the attacks were unrelated to decisions made in Washington. The U.S. is rightly seen by Arabs as the principal guarantor of Israel’s military might, which Americans have underwritten with billions of tax dollars for which there are pressing domestic needs. The media rarely allow Arab views to be heard unfiltered and unframed, and too often, Arabs are portrayed as irrational or medieval, clamoring cartoon figures of no interest until they begin to adopt Western ways.

I nearly always agree with Camille’s political viewpoints, but this one stumped me.

CAMILLE PAGLIA REPLIES:

Thank you for that excerpt from my Salon column – written ten months before the attacks on the World Trade Center. Quite frankly, reading it now sends a chill through me. I warned again and again in Salon about the dangerous insularity of American culture, which was worsened by the tilt of the Clinton administration toward p.c. domestic issues and away from world affairs. (I speak as a disillusioned Democrat who voted for Bill Clinton twice.)

The abject failure of the major media to pursue the issue of terrorism in the years following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing will live in infamy. I blame the media as well as the superstructure of the Democratic party for the appalling delusionalism of the Monica Lewinsky episode, which began in 1998 and consumed the news for two years.

I have not changed my position, as repeatedly expressed in Salon: first, any politician has the right to a randy private life, but it should not be conducted on government property, especially not in revered public space like the White House. Second, any politician who has disgraced his office and his family should resign as an act of honor.

When the Lewinsky scandal broke, Democrat big wigs should have muscled Clinton out the door and let Al Gore assume the presidency. The nation would have been spared the obsessive distraction of the Lewinsky affair – with its incompetent, foot-dragging, whey-faced wimp of an independent counsel (Ken Starr) and its clumsy, self-infatuated buttinski of a Speaker of the House (Newt Gingrich), who shot the entire Republican party in the ass by putting the sex-suffused Starr Report onto the Internet. That one dumb act guaranteed Clinton’s survival: it repolarized the nation into the tired old drama of prudes versus hipsters.

Had Gore taken power, he would have grown in office and, with his military background, probably paid far more attention to geopolitical tensions. I believe that, had Gore replaced a dethroned Clinton in 1998, this nation might well have avoided the unspeakable horror of last year’s attack on the World Trade Center.

Instead, Gore was left to dwindle down in his unproductive and scandal-ridden vice-presidency until the 2000 campaign, when he went through more silly metamorphoses than a Bloomingdale’s mannequin. The Gore campaign specialized in hurricanes of patronizing demagoguery and flatulence. I began 2000 eagerly waiting to vote for Gore; I ended it by voting in protest for Ralph Nader. (And Nader will get my vote again in 2004 if the Democrats don’t come up with a viable, ethical candidate.)

The Arab-American Nader (his parents were born in Lebanon) brings us back to the main body of your question. I do believe that the Palestinians have been treated atrociously–brushed aside by European superpowers carving up the Ottoman Empire after World War One and again by the United Nations after World War Two. I find specious the common argument that Arab states are to blame for not resettling dispossessed Palestinian refugees after the creation of Israel.

Though Italian Catholicism is my cultural heritage, I am an atheist who passionately identifies with ancient Mediterranean paganism. Since I am not a Christian, I have little interest in the sacred sites of Jerusalem, aside from their archaeology. (I subscribe to Biblical Archaeology magazine, in fact.) That detachment from the religious basis of Judeo-Christianity also means I do not understand the rationale for Zionism. By the same logic, my people, descended from fierce Volscian tribesmen, could lay claim to most of the region between Rome and Naples.

As a student of ancient history, I also know that the Mideast (except when under an imperial thumb) has always been boiling with ethnic and religious rivalries, leading to endless wars and slaughter. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just the latest episode in this saga. I used to feel that the establishment of a Palestinian state would bring some resolution, though it might still take two or three generations for hatreds to subside.

After last year’s attack on the World Trade Center, however, I’m no longer as optimistic. The total destruction (within 90 minutes) of such major symbols of Western economic power has certainly emboldened the most fanatical Muslims around the world to dream that Western culture, like imperial Rome, can indeed be brought down, along with its client state, Israel, whose military is subsidized by American taxpayers.

Over a decade ago, I began arguing for a global core curriculum – an education based on world religions (which I respect and admire as profound symbol systems far more complex than poststructuralism). Mutual understanding, I hoped, would be a basis for world peace. I proposed that Hinduism and Buddhism be taught and that the Koran, as well as the Bible, be made central texts in public schools. (Without the Bible – unrivalled for the quantity and quality of its poetry – students cannot comprehend great Western literature and art from the Middle Ages on.)

Hence I was surprised and alarmed by the reluctance of moderate Muslims to make their presence consistently felt in the period (now almost a year) since 9-11. At first I disdainfully rejected the idea that we are engaged in a global clash of civilizations – Islam versus the West. It seemed impossible and medieval. I saw Arab culture as richly informed by its brilliant past, with its interplay between Bedouin stoicism and Moorish cultivation.

But as a chain of suicide bombers steadily blew up buses and restaurants in Israel over the past year, my sympathy for the Palestinian cause has gradually diminished. War, declared or undeclared, justifies attacks on military targets. But the massacre of civilians – in the World Trade Center or at a Jerusalem market – is barbarism. What kind of state could be formed by people who tolerate and cheer such atrocities? When moderate factions are so feeble, who can b
elieve that a Palestinian state would not be the staging area for missile attacks on Israel?

My reading of history – based on the rise and fall of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Rome, and Byzantium – is that the world has embarked on a long period of uncertainty, a century or more of grotesque contrasts. There will be years, even decades of Western affluence and peace, then scattered outbreaks of violence and chaos, put down by assertions of military and police power, verging on the fascist. Should there be severe climatic shifts affecting food production (a subject I harped on in my Salon column), the world economy would be destabilized, and complex societies would unravel.

The hopes of my 1960s generation for a progressive, ethical politics have been dashed. We’re back to realpolitik–which requires the mind and not the heart. No matter what the flaws and misjudgments of the Israeli government (including its winking enabling of settlements in Palestinian territory), the West has common cause with Israel. World Islam, it has become clear, is a totalizing creed that, whatever its spiritual beauties, invades politics and stifles dissent.

Europeans find it difficult to understand the intricate interconnection of American politics with Israel. Indeed, over the past three decades, there has been an intensification of simmering resentments among working-class African-Americans about what is perceived as Jewish power in media and business. This should have been more directly addressed in the 1980s, when members of the black Nation of Islam were blocked from appearing on American campuses. That decade’s speech codes (banning “offensive” speech) proved foolishly counterproductive in this case, since it allowed anti-Semitic ideas and outright myths to spread unchecked under the national radar screen.

Since 9-11, vastly more open debate about Israel, pro and con, has been permitted in the American mainstream media. Unfortunately, a strident polarization, close to hysteria, has also developed. Support of Israel on the far right sometimes blurs into religious and therefore undemocratic presumptions – the fundamentalist view that the Christian shrines of the Holy Land must be kept out of Muslim hands.

Before 9-11, even faint criticism of the Israeli government could provoke baseless charges of anti-Semitism. But real anti-Semitism has now emerged or rather reemerged as a powerful, irrational force in Europe. Aside from overt terrorist attacks, nothing more dangerous has reared its head since the end of the Cold War. The Arab states, riddled with bureaucratic corruption, have not shown they can control or contain the fanatics in their midst bent on the West’s destruction. If Europeans, along with the pro-Palestinian U.N. establishment, continue to undermine Israel, the next generation, or the one after it, will reap the whirlwind.

Not all Jews endorse the expansionist policies of the current Israeli leadership; on the contrary, Jewish leftists around the world generally support the Palestinians. But the cruel suicide bombings in Israel, along with the revival of European anti-Semitism, have forced distant observers to choose. Because of my own massive lifelong influence by Jewish-American culture – in the arts, media, and entertainment industry as well as law, science, and medicine – I have concluded that, for me, only one moral imperative is possible: to support Israel.

INTO THE HAMMOCK

After almost two years of regular writing with only a few scattered weeks off here and there, I’m going to take the rest of August off the blog. I have a couple of pieces to write and much headspace to clear. But fear not: the Dish will be back with bells on after Labor Day. If disaster strikes, of course, I’ll be back. And I’ll occasionally post bits and pieces as well as my regular columns – and the next installment of the Paglia interview. But as most of you know, there’s now a vast and diverse blogosphere out there to read. So enjoy. And see you in September.

… BUT BEFORE I GO: So far as I can see, there’s nothing much new in Michael Elliott’s Time magazine piece on the Clinton-Bush transition and al Qaeda. After eight years of bungling and negligence, the Clinton administration had finally come up with a batch of proposals to tackle al Qaeda. But it was too late for them to do anything themselves. These proposals were forwarded to Bush officials who incorporated some but ratcheted up others for a plan to “eliminate” al Qaeda, formulated by September 4. The only relevant issue seems to me to be whether the new administration miscalculated the urgency of such a task. I don’t think there’s any doubt they did. On the other hand, the Clintonites had had eightyears to get al Qaeda and had only made the problem worse. So who deserves the most blame – an administration that took eight years to do an insufficient amount or an administration that failed to act urgently enough in its first eight months? I’d say both deserve criticism but the Clintonites deserve the largest part, since they were primarily responsible for letting the problem get so dangerous in the first place. It says something about the brilliance of Sandy Berger’s spin operation that he was able to get this piece presented the way it has been. And a sign of the currently anti-Bush movement in the media that it has gotten such swift attention.

… AND ANOTHER THING: One of the many joys of this website are the emails I get from people telling me stories about their lives, or sharing experiences that I would never otherwise have come across. I can’t publish them all – and most are private. But here’s one that cheered me up. It tackles the issue of the integration of gay and straight people – and how such integration can inform and deepen everyone involved. So before I fade out for an August vacation, here’s an email worth sharing:

Your point recently about the value of gays and straights mixing made me want to write to you about my friends Karen and Jean, a gay couple whose “camp” (as they call lake houses up there) on Clary Lake in Maine is in a family neighborhood. I really enjoyed Karen’s interactions with her neighbors. She watched people’s houses when they were gone and fed their cats. She looked out for the oldest fellow in the neighborhood, helping him with his lawn and fixing things that needed mending around the house. She welcomed the geeky young man, Brian, who didn’t seem to get much respect from his young peers, letting him hang out at their place, go out in the boats, etc, and she took special pleasure that on his birthday one year she taught him to waterski, and when they took a turn past the house, he was standing up on his skis like a pro, impressing all the other kids (and adults) who were watching him. Jean’s beautiful garden is the envy of the neighborhood, and she shares her raspberries with the folks in the neighborhood just as they share their bounty of, say, zucchini. In every way, Karen and Jean were model neighbors, and they were a heck of a lot of fun to be around.

Last summer we were in the lake cooling off, Karen and I chatting with her neighbor Jeneen, a sixty-something straight lady whose “camp” is next door. Karen mentioned to Jeneen that they were going to be in Florida that winter, near when Jeneen and her husband Flash spend the winter, and perhaps they could get together. Then she turned to me and said, “We found a nice resort down there that caters to lesbians!” Without missing a beat, Jeneen piped up, “Why, isn’t that nice!” This vignette really stuck with me. Karen’s sexuality wasn’t an embarrassing secret or something to be glossed over. These neighbors really did accept her for who she was, enough to be happy for her about what truly made her happy.

Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. Karen died this past spring. Every one of her lake neighbors was at the funeral.

CATHOLIC AND ANTI-CATHOLIC: “Wills is so right that there is something simply bizarre about a church committing suicide because there can be no compromise over such a minor, administrative matter as priestly celibacy, while the vast majority of its faithful disagree on nothing substantive in its actual creed. This is a skewing of priorities which is in itself a function of a doctrine of papal authority gone bad. And one of the oddest things about the most ferociously orthodox of today’s Catholics is how close they are to the view of many ignorant non-Catholics: that the church is (in historian Paul Johnson’s words) “a divine autocracy,” that the pope is the infallible dictator, that he cannot err, that unthinking obedience and silence is the correct posture of any believing Catholic, that disagreeing on minor matters is indistinguishable from differing on major issues and so on. This is not merely philistine and anti-intellectual. Properly speaking, as Wills powerfully argues, it is anti-Catholic…” From my new review of Garry Wills’ “Why I Am A Catholic,” posted opposite.

BIASED? WHO US?

From NPR’s home-page this morning, the following reading suggestions:

EDITOR’S PICKS:

Ray Charles
A Web-only extended interview with the music legend.

Reading Up on Islam
Columbia University’s Edward Said recommends books about Islam.

NPR Reviews
Music, book, movie and theater reviews.

THE TIMES VS. THE WAR

When opinion polls show overwhelming support for the war against Iraq, how does the New York Times find a sample in which only one person out of dozens feels that way? The only conceivable answer is that the reporter was simply told to find opponents of war and write his story on those lines. Wouldn’t a story like that need some context about what the polls are telling us? Not in the Times’ universe. And the critical goal of the anti-war left is to sever any connection between September 11 and the war against Iraq. Here’s the Times’ editorial today insisting that this dimension – the most important background for any war against Iraq – be ruled out of discussion:

One argument for war often floated by officials ought to be disposed of quickly. Military action against Iraq may be justified, but not in response to the terrorism of Sept. 11 or Al Qaeda. To date there is no reliable evidence that Baghdad had any serious connection to either. The dangers posed by Iraq have more to do with protecting American interests in the Middle East than with warding off fresh terrorist attacks on American cities.

This is preposterous. The only reason invading Iraq is being discussed at all is because of September 11 and what it taught us. It taught us that we are extremely vulnerable to terrorist assault, that these murderous fanatics are capable of anything, that they would use weapons of mass destruction in a heartbeat if they could get them. It is no secret that Iraq is the prime potential source of such weapons, and it is headed by a despot who has used them himself, and would dearly love to deliver them to America. What more do we need to know? The far-left notion that this is a cynical war for “protecting American interests in the Middle East” is absurd. Such a war might indeed make the Middle East a safer place, but the war is about protecting America and the West, as well as liberating the Iraqi people from one of the most evil tyrants in history. That the Times cannot or will not see this shows that they have learned nothing from the catastrophe of last year. (They’re even running puff-pieces on war-resisters, for Pete’s sake.) In fact, in the Times’ world, that catastrophe must be elided, ignored, bracketed, divorced from anything that now happens. The hard left knows that this event changed the American discourse profoundly and they know that if they are to prevail in the months ahead, they must do all they can to minimize its importance. They must be exposed and stopped. And the administration should not wait too long to counter.

POOR MARXIST: Richard Goldstein uses his latest Village Voice column to argue that he’s being persecuted because he’s been called a Marxist. He cites my alleged “repeated references to [him] as a Marxist and a Communist.” He then claims with no evidence that I have removed such repeated references from my archive. This is untrue. I have made no amendments to the archive of this blog ever. If he cannot find such references to him in my archive, then they aren’t there and never were. But why on earth would Goldstein object to being called a Marxist in the first place? Isn’t that, according to him, a badge of honor? In his little tract, “The Attack Queers,” he includes, for example, the following passage about the alleged emergence of a gay community in the past:

[T]he community that emerged was a deliberate creation, based on the premise that people with a common experience of stigma are a people. This was not a widely held belief in postwar America. It was a Marxist idea, as was the concept that oppression can be overcome only through the creation of an alternative identity … Harry Hay was a member of the Communist Party USA in 1948, when he thought of organizaing homosexuals … Hay began by forming a small organization on the Communist model, complete with semi-secret cells.

Now all this is written supportively. And the Marxist idea of “community” is a central part of Goldstein’s view that dissidents (like me) be exposed and expunged from a community to which we do not really belong. So how on earth is it red-baiting to describe Goldstein as a Marxist? He is. It’s simply a statement of fact. He and others, like Tony Kushner, even respect those Americans who once betrayed their own country to advance the cause of one of the most evil despotisms in world history. (Kushner’s dreadful play, “Angels in America,” was in part devoted to lionizing these fanatics.) The real question is: why is Goldstein ashamed of this? Is he worried that if most gay men and lesbians found out that their political representatives borrow from political traditions that are connected to vile totalitarianism, they might question the premises of those leaders?

MY FEELINGS ENTIRELY

Great Wall Street Journal editorial on a public debate on war against Iraq. Let’s have it. Let’s get Congressional approval. Let’s get the anti-war left out in the open, on record, and accountable.