To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Culture Matters---And Explains Aung San Suu Kyi's 'Buddhism Problem' Too


Last month, the eyes of global media were trained on the International Criminal Court in the Hague where Myanmar (formerly Burma) was in the docket for mass human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims. Over the last few years three-quarters of a million Rohingyas have fled Burma or been pushed across its border into Bangladesh, as festering anti Muslim sentiment among the Buddhist majority exploded into genocidal violence. And these refugees were the lucky ones: Many Rohingya died after being attacked by soldiers and Burmese paramilitary home guards, hacked by machetes in their fields or raped in their huts before torches immolated whole villages. 
Center stage at the defense table was human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi. She was an unlikely, even a preposterous figure. During the country’s long struggle for democracy, Burma’s military had imprisoned her for lengthy stretches. Now, as Burma’s de facto head of state, Suu Kyi was the one holding a brief on the generals’ behalf. Calling the case “incomplete and incorrect,” she minimized the scale of the violence. Although sheconceded that some in the armed forces of the military had responded with disproportionate force, she assured the court that what happened did not rise to the level of war crimes or genocide and that the guilty ones would be prosecuted--- in Myanmar.
According to the BBC’s Nick Beake, “The spectacle of Aung San Suu Kyi, a once-persecuted Nobel peace laureate now defending her country against allegations of genocide over its treatment of the Rohingya minority has been one of bewildering irony.” It was something that she - and the rest of the world “surely never imagined would happen.” As Beake explains: 
In the years after she was released from house arrest in 2010, princes, presidents and prime ministers welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi with open arms into their own opulent homes. 
The feel-good factor of rubbing shoulders with someone who had dedicated much of her adult life to the pursuit of democracy was irresistible. 
Then, the grandeur of the Peace Palace in The Hague - a marble-floored monument to global harmony - would have been comfortable surroundings for Myanmar's Nobel Peace Prize winner. A native habitat, even. 
But not now. There was no red carpet, welcoming committee or brass band. 
Instead the light pouring through the stained glass of the Great Hall of Justice illuminated an often haunted-looking figure who had chosen to come and listen to descriptions of some of the most unimaginably gruesome acts. Acts said to have been committed in her country. On her watch.

There’s a great book of literary nonfiction to be written identifying just what forces have been involved in Suu Kyi’s tragic fall from grace. It would have to be a multi-disciplinary effort that fuses politics, culture, religion and an appreciation for magical thinking---a book that encompasses Burma’s fraught history, toxic demography, chauvinistic brand of Buddhism and supernatural folk culture. 

I imagine something along the lines of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor, a work of transporting “lyrical journalism” which described the fall of Halie Selassie, the Ethiopian god king who was removed from the throne in 1973 in the wake of Ethiopia’s epic famine then strangled to death after a coup d’etat two years later. The book is a study of Selassie’s rather colorful royal court, relying on accounts from official advisors who survived the coup as well as trusted servants whose devotion to Selassie was practically mystical. 

Like The Emperor, a book on Suu Kyi’s falling star would be a meditation on the universal nature of political power---how it is attained, how it is abused and how it is is lost. But also an exploration of the way power plays out in the specific context of Burma, which is one of the most opaque and idiosyncratic in the modern world. Burma has only relatively recently emerged from its long period of xenophobic isolation, which was only surpassed in intensity and duration by North Korea. 

The arc of Suu Kyi’s fortune---and then her misfortune---would start in 1988, when she returned to Burma to nurse her ailing mother and then stayed on to nurture the nascent pro democracy movement. 

During this time the Burmese military put Suu Kyi in prison and under house arrest for nearly 15 years as protesting Burmese student and Buddhist monks were slain in the streets and the international community turned her into a revered political icon. It  bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize on her in 1991 and cheered the publication of her book, Freedom From Fear, which glowed with Gandhian determination and commitment to nonviolence. 

The arc would peak in the years 2010-2015, when she was released from detention, was finally allowed to give her Nobel Prize acceptance speech and her party, the National League of Democracy won the country’s first open and free national elections in 2015. 

The arc would flatten in these same years, however, then begin to descend, rapidly, when it became clear that the elections were a sham and promises that the Burmese military had made to share power and engage in political reform were hollow in the face of the de facto veto Burma’s constitution gave the military on almost everything. This was also when communal tensions with Rohingya Muslims, which have been episodic in Burmese history, resumed, culminating, in mass persecution and the expulsion of nearly three-quarters of a million by current count. 

The timeline puts us to today: with Aung San Suu Kyi, who holds the title of Foreign Minister and State Counselor, having set a record for having been given more prestigious human rights awards than any other international figure in modern history---and then being stripped of them, with the exception of her Nobel Peace Prize which many of her detractors are now saying should be rescinded. 

Did her fall stem from events outside of her control or from miscalculations that took her from behind? Or was it something inherent in her fate, something in her character or in her stars or that of her nation? Knowledgeable sources say that as the daughter of Aung San, regarded as the father of modern Burma, she tends to see her own political destiny as being fused with that of her nation, with her being exceptionally keen on being seen as  “Aung San’s daughter?” How did that affect her decision-making and her response to events as they unfolded in real time in a society, if it could be called that, that was only entering into the most rudimentary phase of democratic development? 

Burma’s Buddhist culture is saturated with magical thinking, with myth and folk belief functioning as a background screen to interpret the ins and outs of daily events and the ups and downs of politics and political actors. History has not been kind; the cultural psyche is a wounded one, as VS Naipaul said of Indira Gandhi’s India---bruised as much by the experience of British colonialism as by the toxic nationalism that this colonial experience still fuels.   

The idea that Buddhism might have a nationalistic, even a militant face seems oxymoronic, especially to westerners smitten with Buddhism’s universalistic veneer and it’s doctrines of nonattachment, acceptance and quietude. But Buddhist nationalism is the moon that controls all tides in Burma. It’s the gravitational force that explains Aung San Suu Kyi’s triumph against the military and her popularity with the Buddhist sangha during the much admired “Saffron Revolution.” 

At the same time it also explains how the military has been able to play the populist card against her, and why leading figures in the Buddhist clergy took up the sword---figurately and literally---against Burma’s Muslims, coming down especially harshly against the historically marginalized Rohingyas in the western Burmese state of Arakan.

Buddhist nationalism in the Theravada school that prevails in Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka, among others in southeast Asia, defines national identity is starkly ethnocentric terms and defines notions of contemporary political legitimacy and obligation in ways that that mirror what they were in classical times. In classical Buddhist political cosmology, non-Buddhists and non-Burmans simply did not have a place. Notions of legitimacy were focused on the obligations that the ruler ---i.e. the Buddhist King---had to Burman subjects, to the Buddhist clergy known as the sangha and to the protection of what is known as the Buddha sasana. This was a concept somewhat akin to the Chinese “Mandate of Heaven” in which the spiritual welfare of the nation and its material well-being were intertwined. Sasana placed heavy emphasis on maintaining security and sovereignty against the depredations of outside aggressors and encouraging harmony between the clergy and the king, as well as the clergy and ordinary Buddhist believers. It was a utopian worldview, more honored in the break than actual practice but still exercises a powerful hold, on the Buddhist moral and political imagination.  

The Burman-Buddhist worldview also hold a deep suspicion of Muslims, dating from centuries before when Islam swept across southeast Asia on the way to dominance in Malaysia and Indonesia. And it frames its colonial experience as one of cultural debasement and economic exploitation. Although most Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations, they are inaccurately though successfully depicted as unwanted demographic spawn left behind by the British after they opened up the border between Burma and Bengal in pursuit of cheap coolie labor and clerks to administer the colonial bureaucracy and infrastructure.

The Burmese military and the clergy, both of whom style themselves as guardians of the national flame, have found it easy to manipulate this historical resentment. As Walter Russel Mead wrote a few years ago in a New York Times Op-Ed:

You don’t have to be a Burma expert to appreciate the critical roles that ethnic nationalism and Buddhist identity politics play in Burmese life, or to understand how those forces shape options available to political activists. 

Burmese nationalists remember when the British, having conquered Burma by force, allowed mass immigration by non-Burmese, mostly from British India. Resentment against this tide, which led, for example, to Burmese natives becoming a poor minority in their own capita was and remains one of the chief unifying elements in Burmese nationalism. 

Mead maintains that the problem with western human rights community is that it failed to see Burma in its own cultural light, engaging in projection to turn the Burmese struggle for democracy into “a human rights fairy tale.”  

Aung San Suu Kyi was the beautiful princess guarded by the evil dragon of a military junta; the Western human rights community was the golden hero who freed the princess so that Burma could live happily ever after, with Rohingyas and Buddhist monks reconciling under the spell of Western liberal ideology. 

Hoping that Aung San Suu Kyi could rule Burma as a kind of proxy for Western human rights groups was “a lunatic idea,” Mead declares. “No political leader in a democratic Burma could afford to fight both the Burmese nationalist tradition and the Buddhist clergy.”

*****

I learned most of what I  know about Buddhism, Buddhist nationalism and Theravada Buddhist political culture as a journalist and scholar in Sri Lanka where I worked as a reporter for the BBC and for Newsweek while researching a book on Sri Lanka long and bloody ethnic conflict. (Only Man Is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka, FSG 1992)  I’d also spent significant time moving through Burma and its borderlands on a magazine assignment during the last Rohingya crisis in 1992 when 300,000 were forced to flee and had been left to languish in Bangladesh’s fetid refugee camps that had been established near the seaside town of Cox’s Bazaar. 
So when anti Rohingya violence first flashed again in 2012, which has led to the near total ejection of all the country’s Rohingya Muslims today, I had the sense that Suu Kyi was definitely going to be walking a tightrope in order for her to maintain political viability and political legitimacy and the good favor of international allies. She seemed to be biting her tongue, refusing to speak out against the violence then—which was at a serious but not nearly genocidal level compared to now. And this reticence would have consequences---very bloody ones.
“Why isn't Burma's democracy icon speaking up for minorities -- and against her country's nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, and occasionally violent Buddhist majority?” 
This was the rhetorical question I posed in a Foreign Policy piece that ran under the headline “Aung San Suu Kyi’s Buddhism Problem.” Democratic progress in Burma will, of course, be a matter of politics, I concluded. “But in Burma’s complicated political calculus, culture matters.” 
In trying to forge an inclusive sense of national identity in a country that has never known one, the politics of Buddhist nationalism will restrict Suu Kyi’s political options as she pursues political reform. And she herself may suspect that the obduracy of the country’s Buddhist culture is not something that encourages democracy or tolerance. For the Burmese "racial psyche," she wrote in a 1985 academic monograph, Buddhism "represents the perfected philosophy. It therefore follows that there [is] no need to either to develop it further or to consider other philosophies." 
I felt a bit Cassandra-like at the time pursuing this line of inquiry, almost embarrassed to be so cynical about a world-historical feminist icon who had successfully and bravely faced down Burma’s abhorrent military tyrants. And the “culture matters” school of thought was then and still is rather unpopular, in academia and in journalism. Progressive-minded intellectuals who flex power in these precincts demonize the “culture matters” school as an avatar of neocolonialist thinking that privileges western culture over the cultures of societies and peoples that western imperialists have wrecked. They say it represents a kind of “blame the victim” thinking that has undesirable domestic echoes in our arguments over multiculturalism, diversity, social justice and racism. 
But journalism at its best is practiced with an awareness that contemporary news events are really reflections of historical processes that are decades, even centuries in the making. And that “culture matters”--- meaning that any nation’s or any political leader’s “struggle for democracy” has to be seen through the lens of its unique cultural realities, values and traditions. While these things might take on a western veneer, as Suu Kyi’s did for so long, they are often not at all western; in fact they are very often scored in an entirely different cultural key. 

Appreciating this might not have made Suu Kyi’s appearance before the ICC any less tragic. But it might have lessened the sense of cognitive dissonance among the disillusioned who were there watching that rather unexpected, though not at all inexplicable scene. 

Here is the Foreign Policy piece.     






Monday, November 11, 2019

Sorrows Of Woke: How The 'Resistance' Might Re-elect Trump


NYT Columnist Timothy Egan on “How the insufferably woke help Trump.” (Bold for emphasis, mine.) 

Among the people I love is a sibling who works at Walmart cleaning toilets at night in a thinly populated part of eastern Oregon. She’s been there more than 25 years and has trouble saving a dime and certainly no path to retirement. She’s likely to vote, again, for President Donald Trump.

No matter how much I point out that Trump is trying to take away her health care protections by litigating to kill Obamacare, that his tariffs have made it harder to pay her bills, that he is the most repulsive and creepy man ever to occupy the White House, she holds firm.

Why? One reason is what she hears from the other side. Many Democrats, she says, are dismissive of her religious beliefs and condescending of her lot in life. She’s turned off by the virtue-signaling know-it-alls.

It’s no mystery why so many Democrats can no longer connect to the white working class. Progressives promise free college, free health care, free child care, and scream in bafflement, What’s wrong with you people?

No doubt, some of those people are racist and xenophobic. But many others simply feel insulted and dismissed. And these are voters who can still be persuaded to save our country from a disastrous second term of a corrupt and unstable president.

Barack Obama, still the smartest politician in the land, knows this; a week ago, he rightfully called out the call-out culture that marginalizes so many people who are ready to vote against Trump.

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” he said, to a round of applause. “You should get over that quickly.” He was talking about an attitude, not necessarily policies — an attitude that dominates the bullying fringe of his own party. Predictably, he was called out for being paternalistic, with a boomer attitude.

If anyone should feel victimized by social media hatred and cancel culture of a different sort it is Obama. More than a third of Republicans tried to delegitimize him, believing in the monstrous falsity that he was born in Kenya.

Joe Biden has picked up Obama’s charge against the puritanical keepers of undiluted progressivism, in self-defense. He wrote this week of a “my way or the highway” approach that is “condescending to the millions of Democrats who have a different view.” He said, “It’s representative of an elitism that working and middle class people do not share: ‘We know best; you know nothing.’”

For the record, I’m agnostic on the Democratic field. I would vote for a tree stump if it could beat Trump. Biden, Obama and Nancy Pelosi, along with recent polling and the election results Tuesday, all show that the best way to rid this country of Trump is for Democrats to dial back the condescension of their natural allies and dig into the gritty concerns of daily life.

Pete Buttigieg, looking to pick up the moderate left vote if Biden falters, has already taken Obama’s lesson to heart. “I’m not about being in the right place ideologically, whatever that means,” he said in Iowa last week. “I’m about having answers that are going to make sense.”

One of the biggest takeaways from the recent New York Times/Siena College survey of battleground states is that Elizabeth Warren is not connecting with the very people her policies are supposed to help. Trump beats her or runs even in every tossup state but one. The persuadable voters in these states, many of them working class, say political correctness has gotten out of control, and they prefer someone seeking common ground over someone with a militantly progressive agenda.

It’s worth remembering that nearly two-thirds of all American adults do not have a four-year college degree. Warren, the Harvard professor who recently suggested that moderate Democrats belong with the other party, could be more effective with these folks if she showed more of her daughter-of-a-janitor side.

You can try to win the election by expanding the pool of progressive voters overall. But the inconvenient fact remains that a relatively small pool of working-class voters in the handful of battleground states are still likely to determine the fate of the country next year.

Democrats flipped 40 House seats in 2018 and attracted more white working-class voters — without insufferable wokedness. They hammered away on health care and kitchen table concerns. The same approach helped Democrats pull off an apparent upset in the Kentucky governor’s race this week.

Next year, Trump will be the greatest motivator and unifier for a majority of Americans poised to throw him out. For his core 40%, there’s no crime or debasement that will change their minds. He can indeed shoot someone, as a focus group participant helpfully clarified this week, and likely get a pass from the Cult of Trump.

But for others, those like my sister, a word to Democrats: Talk to them. Don’t talk over them. Save the piety, the circular firing squad, the shaming on social media for after the election. Otherwise, the woke will wake next Nov. 3 to a tragedy.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

30 Years After The Fall Of The Berlin Wall, A Tribute To A Clandestine Service Canine


"Boopy Goes To Berlin: A Cold War Memoir," from Slate

Like many journalists, diplomats, and spies who lived and traveled in the old Eastern Bloc, I still have warm feelings for the Cold War.

In my case, though, the sentiment precedes the time I spent overseas. In fact it dates back 50 years or so to when the Berlin Wall first went up, when I was 5 years old going on 6. This was when Boopy, our family dog, suddenly disappeared from our suburban Westchester County home.
As my raconteur father explained it, the bit about Boopy being the family dog was just a cover story—a way to establish what covert operatives call “legend.” Like many Cold Warriors in the epic struggle against communism, Boopy had a secret mission. His days with us may have been few, but the tale my father told to explain Boopy’s abrupt departure gave him an everlasting, mythic sheen that even Rin Tin Tin might envy. Now, with memories of the Iron Curtain fading fast, the tale stands as a reminder that not everything associated with a “missing” pet has to be grim—and that sometimes a “true lie” might be the best way to cope with a hard truth.  
At the time, my father was a detective lieutenant in the NYPD leading a special anti-gambling task force. Boopy was arrested in a raid on a numbers-running operation in Harlem. Rather than put him behind bars, my father brought him home. Why my father thought it was a good idea to bring a dog with Boopy’s CV into a house full of small kids is beyond me now. Back then, apparently, pit bulls that had been providing security for bookies didn’t have the kind of reputation they have today. But my father was able to convince my mother that the dog would provide companionship and protection to my younger siblings and me.    
True to his breed, however, Boopy turned out to be “a lunger.” After knocking us over on more than one occasion and sending us scurrying under the kitchen table to avoid being nipped, Boopy was starting to wear thin the welcome we had extended to him. And then one day—I don’t remember how long after he first arrived, but it couldn’t have been more than a few weeks—Boopy simply vanished. 
 Given the way he’d roughed us up, Boopy’s disappearance wasn’t entirely upsetting. Pretty soon, though, we wanted to know where he was. That’s when my father got to work, highball in hand, placing Boopy right in the middle of events unfolding on the evening news. And like the evening news itself, the true story of Boopy came out in installments, a new chapter delivered every night until the dramatic tale was told in full and our eyes beamed with pride. 
After my father finished briefing us on what had become of Boopy, he swore us to secrecy, making us put our hands over our hearts and make the sign of the cross for good measure. This was fine for the younger ones. But I had just started kindergarten, and I desperately needed some material for show and tell. All the other kids were bringing in neat stuff that their parents had let them take from home or telling stories about cool family vacations. (One classmate had even been to the Catskills!) Sitting there on a tiny kindergartener’s stool among my more luminous classmates with nothing to either show or tell, I was beginning to develop a complex.
And so after determining that my classmates and teacher didn’t pose any risks to national security, I got up one afternoon and told everyone about Boopy, repeating exactly what my father had told us:
Boopy had been drafted into the Army to fight in the Cold War, on orders from JFK himself. (“And he’s the president,” I added for my classmates who may have missed that memo.)
After basic training, he’d been posted to Berlin, where he’d been assigned to a clandestine wing of the Canine Commando Corps.
* His mission was to dig tunnels under the Berlin Wall and drag people to freedom.
* According to all reports, he was doing a fantastic job.
* So fantastic in fact that Kennedy gave him a medal for it—and then gave him a second medal after Boopy went up to Nikita Khrushchev at the award ceremony and peed right on his leg!  

With my sense of geopolitics being a bit underdeveloped at the time, the idea of the Soviet premier being at an American military decorations ceremony didn’t seem odd. It didn’t seem odd to my kindergarten classmates either. After I told them the story, we marched around the classroom (well, at least the boys), waving a flag, hailing Boopy and his critical role in our impending triumph over the Red Menace. Soon, we wouldn’t have to cower anymore in the basement bomb shelter waiting for the “The Big One,” as the older guys called it as they smacked their fists into their palms.
My teacher Mrs. Fath, however, did shoot me a somewhat dubious look. Sensing she might be less than convinced, I told her that my story about Boopy had to be true because my father had told me the story and he’d been in the Navy in World War II and he was a police officer now andhe can’t lie because he could lose his job if he did. She let it go.
After a while, news from the front about Boopy faded, as did my curiosity about his fate. A year or so after Boopy had deployed, however, his memory was revived when President Kennedy went to Berlin. Sitting in front of the black-and-white television as Kennedy gave his famous speech, I listened intently for some indication Boopy was still alive but wound up disappointed.
Relaxing in his armchair, my father told me not to worry. Kennedy was speaking in a secret code that only he and Boopy could decipher. When the president said “Ich bin ein Berliner,” what he was really saying was “Keep up the good work there, pooch.” Then my father raised a glass in Boopy’s honor. Meanwhile, the evening news cut to footage of German shepherds patrolling the barbed-wire no man’s land near the Berlin Wall. They looked ferocious, capable of ripping apart anyone trying to escape. But I knew that Boopy could run rings around them. Dig tunnels underneath them, too.





Wednesday, September 11, 2019

In Memoriam, NYC 9/11



Gone now is the day and gone the sun 
There is peace tonight all over Arlington 
But the songs of my life will still be sung 
By the light of the moon you hung 

I meant to ask you how to plow that field 
I meant to bring you water from the well 
And be the one beside you when you fell 
Could you tell 

Bang the drum slowly play the pipe lowly 
To dust be returning from dust we begin 
Bang the drum slowly I'll speak of things holy 
Above and below me world without end

Emmylou Harris, “Bang The Drum Slowly”



Thursday, June 27, 2019

Notes On Twee: Yarn Police Unravel Over Trump Supporters Inside Their Circle


More news about the nation’s fraying political, social and cultural fabric came the other day from the Washington Post. According to the Post,  Ravelry, an 8-million-strong social network known as the “Facebook of knitting,” has banned all support for Trump and his administration. “We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy,” Ravelry declared. “Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.” 

According to the Postthe ban cuts across all aspects of the site, including “forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles” and anything else. 

The site did not explain which Trump policies it believes signify white supremacist ideology, taking pains to note that “We are definitely not banning conservative politics.” But it added that  “Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions,” and warned users not to goad others into voicing support for Trump. 

The Post noted that “Some longtime Ravelry users welcomed the move, saying the toxicity of online political discourse has plagued their quiet hobbyist refuge, though others expressed concern over the policy.” One self-proclaimed knitter tweeted that “Politicizing ravelry leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Ravelry said its policy was largely inspired by RPG.net, a hub for role-playing game enthusiasts, which banned public support of Trump in October. In announcing its ban, RPG.netsaid that Trump’s “public comments, policies, and the makeup of his administration are so wholly incompatible with our values that formal political neutrality is not tenable.”  



Wednesday, June 26, 2019

BEFORE STONEWALL: How A Forgotten Case Of Homosexual Blackmail Changed the Course of Gay Civil Rights

A "john" lights a cigarette for a young male prostitute in front of the Astor Pharmacy in Times Square, August, 1965 

From Slate, here's a link to an exhaustively reported account which I published in 2012 about America's largest case of gay extortion, illustrated with rare and gritty Midnight Cowboy photographs. Hollywood (Lawrence Gordon Productions) sees a noir period thriller somewhere between that classic and L.A. Confidential, depicting a hinge moment in the history of gay civil rights analogous to the turning point in the struggle for racial equality that was dramatized so powerfully in Mississippi Burning.  

The case, known in law enforcement circles as "The Chickens and the Bulls," dates from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and involved a nationwide ring of blackmailers who posed as corrupt Vice Squad detectives and targeted closeted pillars-of-the-establishment: admirals, generals, congressmen, society doctors, Ivy League professors and high-profile film and television entertainers.  The ring operated for ten years in New York, Chicago, Washington and LA. As ruthless as it was brazen, the ring made millions and brought misery to scores of victims and their families before being broken up in a joint investigation by the FBI and the Special Rackets Squad of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office which was led at the time by the legendary Frank Hogan—aka “Mr Integrity.”

The press conference that Hogan held in early March, 1966 to announce the ring’s breakup inspired this front page headline in the New York Times the next day, the wording of which is rather shocking by today's more diversity-sensitive standards:



The case is significant because it represents the first time that the American law enforcement apparatus cranked up on behalf of gay men who were routinely victimized by extortion schemes like the one described in “The Chickens and the Bulls.” Most of the victims in this scheme, as in other schemes like it, would have been married, or if not married, certainly not "out." In those unenlightened days those who did not pay up and were exposed could reliably count on losing their families, as well as their jobs, businesses or careers. Some victims were beaten to death by thugs whose intimidation tactics went too far. At least one victim, a US Navy admiral who'd been a decorated WWII hero, committed suicide. 
   
Aside from its historical importance, the story was compelling---and attractive to the movies--- for many reasons, among them the fascinating character “arc” of the one of the ringleaders---a Jimmy Cagney-like tough from Manhattan’s lower west side named Edward “Mother” Murphy.” After tormenting gay men as an extortionist, Murphy, who was himself gay and was said to be at the Stonewall Inn the night of the infamous uprising in 1969, transformed himself into one of the gay community’s most ardent champions. In fact, his work on behalf of early AIDS victims led to him being named the posthumous Grand Marshal of the Gay Pride Parade in 1984, the gay community apparently unconcerned by, or ignorant of, Murphy's rather risque criminal past. 

Below is a picture that gay activist and archivist Randy Wicker took of Murphy, “The Original Stonewaller,” riding with some of his entourage during a previous year's parade. Wicker told me he mounted a one-man campaign to derail Murphy's posthumous Grand Marshall-ship, but the gay community's memory was short and its ranks were swelling fast. "It was like that Stephen Sondheim song," Wicker told me. "Another hundred people just got off of the train." 




Sunday, June 23, 2019

Too 'Woke' To Work: Jussie Smollett's Many Defenders & Enablers In The Media


Despite Getting His Story Wrong, There's Been No Shame Or Contrition Among the Press.

From the American Conservative:
In March, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) announced that it had put CNN on a “special media monitoring list” over concerns about a lack of diversity and the network’s president’s refusal to even discuss the lack of black executives at the liberal news organization.
CNN doesn’t have a single black executive producer, or vice president on its news side, the NABJ charged. The black journalist organization also alleged that CNN’s president Jeff Zucker refused a scheduled meeting to discuss the problem with a four-member NABJ delegation. 
As a result, the NABJ threatened that it would assign a special team of its members to “perform further research and an analysis of CNN’s diversity, inclusion and equity practices,” particularly as they pertain to CNN’s news decision-making capacities. The group also called for a “civil rights audit” which would examine the company’s hiring, promotion and compensation practices involving black employees. Such audits are usually performed by Justice Department officials on local and state government entities in anticipation of federal consent decrees. The NABJ was claiming CNN might have more in common than it would like to admit with racially troubled police departments and underperforming school districts being monitored by the federal government.
CNN declared that it would be more than happy to sit with NABJ, but the meeting could not include the organization’s vice president, Roland Martin. During the 2016 Democratic primaries, Martin was accused of slipping questions verbatim to Hillary Clinton’s campaign before a town hall debate with Bernie Sanders. He did it in coordination with then DNC chairwoman and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, who was fired from the network for the violation. According to CNN, “Mr. Martin displayed an unprecedented and egregious lack of journalistic ethics and integrity by leaking questions prior to the town hall,” which had inflicted “significant and reckless damage” to the network.” 
The NABJ-CNN contretemps highlighted lingering raw feelings and bad memories from 2016. But it is no sign that the media will be any less “woke” in its coverage of the next presidential campaign, as President Donald Trump seeks reelection. Their coverage of Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s hate crime hoax, for example, says otherwise.

Even though he had a direct pipeline to Smollett beginning the very night of the alleged attack, CNN’s Don Lemon was hardly in a rush to ask tough questions. Lemon spoke to Smollett on the phone belonging to a mutual friend at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where the Empire star was being treated. Lemon said that a shaken and angry but resilient Smollett described the attack, telling the anchor that “during times of trauma, grief and pain there is still a responsibility to lead with love.” It was all he knew, Lemon said Smollett declared, “And that can’t get kicked out of me.” 

(Read more….)