Take Me to Church (Part I)

When the local radio station started playing Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” last year, I would hear it in the car, and I liked it. It seemed like a pretty simple song about the conflict between the spiritual experience of sex with someone you love and the rules against premarital sex by the singer’s religion. At some point around then I looked him up and saw an interview in which he described the meaning of the song as it pertained to conflict between religion and sexuality, and specifically related it to being gay and in the Catholic church. He seemed really genuine, and I liked both the song and the artist even more, even if I did think it was a little weird for a man to be singing about a “she” lover if he meant it be about being gay in the church. Then I watched the video — basically a short film about gay male lovers and what happens to them when they’re discovered in their religious town — and I saw how despite the lyrics sounding hetero, they could be applied to the gay couple depicted in the video.

The video is hard to watch because this kind of hateful violence isn’t a relic of a past — gay-bashing is still a real thing, despite the recent Supreme Court decision in the U.S. to uphold marriage as a right rather than a sexuality-based privilege — and for anyone who’s studied American history, the visual similarities to lynch mobs in the south will be stomach-turning, especially with all the racial violence going on in our country today. Still, it’s a powerful four minutes, and worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

Then came the Grammy Awards this year, where he performed the song live and was joined at the end by Annie Lennox (who many said gave a better bluesy rendition, but I like them both). Unfortunately the official Grammy video seems to have been removed but I found a copy. Annie Lennox comes in just after the 2 minute mark, cued up here (and then goes into “I Put a Spell on You”):

When they were singing it, even though though it was past the part of the song where “she” and “her” are in the lyrics, it made me think about how it would sound for a woman to sing this song about another woman (or a man, using he/him instead of she/her).

And then I saw a live cover of the song by Demi Lovato. I couldn’t name you a single one of her songs, but wow. Not only does she sing it beautifully (though I think I like Hozier’s version better overall), it makes so much more sense to interpret as being about gay relationships vs religion when the song about a woman lover is sung by a woman!

You might be wondering why I’ve just posted three “Take Me to Church” videos. Yes, I like the song, but also, church is on my mind, and I’ll tell you why in the Part II post. Stay tuned.

Since 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was living in Vermont without a tv, and was splitting my morning between working on a website I was building as a freelancer and working on a shooting schedule for an independent film I was getting ready to produce. I got a call from Melissa, a costume designer that I had become friends with and who was working on the film planning with me, and she told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I was pretty sure she’d gotten it wrong — she had a tendency toward confusion — but a google search later I was heading to her house to watch.

19 hijackers killed 2,977 people. That number includes 343 fire fighters and 72 law enforcement officers.

We (and at this point it becomes a very loose “we” as I did not support the decision or wave a flag at the vigil in the square) went to war again on the other side of the world (where honestly we’d been hovering around without license for some time), and vowed to kill Osama bin Laden, the Taliban leader we targeted as masterminding the attacks (he didn’t actually take credit for it until 2004). He was finally killed in 2011. I won’t get into all the other things that happened in the U.S. as a result of the attacks, like George Bush’s approval rating soaring to 90% and the declaration that the presidential ballot recount had to be abandoned, because in such a time of national trial, we couldn’t possibly handle a change in leadership, or like the Homeland Security Act that started the sneaky process of stripping us of freedoms.

By October we’d begun the (American) War in Afghanistan, with some troops working under the auspices of NATO and others acting under U.S. guidance only. We still have troops there, and 2,229 US military were killed in the conflict, with another 18,675 wounded. Numbers vary on how many Afghan civilians have been killed, with various non-profits putting the number anywhere from 21,000 to 107,000, with a significant portion killed by insurgents rather than invading military. Even assuming a 75% rate for kills by insurgents, that still puts us at anywhere from 5,250 – 42,500 Afghan civilians killed by invading forces.

Then we moved on to Iraq. I think most of us remember the rousing headlines as Bush declared it was necessary because they had Weapons of Mass Destruction including biological agents that fed our science fiction fears. And then the report saying that well, maybe not, and that they knew better, but the war was still righteous, right? I can’t even start listing the numbers of dead without getting stomach cramps. And it all stems back to that one morning, when 2,229 people were killed by a terrorist group — not a nation or a government, but a specific group of radicals.

This year alone, U.S. police have killed more than 800 people (not counting people killed after they’re in custody). In previous years, hundreds more (each year). We don’t have to go back more than  couple of years to see that U.S. police have killed more American citizens than the 9/11 attacks. But where is the war on the police status quo? Why is our government not responding to this clear sign of abuse of power, poor training, and racism (as an overwhelming number of the people being killed are African-American)? Why isn’t Obama getting up at his podium and instead of saying sad things about how awful this is and how it has to change, saying something like, “Y’all are DONE. Effective immediately, Homeland Security is amending its mission to focus on defending the rights and lives of citizens from unlawful acts including search and seizure, unlawful detainment, improper arrest, being beaten by police, and oh yeah — getting killed by the motherfucking cops. Until this change can be fully implemented and all police forces undergo a national review, specially trained National Guard members will be supplementing police forces and will have full authority to fire and arrest any officers or related officials such as medical examiners, sheriffs, DAs, etc. who’ve been abusing the trust and power granted them by the U.S. people. That goes for corrupt cops, too, y’all. Okay, now I have to go back to trying to figure out this Iran deal. Behave!” (In this little fantasy sequence, Obama says “y’all” a lot and admonishes everyone to behave, like a mother leaving her kids alone when she goes into the kitchen to make dinner.)

I don’t think that’s going to happen, though.

In the meantime, check out Campaign Zero. Follow some people on Twitter who are keeping up with this stuff and making it easy for you to be informed (and horrified) on a daily basis. When you hear someone responding to #BlackLivesMatter with racist rhetoric or an announcement that #AllLivesMatter, set those people straight about what is going on in our country, and let them know that although they are positive they aren’t racist because they have a black friend/girlfriend/spouse/etc, they’re wrong. Explain about privilege. Use yours to try and balance the scales where you see injustice, whether it’s race-related or not.

And yes, take a moment today to remember the people who died in the 9/11 attacks, and the soldiers who died fighting in the wars (they’re not the ones who decided we should go, after all). But take another moment to think about all the people we have killed in those wars since then (take a few moments, since the number is so much higher). And think about the people killed by the police right here at home, and their families, and the lost possibilities. Maybe today can just be a sad day, once you start adding up all those moments.

But tomorrow? Please start paying more attention (if you already do, great!), and speaking up, and doing what you can to effect change in your own way. When we don’t speak up when we see bad things happen or people saying something racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/all-the-bad-isms, it implies we approve, and encourages the continuation of that behavior. It’s uncomfortable to bring up, for both the person pointing it out and the person on the receiving end (I’ve been in both positions), but it makes things better in the long run.

Of course with climate change it may all be irrelevant, but we might as well give it a shot just in case we live, right? :)

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman

I really enjoyed Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work. I think my 3 favorites of his roles were Joseph Turner White in State and Main (understated and earnest), Sean in Next Stop Wonderland (small role, but hysterical), and Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (so great).

Since his death this weekend from an apparent overdose of heroin, he’s being hailed as the greatest/most well-respected actor of his generation, which is my generation. I’d agree with that.

The tragedy of a death too soon is something that many people more eloquent than me have written about, but there’s something that is starting to piss me off. They’re reporting that police found 50 bags of heroin at Hoffman’s home, and both the authors of news articles and comments on these articles are saying Hoffman was anywhere from a dealer to planning his suicide to stocking up for the heroin apocalypse.

For a heroin addict, 8-10 bags per day is pretty normal. When I worked at the drug clinic at UVM doing buprenorphine trials, someone with a usage of less than this wasn’t even eligible for the study. We had a lot of people even doing 12-15. So we’re talking about less than a week’s supply. Not a plan for suicide or distribution or a heroin apocalypse. Just an addict, but one with enough money to purchase a few days at a time instead of having to resort to theft or prostitution every day to make the buy. So if you hear/see someone defaming Hoffman based on the 50 bags report, set them straight.

Thanks for all the great movies, Philip Seymour Hoffman! You were great!

RIP Dave Brubeck

  • In junior high band, we played Linus and Lucy.
  • My high school band teacher was a jazz clarinetist, and he liked Dave Brubeck.
  • As a teenager I bought the CD of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.
  • My friends (from ADK Loj) and I bought tickets to see him play at St. Bernard’s Church in Saranac Lake in 1989. We were so excited. It turned out that most of the program was some high school choral group, and the appearance was a favor. Dave Brubeck accompanied the student singers to some of the worst warbling of church music ever before he played some of his own stuff. Still.
  • Jazzfest at SPAC.



Socially Responsible Business and Better World Books

A lot of people who know me through WordPress don’t realize that I used to be a hippie activist who worked for non-profits and wanted to save the world. Socially responsible business is something I care a lot of about, stemming from when I took my first web job (and first real non-non-profit job) in 1998, which was at a socially responsible business that sold renewable energy. Using business to be an agent for good and for change, while a bit anathema to that younger hippie self who thought capitalism was gross, is one of the most important things to encourage if we want to see real change; non-profits can only do so much (says the girl who worked for a bunch of them). Anyway, older and less likely to see things in black and white, I was really psyched to see this announcement about a new Maryland law for socially responsible business on the Better World Books blog.

Previously, there had not been a legal framework specifically designed for social enterprise – you either had to be a for-profit company, legally beholden to maximizing shareholder value, or a non-profit organization. Now there is a legal framework for companies that do well by doing good and who strive to generate both social and shareholder returns.

via Maryland Passes Benefit Corporation Legislation | Better World Books.

I hope that other states and ultimately the federal government will enact legislation that recognizes this business segment and provides incentives for businesses to be socially responsible. All my bleeding-heartism aside, if businesses start pumping more money into charities and social efforts, that’s less that the government might spend.

If you haven’t heard of Better World Books, allow me to introduce you. I love them. Love them love them love them. Sadly, I am often more inclined to use Amazon just because of prime shipping, electronics, etc., but this past week when I needed to get two books for a class, I headed over to BWB to nab them. It’s an online new and used books store. It works similar to Powell’s (which I also love, but for different reasons), where you can send them books to buy from you etc, but Better World Books, operating as a socially-oriented business, funnels money toward literacy efforts around the world. They’ve raised over 8 million bucks so far.

Those used books stay out of landfills. The shipping materials are minimal, with vacuum packing rather than packing materials. Their site offers book reviews, interview podcasts, information on starting your own book drive, book club materials and more. They have a special program for library discards (seeing a library discard the books they couldn’t get rid of in a sidewalk sale is gut-wrenching to me), where they sell the books and then share the profits with both the usual literacy programs and the library itself.

Honestly, if you are a book-buyer, I couldn’t recommend any online retailer more. Plus, their blog is on WordPress. :)

Truth in Advertising?

Even Jessica Alba, named sexiest woman in the world more than once, isn't immune to retouching.

Even Jessica Alba, named sexiest woman in the world more than once, isn't immune to retouching.

I, like many women, find the airbrushing of the female form in popular media to be, well, basically an evil plot by the patriarchal multinational media conglomerates to subjugate women into a reduced psychosocial status that requires them to buy into meaningless consumer-driven lifestyles of diet products, spanx, makeup and anti-cellulite creams in an attempt to match the media portrayals of women’s bodies, which are rarely realistic.

(Cough, sorry, flashback to my younger, more strident years.)

Still, it’s actually true. And it pisses me off even more when the original photo shows a genuinely well-proportioned (or even skinny) woman (see above). So I was blown away when I saw that a law is being proposed in France to require labeling of retouched body images.

The required warning would be needed in newspaper and magazine advertising, press photos, product packaging, political campaigns and art photography, according to the Telegraph. The language will reportedly be: “Retouched photograph aimed at changing a person’s physical appearance.”

via Photoshopping Illegal? France Set to Regulate Airbrushed Pics.

It seems unlikely to pass in France, and unlikely to ever be brought up in the U.S., but I think this would be great. In the same vein I also would like to see similar disclaimers on teen movies and TV shows: “The actors portraying 15-year-olds are in fact 28 years of age. You should not look, act, or dress like this is you are really 15;” and historical films/fiction: “Things didn’t really happen this way, but we don’t really care if you know the difference between fact and fiction, because if we say it’s based on true events, we get more cash.”

National health care, now this? If only I’d stayed in French class in college. Sadly, I didn’t get much past, “je suis un barreur.” (Ironically, I dropped the class because it conflicted with crew practice.)

NYC, Tenements and the Environment

My apartment in the east village is in a tenement building. It’s on the top floor (5th, walkup), and I’ve been an environmentalist since my teens, so I’ve often felt intense guilt about my place. The way the radiators work, heating the empty hallways to broiling but leaving lower floor apartments in the cold due to their old windows and the construction that lets all the heat rise to the 5th floor, means my apartment is generally in the high 70s in the winter, even with both of my radiators turned all the way off.

In contrast, for hot water to make it all the way up to me, the water has to run for a few minutes. Not a few seconds, like Adama testing the shower’s temperature during A Disquiet Follows My Soul (one of the best images of the whole series IMO in terms of making him seem like a regular person), but solidly running water for anywhere from 2-15 minutes. To get around the water guilt in this situation, I suggest taking showers at the gym, and saving the water at home for baths.

Every time I ran cold water for a shower, turned on a fan in December, or started sweating when I walked into the building hallway, I wished New York City would pass legislation that would encourage property owners to upgrade their heating and hot water systems, including things like insulation, windows, etc. I was hazy on how this could be accomplished, in our private-property-is-an-inalienable-right kind of society, but visions of tax breaks and subsidies danced in my head like a child’s Christmas sugarplum dreams. (I had no need to dream of sugarplums, since Veniero’s is right on the corner.)

I was pleased, then, to read that New York is finally maybe hopefully almost going to start taking this seriously.

“Elected leaders in New York City will propose a suite of laws and other initiatives on Wednesday aimed at reducing energy consumption and related emissions of greenhouse gases by requiring owners of thousands of older buildings to upgrade everything from boilers to light bulbs.”

While this particular attempt may not make it, it’s a step toward the city taking more responsibility for its environmental impact, which I appreciate. Read the full article here: City Plans to Make Older Buildings Refit to Save Energy – NYTimes.com.

*This post created with Press This.

Official Google Blog: Bringing history online, one newspaper at a time

This is awesome. Last year when I went back to school and took some advanced history classes, I found the process of accessing historical newspapers to be painful in the extreme. Holding libraries have to be careful of old newsprint, so if the paper is in a California library and you’e in NY, it used to mean having to go to California to see the article. Also, chances are you won’t be allowed to photograph, photocopy or scan such papers due to their fragility. Microfilm is available in more places, and the NYPL had a good collection, but microfilm is such a pain in the ass… nothing is indexed, and if you are looking for something specific, you find yourself wishing Google managed the microfilm so you could type in a few keywords and go straight to the relevant rolls of film. This is even better.

Having a text based index will make the search for contemporary news content sooo much nicer. I do wonder if Google will create a text index for images and advertisements as well… they make it clear that newspapers will be displayed as they were originally printed with these elements, but as someone who spent 6 months looking for bathing suit advertisements in newspapers from the 1920s, and political cartoons about the Oneida Community in the 1800s, I can attest to how impossible it is to track these kinds of things down. A text index of such images would be invaluable to historians, and to students.

Even without an image index, this is a huge accomplishment. Thanks, Google!

Official Google Blog: Bringing history online, one newspaper at a time.