49 posts categorized "Assorted Faggotry"

Foodzilla II. Frytening.

LONGREAD
Where is he gay today? Osaka Soemoncho, Sannomiya and Kobe Harbour. 

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The story so far: Dazzled by the dining options of the Dotonbori, Osaka's restaurant district, my husband and I set out to find a doofus food joint.

Don't you hate Westerners who won't shut up about Japanese food? It's so light! It 's so natural!  It's so pure so special so cleansing so spiritual so harmony with nature so blah blah blah blah wank wank wank! 

Here's what you should do with these people. Get them to shut their eyes, dip a piece of avocado in wasabi and soy, and tell them it's high grade tuna.  They won't know the difference. 

Truth is, not even the Japanese can live on raw fish and vinegary rice at every meal.  

First of all, it's expensive.  There's an old Japanese saying: I used to be rich, but I ate sushi.  And we're in Osaka, which is cheapskate central. Here's an old Kansai saying: I'd rather lose a finger than a yen.

Furthermore, Japanese people like to drink. 

Unless you're quaffing champagne with caviar, raw fish is extremely poor drinking food. Insubstantial, unabsorbent of alcohol, and frankly, a little bland.

That may be OK among the social and corporate elites of Tokyo.  But Kansajin have zero patience for bullshit.  Ain't got no time for twelve courses of exquisitely arranged kaiseki.  Your average Osakan would be gnawing off his limbs before dessert.  

If a Kansaijin starts gnawing off his limbs, that shows his stomach is empty.  Japanese people hate drinking on an empty stomach, because—how can I put this nicely?—the ability to hold one's liquor is not exactly a national trait. 

Daikichi. Total alcoeats. 

My husband is a Kansai lad, so he knows this district very well indeed.  "Follow me," he said with a glimmer of nostalgia in his eye. "I'll take you to a place where Oscar and I would eat after drinking on the gay scene."

This remark predicted a night of heavy turpentine.  Oscar is my husband's gay BFF; a brilliant Kansai native, who reads his namesake Wilde in the original English, and speaks it with a perfect—and perfectly gay—Oxbridge accent.  My fondest recollection of Oscar is his taste for gin and tonic, and his sneer if you pour too much of the latter. 

If this restaurant has the Oscar Seal of Approval, it will serve drinking food. Decision Accomplished. 

Thus did we find ourselves at the venerable Daikichi, or 大吉.  The kanji translate as great run of luck or on a roll.  (We didn't find fugu on the menu, so a run of good luck isn't critical.)

A thirty-seat izakaya, Daikichi cultivates a reputation as an insider secret. The celebrity autographs reminded me of a hole-in-the-wall trattoria in Naples or Brooklyn, whose owner is proud of the luminaries who sought out his special skills. Like its Italian counterparts, I suspect that Daikichi has let the odd mafioso park his legs under a table.  Tattoos, such as those in the picture of actor Ken Takakura, are widely believed to be a sign of a yakuza.  

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In Japanese, the kanji for izakaya (居酒屋) literally mean a liquor store you can stay and drink at.  So dishes tend toward bar food, small and sharable, like tapas.  Management has plastered its menu on the wall, revealing prices between 90¢ and $3.50 (USD)

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Daikichi provides an English menu for its foreign guests. Though the word English  may be a tad generous. 

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A whelk is a species of sea snail. You're whelcome.
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I wasn't game to try the fried hormone.  
It sounded too much like a description of me in college. 

My husband needed neither menu nor wall; he ordered from memory. His youthful evenings always kicked off with octopus, and a fine choice it is.

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Pitch a tentacle

More fast food followed, keeping us content while our main meal was prepared.  The tofu soup and grilled sardines made a small gesture to healthy dining.  We quickly undid these health benefits with two rounds of Asahi Super Dry.  

(An aside: when I lived in Japan, I always wanted to get into English language voice-overs.  Many commercials end with an English tag-line, and I imagined it to be a pretty good racket.  Most famous was the abundantly-advertised Asahi Super Dry beer, whose royalty-rich TV spots concluded with its name delivered in a perfect be-afraid-be-very-afraid blockbuster American movie voice, which I can do in a dawdle.  Alas, the only gig I could score was Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat.)

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While we drank and nibbled, the TV on the wall caught our eye.  An Osaka talk show.

In Japan, the words "Osaka" and "Talk Show" add up to an oxymoron.  Osaka has talk-everything.   Nobody ever shuts up.  (The stereotype of shy Japanese folk comes from Tokyo, where government bureaucrats and corporate cogs waste oxygen in silent, organisation-man presenteeism.) 

The Osaka dialect reminds an Anglophone listener of outer-borough New Yorkese; fast, impatient, and the natural language of comedy.  There's no better example of this than Sanma Akashiya—Sanma for short.  A titan of mirth, he's been clocked as Japan's fastest speaker.  (Click this link to hear how fast he talks while interviewing hapless heartthrob Takuya Kimura, a Tokyo native and ex-member of Japan's most popular boy-band of the early twenty-first century, SMAP.  The limp-personalitied Kimura stands no chance against smart-aleck Sanma. Even Beyonce totally pwned Kimura.)  

But that night on Osaka TV, Sanma encountered someone who could give it as well as take it.  Hailing from Chiba (Tokyo's New Jersey) the sumo-sized cross-dresser Matsuko Deluxe furnishes bitchy wisecracks to talk shows across the nation.  She started her career as a writer for Japan's pioneering gay magazine, Buddy, before hitting the big time. 

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Just in case you were unsure, Sanma is the one on the right.

Choosing the politically-correct English pronoun for Deluxe is no easy matter, since Japanese pronouns have no gender.  Her drag-name, Matsuko, is clearly female.  Ko means small, and as a suffix, it might be translated as -ette.

To assign the right pronoun, we must listen to her speech patterns.  Deluxe uses the grammatically proper watashi to refer to herself, equivalent to the English I or me.  When speaking casually, most women will continue to use watashi or atashi, whereas men will adopt manly slang like boku or ore.  It causes many a snicker when men who have learned Japanese as a second language continue to use watashi, no matter what the context.  Lookin' at you, millennial American gamers. 

This show combined two Osaka obsessions, talk and food.  A rather large panel of talkative celebs watched evergreen A-lister tarento Nozomi Tsuji prepare a meal, to crack wise at her attempts.   Displaying no gender ambiguity whatsoever, we caught the former starlet preparing a seaweed garnish for miso soup. 

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Sanma and Deluxe traded gags, while a noted doctor (also on the panel) touted the digestive virtues of having miso soup with your rice.  We listened closely.  We could use a few urgent health tips, since main course was on its way. 

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Many westerners look at Japanese people, and clock very few fatsos—sumo wrestlers and Matsuko Deluxe notwithstanding.   World Health Organisation data published in 2017 ranks Japan 185th out of 191 countries in obesity, with a mere 4% of citizens officially classed as tubby.  The average Japanese body Mass Index lobs in at a svelte 23.  Thus, many conclude that a Japanese diet keeps one trim, and that all Japanese food is low-fat, nutrient rich, and good for you.  As I mentioned above, that assumption is false.  Because this: 

Fried deliciousness
clockwise from top left: shu mai, tofu, beef, chicken, eggplant, shrimp and...um, dunno.

What lardy magnificence!  It's an Osaka specialty known as kushikatsu (串カツ).  If one prefers to avoid katsu, the borrowed French word for cutlet, one can also say kushiage (串揚げ).  Literally: fried stuff on a stick.  The Japanese character for skewer, kushi (串), is a nice bit of visual onomatopoeia.  

Now this is goddamn drinking food, amirite?  Beats your hard-to-eat wings and nachos.  And please, don't tell me that everything looks like a corn dog, because they just ain't in the same league. 

In olden times, restaurants charged the same price for every stick. Customers would present a glass with their empty sticks to the cashier, who counted them up and thus settled the bill. One gets a proper check nowadays, but the tradition of collecting your skewers in a beer glass remains. 

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I took in this glorious scene, and grilled my husband. 

"An Osaka specialty, you say?"

"Yes."

"So, other restaurants in Kansai serve this?"

"Everywhere. Western Japan loves fried food."

"That means we don't have to live on sushi and ramen for the whole of this week, right?"

My husband scoffed.  "Of course not. Kansaijin aren't stupid."

Our vacation was looking up. 

Suika KYK, Sannomiya.  Pig out.

The next night, we set off in search of the crumbiest dinner we could find. We made it just in time.  Restaurant KYK closed permanently not long after we visited.  Clearly, we were the ultimate in alpha-customers.  Management gave up.  Future patrons could never beat our gluttony.

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Thrifty Kansai fellow that he is, the numerous set-menu options in the window attracted my husband's attention.  Frittered food makes an ideal Japanese restaurant window display; the crumbs are very easy to duplicate in acrylic, and lose none of their appetite appeal.  Oddly, many restaurants cover these fake plastic dishes in cling-film overnight. Not to preserve the food, but simply because the plastic models are a pain in the ass to dust.

One of the plastic window models
Not exactly Surf 'n' Turf.  Pig 'n' Prawn, maybe?  Fruit of Sea and Swill?

Digesting such mountains of  fried food makes even the sturdiest bowel wince.  Osaka custom demands side-dishes of fibrous cabbage, rice for ballast, and miso soup as a digestif.  In unlimited quantities, to do battle with the giant gut-clogging cutlets for which KYK was famous. 

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Look at the pork cutlets below, and look at my husband's hand for scale.  KYK served up a mess o'pig.  Fried to perfection, these thick slabs of pork stayed juicy, with just the barest wisp of pink in the middle. 

Crumbed prawns (or for you Americans, breaded shrimp) came with the set.  The decadence of deep-fried oysters was entirely my husband's touch.  Note the plentiful dipping sauces and sinus-scorching Chinese mustard.

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We tucked in so heartily that the server rushed over with emergency cabbage, almost instantly. She repeated this several times. 

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I had never experienced a food coma in Japan.  But this meal caused our eyelids to droop, and both of us to yawn with satisfaction.  We lounged around for about half an hour, picking our teeth with a Proo. 

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Teppanyaki Grill Tajima, Portopia Hotel, Minatojima Kobe

We took my husband's parents to dinner in Kobe the following evening, which pushed us upmarket.  Could we keep up our fry-happy lifestyle?  Teppanyaki gave us the perfect solution.

The Restaurant Tajima sits in a hotel on a man-made island in Kobe Harbour.  I use the phrase "man-made" because when I called it a fake island, my husband objected. "It's not a fake island.  I personally saw the many tonnes of dirt they trucked into the harbour to make it.  It's a true island from top to bottom."  

(Hmmm...surely, islands don't have bottoms.  That's how you can tell them apart from a boat.)

When in Kobe, beef it up.  And since Kobe is a port city, do seafood too.  The lanced prawns were still alive and wriggling as the chef presented them to us.  

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Ordinarily, I wouldn't include pricey teppanyaki in a piece about comfort food.  But here are four reasons: 

  1. It's fried. 
  2. Look at the fat in the Kobe Beef above. I'd say the fat/protein ratio in that cow ran at 50/50.  This pushes it well into state fair concession territory, and maybe even rivals French food.
  3. Look at the picture below. The chef topped the scallop dish with a pillow of fried cheese.
  4. Let me repeat: fried cheese 

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Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari, Kobe Harbour City

On the Kobe waterfront, we hit a motherlode of oil and crumbs.

Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari takes up a perch in a mall of restaurants facing the Kobe waterfront.  The name is almost as long as one of those pesky German words.  It's so long, I haven't attempted to type it; readers may assure themselves that every mention of the restaurant's name has been cut and pasted from its Yelp entry.  

As best I can figure out from the kanji (神楽食堂 串家物語), the name means The Story of the Gods' Temple of Easy Meals.  

"Here's the deal," explained my husband. "At (ctrl+V) Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari, ¥2000 (USD $18, €15) gets you all you can eat. Another ¥1000 ($9, €7.50) gets you all the beer you can drink."  He paused for a moment, trying to contain his enthusiasm. "I think we'll get our money's worth."

"What's on the menu here at (ctrl+V) Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari," I asked?

"Fried stuff on a stick." His eyes went dreamy. "Fried stuff on a stick, forever. There's a catch, though.  Like Korean barbeque, you gotta cook it it yourself."  

One starts at the buffet of pre-stabbed edibles. Patrons choose among meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, tofu, and other items of indeterminate provenance. 

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Lotus root and okra
For the vegetable course, lotus root and okra

A diner-cum-chef carries his selection to the table, where a modest friteuse awaits, dangerously hot.  (The grillwork on all four sides is an exhaust fan, by the way.)

One coats the food with a slurry of water and cornstarch, which allows the breadcrumbs to adhere.  You rest the coated stick inside hot oil, and when done, slather it with dipping sauce.   At this link, you can watch two young women show how it's done.

First course
First course: crab, shrimp, tofu, mushroom, potato, beef, pork, chicken, champignon, fish balls and...um, something else we couldn't identify.  Appetiser: beer. 

The sticks emerge crisp, ready for a good dipping. 

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We tasted the first lot, and maybe went a little overboard.

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The place was packed with teenagers, and no wonder.  Not only does the food suit an immature palate, it thrives on a teenager's underdeveloped impulse control. 

The two teen girls at the next table had packed away a brace of kushi, and moved onto dessert.  I did a double take when I saw them eating soft-serve ice cream cones with a spoon. 

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In Japanese culture, opening your mouth too wide is kind of vulgar; a little too intimate.  Women feel particularly sensitive about it, and will often cover their mouths when they laugh or eat.  Ice cream poses a special problem; licking is icky. 

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As with everything else, the ice cream was self-service, and so was the dessert bar.  Their English skills rivalled Daikichi.

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Keeping with the stuff-on-a-stick schtick, a chocolate fountain drenches your stabbed morsel of choice in brown goo.  You can even dip french fries in it.  Finish the evening with coffee-flavoured Jello, which you garnish with non-dairy creamer from those little sealed cup-things.  Because your body is a temple. 

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My husband insisted I take the picture below, as proof that we nailed this whole skewer business.  We couldn't count the number of sticks demolished, because we got excellent value out of the ¥1000 bottomless beer.  My beloved topped it off with an ice cream cone, which he licked, because he's a real man who laughs at all this prissy business of covering your mouth.  You could see his tongue. It was very erotic. 

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No doubt, you readers have noticed that I've been typing this slowly.  The memory of that dinner (and the next, since we returned the following evening) has put me into a food fog and beer haze.  We got wasted, and waisted.  We left the restaurant totally full, ready for a stroll along Kobe waterfront, and onward to a highly necessary evening's sleep.  Barely made it.  Goodnight, and sayonara.  I gotta go burp. 

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Dude's Day

The Munich Eagle
A sign which hung outside the now-closed Munich Eagle, a leather bar in the Glockenbachviertel, Munich's gay neighbourhood. 
Einlassrecht Vorbehalten means that the management reserves the right of admittance. 

It's a holiday here in Germany, a day when the nation truly earns its title of the fatherland

Officially, it's the feast of the Ascension, or Christi Himmelfahrt.  Though the phrase might remind an English speaker of Jesus breaking wind, it literally means the Messiah's Ride to Heaven.  

By coincidence, it's also German Father's Day.  Why?  Ascension occurs in the spring, you see.  Farmers would take a day off tilling the fields to wander through them.  After determining the prospects for a good harvest, the men would head back into the village together.  As we all know, any chance meeting of two or more men demands beer, and thus began the tradition of Männertag, or Men's Day.

German father's day celebrations have a slightly different flavour from the rest of the world.  For one thing, you don't have to be a father to join in.  Being a man is enough. 

German mothers generally spend their special day in the bosom of their family, being pampered, rather like their fellow mothers across the globe  ON Männertag, German men extract themselves from home and escape to the public square for some DIY pampering, in the form of alcohol. 

Groups of men wander the streets and lanes, pulling a cart laden with kegs and bottles.  They favour beer, but schnapps is not unheard of.  Many use the occasion to raise money for sporting clubs, volunteer fire brigades, service or other associations. Though such clubs are open to both genders by law, they tend to be male hangouts.

The feeling reminds me of the volunteer fire department in Port Vue, Pennsylvania, Vigilant Hose Company #1, with its distinctive blue Mack fire truck.  My father and his brothers spent many hours playing pinochle on duty.  More than a fire brigade, it's a powerhouse of practical compassion.  I never saw them so relaxed and emotionally healthy as when they were united in this common purpose.  A common purpose that gave them license to form close bonds with each other. 

Männertag always gets me thinking.  On every International Woman's Day, those clamouring for an International Men's Day rightly get pilloried for false equivalency.  But a day set aside for male fellowship is a different matter.  

Being a man is often lonely and isolating.  We disproportionately choose solitary jobs, which reward self-reliance over collaboration.  We retreat within ourselves, ashamed to be close to our male friends. The burden of emotional support falls on our partners, often unreasonably.  

I know many men who say they find no safe space to talk about emotions. Männertag may, or may not, perform that function. Messy drunk dudes certainly don't look like they're tending to each other's emotional health.  But in a solid, practical way, perhaps they might be.  

 

A Saturday Outing

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These several dozen dicks form a detail from a Keith Haring work, snapped at the Paris City Museum of Modern Art last July.  

I share it in honour of Coming Out Day 2014, which occurs every October 11.   Haring, as you may know, created the first Coming Out Day poster in the late eighties, and it remains an iconic work.

Coming out.  Is that still a thing?   Arguably, notwithstanding a rocky start, communities in the bourgeois West found diverse sexualities relatively easy to accept over the last half-century—easier, perhaps, than accepting the full implications of gender, race or economic equality.    

In our highly connected age, when we fight to keep the details of our private lives private, a public declaration of what gets our rocks off feels a little risky.  Maybe even déclassé.  

But we should ask ourselves if this reluctance is a matter of being discreet, or ashamed. Coming out day

Nice people don't talk about what goes on behind their bedroom doors.  So much of gay politics has concerned itself with making sure that bedroom door opens into a highly mortgaged house protected from estate duties through marriage.  Have we forgotten we have sex?

Over the last decades, coming out has focused on the social aspects of sexuality—marriage, money, personal safety, and community.  We want to weave our parners into the fabric of our economic and family life, whatever form that takes.  And for that to happen, revealing your orientation is a necessity.  Nobody knows it better than my husband and me. 

But coming out has a personal dimension.  Part of that personal dimension is erotic.  

When I came out, it meant more than just being able to bring a bloke to a dinner party.  Someone had given me a licence to find the world an erotically-charged place.  I ogled, I slobbered, I saw immense beauty in the men around me.  I found it easier to keep all this arousal respectful if I could actually talk about it, in a relaxed way, with anybody in earshot.  Still do. 

If you find talking about sex tacky, tough.  Jane Austen didn't write the queer script, pal. 

Revealing a sexless sexuality is pointless.  To stay schtum about the erotic side of our queerness doesn't make the world a freer, more open, more humane place.  It just announces that we're willing to conform to Puritan expectations.  It's just another closet.

All I can say is that coming out—even as late in life as me—did this bloke a power o' good.  Dammit, I could be horny anyplace I damn well pleased.  I loved talking about sex, and I loved hearing about sex.  My repartee began to sound like a gay Carry-On movie, if that's not a tautology.  The smutty banter was authentic.  All that applies today, too.  

To queers everywhere, enjoy mental health.  Coming out is a Mood Gym.

If you're in a safe place to do so, today is the day to tell the world where your libido points you. Lots of people, in many parts of the world, don't have that luxury.


Is it wrong to laugh?

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The Man with the Bassoon

EDIT at around ten minutes after publishing the post: Some readers have already indicated that yes, it is wrong to laugh at this.  Rather like calling someone a ritard, I suppose. I welcome a discussion in the comments.


How were you born?

$5.99 from the Hillbilly Teeth StoreHow were you born?  That way?  The question scarcely troubles the gay communities of Europe. 

(Unless you count clergy in the Vatican.  Technically, they're a gay community, too.)

But in the United States, it sits at the core of the gay rights debate.  Advocates quote much science to show that homosexuality is innate, immutable and probably genetic; some of that science looks pretty dodgy.   The subject came up in a discussion on the blog of the redoubtable Mark Simpson—required reading, by the way, for anyone with an interest in issues of gender, sexuality, or culture at large. It got me thinking. 

Problem is, it got me thinking like a marketer.  (Readers may know, that's sorta what I do for a crust.)

The whole born-this-way question reminds me of chocolate. Specifically, chocolate with peanuts or chocolate with coconut.

You see, there are peanut people, and coconut people. People who eat Snickers are unlikely to eat Bounties very often, and vice-versa.

Most of us have tried both, at some time or other.  A few will experiment regularly over the course of their lives.  Many enjoy a bit of variety when the opportunity presents itself.

But true biconfectionals are rare. You work out your taste early in life, and it abides. No matter how much marketers try, we cannot change you. We have wasted a lot of money trying, over the years.

Does a genetic predisposition cause this abiding preference in the pursuit of pleasure? Marketing data suggest it runs in families. Or maybe early childhood diet or other environmental factors influence you. Maybe it just happens.

Problem is, coconut can be polarising. A few people love it, but lots hate it. Let’s imagine that someone got a hair up his ass about coconuts.

He screams from pulpit or television screen that coconut in chocolate is un-natural. It comes from strange places and brings tropical disease. It’s goddamn monkey-food, and anyone who eats coconut is but one step away from consorting with animals.  Coconut is disgusting.

What’s a coconut lover to say? 

  1. No, coconuts are perfectly natural and beautiful and pure.  Humans have eaten coconut for centuries.  They are part of my very being, and I can’t help what I like. Science shows it. Science gives us the truth, the truth is noble, the noble is sacred and the sacred is good.
  2. Fuck off. I can eat what I damn well please.

Why does the US queer community persist with the tortured logic of #1, when #2 is so much simpler?

Americans take sex too seriously. Sex is a part of love, but it’s the playful part. It’s fun, and the right to fun seems to have been Aristabratsroyalty Pacifierdivorced from the right to happiness. Perhaps it’s those dour Puritans at work, but Americans seem to see having fun as the opposite of abiding happiness.

Americans seek to dignify their choice of love-object with some higher purpose, as opposed to just saying that, for whatever reason, I want to warm my willy there.   Or if you're a lesbian, warm your...um, what exactly do lesbians do?

Unless you can find some higher purpose to everything, you're wasting your time.  You can’t just do something because you like it, can you?

Naturally,  I'm curious about the origins of my homosexuality—the same way, as a marketer, I am curious about the origins of the coconut-peanut paradox.

But not knowing how my homosexuality came about should not stand in the way of my right to practise it.  Just like not knowing how you come to prefer coconut or peanuts doesn’t stand in the way of me selling you the stuff.

And with that, the Honourable Husband decides he should really get back to selling  some stuff this fine autumn morning.

Photos link to source.


Comrades in Kitsch

Where is he gay today? Inner-city Sofia, Bulgaria Soviet Army Memorial Sofia 836
Never trust art you can understand.  At least, not art you can understand too fast. 

If you understand art instantly, without strain, the artist is trying to sell you something.  (You can trust me.  That's been my trade for a long time.)

'Tis one thing to use a reckless little puppy unravelling a roll of toilet paper so show how soft and strong and long it is, but another to sell an ideology through such symbols.

Some readers might take issue.  They point out that reckless use of toilet paper guts rainforests and clogs watercourses.  Making it seem innocent, even playful, is insidious.  Ever the more insidious, through its very subtlety.  

That's an important discussion, but for another time.   Let's talk about ideologies with big-time names.  Look at the art of National Socialism, the Roman Catholic Church, or Communism.  There's no doubt what they're selling.

Communism even has its own art movement, and all.  Some call it Socialist Realism.  Others call this school girl meets tractor. 

Officially, the party line states that painting and sculpture should depict the world with utter fidelity, and in so doing, glorify the commonplace.    The flip side: anything a citizen finds in official, state-sanctioned art is the truth.  Not some destructive, unrealistic fantasy that diverts you from the path to progress; not, in Marx's words, an opiate.

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Keepin' it Real. 

The Soviet Army Memorial in Sofia toes the party line.  At first glance, the main statue seems standard-issue propaganda.  The pose of a victorious soldier, holding his weapon high, set atop an enormous pedestal, shouts strength and nobility.  It commemorates the liberation of Bulgaria from the Nazis by the Soviet Army at the end of World War II.

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The builders designed the grand plaza, one assumes, for military parades. Nowadays, it hosts events like the finals of the World Strongman's Champions League in June 2010, won handily by Serbian favourite Ervin Katona.   You can see the Memorial in the background here and here.  

(We were actually in Sofia that June to see yet another contest of strength.  Bulgarians may eat goat, but they watch beef.)

When not hosting marches or meat sports, defecating dogs and skateboarders move in.

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Sad, because the sculpture is extraordinary.  The sculptor (whose name even the fiercest googling does not reveal) created several tableaux of soldiers being welcomed into a small village, both in high-relief and full 3D.  Cast in 1954, it resists the modernism of later Soviet-era monuments, and lays on the folksy realism.

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Common folk glorifying their military heroes is a theme in socialist art of the mid-20th century.  In the interaction of civilians and men in uniform, we often see socialist naturalism at its most endearing.

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Of course, it's equally endearing in the art of the west.  As I stood that summer's morning in the middle of Bulgaria, what sprang to mind was none other than Norman Rockwell.  Others have noticed the similarity, too.

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I probably don't need to explain Rockwell to American readers.  And even those abroad will recognise him as the high priest of Americana.  His covers for The Saturday Evening Post and the scouting magazine Boy's Life are the stuff of legend.  His art celebrated American life as one of community and abundance.  Of course, in a time of depression and wartime sacrifice, this was a bald-faced lie for many.

Most think of Rockwell as the epitome of wholesomeness.  But a queer eye can spot a trend.   

WNorman_rockwell-marriage-counselor2omen, if present at all, are self-sacrificing pillars of virtue, or coquettes who claim men as smitten victims. (It's shouldn't surprise us that Rockwell's relationships with women were troubled.)   

His most affectionate portraits of women showed girls as tomboys; Rockwell was credited with the first public appearance of the iconic character "Rosie the Riveter".  His Rosie seems an awful lot more butch than her later incarnations.

Rockwell seems at home showing men in the fellowship of other men, especially when men in uniform assert quiet but friendly authority over their civilian counterparts.  Men are desirable and sexy in his art—they show an unselfconscious masculinity and relaxed sense of humour; his women are highly stylised, and frankly, a bit uptight.

Illustration_281_3_window_washer
None of this gets too homoerotic, but it's definitely homoaffectionate.

Norman-rockwell-willie-gillis-in-college
We can't say the same of the Eastern Bloc.  It takes a truly prim, sex-blind culture to miss the blatant gay cues some of the statues.

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Kiss me, you fool!

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Flowers?  You shouldn't have!

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Adopt the inflatable sex-doll position!

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Daddy!

Do you detect just a little too much admiration for the male frame on both sides of the old Iron Curtain?  The Superhero physique seems at home in Rockwell, as well as in socialist art.

Rockwell_runaway_thumb
So it shouldn't surprise us that the Soviet Army Memorial earned a simple (but no doubt time consuming) make-over earlier this year.  The local English-language media reported on it, along with the graffiti-hounds at Bomb-It.   Bomb-It lifted photos from the best available source.  Ironically, that was the Voice of Russia.  I followed suit, and that's where the photos below come from.

Banksy Bulgaria BombIt 1
A Sofia blogger describes some of the background: Not surprisingly, many Bulgarians think that the Russians driving out the Nazis was rather a good move, and they still remember the event with gratitude.  Many in the community saw this as simple vandalism, rather than noble self-expression.

Bulgarian culture minister Vedhzi Rashidov put it this way.  "Never mind whether we like it or not, Bulgaria lived 50 years under the rule of Socialism and this is a part of our history. If any generation thinks this can be simply erased, it would be unnecessary.  Germany did not remove the Russian tank from Berlin, Austria did not remove [its memorial]"   In fact, the City of Berlin went so far as to restore its monument in 2004.

The Russians, in particular, were outraged.   The nerve of these people!  If any broad-chested socialist hero should turn into Superman, make it Vladimir Putin. 

At the same time, crowds were delighted.  This 360 degree view shows not only the painting in its full glory, but an enthusiastic audience lapping it up.  Alas, they couldn't enjoy it for long, since the Memorial was cleaned as stealthily as it was painted

Banksy Bulgaria BombIt 1
It didn't take long for the artist (or group of artists, for surely this work took more than one set of hands) to be dubbed the Banksy of Bulgaria, especially by the British tabloids.  Not sure about that one.  Banksy, I think, is much more subtle.  The Sophia artists left no room for ambiguity: below their work, they wrote the title Moving Forward with the Times.

If only the Bulgarian Banksies knew how traditional—even old fashioned—their work actually is. 

In many ways, the commercial activity which surrounds the Memorial is a far greater insult to the principles for which so many Soviet soldiers died, is it not?

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Frankly, even without its makeover, the memorial wouldn't seem out of place in a town square in the middle of America. OK, nowadays all those guns might be a problem.  But what could be more American than kissing babies?  True?

Copyright notice: Where not an original photo taken by the author, all photos link to source.  I believe that the use of all images conforms with US and EU rules on fair use in quotation and criticism.


What word shall we hijack next, cocksuckers?

Robbed the rainbow
It sounds preposterous.  But some actual Germans read Deutschland über Elvis.  I know this, because the fewer readers a blogger has, the more obsessively he checks his readership stats. 

If one clicks through to the entry pages from Germany, one can see that many Deutsche let Google Translate do the heavy lifting.  

But Google gets tongue-tied translating queerspeak.  Take this sentence from a recent post:

We often [do this] when we're feeling a bit gay, in the homosexual sense of the word.

The algorithm translated it as:

Wir [tun dies] oft, wenn wir ein bisschen Gefühl Homosexuell sind, in der homosexuellen Sinne des Wortes.

I played around with Google Translate for a little while.  It wouldn't translate gay as bunte, hell or frölich, meaning bright, colourful, happy or carefree, no matter what.  No, a house painted in gay colours, always becomes a house painted in homosexual colours. 

Don't write this off to the crudity of online translation.  Google had no such trouble with the word gaily; it ascribes no sexual meaning to the adverb, the same as in English.  (This might have proved tricky, since adverbs are among the few elements of English grammar more complex than the equivalent German.)  And it had no trouble with the double meaning of the word queer.   Google does not mistake a queer bar for a queer noise from your car's diff. 

You know what this means, don't you?

It means we've won. 

All those tetchy conservatives—most recently Bob Katter in Australia, but countless more—who whine about us homosexuals hijacking the word gay, have lost. 

Google doesn't pull this stuff out of its cyber-ass.  Google looks at billions of sentences every day.  This is mainstream speech.  We've got gay, dammit! 

DSC00415
"Homosexuals have hijacked the word Bacardi!"

Furthermore, Google Translate made gay respectable.  It didn't use the German schwul, a mild vulgarity.  In 1914, pioneering Berlin sex researcher Magnus Hirschfeld lay the seeds of the term when he repeated the old wive's tale that gay men tended to have warmer skin.  (Traditionally, a German would refer to his male lover as a "warm brother").  Schwul is a corruption of schwül, which can mean wet, close or muggy.  To use Schwul would suggest the local chapter of Moist Liberation meets in a humid bar  

What's second prize?

Yeah, we've won.  Meh.

All this moaning over the word gay belies the fact that this stupid little word sat around idle for a century.  

Nobody has talked about a nosegay for decades.  In This Joint is Jumpin', Fats Waller sang that a rent party was "ten times higher than gay".  But that was 1929.    By mid century, the word had been quarantined to campy songs in musicals, usually sung by the female juvenile lead.  Think Maria in West Side Story, or Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (Nellie Forbush. How obvious can you get?)   Some used gay to mean hedonistic, uninhibited or louche—giving it a pejorative sexual twist.  A gay house was a brothel, and a gay Lothario was a male libertine.  A tone of distaste and disapproval pushed the word onto our team, as it were.

DSC00407
"Those damn homosexuals have hijacked the word
celebrate!"

Gays have rehabbed the word, and now it means...well, us.  Most people use it in a matter-of-fact way.  It's almost neutral. 

Almost.  For some, gay means sad or lame Especially to teen boys going through their anti-emo, wannabe-thug stage. 

As more gay men and women tell their stories, sadness and struggle often emerge as themes.  One could be mistaken for thinking every gay's life story contains tragedy—perhaps, in our current culture, it must.  

Look at the thoroughly admirable (and absolutely necessary) It Gets Better Project.  Storytellers know that the reason happily ever after ends tales is because happiness, while nice to experience, is pretty dull to watch.  The Better bits, with the best will in the world, don't grab you like the bits describing how it was worse.  

Frankly, that's unavoidable.  Physical and psychological brutality against gay men and lesbians is so commonplace that it must feature in recounting our experiences.  Besides, the only way we will rally the indifferent mainstream into active support is through arousing their emotions. 

But all this tugging at the heartstrings might make us seem, as the youngsters say, gay.  In our culture, powerful and angry earns more followers than powerless and sad.  Dan Savage, founder the It Gets Better Project, manages this aspect carefully.  In his public statements, he guides our response toward action, away from pity.

DSC00424
"Those damn homsexuals have hijacked the word latte!"

And even those who use the word as an everyday term for homosexual can't quite shake some of the baggage.  To me, gay still holds echoes of flippant, unimportant, silly, immature, fluffy

As I've said before, I'd rather be thought unimportant than immoral.   And with all its faults, I'd rather be a gay man than a faggot, fruit, pillow-biter, Mary, nellie, pansy, nancy, sissy, turd-burglar, shirt-lifter, cock-, ass- or butt-pirate.

Of course, we can make all those terms neutral through usage, too.   When will we remove the stigma attached to effeminacy, and ditch the assumptions we make about masculinity?   When will words like cocksucker and sodomite be simple descriptions of behaviour rather than a condemnation of one's character? 

(As I reflect on the last couple of paragraphs, I'm warming to the term -pirate.  It's suggests an all-male environment.  There's a sense of being an outsider, thumbing your nose at authority.  Yet a pirate remains morally in the right, somehow—one becomes a thief out of desperation or wickedness, but piracy is a calling.  Pirates act butch, but ain't afraid to wear earrings—their deportment drips with sexual transgression.  Gay men of my generation claimed the pirate shirt and fulsome moustache as their own. Everybody loves pirates. Swab the dicks, me hearties!)

Stealing Pride

The hijacking of gay causes outrage, but pride slipped through the cracks.

Like gay, pride was a word that lounged around with its feet up until homosexuals took it out for a run.  Pride smacks of immodesty; the correct response to someone complimenting you on an achievement is oh, it's nothing.  It's uncool to try too hard.  Proud people just stroke their own egoes.

Religious circles roundly condemn the word, since (at least on paper) "pride" is a sin.  Fundies seem confused by the term gay pride. Why should we want to claim a sin as a virtue?

Even sympathetic straights get their knickers in a twist. "If you were born gay," they reason, "it's no achievement.  There's no such thing as straight pride. Why are you proud to be gay?"

"Are you ashamed to be straight," I ask?

"No," they say.

"Precisely", I reply. 

If one earns the right to pride only from personal accomplishments, then to be an open happy homosexual man or woman surely qualifies.  It's easier than it was, but it still ain't a picnic. 

In my own coming out, I experienced little resistance or condemnation, but it still took work.  Work, inside my own head and heart.  Work that took a long, long time.  Courage?  Maybe, maybe not.  But certainly effort; effort which improved my character.  Can I be proud?  I leave that for others to judge.  But, yeah.  I feel proud of making that journey.

Lexical Larceny

Let's get down to brass tacks.  Right now, we need a new gay word. 

Repetition of a word is not just a rhetorical device, it's a psychological tactic.  If we use positive language around being gay, and don't allow ourselves to be trapped in the habit of irony, we can do our cause some good.

It's time we stole a word that the language hasn't orphaned already.  One which the straight world values, and must sacrifice as a gesture of goodwill.

DSC00447a
"Those damn homsexuals have hijacked porn!"

Here's the need.   More jurisdictions recognise gay rights than ever before.  Many, however, have moved in the opposite direction.  How do we describe the difference between the two?

It should be an adjective.   Since authorities may recognise more rights, or fewer, the adjective must be capable of degree.  (Unlike, say, unique, dead or pregnant.)

You need to use the word in a sentence like this:

"Since it passed the gay marriage law, New York is much more "——" than Alabama."

Terms like just or progressive are too broad.   Phrases like "gay-friendly" are both awkward and weak.  This is more than just casual friendliness we're talking about.  

It would be tempting to do a Santorum, another Savage invention.  Can we take a homophobe's name and repurpose it, to make a point?  But the point, then, is about the homophobe, not the cause.  Not right.  

Same goes for destigmatising an existing word.  The point of this exercise is to take a new, baggage-free word and convert it to gay use.   We clutch at bad words, simply because nobody else wants them.  Let's stop that.

We need to adopt a word that's powerful.  Is New York more juggernaut, high-caliber, horsepower, avalanche or Red Bull than Alabama?

We need to adopt a word that's righteous.  Is New York more solar, low-emission, responsible, or Nelson Mandela than Alabama?

We need to adopt a word that's heroic.  Is New York more freedom, Everest, liberation, or Wolverine than Alabama?

Perhaps we might adopt a word that refers to something everyone in the world likes.  Is New York more sushi, pandas, Mad Men or brown-paper-packages-tied-up-in-string than Alabama?

I look forward to your suggestions.

DSC00437a
"Those damn homsexuals have hijacked the word love!"  But maybe they had a claim to it, already.  

*   *   *   *   *

The gay knitting wool ad was lifted from a post by Dr. Gloria Brame at the Bilerico Project—many thanks, Gloria!  All others were taken at New York Pride in 2003.


So, Taunt Me

Serge and Cole
Cole Porter and Sergei Rachmaninov, showing a resemblance.

"What's this doing here?" asked Master Right, with mild surprise.

I could see nothing doing anything anywhere in our immediate surroundings.  Except for the gentle whizz of the CD player. 

For the last several mintues, we'd been listening to the London cast recording of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate. 

We often play this album when we're feeling a bit gay, in the homosexual sense of the word.  Porter was a notorious closet case—his wife Linda bearded him indulgently—and the show's cynical view of straight romance gives a very queer slant on affairs of the heart.  Memories of chorus boys in tights don't hurt, either. 

The record had just reached track five—the majestic, haunting So in Love.  My husband felt surprised he needed to explain.  "He stole this piece from Rachmaninov, didn't he?"

I replied more from a debater's punchiness than any knowledge of music.  "That's crazy.  It's Broadway." 

Yodogawa_nagaharu book"What about the famous recording?  Everyone knows that's Rachmaninov," he replied, and thus began a queer little quest. 

Act One, Scene One: Open on a dark movie theatre in Kobe...

From birth, Nagaharu Yodogawa (1909-1998) was destined to be a movie critic.   His mother (an ex-geisha in his father's geisha house) went into labour in a cinema—she joked that her son must have wanted to see the film.

He became Japan's official Hollywood insider.  In the course of his long career, he wrote books on Chaplin, collected Kurosawa's Oscar, and peeked in Dietrich's refrigerator.  It contained a single hard-boiled egg.  

Since we're being all gay this afternoon, it's worth noting that Yodogawa lived in the closet for decades, coming out in his late-life memoirs.  

Of course, when we say that he lived in the closet in Japan, that means everybody knew.  Master Right hails from the Kansai, and assured me that Na-kun was a fixture of the Osaka gay scene. YODOGAWA-CHAPLIN1998

Yodogawa liked his blokes with a bit of meat, and visibly swooned when he interviewed what would nowadays be known as a bear.   Rumour has it that he crushed hard on Ned Beatty in Deliverance

Arnold Schwarzenegger once made chit chat with Yodogawa in an interview.  Arnie complimented the elderly critic on his good health and energy, and asked the secret of a robust old age.  Without missing a beat, Yodogawa replied that he owed it to regular attendance at Japanese bath-houses, and would the star care to join him?

(See a few revealing moments at the 5 minute mark in this link.  It's worth it.)

Sayonara, Sayonara, Sayonara

What made Yodogawa a national treasure was the Sunday Night Western Movie Theatre on TV Asahi.   In 1962, Asahi hired Yodogawa to sandwich intelligent comment around subtitled Hollywood fluff, so they could pull a legal dodge and pass it off as educational content.

He took to his job with gusto, not missing a single show until his death 36 years later. His signature farewell—a breathy sayonara, sayonara, sayonara—signalled that the weekend was over .  This induced a certain melancholy, as one realised that the Monday grind lay only a few hours distant.   

Sazae-san (Nowadays, a sweet family show called Sazae-san performs the same function each Sunday night.  The weekly funk it lowers across Japan is known as the Sazae-san Syndrome.  You can see Mrs. Sazae's cheerful clan to your left, reminding a nation to get back to work.)

Mood Music

Thus, the end-titles for the Sunday Night Western Movie Theatre caught Japan at a wistful moment, and Yodogawa played music to match. 

His outro was a dramatic piece for piano and orchestra.  Due to the complexity of the keyboard part, every baby-boomer in Japan grew up convinced Rachmaninov penned it.  Unbeknownst to most of its listeners, it was an arrangement of So in Love. 

Act One, Scene Two.  Somewhere between Radio City and Carnegie Hall. 

A pop tune?  Impossible!  This sent Master Right into a fit of vigorous googling.

Japanese Wikipedia confirmed the news, as did other sources. The music which closed  Asahi Western Movie Theatre was Cole Porter's So in Love, arranged for orchestra and conducted by Morton Gould.  The track first appeared in 1951, on Gould's creepily-named album, Curtain Time.

There was nothing else for it.  We had to find this recording.  Where?   Stay tuned for Part Two.

All photos link to source.


Misgoogling

This just reminds you why the ever-expanding Google should go back to school and take a subject called reading comprehension.  Note this excellent article as it appears in Google Reader below, and notice the ad which Google's algorithm chose to insert next to it.

The Bilerico Project 1

On the other hand, I await judgement from my personal harem of fag hags (...er, sorry, BFFs) to see if perhaps Google has more insight than we give them credit for.


Life After Death: Will There Be Cookies?

P1010205_3
"You know, one of the best things about believing in a big fat God up there, is that nobody can disprove He exists."

This remark came from a woman of science, who is also a woman of faith.  We weren't arguing about atheism—well, not exactly—but we brushed up against the wall such conversations face.  Proof.

Science never proves anything.  It disproves.  That's the scientific method.

When you've disproved every other alternative, then you have a proper scientific argument.  If someone comes along with another explanation, you need to disprove it to defend your theory. 

This debating point catches many skeptics and atheists without a reply, or with an unconvincing one.

Metaphysical Physicians

In December, CNN muscled in on Oprah territory when it broadcast a Very Special Larry King Live.  The subject was Life after Death

Curiously, King himself didn't lead the discussion.  One imagines he'd take great interest in the subject.  By the looks of him, he seems perilously close to speaking from experience.

The entire piece is embarrassing—so embarrassing, CNN seems to have ditched it from the LKL website. 

The three panelists took the life-after-death position—CNN's medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and authors Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dinesh D'SousaProfessor Michael Shermer served as the lone spokeperson for skeptics. 

And you know what?  Shermer lost, big-time.

He deserved to.  It's one thing to split hairs in philosophical discourse, but quite another to win minds and hearts in popular debate. 

Sometimes, the best strategy is to abandon your case.

P1010852
Malostranské náměstí
, Prague

Am I talking to your neurons?

The Afterlifers raised patronising snark to high art.  They petulantly asked Shermer: "Am I talking with you, or your neurons?"

Shermer pretty much just pfaffed around in reply.  What might he have said?  As a direct answer, the best I could come up with was something like this:

"Dr. Gupta.  You're a neurosurgeon. You've seen a body without functioning neurons?  So you would say that I could talk to you without neurons? Wouldn't you say that consciousness, then, is a product of neurons, in some way?"

Well, that doesn't exactly slam the case closed. 

The real truth (which both believers and skeptics need to acknowledge) is that we don't know

But by the rules which govern debate on American television in 2010, the first person to admit he doesn't know, loses.  Shermer caved.

One of the commenters on Shermer's facebook page pointed out a response that could have been more effective.  "You should have asked: are there cookies?"

Indeed.  Now, they're on the back foot.   Doctors Gupta and Chopra, and Mr. D'Sousa must confirm that there are cookies in the afterlife.  Or, alternately, that there are no cookies in the afterlife.  Or that they don't know. 

"How do you know we'll find cookies?  We might find tea cakes.  Maybe the tea cakes are only for the ladies, and men find 72 virgins?   How about bacon?  Bacon is better than cookies.  How about nothing?  Maybe we'll find nothing in the afterlife.  Isn't that just as likely?  Why do you refuse to acknowledge that possibility, Dr. Gupta?"

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The churchyard at St Georg's, Bogenhausen, March 2010.

Even the usually unflappable Richard Dawkins stumbled over the proof/disproof issue when he spoke at Liberty University.  (LU is enemy territory; an Evangelical Baptist institution founded by Jerry Falwell himself)

A student asked Dawkins a simple question: What if you're wrong?   The real answer, which he eventually reached, runs something like this:

"If I should believe in an Abrahamic God because he might exist, then I should also believe in every other god whom humans have seen fit to worship, because they might exist.  

In fact, I'd better disembowel you at the temple because Zeus could be angry.  I might need to toss you into a volcano, too.  I might just impale you because you're an infidel and the Crusaders could have a point.   I might need to beat you because I'm a Catholic schoolteacher who believes children are naturally evil and must be punished.  And I might just need to be an atheist, too, because that's equally possible.  

No, I won't take Pascal's Wager.  The stakes are too high."

Perhaps Shermer should have replied to the question thus:

"Well, Dr. Gupta, I confess.  You're not talking to my neurons. You're talking to Master Alien Zoog, who orbits Alpha Centauri in an advanced spacecraft.   He speaks through me as his prophet.  

Now, when we die, it is his white light that shines at the end of the tunnel, when he takes all our thoughts and turns them into anti-matter.  Many people with near-death experiences report images of relatives who stand at the other end of a brightly-lit white tunnel to welcome you.  They are anti-matter projections of your thoughts.

You're right.  All this stuff about neurons doesn't explain anything."

Many atheists, skeptics, or agnostics argue against religious belief by seeking to disprove it.  That's not just a losing strategy, but it's intellectually disingenuous. 

One cannot not prove a believer wrong—it's pointless, in any case.  God has been put to the test many times, and He has failed.  It doesn't shake the conviction of the faithful.

One must, however, show that belief is arbitrary.   This fact sows the seeds of doubt more effectively than a head-on attempt at disproof. 

It's more honest.  And it's more fun.

P1080966

Hell, according to Reubens. From the Alte Pinakotek

god hates #tags

The merry gang from Westboro Baptist Church protests in many places, on many occasions.  Led by Pastor Fred Phelps and his family, you may recall their colourful signs which proclaim that God hates fags, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Obama, America, Italy, Ireland, Lady GaGa and much else of His creation. 

Yes, the Westboro Baptisits hold some mighty firm beliefs. And they love it when you try to disprove them.

"Read your Bible!", Meagan Phelps often shouts in reply.  Many of the least effective counter-protests involve those who have read the Bible, too, and argue that she and her family get it wrong. 

Twitter got it right.  When the Phelps clan protested outside their offices on Folsom Street in San Francisco this January, staff quickly desk-top-published a few signs of their own.  Harmon Leon's post on 
Asylum.com

(Iconic American writer Harmon Leon wrote a great post on Asylum.com about the incident.  Check it out.  He also deserves credit for the photo on your left.)

None of the signs actually attacked the Westboro Baptist Church, and their beliefs.  They simply provided alternative beliefs.

God, according to Twitter, hates ponies.  And broccoli.  He thinks we should build prisons on the moon.  And we should wear silly hats only.   One sign proclaimed, in a gesture pure and poetic, that I have a sign.

Read the Bible?  No, Meagan, read April Tips Number Two: What to Do if You Don't Have Time to Get Your Pants Hemmed, published in Esquire on March 31st 2008!  The prophets of style command us through Esquire.  If we obey them, we will be richly rewarded.  And our cuffs will be clean.

WBC was left speechless, and turned tail.

A Reasonable Objective.

When it comes to God, I call myself an atheist.  When it comes to the persistence of the soul, I'm mildly skeptical.

Frankly, I have no interest in converting a believer.  I do, however, have a very serious interest in preserving my right to dissent. 

Just as important, preserving my right to dissent also protects the rights of believers to disagree amongst themselves.  The faithful need to acknowledge this.

If mockery preserves these rights better than logic, then mock we must.

Happy Sunday, everyone.

EDIT: You ain't got no pancake mix!