“Well, she was just seventeen” : Anti-gay lawyer goes pimping for porn in Canada

November 22nd, 2012

Remember Larry Craig? He was the Republican Senator from Idaho who was arrested for “lewd conduct” in a Minneapolis airport restroom in 2007 after allegedly attempting to induce an undercover police officer in the stall beside him to engage in sexual activities. After a voting record with highlights that included strong support for “don’t ask, don’t tell” and vehement opposition to gay marriage, Craig then had to deal with the eight gay men who came forward to the Idaho Statesman newspaper claiming they had each had some sort of sexual encounter with the Senator. With his reputation in ruins, Craig’s position became untenable and he never ran for office again, the gulf between his public pronouncements and private fixations having revealed a Grade-A hypocrite.

There is something deliciously dramatic and inevitable, almost oedipan, about those who arm themselves with the breastplate of righteousness in their public lives and claim divine inspiration for their work. Next time you hear some distinctly pontificating speech, complete with all the moralising bells and whistles, set your watch and wait. It is likely that in no time at all, he or she who uttered the words will be found squalid and exposed, tied up as they surely will be in a heap of threatening text messages, crusty toilet paper and a defence that becomes thinner and more ludicrous by the minute.

And so the baton has now been handed to a certain Lisa Biron, a New Hampshire-based lawyer who worked for the euphemistically-named Alliance Defending Freedom (this firm has the distinction of containing three of the most favoured buzz words used by bigoted anti-gay groups; a token ‘Family’ would turn this ménage à trois into a full-blown foursome), a group that aims to “keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” Alas, federal prosecutors have said that Biron transported a teen girl from Manchester, NH to somewhere in Ontario, Canada, where she forced her young and presumably highly distressed kidnappee to engage in sexual acts with another, as yet undisclosed, person while being filmed by Biron. Biron has also been arrested for owning a computer stuffed with child pornography and, to top it all off, witnesses have testified that this defender of Christian values (another popular word among the dogmatic) has been found in possession of various illegal drugs.

So next time you hear those speeches, just sit and wait. The internal paranoia swimming around the minds and bodies of those purporting to do God’s work on Earth will eventually burst forth.


Celtic Thunder, Mythology II

November 16th, 2012

What is a name, and what is a hero? In the pantheon of mythological heroes, there is a place reserved for those who resonate more deeply with us today. Their names, for one reason or another, have become more than merely a means of identification, instead evoking the great acts they accomplished and the values they exhibited. The ancient story of Achilles is perhaps as well known today as it ever was, with his name lending itself not only to a part of the human anatomy, but also toward an acknowledgment that even the strongest among us usually have a fatal flaw. Robin Hood has in some sense become a byword for social justice, while Odysseus is best known for his legendary cunning.

There is a Celtic warrior, however, who stands comparison with any of the world’s great mythic heroes. Cúchulainn, despite the lingering air of tragedy around him that is a component of just about all Celtic mythology, was a classic hero, a man’s man, a young warrior who mastered the Gae Bolga, a spear molded from the bone of a sea monster which split open like an umbrella upon entering a body.

Flamboyant and aggressive, Cúchulainn single-handedly defended Ulster from invasion by the queen of Connacht, Medb, who sought to kidnap the extremely fertile stud bull Donn Cuailnge. While probably not being as ripe for Hollywood depiction as Helen of Troy, this bull was a great source of wealth, not to mention honour, and Cúchulainn alone was the bulwark between Medb’s greed on the one hand, and the prosperity and reverence of his people on the other.

There is a song, “Dearg Doom” (a rough translation would be “Red Destroyer”), which glorifies Cúchulainn’s deeds. Like the hero himself, the tune has a transcendental aura, opening with one of the most swashbuckling, snarling riffs you are ever likely to hear. For Horslips, who probably did more than anyone to bring Celtic music to a new stage by adapting traditional folk music for a rockier sound, “Dearg Doom” remains their finest hour. But as with mythology itself, the riff is borrowed, inevitably, from a traditional folk standard, “O’Neill’s Cavalry March”. For myth and music alike, what one sees and hears is all influenced by something that came before. It is a manifest trait of Celtic culture that what is truly valuable passes through the generations, in turn being recycled to fit a contemporary audience.

What truly inspires the Celtic mind, as it did for both Cúchulainn and Horslips, is the land one comes from – how it is an unmistakable part of them. “You are the song ever singing in me,” sings Celtic Thunder in “My Land”, an original composition for this tour, “And you are the heart ever true / For you are my land and you always will be, The voice ever calling me home to you.” For them the land is personified, an entity worthy of the pronoun “you”, a substance with a heart, and therefore a heartbeat. The land and people beat as one, and bleed as one.

Returning to the opening questions, what is a land, and what are a people? Throughout the western fringes of Europe – from Gallicia in northwest Spain to Ireland, from Brittany to Cornwall to Scotland – Celts are defined by the land they came to inhabit. You can see it in their festivals, their idiosyncratic and unmistakable humour, their music, their art, their food, and more besides. But if Celts must leave their land, and history reminds us that emigration to new lands is a recurring theme, they always bring their culture with them. Entering a local bar in Quebec, the air is often filled by traditional music with a distinctly Celtic flair. The literature of the American South has been influenced by the very myths that inspired this tour. There have been Gaelic-speaking Newfoundlanders in Canada and Welsh-speaking Argentines. They may have moved, but they never forgot their land. They never do.

Adapting and transforming those old traditions and cultures from old lands to new has been the signature trait of the diaspora – the descendants of Celtic people who moved to the New World. “Voices call from the old days, Voices tell from the past / Ancient laws and ancient old ways to recast,” they sing in “Voices,” another original composition. To recast is to fashion something new out of something aged, giving fresh impetus to the ancient world and making it relevant. Indeed, the very idea of recasting can be thought of as not only the singularly most important concept for the nomadic Celts, but also for this show itself.

The initial formation of cultures and lands of the Celtic world are said to have mythic origins. Consider The Giant’s Causeway, a truly extraordinary series of interlocking basalt columns on the coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Legend has it that the 40,000 or so columns were built by Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool in English, the sort of name television producers spend hours trying to think up) as a walkway to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner. When Fionn was then chasing the giant away from his land, he picked up a huge clump of earth and flung it. He missed his target, with the clump creating the Isle of Mann and the void becoming Lough Neagh. The heroes of Celtic mythology are always tied to the land in some way, just as the Celtic people are.

Celts sing about the land in a relatively unique fashion, usually attaching an unhurried melody with lush texture and lyrics brimming with nostalgia – though Horslips’ more ostentatious “Dearg Doom” is very much an anomaly in that regard. Dick Farrelly’s “The Isle of Innisfree,” once a hit for Bing Crosby and the theme song for the romantic-comedy movie “The Quiet Man,” is one of those timeless and international favourites, enduring in the hearts of many as one of the great songs of the Celtic world in general and Ireland in particular. Ireland, given the moniker “Innisfree” in this case, is given a mythical quality. It is a place where rivers laugh, valleys dream, and birds make music. It is a land that, when missed, can bring a sort of wild trauma to the mind of the emigrant and, when that same person returns to the physical soil whence they were sprung, it naturally brings about an ecstatic reaction.

Some of the greatest songs elicit those same feelings, be it for a lover or for a place. In the case of the songs in this set list, it reminds us that patriotism can be a positive, perhaps even necessary, force in all our lives. When channeled correctly, patriotism is love, something for which we are all constantly yearning.

The great heroes of Mythology generally reveal themselves to be true patriots first and foremost. Cúchulainn and Fionn mac Cumhaill were both tied to their land more than they were tied to any physical person, even speaking of that land as if it actually were a person. This sort of affection has been carried down to our present day, as “My Land” testifies. If this tells us anything, it is that love is not a quality that should be reserved solely for our fellow human beings. We can love the soil that gave us sustenance as much as we love the parents who brought us food and life.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: New York City after Sandy

November 1st, 2012

We’re a cocky bunch, us humans. We think it normal to go anywhere and everywhere. We have walked on the moon. We have invented devices that allow us to talk to friends on the other side of the planet, and we do so without a second thought. We have figured out why apples fall down from trees rather than up, why we get certain diseases and how to combat them, and we’ve travelled faster than the speed of sound. All things considered, we must be the most impressive species ever to have inhabited the Earth.

And then something comes along and reminds us that we’re a just globs of atoms running around, trying to enjoy, or just make sense of, the tiny, brief flicker of life that we each possess. This week, that something was Hurricane Sandy. We did not invent this thing (actually, this Texas-based radio host believes precisely the opposite), but it put a stop to most, if not all, of the aforementioned achievements. Telephone and internet connections went down, hospitals had to close, as did airports and other transportation centers. While gravity itself remained intact, things did not quite fall down in the normal way, preferring instead a more scenic route that also involved upward and sideways before joining other debris on the ground.

It sounds strange, maybe even cruel, but my friends and I got through the storm without much hassle. We huddled in an apartment, made Old Fashioneds, and even stepped out to see what was going on. The personal consequences for me are that I lost a few hundred dollars in terms of opportunity cost due to my workplace having suffered a blackout as well as some superficial damage. For others, they lost lives, homes, and other property.

A mixture of cabin fever, curiosity, sympathy, and an eerily calm and beautiful evening just hours after the storm led a few of us into a decision – we would walk from Bushwick, Brooklyn, where we live, to Manhattan. And so we did.

Crossing the Williamsburg Bridge, it looked like we were crossing into something more like Pyongyang than New York City. Complete darkness. Everything south of 34th street was powerless. Have a look at this photograph below, which would normally reveal the bright lights of the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center.

The whole of lower Manhattan – the centre of the financial world – was without a commodity that has been with us for almost two centuries: artificial light. No traffic lights (but plenty of cars almost crashing into each other), no phone network, no internet, no business, no public transportation.

We walked north about fifteen minutes from the Lower East Side to the East Village in almost complete darkness, save the odd candle flickering in the windows or the headlights of a car passing by. We found a bar, valiantly selling cans of cheap beer and liquor. Someone must have gone uptown for ice a few hours earlier. When a local with a dodgy haircut and raspy, New York voice shouted, in a way only Americans can pull off, “Everybody, let’s have it for New York! Wooooooo!” we all joined in. The lawlessness meant that a regular was smoking at the bar, and soon everyone except me was puffing away. It was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to being in a Speakeasy, prohibition style.

I said it to a friend earlier today, and I still feel this way, but the complete lack of routine and ad hoc nature of daily life in recent days has made me feel that I am living in the third person. It doesn’t feel like I own the time that is passing before me. Without regular work, and also with the fact I’m moving out this week, Hurricane Sandy came at a very weird time. I’m just thankful (though to whom, I don’t know) that I am healthy and lost nothing material, and that my friends can say the same. To anyone reading who cannot say likewise, you have my utmost sympathy and moral support.