Thursday, August 24, 2006

When Is Progress Not Progress?

This past Monday, Wal Mart has entered into a partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Leaving the Chamber to make the announcement (no press release came from the company), representatives of the megacorp nonetheless expressed that "[Wal Mart] is making a very sincere effort to reach out to people who are a significant part of our customer base."

I came across this while listeing (as all highly-educated, hyper astute individuals do of course) to NPR today and Cox News (yes, I'm tempted to be crass here) offers a write-up that includes most of what I heard on the radio (found courtesy of Wal Mart Watch). The article details the totally not-unexpected resistance from right-wing "family" groups and also the not-surprising negative reaction from liberal groups opposed to Wal Mart's decidely non-worker friendly policies, regardless of sexual orientation.

While mention is made of Wal Mart's interest in expanding into urban areas, home to greater populations of the gay-folk, what it doesn't expound upon (that NPR did) is that Wal Mart is also seeking not just to increase its customer base, but specifically looking for those with more disposable income. (I always hear that us queers have tons of disposable income. When do I get mine?) Wal Mart wants people to spend more during each trip and the way to do that is to cultuvate a more, shall we say, income-available crowd. Wal Mart has to up it's snob appeal.

It is, of course, somewhat of a conundrum. On one hand, any positive step for greater acceptance of gay people in society is a good thing. On the other hand, it's merely a calculated business move to generate more income, not a gesture motivated out of some inherent ethical perspective or foundation. It's both affirmation and cynical manipulation in the same embrace.

Also, shouldn't we as a community be concerned for the more encompassing ills that Wal Mart perpetuates as a company? It is decidedly unfriendly in its policies for its workers and its business practices to drive down prices from its suppliers frequently have disasterous trickle-down effects for those suppliers and/or their employees. Americans think Wal Mart is a good deal (well, some do, others of us find it a disgusting and unethical place to shop at and others are forced out of necessity to shop there) but in the long run, many practices are probably hurting the people who need those low prices the most.

Right wing pundits in the article claim that Wal Mart's core shopping group will stop shopping at the stores because of this seemingly gay-friendly move. Not likely. We've seen the disasterous effects that the Southern Baptist boycotts have had on the finances of the Disney Corporation. Disney is ready to sell their theme parks to Jerry Faldwell just to get out of debt. And Disney is entertainment. Wal Mart provides food and other supplies that are vital to people living or having any quality of life.

Americans are not civic minded and self-sacrificing enough over any issue above their own pocketbook. If Wal Mart prices stay low, they won't lose any revenue. Much of the country could probably care less to begin with, as attitudes towards gay rights continue to become more positive. In the end, this is a no-lose motion on Wal Mart's part. The company can only gain by giving the perception that it's a welcoming affirming place, especially for rich queens and sapphic home makers (or renovators).

In other non-progressive news, Wayne Besen reports on a New York Baptist church firing a Sunday School teacher because she's a woman (and an old one at that). The decision was based in the literal interpretation of the Epistle of Timothy: ""I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.""

This was New York state, might I add. Shut up about the red state crap now.

And on a happier note, I was amused by the story on All Things Considered today of a Nova Scotia lobster seller who had to innovate on their shipping of lobsters. No longer able to pack the lobsters in ice or cold gel packs, the company became truly clever and now packs the lobsters in...frozen vegetables. Not only do they work as well as ice, but now the company advertises a free vegetable side! That, my friends, is using the ole noggin.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Hijacking That's Truly a Concern

Sent to me from my friend Anne (oooh, Anne, you got a blog mention - don't you feel blogworthy?)

Hijacking fears and values
By Bishop Paul V. Marshall
August 2006

This is Bishop Paul Marshall’s August column for secular newspapers, usually different from his column in Diocesan Life. The column is sent to newspapers throughout our 14 counties. It is published by The Morning Call, Allentown, on the first (occasionally, the second) Saturday of every month. The combined circulation of papers that publish the column regularly is about 400,000. More than 100 columns have been published over the past nine years.

When Samuel Johnson observed in 1775 that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” he was disapproving of scoundrels, not patriotism.

What scoundrels did, and do, is hijack people’s values in order to amass power and wealth for themselves. It is not just patriotism that is used this way, but anything that evokes people’s fear of losing what is sacred to them. Family and moral values are recent examples of values being hijacked for ignoble purposes.

When the two can’t be told apart, religion is as bad as politics. No religion on earth fails to have blood on its hands – the arguments tend to boil down to whose religion has more.

No fictional example of the moral profiteer is more memorable than Professor Harold Hill of The Music Man, who sells musical instruments and band uniforms by harnessing people’s fear that their youth may be corrupted by the presence of a pool table.

No real-life example is more horrific than what happened in Europe when an evil man convinced Germans that they were victims of a conspiracy in the 1930s.

What will history say of our own time?

Eric Fromm, who gave much of his career to helping people live and love authentically, observed: “There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as moral indignation, which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue.”
History provides an example. The Crusades, no matter what the motivation of their initiators, became the opportunity for breath-taking pillage and murder.

Can anyone say that the love of God motivated those crimes? Of course not, but those who perpetrated them said so. Some of them apparently believed it.

Fromm and Johnson suggest a test for weighing our responses to what we see and hear. If someone consistently raises our fears and repeatedly harks on what is wrong in an effort to get our votes or our money, we may be in the presence of a scoundrel.

If someone reduces patriotism or morality to one issue or a very small cluster of issues, a scoundrel may be at work.

If we notice that our outrage can be linked to our own sense of personal security or to our pocketbooks, we may be listening to a scoundrel.

That’s the easy part – if the alarms just described go off, don’t vote for the scoundrels and don’t give them money. The more challenging part is regulation of whatever, inside our own souls, makes us vulnerable to the scoundrel’s pitch.

Fromm says that the envy and hate on which the scoundrel relies are already there. The scoundrel merely provides the channel through which they can flow.

It is worth asking ourselves, when we hear a stirring denunciation of someone else, what in us makes us interested in hearing such things?

An answer comes in part from the fact that we tend to blame in others what we fear in ourselves. This may explain why so many high-profile crusaders turn out to have secretly sordid lives.

Those who are willing to look into the chaos of their own souls tend to give others a break. People who know their lives to be in order are seldom obsessed with apparent disorder in the lives of others.

The highest use of religion is not to create the illusion of order and a place from which to obsess about the failings of those around us. The highest use of religion is to make us enough at peace with our own dark places that there is no joy in degrading others. Such a state of things would put a lot of scoundrels out of work, but it would be pleasant.

[The Rt. Rev. Paul V. Marshall is bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem, 14 counties of eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania. Additional columns and sermons by Bishop Marshall are available]

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Crazy Season

This is the time of year that gets the busiest for me; the days leading up to the opening of the buildings and moreso the start of the academic year. Although the halls opening has much less impact on my job than getting ready for class does and the return of the faculty causes me more work than the return of the RAs, this time nonetheless is exceptionally busy for me. This year should prove to be exceptionally moreso; it will be a matter of picking out my priorities and focusing on them and ignoring that which doesn't get done simply because there weren't enough hours in a day.

Of course, one of those priorities must be my relationship with Peter, whose job just never seems to get done. We are looking forward to some time together later this Fall, but our anniversary time was severely cut into this year by the demands of both our jobs. We got in some QT, but it just wasn't enough, plus we're both exhausted right now.

That exhaustion does worry me for Peter's health. I'm convinced it played a major part in his profound illness back in March. And our now-former doctor failed to adequately explore what exactly caused it all, in my opinion. We finally found a really good doctor today, one who understands the issues of two gay men and one who, more importantly, seemed interested and caring in his approach. He's far away from us (a good 30 minutes using the interstate) but I think he'll be worth it. This has given me no small piece of mind; do not underestimate the importance of a good doc.

The frustration with the past-doc definitely raised the issue as to why exactly she failed to provide an adequate level of care. Although I never got an anti-gay vibe from her, the question of course popped into both of our heads. It's a shame, really, to have to even consider the possibility. Being white men, it's easy for us to forget the world of priviledge we belong to and how we get by most days without thinking about if we got shafted because of who we are. It is the consequence of being completely out (and I wouldn't have it any other way) that we do sometimes run into the wall of subordinate membership. We may not have been discriminated against, but maybe we did and I hate even thinking about it. I've had this conversation several times with black friends: they don't want to think that they second-hand treatment (or worse) simply because of their race; they don't want to play the race card, yet it's hard not to wonder. And when that pattern becomes repeated, then obviously something is going on here.

My experience is that reasonable people seek reasonable answers. Even when the reasonable answer is, yes, we live in a society that oppresses certain groups daily, usually in the most subtle, unnoticed, or underhanded ways, most reasonable people belonging to a subordinate group look for another reason. Most people want to believe the best of their fellow person, yet the spectre of reality, the reality of institutionalized -isms is lurking right over their shoulder. It whispers about the shadow side of human behavior. And that whisper is impossible to ignore. Some people hear this whisper daily, others, like myself, less frequently. I want to be the reasonable person; I hope I am right in being so.

Nonetheless, being out is an important decision, especially being out to your doctor. Here's a good article about making that decision and how to find the right doctor. GLMA (the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association) is an invaluable resource for our community. We found our new doctor, whom we are estatic with, through this resource.

We now return you to our regular programming...

Peter's and my relationship has never been more important to us than it is right now; never more alive or central. It's become something that's far deeper than I ever anticipated. I always thought the heady rush that accompanies that initial puppy love stage and stays with you for months even was where it was at. I mourned the loss of that feeling. But what I feel now is far more compelling, important, and ingrained to my being. It's impossible to imagine him not in my life, not with me. It's not just a desire to not be lonely - it's about him. No other substitute is possible, even conceivable. It doesn't mean we're the perfect couple. Certainly we still fuss and fight, but the connection, which at times felt breakable in the past, isn't part of the equation any more.

In regards to other priorities, this blog will take a bit of a back seat unless something really rattles my cage or I suddenly find less work to do (not likely)!