Monday, January 31, 2005

Steroids for the individual vote

Instant run-off voting. Proportional representation. Why haven't these been in place all along?

An interesting Reuters
article discusses efforts by Krist Novoselic (surprisingly, the former bassist for the band Nirvana) to improve the American voting system. Instant run-offs would allow voters to vote for more than one candidate and rank them in their order of preference. Proportional representation "would allocate legislative seats based on the percentage of votes a party receives."

Adoption of these ideas is such a no-brainer that it makes me scratch my head about why they weren't designed into the system in the first place and why they're going to face such an uphill battle for acceptance. Might I be permitted a quiet "duh"? Why should all of the seats of a district go to the winning party? Why shouldn't I be allowed to vote for a first choice, second choice, third choice?

When it comes to voting, we really are still living in the eighteenth century.

My email to Zaven Kouyoumidjian


This is in response to your email reply to Ali regarding gays being interviewed on your show without masks.

I understood your point of view until I read in Ali's newsgroup posting that you allowed prostitutes to wear masks during their interview. Why the double standard? I'm really surprised by that. If you applied the restriction "No one appears on the show in a mask" equally, it would be acceptable. But if you allow one group protection from the consequences of appearing on the show but don't allow another group protection from those same consequences, it diminishes your credibility.

My suspicion is that you don't want to address the topic of homosexuality at all on the show, and "no masks" is simply a delaying tactic. But it definitely is time to include this topic in your list of other ground-breaking topics.

You wrote to Ali "If really he doesn’t have a problem with his sexual identity he must accept to talk without a mask." But the need for a mask isn't really about a person being ashamed of his sexual orientation. It's about avoiding physical attacks and the stigmatizing of his family after he appears on the show. Very big difference.

If you allowed masks for the first couple of shows in which gays were interviewed, or if you took the time to explain to the group ( why you feel it's the right time to appear on the show without a mask, it would be good. But if your response is merely "My answer is still the same," I (and probably everyone in the group) would begin to suspect that you simply don't want to touch this topic, and that the reason for that reluctance is ratings.

>Hi Ali

>Thanks for your mail again
>But my answer is still the same
>I want a real homosexual without a mask
>I cannot stigmate him more through the mask
>If really he doesn’t have a problem with his sexual identity
>He must accept to talk without a mask
>Keep in touch

Saturday, January 29, 2005


As I write this, it's approaching 4:00 a.m. in Baghdad on its first election day in half a century. I imagine most Iraqis are over the idea of elections and democracy and expect things to continue pretty much as they are, or were under Saddam, no matter who is elected or what gets included in the new constitution. But it truly would be great if a peaceful, Canadian-like democracy emerged from the chaos.

Canadian? I, personally, really like Canada. Progressive, smart. If it weren't for the latitude thing, I would've emigrated long ago. I've been wondering, since the U.S. has Alaska—which is so clearly Canadian land that a 5-year-old looking at a map will ask "Why isn't that part of Canada?"—why don't we let California be Canada's "Alaska," a non-contiguous province? Wouldn't that make things a bit more symmetrical? So...when can we vote on the ballot measure?

I can understand the Sunni reluctance to adopt democracy. They represent only 20% of the population of Iraq, compared to the Shiites' 60%. Any democracy can degenerate into mob rule, as it has in the U.S. (I mentioned in an earlier post that the Electoral College was designed precisely to protect the country from mob rule, but I don't know that it ever has. It was intended merely to parrot the popular vote? Where's the protection in that?) However, I don't understand the generations of hostility between Shia and Sunni in Iraq. From my distant observation point, it looks as if this deadly rift is between, say, Catholics and Baptists. Yes, there are doctrinal differences, but generations of hatred, persecution, murder, continuing into the 21st century? I've said it before (in my other
blog): People love war—it's the ultimate football game.

If I could encourage Iraqis to do anything, it would be to picture Canada when they think of democracy. Or Australia. Or other smart countries like those. Democracy doesn't have to be American.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The aftermath in Glendale

It's significant that my first reaction to finding Los Feliz Blvd. something like a war zone this morning was to think "al Qaeda." We're conditioned by the news.

When I learned that the bus I was riding had to follow a detour, I got out and began walking. Immediately the drone of five helicopters, hovering stationary up in the gray sky, set an ominous tone. Police cars blocked intersections. Yellow do-not-cross tapes blocked some stretches of sidewalk. It was about 11:00 a.m. and I still hadn't learned about the train derailment, which had occurred around 6:00 a.m. As I passed a department-store parking lot, I could see half a dozen satellite-dishes thrust up from news vans among the parked cars. Because activity seemed to center in the parking lot, my next thought was "hostage situation." But after I walked under the railroad overpass and saw a couple of tanker trucks marked "hazardous materials containment" parked in the deserted street, my guess went back to "al Qaeda." The drone of the helicopters was unrelenting as I continued walking. They were probably just news choppers, but because they were too high for me to see any details, I just assumed they were police or military.

When I finally heard the story of the aborted suicide and consequent train collisions, I still thought "Okay, was the guy a terrorist with an assumed name? Or, had the guy been set up by terrorists to do it that way?" Automatic. See A, think B. Maybe in the current climate it's a good thing to be emotionally prepared for the worst. Or maybe the bad guys are succeeding in messing with our heads.

My heart goes out to the people who lost loved ones, to those who were injured, and to the emergency personnel on the scene.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Protesters at the inaugural parade
Never before had the Park Service granted a protest group dedicated space for the inaugural parade, organizers said... Ramsey Clark, an antiwar figure who served as attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson, appeared early and told the crowd that the Bush administration had "made the world a more dangerous place. It's because of what we've done and what we're doing right now," Mr. Clark said, adding, "Impeachment now is essential to the integrity of the U.S. government and the people of the United States."

The New York Times, 01/21/05

Please go to to learn more.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Who would Jesus indict?

If Dubya wants to be the most evangelical president in U.S. history, shouldn't his administration have been the most squeaky-clean of all? As a former conservative Baptist, I would think an evangelical approach to governing would result in the administration's policies being pedantically, rigidly, unequivocally ethical. But this administration hasn't been soiled by mud its opponents had to dig long and hard to find and then misrepresent. The scandal clinging to this administration is actually easy to come up with. Nobody has to throw mud at them; it's sort of just there in the fabric.

Slick Dick

Nearly a year ago, this column appeared on MSN:

Another Halliburton Probe
The Justice Department has opened up an inquiry into whether Halliburton Co. was involved in the payment of $180 million in possible kickbacks to obtain contracts to build a natural gas plant in Nigeria during a period in the late 1990's when Vice President Dick Cheney was chairman of the company, Newsweek has learned.

A few weeks prior to this, The Nation included this article:

Will the French Indict Cheney?
The suspected bribe money was mostly ladled out between 1995 and 2000, when Cheney was Halliburton's CEO. The Journal du Dimanche reported on December 21 that "it is probable that some of the 'retrocommissions' found their way back to the United States" and asked, did this money go "to Halliburton's officials? To officials of the Republican Party?" These questions have so far gone unasked by America's media, which have completely ignored the explosive Le Figaro headline revealing the targeting of Cheney. It will be interesting to see if the US press looks seriously into this ticking time-bomb of a scandal before the November elections.

And this story has dropped off the radar at CNN too? Wait a minute, our memories aren't that short. What about Cheney's role in these bribes?

As I recall, we were given a glass of Monica Whitewater chardonnay every night at dinner with the 6:00 news. Does Kenneth Starr advocate pursuing this investigation with equal fervor? And why not?

Okay, so, where do we stand with Ken Lay?

A bit of background from Wikipedia:

Lay sold large amounts of his Enron stock in September and October of 2001 as its price fell, while encouraging employees to buy more stock, telling them the company would rebound.

Lay liquidated more than $300 million in Enron stock from 1989 to 2001, mostly in stock options.

On July 7, 2004, Kenneth Lay was indicted by a grand jury in Houston, Texas for his role in Enron's collapse. Lay was charged, in a 65-page indictment, with 11 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, and making false and misleading statements. If convicted on all counts, Lay faces 175 years in prison.

Nearly three years passed between Lay's insider trading (10/01) and his indictment (07/04), and now six months have passed since the indictment. He's even dropped off the radar at CNN.

Time slows as velocity increases, so maybe he's been spending a lot of time in his private jet. Or Air Force One.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Missionary positions

My email to Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble With Islam.


In Bette Davis’ words: Love! You!

I’m about halfway through The Trouble With Islam and, if I really wanted to start gushing I wouldn’t be able to say enough good things about it or the good work you’re doing. But gushing gets old for the gushee, so just realize there’s the potential for it, and we’ll leave it at that.

I’m writing because I made my way to your website and to a response you wrote to a letter from a fellow named Muhammad and was stopped in my tracks by the term "missionary atheists." Hey wait, what? I suppose the peremptory aspect I sensed in your response could be entirely the result of the mountain of emails you receive and answer, and you were simply processing one and quickly moving on to the next. But this use of the sort-of pejorative "missionary" comes from a person who is trying to bring together Muslims, Jews and Christians, who protested the Taliban’s toppling of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan, who is unquestionably inclusive and tolerant. But when it comes to atheists, she’s just "I don’t think so"? I anticipate your response to be that it’s not the atheism but the atheists who never let up on the proselytizing. Okay, but you yourself are a missionary, pushing an Islam in which every Muslim is encouraged to think responsibly for himself. And you yourself never let up. (Just ask the person nearest your desk. Their answer will probably involve some rolling of the eyes.) The missionary response is normal for a person who believes he has seen an important light. He automatically wants to share it with others. Please enlarge your tolerance to include the over-eager atheist. He is to you what you are to the mainstream Muslim.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


An interesting article in the Washington Times: "Blue States Buzz Over Secession" dated 9 November 2004. An excerpt:

In a telephone interview, Mr. O'Donnell said the red states that went to Mr. Bush "collect more from the federal government than they send in. New York and California, Connecticut — the states that are blue are all the states that are paying for the bulk of everything this government does, from ... Social Security to everything else, and the people in those states don't like what this government is doing."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Bush nude (pic!)

Wanna see the President nude? Just watch the inauguration. Fifty million dollars' worth of new clothes for the emperor!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The reds from the blues

The differences between conservatives and liberals in the U.S. are so great that it occurs to me to recommend secession.

Our differences are so fundamental that compromise is rarely an option. Those who want to protect a woman's right to choose for herself will not compromise with those who want to protect unborn babies from being murdered. And vice versa. Those who want to keep church and state separate will not compromise with those who want to keep this one nation under God. And vice versa. Fundamental differences, the kind over which people go to war.

So...what if the blue states seceded from the red states?

Instantly, we get the reply "But it's one nation under God, indivisible!" Okay, but the Pledge of Allegiance isn't in the Constitution. I found an interesting discussion of secession on a website titled The War for States' Rights. The discussion is on this page, but I'll quote it here because it's so eye-opening that I don't want it to be overlooked.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there any mention of the union of the states being permanent. This was not an oversight by any means. Indeed, when New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia ratified the Constitution, they specifically stated that they reserved the right to resume the governmental powers granted to the United States. Their claim to the right of secession was understood and agreed to by the other ratifiers, including George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention and was also a delegate from Virginia. In his book Life of Webster Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge writes, "It is safe to say that there was not a man in the country, from Washington and Hamilton to Clinton and Mason, who did not regard the new system as an experiment from which each and every State had a right to peaceably withdraw." A textbook used at West Point before the Civil War, A View of the Constitution, written by Judge William Rawle, states, "The secession of a State depends on the will of the people of such a State."
However, an article on Slate discusses the focus on the Constitution in the senate debate in 1830 between Webster and Hayne:

Was it merely a treaty among the many states? Or was it the founding document of a singular country, a compact of the "people" cited in its opening clause? This legal argument, among other things, eventually begat the Civil War, and since it ended, scholars have agreed that the Constitution grants no right of secession.
In the current sociological climate, it's unfortunate that there's no room to approach even the discussion of secession. It's like locking Israelis and Palestinians in a single nation with no possibility of becoming separate nations which respect each other. And if this simile seems a little extreme, try pushing harder for compromise between the red states and the blue states. What you'll get won't be purple, but a hot yellow-white as tension rises. The red states are more than willing to go to war to keep this one nation under God.

Since the Constitution itself does not specifically prohibit secession, it may be time to reexamine our interpretation of the Constitution which doesn't allow for it. That interpretation predates the Civil War. We've learned much since then.

Friday, January 14, 2005

An oxymoron: wealthy Christians

Since there are only so many ways to interpret "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth," I have to wonder about the sincerity of Christian fundamentalists who are as wealthy as the Bush dynasty. Or Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for that matter, both multi-millionaires. God has blessed them for their faithfulness? Blessed them with treasures on earth? So...Jesus didn't get that memo?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Electoral Community College

It occured to me that the Electoral College was created to safeguard against a charismatic charlatan being elected directly by the popular vote. It seems a little unnecessary if the Electoral College does nothing but parrot the popular vote.

cha-ris-ma a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure.

char-la-tan one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability.

Impeach Bush

Please go to this website and cast your referendum vote to impeach Bush:

You can send a message directly to your representative in the US House of Representatives by going to this website and typing in your zipcode.

Impeachment is the sole responsibility of the House of Representatives, following which "the Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments."

In retrospect, Monica Whitewater pales in comparison to the fabrication of weapons of mass destruction to create a justification for going to war.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Tsunami footage

CNN and the other news networks insist on repeatedly showing footage of people being swept away because it's good for ratings.

What is with that? People want to watch disasters over and over? Like the World Trade Center towers coming down. How many people have that in their video libraries? I remember a commercial for a popular video showing a woman being hit by a train.

What is with that?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Prayers for tsunami survivors

If the tsunami disaster was part of God's larger plan...why do we need to pray for the survivors?

I have to say this, even though it's an extremely unwelcome comment. All of the world's religions are sending to their faithful via any number of media the message: Pray for the tsunami survivors. But if the disaster was part of God's plan, the survivors are also part of that plan. Since, for God, the future has already happened, the prayers were answered, one way or another, before they were uttered.

But suggesting a human not pray is like suggesting he not struggle to escape from a dangerous situation. It's an automatic response.

Another question is why would the disaster actually strengthen some people's faith? My natural reaction to the disaster is to wonder if it weren't a punishment for the evil we create in the world. But most religions are interpreting the disaster as simply part of God's larger, if mystifying, plan. So God actually included the earthquake and resultant tsunamis when he laid out the timeline of history? He wrote it into the story? If he did, do you want to continue referring to him as "the merciful, the just"? Or, if he simply set the tectonic plates in motion when he created Earth and let them follow their own course, was the disaster something he couldn't stop after he had set up the conditions? The disaster was too big for him to stop? He could handle the smaller miracles, like those Paula Zahn shows us on CNN, but he couldn't stop the earthquake before it happened? And if he could, he chose not to? None of these interpretations increase my confidence that God is either 1) a good guy or 2) in complete control. (More about this in my other blog, which is posted entirely on virtual T-shirts.)

But every religion, in every disaster situation like this, comforts the faithful with some variation of a statement like this: "God's ways are higher than our ways. It is not for us to understand now, it is just for us to continue to trust that he loves us and will provide for us."

If you can take comfort in those words, then do. Take comfort. But please don't vote.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Contemplating the Muslim experience in America

When I was about two-thirds of the way through writing my book, the war in Iraq started, and every evening during dinner we were bombarded with harsh images of war. The images would have been disturbing enough on their own, as scenes in a movie, but the fact that they had been preceded by months of protests against going to war intensified their emotional impact. There was no first A.D. to yell "Cut!" The American soldiers weren't stuntmen. The ordinary Iraqis caught in the middle weren't extras. It was the flashing, sparkling madness of real war. The war we could not stop. Waged during the reign we could not end.

Because the war weighed so heavily on my mind, it was natural, inevitable, that I would consider including Muslim characters in the next segment of the book. But the idea was intimidating because I knew it would require a good deal of research for the writing to be worth anything. If I created characters who were no more fleshed out than the fleeting images of Iraqi men I saw on the news broadcasts, there wouldn't be any point to writing about those characters. But what did I know about Muslims? My knowledge extended no further than the news coverage. (Except, of course, for that one time the previous year when I walked by the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City on my way to tour the old MGM Studios lot [now Sony] and noticed quite a few men outside the mosque as I walked by. But I wasn't in research mode at the time, and so I mostly focused on the architecture while thinking something like Oh wow, that's a real mosque.)

The first place to go, then, is a search engine, and I came up with numerous Muslim sites. Because I wanted my portrayal of the characters to be credible, I decided to have them be American-born so I could avoid falling into "foreigner" cliches. I thought it might be useful to use Margaret Cho as a reference point. Even though she spent her early years in Korea, she is so uber-American that no one would guess she's Asian from just hearing her talk on the radio, I am like so sherrr. "You look like you were attacked by a Bedazzler." I also wanted the characters to be gay and found a few gay Muslim sites.

One of the characters I had already created was a female impersonator who patterned herself after Rita Hayworth, the movie goddess of the 40s and 50s. I had learned in my research that Hayworth had been married briefly to a Persian prince, and it occurred to me to give the Muslim character who becomes romantically involved with her a Persian background to reflect that bit of Hollywood history. My Web searches led me to the website of the L.A. chapter of Homan, the Iranian LGBT organization. I learned a lot from that site and from the links I followed, and I even exchanged a few emails with people.

It eventually came to my attention that I shouldn't be lumping Persians and Arabs together in the same ethnic category. I wrote in an email to one fellow that I wasn't a falafel queen. In his reply, he calmly mentioned that falafel is associated with Arabs and his family was from Iran. He was nice about it. 'Course I felt stupid and hurried back to the search engines after apologizing. As I continued researching, I felt that the Persian-American character was a good addition to the story because of the reference to Old Hollywood he represented, but I thought that the reason I was looking in this direction at all was because of my emotional reaction to what was going on in Iraq. I decided that a second character should be an Iraqi-American. My searches turned up and the Yahoo group GayArabs. More links and a few more emails.

Unfortunately, I didn't make much progress in getting gay Muslim-American men interested in talking to me about their experiences in the U.S. Of course I can understand their reluctance. A complete stranger sends you an email asking if you'd like to talk about your life so he can work it into a script? Ya, right. Who knows where that could lead? Any number of scenarios, all of them unpleasant. I even had one fellow write to me asking me not to include any Muslim characters. He suggested I write about the Armenian experience in America instead since, with my Christian background, I would have an easier time understanding the Christian Armenian mind than the Muslim mind.

But I really didn't want to give up the idea of taking the story in this direction. It felt like an important thing to do every evening while watching the "end" of the war in Iraq and the ongoing occupation. I had learned enough already to know that all Muslims aren't murderous zealots. I wanted to learn more just for my own knowledge and to make at least a small contribution to the public's knowledge. I thought that the next best thing to talking to a person would be to read a book they had written, and my searches led me to Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber. A beautifully written book! I learned much from her exquisite descriptions, her firsthand knowledge of the Arab-American experience in the Westwood suburb of L.A. Other sources I used for research are:

Scattered Crumbs, Muhsin Al-Ramli

Islamic Homosexualities, Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe

The Arabian Nights, Husain Haddaway, translator

City of Strangers, John Shannon

Tales From Arab Detroit (VHS), Joan Mandell, director

I'm currently reading The Trouble With Islam by Irshad Manji. It did cross my mind that converting to Islam would go a long way toward helping me understand the Muslim mind, but at this point (I'm an agnostic ex-Baptist), converting to any religion would be a daunting task. I'd have to put my entire left-brain up on blocks in a garage and leave it there to accept anything beyond what a scientist accepts from the data that results from his experiments. So I thought it might be useful to approach Islam from the opposite direction and learn from Ms. Manji as she dissects and examines her personal experiences with Islam in the U.S. She's an engaging writer. I think of her as the Arab world's Gloria Steinem, a feminist who just won't let up. I hope Manji can have as positive an effect in the Arab world as Steinem had in the U.S.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Fiat Libri

My book has just appeared in’s database. It’s entitled Life Doesn’t Always, and I'm using the nom de plume John Garvey. The book appeared a few weeks ago in Barnes & Noble’s and’s databases, but it still isn’t available for ordering from either one. It is available through Amazon. I wonder what the difference is. The same distributor—Ingram—services all three sellers.

I created a webpage that gives more information about the book. It includes a couple of small posters, the front and back covers and an excerpt.

I should mention that the book is written in script format because it started out as feature-length screenplays. I wrote the first screenplay, The Allegheny Starlight, as a sort of catharsis to get some of the issues related to my coming out of the closet out of my system. But I created a couple of characters that I liked so much that I wrote a second screenplay, The Death Valley Zephyr, to continue with those characters and add more. When I finished that screenplay I thought Gee, this is fun! and started the third screenplay, The Sunset Local, and so on until I finished the seventh screenplay, Chameleon Night. I was about to start my eighth screenplay when it occurred to me (finally, duh) that what I was actually doing was writing a drama series, and so I broke up the seven screenplays into thirteen episode scripts (including a two-hour pilot) and gave it the title Life Doesn’t Always.

I suppose at the time, it was the only way I could have gotten it done. If I had set out initially to write fourteen hours of screen drama, it would have been too intimidating and I would’ve given up. But breaking it up into smaller segments made it more manageable. Now that the gay cable-TV networks are starting up or will soon start, there’s actually a chance that my drama series will find a home. And I'm hoping to draw word-of-mouth attention to it by putting the scripts into book form and making the book available through booksellers like

I do have to apologize for the price of the book, though. I definitely did not price the book at $34.99 because I thought it was just so extra-special that it needed an extra-special price. The cost of printing a 735-page book in the print-on-demand network that the distributor, Ingram, uses is what made the price so high. I would have been happy to set the price at $6.99, but it wasn’t up to me.

Now if only I could get Oprah to recommend my book...