Showing posts with label Book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book. Show all posts

September 12, 2018

The Book on Trump and His White House- Explained




 How did Woodward report this book? And which Trump aides talked to him?
The headline revelations from Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, which was released Tuesday, are troubling ones. The book describes disturbing behavior by the president of the United States and claims that many of his aides actively work to counter what they see as his most destructive instructions.
But though the book contains many new, never-before-reported details — Woodward reports that Trump wanted to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and considered sending a tweet his aides worried could cause war with North Korea — the book is unmistakably the product of the sources who talked the most to the Washington Post reporter, sources who have their own agendas. 
It’s barely a stretch to say Fear reads as Rob Porter, Gary Cohn, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Lindsey Graham, and John Dowd’s account of the Trump administration. Woodward doesn’t explicitly identify any of these six people as his sources, but he provides pages and pages of their thoughts and motivations.
So yes, Fear offers insight into a dysfunctional policy process, with new details of President Trump ranting, raving, and clashing with aides behind the scenes. But it also tells the particular story that Woodward’s major sources have chosen to tell him, and reflects their points of view and priorities. 

Bob Woodward, from Watergate scandal reporter to chronicler of the US government

Woodward rose to prominence as half of the Washington Post’s “Woodward and Bernstein” reporting duo that helped expose the Nixon administration’s Watergate cover-up, with the crucial help of an anonymous source famously dubbed “Deep Throat.” The scandal led to Nixon’s resignation; it also made Woodward one of the most famous reporters in the country. 
Since then, Woodward’s primary aim hasn’t really been to expose deeply hidden scandals (it’s tough to top Watergate, after all). Instead, he’s used his fame and decades of Washington connections to report and write books about what’s going on in the highest levels of the US government.  
His past political books have covered the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve, and several previous presidencies. The books have tried to put readers “in the room,” depicting what happens behind closed doors at these institutions. To do that, Woodward relies on the cooperation and anonymized accounts of top-level government officials — who speak under the shield of “deep background.” 

Deep background, explained

A “background” interview is in the middle of the spectrum ranging from on the record, where a reporter’s source is identified, and off the record, where the information from the source can’t be printed. In a background interview, the reporter agrees not to give the source’s name but can use their information and attribute it somehow — such as by saying it’s according to “a senior administration official.” 
“Deep background,” however, is even vaguer than that. Essentially, Woodward can use the information he gets from his interviews — but he won’t attribute it at all. Instead, he will just write that it happened in a voice-of-God style, without explaining where it’s coming from. (The source notes at the end of Fear say that every chapter’s information “comes primarily from multiple deep background interviews with firsthand sources.”)
Deep background serves several purposes. Stylistically, it allows for a more readable narrative — because, unlike traditional reported works, Woodward doesn’t have to keep slowing down to attribute his information to sources. The critique here is that also can produce a misleading narrative that reads more authoritatively than it should.
The more noble-sounding motivation is that deep background better protects sources’ identities and allows them to speak more freely, by obscuring which information is coming from where, and even how many people it’s coming from. 
The flip side of this is, of course, that anonymous sources may feel freer to lie or mislead if shielded from accountability. The practice also can shield the reporter from some accountability, as we don’t know whether any particular salacious anecdote is coming from one source or several.

Inside the alleged private thoughts of top US government officials

Yet one somewhat paradoxical feature of the way Woodward uses deep background is that it’s often quite obvious who appears to have talked to him. 
That’s because Woodward chooses to write, often at great length, about the supposed “thoughts” and motivations of certain government officials — but not others. Take, for instance, the opening of Chapter 10 of Fear.
As reported on Vox

August 24, 2017

"My Skin Crawled Up" Clinton Thinking of Trump in Her Book 'What Happened'





In her new book about her time on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton said her "skin crawled"  when then-candidate Donald Trump loomed over her during a presidential debate.
"'This is not OK,'" she recalled thinking in What Happened, set to come out Sept. 12. "Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now, we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled."
The excerpt comes from an audio excerpt of the book, which was released Wednesday by MSNBC
Trump's lurking during last year's second presidential debate in St. Louis on Oct. 9 turned heads at the time. The future president was awfully close to his Democratic challenger, who answered a question as he stood behind her.
Clinton said she gripped the microphone "extra hard" and was able to keep her cool because of "a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off."
But she did imagine the alternative, which she admitted would have made for better television.
"Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space?" she asked herself. "Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly, 'Back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women, but you can't intimidate me, so back up.'"
The book, as she references in the audio clip, will feature parts of the campaign she remembers fondly and others she'd rather do over.
"If the Russians could hack my subconscious, they'd find a long list," she said.
She called the campaign, "exhilarating, joyful, humbling, infuriating and just plain baffling." She added she couldn't bear the idea of letting millions of people down.
"But I did," she conceded. "I couldn't get the job done and I'll have to live with that for the rest of my life."
, USA TODAY
Sean Rossman on Twitter: @SeanRossman

May 12, 2017

Murakami’s Men Without Women





'Men Without Women' is classic, hard-to-pin-down Murakami.

There's something about Haruki Murakami that's both grabbing and distancing. A perpetual Nobel Prize contender, the beloved 68-year-old author's books are equally brilliant and bingeworthy, international bestsellers that turn pages while garnering prestigious awards. I experienced this firsthand at my first real job at a New York literary agency in 2015, when rumblings across the secretarial desks spread the news like an earthquake: Murakami was coming to the office to meet with his agent. When I saw him walk by, confident and loose in his runner's body, wearing a suit and fire-engine red sneakers, I wanted to chase after him. He is one of the few contemporary writers who inspire pilgrimages (to the site of the jazz bar he once owned in Shibuya, Tokyo, to suspected locations of his stories) and superfans ("Readers wait for his work the way past generations lined up at record stores for new albums by the Beatles or Bob Dylan," wrote Patti Smith in the New York Times). It would be too simple, though, to attribute this only to his masterful writing. Like an unsolvable case, there's almost always something missing, incomplete, ephemeral about his work that compels us, like many of his characters, to know more.

His newest collection, Men Without Women, continues this trend, though its title is a bit of a tease. It can be read as variations on a theme. And the stories are indeed all, in one way or another, about disappearing women. In the moody opener, "Drive My Car," the main character Kafuku hires a taciturn female driver, despite protesting that women drivers make him nervous. But much like a therapist, her silence teases out his secrets, the still-fresh pain of his wife's affairs and her precipitous death.



In the fractured fairy tale "Kino," a man buys a mysterious house from a never-seen aunt, who may or may not have assigned a spirit to watch over him. The deceptively simple title story, "Men Without Women," begins with a phone call: A woman has committed suicide. But as fun as this thematic riffing is, the book resists such easy classification.


The stories of Men Without Women describe characters in ontological crises whose sense of identity or meaning come from relationships with women, or from the absence of those women. In "Drive My Car," Kafuku befriends, or pretends to befriend, a man he believes was sleeping with his wife just before she died. Kafuku is a successful actor, and he puts on a convincing show of getting to know his rival, hoping to find a weakness he can exploit. Instead, he can't stop thinking of the man's hands on his wife's naked body, and like a good method actor, the performance brings his own pain and confusion to the surface: "Here's what hurts the most. I didn't truly understand her—or at least some crucial part of her. And it may well end that way now that she's dead and gone. Like a small, locked safe lying at the bottom of the ocean." As with all of Murakami's characters, however, these flashes of self-reflection draw us into a relationship only to remind us that we can never know them. Kafuku, for example, is a performer; what passes as candor from him might easily be canned.

In "An Independent Organ," the narrator is a writer who admits to futzing with the truth, and the bizarre death of the doctor he narrates is also the story of an "artificial man." Dr. Tokai is a successful plastic surgeon and womanizer who falls in love for the first time, only to discover that, as he puts it, women have an "independent organ" that allows them to lie. This characterization grates, as do the repeated mentions to the "girls" hiding inside grown women. But the thinness of the female characters also implicates the "artificial" men who narrate their lives. 

This push and pull, an invitation of intimacy that at the same time suggests such intimacy is impossible, creates an electric tension in these stories that is also evident on the sentence level. The mundane gives way suddenly, like an ice floe cracking under our feet, only to reconstitute itself a moment later and swallow up that brief glimpse of what lies below. Take this example from "Kino":

The woman took his hand and guided it to the scars, making him touch each one in turn. There were scars on her breasts, and beside her vagina. She guided his hand as he traced those dark, hard marks, as if he were using a pencil to connect the dots. The marks seemed to form a shape that reminded him of something, but in the end led nowhere. They had sex on the tatami floor. 


And this from "Samsa in Love," a riff on Kafka's classic narrator in "The Metamorphosis":

The pungent fragrance recalled something to him. It did not come directly, however; it arrived in stages. It was a strange feeling, as if he were recollecting the present from the future. As if time had somehow been split in two, so that memory and experience revolved within a closed cycle, each following the other. He poured a liberal amount of cream into his coffee, stirred it with his finger, and drank. 

The tempo is nearly comical in the way the sentences snap us back to the current moment. Murakami employs this contrast between the mundane and mysterious to create a sense of the uncanny, something at once mysterious and homey. What's truly remarkable throughout these stories and much of Murakami's work is how these memories can be transferrable from character to character and to us, the readers. Of course, this could be said in some way about all great works of literature—good prose writing, after all, conveys the thoughts and feelings of its author to its audience—but in Murakami's work, this effect is made explicit: Often we encounter stories within stories, relayed dreams that blur the lines between memories and imaginings. In "Yesterday," the main character hears a girl tell him about her dream—a dream of her sitting with her boyfriend watching an ice-moon half submerged in the sea. The character adopts her memory as his own and, in turn, so does the reader. The novelist Richard Powers has written that Murakami creates a shared consciousness with his readers in much the way mirror neurons respond to another hand picking up a cup of coffee as though moving our own limbs. "In the looping, shared circuitry of mirror neurons," Powers writes that we can find a roadmap to "communal, subterranean truths, the truths that Murakami's mirrorscape of symbols brings into existence as we read him."

It is this sense of shared consciousness, this promise of intimacy that is also the promise of finding home, that creates devotees of Murakami's readers (far more than his rock-star literary status). Ultimately, looking for answers in Murakami's work can seem like a fool's errand. A better way, perhaps, is to embrace it as you would a benevolent guest: someone whose arrival changes us and whose eventual disappearance leaves us to understand that relationship only by its absence.

Tana Wojczuk on Twitter.            VICE
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami  

August 16, 2016

Fighting Conversion Therapy in Ecuador_ The Next Frontier for Haters


 
Baquerizo poses with the English translation of ‘A Safe Place with You(information on the book at end of article by Amazon


Steve Friess writes on Vice how a book and lots of imagination and courage is fighting a war we have almost virtually won in the states. Latin America is the next frontier for these lying crusaders and gay homophobes looking for easy prey. Ecuador is particularly sucestible because the trusting nature of its people and the absence of deep homophobia. What ever happened, happened without giving it names, fanfare or crusades. Guys that like each other met and there are the fields on down time, schools, etc.  That is working agains the young gay population there who find themselves questioning and no one to help. Because of its geographical location and because it’s a poor country you don’t have the proliferation of computers and TV programs that could direct them with the right information. This is where the Conversion group tends to trive but the war is being fought with a weapon most people can share and read.
In 2013, César L. Baquerizo's novel about the horrors of gay reparative therapy in his native Ecuador, Un Lugar Seguro Contigo ("a safe place with you"), was first published in Spanish. Otherwise known as "conversion therapy," gay reparative therapy is a slate of "psychological treatments" intended to convert patients from homosexual to heterosexual. They often employ emotionally scarring and clinically unproven techniques that have been banned in many countries around the world—but the practice remains legal in much of America and proliferates in countries like Ecuador, where 80 percent of citizens are Catholic.

Baquerizo's novel is set in the early 1990s, when homosexuality was still criminalized and hundreds of clinics operated in the country. It relates the journey of two young men from Guayaquil, Tomás and Sebastián, as they progress through one such clinic named "Grow and Live Normally." The horrors they experience—including electroshock therapy, physical aversion therapy, forced medication, and more—may have seemed so extreme to readers that they could have dismissed them out of hand as fiction, a shameful lesson from Ecuador's deep past. That wasn't easy to do, though, because in that year a lesbian named Zulema Constante was being held against her will in such a "dehomosexualisation clinic" at the behest of her homophobic parents, and her girlfriend was taking the unusual step of demanding her release via social media. The story made headlines around the world.

In theory, that should have been the one-two punch to shake the conservative nation out of its long-standing denial over such crimes. And, in fact, 2012 seemed like just such a breakout year, as the government vowed to shut down all such centers and President Rafael Correa even appointed a lesbian activist as health minister.

But, as of this June, the month Baquerizo's book made its English-language debut, Ecuadorian LGBTQ rights have hardly advanced since. "Whenever one of these places close down, they reopen," lesbian activist Diana Maldonado, director of La Voz LGBTI, an Ecuadorian gay rights group, told VICE at a cafe in Guayaquil last month. "They don't publicize that they're curing homosexuality. They say they're treating alcohol, drugs, whatever. But parents pay extra to get the 'full' package."
Indeed, even as legal rights for LGBT people expand across the region—same-sex marriage was legal in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay before last June's Supreme Court gay marriage ruling, for instance—the nonprofit North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) says the pernicious "ex-gay" movement is as robust as ever across South and Latin America. "The belief that homosexuality is a sickness in need of a cure... remains widespread region-wide, providing a constant supply of mostly young LGBT people for the private practice of 'conversion therapies,'" NACLA's Annie Wilkinson wrote last year.

"It's supposed to be that these centers are illegal, but still they operate in hiding and with the family's approval," Baquerizo told VICE. "Ecuador lives a façade of lies. People from around the world say it is a secular and progressive country, which it absolutely is not. The reality is far from that."

Latin America's conversion therapy movement emerged from the ashes of its increasing disfavor in the United States, where it largely originated. In 1973, the same year the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness, gay conversion group Love in Action was founded, which morphed into Exodus. In 1994, it created two separate organizations, Exodus Latin America and, later, Exodus International. In the US, the group became ostracized and mocked as science debunked its practices and high-profile figures were exposed as closeted gay hypocrites. In the face of growing visibility and political power for LGBTQ Americans, Exodus shut down in 2012. By then, its final president, Alan Chambers, apologized to patients for "the pain and hurt many of you have experienced."

These days, the movement to ban such therapy sits near the top of US gay activists' to-do list, especially in the face of the GOP's inclusion of such therapy as a plank in the party's 2016 platform. Success has been slow but steady, beginning in 2012 with California and now reaching five states, DC, and Cincinnati. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a fiat barring insurance companies from covering it. The US Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of such bans when challenged by right-wing religious groups, but a new federal lawsuit challenging Illinois's statute was filed last Thursday.

While the conversion therapy movement atrophied in the US, American evangelical leaders found fertile ground in pushing their discredited pray-the-gay-away creed abroad, and Exodus Global Alliance remains a formidable force across Latin America and Africa in particular. Exodus International's first office abroad, in fact, was established in 1998 in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. Homosexuality in the country was only decriminalized in 1997.

"The thinking behind their presence elsewhere in the world, especially in developing, religious countries, was that these were places they could grow," David Maas, a co-author of a 2013 study, "The 'Ex-Gay' Movement in Latin America: Therapy and Ministry in the Exodus Network," told VICE.

Baquerizo, now 30, was never sent to an ex-gay clinic, though when he came out to his parents in his early 20s, his mother took him to a physician, who tried to persuade him to take testosterone to become more "manly." He refused, moved "to live far away from the influence of my family," and began writing his novel in 2011. He based it on newspaper accounts he says he read of clandestine operations where gay and questioning teens and young adults were subject to torture, including rape and electro-shock therapy. It's unclear how many conversion therapy clinics exist across Ecuador today, because they're fly-by-night operations, but Maas's study asserts there are hundreds.

After his book was published in Spanish, Baquerizo became one of the most prominent openly gay Ecuadorians, in part because his great-grandfather, Alfredo Baquerizo Moreno, served as the country's president in the early 20th century. His parents have not disowned him, but he has struggled to fit into his extended, religious family.

He has taken on substantial risk—there are no openly gay pro athletes, elected officials, singers, or actors in Ecuador. He has stepped into a vacuum, and LGBTQ activists now revere him.

"You know, it is not too common here to have a man like Cesar Baquerizo, who is from high-class society, to say, proudly and openly, 'I am gay,'" Silvia Buendia, an attorney who works with LGBTQ people, told VICE. "It is more usual that gay people come from the middle or lower class. It is very important."

Such becomes clear when, coincidentally, two of the nation's Spanish-language newspapers—El Universo and El Telégrafo—publish profiles of Baquerizo to report on the English edition of "A Safe Place with You" the same day I speak with Buendia and Maldonado. Baquerizo, who now lives in New York, was thrilled. He hopes to remind the country that despite LGBTQ gains there, its "illegal" gay conversion movement remains in full force. He believes an English translation can help shame Ecuador into doing more to close conversion centers.

“It's important for me, because I can let a large audience know about the reality of Ecuador and some parts of the world—about this evil experiment on humans," said Baquerizo "All I want to do is to make a good difference and be visible so that the LGBTQ community can stop hiding and be true to themselves."

May 13, 2016

‘Idiocracy’ and it only took 21/2 Centuries


 

http://amzn.to/1WthpQz
20th Century Fox
Joel Stein writes a weekly column for TIME magazine. His book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity, changes people’s lives.

And it only took two-and-a-half centuries

Eight years ago, with the publication of Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason, our country had a debate about whether its citizens were becoming less intelligent. This year, we had a debate about how big Donald Trump’s penis is. While we have not resolved the latter, we have answered the former. Former means first, and latter means second.
Two years before Jacoby’s book came out, Mike Judge set his sci-fi comedy Idiocracy 500 years in the future, when President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, a former champion professional wrestler, peppers his speeches with curses. Trump, who is in the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame, has used a curse or two when a facial expression could not fully convey his policy points. He has also used his candidacy to hawk products with his name far more effectively than Camacho did with Mountain Dew.
Nearly everything predicted in Idiocracy has come true, and more. In the movie, the language is so coarsened, there are curses on billboards; the ones for this year’s MTV Movie Awards read F-ck the Tux. As predicted, words are being replaced by pictograms. Kids are having birthday parties at Hooters; in the movie they have them at an overtly sexualized version of Fuddruckers called Buttf-ckers. Back in 2006, Time would never have let me print Buttf-ckers. In the Idiocracy-est moment of the whole 2016 campaign, a Trump supporter who shoved a black protester in the face explained his candidate-selection process to a reporter on MSNBC, Ali Vitali, thusly: “He’s no-bullsh-t. All balls. F-ck you, all balls. That’s what I’m about.” Though George Washington never said those exact words, he would have certainly killed a man for saying them.
I called the people who made Idiocracy to see how they so accurately predicted the future. “I’m no prophet,” Judge told me. “I was off by 490 years.” He too is shocked at how eerily similar the world has become to the one his movie depicted. He and Idiocracy co-writer Etan Cohen have been working on fake campaign ads for Camacho to be used as anti-Trump web videos, but they’re having a hard time. “Our jokes would be like, ‘I’m going to build a wall around the earth.’ They were only incrementally stupider,” says Cohen. “Writing Idiocracy was just following your id. Now unfortunately our id has become our candidate for President.” The danger here is clear: we will no longer be able to have comedies with hilarious dumb characters.
Terry Crews, who played President Camacho, has been freaked out that Trump, a guy he’s met and liked, has stolen his character. “I look now, and I go, Holy cow, these people are actually talking about each other’s wives. It’s not politics. It’s like ‘Yo mama,'” he said. “The cult of masculinity has gone amok. What he is saying is, I will beat you down and take your women.” Only not nearly as eloquently.
I’m aware it’s ironic that I’m whining about a less informed America after spending 17 years filling a page that could have been about war or climate change with penis jokes. But I do believe that I am a professional penis-joke writer and that other people are professional politicians, reporters and electricians. Just because we now all have access to power does not mean we have the experience, wisdom or temperament to wield that power. I got nervous about this in 2010, when Elena Kagan was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court and Matt Lauer asked Joe Biden on the Today show if having five Justices who graduated from Harvard Law and three Yale Law graduates “[sounds] a little elitist.” Sure, Matt, anyone with common sense and a good heart can interpret a 229-year-old founding legal document and determine how granting letters of marque and reprisal could apply to cyberterrorism. It even sounds a little elitist to let the President instead of the people pick those Justices, even if we have to wait a year and the people are busy watching kids’ superhero movies, which have themselves devolved into superheroes constantly fighting one another. When I was in third grade and kids on the playground talked about what would happen if Superman fought Batman, the rest of us knew that the answer was that those kids weren’t going to college.
It’s hard to be smart with so many dopamine-producing distractions and so much online approval for our uneducated opinions. But I urge you not to read this column unless you’ve read the rest of the magazine. I will try to do the same, unless they do another cover story about the debt. Even a smart guy has his limits.

This appears in the May 23, 2016 issue of TIME.

April 1, 2016

At 14, in Parks and Bathrooms,“I first discovered queer communities that let me have sex”


Image result for novelist garth greenwell
     










The ones of us who acted on the hormonal impulses of young sex would know that if you were attracted by some other boys it was not easy to find a willing partner. If you acted upon those (need for sex, touching, kissing, holding and being held by another boy) needs and wanted to keep it secret, it would not be the boys locker room. At least in my case that was for starring, measuring, comparing and that’s about it. We all have different ages if at all,  when we caved and had our first teen year encounter (s). We do know that some kids are more brazing than others and the amount of hormonal disposition varies. Having said that some gay kids are ready as soon as they turn from a little boy into a little man.

Alex Clark on The Guardian tells the story of novelist Garth Greenwell. This man Greenwall takes us through his adventures as a very young kid in one of his novels. That is what attracted me to post this story since I have written and posted articles about the sexual escapades and adventures of gay men prior to 2015. What makes the reading interesting is the age and then as he adds the events like a sculptor adds clay to his work making it more tantalizing with details. On this case it’s his writings that become a work of art.
In a crowded hotel coffee shop in Bloomsbury, Garth Greenwell is giggling guiltily as he recalls the moment he considered bunking off his publicity tour in favor of going to the theatre with the novelist Alan Hollinghurst, whom he had just met for the first time. A stern look from his publicist knocked that idea on the head, but you can understand why the otherwise dutiful Greenwell might have been tempted. He first read The Swimming-Pool Library as an undergraduate, “and it just knocked me flat”; Hollinghurst, he says, is “one of the essential writers for me”.

I had thought of Hollinghurst as I read What Belongs to You, Greenwell’s astonishingly assured debut novel, but questioned whether the parallel came to mind because both writers create vivid, enclosed worlds filled with ambiguous and shifting relationships between gay men. In fact, though, the greater similarity lies in their ability to blend a lyrical prose – the prose of longing, missed connections, grasped pleasures – with an almost uncanny depth of observation. “I knew he was performing a desire he didn’t feel,” writes the unnamed narrator in the novel’s opening pages, “and really I think he was drunk past the possibility of desire. But then there’s something theatrical in all our embraces, I think, as we weigh our responses against those we perceive or project; always we desire too much or not enough, and compensate accordingly.”

“He” is Mitko, a 23-year-old Bulgarian whom the narrator, a teacher at the American College of Sofia, encounters in the bathroom of the National Palace of Culture, and whom – breaking one of his own rules, a rule founded in pride rather than ethics – he pays for sex. The remainder of the novel, told in three starkly named sections, “Mitko”, “A Grave” and “Pox”, describes the bond that develops between them over a few years, its changing power dynamics, its swings between tenderness and menace. In its midst, we are returned to the Kentucky of the narrator’s birth, and his painful relationship with his homophobic father. 

That middle section, a masterful study in alienation and escape, shares ground with Greenwell’s own background and, he acknowledges, “cuts very close to the bone”, despite the “firewall” that he tries to maintain between life and literature. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1978, and was kicked out of the house by his father when he was 14; they have been estranged for more than 10 years. He says: “Certain things that the narrator’s father says to him in the novel, my father said to me, and especially that moment when the narrator’s father rejects him, and says you’re not my son – those are words my father spoke to me.” The act of writing, he explains, “was so scary and painful because I confronted things that I had spent a long time running away from, and it was really the act of writing that let me confront them”.

When Greenwell’s parents separated, he went to live with his mother. It was the start of a long journey out of Kentucky, which took him, via scholarships, to an arts academy in Michigan, graduate degrees at Washington University in St Louis and at Harvard (where he also abandoned a PhD, realising that he needed to write more creatively) and thence to a life as a high-school teacher that eventually brought him, like his narrator, to Bulgaria. And it was the realisation that, in Sofia, he could find something of his own early life “which was really the spark of the novel, this weird recognition I had in this very strange place, especially working with young people, for whom I was the only openly gay person they had ever met in real life. And having them tell me their stories, that for all of the differences and all the particularities of their story, felt like they were telling me my story, of growing up gay in Kentucky in the early 90s, with this kind of very near and low horizon of possibility drawn across your life.”

He had chosen to teach because he felt he had a debt to those teachers, in Louisville and Michigan, who had “saved my life” by encouraging him to explore his musical ability and, by extension, his larger potential. But Greenwell’s story – and the story of What Belongs to You – is not simply one of educational success, nor even of getting out of your restrictive home-town. It is also one of accessing what he calls the radical potential of queer communities – and of discovering the havens, both physical and emotional, that gay men have made for themselves in otherwise inhospitable terrains. In this way, he contends, there is a link between poetry and cruising, “because like poems, cruising carves privacy out of public spaces. Poems are a kind of private communication that occurs in public speech. And I think cruising is that too: a training in reading occult codes; a way of seeing a significance in the world that most people don’t see.” For him, Walt Whitman, with his “dignifying gaze”, his frequent passages through crowds and momentary interactions with others, is “the great poet of cruising”.
Back in Kentucky, when he was flunking his English classes, when he was imbibing the message that to be gay “is to be taught one lesson about your life, and it’s that your life has no dignity and your life has no value”, Greenwell found something that would, for all its transience, confer those things upon him. Aged 14, in parks and bathrooms, “I first discovered queer communities that let me have sex”, places that would allow him to experience queerness “as something that could be a source of joy and intimacy and human connection”.

He was, he concedes, having indiscriminate and unsafe sex, and was the recipient of “a kind of luck you don’t earn” when he escaped illness; he also acknowledges that places such as these can lead to people being victimised, or assaulted, or used “in instrumental ways”. That notwithstanding, he remains convinced that cruising parks are valuable places that “need to be written about with much more richness and nuance, especially by heterosexual culture and by a kind of normalising homosexual discourse, a homo-normative discourse”.

For him, this is related to being asked repeatedly whether he would consider himself to be a “gay writer”. This, he understands, is a fraught question for many writers, who for decades have been told “if you write books centred on queer lives, where the gay guy isn’t just one strand, or a friend, then there are straight people for mainstream readers to identify with – but if a book really is centred on gay lives, you’ll be in this gay ghetto”.

But, he says, he has never accepted that – in fact, he thinks quite the reverse. “Absolutely I am a gay writer. And not only that, I want to tell gay stories about gay communities for gay readers, because I think that this incredible progress that queer people have made in things such as marriage equality have come at the cost of a mainstreaming narrative that has homogenised queer lives in a way that has sacrificed far too much and, tragically, has further marginalised the most vulnerable members of the queer community.”
He talks further about marriage equality as “really a marketing battle: it was about packaging queer lives in a way that allowed the value of those lives to be seen by people who are disgusted by queer lives” – although his point is also that this is probably an inevitable and necessary stage that any minority rights movements has to go through. Where that becomes problematic, he insists, is when those at the edge of the movement become further distanced, as when human rights campaigners “at their rallies in front of the supreme court in support of marriage equality, said, Oh trans person get off the stage.”

Ultimately, he says, “any project of liberation has to have as its goal the multiplication of legitimate models of life”. Pulsing through What Belongs to You is Greenwell’s suggestion that there is something substantial and significant in the relationship between Mitko and the narrator. The fact that they first meet in a bathroom – rather than a shop, or a cafe, or even in a club – is hardly accidental; what Greenwell is trying to show is that in places such as these, “people like my narrator and Mitko can meet in a face-to-face way that is unstructured by authority. Those spaces scramble the categories by which we organise our life, categories such as class and race, and they allow for human connection across that space.” That belief is supported, he argues, by the fact that cruising spaces persist even where “relative queer privilege is most pronounced” – places such as Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, for example – and that they have not disappeared even where oppression is in retreat.
Greenwell is fascinating on the legacy of oppression, questioning whether the “triumphant narrative” of gay liberation “has made it difficult to acknowledge the shame that gay people still carry around”. Where does the shame come from, and why does it persist? For him, he says, it goes back to the lessons he was taught in Kentucky about the value of queer lives: “I know that there’s no validity in them. I don’t believe them. And yet I will never get to be a person who was not taught those lessons.”

How, then, to translate these ideas into a novel so delicately sprung, not to mention one that takes place in the complex arena of sex work? The key appears to be in a kind of commitment to ambiguity and indeterminacy. Some of this is down to linguistics – much in the book turns on the gaps between English and Bulgarian, and in particular the word priyatel, which Mitko deploys to mean friend, boyfriend and client. Some of it is structural: while the narrator appears to control the story, and we are never granted direct access to Mitko’s consciousness, Greenwell shows enough to allow us to empathise with him. It is a novel of transactions, of inequalities, and of fine moral judgments; the narrator, it is clear, could leave Bulgaria whenever he wished, while Mitko, who becomes increasingly frail, is trapped.

Greenwell, who started his writing life as a poet – getting up at 4.30am to work for two hours before his teaching day began – first wrote about Mitko in a prize-winning novella of the same name, which he recast to become What Belong to You’s opening section. Now, he is working on a series of short stories, all set in Bulgaria and with the same narrator, that “fall into the interstices of the novel”. Like the writers he admires, WG Sebald, Thomas Bernhard and Javier Marías, he is drawn to the idea of a body of work that seems as though it is all one book, or, as with Sebald in particular, a territory in which the reader wanders. It is perhaps too soon to say precisely what Greenwell’s own fictional territory will look like – but even this early on, the landscape looks too riveting to miss.

February 22, 2015

Writer of Book Fired When He Would Not Put Gays Down


                                                                         

A prominent Christian publisher cancelled a book project this week after the author refused to say that he did “not condone, encourage, or accept the homosexual lifestyle.”
The publisher, Destiny Image, told author Brandan Roberston on February 19 that they would no longer publish his manuscript, Nomad: Not-So-Religious Thoughts On Faith, Doubt, and the Journey In Between, for financial reasons. Robertson, the evangelical organizer for Faith in Public Life, who only makes a glancing reference to homosexuality in the manuscript, recently told TIME that he identifies as queer. He said the publisher told him there was concern that evangelical bookstores would not carry the book. 
“There is much consideration for every book, every author, but the final determination is financial viability,” explains Don Nori, CEO of Destiny Image’s parent company, Nori Media Group, who declined to discuss the role issues of sexuality played in the decision.

Destiny’s decision comes as the evangelical fight over marriage equality has intensified in recent months. Two prominent evangelical churches, EastLake Community Church in Seattle and GracePointe Church near Nashville, announced in January that they were giving full membership privileges, including the right to marry and to receive communion, to lesbian and gay congregants. Many evangelical churches, organizations, and colleges are taking small, intermediate steps toward inclusion, even as others, like the Southern Baptist Convention has maintained a hardline against acceptance of same-sex relationships .

Destiny Image recruited Robertson for a book contract last year, with no advance payment, when he was still a student at the conservative Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. “Our core vision at Destiny Image has always been to give an unfiltered voice to emerging authors who are changing the way people see Christianity,” Mykela Krieg, a communications specialist at Destiny wrote to him in January 2014 in an email obtained by TIME.

Robertson submitted a book proposal, which Krieg told him was “great,” and he signed his contract with Destiny that spring. The book is a collection of essays on his personal spiritual journey from a fundamentalist to a progressive evangelical. “It is the archetype of the millennial journey of faith,” Robertson says. “It points to a lot of the struggles that we as millennials have.”

Destiny Image was enthusiastic. “We especially love your title ideas,” Krieg emailed him. “The word ‘nomad’ stood out to both of us.”

After he graduated from college last year, Robertson, now 22, became the national spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, an initiative started by millennials to help evangelicals support civil gay marriages. He spoke at a Reformation Project conference, an effort by fellow evangelical activist Matthew Vines to raise up affirming evangelicals in every evangelical church in the country, last fall. Robertson also blogs regularly about issues of social justice, and sexuality, on his Patheos blog, “Revangelical,” and has been featured in numerous news outlets for his work to encourage evangelicals toward greater gay and lesbian inclusion. TIME featured Robertson in January in a magazine story, “Inside the Evangelical Fight Over Gay Marriage.”

The word “gay” appears in his Nomad manuscript only one time, in a chapter titled “Grey,” that begins with a quote from the Nobel-Literature-Prize-winning André Gide, “The color of truth is grey.” Robertson writes: “One high school biology class is all that it takes to begin asking some serious questions about the book of Genesis and the origins of humanity. One conversation with a close friend who is struggling to be gay and Christian is all that it takes to begin wondering if the interpretation of Leviticus we heard in Sunday school is actually applicable in today’s context. One life shattering tragedy is all that it takes to begin rethinking the whole notion of the ‘sovereignty’ of God.”

Last week he turned in his manuscript, and three hours later, he got a reply. “I’m sure it feels amazing to have the manuscript finished!” Krieg wrote. Then she continued: “Since you’ve been receiving more media attention over the past few months, we’ve had some questions/concerns arise from our buyers, and our executive team has asked that I connect with you about your stance on a few issues that may continue to come into question.”

“As soon as I read those words, a knot formed in my stomach,” Robertson says. “I immediately knew that the problem was going to be with my very vocal support of LGBTQ equality and inclusion in the Church—unfortunately, I was right.”

Robertson spoke with Krieg on the phone that afternoon. According to Robertson, Krieg explained Destiny’s concern that Christian retailers wouldn’t buy the book because of Robertson’s public advocacy for gay and lesbian inclusion in Christian communities. Krieg then emailed Robertson Destiny’s statement on homosexuality. It was the first time, Robertson says, that they asked him if he could agree with the statement. It reads: “Destiny Image accepts the Holy Scriptures as the infallible word of God and answers all questions concerning life and godliness. We do not condone, encourage, or accept the homosexual lifestyle. Destiny Image renounces this lifestyle as ungodly and completely contrary to the Kingdom of God.”

The statement continues with this Bible passage from 1 Corinthians: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”

Robertson emailed Krieg to let them know that he could not sign or uphold such a statement. “I know what this likely means,” he wrote. “But just wanted to be very clear.”

“Thanks so much for your honesty,” Krieg replied, saying that she would relay their conversation to the executive team. “I truly appreciate it, and I completely respect your stance.”

Nine days later, on February 19, Destiny Image called Robertson to inform him that, “for the success of my book and for their financial reasons,” as Robertson puts it, they were no longer going to publish his book. “It just reopened all those rejections wounds,” says Robertson. “I am at a frustrated point, not for my book, but this is so symptomatic of what happens in the broader evangelical community—every day, LGBTQ individuals are told that they are no longer welcome in churches, are kicked out of homes, are fired from jobs, and forced in to reparative therapy by those who claim to represent Jesus.”

When TIME asked Nori why Destiny pulled the book, Nori did not address the role Robertson’s position on sexuality played in their decision: “There is nothing significant to report,” Nori says. “We did not reject or refuse. As with all books, a publisher decides what is financially viable. We released the book back to the author with our sincere prayers for his success. This occurrence happens every season.”

Destiny publishes popular Christian authors including pastors T.D. Jakes and Bill Johnson.

April 28, 2014

NY Times Reporter Reviews Pinnacle of the Gay Revolution



 forcing the spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Jo Becker (470 pages, $29.95)                                                                            


In March 2009, in Century City, Calif., four months after California voters passed Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage, political consultant Chad Griffin stood in a crowd of veteran gay activists and reeled from the hostility in the room. The ire was directed at the man onstage, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who had recently won an Oscar for Milk, about the gay activist Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in San Francisco in 1978.

Like Griffin, Black was in his mid-30s and gay. Both men felt that the movement for marriage equality had lost its momentum. Hoping to jump-start it, they showed up at a biannual event that draws high-end donors to political and charitable causes for the gay community. Their goal was to drum up support for a federal lawsuit challenging Prop 8.

Black had made clear his dream in his Oscar acceptance speech, when he directly addressed struggling gay and lesbian kids: “No matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and . . . very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.”
Those were fighting words for 52-year-old Evan Wolfson, the primary force behind the plodding, state-by-state strategy for gay marriage. He had cornered Black hours before he took the Century City stage, fuming over his Oscar speech and the young man’s restless ambition. Who was Black, Wolfson demanded, to tell those who’d been in the trenches for decades how to fight this battle?

In her new book, Forcing the Spring, Jo Becker, a former Monitor and Washington Post reporter now with the New York Times, uses this standoff to foreshadow deep divisions that threatened to derail a movement that had yet to begin.

Black was shaken by Wolfson’s rebuke but undeterred. He took the stage and beseeched the room full of activists to join a renewed battle for their rights: “The strategy of the past has failed. We have lost state and local fights time and again. . . . It is time for us to stop asking for crumbs and demand the real thing.”
Black walked off the stage and into “an ocean of pursed lips and crossed arms.” One of the largest funders of gay causes in the United States “denounced Black outright, telling the crowd he was naive and misguided.”

Griffin was shocked. He had been working with director Rob Reiner and his wife, Michele, and other Hollywood giants to form a bipartisan legal team to challenge Proposition 8 in federal court. Doing so, they hoped, would force the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage. As Becker notes in her book, “No group in America had been targeted by ballot initiatives more than gays and lesbians.” Of the roughly 200 such contests since the 1970s, they had lost 70 percent. When the contest involved marriage or adoption, they lost every time.

So much for a state-by-state legislative strategy that promised a continued delay of years, if not decades.
Griffin knew from the outset that conservatives would fight them. As he was quickly learning, so would many prominent gay activists. “Oh my god,” he said to Black. “We are going to be loathed and hated. How are we going to sell this?”

“Sell” is the operative word, for that is what the plaintiffs’ team did over the next five years, legally and through a meticulously executed public relations campaign.
Becker launches Forcing the Spring with a bold claim: “This is how a revolution begins.” She then proceeds to illustrate with the deftest of prose the delicate balance that had to exist between patience for process and an insistence on now.

This book is not intended to be a tome on gay history, but Becker should brace for accusations of omission, particularly by longtime activists who will feel marginalized. Forcing the Spring is a riveting legal drama, a snapshot in time, when the gay rights movement altered course and public opinion shifted with the speed of a bullet train.

Sometimes the plaintiffs in the case brought to have Proposition 8 declared unconstitutional got lucky.
Attorney Chuck Cooper, for example, stumbled into the perfect sound bite after U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker pressed him to explain how same-sex marriage harms “marriage for procreative purpose.”
An exasperated Cooper finally blurted, “Your Honor, my answer is: ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’” Griffin immediately dubbed it the Cooper Blooper.

Mostly, though, the plaintiffs outhustled and, over time, overwhelmed the opposition, in court and in public opinion. Nothing was left to chance, and virtually all of it is chronicled by Becker, who nailed down a reporter’s dream of an agreement: four years of “complete and unfettered access” to the plaintiffs and their legal team.

The hundreds of delicious details in this book lay bare Becker’s gift for coaxing information out of even the most reticent subjects. And although she also tried to interview major players on the defendants’ side after the legal battle, the book is lopsided because there is only so much that defeated lawyers want to share about losing strategies. Still, she resists the heavy-handedness of a cheerleader.

She also forces even the most ardent supporters of same-sex marriage, and I am one of them, to consider a more nuanced view of some members of the opposition. Many of them did not approve of Prop 8 literature that warned parents that gay marriage would lead to sex with children. Some would have been willing to accept civil unions.

There are a few touching moments when conservatives who publicly proclaim the sanctity of traditional marriage privately confide to Becker their inner conflicts born of tender feelings toward the plaintiffs or toward members of their own families. It’s an effort at balance, bound to make some supporters on either side uncomfortable.

Becker’s most remarkable accomplishment is to weave a spellbinder of a tale that, despite a finale reported around the world, manages to keep readers gripped until the very end. In part, this is because litigation is only part of the story.

The plaintiffs’ team – led by two lawyers who were on opposite sides in Bush v. Gore, Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies – wanted Proposition 8 ruled unconstitutional.
But as the case made its way through the federal court system, they had another goal: “to flip public opinion on same sex-marriage to majority support by the time the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, in the hope that a more hospitable political climate would make the justices feel more comfortable ruling their way.”
To this end, nothing was left to chance, from the “packaging” of the four plaintiffs to a persistent and ultimately successful campaign to persuade President Obama to change from “evolving” on the issue of same-sex marriage to supporting it.

Joe Biden takes a star turn as the irrepressible vice president who calmly, and oh-so-publicly, mentions his support.
Becker’s command of the law is essential to her deconstruction of complex arguments and insights into what led the jurists – from Walker, the gay federal judge who overturned Proposition 8 at the trial level, to the members of the Supreme Court – to their conclusions. At every step, she offers poignant reminders of the utter humanity of all the players.

After the Los Angeles Times reported that Chief Justice John Roberts’s lesbian cousin, who longed to marry her partner, would be in the courtroom, lawyers warned the plaintiffs and their supporters not to mention it. One of the plaintiffs posted a link to the story on Facebook but then removed it at the lawyers’ urging. “We are allowed to be secretly thrilled,” Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen emailed.
While the case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, made its way to the Supreme Court – which in 2013 let stand previous rulings that said the law was unconstitutional – public opinion shifted, as Cooper put it, “with a velocity unlike anything I have ever seen.” The first national poll to show majority support for same-sex marriage came out only weeks after the district court victory.

Former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, who had recently come out as gay, joined the effort.
So did former defense witness David Blankenhorn, who wrote about his change of heart for the New York Times: “If fighting gay marriage was going to help marriage over all, I think we’d have seen some signs of it by now.”
“This battle . . . is over,” he said elsewhere. “It’s over. People have made up their minds. It’s just a huge mopping up at this point.”

While this is a book about victories, big and small, at its core it’s the story of the pain harbored in the hearts of gay adults who yearn to be free of the demons of the past. It’s the story of plaintiff Kris, who testified how she went to great lengths “to develop other traits that people do like.”
It’s the story of Ryan Kendall, who testified at trial that his mother once told him she wished she’d had an abortion rather than give birth to a gay son. It’s the story of Cleve Jones, too, who prayed every night as a child, “Please, God, fix me.”
This is their book, too, with a happy ending. Almost.

By Connie Schultz
Washington Post

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