What Bert and Ernie mean to me

The July 8 & 15, 2013 cover of The New Yorker features Bert and Ernie relaxing together on a couch, cuddling while viewing the Supreme Court justices on TV. Although one can argue that it is ambiguous (and I have, largely as a devil’s advocate), it is a commentary on the Supreme Court decisions this week about marriage equality, and is entitled “Moment of Joy.”

On one level, Bert and Ernie mean nothing to me, because I was too old for Sesame Street when it came along. I have no fond childhood memories. I haven’t seen any of the Muppet movies. I remember watching the Muppet Show on TV, I think, but I’m not sure Bert and Ernie were even on it.

But as an observer of popular culture, if not always a participant, I know that Bert and Ernie are both guys, that they are always mentioned together, and that they are roommates. At some point, I became aware that some people thought they were gay, and that some people started a petition for them to get married, to which the Sesame Street people responded by saying they’re just friends, meant to be models of how people who are different from one another can still be close friends. They also said that they are just puppets, without sexual orientation.

Well, be that as it may, Miss Piggy and Kermit, also “just puppets” certainly have a sexual orientation. I think it’s legitimate to consider that Bert and Ernie may have a sexual orientation, even in light of the Sesame Street people’s protestations.

Puppets are screens upon which we project what we need or want, individually. The creator doesn’t own, and cannot dictate, my projections onto the puppets.

I can see, but do not feel, the objections by some that a universal friendship is being forced to become particular. (I have a long aside about the parallelism of Ruth’s words to Naomi being sexualized by those who use them in marriages, which is actually just a rhetorical feint, so I’ll only mention it in passing.)

What I see is that Bert and Ernie, in the context of the Supreme Court of the United States saying that marriages between people of the same gender, lawfully recognized by the various states, must be recognized by the federal government, finally feel comfortable being themselves, being the people they really are, being the people they have always been. It makes me cry gentle tears of joy.

There is a long, long tradition of the heterosexual majority erasing gay and lesbian relationships. Jonathan’s love of David “surpassing the love of women.” The Roman centurion and his slave. No, we can’t say that all Boston marriages were sexual, but it seems entirely unlikely that none of them were romantic. Willa Cather and Edith Lewis. Eleanor Roosevelt and Hick and Tommy. Decades of couples being “just friends.”

It is in this context that I’m offended by those who resist the interpretation promoted by the cover. The worst of the complaints explicitly condemn gay relationships as other, less, or sinful. But even those who celebrate the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry yet are sad that a “universal” symbol is no longer universal are, from my point of view, perpetuating and defending a heterosexist status quo. I totally get that seeing Bert and Ernie as a universal symbol of friendship is a legitimate projection onto them. But resisting a new, and I would say deeper, liberating, symbol feels to me as though my reality is being made, once again, less than, less real than, less important than the heterosexual majority.

So sure, they’re just puppets. But they’re puppets that I can now see myself in, in deeply satisfying and healing ways, and I refuse to allow anyone to make me anything but delighted at seeing them that way.

Thank you, Google

(This post is starting in the middle of a conversation. It’s in response to Google’s account name policy for its new social networking service, Google+. In brief, Google has conflicting policies about what you can call yourself and is implementing them inconsistently. Try an internet search for “real names policy” or #nymwars.)

Ha! I cleared out my gmail accounts (one for “suttonkenneth” and one for “otenth.paderborn”), and so I also figured I’d clear out my contacts. That resulted in erasing all the people I had in G+ circles. Oh well, that’s probably for the best. I’ll put back in only the people I want to communicate with via G+ (which may end up being vanishingly few, after all).

As of tonight, I’ve found a replacement for Google Reader (I’m using NewsBlur); I’ve set up an Otenth email account on my own internet host as well as a “use this email when some website requires one” account (as I should have done long ago), cleared out the gmail box, and set up a “vacation” responder on the Otenth one with no end date; I’ve deleted all Google docs that were mine alone, leaving some Radio Riel shared docs that I’m just not sure what would happen if I wipe them (I’m happy using Dropbox to share files); I’ve deleted my YouTube account and will carefully assess whether I “need” to have an account; turned off or deleted analytics, and several other arcane services. I’m no longer staying signed in to Google when I leave a Google service, so that if I want to use Google search it’s not getting all gummed up with whoever Google thinks I am or thinks I know.

I’ve turned off Gchat, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit with a tiny handful of people. I haven’t set up any replacement, but there are lots of alternatives.

That leaves only the AetherChrononauts calendar created with my otenth.paderborn gmail account as the unresolved, not easily replaced service. I *have* fully shared permissions with my “real name” self, should anything happen to the pseudonymous account.

Time will tell if Google plus becomes something irrelevant to my life, or if they manage to articulate (and practice!) a coherent policy on account names that will allow any of us to feel secure using their services. I had a thriving, nascent community of online friends for the first couple of weeks I was in Google+. Almost all of them are either gone or ignoring it now.

On a side note, all the attention to Internet safety and good hygeine made me take a closer look at Facebook’s settings, too. I’ll no longer be playing a couple of games I quite enjoyed, because they “require” permission to get information about my friends that they have no business having. (I may be willing to give them my [now fake] birthday or my political or religious affiliations [which are blank], but I can’t justify handing over my friends’ information just so I can play Scrabble.)

So, thank you, Google, for showing me how foolishly I put so many of my eggs in your basket, for opening my eyes to my ignorance about the risks of internet identity theft, and for making me an advocate for pseudonyms.

Just what the hell is he supposed to do? (a rant)

Okay, I do get why people are saying that giving Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize seems premature, when he’s been in office a bare nine months. On the other hand, the committee seemed quite clear that the award is meant as encouragement for his positions as much as for anything he’s accomplished. It’s a great honor, not only for Obama, but for the American people. He did not seek it. And I believe he has made some significant accomplishments already. And so I have very little patience for all the cavilling.

But for the people (on the right and on the left) who think he should “accomplish” something before he gets the prize: Just what is it you think he should accomplish? World peace? Is that what it takes before people stop bitching about whoever wins the Peace Prize?

I agree that Obama could get us out of Afghanistan and Iraq. And yes, I think he should, and yes, that’s a big part of why I voted for him. On the other hand, George W. Bush and company put us into a big, fucking mess. A BIG FUCKING MESS THAT WILL BE A BIG FUCKING MESS TO GET OUT OF. It seems likely there is no good outcome for either Iraq or Afghanistan. So I have some sympathy for Obama. But yes, I agree, Obama could put on his big boy pants, order us out of those wars, and take the inevitable shit that would come.

But Israel and Palestine? Islamist militants in a score of countries? The Iranian republic edging into a dictatorship? North Korean nukes? Give me a break. One person, even the president of the United States, cannot fix those problems. The Nobel Peace Prize committee has handed out awards for people who have “accomplished” something in the Middle East like candy, and Israel still illegally occupies the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian militants still illegally attack and terrorize Israel. They are going to have to find their own way out of the mess they’re in (and everyone else who is in a mess will, too). As for the unconscionable military aid the U.S. government gives to Israel, stopping that will require some backbone in the U.S. Congress, not the Executive Branch.

What do I think he’s accomplished? I think he was elected president. And if you don’t think that is an accomplishment on behalf of peace, I think you underestimate the depth of racial animosity that has characterized U.S. history, or are tone deaf to the hope and potential for reconciliation that Obama’s election represent.

And I think the effects of his words are accomplishments. Many comments are of the nature that he is, so far, all talk and no action. But see above: There are many problems in this world which no president of the United States can solve. But there are problems that the person holding that office can speak to, and if people listen, if their minds and hearts are changed or encouraged, then they might act. And really, talking is in fact how politicians act. The budget? Passed by Congress. Laws? Enacted by Congress. How? They talk to each other and try to convince one another. (Or lobbyists talk to them and try to give them convincing cover stories for getting in bed with big money concerns.) How does a president influence the budget and laws? Talking. (Excepting, of course, the use of the veto.)

Lasting goodwill among nations? Talking! Fairness in trade and international affairs requires acting in certain ways, but really, these actions need to be taken in concert, and need to reflect the desires and needs of all the parties. How do you do that? Talking! So don’t give me this “all talk and no action” crap. Talking is an act.

Here endeth the rant. And my non-ranting olive branch to the nay-sayers? Yes, I agree with many who say Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize because he isn’t George W. Bush. And you know what I say to that? Amen! Hallelujah! I just wish that war criminal and his war criminal cronies were in prison for the rest of their natural lives. (Oops! The ranting wasn’t all out of my system!)

The big gay shrug

The big gay shrug / Sorry, enemies of gay marriage. Prop 8 or no, you’ve already lost

Let us hereby be reminded, before sadness and frustration overwhelm once more: Proposition 8 and its ilk are merely the last, fitful gasps of a long-dying ideology, markers of a certain kind of sad, conservative desperation. They are the final clawings and scrapings of a reactionary worldview that attempts to outlaw and punish all it cannot, will not understand. Same as it ever was, really.

That’s called irony, Mr President

But I don’t think you intended it.

What makes the United States special, and what makes you special, is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it’s expedient to do so. That’s what makes us different.

via The White House — Blog Post — “What Makes the United States Special”.

CIA agents (or any government officials or military personnel) who tortured captives were not upholding any values or ideals I recognize as American. They were, in fact, taking the easy way out, following the orders of their superiors or hiding behind legal memos from administration hacks.

I appreciate that they were in very difficult situations. But I’m sorry, that doesn’t make it okay to torture another human being. I’m disappointed that President Obama has not moved to carry out his responsibilities under U.S. and international law to bring U.S. war criminals to justice.