Category Archives: History

April Fools’ Pranks in History

April Fools’ Day was once a time to pull a prank on both friends and enemies but has now turned into a day for corporations to try to fool customers with predictable internet hoaxes. Today, April 1, we can all count on an announcement about a fake new show, feature, or some other outrageous piece of news. In the town where I used to teach high school, guys would climb to the top of the water tower and paint a message (usually vulgar), or the seniors at the school I taught at would fill the school’s halls with balloons or some other crazy prank. But there have been many outrageous pranks throughout history.

Satirist Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) decided to play an elaborate All Fools’ Day prank on John Partridge, a famous astrologer who sold bogus predictions to the public in almanacs. After Partridge predicted in his 1708 almanac that a fever would sweep London in early April, Swift published an almanac under a fake name predicting that on March 29 at 11 p.m., Partridge would die “of a raging fever.” The public was intrigued, but Partridge was irate, and he published a rebuttal to Swift’s almanac calling its author a fraud. Then, on the night of March 29, Swift published an elegy (again, under a fake name) announcing that Partridge—a “cobbler, Starmonger and Quack”—had died and admitted on his deathbed that he was a fraud. News of Partridge’s death spread over the next couple of days so that when Partridge walked down the street on April 1, people stared at him in surprise and confusion. Partridge angrily published a pamphlet saying he was alive. Swift again publicly asserted that Partridge was dead and claimed someone else wrote Partridge’s pamphlet. The whole escapade helped to discredit Partridge, who eventually stopped publishing almanacs.

Another prank also occurred in the 18th century.  In January of 1749, London newspapers advertised that in an upcoming show, a man would squeeze his entire body into a wine bottle and then sing while inside of it. The ad promised that “during his stay in the bottle, any Person may handle it, and see plainly that it does not exceed a common Tavern Bottle.” The ad promised the show would feature other tricks as well, including communicating with the dead. Legend has it that the ad was the result of a bet between the Duke of Portland and the Earl of Chesterfield. Reportedly, the duke bet that he could advertise something impossible and still “find fools enough in London to fill a playhouse and pay handsomely for the privilege of being there.” And apparently, he was right. The night of the show, spectators filled every seat in the house, but no performer ever showed up. Realizing they had been duped, the audience rioted. With all the Republicans who believed Trump was the most Christian president in U.S. history, it just goes to show that people have been gullible for centuries.

The next prank comes from the early 20th century. Decades before the Bond villain Goldfinger plotted to nuke all of the United States’ gold at Fort Knox, a prankster dreamed up another heist that was just as ridiculous. On April 1, 1905, a German newspaper called the Berliner Tageblatt announced that thieves had dug a tunnel underneath the U.S. Federal Treasury in Washington, D.C., and stolen America’s silver and gold (this was before the U.S. built its Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky). The Berliner Tageblatt said the heist was organized by American robber barons, whose burglars dug the tunnel over three years and made away with over $268 million; and that U.S. authorities were trying to hunt down the thieves while publicly covering up the fact that the country had been robbed. The story spread quickly through European newspapers before people realized that it was an April Fools’ Day prank by Louis Viereck, a New York correspondent for the Berliner Tageblatt who published the joke article under a fake name.

Sometimes the line between what’s a prank and what’s not isn’t always clear-cut. If an unlikely candidate runs for public office as a kind of protest prank but ends up winning, is it still a prank? Here’s one example: in 1959, students in São Paulo, Brazil, who were tired of the city’s overflowing sewers and inflated prices launched a campaign to elect a rhinoceros to the city council—and won. (Animals are routinely elected mayor in towns across Vermont.) The rhino’s name was Cacareco (Portuguese for “rubbish”), and she was already a popular figure in São Paulo when the students launched her campaign. The four-year-old had moved to the city from Rio de Janeiro when São Paulo’s zoo opened and was scheduled to return to Rio soon. When the students looked at the 540 candidates vying for São Paulo’s 45 city council seats and feared that none of them would address the city’s problems, they decided to make a point by asking people to vote for the famous rhino instead. Cacareco won a city council seat with a whopping 100,000 votes, far more than any other candidate (the closest runner-up only got about 10,000 votes). Of course, she didn’t end up serving on the city council because the election board disqualified her. Still, she remains one of the most famous protest votes in Brazilian history.

One of the most famous April Fools’ Day pranks is the BBC’s famous “spaghetti harvest” segment. On April 1, 1957, a news broadcaster told his British audience that Ticino, a Swiss region near the Italian border, had “an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop” that year. The camera cut to footage of people picking spaghetti off of trees and bushes, then sitting down at a table to eat some of their “real, home-grown spaghetti.” At the time, spaghetti wasn’t necessarily a dish that British people would’ve known about. That doesn’t mean that no one realized the segment was a prank—some viewers were upset the BBC had aired a fictional segment during a serious news program. However, other viewers reportedly asked about how they could grow their own spaghetti at home.

Caltech has a long history of pranking other schools. One of its most famous pranks happened during the 1961 Rose Bowl football game in Pasadena, the location of Caltech. The game was between the University of Washington’s Huskies and the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers. During the game, Washington cheerleaders handed out colored cards to the Huskies’ side and told them that if they held the cards up at halftime, the cards would spell “Huskies.” But when halftime came and the fans held the cards up, they ended up spelling “Caltech.” It was so weird and unexpected (Caltech wasn’t even playing in the game!) that the band on the field stopped mid-song. It was later revealed that fourteen Caltech students had orchestrated the prank by breaking into the cheerleaders’ hotel rooms and switching the instruction sheets for the card stunt.

One of the best-selling erotic books in American history was actually written as a joke. No, it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey(though that did famously start as Twilight fan fiction)—it’s a 1969 parody called Naked Came the Stranger. The book’s author was listed as “Penelope Ashe,” but the real authors were a group of journalists at Newsday, a Long Island newspaper. The project’s ringleader was Mike McGrady, a Newsday journalist frustrated with the popular romance and erotic novelists he’d interviewed. “I saw the writing that was being accepted, and it seemed absurd,” he told the Associated Press. So McGrady rounded up about 25 journalists and asked each to contribute a ridiculous, over-the-top chapter to an erotic parody novel. He and columnist Harvey Aronson then patched these chapters together into a story about a Long Island housewife who suspects her husband is unfaithful and starts cheating on him. The hardcover sales earned it a number four spot on  The New York Times’ bestseller list. Because it was exposed as a parody soon after publication, readers were likely in on the joke and bought it for the laughs (after one intimate encounter, a character says, “I’d forgotten there was more to life than mowing a lawn”). The following year, McGrady published a book about the experience called Stranger Than Naked, or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun & Profit.

Stranger Than Naked wasn’t the only prank journalists played in 1969. That year, Rolling Stone music critic Greil Marcus published a piece spoofing the trend of big-name rock stars forming “supergroups.” One of the most popular supergroups in the ’60s was Cream: its guitarist Eric Clapton was already famous for playing with the Yardbirds. At the same time, drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce were already known for playing in the Graham Bond Organisation. Marcus penned a gushing review to a nonexistent bootleg album by the “Masked Marauders,” a secret supergroup he said was made up of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. The fake review garnered genuine interest in the album, and Marcus ended up writing and recording the songs he’d made up; then Warner Brothers bought the songs and released the album. “It was just an attempt to say, ‘This is stupid, and let’s make it even stupider,'” Marcus told MSNBC years later. But it was also a little prophetic. Two decades after the “Masked Marauders” review, Bob Dylan and George Harrison did join a supergroup with Tom Petty called the Traveling Wilburys.

Finally, Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, has a well-documented love of April Fools’ Day. But in 1989, his annual prank came a day early, on March 31. That evening, residents outside of London spotted a flying saucer that appeared to land in a nearby field in Surrey. Police officers went to the field to investigate the supposed UFO and were probably surprised when they actually found one. As they approached the flying saucer, a door opened, and a silver-clad figure walked out. The cops promptly ran away. Little did they know, Branson was hiding out in the UFO behind his silver-clad companion, whose name was Don Cameron. The two of them had taken off in the flying saucer—which was a hot-air balloon—and planned to land in Hyde Park on April 1 as a prank. However, changing winds forced them to land a little earlier in Surrey.

I hope those historic pranks gave you a laugh. While it is April Fools’ Day, each of these stories is true.


The Problem with Bottom Shaming

An Athenian red-figure kylix (cup) dating from around 510–500 BC depicts a young pentathlete pulling his older lover towards him for a kiss. In many of the city-states of ancient Greece, sex between a man and a youth was an accepted – even idealized – form of love, its virtues extolled in works by writers including Plato.

In Ancient Greece, some philosophical reflections even idealized same-sex love. We can find notable examples in the Symposium, the philosopher Plato’s description of an intellectually high-powered Athenian dinner party. One character, Phaedrus, extols the virtues of manly, same-sex love among warriors and legislators: “And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor, and emulating one another in honor; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world.” This, allegedly, was the inspiration for the Sacred Band of Thebes, comprising 150 pairs of male lovers, which fought heroically at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC before succumbing to the overwhelming forces of Philip II of Macedon.

Another dinner guest at Plato’s imagined symposium, Pausanias, contrasts “base” love (with women and boys) as merely for sexual gratification and therefore inferior, with “noble” love (with young men). The latter, he says, is “pure” and about instilling guidance and wisdom in a pedagogical relationship rather than sex. This rationalization of same-sex love, whether platonic or carnal, had an extraordinary resilience in western societies over the next couple of millennia and beyond. Take, for example, the famous defense by Oscar Wilde at his trial for sodomy and gross indecency in 1895: “The ‘love that dare not speak its name’ in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare… It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it.”

Throughout history, the receptive/penetrated partner in male same-sex relationships has often been seen as the lesser person in the relationship. One of the most famous examples of bottom shaming is Julius Caesar, who has often been portrayed as a macho, militaristic, elite Roman leader. Much of that masculine power revolved as much around his ability to demonstrate his sexual prowess (think Cleopatra) as it did around political prowess. However, his contemporary political rivals saw this masculinity differently and often commented on such. Julius Caesar was nicknamed the “bald adulterer,” which fit the Roman political stereotype perfectly by sleeping his way to power. As a young man, he spent a considerable amount of time at the court of King Nicomedes of Bithynia, fueling a series of rumors about an affair in which Caesar was the submissive party. His return to Bithynia just a few days after leaving to “collect a debt” further fanned the flames. Suetonius tells us that this was the only stain on Caesar’s masculinity. But it was a stain that proved difficult to wash out, and he would be reminded of it throughout his prematurely ended life. One colleague, Bibulus, addressed Caesar as “the queen of Bithynia.” During an assembly, a man named Octavius hailed his co-consul Pompey as “king” and Caesar as “queen.”  

Male sexuality and sexual masculinity have been defined throughout history by the role played by the receptive partner. Women have been seen by most of world history as the weaker sex, and because they take on the receptive role in sex, a man who is the penetrated partner for another man is seen as less of a man. A gay man’s position in the bedroom can extend to how he’s perceived in the LGBTQ+ community. Bottoms, those who are the receptive partner, are often not afforded the respect they deserve. Bottoms deserve a lot more respect than they usually receive. All too often, the terms “bottom” and “submissive” are used interchangeably. However, not all bottoms are submissive. Some bottoms can be quite aggressive, thus the term “power bottom.” 

Even versatile men can have a more submissive side because they may prefer those who bottom for them to be more aggressive, but versatile men may also like those who top them to be more aggressive. The opposite can also be true: a versatile gay man who is more dominant may prefer more submissive bottoms and to take control of sex when they are the bottom. Then there are the “strict tops” who refuse to bottom no matter what. These men are often the least respectful of bottoms, and “strict bottoms” may often feel (or be perceived as) inferior to tops for being the receptive partner. The dichotomy of the top/bottom relationship needs to be more respectful for both positions.

Most tops do not consider that being a bottom takes a lot of preparation before engaging in anal sex—something a top benefit from but seldom worries about. The idea of spontaneous sex might sound like a thrill, but it is an unrealistic fantasy of the gay community seen in depictions of gay life from m/m romance novels to gay porn. We don’t want to think about all the preparation available. It’s similar to something I once read about Henry James’s novels that no one ever goes to the bathroom in his novels, though that is true of most novels. However, for a bottom who hasn’t prepared for sex, it can be a stressful and uncomfortable experience. To avoid any awkward mishaps during sex, most bottoms will prepare for it—even if there’s only a tiny chance, they might have sex that day. Even with the most preparation and precautions taken, most bottoms will still hope and pray the entire time that no accidents happen.

Furthermore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that anal sex can be painful at times, and it can take a lot of getting used to before it becomes a fully satisfying sexual experience. When it’s been a while, it’s literally like sticking your finger in a Chinese finger trap, and we all know that isn’t the most enjoyable thing. Most gay men will prepare themselves for bottoming ahead of time. Still, if they don’t know their partner’s penis size, this could make the experience more satisfying if he has a larger than average girth but might be less enjoyable if his penis is less girthy. There is a lot to consider and be prepared for, but it’s also a gamble if you don’t know what to expect. A bottom might ask for “Size?” or “Pics?” from a potential partner while chatting online. Those are not just questions for size queens; they can also be a question so that the bottom can be more prepared for the top. Many men will just see those questions as crude, but the bottom may just be trying to prepare for a better experience for the top.

In the gay community, bottoms are still seen as the more feminine ones. Bottoms are looked at as less than tops in the community. If you doubt this is true, then ask yourself, when was the last time you heard someone refer to a “top” in a derogatory way. Gay men often have insecurities about being labeled a bottom because the gay community all too often engages in “bottom shaming.”  Why is this the case? It goes back to historical perceptions of gay sex which ingrained in men the idea that the receptive partner was lesser: either they were the younger partner, a slave, etc. Achilles and Patroclus were an example of this, while the exception was the relationship between Alexander the Great and Hephaestion. Yet, even with Alexander, all of his male lovers were not equal, such was the case with another of his favorite sexual partners, Bagoas, a eunuch “in the very flower of boyhood.” It’s a stereotype that we must work to change.

The fact is your sexual preference be it top, bottom, or versatile, doesn’t mean a damn thing when it comes to your masculinity. We should be proud if we are a bottom, a top, or a bit of both. We should be proud of our sexuality and not get bogged down in roles because why does it matter? You need to realize it doesn’t matter, and we are all a part of the same community and should uplift each other instead of trying to tear each other down. Tops come in all shapes and sizes, including short guys and feminine guys. Plenty of drag queens out there are tops. Don’t assume someone is a top or a bottom because of the way they present or because of their size. There are also plenty of well-endowed bottoms, and while many of us may find that a waste of a good penis, we should respect their preferences. It boils down to each of us respecting one another.


LGBTQ+ Generational Problems: Millennials (Gen Y), Generation Z, and Generation Alpha

Pride parades celebrate LGBTQ+ self and social acceptance, achievements, legal rights, and pride. Pride celebrations also produce opposition. LGBTQ+ critics complain it exposes the “gay community” to ridicule by emphasizing a hedonistic and non-family friendly image. Conservatives often oppose pride events as being contrary to public morality based on parade displays such as public nudity, BDSM paraphernalia, and other sexualized features.

The United States appeared to be changing, and it looked like equal rights and protections were in the future for Generations Y and Z. However, it would not be easy. In 1993, the Department of Defense issued a directive prohibiting the U.S. Military from barring applicants from service based on their sexual orientation. “Applicants… shall not be asked or required to reveal whether they are homosexual,” stated the new policy. But it still forbade applicants from engaging in homosexual acts or making a statement that he or she was homosexual. This policy was known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Then in 1996, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. The law defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman and said no state was required to recognize a same-sex marriage from out of state. On November 4, 2008, California voters approved Proposition 8, making same-sex marriage in California illegal. The passing of the ballot garnered national attention from gay-rights supporters across the U.S. Prop 8 inspired the NOH8 campaign, a photo project using celebrities to promote marriage equality.

As these setbacks eventually have been overturned, Generations Y and Z have grown up in a time of immense change mainly for the better. In December 2010, the U.S. Senate voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. Military. On June 26, 2015, in a 5-4 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. These new freedoms and equality brought new challenges for the youngest members of the LGBTQ+ community. The “Alphabet Mafia,” so named for all the letters to support the sexual spectrum (LGBTQIA, etc.), has given rise to a backlash from religious conservatives. While more states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ+ people, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals largely have been protected by rulings only from the U.S. Supreme Court. Those rulings are now in jeopardy with the make-up of the current court. The Equality Act passed by the House of Representatives is unlikely to pass the Senate unless changes are made to the filibuster or the filibuster is abolished. Plus, there are bills advancing through state legislatures that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate.

The current anti-transgender bills target transgender and nonbinary people for discrimination by barring or criminalizing healthcare for transgender youth, stopping access to the use of appropriate facilities like restrooms, restricting transgender students’ ability to fully participate in school and sports, allowing religiously-motivated discrimination against trans people, or making it more difficult for trans people to get identification documents with their name and gender. Two of these bills, Alabama’s HB-1 and SB-10, companion bills filed by Rep. Wes Allen and Sen. Shay Shelnutt, would criminalize medical professionals who support transgender youths’ identity forcing them to choose between the possibility of government prosecution or adhering to the evidence-based clinical guidelines of their field. These bills would expressly prohibit the use of puberty-blockers and hormone therapies, and require school counselors to report instances of “gender dysphoria.” They also ban gender-affirmation surgeries or sex-reassignment surgeries on children although such procedures are not performed on minors. If passed through the House of Representatives and State Senate, these bills would make Alabama the first U.S. state to enact an official transgender medical ban. The ban is one of eight anti-trans pieces of legislation being considered by state legislatures across the country. Medical experts and transgender advocates warn criminalizing transgender medical care could lead to a spike in suicides and mental health problems among trans youth.

Since the 1970s, when gay rights began to be enacted in some parts of the country, there has been a conservative backlash. It has happened for every minority that has tried to gain equality. The fight is a long way from being over for the LGBTQ+ community just as it continues to be a struggle for racial and ethnic minorities. Until Congress enacts solid protections for LGBTQ+ individuals and the courts back up those protections, conservatives in the U.S. will continue to find new ways to attack our rights. They will continue to use hate and religion to find exemptions even for protections that already have been enacted. In 1988, only 11 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. National support for same-sex marriage’s legal recognition rose above 50 percent for the first time in 2011. Today, the percentage of Americans who support gay marriage is slightly above 70 percent. I believe the most significant roadblock to LGBTQ+ rights are, and will continue to be, religious exemptions. I think the current Supreme Court will uphold religious exemptions. Until that changes, we will not have equality. The only way to end religious discrimination is for religious organizations with tax-exempt status to lose that status because of their discriminatory practices.

As I said at the beginning of Wednesday’s post, every LGBTQ+ generation has faced the difficulty of: if my family finds out I am gay, will they reject me? or if I come out, will my family accept me? Sadly, until there is universal acceptance of the diversity of sexuality, this is unlikely to change. In the seven generations since 1900, each generation has faced its own unique problems with some of those being carried over to other generations. It is paramount that the living generations of the LGBTQ+ community have conversations about what is important to younger gay generations versus those who remember the Stonewall riots and lived through the AIDS crisis. Whether perceived or real, differences between generations have existed long before the term “generation gap” became popular in the 1960s. 

Often, each generation has different views on social, political, cultural, and religious issues. LGBTQ+ generations before Millennials were mostly in the closet and afraid of being outed, losing their job and families, possibly their lives. Many of those generations tried to maintain an appearance of “respectability” by being married and having children. In many ways, Generation X was a transition generation between the old and the new. They were the first to experiment with the internet and begin creating a greater LGBTQ+ community. The gay generations since the Millennials can connect no matter where they live. They never knew a time without the internet and have made the most use of technology. They can be more integrated into the mainstream, and they find it easier to be open about their sexuality within society. They have role models and allies that did not exist for older generations. In my opinion, if we recognize our differences, realize what we have in common, understand our past, and embrace our future, we can come together and be a powerful unstoppable force.

This three-part series of posts is not meant to be an exhaustive look at the problems faced by generations of LGBTQ+ individuals. This final installment is focused on the latest generations growing up in a vastly different world from earlier LGBTQ+ generation, and thus the focus is on how much more still needs to be done.


LGBTQ+ Generational Problems: Generation X

The above image is one featured in International Male, the iconic, men’s, mail-order fashion catalog that changed our view of male fashion, sexuality, and masculinity in America, and influenced gay culture 1974-2007. For gay men, the International Male catalog was a window into another world with images of sensually-dressed men providing an escape from the AIDS crisis and the burgeoning homophobia.

Generation X, my generation, grew up in a world where gay men were gripped by the fear of AIDS. Contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was a death sentence. When the AIDS epidemic took hold in the U.S., it surged through communities that the straight world preferred not to see. HIV/AIDS has had a disproportionate impact on certain populations, particularly gay and bisexual men, other men who have sex with men, and racial and ethnic minorities. The AIDS epidemic was ignored by the Reagan administration for much of the 1980s even as the spread of the virus grew exponentially. By the fall of 1981, more than 100 AIDS cases had been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By February 1983, the first 1,000 cases had been reported. The second 1,000 were reported in the next six months, and the third 1,000 before the end of the year. 

By the end of 1984, AIDS had ravaged the United States for at least three years affecting approximately 7,700 people and killing more than 3,500. It is possible AIDS had been present and unseen for years before that. Scientists had identified the cause of HIV/AIDS, and the CDC had identified all its major transmission routes. Yet, US leaders mainly remained silent and unresponsive to the health emergency. It wasn’t until September 1985, four years after the crisis began, that President Reagan first publicly mentioned AIDS. But by then, AIDS was already a full-blown epidemic. By the late 1980s, cases had been reported from every state. It took eight years (until August 1989) for the first 100,000 cases to be reported; the second 100,000 were reported in just two years (by November 1991). The half-million total was passed in October of 1995. The cumulative total of cases through December 2001 was 816,149, of whom 666,026 (81.6%) were men, 141,048 (17.3%) were women, and 9,074 (1.1%) were children under age 13.

The stigma and discrimination associated with AIDS and gay men were overwhelming. Public response was negative in the early years of the epidemic. In 1983, a doctor in New York was threatened with eviction leading to the first AIDS discrimination lawsuit. Bathhouses across the country closed due to high-risk sexual activity. Some schools barred children with HIV from attending. When Congress held its first hearing on AIDS in 1982, only a single reporter showed up. In a House floor speech, Representative Bill Dannemeyer of California read graphic descriptions of homosexual sex acts. The actions and words of the powerful politician had a stifling effect on other Republicans inclined to help deal with the epidemic. Conservative politicians pushed for government registration of AIDS patients. In 1987, the United States placed a travel ban on visitors and immigrants with HIV. President Obama lifted this ban in 2010.

In early 1985, the CDC finally developed the nation’s first AIDS prevention plan spearheaded by epidemiologist, Dr. Donald Francis. Washington leaders ultimately rejected it on February 4, 1985. Dr. Francis later recounted in an article in the Journal of Public Health Policy that Dr. John Bennett, the CDC’s central coordinator for AIDS and the AIDS Task Force chairman, told him: “Don, they rejected the plan. They said, ‘Look pretty and do as little as you can.'” On September 17, 1985, President Reagan finally, publicly mentioned AIDS when responding to a reporter’s question. He called it a “top priority” and defended his administration’s response and research funding. On October 2, Congress allocated nearly $190 million for AIDS research—$70 million more than the administration’s request. That same day, actor Rock Hudson, Reagan’s close personal friend, died from AIDS dragging the disease into the public’s eye. 

In 1986, reports from the Institute of Medicine/National Academy of Science and Reagan’s Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, advocated for a coordinated response to AIDS. Under pressure, Reagan appointed a commission to investigate the epidemic. Towards the end of 1987, the country began taking steps to raise AIDS awareness by sponsoring AIDS Awareness Month, launching the “America Responds to AIDS” advertising campaign, and mailing the Surgeon General’s findings to every American household. Reagan’s response to AIDS should sound familiar. Our former, twice-impeached president used a similar tactic during the COVID pandemic. Take, for example, the following early response of the Reagan administration. During an October 1982 White House press briefing, Conservative journalist Lester Kinsolving questioned Larry Speakes, President Reagan’s press secretary, about the president’s reaction to AIDS which was then affecting some 600 people. When Kinsolving mentioned the disease was known as the “gay plague,” the press pool erupted in laughter. Rather than providing a substantive answer, Speakes said, “I don’t have it,” sparking more laughter. He then proceeded to question Kinsolving multiple times about whether he had AIDS. 

It became a joke for the Religious Right. When religious people found out you were gay, you often got the response, “I hope you die of AIDS” or “You’ll die of AIDS soon enough.” Families rejected their gay sons, and even more so if they had AIDS. The church of a cousin of mine who was gay and died of AIDS, refused to allow his funeral at the church or to allow him burial in the cemetery. The family never admitted he died of AIDS. But I knew. My aunt (it was her stepson) had told my mother the name of his doctor. He was the only doctor in Montgomery who would see AIDS patients. Being gay was not only the worst thing you could be, but many like me were raised to believe all gay people died of AIDS. It scared me into the closet for years.

Things slowly began to change as antiviral medications advanced, and AIDS was no longer a death sentence. In 1988, the World Health Organization organized the first World AIDS Day to raise awareness of the spreading pandemic. In May 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Romer v. Evans that Colorado’s 2nd amendment denying gays and lesbians protections against discrimination was unconstitutional. In April 2000, Vermont became the first state in the US to legalize civil unions and registered partnerships between same-sex couples. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that sodomy laws in the U.S. were unconstitutional. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. The state supreme court found the prohibition of gay marriage unconstitutional because it denied the dignity and equality of all individuals. In the following six years, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, and Washington D.C. followed suit. 

This three-part series of posts is not meant to be an exhaustive look at the problems faced by generations of LGBTQ+ individuals. This second part largely focuses on the impact of the AIDS epidemic on Generation X, but the AIDS crisis affected all living generations of LGBTQ+ individuals.


LGBTQ+ Generational Problems: The Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, and Baby Boomers

The above image is from Hugh Nini’s and Neal Treadwell’s book, Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850-1950, and is likely from the 1910s-1930s. Nini identified they are reading a magazine called ‘Adventure’ which was published from 1910-1971.

Every generation of gay men has faced the difficulty of: if my family finds out I am gay, will they reject me? or if I come out, will my family accept me? These questions are a near-universal fear even when someone has liberal parents or even gay parents. In the seven generations since 1900, each generation has faced its unique problems. Although some of these problems may be shared by several generations, each generation has its own fundamental issue which it faced. The seven living generations of Americans are usually defined as the following although some disagreement still exists within the dates: 

  • The Greatest Generation (born 1901-27)
  • The Silent Generation (born 1928-45)
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946-64)
  • Generation X (born 1965-80)
  • Millennials (born 1981-97)
  • Generation Z (born 1998-2010) 
  • The burgeoning Generation Alpha (born 2011-25)

The Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation, those who fought in World War I, World War II, and Korea, faced what became known as the Lavender Scare. It mainly refers to gay men who worked in the federal government, and meant they were marked for life as a homosexual. 

In 1947, at the beginning of the Cold War, the State Department had begun campaigns to rid the department of communists and gay men. Before the Lavender Scare and post-World War II, gay men from rural towns had begun to congregate in cities where they could keep their anonymity. However, this newfound peace and community were disturbed in 1947 when the United States Park Police created a Sex Perversion Elimination Act primarily targeting these communities in parks. At least five hundred people were arrested, and police charged seventy-six. The fear of communism led to a hysteria attacking all communities which were different.

The fear of communism was first seen from 1917-1920 in the First Red Scare which followed the 1917 Bolshevik Russian Revolution and the subsequent wave of Communist revolutions throughout Europe and beyond. The Second Red Scare (1947-1957) was popularly known as “McCarthyism” after Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthyism coincided with an increased fear of communist espionage that resulted from increasing tension in the Cold War. This fear was compounded when several high-ranking U.S. government officials confessed to being spies for the Soviet Union. By the time of this Second Red Scare, interrogations of one’s sexuality had become routine in the 1950s’/1960s’ federal workplace. Questions like “Do you identify as a homosexual or have you ever had same-sex sexual relations?” became commonplace as employers attempted to root out gay employees. The U.S. government feared that gay diplomats or intelligence operatives were particularly susceptible to blackmail by communist agents. This period became known as the Lavender Scare—a period of interrogation and firing of gay civil servants. The prohibition of gays working for the government continued through the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

The Lavender Scare made being publicly gay difficult. Although gay men were largely closeted before the Lavender Scare, being publicly gay during the 1950s was challenging and near impossible without significant consequences. Not only were gay federal employees fired, but many others were also fired for “guilt of association,” knowing someone who was gay. Because of the resulting stigma within the federal government as well as in larger public culture, many of the federal investigations and resulting firings lead to dismissed employees’ suicides—most of which were later covered up by federal interrogators. Several gay people later stepped up to challenge the federal government’s “sexual perversion” components including civil servant Frank Kameny who took his case to the Supreme Court. Although Kameny lost, a few federal courts began ruling in his favor by 1969. More gay rights organizations also developed such as the Mattachine Society (1950), and the Daughters of Bilitis (1955) founded by lesbians. The Lavender Scare’s effects, however, were long-lasting.

The Lavender Scare not only broke up and quieted the cities’ queer communities which were afraid of federal employment discrimination and potential hate crime, but it also resulted in a largely conservative, homogenous culture within the government. While most federal organizations eventually overturned their policies on gay and lesbian discrimination, the FBI, NSA, and the State Department banned gay men and women into the 1990s until President Bill Clinton officially overturned these rules in 1995. Later, as recent as 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry apologized to the LGBT community on behalf of the federal government’s Lavender Scare interrogations, stating: “I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the department’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community.”

Baby Boomers continued to face discrimination in the federal workplace, but they appeared to be making some strides. The late 1960s and 1970s saw the beginnings of the gay liberation movement which had its spark in events like the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot (1966), the Stonewall Riots (1969), and the American Psychiatric Association vote to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses (1973). Before these events—that led to Kathy Kozachenko becoming the first openly gay American elected to public office (1974) or Harvey Milk winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (1977)—being gay, or committing sodomy, was criminal in most states. The sexual revolution of the 1960s did not extend to the gay community. Even when things began to change in larger cities, there was a backlash. On June 24, 1973, someone burned down the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans. Thirty-two people died, and at least 15 were injured as the result of fire or smoke inhalation. Until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, in which 49 people were murdered, the UpStairs Lounge arson attack was the deadliest known attack on a gay club in U.S. history.

In 1977, singer and conservative Southern Baptist Anita Bryant led a successful campaign with the “Save Our Children” crusade to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida. Bryant faced severe backlash from gay rights supporters across the U.S., but to little avail. The gay rights ordinance would not be reinstated in Dade County until December 1, 1998, more than 20 years later. On November 27, 1978, former city supervisor Dan White assassinated Harvey Milk. White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to only seven years in prison. The late 1960s and 1970s were a period of ups and downs for gay men and women in America. By 1980, there looked like there would be real change as The Democratic Rules Committee stated it would not discriminate against homosexuals. At their National Convention on August 11-14, the Democrats became the first major political party to endorse a homosexual rights platform. Then tragedy struck; the gay men of the Baby Boomer generation saw their world come crashing down. On July 3, 1981, the New York Times printed the first story about a rare pneumonia and skin cancer found in forty-one gay men in New York and California. The CDC initially referred to the disease as GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency Disorder. When doctors found the symptoms outside the gay community, Bruce Voeller, a biologist, and the National Gay Task Force founder, successfully lobbied to change the disease’s name to AIDS.

This three-part series of posts is not meant to be an exhaustive look at the problems faced by generations of LGBTQ+ individuals. Furthermore, this first part largely focuses on gay men.


Coincidence, I Think NOT!

Images of the CPAC stage went viral this weekend as many noted a resemblance to the Odal or Othala rune, a symbol emblazoned on some Nazi uniforms. The main stage’s floor layout resembled the Odal rune with wings/feet, which led to speculation on social media that CPAC deliberately chose this particular design. The Anti-Defamation League classified the insignia as a hate symbol adopted by modern-day white supremacists. As someone who organizes public programs as part of my job, I can tell you that no aspect of an event is unintentional, especially designing a stage for such a venue. I have no doubt that CPAC organizers chose this shape for a particular purpose. They were sending a message of support for the extreme right. The Odal Rune is a well-known symbol of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. In November 2016, the American National Socialist Movement’s leadership announced their intention to replace the Nazi-pattern swastika with the Odal rune on their uniforms and party regalia in an attempt to enter mainstream politics. This symbol was purposely chosen by National Socialist Movement’s leadership because it is a lesser-known symbol of Neo-Nazism. I find it hard to believe that the design of the CPAC stage was coincidentally shaped like the symbol of the National Socialist Movement when the Right is well-known for subtle nods to the most extreme of their ideology.

A Uniform Patch for the SS (top picture)
The CPAC Stage (bottom picture)

Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, the organizer of CPAC, said on Saturday in a tweet that comparisons were “outrageous and slanderous.” This is a typical response of the right when they are caught using symbols or statements as coded messaging for their more extreme elements. Schlapp continued saying, “We have a long-standing commitment to the Jewish community. Cancel culture extremists must address antisemitism within their own ranks. CPAC proudly stands with our Jewish allies, including those speaking from this stage.” This is the equivalent of, “I can’t be racist, I have black friends” or “I’m not homophobic, I know gay people.” Conservatives use this type of language all the time. The former president similar tactics all the time when he would voice his support of groups like QAnon or the Proud Boys and then claim he didn’t really know anything about such groups. Coded messages to extremists have been used by Republicans for decades to hide in plain sight their support of the discrimination of various groups.

This year’s CPAC theme was “America Uncanceled,” reflecting their obsessive use of the term “cancel culture.” Conservative media like Fox News use “cancel culture” as an attack on progressives by accusing them of silencing and banishing anyone with whom they disagree to a politically correct Hell. The Right fails to perceive the irony and hypocrisy (something they seem immune to) of arguing that Democrats invented “cancel culture,” when in reality, the Right perpetuated this political tactic to its radical extreme. Republicans live in a culture that cancels anyone and everyone who does not look like them, believe like them, think like them, walk like them, talk like them, love like them, present themselves like them, lie like them, invent and promote conspiracy theories like them, and rejects the Constitution like them. “Cancel culture” is a term the Right coined to organize its minions against progressive policies and actions. It is a term that is meant to justify continuing its oppression and dominance against those of us and our movement(s) attempting to end the forms of oppression and provide more equality and equity. In other words, “Cancel culture” is meant to give the Right justification in its continuing promotion of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, patriarchal Christian white supremacy, and all other forms of oppression. It is a term of intimidation and resistance to progressive social change.

CPAC’s goals of oppression was never more evident than in its use of the Odal rune for the design of the CPAC stage, but it’s not just that they used something similar to the Odal rune, it’s that they used the Nazi interpretation of that symbol. The rendition of the rune used for the CPAC stage with wings/feet was the badge of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office, which was responsible for maintaining the racial purity of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS). It was also the emblem of ethnic Germans of the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen operating during World War II in the Nazi Germany-sponsored Independent State of Croatia. In addition to the National Socialist Movement in the United States, this rendition is used by Neo-Nazis in Germany and South Africa and by Italian neo-fascists. This particular rendition has no historical significance outside of Nazi Germany. Because of its Nazi associations, Germany’s Strafgesetzbuch (Criminal Code) 86a bans any usage of the Odal rune as with most other symbols if used in a Neo-Nazi context.

We have to be vigilant in calling out the coded messages to extremists that are constantly used by the Right. Sometimes, the Right does not code their hatred, and other times they do. We cannot let them get away with this extremism and their support of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, patriarchal Christian white supremacy, and all other forms of oppression. The problem must be rooted out, and we need to work to vote out all those who even marginally support such behavior.


The Filibuster: An Accidental and Archaic Rule

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber just after being sworn-in by Vice President Kamala Harris, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

One of the most misunderstood aspects of the federal government is the arcane Senate rule known as the filibuster. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued against the filibuster, according to whether it is useful to them or not. Considering how little the contemporary version of the U.S. Senate accomplishes, that may be reason enough to kill the filibuster — a tool used by the minority party to keep the Senate in a state of near-perpetual obstruction. There’s another reason. Despite an enormous amount of work to be done now at the start of a new Congress, the Senate can’t accomplish tasks as basic as picking committee chairs because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is using the threat of a filibuster to hold up the rules organizing the new Senate, which is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote giving Democrats a razor-thin majority. Why? Because McConnell wants a guarantee that Democrats won’t bend the rules to eliminate the filibuster. 

At this point in this post, I am going to give all of you a choice. You can watch a 20-minute video of John Oliver explaining in an irreverent but often humorous way the history and structure of the filibuster, or you can read my more detailed and analysis of the filibuster. If you choose the video, then you can skip to the section below the dividing line.

For a little history, the filibuster, contrary to popular belief, is not in the Constitution and the founding fathers never even mentioned it at the Constitutional Convention or in The Federalist Papers, which argued against supermajority required votes in Federalist No. 58 written by James Madison and Federalist No. 22 by Alexander Hamilton. While the Constitution does not mandate it, the framers clearly envisioned that simple majority voting would be used to conduct business. It took seventeen years for the simple majority rule to be changed. In 1789, the first U.S. Senate adopted rules allowing senators to move forward to vote on a bill by a simple majority vote. However, Vice President Aaron Burr argued that voting on whether or not to vote on a bill was redundant, and the Senate had only exercised the procedure once in the preceding four years. He believed the rule should be eliminated, which was done in 1806 after he left office. The Senate agreed and modified its rules; however, filibusters became theoretically possible because it created no means for ending debate. Just an aside, Burr, who accidentally created the filibuster, was later tried multiple times for treason for attempting to establish an independent country in the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. This was after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and Burr ended up fleeing to Europe to get away from the charges of treason. Treason, by the way, is very difficult to prove by the standards set by the Constitution.

Though the option of the filibuster had been created, it remained only theoretical until the 1830s. The first Senate filibuster occurred in 1837. In 1841, a defining moment came at the hands of Alabama senator and future vice president William Rufus King (who I wrote about several weeks ago as being the possible lover of James Buchanan). During debate on a bill to charter a new national bank, Senator Henry Clay tried to end the debate through a majority vote. King threatened a filibuster, saying that Clay “may make his arrangements at his boarding house for the winter.” Other senators sided with King, and Clay backed down. At the time, both the Senate and the House of Representatives allowed filibusters as a way to prevent a vote from taking place. Subsequent revisions to House rules limited filibuster privileges in that chamber, but the Senate continued to allow the tactic. 

Eight decades passed before a rule was created to end a filibuster. In 1917, during World War I, a rule allowing cloture (a motion to end debate through a vote) was adopted by the Senate on a 76–3 roll call vote at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, after a group of 12 anti-war senators managed to kill a bill that would have allowed Wilson to arm merchant vessels in the face of unrestricted German submarine warfare. From 1917 to 1949, the requirement for cloture was two-thirds of senators voting. During the 1930s, Senator Huey Long of Louisiana used the filibuster to promote his populist policies and ushered in the politics of strange speeches that mocked the dignity of the Senate. Long recited Shakespeare and read out recipes for “pot-likkers” during his filibusters, which occupied 15 hours of debate. Senator Ted Cruz more recently read Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess, even though the need to continually speak is no longer necessary. The threat of filibuster suffices these days. In 1949, the Senate made invoking cloture more difficult by requiring two-thirds of the entire Senate membership had to vote in favor of a cloture motion. However, that lasted a mere ten years. In 1959, then-Majority Leader and future president Lyndon Johnson anticipated a flurry of civil rights legislation and restored the cloture threshold to two-thirds of those voting to keep Southern Democrats from hijacking the Senate. As presiding officer, Vice President Richard Nixon supported the move and stated his opinion that the Senate “has a constitutional right at the beginning of each new Congress to determine rules it desires to follow,” which is the reason the Senate is currently debating the rules governing the Democratic majority in the Senate.

After a series of filibusters in the 1960s over civil rights legislation, the Senate put a “two-track system” into place in 1970. Before this system was introduced, a filibuster would stop the Senate from moving on to any other legislative activity. Tracking allows the majority leader—with unanimous consent or the agreement of the minority leader—to have more than one main motion pending on the floor as unfinished business. Under the two-track system, the Senate can have two or more pieces of legislation or nominations pending on the floor simultaneously by designating specific periods during the day when each one will be considered. (This might be a possible way for the Senate to move ahead with the current impeachment trial that is expected to come forward sometime today.) This change’s side effect was that by no longer bringing Senate business to a complete halt, filibusters on particular motions became politically easier for the minority to sustain, leading to the number of filibusters increasing rapidly. In 1975, the Senate revised its cloture rule so that three-fifths of sworn senators (60 votes out of 100) could limit debate, with only a few exceptions to the rule.

Whoever was the minority party at the time began to use the filibuster as a way to hold up judicial appointments. In 2005, a group of Republican senators proposed having the presiding officer, Vice President Dick Cheney, rule that a filibuster on judicial nominees was unconstitutional, as it was inconsistent with the President’s power to name judges with the advice and consent of a simple majority of senators. On November 21, 2013, Senate Democrats used the so-called “nuclear option,” voting 52–48 — with all Republicans and three Democrats opposed — to eliminate the filibuster’s use on executive branch nominees and judicial nominees, except to the Supreme Court. In 2015, Republicans took control of the Senate and kept the 2013 rules in place. On April 6, 2017, Senate Republicans eliminated the sole remaining exception to the 2013 change by invoking the “nuclear option” for Supreme Court nominees. This was done to allow a simple majority to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The vote to change the rules was 52 to 48 along party lines.

The supermajority rule has made it very difficult, often impossible, for Congress to pass any but the most non-controversial legislation in recent decades. During times of unified party control, majorities have attempted (with varying levels of success) to enact their major policy priorities through the budget reconciliation process, resulting in legislation constrained by budget rules. Meanwhile, public approval for Congress as an institution has fallen to its lowest levels ever, with large segments of the public seeing the institution as ineffective, which brings us to the current situation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cannot organize the Senate under his majority rule because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insists that the Democrats commit to leaving the filibuster intact. The Democrats have no plans at this time to kill the filibuster altogether. Quite frankly, they do not have the votes, since Democratic Senator Joe Manchin openly opposes the idea and others are cautious; however, they want to keep the threat of killing the filibuster to prevent McConnell and the Republicans from abusing it and stopping all Democratic legislation.

_________________________

The stakes here are interesting because the issues are deeper than just the filibuster. While the new Senate is split evenly, the 50 Democrats in the Senate represent over 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republicans represent. The filibuster means that no legislation can pass Congress without the support of 10 Republicans. What that means is that the fight over the filibuster is a fight not just about the ability of the Democrats to get laws passed, but about whether McConnell and the Republicans, who represent a minority of the American people, can kill legislation endorsed by lawmakers who represent quite a large majority. We are in an uncomfortable period in our history in which the mechanics of our democracy are functionally anti-democratic. The fight over the filibuster might seem dull, but it’s a pretty significant struggle as our lawmakers try to make the rules of our system fit our changing nation.

One of the biggest problems with the filibuster is that it’s held as a hallowed tradition of the Senate, when it was not originally part of the rules of the Senate. Furthermore, it allows for just forty-one people out of the 328.2 million Americans to stop legislation from even being considered. The other major problem is that the Senate, contrary to popular belief, is filled with racists, homophobes, misogynists, and/or stupid people. The stupidity may be the worst of them all because they cause the other three. I will not give the obvious example of the election of a football coach who doesn’t even know the three branches of the government or who the Allies fought in World War II because no one is claiming Tommy Tuberville is a genius. Instead, I want to bring to your attention the stupidity of a man many in the Senate often claim to be a genius, Ted Cruz. The Senator tweeted the following statement on Tuesday:

Many senators, including Democrats and Republicans, have stated that Cruz is a very intelligent man. Yet, he is too stupid to understand that the Paris Climate Accord is named as such because it was signed in Paris, not because it represents the views of Parisians. While he probably does realize this, he is more likely playing to his constituents’ stupidity and the supporters of the previous administration. This kind of stupidity is the reason Chuck Schumer and the Democrats must end the filibuster. If they don’t, they might as well just go back to letting Mitch McConnell be Majority Leader and allow the Senate to continue to prevent any legislation from moving on through the Senate.

In other news: President Biden is expected to sign an executive order today that will lift the Pentagon’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. The controversial ban was announced by the previous president in 2017 and reversed the Obama administration’s policy to allow open service by transgender people.


Infuriating, But Not Surprising

Was anyone surprised when Trump, in an extraordinary hour-long call, pressured the Georgia secretary of state to “recalculate” or “find” enough votes in his favor to overturn the election? It did not surprise me in the least. The House of Representatives impeached Trump because he attempted to bribe the President of Ukraine into investigating the Bidens and withheld lifesaving aid from said county to put pressure on the Ukrainian President. He is a thug and a bully, and he thinks he is a dictator and acts like a mob boss more than he has ever acted as President of the United States. While the Senate did not remove Trump from the presidency in the impeachment proceedings, it is very apparent that Donald Trump ceased to carry out his duties as President in January 2020.

Trump knew about the COVID-19 pandemic that was about to overwhelm the world, yet he did nothing. He has failed to do anything to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Trump kept telling Americans that it would disappear and that a vaccine would be found soon. Yet, when a vaccine was found, he has failed to direct its distribution properly. According to the CDC, a mere 4.2 million people have received the initial vaccination dose as of Saturday. That number is far below the government’s goal of having 20 million people in the U.S. vaccinated by the end of December. He’s also failed to respond to the domestic terrorist bombing in Nashville on Christmas Day. One disaster after another has befallen the United States over the last year, and Trump has done nothing but continue to claim that the 2020 presidential election would be fraudulent and then continue to claim that the election was fraudulent after the fact even when no evidence can be found. He is desperate to stay in power at the cost of over 350,000 lives and democracy itself.

With the phone call on Saturday to the Georgia secretary of state, Trump has shown that he no longer has the mental capacity to be president for the next 16 days. The Vice President and Cabinet need to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and remove Trump from office because he has become incapacitated. Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment states:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

I realize that this is unlikely to happen. Pence and the cabinet are loyalists to Trumpism, and they will not do what is best for this country. They have refused to do so for the past four years, and that is unlikely to change. The Republicans will continue to pretend that their “naked emperor has on clothes” or, in this case, that a mentally deficient president is of sound mind and body. Trump has lost all sense of reality, and he is spiraling down and trying to take not only the Republican Party with him but the United States as a whole.

The Great Fire of Rome of July 64 AD probably began in the merchant shops around Rome’s chariot stadium, the Circus Maximus, on the night of July 19. After six days, the fire was brought under control, but before the damage could be assessed, the fire reignited and burned for another three days. In the aftermath of the fire, two-thirds of Rome had been destroyed. According to Tacitus and later Christian tradition, Emperor Nero blamed the devastation on the Christian community in the city, initiating the empire’s first persecution against the Christians. The event’s varying historical accounts come from three secondary sources—Cassius Dio, Suetonius, and Tacitus. The primary accounts, which possibly included histories written by Fabius Rusticus, Marcus Cluvius Rufus, and Pliny the Elder, have not survived. At least six separate stories circulated regarding Nero and the fire:

  • Motivated by a desire to destroy the city, Nero secretly sent out men pretending to be drunk to set fire to the city. Nero watched from his palace on the Palatine Hill singing and playing the lyre.
  • Nero was motivated to destroy the city to bypass the Senate and rebuild Rome in his image.
  • Nero quite openly sent out men to set fire to the city. Nero watched from the Tower of Maecenas on the Esquiline Hill singing.
  • Nero sent out men to set fire to the city. There were unconfirmed rumors that Nero sang from a private stage during the fire.
  • The fire was an accident that occurred while Nero was in Antium.
  • Rumor had it that Nero had started the fire. Therefore, to blame someone else for it (and thus exonerate Nero from blame), the fire was said to have been caused by the already unpopular Christians.

Nero was a horrendous emperor. He was a monster by any standards. While Donald Trump does not possess even a tenth of Nero’s power, he is trying to blame everyone else for his failings, much like Nero blamed the Christians for something that quite possibly was his own doing. While the Great Fire was probably an accident that burned a city that was primarily built of flammable material, Trump’s destructive behavior is not accidental but is caused by his madness and mental deficiency. What happens in tomorrow’s Georgia runoff election will determine if this country can move forward peacefully or if there will be stalemate and destruction for the next two years as Mitch McConnell and the Trumpists in the Senate attempt to continue Trump’s destruction of democracy.

Wednesday’s certification of the Electoral College votes should be a mere formality, but I think we can all expect (barring a miracle of conscience from Republicans) that the U.S. Capitol will become a circus for much of the day and possibly even into the morning hours of Thursday. Trump has made sure that democracy looks like a joke and that Democrats are the butt of that joke. However, the election results will be certified, and it will become official that Joe Biden will be sworn in as President of the United States at noon on January 20, 2021. I do not doubt that Trump will continue to try to burn the country to the ground in the next sixteen days and that no Republican will try to stop him. The phone call Saturday should have ended his presidency if a normal administration existed. It should have ended Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, but it won’t because his Republican supporters have lost their fucking minds. We all need to pray that January 20 will be here soon enough and that Trump will go into hiding in disgrace. With the Republican Party as it is today, this is the best we can hope for, especially if Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock do not win tomorrow. If Democrats can take the Senate on Tuesday, then there is hope for the Biden administration ushering in a new era of equality and hope in the United States.


Merry Christmas!

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

     Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

—Luke 2:1-20

For most of American history, Christmas was not a celebrated holiday, especially here in New England. In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Europeans celebrated Christmas. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and canceled Christmas as part of their effort. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him came the return of the popular holiday. The pilgrims were English separatists that came to America in 1620 and even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, Boston outlawed the celebration of Christmas. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday of the Middle Ages into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high, and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot, which inspired certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Americans celebrated Christmas.

In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., commonly referred to as The Sketch Book, is a collection of 34 essays and short stories. It was published serially throughout 1819 and 1820. The collection includes two of Irving’s best-known stories, attributed to the fictional Dutch historian Diedrich Knickerbocker: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” It also marks Irving’s first use of the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon, which he would continue to employ throughout his literary career. In the fifth installment of The Sketchbooks, Irving features Squire Bracebridge, who invited peasants into his home for the holiday. In the first story, simply titled “Christmas,” Crayon reflecting on the meaning of Christmas and its celebration. The second story in the collection, “The Stage-Coach,” tells of Crayon’s ride with the Bracebridge children to their country manor, Bracebridge Hall, where he is invited to stay for Christmas. In the next story, “Christmas Eve,” Crayon celebrates the holiday at Squire Bracebridge’s home. It is followed by “Christmas Day,” which details Christmas festivities—allegedly in the old tradition—continue at Bracebridge Hall. The third story about the Bracebridge Christmas is “Christmas Dinner,” in which Crayon enjoys old English hospitality at the Bracebridge Christmas dinner table. 

These stories portrayed an idealized and old-fashioned Yule celebration at an English country manor. Irving’s stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas customs he observed while staying in Aston Hall, Birmingham, England. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the upper class and peasants mingled effortlessly. In Irving’s mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving’s fictitious celebrants enjoyed “ancient customs,” including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving’s book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended. Many historians say that Irving’s account actually “invented” tradition by implying that it described the season’s authentic customs. Except for Pennsylvania German Settlers, who were enthusiastic celebrators of Christmas, Irving contributed to a revival of traditions in the United States. Charles Dickens later credited Irving as an influence on his own Christmas writings, including the classic A Christmas Carol.

Popular American customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, sending holiday cards, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends, and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. None of these traditions are uniquely American but are actually the adoption of traditions from the variety of cultures that make up the melting pot that is the United States. As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years after The Sketchbooks were published, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs. Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation. 

As Americans continue to embrace their cultural heritage, new traditions are continually being added. Christmas is a celebration of the Nativity—the birth of Jesus—but it is also a celebration of what makes America great: its vast diversity and amalgamation of cultures. This Christmas, let us not think of our differences but what we have in common. We have suffered a great deal this year, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

As Americans continue to embrace their cultural heritage, new traditions are continually being added. Christmas is a celebration of the Nativity—the birth of Jesus—but it is also a celebration of what makes America great: its vast diversity and amalgamation of cultures. This Christmas, let us not think of our differences but what we have in common. We have suffered a great deal this year, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Merry Christmas To All

&

To All A Happy New Year!


Pic of the Day

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a monk named St. Nicholas, who was born in Turkey around 280 A.D. St. Nicholas gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick, becoming known as the protector of children and sailors.

St. Nicholas first entered American popular culture in the late 18th century in New York, when Dutch families gathered to honor the anniversary of the death of “Sint Nikolaas” (Dutch for Saint Nicholas), or “Sinter Klaas” for short. “Santa Claus” draws his name from this abbreviation.

In 1822, Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore wrote a Christmas poem called “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known today by its first line: “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” The poem depicted Santa Claus as a jolly man who flies from home to home on a sled driven by reindeer to deliver toys.

The iconic version of Santa Claus as a jolly man in red with a white beard and a sack of toys was immortalized in 1881 when political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the image of Old Saint Nick we know today.

I like the version above a little better. I’d love a visit from this sexy Santa Claus tonight. His elves are welcomed too.