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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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What Has He Done to Deserve This?

When I heard that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, I wondered the same thing a lot of people did: What has he accomplished? I’m not exactly a fan considering how little he has actually done regarding LGBT issues. His recent speech at the Human Rights Campaign dinner was nice, but he reiterated his campaign promises–the same promises he removed from the White House web site a few months after his inauguration.

After reading the criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize, though, I understand why they gave it to him. He has worked “for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” I’m sure there were other qualified peacemakers; there always are. Maybe someone else should have won (he seems to think so). But it’s not as if they gave it to Khadafi.

I do think the choice was unwise, or at least poorly timed. Prez is just getting started in what will hopefully be a first term. Receiving this prestigious award raises expectations and reduces his margin of error. He’s boxed in to two choices: #perfection or #fail. And although the Nobel committee is taking some heat for the decision, he’s being scrutinized as if the decision were his. He was surprised, and whether or not he accepted the honor, he is considered presumptuous.

Many of the critics of this decision are otherwise strong Obama supporters. Continue reading

An Olive Branch Wrapped in a Burning Rainbow Flag

In last night’s debate of the candidates for vice president, there was a disturbing moment when Joe Biden pointed out that he and Sarah Palin agreed that marriage should not be redefined to include same-sex couples. As I remember it, he extended his arm, as if he grasped an olive branch or a burning rainbow flag.

If all else fails, politicians can express bipartisanism by playing smear the queer, or in this case by steering clear of the queers as fast as they could. What disturbed me was that Biden retreated from the position he’d taken moments before. After Gwen Ifill asked the question about the rights of same-sex couples, Biden said, “In an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.” He didn’t hesitate, spoke passionately, and seemed proud to speak out.

Palin’s response was tepid at best. She said that she would not interfere with adults’ choices of partners, repeated a few times that she is “tolerant” as she made a “ewww” face. She made it clear, though, that she doesn’t support marriage equality, but didn’t explain how such a position is even remotely tolerant. She mentioned having friends who disagree with her position on these issues. Apparently she thinks it’s important for voters to know that some of her best friends are liberal and/or gay, and she tolerates them. I wonder if they tolerate her? Continue reading

Blinky, Smiley Pundits

A few years ago, I got to see and hear Tony Kushner in person. He is a gentle, polite human being offstage, and a ferocious, intelligent persona on stage. He offered an observation that has kept me thinking for these years. He said that art is not activism. In that moment, I agreed and disagreed, and have puzzled over this comment since. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how what he said relates to the presidential campaign process: rhetoric, which is an art, is not action. Writing and speaking can illuminate us to what the writer/speaker wishes to do and wants us to do. It’s not action, but it’s useful.

Candidates tell us what they think they will do, but the campaign process involves pundits telling us what the candidates really mean, what we should really think about them, and–my favorite part–telling us what the future holds if this or that so-and-so is elected. It reminds me a lot of when critics and fans of the American version of The Office insist that it’s amazing and brilliant, and go on to explain why it’s funny, and how it’s going to go down in history as one of the greatest television shows ever. Political and entertainment pundits alike tend to promote too much, and I tend not to buy what they’re selling.

It’s kind of fun to watch the pundits giggle condescendingly at one another in the split screen, eager to explain why they’re right and the others are wrong. Right now I’m watching a particularly blinky, smiley Republican economist shaking her head as one of Obama’s advisers speaks. As soon as she has an opening, she flings two accusations at the “Obama camp,” which the Obama adviser immediately dismisses before offering some accusations herself. The Republican pundit continues to smile through all of this, blinking faster when she’s not speaking. The Obama adviser is stone-faced through it all. Finally, Wolf Blitzer must go to a commercial, and I have learned nothing from this segment, except that I should have trusted my instinct not to waste my time on this trash.

Not that I don’t enjoy a good rhetorical brawl, but I’d really like some follow-through on some issues. To my surprise, this sort of thing happened on The View last week when John McCain was a guest. During the first segment, I felt uncomfortable because Barbara Walters went right after him despite the “let’s sit on the couch and chat” environment. She asked a clear question (Who does he expect Palin to reform?) and demanded a clear answer (Congress? Him? Someone else?), pointing out that he’s been in Washington for two decades and his party has held president’s office for eight years. It was exciting to see her act like a journalist again. She can be impressive when she’s on.

The next segment made me uncomfortable because the tone softened. The hosts settled for McCain’s weak answers. When he said he thought Roe v. Wade was a bad decision, Continue reading

Dressing Up for Game Day

Watching Sarah Palin’s appearance at the Republican National Convention reminded me of a ritual my sister had to go through repeatedly in high school. Like Palin, my sister was an athlete. She lettered in every sport she played all through high school. On game days, she and her teammates were expected to dress up, preferably in skirts or dresses, but at minimum, they were supposed to put on heels and hose. The boys’ teams dressed up on their game days, too, but more was at stake for the female athletes. Many of their peers didn’t take them seriously as athletes because they were girls, and because they were athletes, their gender and sexuality were questioned, too. Dressing up for game days didn’t change many hearts or minds.

Based on how pundits have been spinning Palin’s story, things have changed a little. Not only does a tough gal get some respect, the boys want her on their team. Palin is the Republicans’ spitfire who cleans up real good. They want voters to know that she is capable of leadership, but that she doesn’t let that get in the way of her roles as mother, wife, woman.

Their ability to present her as a human being stands in sharp contrast to their confused smears of Hillary Clinton. One day they would brand Clinton an ice maiden; the next they said she was too emotional to lead the country. (To be fair, Obama’s supporters did this, too.) But lately, Republicans have been acknowledging, even celebrating, Clinton’s historic run for President. Palin herself acknowledged Clinton’s feat, but her nomination shows an effort by Republicans to smooth over the 18 million cracks Clinton’s supporters made in the proverbial glass ceiling.

The only change Palin would bring is that Republicans would have the first VP in a long time whom they’d want to show off. “See,” they could say, “we don’t discriminate.” They’d be a little bit right but so, so wrong. Palin’s place would be second place at best. They might let her think and speak for herself now and then, perhaps not realizing that she probably wants to voice her own ideas rather than merely serving as a Republican megaphone. Continue reading

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