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SF’s Castro: Then, and Now

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Old friend Andrew and his wife, Jan, are out here on the West Coast visiting from Massachusetts, so I thought I’d bring them to the Castro District, which they’d never seen. “The birthplace of the world’s gay rights movement,” I described it. I feared, briefly, Andrew wouldn’t care; as a straight man, he’s supportive of gay rights, but he was never a stalwart in the struggle, and touring the place where Harvey Milk’s camera shop was, or the bar when I went on my first date, might have bored him. Even so, the Castro, and Upper Market in general, is an fascinating neighborhood, spread up and down the scenic hills; and since Andrew is a building developer, with an interest in architecture, and Jan loves urban gardens, I thought they would like it. Anyhow, it had been years since I was last there, and I wanted to see how my old neighborhood was faring.

When I moved to San Francisco, in 1979, I was terrified to drive through the Castro. I’d take torturous detours just to avoid it. I was still deeply in the closet; my dalliances with other gay men were strictly on the DL (a term I didn’t know back then). In my private secrecy, I was completely intimidated at the thought of out gay men openly living their lives without shame or fear.

This went on for months. Eventually, I sat myself down and said, “Self, this is ridiculous. You can’t go on avoiding the Castro. You’ve got to plunge in and confront what you’re afraid of.” So I drove over (I was living in Noe Valley), found a parking spot, and walked to a coffee shop on Castro, off 17th Street. I’d brought with me a pad and pen; ordered some coffee and a pastry, found a little table by myself, and began meticulously recording my thoughts and feelings.

I’ve always used writing for the purpose of understanding myself, of objectifying and concretizing my feelings to better make sense of them, and to memorialize for re-examination at a later date. The mere act of writing soothed me. I no longer have those notes, but I’m sure they included observations of the local fauna, and my emotional reactions. This was still the era of “the Castro clone,” muscular, gym-toned young men with short-cropped hair, neatly-trimmed mustaches, ultra-tight jeans that left nothing to the imagination, and skin-tight T-shirts. I’m sure I saw men kissing and holding hands, brimming with self-confidence, with not a lick of shame. I, sadly, was still locked into self-loathing.

Yet within a year, I was living in the Castro, at the top of States Street, just off Castro Street itself. I had sunk effortlessly into San Francisco’s burgeoning gay culture: not just the bars of the Castro District, but the clubs of South of Market, the dens of the Tenderloin, the bizarre street culture of Polk Street. I met men out on Ocean Beach, along trails in Golden Gate Park, at San Francisco State University, where I was going to grad school and working fulltime. It was a heady time: I was aware of the historicity of what we gay men were doing in San Francisco, but more to the point, I was having the time of my life, making up for all the long years of being in the closet and depriving myself.

One day—it must have been sometime in 1982—I read an article in one of the free gay bar rags about a “gay pneumonia” in Los Angeles and New York City. That was the beginning. Before long, the same gay rag was running obituaries of gay men who had died of the disease: dozens each week, with heartbreaking photos. The Castro began looking like a movie set: young men limping on canes, withered away to skin and bones, faces blotched with purple. Fear swept over San Francisco like a wave: no one was free from it. We all had to adjust.

In the event, I never got AIDS. But a lot of my friends did. Many died. I volunteered for Shanti Project, to do my small part. The carefree days of the late 1970s and early 1980s ended as abruptly as if an asteroid had crashed into the city. I moved out of San Francisco, to Oakland, in 1987, for a new job and a new life. Over the last 33 years, I’ve visited the Castro probably fewer than a dozen times. There’s been no reason to go, except for nostalgia. So I was really looking forward to my visit with Andy and Jan.

We walked up and down Castro Street with all the rainbow flags, and I pointed out the historic places and the personal places that meant so much to me. We climbed steep States Street to my old home, at the top just off Roosevelt, and then further up into Ashbury Heights, where I lived in a wonderful home on Upper Terrace, with a spectacular view (on a clear day), of the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes. I paid $285 a month rent back then—now that home is probably worth $3 million. Ah, so it goes.

There are many downsides to aging, but one of its glories is the treasury of memories one accumulates. Yes, I’m sure the hard times tend to get erased, so that we remember mainly the good ones—but how wonderful it is to recall youth, and friends, and falling in love, and excitement, and adventure, and the discovery of new passions, and—not least of all—the beauty of the hills above the Castro and the extraordinary city of San Francisco.


The New York Times November 23, 2024

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Following his re-election in 2020, Trump oversaw a drastic reorganization of the American government. His first move was to declare the U.S. House of Representatives, which Democrats had retained control of, “a threat to national security.” Under Executive Order 20-001, he ordered the House “dissolved, as of this moment,” and forbade its members from convening “on pain of imprisonment.” The Senate, which remained under Republican control, was permitted to convene; Senate Democrats immediately filed in Federal court for an injunction halting Trump’s order. They were joined by 26 Democratic states’ Attorneys-General. The Supreme Court, under rules of expedited order, considered the case, but, after only two hours of deliberation, ruled against the injunction, meaning that the House of Representatives remained shuttered. The vote was 5-4; the Chief Justice, writing for the majority, stated, “The President of the United States, under Article 2 of the Constitution, can do whatever he wants.”

Next, Trump increased the U.S. Marshals’ Service, which is overseen by the President, from 3,500 officers to more than 15,000. He then ordered them to arrest a number of public figures, whom he identified as “enemies of the State.” These figures included:

Nancy Pelosi

Adam Schiff

Mitt Romney

Jerry Nadler

John Bolton

Hillary Clinton

Amid objections by Senate Democrats and much of the media, Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, announced that those detained “will be given fair trials, unlike the fake witch hunts they launched against an innocent President.” Courtroom trials were announced to commence in late May, in the well of the Senate Chamber, with Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas presiding.

At the trials, 27 defendants were summarily found guilty of “treason, misprision of treason, violations of the National Security Act of 1947, interference in a legitimate election, and conspiring with enemies of the U.S. government.” All were sentenced to death. In her statement to the Court following the verdicts, Hillary Clinton said:

I am not afraid of death. But I am afraid of the death of the American republic, to which I have devoted my life and my strength. I will mount the gallows—”

At that point, Justice Thomas gaveled loudly and ordered Clinton to “shut up, you goddamned traitor.” He was cheered by Republicans and booed by Democrats. One hundred U.S. Marshals, who had quietly gathered in the rear of the Senate Chamber, moved immediately to seize and detain the Democratic Senators, who numbered 48. They were taken to armed personnel carriers which were waiting just outside on the Delaware Avenue entrance to the Capitol Building. The vehicles were seen headed south, towards Virginia, but at this time, no one knows what happened to the Senators.

Trump addressed the nation that night, from the Oval Office. Commentators noticed a new framed photograph on his desk: Rush Limbaugh, who had died of cancer the previous year. Trump said, “We, the decent people of America, have now struck back at those who tried to murder America. Never again will these Demoncrat bacteria be in a position to take our beloved country hostage to their evil intents. God bless you all, and God bless America.”

In the aftermath of what became known as the Great Democratic Massacre of 2024, Trump ordered the State Houses of all Democratic-controlled states closed, and he threatened the nation’s 28 Democratic Governors with “detention, trial and retributive justice” if they attempted to govern. He dissolved several Cabinet departments: Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Labor, declaring them “obsolete.” He doubled the budgets of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, and declared war on Iran. Within one hour of that declaration, U.S. missiles dropped thermonuclear weapons on targets throughout the Islamic Republic. Protests from China, The Russian Federation, the European Union and dozens of small nations were ineffective. Trump, in a tweet, said, “We have lots more hydrogen bombs in our arsenal, in case anyone is interested.”

At the famous Mar-a-Lago Conference, in July, 2024, Trump hosted Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin, Chinese President-for-Life Xi Jinping, Turkish President-for-Life Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Israeli President-for-Life Benjamin Netanyahu. No protocol from the meeting was ever made public, but, within a month of its conclusion, Israel annexed the entire West Bank and announced a total blockade of the Gaza Strip; Russia completed its annexation of Ukraine and began the process of incorporating Moldava, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus and Georgia; and China completed its takeover of the South China Sea, which it renamed “The Great Sea of the Chinese Communist People.” Trump announced that the U.S. was providing nuclear weapons “to the great people of Turkey and their great leader, President Erdogan.”  Turkey immediately annexed Syria. That September, in his annual speech to the United Nations, Trump said, “The United Nations was a good idea in its time, but its time has now gone.” Declaring the U.N. “an anachronism,” Trump ordered the world organization to vacate its real estate in Manhattan. “They can go anyplace they want to,” he said in a tweet, “as long as it’s not in our great country. Maybe Venezuela wants them, or some shithole country in Africa, I don’t know.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced, on the day before Thanksgiving, the cancellation of the 2024 Presidential election. “There is no need to burden U.S. taxpayers with such a frivolous waste of time. We all know that President Donald Trump is going to be re-elected in a landslide, so why bother to have an election?” The next day, the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, issued a statement: “My father, our great President Trump, issues this promise to the American people: His third term will be his final one. However, our country will remain in capable hands: my husband, Jared Kushner, and I will become co-Presidents on Jan. 21, 2029, upon the completion of my father’s third term. I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year! God bless President Trump!


Starr Redux

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I have to admit that my jaw dropped this morning when I learned that one of Trump’s defense lawyers is going to be none other than Kenneth Starr.

Those of us of a certain age remember Starr well. He was the Special Prosecutor in charge of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. When the Whitewater case he was trying to build against Clinton—corruption—collapsed completely because it was a lie to begin with, Starr found another way forward. A gossipy woman named Linda Tripp brought to his attention that Clinton had been having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Monica had a dress as evidence. Starr pounced.

Clinton’s trial was disgusting and nauseating, not because of Clinton (he had an affair; so what?), but because of Starr. To begin with, Starr had an off-putting way about him; arrogant, small-minded, nasty. And then there was the sexual nature of the case itself. Starr, it turned out, was a prurient little man, obsessed with sexual details of body parts, bodily fluids, specific sexual acts. Like the censors of old, who seemed to get off on the things they were deploring, Starr came across as a smutty weirdo, with secrets of his own to protect.

It didn’t take the public long to figure all this out. They didn’t like Starr, not one bit. He was creepy, an old perv, a bit ludicrous. Whenever he talked about sex, one wanted to take a shower: that was the effect Kenneth Starr had on the American people. The result was that Clinton was vindicated in his Senate trial, and went on to enjoy his highest popularity ratings ever. He ended his second term on a high note, while Kenneth Starr—disgraced, embarrassed, humiliated—was banished to become the dean of a Christian law school in Southern California, about as far from the nation’s political center as one could get.

But he’s baaaack!

Think of the irony. Here’s Starr, once so contemptuous of Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affair that he wanted to remove him from office, now representing a man who is, as far as we know, the most adulterous, sexually-voracious president in American history. Starr, who painted Clinton as a depraved predator, now will defend the man who bragged about groping women’s pussies, and who pays off porn stars to keep silent about his sexual escapades with them. Is there some cognitive dissonance here?

Well, everyone in our American way of life deserves a good defense, so let’s give Starr—and Trump—a pass on that one. Let’s muse, instead, on precisely what Trump’s defense is going to be.

First of all, it will be noteworthy for what it is not: a refutation of the facts. No Republican has disputed the essential facts: the Congress voted to give Ukraine weapons and money to fight the Russians. Trump, facing a tough re-election campaign, in which his most-feared opponent is Joe Biden, wants to smear Biden with something, anything, to drain off just enough votes so that he can narrowly win (as he did in 2016). Trump, through intermediaries and, eventually, in that notorious phone call, tells Zelensky the aide will not be forthcoming unless Zelensky announces he’s investigating the Bidens. That was Trump’s crime, now verified by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office.

That’s why he’s being impeached (the second reason is his obstruction of Congress). So there’s not a single Republican defender who has said Trump did not do these things.

Instead, the Republicans are fighting in the court of public opinion. It’s a P.R. battle, not a legal one. The Republican argument goes like this: It doesn’t matter if Trump broke the law. What matters is whether or not Americans are upset enough about it. If they are, then they’ll bring pressure on Republican Senators to remove him from office. If Republican Senators sense this pressure, they’ll side with Democrats. But, so far, they’re not sensing it—with the possible exceptions of Collins, Murkowsiki and Romney, and they may end up siding with Trump.

So this is all political, which is the way impeachment is supposed to be. For the life of me, I can’t see any way that the American people, including the voters in Maine, Alaska and Utah, will support the Republican agenda of coverup and repression of evidence. It’s so horrible what Trump is doing, including his wag-the-dog killing of Soleimani. Politicians have always played partisan games, but I’ve never seen anything as deplorable as what Republicans are doing now. Everybody knows exactly what’s going on. The crime is continuing right in front of our faces, and these Republicans seem proud of their brazenness. They may get away with it in the Senate—in fact, there’s no doubt they will. But Election Day is just ten months away, and I feel stronger than ever that a massive Blue Wave is going to sweep Republicans from power, and give us a Democratic president and Congress. Then we’ll relaunch investigations: into Barr, into Pence, into Giuliani. Republicans will call it a witch hunt. I’ll call it Justice.


HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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My blog will resume tomorrow.


Impeachment: What will happen

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Democrats are waiting for some kind of surprise happy ending to the Senate Impeachment trial. Maybe Bolton will sit down and testify: “Yes, there was a quid pro quo.” Maybe Mulvaney will swear to tell the truth and then say, “The president lied. Everybody was in the loop.” Maybe Giuliani, under subpoena, and facing multiple indictments, will strike a plea deal. “Trump made me blackmail Zelensky. And he wants to build a Trump Tower in Kiev.”

And maybe the moon is made of green cheese.

Alas, there will be no last minute denouements. No breaking news, no dramatic “other shoes” dropping. This dreary little script has been written for months: the House impeaches, the Senate—dominated by Cult of Trump devotees—acquits. Trump screams VINDICATION; his wild-eyed acolytes have torchlight parades and yell KILL DEMOCRATS as they rally in their MAGA hats and Trump2020 buttons.

At least, that’s how it looks from where I sit. The only question remains, What will the voters decide in 2020? It all comes down, apparently, to about 80,000 votes, scattered in a swathe of Midwest land from rural western Pennsylvania through Ohio into Michigan and Wisconsin. Republicans know they’re going to lose the popular vote—again. They know that coastal states, including Virginia and, likely, North Carolina, are lost to them. But they don’t care. They’re organizing in the Midwest, in two ways: registering new voters, mainly Christians whom they’re scaring the shit out of by telling them a Democratic president will force them to be atheists and make their grandchildren gay, and by suppressing existing voters, especially voters of color, in states like Georgia and Kentucky.

And it just might work. If you keep a finger in the wind from day to day, as I do, you become acutely sensitive to the slightest shifts in public opinion concerning the upcoming election. One day, Democrats are surging; the next, Republicans. Lately, if I read the tea leaves correctly, the conventional wisdom has swung back to a Trump victory. The Mueller Report landed with a great big THUD (although it should have set everyone’s hair on fire). Impeachment seems like a new NBC sitcom that hasn’t gotten traction yet (although it still could). Trump is proving, once again, to be a dirty, below-the-belt but marvelously effective fighter, while his Republican stooges, abandoning all pretense of standing for justice and law, stand shoulder to shoulder with him; this Republican Party really does deserve credit for solidarity. Never mind that History will be unkind to them; they don’t care. History is fungible: people still quarrel over the French Revolution, American southerners still insist they didn’t lose the Civil War, some Germans still year for a resurgence, and the civil rights of homosexuals in this country are still perilously vulnerable. Republicans know that History is never finished, but is constantly being rewritten.

One wonders if these Republican officials—the Scalises, Sensenbrenners, Jordans, Lindsay Grahams, Cornyns, Cruzes and their like—have private conversations with their best friends and family members:

Old friend to John Cornyn: “Jonnie, why do you stand by this guy, Trump? You know he’s a creep.”

Cornyn: “Yeah, but look at the judges he’s appointing!”

Old friend: “Yeah, but Pence would do the same thing. And at least Pence is a real Christian! Trump is, you know, he screws around with other women, and doesn’t pay his bills—he’s the kind of deadbeat we Republicans have spent our lives denouncing.”

Cornyn: “I can’t deny that. But I can’t go against him. I’d get my ass primaried.”

I hope they have these conversations, but that presumes that the families and friends of extreme rightwing Republicans still are capable of rational thought—of moral commitment—of patriotism—of respect for the Constitution. This presumption, though, may be inaccurate. It may be that mental illness has completely swept through Republican America, an epidemic, like AIDS, that strikes at—not the body, but the mind, and not just the mind, but the soul.

One thing is certain: Trump began as a minority president, he remains a minority president. That means (and Trump can’t stand to admit it) that most Americans really dislike Trump. They don’t dislike him the way, say, some Democrats disliked George W. Bush. Democrats did, but they still admitted that W. seemed to be a pretty nice guy whom they wouldn’t mind having a beer with (notwithstanding the fact that W. doesn’t drink).

No, most Americans loathe Trump, are shocked and embarrassed by him, and see him as the threat he actually is. They perceive the disease that permeates his brain. They know who and what he is, because he doesn’t try to hide it. Most sociopaths paper over their sickness with charm and smiles. Trump doesn’t even have that skill. I’ve long said that the best way to beat Trump in an election is to remind the people what they already know about him: that he’s mentally and morally depraved. The Democrats who took the “Can’t we all just get along” route were playing a losing hand. I like what Biden’s been doing lately: calling Trump a “narcissist” and attacking him personally. That’s the winning ticket.

By the way, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision (or lack of one) on homeless camps is bad news for cities, like Oakland, that are trying to clean up the filthy encampments. Apparently the Supreme Court is saying cities can’t roust campers without offering them someplace else to live. That is clearly impossible: Oakland has 4,000 homeless people (Los Angeles has tens of thousands), so in order to shelter them all—permanently?—taxes would have to be raised inordinately, and people will not stand for that. SCOTUS has weighed in very stupidly on this one: they should respect the rights of local municipalities to govern themselves.


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