Friday, February 18, 2005

Guerilla My Dreams

Walter Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries arrived on DVD this week, and in a stunning irony that must have stupified anti-corporate leftists, Americans can pick up this piece of Communist hagiography at any Wal-Mart or Best Buy in the nation. But before you buy or rent it, gentle reader, you might want to hear what the wags at have to say about the film's subject, charismatic sociopath Che Guevara.

Hat tip: Bilious Young Fogey helps me find the best blogs from Down Under.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Virginia Update: Domino Theory

Did Paul Cameron's appearance in Richmond finally convince the Virginia General Assembly that enough was enough?

Over the past seventy-two hours, three anti-Gay bills have toppled like dominoes.

On Tuesday, Scott Lingamfelter withdrew his bill authorizing anti-Gay, "traditional marriage" license plates. Lingamfelter claimed that the sure passage of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was all the vindication he required.

On Wednesday, Dick Black's anti-Gay adoption bill, designed to ensure that orphaned children in Virginia would never find a home with loving same-sex parents, was quashed in a Senate committee. Cameron, the state's "witness for the persecution," found himself beset by questions about his professional credentials and the veracity of his research -- made all the more remarkable because such incisive questioning is practically unheard-of within ordinarily placid legislative committees. Cameron's testimony constituted a spectacular flame-out for anti-Gay extremism.

Today, another Senate committee put the kibosh on a GOP delegate's bill to bar Gay-Straight Alliances from public schools. These clubs provide a safe space for Gay, Lesbian and Questioning students, and they reduce high-school dropout rates among at-risk Gay and Lesbian teenagers. For the moment, these kids are safe from their representatives, though not from their peers.

Granted, none of this qualifies as "good" news per se. Our state is still the most anti-Gay in the nation, and there's a solid chance it won't get better this year. But with these three bills defeated, at least the legislature won't make life worse for us -- not this year, anyway.

Alas, that could be the best news Gay and Lesbian Virginians are likely to get.

Update (2/20): A loyal reader reminds me that I've left something important out of this story. Anti-Gay activist Robert Knight, of the Culture and Family Institute, accompanied Paul Cameron to Virginia, joining Delegate Dick Black in a press conference for the anti-adoption bill. Cameron provided the pseudo-science, Knight the pseudo-morality. Black's bill, alas, was all too real -- but then again, so was his comeuppance.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Virginia Quacks Up: Or, "Guess Who's Coming to Richmond?"

Just when you thought the Virginia General Assembly couldn't get any meaner to Gay and Lesbian Americans, they found something new to spring on us.

Last week, I mentioned our state's adoption bill (HB 2921), which is designed to prevent orphaned children from finding loving homes with same-sex couples. The bill's patron, GOP delegate Dick Black, may have an amusing name, but when it comes to Gay-bashing the man is dead serious. According to a recent Equality Virginia e-mail (not available on the group's website, as far as I can tell), Black has even brought a surprise "witness for the persecution," the infamously anti-gay Paul Cameron, to testify on the bill's behalf. Cameron is the executive director of the Family Research Institute, where he peddles a strange mix of anti-Gay bigotry, medicine-show quackery, and barking-moonbat lunacy.

In 1994, Cameron claimed that the average life expectancy for Gay men is 43 years -- based on a survey of obituaries in Gay-related publications. (This is like looking at the New York Times obit page and concluding that only a dozen people die on an average day in the Big Apple.) According to Walter Olson, the same survey also reported that Lesbians are 300 times more likely than heterosexual women to die in car accidents. Although social scientists were utterly gob-smacked by such idiotic assertions, hard-line social conservatives like Book of Virtues author William Bennett have touted them intermittently over the past decade.

Of course, any professional organization with a reputation to uphold had long since given Cameron the heave-ho. When the American Psychological Association expelled him in 1983, it cited ethical violations, specifically "lack of cooperation with the Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics and Conduct." The Nebraska Psychological Association stated that it "formally disassociates itself" from Cameron's research. But the most damning assessment of Cameron came from the American Sociological Association, in 1986. which declared: "The American Sociological Association officially and publicly states that Paul Cameron is not a sociologist, and condemns his consistent misrepresentation of sociological research."

Ironically, the study that got Cameron kicked out of the scientific community is the very one which brought him before the Virginia General Assembly as an "expert" on same-sex adoptions. His 1983-84 questionnaire on Gay and Lesbian psychology was billed as a "national" study, yet was conducted in only seven US metropolitan areas -- and Bennet, Nebraska (current population: 651). That's not generally considered a "national" study, in case you're wondering.

There were other blatant flaws as well. The questionnaire contained 550 items, yet was designed to be completed in just an hour and a quarter -- which meant that by the time respondents finished the survey, most of them probably couldn't even see Cameron's questions, let alone answer them thoughtfully and truthfully. Worst of all, Cameron never divulged just how many of those questionnaires were actually completed and submitted. In all likelihood, he's drawing his conclusions from only a handful of hastily recorded cases, all more than twenty years old.

When it came to his "research" on same-sex adoption, Cameron actually disclosed the size of his sample (in what counts as, for him, a rare show of honesty). According to Dr. Gregory Herek, Cameron's conclusions about same-sex parenting were based on a mere seventeen responses:

... Cameron and Cameron identified 17 respondents from the combined 1983-84 samples who claimed to have a homosexual parent. The questionnaire responses of these 17 people were scrutinized for various negative experiences, such as reporting incestuous relations with a parent (5 reported such incest). From these data, Cameron and Cameron concluded that 29% (5/17) of children with a homosexual parent have incestuous relations with a parent, compared to 0.6% of the children of heterosexuals, and that "having a homosexual parent(s) appears to increase the risk of incest with a parent by a factor of about 50."

Unlike Cameron, Herek is a practicing professor of psychology -- at University of California, Davis, to be precise. He's not just a member, but a Fellow of the APA. Nobody, it seems, has a bad word to say about this guy, except for Cameron. According to Herek, the statistical margin of error for Cameron's survey is plus or minus thirty-three percent, at the minimum -- though he adds that, given the survey's other methodological flaws, its margin of error probably runs much higher. No wonder the real scientists threw Cameron out on his ear: Nothing he says has even a smidgen of scientific merit.

Finally, gentle reader, consider Cameron's most famous quote, published in a 1999 issue of Rolling Stone magazine: "Marital sex tends toward the boring end. Generally, it doesn’t deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does ... The evidence is that men do a better job on men, and women on women if all you are looking for is an orgasm." I'm not sure, but I suspect most heterosexual men and women would disagree with that. Still, if he has any data to support this claim, I'm sure a reputable scholar like Herek would love to evaluate it.

Of course, Dick Black and his colleagues in the Virginia General Assembly aren't looking for scientific validity. They don't want a rational approach to the debate; they don't care to know what actual effect same-sex adoptions will have on the lives of children (probably because all the available, reliable evidence indicates same-sex adoptive parents are much better for kids than foster care). No, our legislators are just cruising for another opportunity to attack Gay and Lesbian Virginians in public, and Paul Cameron's presence proves that no anti-Gay extremist is too crazy or far-out for their tastes. I'm sure Cameron will give the boys what they want.

And the orgy of Gay-baiting continues.

Update (8:00 p.m.): Boy, did I get this one wrong. Rick Sincere has the full story, hot off the AP wire. (Be sure to scroll down to his footnote about Cameron's alleged collection of Gay porn. Yeesh.)

This afternoon, a confident Paul Cameron showed up for a press conference in support of the anti-adoption bill. However, once Cameron began to testify before the Senate Courts of Justice, a Democrat from Northern Virginia fired a lethal salvo into his credentials:

Responding to questions from Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, Cameron acknowledged that the American Psychological Association expelled him in 1983 for violating the association's ethical principles.

That crumpled Dick Black's star witness, but it didn't shut him up. As Cameron crashed and burned before the committee, he made an outlandish, unsupportable claim that must have left the saner members of this committee scratching their heads in disbelief:

He said the ASA and other organizations have begun a covert "affirmative action" program favoring gay couples in adoptions to make up for what they believe to be past discrimination.

After such compelling testimony in favor of HB 2921, the Senate committee did the only thing they could do: They killed the bill on a voice vote. On this front, at least, we Gay and Lesbian Virginians may consider ourselves safe ... until next year, when our federal legislators go up for re-election. During election season, legislative Gay-bashing can get really ugly, but it's a safe bet Paul Cameron won't be back to promote it. Even Dick Black, who brought Cameron to Richmond, must be wise to the man's act by now.

For the moment, Gay and Lesbian Virginians can take some comfort, knowing that we're not utterly loathed and despised. We're only mostly loathed and despised.

Update #2 (2/17): GOP delegate Scott Lingamfelter has withdrawn his bill for anti-Gay "traditional marriage" license plates in Virginia. Lingamfelter thinks a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is enough. Perhaps this is a sign that the pendulum has swung as far in the direction of bigotry and intolerance as it's going to. Or perhaps anti-Gay activists in Virginia simply want to save some fun for next year.

I'm watching Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds on TCM right now, and I can't help thinking that we Gay and Lesbian Virginians must feel a good deal like Tippi Hedren: We're trapped in a lovely little state, with hundreds of malignant squawking fowls swarming and pecking at our flesh. Now comes the eerie calm after another feeding frenzy: The General Assembly will probably approve an anti-marriage amendment this year, but apart from that, it looks as though the worst may be over.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Disaster Movies: Phantom of the Opera, Beyond the Sea, Closer

Some movies depict disasters, and some movies are disasters. Here are three movies that fall squarely in the latter category -- two of which have inexplicably attracted Oscar's attentions:

Closer: Carnal Ignorance

People tend to forget that Mike Nichols's first film wasn't The Graduate, but an adaptation of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Woolf proved that although a four-character play may work well onstage, it can be fairly ludicrous when transferred to film. Manny Farber noted that when Burton and Taylor start screaming at each other, you expect someone to tell them to pipe down. In this case, I think the effect, enhanced by Haskell Wexler's cinematography, is eerie: This suburban setting resembles nothing so much as the aftermath of a neutron bomb, where all the houses are standing, but no one is home (or will be, ever again).

Nichols's latest film, Closer, has all the problems of Woolf and hardly any of its virtues. Patrick Marber's play is no masterpiece, the acting (with the exception of Clive Owen) tends toward flatness, and the cinematography has the outdated slickness of an old Miami Vice episode. The play itself concerns a vicious pas de quatre between a needy psycho (Natalie Portman), a passive-agressive bitch (Julia Roberts), a preening cad (Jude Law) and a nasty bully (Clive Owen). Between the four of them, there's not a single redeeming personal trait. Perhaps these characters deserve each other, and perhaps that's Marber's point.

Unfortunately for the film, it makes no sense. Closer is set in London, one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. Last time I checked, its metropolitan area contained eighteen million people. You'd think that one or more of these wretched characters would get the bright idea to cut their losses and date someone else. No such luck. (Spoiler alert: You'd also think that Law's character would notice at some point that his girlfriend of four years has never told him her real name.) Is it love that makes these people so stupid, or just bad writing?

You know the answer, gentle reader. Bad direction plays a part, too. Nichols does his best to keep his four main characters isolated from every other human being on the planet, but the extras still linger in the backgrounds, or on the edges of the frame. You'd think someone would strike up a conversation with the four principals at some point, but no one ever does. It's a baffling phenomenon, and my only explanation for it that every man and woman in London is somehow "shunning" the lead characters, like the Amish do to Mennonite converts. Certainly no one deserves an old-fashioned shunning more than Julia Roberts' character -- but if that's the case, why is her art exhibit so well attended?

I haven't seen so many product placements in a movie since Leonard, Part VI. Marber's infamous cybersex scene features a conspicuous plug for Sony VAIO computers, which one presumes are preferred by Internet perverts. Later in the movie, Law's stupid loser is seen drinking coffee from Costa. Frankly, I'm not sure if these companies paid for the exposure, or if their competitors did. I can't see why anyone would see their presence as an endorsement.

Closer also features what may be the most unbelievably contrived "Austin Powers" shot of all time: When Natalie Portman does a naked striptease for Clive Owen, her naughty bits are almost -- but not quite -- completely blocked by the back of Owen's head. (I suppose there were no potted plants available.) This film might as well be called "Carnal Ignorance."

Phantom of the Opera

Joel Schumacher, of Batman and Robin fame, does for the Broadway musical what he did for the superhero movie. The result could have been worse, I suppose, though I can't imagine how.

It's very likely that Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera could never have made a good movie: The book is notoriously weak, and most of the songs are second-rate Puccini knockoffs. Even so, there are so many things wrong with this adaptation that I hardly know where to begin.

Let's start with principals who can't sing. As the titular Phantom, Gerard Butler is very nearly tone-deaf. His high notes are embarrassing, his low notes rough and harsh. You'll hear better renditions of "Music of the Night" in a karaoke bar. With his mask on, Butler resembles John Travolta, but when the mask comes off, he's Harvey Keitel on a bad hair day. As Christine Daae and the Vicomte de Chagny -- the other sides of this Eternal Triangle -- Emily Rossum and Patrick Wilson look as cute (and almost as lifelike) as Ken and Barbie. But when the music swells, all they can do is whine. This is especially problematic for Rossum: She portrays the sort of opera singer that no one in his right mind would ever allow near a stage. An unrecognizable Minnie Driver plays "La Carlotta" -- and fortunately, her singing is dubbed. (Quite conspicuously dubbed, in fact.)

From the first frame to the final shot, the film is an orgy of eye-stabbing ugliness. Its tweaked-out, digitally altered cinematography is enough to make one cry for a law against Technicolor. Some scenes look as if they were filmed through a thin layer of gauze or Vaseline, while others seem to take place at the bottom of a fish tank. The film's very atmosphere seems fatally diseased: White rooms are jaundiced; red roses seem cankerous. The sets are dingy little dollhouses, stuffed to the rafters with gaudy bric-a-brac that would make the Collyer brothers blush. Even a vacant rooftop looks cluttered. Schumacher includes a few too-obvious homages to Cocteau's Belle et la Bete and Von Sternberg's Scarlet Empress, all of which look stupid and shoddy.

But none of them are half as stupid or shoddy as the script. Schumacher's film makes several changes to the stage musical -- and strangely, none of them are for the better. The "chandelier scene" is moved to a point much later in the film, where it loses its dramatic impact. Several retooled musical numbers manage to remove or replace all traces of wit and wordplay in the show's original lyrics. In a few scenes, lyrics from the show are spoken instead of sung, and the effect is surreally awful. Even the continuity flies out the window, as ropes, pulleys and assorted stage machinery magically transport themselves from one part of the Opera House to another, as the convoluted plot requires.

One sequence should give an idea of how stunningly misguided this film is. At the end of the "Masquerade" number, a single dancer in a harlequin suit appears at the top of a staircase, and -- I kid you not -- begins to vogue. It's far and away the film's "gayest" moment, at least in the South Park sense of the term.

Even Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof was better than this.

Beyond the Sea

I'm informed that it cost twenty-five million dollars for Kevin Spacey to make the Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea. I wonder what it would have cost him not to make it.

The early musical numbers are lively enough, and there are plenty of them in the film's first half. They can't disguise the fact that Spacey is basically doing a glorified karaoke act, but they're still fun. Unfortunately, Spacey glosses over classic hits like "Splish Splash" and "Mack the Knife," and gives preference to socially relevant, late-'60s music like "Song of Freedom." Darin's insufferable antiwar folk song is repeated no fewer than three times in the film's second half -- once with a line of sequined Vegas showgirls! By the time Spacey gives us the triumphant nightclub finale, Beyond the Sea has sunk to the bottom, and nothing can make it rise again.

It's a godawful mess.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day

No one should politicize romance, or romanticize politics. Alas, GOP leaders and anti-Gay activists have managed to do both, with their attack on same-sex marriage.

So for your delectation, gentle reader, I'm directing you to some vintage My Stupid Dog posts for Valentine's Day. As someone who has protected same-sex marriage from its defenders since April of 2003, I figure I've earned the right to recycle some old material.

In particular, I'll call your attention to several posts which celebrated Marriage Protection Week back in 2003. These posts may be more than a year old, but most of them could have been written last week. (One brief article referred to Canada as the only country that recognized full marriage rights for same-sex couples. Since then, marriage advocates have added the Netherlands to this all-too-short list.)

So click here, and keep scrolling until you find something you like. You'll see choice quotes from anti-Gay activists and GOP leaders, a few heartrending tales of "traditional marriage" gone wrong, and my own talking points in favor of same-sex marriage.

(You'll also find a few screeds against Wesley Clark, the only things on the page which show the passage of time. Hey, this stuff dates from the fall of 2003, when Clark was almost a serious Presidential candidate.)

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