Thursday, October 29, 2009

Roman (Polanski) Circus


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Even in this age of hyperthyroid tabloid stories, the alleged rape of 13-year-old Samantha Gailey by 44-year-old film director Roman Polanski at Jack Nicholson’s home in Hollywood in 1977 has had a bizarrely long lifespan and enough twists and turns that, had Polanski wanted to film it, it could have kept him busy from that day to this. It’s a story about stardom and sex, people who are famous and people who want to be (or want their children to be), with an overlay of social evil and political corruption. It’s hard not to hate Polanski for what he did — abuse the trust both of 13-year-old Samantha and of her mother, who left him alone with her hoping (I suspect) that he’d do a killer photo shoot of her girl, get it in Vogue magazine, launch her on a star career and maybe even direct her first film himself. But it’s also hard not to feel a certain degree of sorrow for him, not only because of the brutal background he came out of but also because of the shabby way the case was handled by the criminal justice system.

I’ll come out right now and say that I think what happened to Roman Polanski -— his arrest in Switzerland (a country he’s routinely visited for years and where he owns a home) where he had been invited to attend a film festival and receive a lifetime achievement award; his incarceration without bail and the likelihood that he’ll be extradited to L.A. to face sentencing on 32-year-old charges in a case even his victim has repeatedly stated she wants to see dropped — is disgusting. That doesn’t let Polanski off the hook. What he did to 13-year-old Samantha — getting her drunk, feeding her a Quaalude and having both vaginal and anal sex with her when she was so drunk and stoned she couldn’t possibly have resisted him even if she hadn’t been too afraid of him to try — is also disgusting. But I can’t bring myself to think that a criminal justice system which had already revealed its malevolence towards him has any business, or any moral authority, punishing him now.

I’m not taking Polanski’s side because of his personal history — even though he happens to have a direct connection with some of the most brutal horrors of the 20th century. His family members were killed by the Nazis, his friends by the Communists and his wife Sharon Tate by Charles Manson’s gang. Indeed, when my husband Charles and I attended the preview screening of Polanski’s film The Pianist (which I reviewed in his pages), it was Charles who pointed out that out of all the Holocaust-related stories he could have dramatized, he picked one about a great artist who was prevented by a repressive regime from practicing his art — evidence that the case, and his resulting exile from the center of his industry, had hurt him more than his rather snippily dismissive comments about it on European TV would make it seem.

Nor am I sympathetic to Polanski out of some misguided idea that because he’s a great artist he shouldn’t be judged by the same rules as everybody else. It’s true that a lot of artists are crazy — they practically have to be to handle the years of rejection and privation that generally precede success — and it’s an additional paradox that an artist who does succeed in a mass medium like film or pop music thereby becomes a celebrity. Celebrities live in such a bubble — at least in part because they engender a lot of nuts who want to kill them, or just get so close to them that they can’t function as artists or people — that not only do they often lose the connection with ordinary people that made their art appealing and successful in the first place, most of the people they do interact with every day are paid companions or hangers-on who give them an aura of invincibility, a sense of, “I’m a star! I can do anything!”

Roman Polanski’s current troubles are at least in part the result of how, in his case, that celebrity bubble got punctured. When director Marina Zenovich made her 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, her thesis was that Europeans, more easygoing about sexual matters in general, accepted Polanski and didn’t think his crime was such a big deal; while Puritanical, hung-up Americans saw him as a perverted little runt whose movies and life were equally sick. The public reactions to Polanski’s arrest — with opinion polls in both the U.S. and Europe running 2-to-1 against him — suggest the split was more between filmmakers and other artists, who saw him as “one of us” and were willing to forgive him for what seemed to them a minor trespass; and everybody else, who saw him as an overprivileged celebrity brat who had got away with a heinous crime for far too long and was finally being held to account.

One of Polanski’s problems is there’s been a sea change between 1977 and 2009 in how adult-child sex is viewed — and it’s been a change in the direction of more condemnation and hatred. In 1977, Polanski’s conduct was viewed as reprehensible and wrong — but there was also a certain roguish appeal to his story, a sense that maybe if you were really lucky you, too, would be able to get an invite to take a girl to Jack Nicholson’s house and seduce her there. You’d probably want her to be older than 13 — that part of it you’d likely have objected to — but hey, there were plenty of girls of legal age you could imagine would have sex with you if you could impress them with a résumé as a film director, a camera, a connection with an internationally known fashion magazine and access to the home of a superstar.

When Polanski was first arrested, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen published a joke that his next movie was going to be called Close Encounters with the Third Grade. That a legendary and respected writer like Caen could publish that — and that a lot of his readers would find it funny — is itself an indication of how much our attitude towards sex with underage partners has hardened since then. Today a columnist who dared print something like that would get a lot of nasty letters from self-proclaimed “child savers” or “children’s advocates” saying that child sex abuse was never a laughing matter and his employer should fire him forthwith for making so tasteless a remark in print.

In 1977, the sexual revolution was still in full swing and organizations like the Renée Guyon Society and North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) had something of a public presence and at least a small audience for their argument that age-of-consent laws were infringements on the rights and freedoms of children and should be abolished. By 2009 we’d had not only the AIDS epidemic but also the rise of a professional industry of activists committed to the idea that adult-child sex was the most heinous crime there was — worse than murder, said one of these advocates, on the ground that murder killed the body but sex with an adult left the child’s body alive but killed the soul.

I can’t help thinking that one of the reasons sanctimonious hypocrites like Steve Lopez and Joe Mozingo of the Los Angeles Times have grabbed hold of Samantha’s testimony before the grand jury in 1977 and are publishing extensive excerpts of it, including the most lubricious details of her alleged abuse, is they perhaps unconsciously distinguish between “the victim” and the victim. In the name of protecting “the victim” — 13-year-old Samantha Gailey — they’re ignoring the clearly and repeatedly expressed wishes of the real victim, 45-year-old Samantha Geimer, that Polanski be forgiven and the case just go away. The last thing Samantha Geimer wants is to have the public’s nose rubbed yet again into the intimate details of her abuse.

But because she’s recovered from the incident, married, had children and led a normal life, Samantha Geimer has to be punished. The “child savers” can’t bear the fact that she didn’t get hooked on drugs, end up hopelessly mentally ill, become either outrageously promiscuous or totally frigid, or die at an early age of an overdose or suicide. Because she isn’t playing by their script of what a child sexual abuse victim is supposed to be like — because she’s a living rebuke to all their rhetoric about the destructiveness of this crime and how its victims supposedly never recover — they have to punish the real victim in the name of protecting the conceptual “victim.” In essence, Samantha Geimer is getting raped again, over and over, by newspaper writers, editors and hypocritical “activists” who want to shame her and intimidate her into destroying herself and therefore behaving the way they want a victim of child sexual abuse to behave.

Polanski’s case can also not be understood without the context of the long-standing vendetta between him and Los Angeles County law enforcement. It began in August 1969, when not only were his wife, an old friend of his from Poland and two of his closest Hollywood acquaintances were brutally and savagely murdered, but Polanski himself was seriously suspected of the crime simply because of a superficial resemblance between the crime scene and a sequence from his film Rosemary’s Baby showing Mia Farrow’s body being painted in blood. Polanski struck back in 1974 when he made the film Chinatown, which though set in the 1930’s was based on a real-life L.A. scandal from two decades earlier: William Mulholland’s theft of the Owens Valley’s water supply, so the lush valley became a virtual desert — and L.A. had the water it needed to expand into a major city.

I suspect the slimy 1977 court proceedings depicted in the documentary Wanted and Desired — particularly the way Polanski was toyed with by the original judge in the case, Laurence Rittenband — were at least in part revenge for Polanski’s having rubbed the L.A. elite’s collective nose in one of the nastiest and most corrupt parts of their city’s history in Chinatown. And his current arrest seems to have had a we’ll-show-him! attitude about it. When Polanski’s lawyers tried to get the case dismissed following the release of Wanted and Desired and the revelations of judicial corruption in the film, one of the grounds they gave was that L.A. County hadn’t seriously been pursuing his extradition. That seems to have had the effect of waving the red flag in front of the bull — “He says we haven’t been pursuing his extradition? All right, we will pursue his extradition — and this time we’ll nail his ass!”

But the main reason I don’t want to see Roman Polanski punished any further — however loathsome his conduct on that afternoon in 1977 was — is a quality that seems to have been relentlessly purged from our justice system: mercy. It used to be that the countries that incarcerated the highest percentages of their citizens were creepy dictatorships like Soviet Russia, Maoist China or apartheid South Africa. Today, by a wide margin, it’s the good old “democratic” U.S.A. Laws giving the victims or their families the right to participate in the judicial process have led to a vindictive mentality that treats the criminal justice system as an instrument of private revenge. Time and time again, whenever a particularly famous murderer is about to be executed, TV shows air interviews with the victim’s relatives pleading that the state kill him so they can have “closure” — and claims that these people’s lives should be spared because they have bettered themselves, because they are no longer the people they were when they committed their crimes, are routinely ridiculed and dismissed.

Well, I think it’s relevant to whether someone should still be punished for a crime committed decades ago to look at who they are now and compare it to who they were then. That’s why I didn’t think Sara Jane Olson should have had to return to prison for her shenanigans with the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970’s; though she’d technically been a fugitive, she’d turned her life around and was pursuing the same causes that had led her to the SLA — but now only in legal, legitimate ways. That’s why I thought it was wrong to dredge up senile octogenarian Ivan Demjanjuk and try him for atrocities he allegedly committed as part of the Holocaust sixty-plus years earlier — crimes he probably couldn’t even remember whether he had done or not.

Likewise, I think Roman Polanski’s case is a legitimate one for mercy. He certainly isn’t the same man he was 32 years ago; he’s a long-time married man (albeit to a woman younger than Samantha Geimer), he’s a father, and he’d probably be outraged if anyone pulled on his kids today what he pulled on Samantha in 1977. The person most injured by his actions, Samantha Geimer, has forgiven him and wants us to move on. We should.

Fred Phelps’ Road Show of Hate Comes to S.D.

Anti-Queer, Anti-Jew, Anti-American Religious Leader Draws 500 … Against Him


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom:

Fred Phelps’ minions of hate

“Don’t hate! Masterbate!” [sic]

“I’ve Accepted Satan”

Joalby Lopez

Orange-shirted anti-Phelps protesters

“Fred Phelps can bite me!”

“Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’”

San Diego High students vs. Phelps

Anyone driving down Park Boulevard past San Diego High School on Friday afternoon, October 16, would have been forgiven for misunderstanding the scenes on either side of the road. On one side of the street they would have seen up to 500 pro-Queer demonstrators, chanting and using sticks to bang on saucepans and other improvised percussive devices, carrying hand-lettered signs affirming the dignity and equality of all human beings and — if they mentioned God at all — saying that God is love. On the other side they’d have spotted 10 rather bedraggled-looking people with signs like “God Hates Fags,” “God Is Your Enemy,” “The Jews Killed Christ,” “America Is Doomed,” “Obama Is the Antichrist” and a couple of stick figures, arranged in a pose to suggest one was butt-fucking the other, with a caption identifying this as the true nature of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA’s) on school campuses.

But in fact it was the handful of anti-Queer, anti-Semitic, anti-American demonstrators who had called the action — and the huge crowd of pro-Queer, pro-equality activists on the other side of the street who were counter-protesting. The 10 or so protesting Queer rights and a ragbag of other hatreds were members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), nominally based in Topeka, Kansas but usually out on the road communicating their spiritual message to millions of Americans, most of whom couldn’t be less interested in it. The founder of Westboro Baptist Church, and its pastor since 1955, is a unique religious leader named Fred W. Phelps, Sr., a former civil-rights attorney turned minister who has adopted 16th century Swiss theologian John Calvin’s five points — including his controversial doctrine of “predestination,” meaning that God has already determined who is going to Heaven and who is going to Hell — and put them on steroids.

Phelps’ version of Calvinism is an aggressive theology that sometimes seems to regard only the members of his own church as the Calvinist “elect,” predestined for Heaven. He spends much of his time on the road, leading church members — most of whom are related to him either by blood or marriage — to picket a wide array of enemies. Some of them, including Queers, are predictable targets for a radical-Right religious leader. Others are more unusual. While most of America’s religious Right is hyper-patriotic and gave total support to President George W. Bush and the so-called “global war on terror,” Phelps organized protests at the funerals of servicemembers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan and said God denounced those wars and all Americans who participated in them. Phelps operates a wide array of Web sites showing the sheer scope of his hatreds:,, (he said the devastating tsunamis in Southeast Asia in 2004 were aimed at punishing Sweden for allowing its people to go to Thailand for sex tourism), and others.

Though Phelps has been organizing pickets since he started his church in 1955 — in 2001 he estimated that his church had averaged 40 protests a week for the previous 10 years — he first cracked the mass media in 1997. When 21-year-old Wyoming Gay man Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten by two straight men he’d met in a bar, Phelps picketed his funeral and the trials of his alleged assailants. Phelps and his crew carried signs saying “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell” and “AIDS Kills Fags Dead” as well as their standard “God Hates Fags.” Phelps unsuccessfully sought permission from the cities of Cheyenne and Casper, Wyoming to erect six-foot monuments with Shepard’s picture and a legend that Shepard “entered Hell” on the day he died because he ignored “God’s warning” against homosexuality in the Book of Leviticus. Phelps has mounted an ongoing campaign against performances of the play The Laramie Project, which depicts Shepard’s death and the aftermath of his murder in a Queer-friendly way.

Phelps’ decision to picket the Matthew Shepard funeral drew criticism from an unlikely source. In 1999, Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and one of the acknowledged leaders of the radical Right, denounced Phelps as “a certified nut” with no influence in the legitimate religious Right. In a PBS interview, Falwell said, “Anybody who goes to the funeral of a little boy who’s dead, and his parents are looking up at a big placard Fred Phelps put up saying, ‘Matt is in hell,’ is either mean as the devil or a nutcase. Either way, he doesn’t represent anybody credible.” In the same interview, Falwell said that while he still opposed homosexuality for Biblical and moral reasons, he thought churches should be more welcoming towards them and that parents who rejected their Queer children and cited the Bible were wrong. Phelps’ reaction was all too predictable: he put Falwell on his hit list and in 2007, when Falwell died, Phelps’ crew picketed his funeral.

Joalby Lopez, who joined in the counter-protest against Phelps October 16, said he first heard of Phelps “when Matthew Shepard’s funeral was going on and they decided to picket that funeral.” Lopez said he was appalled “that they would choose to use someone’s tragedy to spew out hatred,” and said that for the past six years he’s been “extremely up against them.” Lopez said the main message he wanted to convey by joining the protest against Phelps is that “their message is ill-founded, and that it’s O.K. to be homosexual and O.K. to embrace who you are.”

Asked about the common belief among anti-Queer religious people that homosexuality is a choice, not an inborn characteristic like race or gender, Lopez said, “I really don’t understand how people would say it’s a choice to have to live your life under scrutiny, where people are constantly trying to diminish who you are and throw negative messages on you. I don’t think it’s a choice to have to suffer hatred, negative messages and either physical or emotional abuse. It’s not something that anybody would choose to be. You just are who you are, and you learn to live with how you were made.”

Another participant in the counter-protest, a 20-year-old Gay man named Juan Clark, also said, “I don’t think it’s a choice. If I could have chosen whether to be Gay or straight, I would have chosen straight because it’s much easier in the world. But I’m Gay because that’s the way God made me.” Clark attended the event with Ricardo Lopez, his boyfriend of seven months, and said that Phelps “had no effect on me.” But he wanted to protest against Phelps anyway because “I was really mad that he was going to try to tell students, minors, that Gay is wrong. That’s a problem with society. If you teach kids Gay is wrong, they’re going to grow up to think it.”

Phelps brought his road show of hate to San Diego for three days, October 16 through 18. Not everyone on his target list thought he should be met with counter-protests at all. Morris Casuto, head of the San Diego chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, told local online reporter Joseph Peña, “In general, [Phelps’] greatest ongoing need is for media attention. … [O]ur suggestion is to not counter-demonstrate. … If there are counter-demonstrations, you can be certain there will be media attention. And that is, in fact, what they want.” But the editors of CityBeat, a San Diego alternative weekly, disagreed so strongly that they not only urged readers to attend protests against Phelps, they published the complete itinerary for his San Diego trip to make it easy for readers to find his minions.

The motives for Phelps’ picketing San Diego High School were unclear — the school didn’t have a Gay-Straight Alliance, though event organizer Sara Beth Brooks announced that one had just formed in response to him — but most of his San Diego targets were synagogues and Jewish community groups. Phelps’ crew was scheduled to be at the school from 2 to 3 p.m. — timing their protest so students could see it when school let out at 2:20 p.m. As it turned out, they were a bit late but still arrived well before the school day ended. A few police officers were stationed on the corner with the Phelps demonstrators to protect them, and the counter-demonstrators were strictly instructed to stay on their own side of the street and not confront Phelps and his crew.

That wasn’t a demand of the police; it was a policy laid down by the organizers of the counter-protest. “Nobody, nobody is to cross that street,” Sara Beth Brooks, marriage equality activist and one of the protest organizers, told the crowd at the start of the action. “These people make their money by suing us after we go over there and yell at them and get into an altercation with them. So make sure that you stay on this side of the street. There will be peace monitors stationed over there to make sure everything stays peaceful today. Other than that, scream as loud as you want, because that’s what we’re here to do today.”

The leaflets advertising the action had announced “music instead of hate,” but though there was a guitar player there — incongruously dressed in a 1960’s-style bushy wig and a Sex Pistols T-shirt — the “music” mostly consisted of endless hammering on saucepans and other noisemakers. Most participants obeyed the organizers’ instructions to stay away from Phelps and his crew, though one man reported that he had sneaked over and got into an argument with Cindy Phelps. One San Diego High School alumnus was surprised that the students were allowed to leave by the front exit when the school day ended instead of being hustled out the back of the campus, away from the demonstrators on both sides. A contingent of San Diego High students set up signs supporting the Queer counter-protest and hung them over the school’s official entrance sign.

The demonstration against Phelps sucked energy away from another, long-scheduled progressive protest the same day: an action called by the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice to demand that the Obama administration withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Activist San Diego and other local progressive organizations encouraged people to attend both actions, and a number of people — including legally married Gay activist and Coalition for Peace and Justice organizer Drew Searing — helped produce both. But an attempt to stage an impromptu march from San Diego High School to the Federal Building downtown, site of the antiwar action, drew only seven people.

Dr. Helen Caldicott Speaks in San Diego

Says Global Warming Is an Emergency Requiring Drastic Measures


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

It’s been over a quarter of a century since pediatrician Dr. Helen Caldicott emerged from her native Australia to become one of the most eloquent spokespeople against nuclear power and nuclear weapons. She said back then she was engaging in “preventive pediatrics” by warning against the potentially cataclysmic effects of nuclear energy even in its so-called “peaceful” form. Today she’s past her peak as a media phenomenon — her October 23 speech at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest drew less than 150 people in a room that can hold over 600, and the only media covering it were Pacifica Radio, Free Speech TV and Zenger’s — but her message was, if anything, even more fiery and emphatic than ever. She said that global warming will make it impossible for earth to sustain human life — unless we start a nuclear war and destroy ourselves that way first — and only a worldwide mobilization to develop and use only renewable energy sources can save us.

“As I look at the climate bill in Congress, there are all those corporations with lobbyists swarming over it, and the Congressmembers aren’t representing us,” Dr. Caldicott said. She pointed out that the corporations opposing any action to deal with global warming are using the same public relations firms that for decades represented the tobacco industry in its attempts to cast doubt on the scientific link between smoking and cancer — and the P.R. companies are using the same strategies now that they did then, calling the science behind global warming “uncertain” and “unproven” and trying to persuade politicians that any serious action against global warming will be devastating to the world’s economy.

According to Dr. Caldicott, there are indeed doubts about global warming — but in the other direction from the corporate P.R. propaganda. If anything, she said, the situation is worse than the scientists have been telling us. “When the U.N. Panel on Climate Change wrote its recently released report, it was based on data from five years ago,” she explained. “Now a group in London says if we continue business as usual, the temperature will have risen four degrees by the end of this century. The Arctic ice cap is already almost gone, and the Greenland cap is melting. If it melts, the worst problem is the oceans will rise 15 meters (about 50 feet). One-third of the world’s population lives at sea level. If that happens, New York and Sydney will be gone. The glaciers in the Himalayas are receding — and they supply most of the fresh water for China and India.”

In a slashing and sometimes rambling talk — she asked for indulgence about the rambling by saying it was the last speech on her tour and she was feeling punchy — she attacked defense contractors, war in general, religion and the corporate media. She criticized the government of Australia for having kept out refugees fleeing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and said “the Pentagon is elated” at the prospect of global warming because it will mean more conflicts between countries — and therefore a greater market for U.S. defense contractors like Lockheed, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

“It fascinates me that in this society, if someone commits murder, it’s a crime — but this whole country is a killing machine and the soldiers are put on pedestals,” Dr. Caldicott said. “The kids who come back from war are traumatized, they drink and they beat their wives. As a woman and a physician, I don’t understand why men kill.” She called historical military leaders like Alexander the Great and Napoleon “psychopaths” and said part of the problem lay with her own gender: “Why did I fall in love with alpha males? So my babies would get really powerful sperm? The more I think of us, the more I think we are evolutionary aberrants, because we’re killing the planet.”

Dr. Caldicott said she’d recently returned from Alberta, Canada, “and I’ve never heard so many deniers of global warming. They are still chopping down trees — the lungs of the earth — like crazy. We’re chopping them down in Australia. Why do people like to kill? Why do they like to kill animals? We’re fishing the seas out.” At least part of the problem, she added, is the “exponential growth” of the human population from one billion 200 years ago to seven billion today. She compared the human race to bacteria grown in a laboratory, which reproduce relentlessly until they run out of nutrient in the culture medium — whereupon they die off en masse. “Are we going to destroy the world for money?” she said. “I think we are.”

As part of her presentation, Dr. Caldicott seized on two especially powerful motivators that make men fight wars: religion and sex. “Religion is a real bugbear,” she said. “I have to go back through history and look at the wars fought in the name of religion. There are mad people in the church, including 40 million people in this country praying for nuclear war. Why don’t the churches rise up and say we should stop killing people?” As for the war-sex connection, she said, “Why do men rape women when they conquer territory? I asked my dad, and he didn’t know. Why do they show men porno films before they go into war? The two things that get the limbic system to produce dopamine are sex and violence, and that fascinates me. As a physician, I want to find out why.”

While praising President Obama for wanting to rid the world of nuclear weapons, Dr. Caldicott acknowledged he’s “having a hell of a time” and said it’s largely due to the opposition of a Right-wing corporate media that, if she had her way, would be driven out of business. “I don’t believe Rush Limbaugh and these people should be allowed to talk on the radio,” she said. “When it comes to the future of the earth, I don’t believe in free speech. We’re important, but not as important as the 30 million other species with which we share the planet. The media companies and the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] need to address their responsibility for having people on the air who are threatening the survival of the earth.”

Dr. Caldicott said that, aside from Pacifica Radio and Amy Goodman’s syndicated broadcast Democracy Now, there are literally no U.S. media untainted by the corporations. “National Public Radio takes money from the nuclear power industry,” she said. “I want you to take on the corporations who are promoting global warming. Learn about it, go see your politicians and teach them. Senator Barbara Boxer is a good woman, but the energy bill is being corrupted by the nuclear power industry. They need to put me on TV to educate people about why nuclear power is not the answer to global warming.”

That last argument — the heavy-duty propaganda campaign by the nuclear power industry to promote its technology as “clean” and free of a carbon footprint — incenses Dr. Caldicott so much that she wrote an entire book about it and called it Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer. “Nuclear power is the bastard son of the nuclear-weapons industry,” she said. “A huge amount of fossil fuel is used to mine uranium. Milling uranium ore and treating it to produce yellowcake produces more CO2. Then to enrich it, you have to turn it into uranium hexafluoride gas and separate it into U-235 and U-238. They use coal-fired power plants to run the centrifuges that do this, and use CFC gas, which is otherwise banned worldwide, to keep it cool. CFC is not only an ozone depleter, it’s 20,000 times as effective a greenhouse gas as CO2.”

After the uranium is enriched to the 3 percent U-235 concentration needed to power a reactor, she explained, “it’s packed into fuel pellets, put into rods and taken to reactors like San Onofre, which is 30 years old. They pack 1 1/2 tons of uranium into a reactor, and they produce new elements which are all radioactive. The heat produced by the reactor boils water, which turns the steam turbines that generate the electricity. They started this because the scientists who invented the atomic bomb felt guilty and looked for a way to promote this technology for ‘peaceful’ use. Then it was propagandized as being ‘American’” — so effectively, she said, that to this day she gets criticized by people quoting the 1950’s playbook of the nuclear industry and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and telling her she’s being “un-American” for opposing nuclear power.

Dr. Caldicott also mentioned what happens to the U-238 — which can’t be fissioned like U-235 but still emits dangerous, highly radioactive alpha particles — after it’s separated out in the centrifuges. It’s turned into depleted uranium ammunition and used in warheads fired by American tanks. “America used 360 tons of depleted uranium in 1991 near Basra, Iraq,” she explained. “U-238 is very carcinogenic, and children are 100 times more sensitive to radiation than adults. Fetuses are 1,000 times more sensitive. The shells are pyrophoric (they start fires when they explode) and spread radioactivity in the air. My colleagues noted an increase in childhood cancers in Basra by 1995, and that’s now gone up 700 percent. Because of the sanctions and the war, doctors can’t treat patients. U.S. soldiers would into hospitals and shoot up both the doctors and the patients. The half-life of U-238 is 4 1/2 billion years. They’ve contaminated the cradle of civilization for the rest of time, and those children will be having those diseases until the end of time.”

While her main agenda was to address global warming, renewable energy and the evils of war and nuclear power, Dr. Caldicott couldn’t resist commenting on the U.S. health-care debate. “How did insurance companies get into medicine in the first place?” she said. “You should have free taxpayer-supported medical care like we have in Australia — ‘single-payer,’ the ‘public option,’ whatever you want to call it. Instead your tax money goes to the Pentagon to kill people.” Responding to the argument that under a taxpayer-funded, government-run health insurance system people couldn’t make enough money to make it worth their while to be doctors, Dr. Caldicott said, “Doctors shouldn’t be rich. I think teachers should make more than doctors because they’re doing more for the human race.”

As depressing as her presentation sometimes got, Dr. Caldicott stressed at the end that she’s an optimist and she believes the earth’s problems, though grave, can be fixed — and they can be fixed by the same human ingenuity that caused them. She said the solution to the energy problem is “a heterogeneous collection of solar power and wind,” and urged the U.S. to install solar panels on top of every building and parking lot. She also argued that the power grid needs to be improved, especially in the Midwest, to move this energy from where it’s produced to where it’s needed. As evidence that the U.S. could pull this off if it had the political will to do so, she cited its history immediately after it entered World War II in December 1941.

“Within six months of Pearl Harbor, America converted every factory to war production because of the emergency,” Dr. Caldicott said. “There’s a much worse emergency now. The Earth is in the intensive care unit, acutely ill. We’re all physicians to a dying planet, and we can fix it.”

Queer Democrats Endorse Alvarez, Wayne for City Council

Discussion Lively but Not Bitter in 2 1/2-Hour Meeting


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: David Alvarez, Howard Wayne

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club took two different directions in considering endorsements for the San Diego City Council at its October 22 meeting. In District 6, currently represented by Donna Frye, the club picked former Assemblymember Howard Wayne, an established candidate who boasted of a long list of endorsers — including the San Diego County Democratic Party, former State Senator DeDe Alpert, State Assemblymember Mary Salas, current State Senator and former City Councilmember Christine Kehoe and her two successors on the City Council, Toni Atkins and Todd Gloria — over Steve Hadley, Frye’s chief of staff, whose endorsers, aside from Frye, former City Council candidate Stephen Whitburn and former mayoral candidate Steve Francis, are mostly community activists within the district little known in the rest of the city.

In District 8, by contrast, the club picked grass-roots candidate David Alvarez, a member of the staff of State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny, over two more prominent Latino candidates: Felipe Hueso, older brother of incumbent District 8 Councilmember Ben Hueso; and South Bay Union School District board member Nick Inzunza, Sr. Inzunza’s nephew Ralph resigned the District 8 Council seat in disgrace in 2005 after being convicted of accepting illegal campaign contributions from a strip-club owner, and his son Nick Jr. quit the position of mayor of National City in 2006 after the local media exposed him as a slumlord — though the San Diego Hispanic Chamber of Commerce disregarded that part of his background when it hired him as their executive director in March 2009. A fourth candidate, B. D. Howard, also appeared at the club’s October 22 candidates’ forum.

In the District 6 race, Wayne cited not only his long list of endorsers but his history in the Assembly. ”I’ve been a member of this club since 1991, and a few years later you helped send me to the state legislature,” he recalled. “[Former state legislator] Sheila Kuehl asked us to vote on her bill to end discrimination in public education based on sexual orientation. She held open the vote to give any member the opportunity to change a vote in favor if it might hurt them politically. We got 36 votes — five short of the number needed to pass — and all the ‘yes’ votes stayed on all night. A few years later, we debated the bill again, and there was talk from the floor about how it was part of a ‘Satanic Gay agenda.’ I said, ‘I’ve finally figured out what the “Gay agenda” is: that people in the Gay community demand the same rights as everyone else.’ This time we got 41 votes, the bare minimum.”

Hadley, a former minister who went to law school in San Diego but whose law license is from Washington, D.C., has been on Frye’s staff all but one year since 2001 and has been her chief of staff since 2004. “I’ve always been an activist,” he said. “I helped ordain the first women in my denomination and hired the first women on the staff. My family left the Republican Party in 1980 when the Moral Majority joined it.” After saying he’d supported a female-to-male Transgender person on his church staff and helped him through his transition, Hadley said he had helped Frye on church-state issues including opposing the Boy Scouts’ lease on city parkland, opposing the cross on Mount Soledad and supporting the California Supreme Court case for marriage equality. “The pastors in my town don’t like me very much,” he said. (Hadley avoided mentioning the name of his church, but he went to college at Loma Linda University, associated with the Seventh-Day Adventists.)

Club members questioned both candidates on why they hadn’t been more aggressive supporters of marriage equality. Asked why he hadn’t supported Assemblymember Mark Leno’s same-sex marriage bills, Wayne pointed out that he left the Assembly before Leno arrived. Hadley was questioned about his refusal to oppose school vouchers, and both candidates were asked about whether creationism should be taught in schools. Hadley said it should be kept out of science classes but should be mentioned in classes teaching “myths and fables.” Wayne flatly stated that the Genesis myth “belongs in church, not in education.”

Asked about the city’s ongoing budget crisis, Wayne said, “We’re going to have to live with sacrifices from the public and the employees, but we should not be contracting out city jobs.” Hadley, whose boss Frye has launched a controversial initiative with Republican City Councilmember Carl DeMaio to revamp the city’s budget process, said, “There is still huge waste at City Hall. We just found a consultant who was being paid $7 million, not for anything specific but just to have him around in case the city wanted to consult with him. I would also go back and look at the COLA (cost of living adjustment) for our retirees. When federal retirees do not get COLA’s, neither should our retirees.”

The debate over the District 6 endorsement pitted two former San Diego Democratic Club presidents against each other. Jess Durfee, who has served as chair of the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee since leaving the club presidency, said the committee recommending an endorsement to the full central committee came out 85 percent in support of Wayne. “Howard did an exceptional job,” Durfee said. “He’s been elected three times. He has the name recognition. He has the ability to access money. If we don’t have a strong candidate in this race, we will lose this seat — and our carefully won City Council majority — to the Republicans.”

“Either Howard or Steve would serve us tremendously, but I’d like to put in a good word for Steve,” said Stephen Whitburn. “He worked on our City Council campaign, and I came to admire him. You will rarely meet a more decent person than Steve. Steve is someone who makes up his own mind. Steve works with a church that usually doesn’t support marriage equality, and he’s stood up for us. He knows the city and the district inside out.” Wayne eventually won the endorsement, but by a surprisingly close margin — 36 votes, one more than the minimum required, to 18 for Hadley and four for no endorsement.

With four candidates present, the District 8 forum was more sprawling. Felipe Hueso used his opening statement to try to establish a more progressive reputation than his brother’s. “I’ve represented injured workers — the people who pick your fruit and lettuce — for 20 years,” he said. “I’ve been advising on their behalf through a lawyers’ organization. I’m a consensus builder. I started Inter-American College in National City 13 years ago, and now we have 150 students, we’re fully accredited and our graduates are bilingual teachers and nurse-practitioners. You need someone with business experience and accomplishments.”

“I’m running because I don’t like what’s been going on in District 8,” said Nick Inzunza. “Whatever is going on in the district is being imposed on it from outside. There’s discussion about modernizing Brown Field — which will mean 747’s landing in our backyard — but the people at the meetings are not from District 8. Also we have people from outside the district holding meetings on extending Donovan prison. We stopped 300 parolees from coming into our community. There was a proposal to put them in the Super Easy-8 motel on Palm Avenue. That would not have been a good environment for our kids.”

“I am running because I love the community,” said David Alvarez. “I was born, raised and grew up in Barrio Logan. My dad was a farm worker, a maid, a dishwasher and a janitor. My mom flipped burgers at McDonald’s. I was the first Alvarez [in his family] to graduate from high school and then go to college.” Like his opponents, he said infrastructure would be one of his priorities: “We have unpaved and eroded sidewalks, and eroded streets. We have a need for lighting. Another need is public safety. At a time when crime is increasing, we need money for more police officers and firefighters.”

Howard began with Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote after the 1787 Constitutional Convention, when he told a woman who asked what form of government the convention had given the country, replied, “A republic — if you can keep it.” He said his priorities were “making sure the government is responsive, setting up a satellite office near the border, adequate police and fire protection and the city budget. We’re going to have to figure out how to keep the deficit under control.” Asked whether they supported outsourcing city workers’ jobs to private companies, Hueso ducked the question, Alvarez and Inzunza both said no, and Howard said the voters had already decided to outsource when they passed the ballot measure allowing it, so the city had no choice but to go forward with privatization.

Alex Sachs, the club’s vice-president in charge of political action, chaired the candidates’ forum and moved it along so relentlessly that at one point he told the candidates they had 30 seconds each to answer a convoluted question about discrimination against people with HIV or AIDS in immigration and access to social services. One club member pointed out it had taken Sachs more than 30 seconds just to read the question, and therefore he should allow the candidates more time to answer it. Carlos Marquez, club member and labor activist who had written the question, later said he had sent it up to target Howard, who he said had told previous audiences he didn’t oppose discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS.

Alvarez actually won his endorsement more easily than Wayne had. Though club member and city union activist Michelle Krug said “Felipe Hueso is not his brother,” she came out for Alvarez — as did every other club member who spoke during the debate. Alvarez won the endorsement with 40 votes to one each for Howard and Hueso, none for Inzunza and three for no endorsement.

In addition to the City Council races, the club also heard from Assemblymember Hector de la Torre about his campaign for state insurance commissioner — mostly about how his attempts to reform the health care system, especially his bill to block health insurance companies from canceling people’s policies just when they start making claims on them (a practice called “rescission”), had been frustrated by Governor Schwarzenegger — and gave a tepid endorsement to Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet in his campaign for Congress against incumbent Mary Bono Mack. The club expressed concerns about Pougnet’s willingness to bar undocumented immigrants from health coverage and his apparent support of parental notification requirements for some minor girls seeking abortions. Eventually the members took the unusual step of directing the club’s board to write Pougnet a letter about these issues.


Photographer Chronicles “142 Days” of Marriage Equality in California


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Photo copyright © 2008 by Béla Dornon • Used by permission

The leaflet on the wall of Flicks’ bar in Hillcrest offered an irresistible lure for a Queer journalist who was himself half of a legally married couple. A photographer named Béla Dornon had announced that he was going to try to take pictures of every one of the estimated 18,000 same-sex couples who had married during what he called the “142 Days” — the “window” between June 15, 2008, when the California Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex couples in California to marry took effect; and November 4, 2008, when the state’s voters passed Proposition 8 and took that right away from us.

Though Dornon proved realistic about his chances to meet his goal of taking — or displaying — everyone’s photo, he nonetheless exuded optimism and a kind of quiet defiance when we went out to his studio on Mission Gorge Road October 20 both to interview him and to allow him to photograph us for use in his project. Our meeting turned out to be part interview, part photo shoot, and a lot of casual banter as Dornon revealed his unusual background. He grew up in a religious family but, as you will see, didn’t internalize his parents’ or his church’s anti-Queer beliefs and certainly didn’t struggle, as a lot of people from that background have, to reconcile his spiritual and sexual orientations.

Dornon is continuing his project, in some cases using photos he took of couples in his regular portrait business before they got married; in some cases borrowing them from other photographers or the couples themselves; and in some cases photographing new ones. His immediate goal is to get enough photos he’s taken himself or can legally show to exhibit them and create positive images of Queer couples to counter the hate propaganda used by the radical Right to pass measures like Proposition 8. Dornon can be reached by phone at (619) 757-3367 or e-mail at His regular business Web site is and the special site for the marriage project, where you can view the photos he already has and download model releases and information to participate yourselves, is

Zenger’s: Why don’t we start just by telling me a little about yourself, your background?

Béla Dornon: That’s a long story. I was born and raised in California — born in Long Beach, raised in Oceanside. People sometimes ask me when I got out of Oceanside, and I always say as soon as I realized where I was. But I went to college, met a boy, settled down, and then we got married last year.

Zenger’s: That wasn’t your first relationship?

Dornon: No, he’s my second. The first one was a disaster primarily because we had no good role models. Neither of our parents had very successful relationships. We didn’t know any Gay couples that had long-term relationships. We just didn’t have anybody to pattern ourselves after. But it ended without too much acrimony, which is good.

Zenger’s: When did you first find out you were Gay? How did you come to grips with that?

Dornon: When I was about three, I remember my mother coming into the room while I was watching Sinbad the Sailor, and I turned it off because I didn’t want her to catch me watching that. But it took another seven years before I finally had a boyfriend. I never liked girls “that way.” I always knew I was Gay.

Zenger’s: You mentioned you’d been in an “ex-Gay” ministry, and that’s where you met your first partner. Why did you enter an “ex-Gay” ministry, and how did that work for you?

Dornon: For my mother. I really, really tried to be a Christian for her. My mother is a Fundamentalist born-again Christian, and I went that far for her. Unfortunately, I always knew it was bullshit. But I did it anyway, because that’s what she wanted. And luckily, I met a man the first time, and never went back!

Zenger’s: So you just went once?

Dornon: One time. That’s all it took! Now, are you going to ask me how I got interested in photography?

Zenger’s: Yes, I am.

Dornon: That [gesturing at a photo of an attractive man on the wall of his studio] is how I got interested in photography. When Phil and I moved to Germany in 2000, I started working out at a little gym next to the institute where we were both working. The boys there were absolutely gorgeous. This is a typical example. His name is Danny, and I quickly discovered that not only were they absolutely gorgeous, but they were very willing to pose, very happy to be naked, and just loved the attention. We already had a digital camera, and after a year I bought a much better one.

I just got completely absorbed in it. By the time we had left, I had taken 23,000 photos and had had two shows. And that’s basically it. I was just completely stuck on it. Unfortunately, San Diego doesn’t have very beautiful men, and they’re not very willing to pose nude, which is kind of sad. But there are other things to do here.

Zenger’s: What had you been doing with your life, career-wise, before that?

Dornon: You mean, besides housewife? Yeah, that was me in high heels and pearls every day. I was a teacher, I was a delivery boy, I was a masseur for 13 years. I designed Web pages. I wrote a book. One way or another, Phil has put an end to every one of my careers. He didn’t intend to put an end to my careers. It’s just coincidental.

For example, I got my teaching credential a year before he got his Ph.D. He’s a molecular biologist. So after his Ph.D., he needed to do a series of post-docs [post-doctoral fellowships] in other people’s labs, which means that every 18 months we would move to a new city, and I would have to get my credential recognized and start substitute-teaching again. We did that for six years, and then I was so completely burned out from subbing that I couldn’t do it anymore.

Zenger’s: Do you make your living as a photographer now?

Dornon: I do, just doing portraits and online photos. I used to advertise in print media, but I don’t anymore. Now I just have a very large presence on the Web, and with the social networks — what we used to call the “slut sites.” Isn’t that nice, though — “social networks”? That sounds so respectable.

I started the “142 Days” project right around January of this year, 10 months ago. I didn’t know what to do with all my anger and frustration over Proposition 8. It took me about a month and a half thinking about it, and then all of a sudden the light went on: “Hey, I’m a photographer. So the thing I can do is take pictures.” I thought it would be productive to document some of the couples who got married, and show some happy, smiling Gay faces for a change, unlike the entire anti-Prop. 8 campaign, which was all about straight people. Very frustrating.

So I started out. The problem was it’s like the fox, the chicken and the bag of corn. You can’t put up an exhibit without some pictures, and you can’t get some pictures without an exhibit. I started hitting up all of our friends and saying, “I need to use your pictures.” Or if they hadn’t posed for me, I’d say, “Get in here. I need some pictures.” That’s how I got the first five, and then after that I started putting up little flyers and stuff. And now I have the slide show at the Center, and apparently a billboard at Flicks.

But it has gone much slower than I thought it would. I thought it would be easier than this. A lot of couples just really kind of want to preserve their privacy with this thing — which I find strange, because if you’re willing to get married, what’s the big deal? But I have to respect their privacy.

Zenger’s: I noticed from your flyer that you had set yourself the goal of photographing every one of the couples.

Dornon: Yes, 18,000 couples. Well, photographing or displaying, because people are welcome to submit their own photos. Actually, a lot of people have. That’s a bit of a problem, too, because they have to get permission from the photographer if it’s a professional shot. But I think it’s interesting to see the diverse people’s celebrations, as well as their faces done in a studio.

Zenger’s: What sort of activism were you involved in before Prop. 8?

Dornon: I was in ACT UP in college, and I was in Queer Nation after that. I remember once, probably in 1987, I went to an ACT UP Day of Remembrance, on the quad at UCSD. It was actually the Jewish memorial thing, and I went. They asked for a representative from the Gay and Lesbian Student Union, so I went there with a big pink triangle and recited a poem. Actually, I sang with no accompaniment. And I’ve always been in the Gay Pride parades, starting in 1979 or 1980. I came down to that, and my mother was just furious, because she knew I was going to meet a guy. She was not happy about that.

Zenger’s: You mentioned that you actually went to that one “ex-Gay” meeting to make her happy. Did you really think you were going to “find the secret” and “change”?

Dornon: Well, I was raised in the church, and I had beliefs that were as deep as my — at that time — ignorant mind would allow. I believed in the power of the church to change people, but I didn’t believe that my sexuality was something that needed to be changed, or could be changed. I did it to make her happy. If I’d been an addict and I’d gone to church, I’d have fully expected it to work. But there was nothing wrong with me. There was nothing to be fixed. So I knew it wouldn’t work.

Zenger’s: Because I’ve met so many people, including ones who spent years in the “ex-Gay” ministries, who grew up in Fundamentalist homes and had this horrible disconnect between the values they had been taught and had absorbed, and their sexual orientation. Even growing up with this Fundamentalist mother, that doesn’t seem to have been a conflict for you.

Dornon: No, I resolved that when I was 16, after I was “outed” to her. I told her, “You know, if having sex with men means I’m going to hell, then I’ll go to hell.” She was just shocked. She just couldn’t believe that the fear of hell wasn’t enough to stop me from having sex. And I said, “No way.” I guess I always knew deep down inside that it was rubbish. But it’s hard to resist that kind of deep, deep conditioning.

We were not Sunday Christians. We were seven-day-a-week Christians: Bible studies at home. We went to the church at least three times a week. We had all kinds of Christianity in the house. It was not a casual thing. It was deep conditioning. But sex trumps everything.

Zenger’s: Reality trumps most things.

Dornon: Just the other day I came up with a capsule summary of my feelings about the subject, and that is, “Faith is a vector of insanity,” in the same way that fleas are a vector of plague.

Zenger’s: What sort of tradition? Was it Fundamentalist? Pentecostal?

Dornon: Fundamentalist Episcopalian. So not only did the service take an hour and a half of chanting and writhing on the floor, it was fundamentalist too. It was weird. I was in St. Anne’s Church in Oceanside, and the rector was chased out for having sex with half of his counseling patients and his daughter … after I left. I got out of the church at 19, and two years later he was chased out of the church for having wild sex with everybody. And he was the leader of the church, in every way.

But the funny thing is this seems to happen a lot in Episcopal churches. The priests are being arrested or driven out a lot because they’re having sex with everybody. It just seems to be normal. I mean, they can’t help it. They’re just crazy. Faith is a vector of insanity. Faith gives you the permission to believe things that aren’t true, and that’s what leads to mental illness. When you start to believe things that you know are not true, you’re on the slope. It’s all downhill.

Zenger’s: So would you describe yourself as an atheist, an agnostic, a nonbeliever?

Dornon: Oh, no, not at all. I would describe myself as a person with philosophical beliefs, but no religious beliefs. I was raised in the Episcopal church, and in the Episcopal church you’re supposed to have creeds. So I have my own creed. I’ve just added, “Faith is a vector of insanity.” [The others are: “One world * One race * One origin * One destiny.” * “All lands are Holy Lands.” * “There is no God of which I am not a part.” * “Sex is good; violence is bad.”]

Zenger’s: It’s kind of interesting that you have this studio right in the middle of suburban nowhere.

Dornon: That’s because we live out in the middle of nowhere. We live one mile up the road. And really, it’s not been bad, because all my business is Internet. The only thing this cuts down on are the people who don’t have cars, which in many cases is not a bad thing. Some people don’t have cars because they’re drug addicts who live in Hillcrest, and those kinds of people I don’t need to deal with anyway. It works fine.

The interesting thing is, you know how men won’t ask for directions? If they have a GPS they won’t let you give them directions. My address is on Mission Gorge Road, but you notice it’s a mall. So everyone here has his own address, and the GPS doesn’t work. It sends them two malls further down, or it sends them all the way into Santee, and then they call me and say, “According to my GPS I’m there, but I can’t find you.” And I say, “Well, I told you not to use the GPS.”

So now I won’t even give them my address anymore. They always say, “Just give me your address.” I say, “No. I’m next to the Jack in the Box, and I’ll tell you how to get there.” But men are like that about directions. It’s a competency thing.

Zenger’s: I enjoy the contrast between this nice little portrait studio right in the middle of suburbia, and your out Gay project with its own Web site and your mission to document as many same-sex marriages as possible to express your outrage that the people of California took our rights away.

Dornon: Somebody came and put “Yes on 8” signs all over that little plot of lawn, right on the corner, and I ripped them down because this is private property. This is not city property. And I told several people, including organizers of the campaign, that I’d done that, and they said, “Don’t take down signs. You’ll get arrested.” I said, “Well, I don’t think they can put signs on private property without permission of the owner,” and the owner had told me that he was going to stay out of it. I knew that they didn’t put them there with his permission. So I tore them down, which felt really good.

Zenger’s: Do you think of the “142 Days” as history? As photojournalism? As photography? As art?

Dornon: As protest. Protest and education.

Zenger’s: Who are you hoping to educate? Who are you hoping will be moved by it?

Dornon: When I have a slightly larger mass — you guys are couple number 41 — and I have 35 to 40 photos of my own. I’d like to offer them to news media and magazines as stock art and things like that. I’d like to say, “Here’s a little library of smiling, married Gay couples that you can use when you reference this story” — especially next year when it comes up on the ballot again.

Gay Film “Boy” Highlight of San Diego Asian Film Festival

But Most Festival Films Copy Hollywood’s Formulas Too Closely

story and photos by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

While the San Diego Asian Film Festival (AFF) October 16 through 29 was larger and splashier, it ha serious earmarks of the popular Latino Film Festival (LFF) in the spring annually.

Indeed, the man running the Asian event — the energetic Phillip Luque, AFF's operations director — was formerly a right-hand man to the Latino festival’s executive director, Ethan van Thillo.

While literally hundreds of independent, international films of predominantly Asian culture were running on six screens at the Ultra-Star Cinemas in the Hazard Center; Luque was the man running around with a two-way headset, and keeping the larger AFF running smoothly.

While the Asian festival — now in its 10th year — was bigger than the Latino festival, the AFF movies copied too many of the styles of Hollywood films: filled with raw sex, guns, drugs and vio-lence.

In sharp contrast, the Latino festival's films selections — though fewer — were international movies that focused largely on good drama, without the need for raw sex and violence.

One of the featured attractions of the recent AFF was the classic movie Red Cliff, promoted as “the most expensive film in Asian history.”

But, it was a typical war movie, albeit that it focused on the major battles of the Han Dynasty in 208 A.D., when over 2000 sailing ships were burned during brilliant military strategy by an underdog army and navy.

After watching about a half hour of the bloody battles, I got bored with the violence. And, the movie ran for an unusually long 2 hours, 28 minutes. Indeed, the original version of Red Cliff, ran for a full four hours, and was cut in half for American audiences.

Easily one of the best AFF movies was Boy” an extremely sensitive drama of an 18-year old Philip-pino who discovers he's Gay in a go-go bar in Manila's seedy world of cheap Gay strip clubs.

With unusually good, natural-light cinematography and a screen script that could bring tears to your eyes, as well as deep laughter.

Boy showed the two boys in a long, prolonged seduction with sex scenes where you knew what was happening without showing it hard-core.

An army of over 400 volunteers, mostly Asian, was involved. “The big change is that in the past, volunteers were in their 20’s, but now they are high-school students,” said AAF Volunteer Coordi-nator Mark Gadia in an interview.

The Asian festival seem to have produced much larger crowds than did the Latino Film festival in the spring. Attendance was “over 10 percent better than last year,” according to operations manager Luque.

The AFF also produced a larger, 131-page, slick magazine loaded with expensive advertising, as compared with a lower-cost, 67-page program for the Latino festival in March. But, the Latinos were facing a sharp downturn in corporate advertising, as a result of the recession.

While the UltraStar Cinemas multiplex is an older building in the Hazard Center; it remains the venue for both the Asian and Latino festivals. But the building has a major problem with air condi-tioning.

It has only one air-conditioning system for seven theatres. That means they have to turn the temperature control down seriously low in order to keep the largest theatre cool. But that also made the smaller theaters freezing cold.

In this time of a premature and alarming rise in flu this fall, many movie patrons could be heard coughing regularly during screenings. Some patrons even covered their noses with handkerchiefs, to serve like face masks to stay safe against infection. One patron just left one-third into a movie saying, “it's too cold in here.”

The Asian Film Festival ran a full 15 days. More information can be found by e-mailing or calling (858) 565-1264.

PHOTO CAPTIONS (top to bottom):

Crawford High student Ding Wong, 15, served as a volunteer at the Asian Film Festival. Photo by Leo E. Laurence

Asian Kazuki Nakagawa, 21, who lives downtown, served as an Asian Film Festival volunteer. Photo by Leo E. Laurence

Asian SDSU student Edgardo Bungay, Jr., 20, of Chula Vista watched the Gay movie “Boy” at the Asian Film Festival. Photo by Leo E. Laurence
Joseph Rocha: Courageous Activist or Media Star?

commentary by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

The growing movement to repeal Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy requiring discharge of “out” Gays in the military, now has a local, young, cute face: ex-sailor Joseph Rocha, 23, of Hillcrest. He even speaks well. But …

After meeting him at the Asian Film Festival at the UltraStar Cinemas where he made one of his many, many speeches; a photo-shoot for Zenger's Newsmagazine was scheduled twice, and abruptly canceled in a brief cell voice-mail with no reason.

He’s become an almost overnight media darling — and he seems to be letting it go to his head.

While talking by cell and setting up a very brief 10-minute photo shoot, he repeatedly bragged about all of the media interviews he's done and speeches he is making. I was impressed.

But, after one re-scheduling, he finally canceled at the last minute, after specifically requiring that we could only meet "in a public place.”

Credibility Issue

In front-page coverage of Rocha in the San Diego Union-Tribune, he claims that, because of his efforts, both the Navy's Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) are concerned about a Gay sailor.

That's not quite true, according to a Navy Department source who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the information.

The Navy's Chief of Naval Operations and Secretary of the Navy have ordered investigations into abuse of sailors, but whether the victim is Gay, Asian or whatever; the issue as the Navy sees it is the alleged abuse of sailors, any sailor. It just happens that the case exposing the abuse involves a cute, Gay (now ex-)sailor. Unlike many “don’t ask, don’t tell” dismissals, especially in the early days of the policy, Rocha was given an honorable discharge.

Rocha wants to return to active duty as an officer.

New Face

There's a reasonable probability that the ugly Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” will be repealed.

And the national movement towards that long overdue goal now has a face: a 23-year-old Latino ex-sailor who was violently abused based on his sexual orientation when he was on-duty.

That he is apparently converting the ugly, painful memories of the brutal terror he experienced as a bloody victim of homophobic violence in the Navy into his cause célèbre, into major news coverage of the issues surrounding "don’t ask, don’t tell," is evidence of Rocha's guts. But he seems to be letting his media stardom go to his head big-time. Otherwise, we'd have photos of him for this story.

Monday, October 12, 2009

William Powers Discusses “Writing for Change”

Author Pushes Students to Write at City College Book Fair


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“I spent six years in Bolivia, but I’m not here to inspire you to go to a rain forest,” said author and former aid worker William Powers at the start of his presentation October 3 at the San Diego City College book fair. His hour-long presentation was uneasily divided between presentations of his experiences in Liberia and Bolivia and the year he spent living in a 12 foot-by-12 foot house in North Carolina, and pep talks aimed at getting the City College students in his audience interested in writing and developing the self-confidence needed to finish books and get them published. “If you leave here with one message,” he said, “it should be that if I can publish books, so can you.”

Powers recalled that he’d always been interested in writing when he was growing up — in high school, he wrote for the student literary magazine — until he went to college. “I majored in international relations because I thought English wouldn’t pay,” he confessed. “I worked with Native American youth in New Mexico for two years, and for 10 years I was in Africa and South America. But I couldn’t see myself on the other side of a book.”

That changed after what he described as “the two most intense years of my life” — when he worked in foreign aid in Liberia at the height of Charles Taylor’s dictatorship. Powers was all too aware of the unrest in the country and the civil war against Taylor’s regime — “all I could picture was kids with guns” — when Catholic Relief Services sent him there. But as a 28-year-old fresh out of graduate school, he was nonetheless “thrilled to be there.” It was only later that he found out “I only went because no one else would go.”

His job was to be part of “a major food pipeline” — getting donations of U.S. products into the hands of needy Liberians — “in the middle of a civil war. I had 150 professional staff and hundreds of day laborers bringing the food off ships to the six relief centers. I was there to help the country’s transformation from relief to development.” Unfortunately, that transition was being blocked by the cruelties of Charles Taylor, who not only held the title President of Liberia but also called himself the “chief witch doctor” of the country and regularly drank blood as part of a ritual aimed at keeping himself in power.

Like many Americans who go to trouble spots, Powers found a quiet dignity and strength in the people that contradicted the impression he’d got before he left that everyone was cowering in fear of Charles Taylor 24/7. “There was powerful energy and optimism,” Powers said, explaining that civil wars tend to wax and wane and therefore “there were long periods of peace” in which Liberian life continued more or less normally. Powers called Liberia “really the U.S. in America” — a reference to Liberia’s unusual history as a colony for former African-American slaves, founded in 1831 as part of a movement aimed at ending U.S. slavery by shipping all the slaves back to their ancestral continent. (This led to years of conflict in which indigenous Liberians often complained that the ex-slaves formed an aristocracy and oppressed them.)

Powers began writing his memoir of his Liberian experience, Blue Clay People, while in the city of Abijan on the Ivory Coast as he prepared to leave Africa. He continued while in Bolivia on his next assignment, working on so-called “carbon ranching” programs to save the rainforest and combat global warming. “One year later, I had a manuscript,” he said. “I sent it to my old high school teacher, who was now a book doctor, and she rejected it. A few weeks later, I sent it out to two small publishers. I got an e-mail from Uva Taylor at Chicago World Press, and she offered to buy world rights. I had several offers on the book, and with three offers I was able to get an agent. With every e-mail, there were another five figures added to the offer.”

Meanwhile, Powers was in Bolivia working on an issue — rainforest preservation — that had also been part of his mission in Liberia. He said the Bolivian rainforests were under assault from both the poor and the rich — impoverished Bolivians were clearing them to plant yucca so they could eat, and the huge American corporation Archer-Daniels-Midland was logging them to set up soy farms for export. What’s more, the mountains of Bolivia gave him a bird’s-eye view of global warming in action. “The glaciers above La Paz, which provide the city’s water, were literally melting,” he recalled.

The solution Powers and his group were trying to implement is called “carbon ranching.” It’s based on the idea that plants “breathe” carbon dioxide, the most common and most serious greenhouse gas. Therefore, it’s a bad idea to destroy great swaths of natural vegetation and use the land either for development, which generates additional greenhouse gases; or corporate agriculture, which takes far less carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than the native plants do and involves heavy use of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemical inputs that are made from fossil fuels and the energy from them.

According to Powers, 20 percent of all global warming is due to deforestation — but, contrary to popular opinion, a rainforest that has been clear-cut can be restored. Indeed, he said that in Guatemala there’s a rainforest that has recovered after the Mayans clear-cut it 500 years ago — and he showed a slide of his group’s operation in Bolivia, aimed at restoring a former rainforest they had bought from a logging company. Powers said this not only helped Bolivia’s environment but stimulated its economy as well. “A lot of the indigenous people were trained as park guards,” he said. “Some did measurements of the trees.”

Powers’ experiences in Bolivia became the subject of his second book, Whispering in the Giant’s Ear: A Frontlines Chronicle from Bolivia’s War on Globalization. He noted that, next to Venezuela, Bolivia has the largest petroleum reserves in South America, and he credited the current government of Bolivian president Evo Morales for having nationalized the country’s oil reserves — not to throw out the multinational companies that were drilling there, but to reverse the 82 to 18 percent split of the country’s oil wealth so the larger share now goes to Bolivia and its people, not the companies.

But the book he wrote about Bolivia got hit hard by the companies he was denouncing in it. Attorneys for five of the multinationals mentioned in it “wrote a five-page memo that threatened to sue the publisher, Macmillan,” if the book remained in print. Macmillan caved and allowed the book to go out of print after the first edition sold out. Powers caved, too. “Some of my friends said to fight back and expose that,” he said, “but I knew I couldn’t win, so I let it blow over and quietly let the book come back into circulation.” Today it’s available, but only on a print-on-demand basis from and Powers’ own Web site,

In the meantime, Powers has been lobbying to have “carbon ranching” included in the Copenhagen treaty on global warming that is supposed to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. helped negotiate but never signed. He’s been to the United Nations, where he’s met with former Irish president Mary Robinson and Wangari Matthai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for reforestation work in her native Kenya. He calls the idea “sure-fire” but says it’s only one step towards a re-orientation of human life away from heavy-duty consumption and towards living in more harmony with the earth.

That’s the subject of his next book, 12’ x 12’, which is due out next year. It derives from a unique opportunity he had to house-sit for a woman doctor in North Carolina who lives in a house just 12 feet long and 12 feet wide, and who deliberately keeps her income so low she doesn’t have to pay taxes. Powers bristles at the idea that countries like Liberia and Bolivia are “underdeveloped.” Before he moved into this house — which is surrounded by food gardens that make it virtually self-sufficient — “I thought maybe Bolivia was developed and the U.S. is overdeveloped.” He said the little house in North Carolina is surrounded by farmers who raise free-range chickens — and they are surrounded by giant factory ranches that, according to Powers, “use their workers the way they use their animals.”

The point, Powers explained, is to practice what has been called “permaculture” — living in a landscape designed in harmony with nature — and, beyond that, to move beyond a consumer society altogether. It’s a concept he calls “enough” — “between where we live now and dire poverty,” he explained. “I think ‘enough’ is $10,000 per capita gross domestic product per year, the average in Europe in 1990. That’s how much material you need to maintain peak happiness. Subsistence agriculture is not poverty. We shouldn’t punish people for living sustainably with nature.” Just how “enough” can be reconciled with a capitalist economy and culture that demands the economy grow continually — and defines it as a dire problem (“recession”) when it doesn’t — Powers left unanswered.

One fascinating aspect of Powers’ talk was its surprising degree of optimism. Powers said he respects Left-wing spokespeople like Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, who’ve made their reputations railing about how bad everything is — but that’s not his style. Asked how he can be optimistic about humans’ ability to handle global warming when it’s already advanced so far that the polar ice caps are melting, Powers said, “Mitigation and adaptation. There are all kinds of programs to help people adapt.” He said one hopeful sign was a recent meeting he went to between labor leaders and environmentalists calling for “green-collar jobs” — ways people can make their livings while being part of the global warming solution instead of part of the problem.

Powers also talked about the upcoming global warming conference in Copenhagen and what he’d like to see from President Obama. “I like the 350 organization,” he said. It’s an international group whose program, Powers explained, is to “keep global warming 2° Fahrenheit above what it is today. The U.S. has to take it seriously, and China and India must come to the plate. I’m going on December 11 and will be pushing for carbon ranching.” He said that at Copenhagen “Obama should agree to specific targets, not just rough goals and timetables’ — and, he added, the President needs to be less fearful about possible rejection by Congress.

“Congress is full of farm-state people who don’t want to make any change,” Powers said. “If there’s any way to reach them, it’s to broaden the appeal and show them how people in their states can be helped through carbon ranching. I believe Obama and his people are convinced that they won’t sign anything that won’t go through Congress.” Powers also said we need to use the leverage of “publicity and reputation” to push the Chinese government to adopt more sustainable environmental and development policies instead of following the same path we did. He recalled that when he was in Liberia, “I was representing an agency that had got the European Union to agree to accept only sustainably harvested timber. The Chinese consul said, ‘We want Liberia’s cheap timber,” but to an extent they can be convinced.”

Asked whether Africa can break out of the cycle of tyrants and dictators that has plagued it since the 1950’s and 1960’s, when most African countries became independent of colonial rule, Powers said that recent events in Ghana and Liberia made him hopeful. But he also cited a book by African author Dambisa Moyo called Dead Aid — a controversial work which argues that foreign aid has made Africa dependent (an argument Powers makes in his own Blue Clay People as well) and what is needed instead is more foreign investment and trade to create jobs for Africans — and agreed with Moyo’s point that aid from the West has propped up the dictators. “Africans, too, have to take responsibility,” Powers said. “In Guinea there’s been a bloodbath in the last week. It’s sad to see these repetitions happening.”

Powers confessed that he’s in “kind of a fallow period” as a writer — even though he continues to contribute to the Washington Post op-ed page and boasted that he’d got some of his thoughts about the environment and long-term sustainability into a column about grizzly bears. “A lot of my writing comes from seeing myself as an outsider,” he said. “There’s a risk of getting superficial. The trick is being there and listening to the people. I try to get across my method and use my own bliss and passion, and maybe those smaller pieces of writing for the Post can build themselves into a full book.”

“Nommogeneity” Explores African-American Poetry and Culture

Terrence Stubbs Presents 32-Minute Film at World Beat Center


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

It’s short — only 32 minutes — but Terrence Stubbs’ film Nommogeneity is a powerful film about African-American poetry and the social and cultural milieu which gives rise to it and inspires its practitioners. Stubbs, who in the 1990’s was a stand-up comedian sharing stages with current superstars like Chris Rock and Jamie Foxx, has spent the last decade studying film in San Diego and Long Beach. He presented Nommogeneity on October 1 at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park, an event held in conjunction with the book festival at San Diego City College.

The word “nommogeneity” was coined by Douglas Kearney, one of the poets featured in the film. It comes from an African legend that twin gods named Nommo brought the gifts of language and writing to the human race. Kearney combined “nommo” with the Greek word for birth (also the root of the word “genesis”) to create a term meaning “generation of the word.” The film features a number of strong-voiced young African-American poets, including Bennie Herron, Jaha Zeinabu and South African expatriate Marion Cloete. There’s also someone who isn’t quite so young: Amiri Baraka, the veteran author who as LeRoi Jones exploded on the New York literary scene in the late 1950’s with a series of plays and poems dealing starkly with racism and the African-American experience.

Baraka has been a provocateur ever since. In the early 1970’s he was actually put on trial for allegedly inciting a race riot in Newark, New Jersey with one of his poems. His close-cropped hair and neatly trimmed beard are now grey instead of black, but he’s still as energetic and visceral in his appeal as ever. In Nommogeneity, he’s shown reading “Somebody Blew Up America,” a poem inspired by 9/11 which uses imagery drawn from centuries of racism to point out that African-Americans have dealt with far more “terrorism” from their white compatriots than from foreign groups like al-Qaeda. The matter-of-fact way in which Baraka reads the poem just adds to its effect.

It wasn’t easy for Stubbs to land such a legendary figure and get him to be in his film. He initially e-mailed Baraka’s official contact for lecture gigs, and got a reply that Baraka would be pleased to cooperate with the project as soon as Stubbs could arrange to come out to New York to film him. That was totally out of Stubbs’ budget, but six months later he got an e-mail that Baraka had a date to read and lecture in New Mexico, and with less of a travel burden Stubbs got his equipment together and filmed both a reading and an interview that turned into the focus of his film, not only because it’s powerful on its own but because it illustrates the inspiration Baraka has provided to many younger Black writers, including virtually all the others in Stubbs’ film.

Stubbs said part of his inspiration for Nommogeneity is he’s tired of all the “love jones” poetry out there. Too much of modern Black writing is either romantic poetry or the kind of “playa” braggadocio — the celebration of conspicuous consumption — of much hip-hop, Stubbs said. What he wanted to showcase, he explained, was “consciousness” — meaning political and social consciousness. “I wanted to pick poets talking about prevalent stuff and give them a voice,” Stubbs said.

“I’d like to have people in schools and kids look at this,” Stubbs said. “People don’t like poetry much. They read Shakespeare, Dante, Milton and Homer, but this is different. It’s neo-realistic poetry.” It’s indicative of his bent that the two non-Black poets he named as his favorites, German writer Bertolt Brecht and Puerto Rican poet-actor-playwright Miguel Piñero (“I like his rooftop poem,” Stubbs said, adding that Benjamin Bratt played him in a biopic), were also known for engaging political and social issues in their work. Stubbs sees Piñero as having done in the 1970’s, with direct references to Viet Nam and Watergate, what the poets in his film are doing with the issues of today.

In general, the women poets in the film are less openly didactic than the men. One particularly beautiful sequence shows a woman poet reading on the waterfront at the Embarcadero Marina in San Diego. She’s also playing a flute, and while she couldn’t do both at the same time, she manages to accompany her reading with her flute quite eloquently in the film through the magic of multiple sound recording. Another reads a stunning poem called “Pigtails” inspired by the long braids she wears — and she’s actually shown having her hair braided while her voice is heard reading the poem.

Stubbs freely acknowledged that he used music videos as a model for his technique, making his movie far more than the usual stand-up-and-read poetry documentary. (Before filming Nommongeneity, Stubbs said, all he’d done on film were music videos and “a few cheesy little things.”) In response to a question as to whether poetry by people of color is “more musical” than that by whites, Stubbs replied, “I wouldn’t say ‘more musical,’ It’s just a different type of rhythm. They’re doing riverdance, salsa, the cakewalk or electric slide.” Certainly many of the poems in the film — especially the ones written by men — have such a throbbing, insistent beat and are so strictly cadenced in regular meters that all it would take would be a D.J. sampling tracks in the background to turn them into hip-hop songs.

The most striking performance in the film — and the one Stubbs said is his personal favorite — is a dramatic poem by Douglas Kearney called “The Chitlin’ Circuit.” Its language evokes both the history of African-American entertainment and the long string of demeaning words used by American whites to describe American Blacks. Kearney reads the piece in a highly theatrical manner, blending the words so they bleed into each other and become almost pure sound — and while reading the poem he flips the book containing its text, punctuating every change in rhythm and meaning with a simple physical action.

Stubbs describes Nommogeneity as “a work in progress,” and says he doesn’t consider it finished. “It takes a lot of work, hours and dedication” to make a film, he said. Getting Nommogeneity to its current form took two years, at least in part because he didn’t actually have it scripted in advance. “I’ve learned to plan better next time and go with the plan,” he said. “Some of Nommogeneity was just impromptu. When I did Marianne’s poem (the one read to the poet’s flute accompaniment) I had no idea what we were going to do. I just said, ‘Let’s go to the harbor.’”

Though he didn’t show his film on the City College campus, Stubbs hailed the City College film and video program and said it was a better place to learn than those at more prestigious schools. “City College has the best radio, TV and video program in southern California,” he said. “People come from Northridge to go there because they can touch equipment. Many people I know went straight from the City College program to working in the business,” Stubbs explained, because they got direct experience on actual equipment.

Asked what he’d like to work on in the future, Stubbs mentioned a documentary on Etheridge Knight, a Black poet who started writing in prison in the 1960’s and, after his release, was heavily involved in an organization called the Black Arts Movement — one which also influenced many of the poets in Nommogeneity. “He’s from my home town of Indianapolis,” Stubbs said; though Knight was actually born in Mississippi, he was living in Indiana when he was arrested, then settled in Tennessee after his release from prison. Stubbs said he’d also like to make a feature film, “but not something like Soul Plane. I’d like to do a film with a story and a meaning.”

Terrence Stubbs produced Nommogeneity through his own company, Drapetomania Film Works, which can be reached at (310) 493-6509 or by e-mail at He doesn’t list a Web site, but his Facebook page is at