E.J. Graff

Friday Miscellany, Year-End 2011

Herewith a few things to think about before you disappear into 2012: Sweeties. On Wednesday, the Virginian-Pilot ran what I thought was an adorable story about a Navy first. Apparently, when ships come in, someone gets the honor of disembarking for the first official welcome-home kiss with their beloved. It's been three months since the dock landing ship left home for Central America, and all of the usual fanfare is waiting to greet its crew: crowds of cheering families, toddlers dressed in sailor suits, and the lucky, excited woman who's been chosen to take part in a time-honored Navy tradition - the first homecoming kiss. The twist: this was the first time that the Chosen Kisser had a same-sex partner. The two young women involved, who are engaged, are just cute as buttons. The story made me smile. Channeling my great-aunts, when I watched the video, I wanted to pat their pretty heads and wish them a long, happy, healthy life together. But apparently I'm an outlier...

Dear Santa

ICMYI: Didn't you always want to ask Santa a few things? He's answering, over at the Hairpin. Some great answers to the tough questions, like: Why didn't I get that Atari? Why don't you deliver to Jewish kids? Will there ever be a female Santa? and more.

Forget "Stranger Danger"

I'm a silver lining kind of gal. Ever since the media storm over allegations that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky raped and molested children, I've been waiting to hear about many other such cases in the sports world. After all, that's what happened in 2002, when the Boston Globe first exposed that the local Catholic Church archdiocese had covered for dozens of area priests who had abused children. After the initial exposé, hundreds of victims who had endured similar abuse came forward around the country and across the world. With the tidal wave of Penn State news coverage, I expected a similar wave of coaches' victims to find the courage to tell their stories. The most reliable statistical estimates on the subject say that, two decades ago, one in four girls and one in six boys were sexually abused before they reached age 18. Given the priestly power of coaches—and their access to children—I assume that there are a lot more stories out there, and I'm on the side of...

More Holiday Lights!

HuffPo has a fabulous slide show of the tackiest holiday lights ever. Numbers 11, 13, and 15 alone are responsible for the demand for the Keystone Pipeline . Living next to some of the others would "make me grunch my teeth," as our young'un puts it. I send condolences to their neighbors. Enjoy!

Language in Exile

As long as we are speaking of cultures that have simmered in exile, let's turn to Tibetans, whose leaders have consulted with Jewish and Israeli leaders about what it takes to keep a diaspora culture alive. One of the answers: keep alive the language. Hebrew was essentially a language on ice, used primarily in religious services but not to communicate, rich with symbolism but lacking words for anything related to post-exile life—until early Zionists performed CPR and turned it into a living vehicle, actually spoken daily (usually very, very quickly and disputatiously) (#joking). Whatever you think about Israel, reviving Hebrew was a remarkable and nation-making feat. It bound a shattered and dispersed set of people back together in linguistic rhythms that were simultaneously foreign and familiar, in distinctive alef-bet characters that were indisputably their own. The political Tibetan community in exile has taken this lesson deeply to heart. Do read this report on a recent conference...

Happy Hanukkah to All, and To All A Good Night

It starts at sundown tonight. In honor, here's the Maccabeats' big (and catchy) hit from last year.

Vaclav Havel on Kim Jong-Il

Via @beingbrina, here is the Velvet Revolutionary's comment on Dear Leader, in the Globe and Mail, 2004.

Good vs. Evil

Former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, died Sunday at 75 years of age. AP Photo/Peter David Josek
Vaclav Havel helped to bring down a totalitarian regime; Kim Jong-Il ran one. One was imprisoned repeatedly for refusing to conform to even the smallest of the lies foisted upon him by communism—and in doing so, inspired his fellow citizens to join him in throwing it off. The other, delusional, starved his citizens of food and reality, and leaves them weaker, more desolate, and more in danger than when he found them. One, armed with only his sentences and his moral compass, was drafted to preside over the transition to democracy, an acting job that did not naturally suit the artist in him; despite that ill fit, he helped restore a small, literate, and highly educated country in the heart of Europe, a country that had been successively crushed by two of the 20 th century’s most evil figures, Hitler and Stalin. The other was born into his destructive power and used it to expand the pantheon of smaller evil figures, joining such luminaries of darkness as Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Muammar...

Friday Miscellany

A little bit of this, a little bit of that: So you're a conservative Republican mayor, deep in Mississippi, who ran for Congress in 2008 "on a conservative, family-values platform," according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wouldn't you think you'd keep yourself from using your official credit card "at a visit to an adult store catering to gay men while on a recruitment trip to Canada"? #justsaying A review by The CA shows that Davis spent thousands of dollars at the Mesquite Chop House in Southaven and thousands more at local liquor stores. Also included in the receipts is a charge for $67 at Priape, a store in Toronto that is described by its website as "Canada's premiere gay lifestyle store and sex shop." New York City is reporting a drop in its schoolchildren's obesity rates. If the drop is real, and if Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's activist health commissioner, have really caused it with their recent multi-pronged anti-obesity campaign (bans on...

Meta-Commentary on End-of-Year Lists

Over at NPR's website, Linda Holmes had herself some meta-fun in a post called The 20 Unhappiest People You Meet In The Comments Sections Of Year-End Lists. For instance, 6. The Read A Book Guy. "Not one of these movies is as good as reading a book." On a list of books, by the way, he will say none of the books is as good as books used to be. He also hates Kindles, which he may or may not mention. It's the kinda thing we wouldn't even have imagined writing a top-twenty list about even five years ago, which makes it very of-our-moment—and made me actually LOL. Check it out if you've ever rolled your eyes at your fellow online commenters and would like a nice, knowing meta-snicker at their anonymous expense. Because you and I have never left comments like this, now, have we?

Your Brain Is Racist

ICYMI : ProPublica and the Washington Post took a look at whether people of any particular race are more likely to receive presidential pardons. You'll be shocked, I'm sure, by what they found: White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities... Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president's ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data . Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered. "I'm just astounded by those numbers," said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department's pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office's practices that would have skewed the recommendations. "I can recall several African Americans...

My Favorite Holiday Lights, Ever

Do you believe in science?
Spotted on a house nearby. Does someone work at, say, MIT? E.J. Graff Holiday lights got scientific in Boston with this double-helix display.

Identical Twins: One Boy, One Girl

In July 1984, three high school kids tossed Charlie Howard off a Bangor, Maine, bridge, to his death, for being gay. The boys spent some time in juvenile detention; one later wrote a book called Penitence and spoke about accepting diversity to ease his remorse. (When I started dating the woman who is now my wife, she found that book on my shelves and turned ghostly white. In her history class at Bangor High, she told me, she sat behind one of the killers. She was out at the time. You can imagine how she felt when, as she recalls, the town rallied around the killers.) The national news media didn't notice homos at the time, but the news of Charlie Howard's death scorched the lesbian and gay community. It was the Matthew Shepard story of its day. Charlie was what we then called a "flamer"; now we'd probably call him transgendered. I thought of Charlie as I read Bella English's Boston Globe story this weekend about twin boys in Orono , Maine—just a few miles up from Bangor, about two...

Romney Meets Veteran

Stop me if you've heard this one before. So Mitt Romney sits down next to a grizzled, flannel-shirt-wearing Vietnam vet in hyper-conservative Manchester, New Hampshire, and asks him about his service. It's a softball, right, made for the TV cameras? Wrong : But 63-year-old Bob Garon wanted to talk about gays in the military—because he is a gay veteran. Garon was sitting in a booth across from his husband, Bob Lemire, at Chez Vachon, a must-stop diner for politicians looking for votes in the New Hampshire primary. Garon and Lemire eat there nearly every morning. The owners call them "The Bobs." Surrounded by a crush of TV cameras, Romney asked Garon about his tour in Vietnam. But Garon asked if Romney would support efforts to repeal the New Hampshire law that legalized gay marriage in the state and allowed him and Lemire to marry. As the old slogan had it, we're everywhere. This is why we're gonna win. Even grizzled Vietnam vets want their husbands to have equal protection under the...

Occupy This!

ICYMI: The thoughtful Ruth Rosen outlines how the Occupy movement has changed the national consciousness and conversation here , giving us important new language for the yawning wealth divide. Meanwhile, Berkeley labor economist Sylvia Allegreto picks up the new terminology to point out that six Waltons = the bottom 30 percent . Ouch.