More Covey home movies

Grandpa at wedding

While moving our father out of his apartment, we found a DVD labeled “Angevine Video”, which turned out to be more home movies from the 1960s. It must have been a gift to him from my Aunt Pearline’s family. I don’t know whether he’s seen them; I’ll show them to him the next time I’m with him.

There’s a lot of footage of my grandfather and his family at home (and at the mine and cemetery) in Rachel, some of what we think is Bob Hartzell’s wedding, and a brief glimpse of our family in Mannington (15:50). What else can you spot?

I’ve never seen my grandfather in motion before. Many, many thanks to whomever put this together. :-)

The Days of Anna Madrigal

The Days of Anna Madrigal book cover

(This is a copy of a Goodreads review.)

Three stars for this one, four for the whole series. If you’ve been thinking of dipping your toe into the world of Barbary Lane, this is what I’d suggest (with the caveat that I’m relying on memories of when I read some of these years ago):

If you haven’t read Tales of the City, you should. It’s wonderful. If you’ve read Tales of the City, you have to read More Tales of the City, which pays off storylines from the first book.

Further Tales of the City is our intrepid band of friends off on more adventures. If you’ve really gotten into it, read it. If not, you can get by on reading a Wikipedia summary.

Read the opening of Babycakes. After that, the rest of it and all of Significant Others are just more of the same. Fun, but non-essential. Read summaries if you like.

Read Sure of You. It’s wonderfully written and brings the opening of the first book full circle in a way that’s devastating, but real and honest and true to the characters.

Then take a break and let it soak in and pretend you thought that was the end of it and waited twenty years like the rest of us. Then read Michael Tolliver Lives. It’s a joy, and reading the truth (or one of the truths) about what happened at the end of Sure of You was the second time the books had me weeping.

Read Mary Ann in Autumn. It beautifully finishes the work of cleaning up the mess left behind by the original series, including tying up plotlines from the very first book.

If you’ve come this far, read The Days of Anna Madrigal. It’s fitting that Anna should get the final spotlight, though the rest of the cast didn’t need to be pushed to the sidelines quite so cavalierly. Mary Ann, in particular, the one we loved so much so many decades ago, should have Maupin in Family Court on charges of neglect. Anna’s story is strong and worthy of her, but the rest is like being at a party where you see your oldest and dearest friends on the other side of the room, but the host ties you the whole time to a few new acquaintances.

I’m glad he’s had the integrity to close the story here despite apparently being tempted to continue writing more about the new characters (who are not nearly so compelling as the old). I wish we had a more satisfying conclusion for all the Barbary Lane residents together, but the graceful benediction of Anna is gift and satisfaction and happiness enough.

Two Spirits

Two Spirits

When I saw Little Big Man years ago, I had mixed feelings. I almost wished Dustin Hoffman wasn’t in it. I thought it was one of his worse performances, bouncing between clownish and Capital-A Actory, and his character took up most of the time while being the least interesting part of the story. When you removed him and all the paint-by-numbers scenes in the White community, though, I thought that what was left was a marvelously nuanced, human, and warm-hearted depiction of one Indian society, with both pathos and a lot of good humor. Chief Dan George was unforgettable, and the rest of the Indian cast fleshed out a captivating vision of Cheyenne life that was not so much better or worse than White culture than it was just wonderfully different, and tragic in its loss. It was like Things Fall Apart for the Plains.

Of natural interest to me was the inclusion of a gay character who was understood and respected and given a place of honor in his tribe. It was my first introduction to the history of LGBT people in pre-Columbian American societies. When the Supreme Court ruled on DOMA last year, I thought back to this, and wondered whether marriage equality was truly something new on this continent, or if we were just returning to a status quo that had existed before the European invasion. After just a little Googling, I found some articles documenting that gay couples had indeed been happily married members of their communities right on this spot, centuries before Stonewall. I also found links to a documentary about contemporary LGBT Indians and their attempts to reclaim a past which, like much that was good in traditional cultures, was wiped out of memory by missionaries and boarding schools. I just got a notification that it’s streaming on Amazon Prime, and watched it today.

Two Spirits bears a lot of similarities to The New Black, which came out last week. Both are one-hour documentaries distributed by PBS, both deal with the status of gay people within minority communities, and both use a specific current event as their framework. That’s a convenient narrative device, but I was again left wanting more, wanting a longer-form piece with time to take a broader view and tell more stories. In this case, I would gladly have spent another hour getting to know the leaders of the Two Spirit movement, learning about their backgrounds and the response to their activism.

I’d also have liked to have heard more about the legacy of European cultural assimilation. In the African-American community, one of the great undiscussed ironies is that Europeans kidnapped Africans, indoctrinated them with Christianity, and used it as the justification for why they should accept their status as sub-human property, and now their descendants have adopted Christianity and are using it to justify treating their own brothers and sisters and sons and daughters as undeserving of equal rights. The New Black never touched on this. Two Spirits talked about the European conquerors’ violent reactions to gay-inclusive Indian societies and touched very briefly on homophobia among contemporary Fundamentalist Christian Indians, but there’s a lot more to be told about how White prejudices replaced traditional acceptance and how contemporary gay Indians have had to rediscover and reclaim their heritage.

I don’t mean to belittle this effort. It’s an important start, and I hope it will be a catalyst for more ambitious work in this area. It’s definitely worth a look if you want something short to round out your Pride Month viewing.

freshmeat.net, 1997-2014

freshmeat logo

A former coworker pointed me to the news today that freshmeat has suddenly ceased operations. I spent the rest of the day flooded with memories and the urge to jot a few of them down before they’re lost. Perhaps they’ll have some nostalgia value if you were part of that scene in those days.

I was the first hire when freshmeat was bought by Andover.net in 1999, and enjoyed the privilege of working with Patrick (scoop), Daniel, Steve, and the rest of the crew for the last fifteen years. I managed the site and the staff on a day-to-day basis, provided customer support, and wrote and solicited articles. I was on salary there until finally caught by one of the rounds of layoffs in 2010, then came back as a contractor within a year and remained on the staff until I quit just three weeks ago.

For anyone interested, here’s freshmeat’s history from my perspective (I joined it two years into its life). First, the corporate story that shaped its path:

Keeping letterhead companies in business

Andover Technologies (if memory serves) became Andover.net, which was bought by VA Research, which became VA Linux Systems, which became VA Linux, which became VA Software, which became SourceForge. This mother company bought or invented websites and bundled them into a media branch called OSDN, which became OSTG, which became Geeknet, into which SourceForge folded before it was all sold to Dice.

Did I forget any steps there? It was a dizzying shell game. Generously, you might say the name changed each time a new direction was chosen. You might also say it was to distract from the fact that the latest strategy flopped yet again.

The awkward, meandering path traced all the way back to the first, strange acquisition by VA Research, rumored to have been made just because the CEO thought it would be cool to own Slashdot. (Robin says it was to stop development of Patrick’s SourceForge competitor Server 51, and Eric Raymond has another version in the comments below.) VA sold hardware running Linux. The question of what that had to do with a Web publishing company was… never answered. They became the corporate face of Linux, acquiring linux.com and issuing a record-setting IPO as LNUX. They hired some of the best Linux programmers and kernel hackers and bought Andover, and we all sat around looking at each other and waiting to be told what we were supposed to be doing together. I don’t remember anyone ever even pretending there was an answer. At best, they acted mysterious, as though some grand master plan would eventually be revealed.

VA wanted to be the Dell of Linux, but when it became clear that Dell wanted to be the Dell of Linux, they got out of the hardware business and became a software company. I don’t know what they did at this point, besides some consulting. They eventually decided to take one of the sites, SourceForge, productize it as a self-hosted source code repository, and sell support for it. After that ran its course, the media group became all that was left, and they sold it off to what I assume was just the highest bidder.

In short? Picture a stream that starts as Andover, broadens into various tangential adventures, then shrinks and winds back into itself again, renamed Geeknet.

(By the way, if you’re curious, I was never privy to any numbers, but always heard that ThinkGeek, the online retailer, was by far the most (only?) profitable part of the business for years on end.)

First hill on the rollercoaster

As a side benefit of my job, I got to see a bit of history unfolding in the form of the Dotcom boom, when money was flowing and people were looking around for places to throw it like Brewster trying to shed his millions. Image was king, and everyone was out to impress everyone else. They would fly the entire company to trade shows and put us up in over-the-top hotels so people in business suits could walk by and puzzle over a booth full of people on beanbag chairs staring down into laptops. Each night, a different company would try to outdo the others with a lavish party designed for frat boys that would fall feebly at the feet of a Dungeons & Dragons crowd.

Patrick was in Germany, so I went around the country to represent freshmeat at the corporate meetings every few months, where we would sit around and discuss new strategies for integrating the company’s sites that we all knew would never be implemented.

Thankfully, the corporate heads never sought to exert any real influence on the content and running of freshmeat (thanks in part to Editor-in-Chief Robin running interference), so I think we followed the same direction we would have taken if it had just remained Patrick’s pet project. At our height, we attracted an enthusiastic community of users we enjoyed serving and chatting with each day.

Slouching towards 404

After the bubble burst, the days of meeting face-to-face were largely over, and we had less and less communication with headquarters over time. We’d never really had a place in the company, and now became even more isolated. The fact that they left us alone became a double-edged sword, more and more so as VA/SourceForge/Geeknet contracted and interest in taking on new endeavors or giving new life to old ones disappeared. We did get enough investment in our cause to put out the third version of the site in 2009, this time a complete rewrite of the code, but that was our last hoorah. We slowly settled into a shadow of our former self.

It’s certainly been five years — probably closer to ten — since I had any contact with anyone at the corporate office (where “any” means “any”), aside from when I was laid off and Jeff, sweet as ever, very kindly called me in person to break the news.

I heard about Dice’s purchase of Geeknet two years ago when a coworker spotted it on Slashdot, and that’s about as much communication as I’ve ever had with them. They’ve been a black box from which paychecks flow.

Just over a year ago, Patrick told us he was leaving. He’d been put to work on SourceForge for the previous 18 months, and it was clear that the plans he’d proposed for freshmeat (can we all agree to still call it that?) had little chance of attracting interest and the resources to implement them.

What never was

Corporate disinterest aside, freshmeat could clearly never continue as it was. It was a relic in an age of app stores and distribution package systems and source repositories with their own RSS feeds. It needed to be reimagined to be relevant again. How to do that would have been an interesting challenge I would have enjoyed working on. I’m sorry we never got the chance.

My timely departure

For the last couple of years, Ray, Joel, and myself have been the last of the long, colorful line of editors keeping freshmeat updated around the clock. (Our apologies if it’s been not quite so around-the-clock lately, but that’s half the staff of the good old days.) I’ve had serious problems with my neck and back this whole time, and finally decided last month that I needed to lay off using the computer so much if I was ever going to really recover. I told the other two, and Ray said he was planning to leave also, so we may as well find replacements for us both.

Three weeks ago, I finished my last day at freshmeat, having no idea how soon it would be the last day for everyone.

A sudden goodbye

I’m quite sorry about how abruptly things came to an end. At least one new staff member had trained to replace me and Ray and was awaiting his paperwork to join the company, and learned that he wouldn’t be getting it when the site locked him out and the “Closed” banner appeared across the top. I’ve seen several people lament that they’ve lost personal data like their list of favorite projects. I really regret this. It would have been handled so much more responsibly in Patrick’s day.

I especially regret that Patrick wasn’t included in the decision and that a more tasteful ending couldn’t have been arranged. The latest owners are just the custodians of a legacy built on years of work by a lot of good people. freshmeat has a hard-earned history we can all take pride in. It deserved a more dignified end than just flipping off the lights.

So long, so many thanks

Those are my recollections of our little footnote in the Web’s history. I hope they bring back some good memories and offer some answers about what happened. It was a privilege to be a part of freshmeat. Thank you to Robin for bringing me into the fold, to all the users who supported us and made us feel we were doing something special, and to the fun and diligent coworkers I looked forward to chatting with each day. Above all, thanks to Patrick, a great boss and friend who did more good than we’ll ever know.

The New Black

TheNewBlackLogo

When I first came out and started learning about gay life in the 1990s, I had a couple of eye-opening experiences. One concerned how little cooperation and socializing there were between gay men and lesbians (something I only recently found historic roots for in After Stonewall). The second came from my naive assumption that most African Americans were strongly behind us. After all they had gone through to secure legal protections, and with the 50s and 60s still in living memory, how could they help but stand behind the successors of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement and the Gay Rights Movement?

I only had to meet a few black gay men (when you could find them — most were buried way back in the closet) to find out how wrong I’d been. They’d faced as much fear of rejection as any of us. Those who had come from religious families felt an even more complete break from their past and need to form what Maupin dubbed a “logical” family.

So I was interested to hear that a new documentary was coming to PBS for Pride Month which delves into this issue, especially since it was set in my former home State of Maryland. (I moved away in 2011, so I missed the 2012 marriage equality fight, and was glad to get to see some of it here.) Question 6 (the Maryland analog of California’s famous Proposition 8) provides a dramatic framework through which the director follows a few activists (mostly, but not entirely, on the pro-rights side) and their discussions with friends and family. A few forays into the cultural and religious background and how we got here flesh out a well-paced hour which left me wanting more. This is a great, thoughtful start, and there’s a definite gap to be filled by a longer film which could do for this material what For the Bible Tells Me So did for Fundamentalism, with more time to spend on the history and personal stories.

I have to admit that it got more than a little musty in the room when I heard the first black president of our country mention Stonewall alongside Selma.

It’s streaming for free on PBS’s website until July 6th, and is available through their iOS and Apple TV apps (I watched it on my iPad).

If you need some more Pride viewing, Brother Outsider (streaming on Netflix) is also worth a watch. It’s a sad history of the time when someone of breathtaking talent could be used to help the cause… until his identity became a liability and backs had to turn to him. How good to be in a time when so many stories have happier endings.

Hiatus

While I’ve been fairly active on Twitter, I haven’t posted anything on my website since last Fall but an essay I’d actually written… last Fall. My neck and back have continued to hurt, and I’ve had to avoid spending more than the least possible time sitting at a computer or even sitting and writing by hand. It got so bad and seemed so unending that I started seeing a chiropractor in May, and submitting to the terrifying neck-twisting treatment I tried so long to avoid.

The combination of adjustments, a lot of exercise, and more time offline seem to have pushed me in a good direction. I made the leap of quitting my job three weeks ago. It seemed as though I was always making a little progress, then undoing it all when I sat down to work, and if I didn’t knock it off, someday I’d be unable to ever work again in the way I’ve traditionally done. I’m trying to cut back, cut back, cut back, and strike a healthier balance of physical to digital life.

As a result, I may find more time to jot down things I want to share and post them here. If not, try to take that as a good sign that I’m behaving myself and am outside somewhere getting the body going again!

Hope this finds you well and happy with a great Summer/Winter ahead.

The Pope

(I orginally scribbled this down when I read Ross’s post last September. The busy last months made me set it aside until now.)

Pope Francis

A post from Alex Ross pointed me to a summary of a recent interview with the new Pope. I should get around to reading the full transcript when I have time, but if the excerpts in the Times are genuinely representative, I find it extremely encouraging. I think I remember hearing about a new Pope being elected months ago, but didn’t know anything about him. After the even greater disappointment of John Paul’s successor, I guess I assumed he would be more of the same, that the deeply-entrenched interests in Rome would continue to line up candidates to preserve an ever-bleaker status quo, and I didn’t bother to look. If something fresh is in the wind, it’s very good news indeed.

It’s caused me to reflect on my own relationship with the Church over the years. I was raised Catholic, growing up in a Church which had emerged from Vatican II both uncertain and alive with possibilities, and I watched it descend into contraction and reactionary conservatism. By the time I began an independent life, it had become a paradox to me. It had an embarrassment of riches to offer — millennia of uplifting literature, boundless gifts of prayer and meditation, sacraments which I saw enrich my life and so many others — and it made them all background noise to relentless insistence that its members renounce all independent thought and proclaim to the world that being Catholic meant they endorse without reservation every pronouncement which flowed out of Rome.

I watched John Paul II pay lip service to messages of love and kindness while condemning whole populations which fell outside his narrow, often Medieval conceptions of propriety. Several years after I’d left the Church, the final nail in the coffin of my estrangement came when I heard on the radio that John Paul had issued an order that not only could women never be priests, but that it was forbidden to Catholics to even discuss the possibility.

What was the Catholic to do when his beloved Church had reverted to a Fascist State? It was a purely hypothetical question for me — I was long gone — but the answer I saw for many Catholic friends over and over again was the obvious one. They went to Church, cherished the good it had to offer, listened to nonsense when they had to, kept their opinions to themselves, and encouraged one another to wait it out.

For myself, my move to Buddhism wasn’t really a move at all. It just offered a home where I could continue the practices of meditation which were so meaningful to me without the overlay of rules and regulations which were not only meaningless but which so often contradicted the clear ways of compassion in a mindful life. It wasn’t a conversion, it was an attempt at preservation of the heart of true religion while dropping a bunch of unnecessary clutter. Many others have done the same while staying within the Church, by embracing all the fundamental goodness and quietly ignoring all the politics and theatrics. I could have done that as well, but found in Zen a community of sincere dedication to practice which was right for me.

Over the years, I met many former Catholics who came to Zen viciously reeling against Christianity and loudly proclaiming how perfect Buddhism was. They rarely lasted. They were usually running from something, but not yet to anything, and wandered off when sitting on cushions turned out to be a lot of work. I wondered sometimes whatever became of them. I hoped they’d kept wandering until they’d reached some perspective, until they realized that Buddhism is perfect and Christianity is perfect, we Buddhists and Christians often not so much.

Since circumstances have forced me back into my family’s life, I’ve had opportunities to attend a number of Masses, and got some impressions of the state of the Church today. I’ve found it profoundly depressing to watch humble and earnest people trying to reconcile lives of striving for kindness and love within an institution espousing prejudice and corruption. In my more cynical and unbecoming moments, I confess I’ve fantasized of redesigning of the weekly collection envelopes with three checkboxes: “Please earmark my donation to support misogyny [ ], homophobia [ ], pedophilia [ ].” (Sadly, similar unhelpful sarcasm could justly be aimed at a number of Buddhist institutions.) The tragedy is that all the tools are in place to support a genuine and vibrant spirituality born out of centuries of remarkable men and women’s daily commitment to deepening the faith, just as the tools are in place in Islam, even for Muslims who ignore them in a rush to use their religion to condemn infidels, in Judaism for the Jew who uses them to disdain Gentiles, in Buddhism for the Buddhist who ridicules Christians.

The unique challenge I see for Catholicism (and perhaps a few other denominations I don’t know as well, such as the Episcopal church) is its hierarchy. I don’t know of any other religious institution which is so unbendingly an institution, so uniform in rigid prescriptions across its global congregation. In Buddhism in America, we’ve suffered from the opposite extreme, with decentralization leading to scandal after scandal in which lives are destroyed when practice centers turn into cults built around teachers who exploit their positions, with no one above them to step in and stop the abuses. We’ve scrambled inadequately to erect means of responding based on inter-sangha communication and peer pressure, and are still groping to find our way.

In the last few years, I’ve been exposed to a half dozen Catholic priests. I’ve listened as readings of rich and invigorating and challenging scriptures were followed by sermons by men who hadn’t given the least serious thought to them or allowed themselves to be opened the slightest crack by them, and I’ve enjoyed the contagious enthusiasm of others who have found in them pathways to wonder and humility and service. The dilemma is that, at the end of the day, both are bound by the same law and dogma. The best-intentioned priest does what he can to minister well, but will ultimately be reduced to admitting to the woman who wants to find a place in the Church that the highest position she can reach will always be subservient to a man, to counseling the mother of too many children that she must welcome more she can’t possibly afford, to telling the gay teen he will always be a second class citizen, condemned and damned if he finds someone to love.

Anarchy has failed to protect American Buddhists. Oligarchy has crushed too many Catholics. Maybe some of the Protestant denominations have found a healthy path, with common guidelines shared by local congregations who democratically elect and rotate ministers and leaders. Maybe the decentralization of Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism has allowed them to marginalize extremists in fringe sects while providing homes for the general body of practitioners within larger groupings which offer a variety of approaches to fit the variety of people’s needs and temperaments. Study of the many means of organizing and disorganizing among the faiths maybe instructive in finding a way forward.

Buddhism in America suffers from its lack of (local) tradition, Catholicism from its heavy burden of suffocating conformity. Short of a cataclysmic revolution, the Catholic Church will likely remain a thoroughly top-down institution for a long time to come. As long as that remains the case, the best Catholics can hope for is the best possible example shining from the top. I’m gladdened and filled with hope if we’re truly seeing signs that real open-hearted humanity is beginning to emerge from Rome for the first time in 50 years.