But first . . .

don’t forget the flowers, candy or card
(Happy Valentine, Sweetness)

Speaking of which (thanks, Roger) . . .

1. HER DIARY

Tonight I thought he was acting weird.

We had made plans to meet at a bar to have a drink. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment. Conversation wasn’t flowing so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed but he kept quiet and absent. I asked him what was wrong; he said nothing. I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said it had nothing to do with me and not to worry.

On the way home I told him that I loved him, he simply smiled and kept driving. I can’t explain his behavior. I don’t know why he didn’t say I love you too. When we got home I felt as if I had lost him, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there and watched T.V. He seemed distant and absent.

Finally, I decided to go to bed. About 10 minutes later he came to bed, and to my surprise he responded to my caress and we made love, but I still felt that he was distracted and his thoughts were somewhere else.

He fell asleep – I cried. I don’t know what to do. I’m almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.

2. HIS DIARY

I shot the worst round of golf in my life today, but at least I got laid.

And since it is a day for true love . . .

Yet one more reason to spend less than $1 a week on Times Select – namely, so you can read columns like this:

February 10, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Ex-Gay Cowboys
By DAN SAVAGE
Seattle

FIRST, a little of that full disclosure stuff: I have not actually seen “Brokeback Mountain” or “End of the Spear,” both of which I’m going to discuss here.

But since when did not seeing a film prevent anyone from sharing his or her strong opinions about it? Before the posters for “Brokeback Mountain” were even printed, everyone from the blogger Mickey Kaus to the Concerned Women for America to gay men all over the country had already said a lot about the film. (Their opinions were, respectively, con, con and pro.)

So, let’s get to it: Remember when straight actors who played gay were the ones taking a professional risk? Those days are over. Shortly after Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, both straight, received Oscar nominations for playing gay cowboys in “Brokeback Mountain,” conservative Christians were upset when they learned that a gay actor, Chad Allen, was playing a straight missionary in “End of the Spear.”

“End of the Spear” tells what happened after five American missionaries were murdered in 1956 by a tribe in Ecuador. Instead of seeking retribution, the missionaries’ families reached out to the tribe, forgave the killers and eventually converted them to Christianity. An evangelical film company, Every Tribe Entertainment, brought the story to the screen. In a glowing review, Marcus Yoars, a film critic for Focus on the Family, noted that the “martyrdom” of the slain missionaries has “inspired thousands if not millions of Christians.” But after conservatives took a closer look at the cast list, the protests began. Many felt Chad Allen’s presence in the film negated any positive message.

The pastors claim they’re worried about what will happen when their children rush home from the movies, Google Chad Allen’s name, and discover that he’s a “gay activist.” (“Gay activist” is a term evangelicals apply to any homosexual who isn’t a gay doormat.) They needn’t be too concerned. Straight boys who have unsupervised access to the Internet aren’t Googling the names of middle-aged male actors gay or straight – not when Paris Hilton’s sex tapes are still out there.

Frankly, I can’t help but be perplexed by the criticisms of Mr. Allen from the Christian right. After all, isn’t playing straight what evangelicals have been urging gay men to do?

That’s precisely what Jack and Ennis attempt to do in “Brokeback Mountain” – at least, according to people I know who have actually seen the film. These gay cowboys try, as best they can, to quit one another. They marry women, start families. But their wives are crushed when they realize their husbands don’t, and can’t, ever really love them. “Brokeback Mountain” makes clear that it would have been better for all concerned if Jack and Ennis had lived in a world where they could simply be together.

That world didn’t exist when Jack and Ennis were pitching tents together, but it does now – even in the American West. Today, the tiny and stable percentage of men who are gay are free to live openly, and those who want to settle down and start families can do so without having to deceive some poor, unsuspecting woman.

Straight audiences are watching and loving “Brokeback Mountain” – that’s troubling to evangelical Christians who have invested a decade and millions of dollars promoting the notion that gay men can be converted to heterosexuality, or become “ex-gay.” It is, they insist, an ex-gay movement, although I’ve never met a gay man who was moved to join it.

This “movement” demands more from gay men than simply playing straight. Once a man can really pass as ex-gay – once he’s got some Dockers, an expired gym membership and a bad haircut – he’s supposed to become, in effect, an ex-gay missionary, reaching out to the hostile gay tribes in such inhospitable places as Chelsea and West Hollywood.

What should really trouble evangelicals, however, is this: even if every gay man became ex-gay tomorrow, there still wouldn’t be an ex-lesbian tomboy out there for every ex-gay cowboy. Instead, millions of straight women would wake up one morning to discover that they had married a Jack or an Ennis. Restaurant hostesses and receptionists at hair salons would be especially vulnerable.

Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals really believe that gay men can go straight. If they don’t think Chad Allen can play straight convincingly for 108 minutes, do they honestly imagine that gay men who aren’t actors can play straight for a lifetime? And if anyone reading this believes that gay men can actually become ex-gay men, I have just one question for you: Would you want your daughter to marry one?

Evangelical Christians seem sincere in their desire to help build healthy, lasting marriages. Well, if that’s their goal, encouraging gay men to enter into straight marriages is a peculiar strategy. Every straight marriage that includes a gay husband is one Web-browser-history check away from an ugly divorce.

If anything, supporters of traditional marriage should want gay men out of the heterosexual marriage market entirely. And the best way to do that is to see that we’re safely married off – to each other, not to your daughters. Let gay actors like Chad Allen only play it straight in the movies.

Dan Savage is the editor of The Stranger, a Seattle newsweekly.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

And now . . .

SMART AND SIMPLE FINANCIAL STRATEGIES FOR BUSY PEOPLE

This is the title of my friend Jane Bryant Quinn’s new book. Jane, in case you didn’t know, is a wonderfully practical, responsible, engaging financial writer. If you are interested enough in your finances to want to be handling them sensibly – but not interested in spending even an hour more than that – this book is a very good choice.

Of course, if this does describe you, then you must be here largely for the politics. Or else it doesn’t describe you, and you want to get rich faster. That’s not really what this next item is about, but it seemed like a good way to draw you in.

GETTING RICHER FASTER

Andy Frank: ‘I suspect the Republican tax cuts for the rich are more a tool than an end in themselves. My suspicion is that their primary goal is a dismantling of the last century’s programs that help the poor. As they cannot come right out and say this, they first institute tax cuts which most people shortsightedly approve. These tax cuts result in a large deficit. Then, to reduce the deficit, we see these reductions in programs that help the poor. The result is one entirely against the religious teachings most Republicans claim to be guided by.’

☞ Bingo. (Except that they could have achieved the same goal slashing middle class taxes. Instead, most of the tax reduction went to people at the top. So it’s not just moving back to a more Darwinian, every man for himself, pre-F.D.R. sort of arrangement. A lot of it really is about helping the very rich – who during the Clinton era were already getting richer faster than everyone else – to get richer faster still.)

In fairness, I don’t think even the coldest-hearted Republican wants to hurt the poor. They just don’t see why it’s their problem. And/or, they just think that people will be stronger and do better if they are forced to provide for themselves.

Because they are right about this much: You don’t always do someone a favor by making him dependent on you. But where welfare-to-work (signed by President Clinton) was, I think, needed to correct the unintended consequences of good intentions gone awry, so many other Republican positions – freezing the minimum wage for ten years while executive pay doubles; opposing hikes to the earned income tax credit while more than halving the tax on dividends; cutting student aid while providing tax breaks for the purchase of $100,000 Hummers – are not about encouraging poor people to boost themselves up, they are about the rich taking care of their golfing partners.

Did you know that, adjusted for the cost of living, the minimum wage today is 28% lower than it was in 1956?

It is a grand time to be rich and powerful in America – and the Republicans want more. For one thing, they want to eliminate the federal tax on giant estates. (Your estate is not at issue here – it will either be entirely untaxed, as 98% of estates are, or else lightly taxed. Trust me: this is not about small family farms or your RotoRooter franchise.)

THE ESTATE TAX

Alex: ‘The problem with using Warren Buffett to argue for keeping the estate tax is that he plans to avoid it by leaving his assets to a foundation controlled by his family. When his wife died recently, less than 1% of her estate went to pay taxes. A similar situation exists with Bill Gates: he dodged the Gift Tax for his donations and wound up as ‘Person of the Year,’ when it could be argued he was the ‘Tax Avoider of the Year.’ If we’re going to have an Estate Tax, the rich should actually pay it: otherwise, we wind up with a situation where to paraphase Leona Helmsley, only the little people pay estate taxes.’

☞ Well stated, but I disagree. When someone ‘avoids’ the tax by giving 100% of his money to charity, that is a good, not a bad, social outcome. That person is throwing 100% back into the community chest rather than the 46% top rate (going down to 45% next year) currently required.

One might argue that Buffett’s or Gates’s giving choices won’t be as wise or sensibly prioritized as Congress’s would be. But I like the current system because I think (a) sometimes their choices will be even wiser; (b) at 100% instead of 45% they are giving back more than twice as much; (c) it gives them the personal freedom to make these choices themselves – unless their choice is to give their fortune to just a handful of the already best off (their own kids, say), in which case, yes, the community comes and grabs roughly half (above the first few million) as its share.

Buffett’s point is that the community deserves a share, because his success would not have been possible without the community. We are all building on, and benefiting from, the contributions and hard work of millions and millions of people who came before us, and who joined in what – for all its precious individual freedoms and opportunities, which I cherish as much as the next guy – is in many ways a shared effort.

Another point Buffett and others have made is that eliminating the estate tax would widen the gap between the plutocrats and everyone else, widen the power gap between the very-rich top fraction of one percent and everyone else . . . and concentrate capital in the hands not of those most talented at deploying it (like Buffett himself), who have gained control of it by their talent and drive, but rather in the hands of (typically) off-spring who may be chips off the old block – but who may not be. Buffett, I think, believes meritocracies are likely to provide more prosperity for large numbers of people than aristocracies or plutocracies will.

The final point I can imagine Alex wanting me to address is the difference between giving it all away at once – to the Red Cross or to Tulane or wherever else – versus the giving it to a foundation that bears your name and retains control of much of the money for what may be perpetuity (doling out only income, rather than principal, from the fund).

For all the world’s pressing needs, I, for one, am really happy there are endowed institutions like the Ford Foundation and, yes, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (and, one day, the Buffett Foundation), that take the long view, largely immune from political pressure. To the extent their boards may do a less wise job than Congress would have done in allocating their resources, I say again, well: better to get 100% than just 45%, so there’s a pretty good margin of error.

So to me, the case for retaining the estate tax more or less where it ends up in 2009 – a 45% top rate on estates over $3.5 million – if you index that limit for inflation (and recognizing that with by-pass trusts the $3.5 million becomes, in effect, $7 million) is overwhelming. And the relentless push by the Republican leadership to cut the rate to zero – while they are totally entitled to favor this – speaks volumes about their priorities and their vision. Are you sure this is the party you are comfortable with? It’s taken an awfully sharp turn to the right, even as the leadership of the Democratic Party, over the last couple of decades, has moved pretty much to the center.

SO?

Don Rudolph: ‘When in Hell are the Democrats going to stand together and fight back?’

☞ An excellent topic for tomorrow.

 

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