Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Queer...

By Pat Rossiter YOUTH Forum Program Manager

Five of my friends, when I served in the military in 2000-2004, left the service on, what we affectionately referred to as a “rainbow chit.” A chit is a naval term to denote a piece of official paperwork. A rainbow is the spectrum of colors gays see the world in. (Sorry straight people for your beige walls and gray suits.) Put them together and you have a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law has been in place for over fifteen years and in that time, according to the Service member’s Legal Defense Network, 12,500 service members have been released. 800 of those were mission critical specialists, including pilots, intelligence analysts and linguists. I and my friends, were linguists.

When the first of my friends went, he had been one of several in a string of linguists to leave from The Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. (Tough duty right?) In response, the navy Command called a muster and we 450 students and staff gathered in a large auditorium. Our Command Master Chief strode out on to the stage. He was large and could be imposing.

He started by saying he was very disappointed in some or other hijinks that had gone on. In truth, his audience was almost entirely 18 or 19 year olds with all the hormones, energy and enthusiasm as every other college freshman, with the added benefit of lots of disposable income and EASY access to alcohol. We studied hard. We partied harder.

After this, he went on to what he really wanted to address: “fagging out” of the navy. I sat cautiously, trying not to be too interested and not too disinterested in what he was saying. It went something like, “By now, you’ve all heard about certain parties leaving the command. Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to us that some of you may try and take advantage of this situation. Let me put it this way, if you come into my office claiming to be gay, you’d better be prepared to prove it.”

In the silence of the room full of people, there was one loud guffaw.

I desperately tried to muffle my laugh as the CMC glared down at me and 898 eyes bore into the back of my head. I’m sure I’m not the only one that played out a pornographic scene in their mind at the words, “prove it.” (OK, maybe I was.) In any case, I do know that I did find the whole situation much funnier that most everybody else there.

To the young queer service members, DADT was like the Sword of Damocles, dangling over their head for the moment at which they would say the wrong thing, drop the wrong pronoun, name the wrong bar, be caught looking. They lived in fear of sharing too much about themselves.

Meanwhile, for the Command, there was another fear: that the young queer service members would out themselves. It did not take me long to figure out that the military, like so much else in the world, revolves around money. The training of a linguist is extraordinarily expensive. It costs roughly $100,000 for someone to attend the language school for one year. That’s an awful lot of cash to flush down the toilet because Seaman Stains walks into the Command Master Chief’s office and says, “I’m a homo and I want out.”

I had another friend in the Air Force who, upon delivering his letter stating his proclivity to musical theatre and Prada shoes, was begged by a Colonel to take it back. My friend is a Chinese linguist and they are not only in short supply but take forever to train new ones. By bringing the DADT law to bear, he was putting this Colonel’s Command’s operational ability in jeopardy. One Chinese linguist can make all the difference.

President Obama made the repeal of DADT a plank in his platform while campaigning last year. We are still embroiled on two major fronts. The Army is now accepting 42 year old, felony offending, high-functioning mental deficients into its ranks to meet recruiting quotas, yet the Pentagon is STILL fighting to keep DADT. Our partners in Iraq, the British Military accepts gay service members. Israel and 23 other nations allow openly gay service members and they seem to still be able to fight. Dozens of former military leaders including John Shalikashvili , Retired Army General and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have come out for repeal of DADT.

Most important though is this: I served with another friend who was (how do I put this delicately?) queer as a three dollar bill. Like, swish-swish-swish-goes-the-crinoline gay. He used to bring a pink “Princess” coffee mug to class with him and while it was slightly maddening to the most Gung-ho types, no one, in truth, cared. He was a really great linguist. And, if the military is nothing else, it is a meritocracy. You advance based on how well you do your job.

The argument in the Pentagon has always been this: Out homosexuals will damage morale and unit cohesion. As a gay service member who spent four years having to lie to my colleagues, edit nearly every conversation and curtail relationships with them so that I could be with other gay men and women, that argument isn’t merely wrong, but completely contrary to the truth. Morale and unit cohesion are built on honesty and that simply isn’t possible in today’s military.

So, I say to Mr. Obama, it is time for all the gay servicemen and women to be honest with their comrades. It is time for partners to attend unit functions. It is time for proud gay patriots to be honored by their country. It is time for DADT to go away.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Free Hugs

By Pat Rossiter, YOUTH Forum Program Manager

There are people out there who hug. Huggers: the people who feel like the traditional clasping of hands, as a sign that you aren’t going to smash their head in with a rock or plunge a dagger in the neck, is simply not enough. They need an embrace.

I have been known to hug. I like them well enough but am I a hugger? I suppose that is a matter of degrees.

I recently attended True Colors LGBT Youth Conference, where it is fashionable to be a hugger. At least, it is so in theory. As a walked around I saw many kids whose awkwardness could not be more apparent. These were kids who, if given half a chance might jump out of their own body. You can likely remember being 14 years old and having a body that changed virtually every day; looking in the mirror at a face you didn’t recognize; clumsily dropping and tripping with hands and feet that were sizes to big. Now, imagine that teenaged body-image angst with the added delight of being gay or lesbian. Bad enough? Not yet! How about the transgender or inter-sexed kids? Their bodies are not merely unfamiliar, their bodies are the enemy.

So, plastered onto these bodies, in scrawled letters on some scavenged nametag, the phrase, “Free Hugs.” I had to wonder, what would one of these kids, already fragile from a short life of , in many cases, ridicule and self-loathing, do if a complete stranger were to hug them. I suppose it is the emotional equivalent of a roller coaster ride, where the anticipation and terrifying execution are a thrill, but in the end, you are pretty sure you will get off the ride at the end, puke in a garbage can and go on with your life. I decided not to make anybody puke.

I had a friend when I was stationed in Hawaii. Timmy-Mo we called him. He had the proud distinction of having, not once, not twice, but thrice being an E1 in the Marine Corps. After all, the Corps giveth and Corps taketh away and Timmy just couldn’t keep his chevrons. He tended to make “bad choices.” One of his habits was to hug. Not just a typical hug-slap-on-back-three-times-release man hug. No, Tim would hug…and then not let go. We all know there is an appropriate length of time for a hug. When he hugged, that time would come, then go and he would still be having a conversation with you in full embrace. This was Tim’s barometer I think. How you reacted to this would determine how his relationship with you might go.

A month or so after I met Tim for the first time, he gave me a hug. As we stood there, the clock started. One second, green light, everything is good. One and a half seconds, still ok. Two seconds , yellow light, starting to be uncomfortable. Two and a half seconds, something is terribly wrong. Three seconds, ABORT ABORT! Tim though, didn’t know who he was dealing with. He would hug just long enough for you to be uncomfortable, but then would let you go. The problem was, this time, I didn’t let him go. His arms relaxed and he started to move his body away. I held on. His arms fell to his side and he took a step back. I held on. He looked uncomfortable at the ceiling as I continued to chat. Finally he started to laugh and knew that he had been undone at his own game. I let him go, champion of the dueling huggers. We remain good friends. His barometer works.

No too long ago I met an Episcopal priest who I had gotten to know and become relatively close to. We shared an intense and trying experience. At the time for good-byes, I felt quite secure in offering a hug. This was returned with one of the creepiest things I have ever experienced, a “one arm hug.” OK, this is not a we-are-side-by-side-and-you-can’t-reach-around-with-your-other-arm one-armed-hug, this is an I-am-a-priest-and-I-don’t-want-to-be-accused-of-some-sexual-malfeasance one-armed-hug. When it was over, I felt dirty.

What kind of message does that send? Here’s what I got, loud and clear:

The priest had no real affection for me.

He assumed I was going to accuse him of something.

He was more interested in protecting himself than in providing comfort to others.

I can’t solely blame the priest for this; it was probably a policy from his Bishop. The irony is not lost on me however that the priest and likely the church are afraid to embrace the flock. And, if it is literal, it is probably figurative as well.

All that being said, am I a hugger? I still don’t know. Will I wear a sign? Hug you too long? Give you an ice-cold one-arm? Nope. But, if you ask, need some comfort and want the real thing. I’m here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Liddy... New York Times Publishes AIG Resignation Letter

Today The New York Times published the resignation letter written by Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of A.I.G’s financial products unit. The letter, addressed to the now notorious chief executive of A.I.G. Edward Liddy offers a candid and personal look behind the dark curtain of A.I.G., and makes us think that maybe, just maybe, there are some human emotions in there.

DEAR Mr. Liddy,

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Having Trouble with Twitter?

Have you found yourself in a tizzy trying to understand Twitter? Is your mind a flutter with the new lingo? not sure if you should tweet, twittle, or toot? Do you long to become a Twitterlebrity? You are not alone!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are We a Nation of Narcissists?

From Dictionary.com
nar⋅cis⋅sism [nahr-suh-siz-em]

1. inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.
2. Psychoanalysis. erotic gratification derived from admiration of one's own physical or mental attributes, being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.

Mirror mirror on the wall...

Are you following us on Twitter? Facebook? Have you checked us out on YouTube?

Wait...where was I?

Oh yes...Emily Yoffe's fascinating article over at Slate, "But Enough About You …What is narcissistic personality disorder, and why does everyone seem to have it?"

Somehow I suspect she's talking about me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Connecticut Labor Law to Blame for AIG Mess?

Oh no they didn't.

AIG using quirk in Connecticut law to defend bonuses

AIG Bonuses Required Under Connecticut Labor Law, Company Says

Connecticut in maelstrom: AIG blames state law for controversial bonuses

Yes folks, you read it right. AIG - a.k.a. American International Group or, according to Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., "Arrogance, Incompetence and Greed" - has gone and pinned the whole stimulus bonus mess on the state of Connecticut and our antiquated labor laws.

In other words, it's our fault.

WE'RE to blame...which reminds me of a song.

Edward Liddy and the rest of the AIG leadership team, this one's for you.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Alice Waters Talks Food on 60 Minutes

Is fresh, organic, locally-grown "slow" food a privilege or a right? What do you think?

Here's some food for thought, plucked fresh from the Internet: Alice Waters talks food with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You're getting sleepy...SLEEPY.

By Pat Rossiter, YOUTH Forum Program Manager

I should be in bed. No, really. I'm tired. It's late. Somehow though, here I sit writing and blog post. When I'm done with this I'll probably watch some TV, definitely check my email, breeze by my facebook feed and will likely be interrupted by an instant message which I will feel obligated to respond to.

All of it will be of some relative importance. I will need some time to clear my head so I can sleep and TV has a certain brain clearing effect. Email, facebook and instant messages from my friends, family and work convey important and relevant information.

If you know Steven Covey's 7 Habits (of Highly Effective People, of teens, of families, left handed midgets, the list goes on) you might remember the quadrant with important to unimportant on one axis and urgent to not urgent on the other. The plan is to take your tasks and put them in the right box. Rescue monkey from burning tree? This is both important and urgent so it should be done first. Pet kitten? Neither urgent nor important, then it can wait. (No offense to those who find petting kittens urgent and important....Sooner or later, I'm sure I will post something about service animals for nervous people.)

All that being said, I'm still a relatively good judge of what is important. What has degraded is my ability to distinguish between urgent and not. I like to consider myself a "digital native" and have lived most of my life under the watchful eyes of computers. Though, "What are you doing Dave?" while that big, creepy, red eye stares unblinking, still freaks me out. In my life time, we have gone from a rotary-dial, olive green, wall phone that I would run for out of fear of missing a call--If someone had called, surely it WAS important--to carrying around a "phone" which also will send pictures, text messages, will check my email and allows me to screen my calls and then, if need be check a voice mail....NOW! I know I'm not the only one.

The problem, or one of the problems at least, is that we are paying for this immediacy in lost hours of sleep. Big deal right? Well, actually it may actually be.

Feeling a little stressed? Maybe like you are descending into madness? Perhaps a nap?
How about the kids? Hyper? Out of Control? It's bedtime.

It seems obvious to me that the one single activity we do more than any other (thank you evolution) is probably pretty important for us.

So with that, yes, you guessed it, I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


By Pat Rossiter, CT YOUTH Forum Program Manager

When I was serving in the Navy and stationed in California, I did something that I am not proud of. It all started when a classmate of mine told me about something he had been doing since his youth in southern California. As he told me about it, my reluctance showed. He proceeded to question my manhood, said disparaging things about my upbringing and eventually harangued me into do it with him. 

A hour later we had made the drive north to the seedy(ier) side of San Jose. (Yes, I do know how to get there. Thank you Burt Bacharach.) We parked and walked in to a run down store front. An old Asian women sat us down under the harsh, green glare and penetrating buzz of fluorescent tubes. As we sat, she rattled off in Vietnamese. I looked up at her, and not having understood a word she said, smiled nervously and shot a pleading look at my friend. He grinned reassuringly, or perhaps with a sinister delight, and replied to the old woman, also in Vietnamese. This time, as his American accent was familiar to my ear, I made out two distinct words, "dac biet" and "xe lua." A wave of panic washed over me! Why would he have just said, "special," and "train?"

I began to protest, "Look, I don't know about this. I've never..." 

He cut me off. "Hey man, relax. I've been here so many times. Trust me, you'll love it. Do it just once and you are going to be hooked. You'll be back her every chance you can." 

That did not in fact reassure me in the slightest. I began to notice what was around me. There were instruments, strange and fascinating, covered in strange writing. And bottles filled with concoctions I could only imagine what they were. The others that were there, all Asian, some stared through bleary eyes and others sniggered through curled lips. The only ones that didn't were hunched over, moving in fits and starts and making horrible slurping sounds. 

In a moment, a beautiful young Vietnamese girl approached us and looking at me asked in broken English if I wanted the special? 

I nodded sheepishly.

She set before I and my friend two enormous bowls (the size of a "train") of the special phở. Phở, of course, being Vietnamese beef noodle soup. That day changed my life

Phở is THE quintessential Vietnamese dish. It is eaten three meals a day by young, old, rich, 
poor and everybody in between. And now, it is quickly becoming an American favorite as well. 

The secret to its success? Crack, or maybe opium. Seriously, this stuff is addictive. It is so
addictive its twelve-step program has thirteen steps. I have a friend who has to go to a wonton clinic so he can get off the hard stuff. What's worse, I am like a play ground dealer in it. "The first hit's for free, kid." I have taken all my friends and now they are all hooked. 

It has really been on my mind the last few weeks. I had a meeting in Middletown and managed to get to my old favorite joint called Phở Mai on Main Street. Anh Dzung and I have become friends from my trips there. We catch up on the lives of his kids and he and his wife's trips back to Vietnam. I made an impression on him, being the only white guy in Middletown who can say phở properly. 

That reminds me of another reason its been on my mind. I recently watched in horror as Emeril Lagase repeatedly referred to this nectar of the gods as "Phoh." I mean, why don't you plunge the feces covered sharpened pungee stake into the ear of this US Navy trained, cunning linguists ear? Please, for the love of Troi oi! It is pronounced phuh(?) Yes, just like a question. Vietnamese is a tonal language and with out the tone it is goobledy gook.  Please practice at home...

For the first time in nearly four years, I managed to have eaten phở twice in as many weeks. I had the delightful surprise of going out to lunch with my colleague and finding Phở 88 on New Park Ave in Hartford. It too was delightful and inspired me to lots of fits and starts and slurping. 

So, if you have eaten phở before, by now you are searching for your car keys and wallet and are headed to the nearst place (where ever it is). If not, then you should seriously be thinking about doing that yourself. Before you go though, some important info. 

There are lots of varieties of phở: Bo Vien (meatball), Tai (steak), Ga (chicken). If you want to be "real" about it though, there's only one thing to order, dac biet (the special). Depending on how authentic your restaurant is, this should include Meat balls, steak, flank, tendons, tripe and maybe a few other surprises. This is the connoisseurs choice. Tendon, tripe? YES! TRY IT! It is for your own good. 

Now, once that bowl arrives, have some patience and do this right. Along with your big steaming bowl will come a plate of basil, bean sprouts, hot peppers and lime. If you are lucky, you will be eating with someone who doesn't know better and you can take it all for yourself. That's right, throw it in your bowl. I like them all and lots of them. In truth, put in what ever you like and leave out what you don't. (more for me!)

Next, there will likely be little bowls available into which you should squirt some tuong ot (Srirraca Pepper Sauce, this is HOT) and some hoisin sauce. Now take a spoon and chop sticks. If you are uncouth, from South Vietnam or very hungry, start shoveling in! If you are dainty, from the North or not so hungry, load your spoon with some sauce and some meat, noodles, etc. and gently put it in your mouth. 

My best advise is actually this. If you are unsure and need some guidance, invite me to go with you!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Need a Blankie?

By Pat Rossiter, YOUTH Forum Program Manager

The news just seems to get worse and worse:

The list of really bad hyphenated words just gets longer every day. In these times of stress and trouble we often grasp at anything that might give us hope and while the notion has been danced around in recent weeks, I'm just waiting to hear the old adage, in Chinese 'crisis' is the same word as 'opportunity.'

Now I have never been known for my sunny optimism. In fact, while I would characterize myself as pragmatic, others might call me a pessimist. That being said, I take only slight delight in providing this brief lesson in Chinese. It seems not even the Chinese language can offer a warm, cuddly, blankie to clutch.

Maybe instead, I can offer some comfort of a more substantive sort. Take a few minutes with one of the most insightful human beings to ever walk the earth. Here, Forum panelist Bill Moyers talks with Joseph Campbell. Take a deep breath, relax and clutch on to THIS blankie.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Stupid Women...

By Pat Rossiter, YOUTH Forum Program Manager

I'm told 50 years ago, ads like this would have been commonplace perhaps even de rigueur, as it were. 
Thank heavens we've moved on. We've evolved into a culture that believes, with the possible exception of Michelle Dugger, women needn't be barefoot and pregnant. We now know that girls can grow up to be anything from astronauts to zoologists (inclusive).  Good for them!

And now the bad news...

Instead of misogynistic leanings in our advertising we have replaced it with misandrony.

Case and point:
This Multigrain Cheerios commercial. Some poor dim witted guy makes an off hand remark, likely meant to support his morbidly obese wife's ongoing struggle to "drop a few pounds," and he is immediately attacked, emasculated and harassed into submission.  

How about this gem? So another poor dim witted guy is sitting there trying to do his taxes online. Implied in the ad not only is that the guy is completely incapable of doing something so complex as answering questions from the program, but further, due to his lack of evolutionary progress (compared to his highly advanced wife) he is unwilling to seek out help (emotionally stunted no doubt).  My guess is, that had this been a real scene in a husband and wife's lives the next line would have been something like, "Then YOU do the ******* taxes! And, while you are at it, go and get a job to pay the $250 to have it done." ...but that is just a guess.

And one more...Evidently, this Phd. candidate woman and her brilliant ubergenius-med-school-attending-eight-year-old, live in a house with a highly functioning mental deficient. Such charity on their part...  

So, bad news boys...if you take messages from the media we are in sorry shape. We are only good for watching TV, playing video games, and generally being dumb as fence posts. Maybe in another 50 years, we too will be able to contribute to our culture. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Gay Florists Unite!

By Patrick Rossiter, CT YOUTH Forum Program Manager

So, far be it for me to be biased...

but, Connecticut's Catholic Church is up to some high jinx that are pretty distasteful. By lobbying the State's legislature for exemptions for certain businesses from serving gay and lesbian couples who are going to marry is supporting the codification of discrimination.

Turn about is fair play right?

How about a law protecting merchants who refuse to serve Catholics? Would that mean that service could be denied to Jews? To Blacks?

If I were the Catholic Church, I might be a little more careful about whom I pissed off. Do we think there are more gay florists or right-wing Catholic florists? For that matter, how about cake decorators, wedding dress shop owners, caterers, and the rest of the wedding industry?

At this rate a Catholic wedding in CT will have a wedding party dressed in sack cloth, a Walmart bakery cake and big bouquets of poison ivy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What Recession? Phish tickets selling fast despite tough economic times.

You wouldn't even know the economy was tanking, judging from the sales for the Phish reunion shows. After announcing in 2004 that they were done "for good," Phish is back for shows this weekend and an already sold out summer tour. Although the tickets started at 49.95, they are currently being resold for upwards of $1,000.

Despite the exorbitant amount being spent on tickets, front-man Trey Anastasio cited the tough economic times as one motivation for getting the band back together. In a recent New York Times article he said, "“For people in hard times, we can play long shows of pure physical pleasure. They come to dance and forget their troubles. It’s like a service commitment.”

Watch Trey here, minus the cost of a ticket, as he jams with Bob Weir and Nicholas Payton at The Power of Music Forum back in 2001.

Trey and Nicholas later went on to collaborate, playing on each others' albums.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Credit Crisis for Dummies

For those of us who aren't economists, it's hard to know where to even start to conceptualize the economic mess we are in.

If you have 11 minutes, this can help:

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Colin McEnroe to Moderate the Food for Thought Forum

We're happy to announce that Hartford's own Colin McEnroe will be moderating the May 14 Forum, Food for Thought with Anthony Bourdain, Duff Goldman and Alice Waters.

Colin has moderated more Forums than anyone else, including: 90 Minutes with 60 Minutes, Behind the Scenes with The Simpsons and Talking Authors, and we're happy to have him on board again!

Check out Colin moderating as the cast of The Simpsons reads a scene: