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Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

An Army of Ex-Lovers by Amy Hoffman

In Book Review, Hidden History on July 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm

“We are destroyed,” said Amy Hoffman, former managing editor and director of the Gay Community News, to a Boston Globe reporter on July 7, 1982.

A six alarm fire* had broken out at 5:30 am on Bromfield Street in downtown Boston, charring several offices, including the Gay Community News (GCN), one of the earliest national gay publications in the United States.

As usual, Amy Hoffman was on the scene.

GCN manages to get an issue out reporting on its own fire.

Amy Hoffman (middle) confers with fellow GCNers at fire scene. GCN image.

Hostility was not new to the newspaper. Staffers and volunteers routinely received threatening phone calls. Bullet holes were found in the window and “the office was vandalized many times,” according to Hoffman.

Still, most who worked on the paper were young and not given to worrying about their safety.  The exhilaration of meeting new people and working for change outweighed the fear.  Besides, as gay people, they were used to living with a certain level of risk.

They reported on people who had disappeared after leaving bars late at night and on kids thrown out of their homes to fend for themselves.  On occasion, a writer arrived at the newspaper office wearing bandages from an attack the night before, sometimes at the hands of the police.

The fire however, was a new level of hostility.

Election day, 1980, was rainy and cool.  The polls predicted a rightward backlash and were soon borne out.

State after state fell to the GOP and by the end of the night, Ronald Reagan had even carried Massachusetts in the presidential election.  But it was the passage of a state-wide proposition that set in motion the destruction of the GCN offices.

That night, Massachusetts voters passed Proposition 2 1/2, which limited property tax increases to no more than 2.5% in a single year.

The measure went into effect in 1982, just months before the GCN fire.  Fire and police department budgets across the state were cut in anticipation of lower property tax revenues.

Two years after the GCN fire, on July 26, 1984, the New York Times reported that it and “a string of other fires” were caused by arson in response to Proposition 2 1/2 budget cuts.

Federal officials charged today that a group mostly made up of police officers, firefighters and private security guards set the string of fires three years ago that brought Boston the nationally reported title of ”arson capital of the world.”

The fires were set, according to United States Attorney William Weld, to scare the public into supporting more positions for the Police and Fire Departments after property tax reductions had reduced their ranks.

Federal agents arrested six people in three states this morning, and a seventh surrendered in Boston this afternoon. Two of the defendants were armed when arrested. The five arrested in the Boston area pleaded not guilty at a hearing here today. 

This story and many others are captured by Amy Hoffman in her book, An Army of Ex-Lovers, My Life at the Gay Community News (UMass-Amherst Press, 2007).  It is a personal account of a very political time.  Hoffman writes with warmth and humor about a slice of American history often left out of accounts of the period.

The omission of gay history by most mainstream historians is puzzling since it is populated by colorful, pioneering people who risked everything to live as they were. This makes for good reading.

In An Army of Ex-Lovers, Hoffman delivers an absorbing account of a tumultuous time and illustrates what readers miss when the subject is overlooked.

Along with political events, Hoffman traces her own growth through several relationships with dynamic women who were also playing leading roles in the movement for GLBT rights.

Her struggle for identity was singular in that lesbians will never come out quite the way her generation had to.  But it is also a universal story of a young person finding her way in a new city with new friends.


Twenty-nine years almost to the day after the GCN fire, Amy Hoffman met me in a café located in a former brewery in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.  Echoes of the Age of Aquarius were present in the cafe, with its all-natural sandwiches made from local ingredients, but its burnished feel was a dead giveaway to the present era.

Now in her late 50s, with short hair parted in the middle, earrings, and a bright, summer blouse underneath a light jacket, Amy Hoffman looked every bit the magazine editor she is. Located at Wellesley College, Hoffman edits The Woman’s Review of Booksa publication dedicated to “new writing by and about women” since 1983.

Was she scared during those turbulent times?

Not really, at least not until the fire. To an extent, she had been prepared for the battle. Hoffman attended what she now believes was one of the first woman’s studies courses in the U.S. at Douglass Residential College, Rutgers University.

“It was 1971 and I had no perspective on it at the time (that the course and accepting atmosphere were unusual).  The most interesting woman on the campus was a lesbian.  It was more than a supportive atmosphere, it was encouraging.”

By the time she arrived in Boston, Hoffman had done a lot of thinking about her sexuality and the political situation lesbians and gay men found themselves in at that time.  She decided there was much work to do.

Hoffman saw a flier pinned to a bulletin board for a features editor position at the Gay Community News. She had written for Sister Courage, a lesbian publication in Boston, but that was the extent of her newspaper experience.

The Phone Call

When Hoffman called about the position, Rick Burns, then managing editor, answered.  He warned her about the low salary (about $60 per week) saying, “It’s hard getting used to being poor.”  Hoffman fired back, “Nobody gets used to being poor.” Burns replied with a chuckle, “I guess not, doll.”

They have been close friends ever since.  (The book is dedicated to Burns.)

What was the atmosphere like for gay people in the 1970s?

“I try to tell young people.  It was weirder than bigotry back then.  We were simply treated as if we didn’t exist at all.”

Stories about gay people were ignored by news outlets.  Many gay people themselves were silent.

Bromfield St. building today. GCN office was on second floor. Image: Mark Krone

Built in the 1840s, the building's owner, Ron Druker, wanted to tear it down after the fire but it gained landmark status as a rare example of a granite structure. It remains vacant. Image: Mark Krone

Stairway to the GCN office on second floor. Image: Mark Krone

While this is no longer as true as it once was, why does the blackout on gay history continue?

One example is Bruce Shulman’s The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Politics, and Society (N.Y.: Free Press, 2001), which fails even to mention the murders of Supervisor Harvey Milk or Mayor George Moscone, of San Francisco.

After the Fire

GCN survived the fire, even managing to print an issue that same week.  It moved to new locations over the years and played a major role in sounding the alarm at the dawn of the AIDS crisis. It sponsored many other cultural events including OutWrite, a conference for GLBT writers.  GCN ended as a weekly in 1993.

With An Army of Ex-Lovers, Hoffman is again on the scene as she was the day of the fire, this time rescuing neglected history with candor and humanity.

(Note: *I located a Youtube video of the fire that Amy Hoffman was surprised existed. Permission to use it has not yet been granted.)


Busy Monsters — Hot Even Before It’s Published

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2011 at 6:57 pm

As I write, it’s 95 degrees at 6:53 PM.  I mention this because I read the passage below while waiting for the bus this afternoon in the dizzying heat.  I laughed out loud.  When you laugh out loud in such heat, something needs to be said about the book that made you do it.

It’s Busy Monsters by William Giraldi and it won’t be published until August.  The Boston Phoenix excerpted a few pages in its current issue which is where I read it.

Here is the passage:

STUNNED BY LOVE and some would say stupid from too much sex, I decided I had to drive down South to kill a man. Gillian and I were about to be married and her ex-beau of four years, Marvin Gluck — Virginia state trooper, boots and all — was heaving his psychosis our way, sending bow-tied packages, soilsome letters, and text messages to the bestial effect of, If you marry that baboon I’ll end all our lives.

I, Charles Homar, memoirist of mediocre fame, a baboon?

The Business Plot To Overthrow Franklin Roosevelt

In Uncategorized on July 18, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Robert Sterling Clark. Image from clarkart.edu.

When President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the forces of wealth alligned against him, it was not just campaign rhetoric.  In 1933, a plot was hatched by powerful Wall Street insiders to ease Roosevelt from power in favor of a fascist-friendly administration.  A Congressional Committee, headed by Congressman John McCormack (who later became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives) later verified that the plot was real.

The post below is from huppi.com.

In the summer of 1933, shortly after Roosevelt’s “First 100 Days,” America’s richest businessmen were in a panic. It was clear that Roosevelt intended to conduct a massive redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Roosevelt had to be stopped at all costs.

The answer was a military coup. It was to be secretly financed and organized by leading officers of the Morgan and Du Pont empires. This included some of America’s richest and most famous names of the time:

  • The plotters attempted to recruit General Smedley Butler to lead the coup. They selected him because he was a war hero who was popular with the troops. The plotters felt his good reputation was important to make the troops feel confident that they were doing the right thing by overthrowing a democratically elected president. However, this was a mistake: Butler was popular with the troops because he identified with them. That is, he was a man of the people, not the elite. When the plotters approached General Butler with their proposal to lead the coup, he pretended to go along with the plan at first, secretly deciding to betray it to Congress at the right moment.

What the businessmen proposed was dramatic: they wanted General Butler to deliver an ultimatum to Roosevelt. Roosevelt would pretend to become sick and incapacitated from his polio, and allow a newly created cabinet officer, a “Secretary of General Affairs,” to run things in his stead. The secretary, of course, would be carrying out the orders of Wall Street. If Roosevelt refused, then General Butler would force him out with an army of 500,000 war veterans from the American Legion. But MacGuire assured Butler the cover story would work:

    “You know the American people will swallow that. We have got the newspapers. We will start a campaign that the President’s health is failing. Everyone can tell that by looking at him, and the dumb American people will fall for it in a second…”

The businessmen also promised that money was no object: Clark told Butler that he would spend half his $60 million fortune to save the other half.

And what type of government would replace Roosevelt’s New Deal? MacGuire was perfectly candid to Paul French, a reporter friend of General Butler’s:

    “We need a fascist government in this country… to save the nation from the communists who want to tear it down and wreck all that we have built in America. The only men who have the patriotism to do it are the soldiers, and Smedley Butler is the ideal leader. He could organize a million men overnight.”

Indeed, it turns out that MacGuire travelled to Italy to study Mussolini’s fascist state, and came away mightily impressed. He wrote glowing reports back to his boss, Robert Clark, suggesting that they implement the same thing.

If this sounds too fantastic to believe, we should remember that by 1933, the crimes of fascism were still mostly in the future, and its dangers were largely unknown, even to its supporters. But in the early days, many businessmen openly admired Mussolini because he had used a strong hand to deal with labor unions, put out social unrest, and get the economy working again, if only at the point of a gun. Americans today would be appalled to learn of the many famous millionaires back then who initially admired Hitler and Mussolini: Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, John and Allen Dulles (who, besides being millionaires, would later become Eisenhower’s Secretary of State and CIA Director, respectively), and, of course, everyone on the above list. They disavowed Hitler and Mussolini only after their atrocities grew to indefensible levels.

The plot fell apart when Butler went public. The general revealed the details of the coup before the McCormack-Dickstein Committee, which would later become the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee. (In the 50s, this committee would destroy the lives of hundreds of innocent Americans with its communist witch hunts.) The Committee heard the testimony of Butler and French, but failed to call in any of the coup plotters for questioning, other than MacGuire. In fact, the Committee whitewashed the public version of its final report, deleting the names of powerful businessmen whose reputations they sought to protect. The most likely reason for this response is that Wall Street had undue influence in Congress also. Even more alarming, the elite-controlled media failed to pick up on the story, and even today the incident remains little known. The elite managed to spin the story as nothing more than the rumors and hearsay of Butler and French, even though Butler was a Quaker of unimpeachable honesty and integrity. Butler, appalled by the cover-up, went on national radio to denounce it, but with little success.

Butler was not vindicated until 1967, when journalist John Spivak uncovered the Committee’s internal, secret report. It clearly confirmed Butler’s story:

In the last few weeks of the committee’s life it received evidence showing that certain persons had attempted to establish a fascist organization in this country…
There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned and might have been placed in execution if the financial backers deemed it expedient…

MacGuire denied [Butler’s] allegations under oath, but your committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made to General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization. This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence of MacGuire with his principle, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various form of veterans’ organizations of Fascist character.
Needless to say, the survival of America’s democracy is not an automatic or sure thing. Americans need to remain vigilant against all enemies… both foreign and domestic.

Major players in the business plot:

  • Irenee Du Pont – Right-wing chemical industrialist and founder of the American Liberty League, the organization assigned to execute the plot.
  • Grayson Murphy – Director of Goodyear, Bethlehem Steel and a group of J.P. Morgan banks.
  • William Doyle – Former state commander of the American Legion and a central plotter of the coup.
  • John Davis – Former Democratic presidential candidate and a senior attorney for J.P. Morgan.
  • Al Smith – Roosevelt’s bitter political foe from New York. Smith was a former governor of New York and a codirector of the American Liberty League.
  • John J. Raskob – A high-ranking Du Pont officer and a former chairman of the Democratic Party. In later decades, Raskob would become a “Knight of Malta,” a Roman Catholic Religious Order with a high percentage of CIA spies, including CIA Directors William Casey, William Colby and John McCone.
  • Robert Clark – One of Wall Street’s richest bankers and stockbrokers.
  • Gerald MacGuire – Bond salesman for Clark, and a former commander of the Connecticut American Legion. MacGuire was the key recruiter to General Butler.

Jonathon Vankin and John Whalen, The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time (Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1997)
Jules Archer, The Plot to Seize the White House (New York: Hawthorne Books, 1973)
George Seldes, Even the Gods Can’t Change History (Secaucus, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1976)
John Spivak, A Man in His Time (New York: Horizon Press, 1967)

“I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match.”

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm

FDR. Wikimedia Commons image.

In the New York Review of Books blog, a July 7, 2011, entry by Ronald Dworkin states the current case very well regarding Obama vs. congressional Republicans.  And he  does so by quoting FDR speaking on the eve of his first re-election campaign in 1936.

Obama’s careful patience and mature stance in the face of GOP intransigence is probably good politics with independents whom he is determined to carry.

But I’d like to hear more passion from him. Dworkin points out that FDR won re-election by the largest margin in history.

Reading these words by FDR’s feels like someone just opened a window letting in a lakeside breeze.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up. We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

–President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Madison Square Garden, in 1936

Noël Coward Nights

In Writers on July 10, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Ticket Stubs for "Noël Coward in Two Keys" March 8, 1974

My late mother was a fan of Noël Coward.  She took me to several of his plays on Broadway in my early teenage years.  Circumstances were somewhat threadbare in those days but these evenings were exciting and glamorous.  We usually ended up at Sardi’s afterward straining to overhear conversations at the next table. Oh Coward was the first one we saw; it was 1971, my freshman year of high school.

We saw Noël Coward in Two Keys in March 1974 (see ticket stubs) starring Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.  The play was actually two short plays, Come Into the Garden Maud and A Song at Twightlight.

Later, in Boston, I saw one of Coward’s early and more serious plays, The Vortex, about a young man struggling with drug addiction.  Written in 1928, it was well ahead of its time.

When Following a Court Case is a Trial

In Trials on July 9, 2011 at 3:29 am

Supreme Court building. Original uploader was Noclip at en.wikipedia.

Interviewees after the conclusion of the Casey Anthony trial split into two camps.

First were the trial watchers who expressed outrage at the not-guilty verdict.  They’d seen photos of Anthony partying just days after her daughter’s death and were shocked by the behavior of the seemingly cold-hearted mother.

The second group was exasperated by the attention the trial received “when we have more important problems.”

Both views are mistaken.  Trials are news; the verdict was correct.

Round-the-clock cable coverage may numb viewers and create a circus atmosphere but it does not change the fact that when a mother is accused of killing her daughter, it is news.

That the mother is young and portrayed as a “party girl” by the prosecution added a salacious element.  (She certainly was insensitive, at best.)  Charges of child abuse added shock value.

But because the trial was covered like a reality show does not make it one.  This was all too real.

Regarding the verdict, some of the same people who are not sure how Calley was killed are quite sure her mother was guilty.

Calley may have drowned as the defense team claimed or was suffocated by the tape found on her mouth when her body was discovered or in other ways.  But unless the jury was sure beyond a doubt how and why she died, how could they find her mother guilty?

Casey Anthony’s not guilty verdict does not mean she was innocent.

The burden placed on the prosecution to prove guilt was not met.  But Casey may well have killed her daughter and it is difficult to believe that she has told everything that happened.

The prosecution also may have over-played its hand by charging Anthony with first-degree murder.

The desire for a “do-over,” though understandable, is not constitutional as it would place Anthony in double jeopardy. This is not to be confused with the question and answer show hosted by Alex Trebek, which every year looks more like a lonely outpost of civility and clarity.

Finlandia (variation)

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Kern County, CA, 1937. Photo: Dorothea Lange

This is my song, oh God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine; but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

This is my song, thou God of all the nations; a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Words: Many variations exist.  This one is by Lloyd Stone.

Music: Jean Sibelius

This performance is by students from Kearsney College (high school level in U.S.) in South Africa.


In Uncategorized on July 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Are politicians and Wall Streeters the only ones still wearing ties?  If so, they may come to signify people you can’t trust.

Russian President Demitri Medvedev favors a full windsor knot.  Very full.  A knot that fat has not been seen in the United States since Dustin Hoffman portrayed Carl Bernstein in All The President’s Men.

President Obama and French President Sarkozy favor the moderate half-windsors.

While Ryan Seacrest represents the Mad Men craze by going non-windsor.

Some Independence Day Resolutions

In Politics on July 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Massachusetts State House. Photo: See Ming Lee.

I consume but I am a person, not a consumer.   I live in a country, not a corporation. It is a nation of communities, not agglomerations of rugged individuals warily eyeing each other.

My political philosophies should better explain how to serve human needs, not to score debating points. If my arguments depict my “opponents” as human parities, stereotypes, or scapegoats, they are invalid.

I shall try to remember that people — whether they agree with me or not– remain wildly complex, contradictory, and surprising. They often act directly against their best interests in favor of someone else’s interests.  They change their minds.

I will not allow the extreme view points of a few to alter these resolutions. Unsubstantiated assertions that sit in contradiction to reality are like a child holding its breath. It gets your attention but the situation cannot last.

Bulger Update. File Under: You Won’t Read this Anywhere Else

In Boston Individualists, Criminals on July 1, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Revere Beach. Wikimedia Commons Image. Photo: Luciof

I bumped into someone this evening who offered a surprising view of Whitey Bulger, the reputed South Boston gangster.  This individual, who shall remain nameless, spent a considerable portion of life on both sides of the law.  When a drinking and drug problem pushed a wretched life even lower until nights were spent sleeping on the beach in Southie, Bulger made his approach.  With no strings attached, he paid for a room and urged my acquaintance to a renewed commitment to sobriety.  It worked.  To this day, all is better — much better.   As I walked away, I heard my acquaintance say, ” I cannot judge him.”

Still, the man who allegedly killed 19 people will be judged in a court house in South Boston not more than a mile from that beach.