August 2008

The Boyf and I went out for a drive and some errands today. Given UNC was starting their football season we took a bit of a long route to get to Chapel Hill and, once there, went on out to Furniture Follies where we saw an awesome stove and some other stuff.

Afterwards, we dropped in on Chapel Hill Comics to check out the new store. The new store gets a huge thumbs-up and is highly recommended. I commented that a friend might be leaving some DVDs for me in my bag there as he and I had failed to meet up when he had the DVDs in his possession and then I said, “Which is, I guess, kind of like having a post office box at the comics store?” I was worried that the request would bug such kind people but instead Vanessa seemed pleased to see evidence of their clientele as a larger community. The store itself is very nice, much larger and much easier to move around in and browse the aisles, very colorful, very engaging. Insanely awesome, in fact.

After that we hit the grocery store and in the parking lot I was taken with the way an approaching storm loomed over the Kroger. I took some quick pictures and while we were standing in the dairy aisle the building shook from the first peal of thunder. Awesome.

The 13th NC Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is over and since yesterday evening I’ve seen two more films.

The Gay Bed & Breakfast of Terror is way, way better than the slasher flick from last year. It’s got a lot of genuinely funny parts and some very good physical comedy in addition to the standard gore. It has a creepy kid (check), tasty beefcake (check) and a few annoying characters one is glad to see offed (check). Unfortunately it takes a little too long winding up the pitch and in the end felt like it had run about fifteen minutes past its shelf life. That said, that is basically all I have in the way of complaints. The slapstick is top-notch, the likable characters are genuinely likable, the camp completely works and the villains chew scenery in fantastic style. Only once did I lean into The Boyf’s ear to whisper, “Jeez, where’s a fundamentalist cannibal when you need one?” There were some serious belly laughs to be had and the audience broke into applause more than once during the course of it. By the same token, I jumped in my seat more than once. Well worth watching.

This morning I caught Boystown, a Spanish film about a string of murders in a gentrifying neighborhood of Madrid. It has a lot of sass and a lot of grunge and a sweet little love story and a hot villain. I think it would make a better date movie than solo excursion – The Boyf was working – but all in all worth getting up early to see. It tended to stick a little closer than I prefer to the arrogant style of attitude-based humor – unlike Tranny McGuyver which manages to be both arrogant and self-deprecating – but it’s extremely well done and a saucier queen than I would probably enjoy it a lot more.

Then I stuck around to watch Tranny McGuyver one more time and just about split my sides seeing it again. I don’t know what it is about that movie – OK, I know: timing, writing and delivery, so the whole package – but that short just slays me.

So far I’ve seen the “Low-Hanging Fruit Basket” collection of shorts, Pageant and the “Queen with the Teetering Tiara” collection.

“Low-Hanging Fruit Basket” was an incredibly mixed bag. It opens with a movie that I guess is supposed to be comedy? Or something? I forget the title – oh, I just remembered, it’s called Sucker – but it’s basically dull porn starring your late-middle-aged neighbor, a dude with crazy eyes and one funny line. Uncomfortable, unfunny and unappealing. I can’t believe people clapped for that. How to Go on a Man Date was cute but took way too long staring at itself in the mirror and Le Weekend was a very tender and ambiguous little film that I really enjoyed. Gay Zombie fucking ruled, as expected. The first time I saw it was at NEVERMORE, during which I realized that the horror film crowd had no clue what to do with a gay romantic comedy and that was half of my enjoyment of the experience. This time around I realized that a gay film festival crowd had no idea what to do with a zombie movie and that was even better. The crowd really got into it after the initial warm-up period, though, and it got a lot of applause. VGL-Hunk was an extremely predictable but enjoyable fantasy with lots of eye candy and terrible sound editing and finally Rock Garden was an absolutely delightful little love story with a sort of Tim Burton feel to it. Overall I liked it and am very glad I stuck with it but seriously, Sucker? Even more embarrassing than that terrible, terrible gay slasher flick they showed last year. They need to be offering 3-D glasses at the door only the lenses should be blacked out and someone should announce when the last, straining thread of Sucker is off the screen so we’ll know when to take the glasses off.

Pageant is a documentary about the 34th annual Miss Gay America contest in which 60+ state and regional pageant winners are competing for that title in Memphis, TN, in a pageant that forbids the use of hormones or makeup. The movie follows five of the contestants and is absolutely enthralling. I’ve only ever done drag once and it was by request so I could perform a mock wedding for some straight friends at their engagement party and that was booger drag on top of that. So, the entire female impersonation scene is as foreign to me as a meeting of the Elks Lodge. I found the subjects fascinating and their stories touching and the film itself really fantastically put together. One of the subjects, Porkchop, was in attendance and now lives in Raleigh and I don’t know, it’s very weird, but out of drag and in person she had a kind of command of the crowd during the Q&A after that was impressive. It wasn’t anything major but one could tell how comfortable she is on stage, interacting with the crowd, in a way I’ve never seen a Q&A participant be before. I think I find it all so fascinating because these are people who have found a way to be comfortable in their own skin by completely changing it. They take this role they’ve created and they live it while the rest of us just stare at clothing catalogues and wish we were thinner or taller or shorter or blonder or whatever. Needless to say, if there were another documentary about the same people in, say, five years? Ten? Oh, I’d watch the hell out of it.

Queen with the Teetering Tiara was another very mixed bag. Cooking with Kay has some laughs in it but it walks that line between cute and offensive. Waiting for Yvette is very good once it gets going and is well worth seeing. The Red Dress is just sort of there, neither great nor not great. It felt filler-y. What the Frock is really cute and satisfying. I’m afraid I left early so I missed It’s Me, Matthew. The absolute best thing about that collection, though, and what (combined with What the Frock and Waiting for Yvette) makes it worth the price of admission? Tranny McGuyver. I would never have predicted that this movie would amuse me as much as it did but it did. It’s about a transvestite idiot cop and her idiot partners and it is hilarious. The humor is often extremely juvenile but their comedic timing is unbeatable and the film doesn’t dawdle over anything. It makes the joke, makes another joke, moves on to the next scene, bam, bam, bam. It hits its mark and it gets the hell off the stage and that is probably why I loved it so much. Seriously, its sense of timing and some really very funny writing and acting are top-notch. This is second only to Gay Zombie in my book and I would gladly go see it again. Also, the star’s blog is hilarious.

In an hour The Boyf and I go see Gay Bed & Breakfast of Terror which really does sound promising and honestly can’t be any worse than that slasher shit from last year, the movie during which some unsober queen sat behind me, leaned forward on the edge of her seat, going, “Oh god! Oh god!” the whole time, the one that featured obnoxious Quebecois pissing off apartment balconies?


So, apparently the Tardis made an appearance in Durham this morning as there were fundamentalist protesters at the film festival, fresh out of 1996. (KJ recollected that was the last NC Pride at which she recalled seeing an organized protest.) Mostly they were of the quiet and dour disposition but one was really bothersomely loud, shouting a sermon from out on the sidewalk by the street. Early in the afternoon a counter-protest arrived and consisted mainly of a woman in an extremely elaborate outfit consisting of pink feathery things and a headdress. I described her to KJ as “double drag,” as she was a woman dressed like a man dressed like a woman. She was loud(er) and enthusiastic and could sing and was very engaging and drew immediate applause and crowd interaction.

Whoever you are, lady in the pink feathers, you rule.

There were several things that occurred to me during the course of the spectacle of that dim shadow of past protests:

1) I have not grown up. I commented to Pants Wilder that on my way out the protesters had better be gone or I was going to have to tell them to go fuck themselves. Happily, they left pretty shortly after they were thoroughly and wonderfully upstaged by the counter-protest. It did remind me of those feelings that used to bubble up when I would volunteer to work as a “peacekeeper” during NC Pride and some tiny, shadow self deep down in my gut would cross its fingers and hope for the chance to beat up a redneck. Not that I would actually do it, I mean, jeez, I’m not an idiot or a bully, but that desire is still there to see the shoe on the other foot for once. (Also, I’m pretty sure my boyfriend would rightly dump me.)

2) My, how times have changed. There were three cops there when the protesters were there and they made me feel… protected. That was gratifying.

3) There were kids – well, 19- or 20-year-olds, college-aged – at this festival who have probably never been to a gay event that was picketed by religious fundamentalists. That hadn’t really occurred to me until I saw a half-dozen Abercrombied young men standing in an arc doing The Masculine Pose – weight on left hip, one foot forward, hands in pockets, sunglasses down – and gaping at the protesters. They have probably never had a bunch of people holding big signs expressing a strong desire to obsess at them about their afterlives and trying to convince them not to do something. They have never seen an organized protest against their own existence. As weird as it is, I am really, really glad those kids had that experience because it doesn’t happen much anymore but it’s a strong reminder of why things like the film festival need to happen in the first place.

4) Somewhat surprisingly, protesters – even young, prematurely soured ones with constipated expressions – will pose for thin-lipped photos with bald old queens and Subaru lesbians. Gods love ’em, I watched a couple of suburbanite dykes make bunny ears behind one’s head, arms around shoulders, and it brought a tear to my eye.

It was a funny experience that way. Of the five protesters, only one was loud and he was quickly shut down by a double-drag queen. One was having a conversation with someone attending the festival but it was just that: a conversation, a quiet, apparently respectful exchange of views. Two were young, visibly uncomfortable being there and posing for photos with one arm around a queen and the other holding their apparently unironic condemnatory pickets. That one loud guy was having to do, to be frank, a piece of work to keep the hate going.

In the end, I think I’m really glad they were there. We all had a lot of fun, some of it at their expense and some not, and some of us had valuable experiences of what it used to be like pretty much anytime the queer community tried to make a space for itself for a day. So, uh, yeah, protesters. Thanks for coming out. Zing!

Through a short but unexpected chain of relationships I was asked yesterday to appear this morning in a brief interview on Scott Fitzgerald’s show on WPTF 680 AM. To be honest, whether or not to say yes was something of a quandary. On the one hand, I couldn’t turn up anything specifically negative about the host and the chain of relationships involves a much-loved former boss; on the other, this is a right-wing AM talk radio station that plays Sean Hannity, for gods’ sakes.

After some thought and a discussion with The Boyf I decided that, given that the topic itself – securing credit card data and protecting personal information – is fairly apolitical and the tone of the thing seemed to be educational rather than advocating a particular point of view, well, what the hell, right? I did a little reading up on the big TJX breach, as that was apparently going to be the topic that morning, and wrote down a few thoughts in case my brain was fuzzy at 7:10am.

The experience itself was nice enough. The host was polite, the interview was brief, I didn’t say ‘um’ every other word and I got to say the thing that made me ultimately decide to do this: that there is no such thing as “security.” As I said to the host (after trying it out a couple of times on KJ, bascha and The Boyf last night), our society has become convinced that “security” is some attainable state of the absence of risk but in truth “security” is the ongoing process of trying to find a balance between risk and convenience.

It’s childish and silly of me but I really relished saying that to an audience of security-obsessed wingnuts.

The only thing I don’t understand is why the host asked me how 9/11 had changed network security. It hasn’t. I didn’t get a chance to bring this up but the truth is that 9/11 didn’t change a damned thing about network security – at least not in the markets where I’ve worked – because 9/11 was a physical attack, not an electronic one. The big engines of change have been government regulation, the very market interventions that free market righty types find so abhorrent. I’ve seen more clients make positive changes to their networks and their policies as a result of SarbOx, HIPAA and the FFIEC than anything else.

The host asked how a person can protect their credit card data and I said, in all honesty, that we can’t. The truth is that once your financial data is in a store’s hands it is out of yours. Period. If that data is compromised then they have to notify you but they don’t have to tell you how or by whom or anything else. In fact, there is a disincentive to inform. TJX’s (eventual) openness about how the theft was done led to lawsuit upon lawsuit. During the time span that the big, multi-store heist in question was being executed my bank sent me three (3) new copies of my credit card and I’ve never known exactly why. Was my information in that data? Probably so; I’ve shopped at Barnes & Noble plenty of times.

The example I gave them was that if one wants to make sure one’s credit or debit card data is never stolen from, say the grocery store, then one had better always pay in cash. It’s not that simple, though. Paying in cash means remembering to go to the cash machine and knowing exactly how much one will spend at the store. That also requires protecting one’s PIN from prying eyes at the ATM, keeping one’s wallet from ever getting stolen and then, even then, if one’s data is stolen directly from the bank, well… so much for all that effort.

The payment card industry has a set of protocols it requires called the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). It’s a good start but it is only that: a start. It covers some basic common sense benchmarks but these are as basic as making sure default passwords aren’t left on vendor-provided cash registers and other equipment. It’s bare-bones at best. The truth is that payment data theft is a problem for which the market is not ever going to correct. The use of cards is way too profitable for everyone involved. Stores, the banks that issue the cards, the payment card providers themselves, payment processors, everyone involved makes way too much money off cards to ever give them up or to make them too inconvenient to use. No store is going to react warmly to someone walking in off the street and asking how that store protects credit card data. No store ever advertises that customer data is more secure with them than with their competitors.

So what do we do? There isn’t much we can do without accepting a high level of inconvenience. Sure, there are options – get prepaid cards to use for online shopping, but read up on the fraud protection for those cards first just in case it’s not as good as your normal credit card. Get a secured credit card. Get a credit card with your picture on it. Keep tabs on your account activity online – weekly, not monthly. Request a copy of your credit report once per year if not once per quarter. Write a check instead of using the card; check data can also be stolen but it’s harder to get at one’s cash with check data. Better yet, use cash. There are ways in which the TJX heist was very clever – they combined elements of physical theft (geographical proximity and physical access to the store) with an electronic intrusion (computer security is often contemplated only as a means of preventing distant attacks) – but ultimately war-driving and cracking WEP aren’t exactly innovations and the theft overall follows the same pattern used in all such cases: the thieves cast the widest possible net and took the easiest pickings. The only thing to do is to make one’s self a less attractive target surrounded by lower-hanging fruit.

None of these make the stores protect our data any better, though, and nothing ever will. Most of these ideas are only useful to protect against identity theft which could be much more easily and thoroughly protected by a couple of basic regulatory changes – require photos be included in credit reports and require automated notification if one’s credit report is accessed for any reason, two things that would cost the credit bureaus some money and save everyone else a lot of headache. Even regulation will at best discourage such carelessness in the retail sector. Ultimately the only option we have is to stare into the abyss and decide for ourselves how much we want that TV or that t-shirt.

So what do I do?

I use my card all the time. I hardly ever have more than a couple of dollars on me in cash. It’s just too convenient. I make up for it by monitoring my account and my credit record and trusting that I’ll be able to get refunds for any fraudulent activity. So far, so good. That’s “security” for me: the amount of risk I’m willing to tolerate balanced against the convenience I desire. Anyone who tells you “security” is anything else believes they can make a buck off it if they tell you enough times.

I am linking to a brother’s awesome photoblog of the Annex’s demolition for two reasons:

1) because, as stated, it is awesome and
2) so that Aaron will believe it’s really happening.

Sadly, the age of Photoshop renders (2) a futile effort, as “photos” are no evidence at all anymore.

Also: AnnexCam!

Saturday was the unbelievably awesome Annex Demolition Party at St. Anthony Hall. The thing that stunned me was how many people were there whom I’d never seen before. I’m hoping they come back for SwingOut because I’d love to see them again. We had attendees from every decade the annex has stood in our back yard, including the brother whose picture from the ’60s graced the party’s invitational postcard. Amazing food, a tent, chairs, puppies, babies, sledgehammers, goggles, enthusiasm – it was an awesome time.

KJ had set “no windows” as a rule before the event but upon being gifted with the first swing at the Annex by the brother who won the auction for it she immediately took out a window. I don’t remember who said it but I quickly realized it sums us up all too well so I said it myself about a dozen times in later conversations: we are St. A’s. We make rules so that we may break them.

There were people there whose names I knew only from going through old secretary notebooks when I was an undergrad, people who’d figured in the minutes from decades before my own. How fabulous is that? Extremely fabulous.

More than one person said to me during the party, “So, is the Annex really getting demolished?” I was so happy to answer in the affirmative. I was so very, very happy.

When I was around back taking a swing at the door jamb to my room, though, a sister said, “Someone should get up on the roof…” and my alumni role immediately kicked into gear. I cannot imagine seven more terrible words to hear in the context of the annex. Actually, that’s not true. “I recently exposed skin in the annex,” or maybe, “I think we should lick the walls,” those would be way worse. Still, the roof? It’s way, way high on the list of bad ideas.

That’s not one of the rules we make so that we may break them.