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he's here, he's queer, he's a war hero

sgt. robert stout, u.s. army, was manning a machine gun atop a humvee when a grenade detonated nearby, showering him with shrapnel. as a result, stout was awarded the purple heart. he has served his country bravely in iraq for over a year, and now that he's recovered from his wounds, he'd like to return to duty. as an openly gay man.

I know a ton of gay men that would be more than willing to stay in the Army if they could just be open. But if we have to stay here and hide our lives all the time, it's just not worth it. We can't keep hiding the fact that there's gay people in the military and they aren't causing any harm.

sgt. stout, along with thousands of other gay soldiers and sailors, has found himself impaled on the horns of a dilemma left by the previous administration. the gays-in-the-military issue had been a centerpiece of bill clinton's platform of social reform, and was one of the first initiatives his white house undertook. candidate clinton had promised to lift the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the armed forces, with running mate al gore proclaiming that clinton would do for gays what truman had done for blacks. but when clinton got to washington, he found himself pressed hard by overwhelming opposition from the pentagon on one side and the not-unfounded expectations of his liberal core supporters on the other.

in 1948, harry s truman, a man with a phony middle initial but genuine in every other regard, simply exercised his authority as commander in chief and ordered integration into reality. yes sir, mr. president! in 1993, william jefferson clinton, a man with a genuine middle name who was a fraud in every other regard, cowered away from his civil rights rhetoric and the moral imperative he'd claimed to craft an everyone-loses compromise which has resulted in the creation of a secret society of unwillingly closeted homosexual servicemen, many of whom have been forced to resign after intentional or unintentional outings.

which is where we find sgt. stout. sgt. stout, a decorated war hero who served his country with honor and has scars along with his medal to attest to his courage in battle. sgt. stout, who is today the exact same soldier he was 10 seconds before the world learned he was gay. and all he asks by way of repayment for the debt that we as american citizens owe him is the opportunity to once more place himself in mortal danger for our freedom. why should sgt. stout not be allowed to return to duty?

i have tremendous sympathy for sgt. stout, as i think any decent, red-blooded american would. but that doesn't mean he should automatically get his wish. in the first place, allowing him to return to iraq won't solve anything--instead of "don't ask, don't tell" will the policy now be that openly gay soldiers can serve as long as they've been awarded the purple heart?

but more than that, sgt. stout, along with every other member of the armed forces, voluntarily waived certain rights when he signed his enlistment papers. among those are the right to free expression, which he is currently violating by being openly gay to begin with, but also by discussing his situation with the press in spite of orders to the contrary. members of the military fall subject to the uniform code of military justice, not the constitution of the united states, and it is incumbent upon sgt. stout to abide by the terms of his agreement. it might sound cold, it might sound heartless, but a purple heart doesn't rewrite the contract. there are legitimate ways to bring about reform, but this isn't among them.

up until this point i haven't said anything on the broader question of whether or not openly gay men and women should be allowed to serve, because, frankly, it's irrelevant. "don't ask, don't tell" is the law of the land. what i do propose, however, is that it's time for that to change. "don't ask, don't tell" is bad policy regardless of which side you take in the debate. because of it, whatever outcome eventually befalls sgt. stout will be tremendously unfair to a lot of people--to those gays who have been forced out if he is permitted to return and to those who will continue serving us bravely if he isn't.

there should be an open debate about this issue and a decision should be made. either homosexuals are allowed to serve or they aren't, no more beating around the bush. i propose that this issue should be decided strictly on the basis of utility: if the military is better off with gays, they should be permitted, if not, they should be refused. the reason our soldiers give up some of their rights to fight is because war is an extreme situation where the civil rights that we take for granted in civilian life become an impediment to survival. it's a tradition that goes back as far as ancient rome and beyond, and it's there for a reason: it works. we owe it to our troops to honor that standard in considering this issue today.

it's time for "don't ask, don't tell" to go, or, as sgt. stout puts it:

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy, when it first came out, was a good stepping stone, but it's outlived its usefulness. We've progressed past it both as a military and as a society.

locdog thinks it's time to move on



locdog movie review: sin city

never having been a fan of comic books or, ahem, "graphic novels," sin city and i were first introduced via a trailer preceding the effective if exploitative bruce willis suspense-thriller hostage. i was intrigued by the sooty black and white cityscapes occasionally overlaid of with spurts of vivid color, the absurdly lurid material, the constellation robert rodriguez and credited co-director frank miller had drawn together for the the launch date approached, all indications were go for a decent flick, so electra and i hopped in the VW for a night at the movies.

i should say, an essential night at the movies for seldom will you see a movie as essentially movie as sin city. in hindsight, it's easy to see what gave the trailer its sharp hooks: the whole film is a trailer. one poetic pastiche of mayhem and gore after another, the lifeblood of every b-movie and pulp crime novel ever imagined drained into two hours of digitally enhanced bliss.

sin city features three obliquely interconnected tales of debauchery, mickey rourke in a comeback-making role as a born loser transformed into an avenging angel by the death of a hooker, clive owen as a reformed killer sucked into a war between the police and prostitutes by the love of a barmaid, and bruce willis as an aging cop with a bum ticker hunting a pedophile who happens to be a senator's son. can't you just smell the carnage?

the film's storytelling is a model of economy, owing a great debt, no doubt, to frank miller's frame-by-frame comic book world. while i've always been a fan of robert rodriguez, his movies have often lacked focus. from dusk till dawn is the halves of two quality b pictures artlessly welded together, once upon a time in mexico plays like a slide show of fanboy enthusiasm sprawling beyond creative control. not bad movies by any stretch, just not quite ripe yet. sin city grabs you from the start with its utter self-assuredness and unflagging narrative flow and never lets you go.

not that the stories themselves are particularly important. each of them offers a slight nod to the usual noir complexities, but you can leave your notebooks at home as at no point will they intrude on the surprising depth of emotion engendered by the film's various struggles.

and here a quick comparison to long-time rodriguez crony and sin city "guest director" quentin tarantino seems in order. comparisons between sin city, and kill bill vol. I and pulp fiction seem inevitable given the stylistic similarities of the directors, the roughly analogous subject matter and narrative structure of the films, and their uncanny casting sensibilities. but what separates sin city from the work of tarantino, particularly kill bill, is the startling humanity that breathes throughout. that's not a knock against bill, it's just that the two, for all their similarities, are fundamentally different pictures. cinematically speaking, kill bill separated the men from the boys. it was a demonstration of sheer movie making power, a director's God-given gift to hold an audience within his grasp through breathtaking artistry while simultaneously repelling them through his story. you had to keep your distance from bill, to be willing to accept it as pure cinema, like gawking at the most glorious car wreck ever. it was a litmus test on what you like about movies: the movie itself, or what the movie does for you. in sin city you will face no such dilemma, it works brilliantly on both levels.

the three leads are all very strong although i'd have to give the edge to rourke's loveable leg-breaker marv, and the film offers several memorable supporting roles as well. of particular note is elijah wood's creepy cannibal ninja with the charlie-brown shirt. never mind, you just have to see it. the film is also book-ended by a sort of prologue/epilogue with josh hartnett, in the movie's slyest casting conceit, cashing in on his farm boy wholesomeness to play the perfect sociopath, floating serenely above the grit surrounding him. it's rumored that rodriguez will be revisiting this story in an upcoming sequel. let's hope so.

i'll offer my obligatory violence warning here--this film rivals anything produced in hollywood in recent years for grotesque dismemberments, castrations, mutilations, slashings, stabbings, and shootings--but find three factors intervening to mitigate. the first is that the violence is sufficiently over-the-top to be comical as well as revolting. the second is that it's used with judiciousness, i.e., strong characters attacking strong characters rather than mutilating women or children or other ruthless filmmaking stunts. and the third is the film's surprising sense of morality: you want the bad guys to be punished. there is an unquestionable sense of the great cosmic scales being righted, however messily.

the one pervasive criticism i've seen of sin city is its supposed hollowness, layers of lacquer sloshed over a vacuum and buffed to a brilliant sheen, as though certain reviewers assumed that something so stunningly beautiful must be empty within. bullocks. the heart in this movie is what rodriguez and miller put into every glorious frame, not as an exercise in just-because-we-can lucasiod techno-wizardry, but as a labor of love, birthing the eternally dark and rainy world of sin city into motion and sound. and to quote another famous bit of celluloid "a heart is judged not by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others." if that wonderful wizard had it right, then you need look no further for sin city's heart than the one that will be thudding relentlessly in your chest for two straight hours.

locdog's next movie review may well be star wars episode III, if he has the strength after another 2 hours of lucas' assault and battery