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April 19, 2006 12:17 PM

The rabble at babble

Some media nooze. Background: Babble.ca is the cyber-forum section of the leftie current affairs site, Rabble.ca, the favoured child of feminist Judy Rebick (among others). I check it every couple of days, but much of the content is reprinted from union newsletters... at least the bias is upfront. Now t'other big online Canadian leftie news source, Straight Goods, reports that Babble's moderator was fired -- by e-mail. That does seem a titch tacky. But there's always another side....

April 14, 2006 10:17 AM

Judy, Judy, Judy

Canada has so little in terms of gay press. By comparison, the U.S. is crawling with queer media. And Judy Wieder was one of the few women who scuttled about within. The bug thing is not about insult, but about the place of homos. She helped bring gay American glossies out into the sunshine.

Wieder may be best remembered for getting lesbian breast cancer on the cover of The Advocate -- a first. It was a shocking thing at the time for men, certainly. But also for women: "Wieder said she regretted placing a women's diseased breast on the cover of The Advocate back in the mid-1990s. It didn't sell, leaving Wieder to conclude that a hunky guy would have upped sales and brought in readers to the solid journalism inside on breast cancer." That's from an interview I conducted with Wieder in 2004.

(The breast -- either whole, or as echoed by the scar left behind after being sliced out -- has become a cliché for the gay media's coverage of women's cancer ever since. For some editors, that may be a sign of courage; for others, it's sheer laziness.)

If you wanted your politics presented pragmatically -- that is, mixed in with the readability of pop culture and pages of hot boys larded throughout to ensure financial success, then Wieder was the one. She was also a friend of the rich and famous lesbo, encouraging her to come out in the pages of her publications, but never outing. Wieder's the ultimate insider with an agenda -- and forced to deal with all the good and bad that that entails.

When PlanetOut Inc. bought LPI Media's big-name glossies like Out and Advocate in November, various talking heads said there'd be no big putsches. A sort-of decent amount of time later, Judy Wieder got tossed. Or perhaps left on her own, though relatively quietly and with no future plans announced. Certainly she had no formal business training that I know of, and was thus unlikely to get promoted any further up.

My old interview with Judy Wieder is here: "Conveniently anonymous leaks to gossip columns portray Judy Wieder, perhaps the most prominent lesbian in American journalism today, as hiding her devil's horns under strategically placed wisps of hair."

April 13, 2006 1:42 PM

Alouette, je te plumerai

"The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?'
"My answer to that would be, 'Yes.'
"And, 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?'
"My answer to that would be, 'No.'"
- Aaron Copland

I have three Canadian tune tracts. The first is "Canada Sings," copyrighted in 1935 by New York's Robbins Music Corporation. It's a "community song book for schools, clubs, fraternities, homes and community singing." Even okayed for the Alberta school curriculum back in the day.

It includes France's "La Marseillaise" and "God Save the King." Plus "Nearer My God to Thee" and "Favourites Like K-K-K-Katy, Home On The Range... And Many More."

How about this: "Oh Canada, oh Canada! Her laws are just and good [...]
Be strong, ye sons of Canada
Ye daughters brave and true
with heart and hand guard well the land
which God has given you."

I tend to need a clean break from the Lord after "Canada Sings." My "Canadian Wobbly Songbook" does the trick. It was produced in 1990, "to fan the flames of discontent."

From Faith Nolan's "Box Factory":
"We'd go to lunch for half an hour
The boss would use our time to
lecture us on power
He said you better move faster
or your job will soon be gone
He'd lie and drone on and on
There's no union to help me fight anyway
There's no union in a sweat shop place."

But the Wobblies, bless'em, can be a bit single-minded. My most recent tome is "The Raging Grannies Songbook," a 1993 effort by little old ladies in purple in Victoria (and elsewhere). How's about this one:

"Hey ho! Hey Ho! As off to bed we go
We grannies smile because we know
Safe sex is quite the best
Ho hey! Ho Hey! It could be night or day
Explicit rules we all obey
Safe sex is best."

Lyrics alone can be painful. The words are magnets straining to attach to melody and tone. Like that last tune.... originally sung by dwarves as "off to work they go."

Damn. Earworm!

April 13, 2006 8:27 AM

Retract, retract! Backwards ho! Reverse ferret!

The entire queer-o-sphere-o-'net is agog with shock and awe over Out's hetero editor.

Except it turns out he's not straight. He's very, very, very gay.

Ah.

Well, still, the issue is , er, inneresting. Eh?

Never mind.

April 12, 2006 9:22 AM

The end of gay

The American glossy Out magazine, which makes no pretense of seeking female readers -- it's all boy, all the time -- has been looking for a new editor in chief since Brendan Lemon hightailed it outta there in October. Out found Andrew Hicklin, who'll be finishing up a stint at some hipster New Yawk mag called BlackBook in the next coupla weeks, before switching offices. Hicklin's new tome is "The Revolution Will Be Accessorized : BlackBook Presents Dispatches from the New Counterculture."

Hicklin is straight.

Pundit Andrew Sullivan says so. "Seriously, I think it's great that a straight guy is now heading up a gay magazine. Integration is now the baseline from which many of us operate. Good for Out for being unafraid to pick talent over identity."


(Recall that comments are accessible by clicking on the headline....)

April 11, 2006 1:47 PM

Who me?

I can't remember the plot of a single Andre Norton book I read as a teen. I devoured them, though. And I knew that, despite the name, Norton was a girrrrl.

So as I espied the Ace paperback "Galactic Derelict" at a yard sale, my greedy little fingers grabbed it.

GaD was published in 1959. The author had to make some concessions back then: Every single character is male. But because the characters were so, er, traditional, Norton was able to play a tiny bit with... race. The protagonist of this book is Apache.

It's not earth-shattering characterization, but it's there. Travis Fox quit working on his advanced archeology degree because of a racist academic, and now accidentally finds himself throwing in with an all-white cast of time-travelling special agents -- none of whom is interested in being negative about Fox's ethnicity. Aw!

(Oh, and this intrepid band is marooned in space, but by the end of the tome, everybody makes it back safely. And they beat the Russkies.)

The writer was white, born in Cleveland as Alice Mary Norton, and died just over a year ago, at a venerable 93, after producing more than 100 books. "In 1934, she legally changed her name to Andre Alice Norton; a change made in order to appeal to a predominantly male audience and to increase her marketability," it sez here. That was the same year this career librarian's first book made it into print.

She also wrote under other men's names, like Andrew North and Allen Weston.

From what I can tell, she never married. Her last, solo-written, complete novel was published posthumously, on April 1, 2005 ("Three Hands for Scorpio"). And the very first annual Andre Norton Award will be given out next month, for outstanding English-language fantasy or science fiction book for the young adult market.

One fan wrote: "Without profanity or graphic violence, Andre Norton weaves tense, dramatic tales. Her protagonists are frequently young. The virtues of the past, and of nature, are important elements in many of her stories. All her books are meticulously researched and provide a treasure of historical information.

"It has been said that science fiction is primarily philosophy, expounding the right to be different. Nowhere is that truer than in Ms. Norton's writing, where protagonists of many ethnicities have shown their intelligence and valor, and the value of all living things is affirmed.... Her success paved the way for other women to write in those fields."

Feminists love to complain about the lack of female role models in books for young people. I'm sure that's so, but I sure didn't mind as a kid. Those boy characters were not tediously macho -- they were just people, getting into adventurous situations and sorting them out. As humans, not as Guys. I related to them; they taught me to dream, to take chances and have fun, rather than to live a life based on strict gender rules.

So -- Nancy Drew? Absolutely -- I was she. But I was also an amalgam of both the Hardy Boys. And Jupiter Jones -- and Freddy the pig.

Today, I'm Travis Fox.

April 11, 2006 1:38 PM

All artists must be separatists

La Presse arts columnist Marc Cassivi discusses the freak-out over big-name local artists saying they're no longer so enamoured of Quebec nationalism. Playwright and auteur Michel Tremblay noted that the modern sovereignty movement is all about economics, an attitude that leaves him cold.

"Nowadays," writes Cassivi (the translation is mine), "it seems to be more taboo for an artist to declare himself to be a federalist than to come out as gay."

In turn, Robert Lepage announced that it is time to question what the Parti Quebecois has become. He said he would not go as far as his colleague Michel Tremblay, but did say that he has become a less committed sovereignist.

April 10, 2006 3:30 PM

Work it

The magazine Processed World was founded in 1981 and published regularly for a lucky 13 years, plus an occasional blurt through the beginning of the 21st century (the last ish came out in 2004). It "sought to illuminate the underside of the Information Age.... a unique historical document of the changes in the U.S. social and economic landscape," notes the introduction to "Bad Attitude: The Processed World Anthology" (reproduced here.) The mag illuminated "the day to day experiences of North American workers as they found themselves being shifted from manufacturing to 'service.' [....]

"As a radical publication filled with art and humor, PW emphasizes the importance of immediate enjoyment, both for surviving the insane world, and as an alternative to the deadly serious political discourse and emphasis on self-sacrifice typical of opposition politics." Its founders were a bunch of university educated smart-asses selling the marketable skill of "'handling information.' Though employed in offices as 'temps,' few really thought of themselves as office workers....

"More common was the hopeful assertion that they were photographers, writers, artists, dancers, historians or philosophers. Beyond these creative ambitions, the choice to work 'temp' was also a refusal to join the rush toward business/yuppie professionalism. Instead of 40 to 70 hour weeks of thankless corporate career climbing, they sought more free time to pursue their creative impulses. Nevertheless, day after day, they found themselves cramming into public transit en route to the ever-expanding Abusement Park of the financial district. Thus, from the start, the project's expressed purpose was two-fold: to serve as a contact point and forum for malcontent office workers (and wage-workers in general), and to provide a creative outlet for people whose talents were blocked by what they were doing for money."

In PW, there was never any option of being happy with a job that you didn't need to bring home with you -- something that's actually quite valuable in a world of ever-increasing stress and bother. Though a large part of the bitterness would also be because those who contributed suffered from hellish bosses.

I recall one piece instructing how to secretly destroy your computer so that all work would come to a halt. Mind you, this led to a gleeful exposé of the company's computer technician -- a co-worker -- going mad in efforts to find and fix the trouble. Nice, eh?

I have never been a fan of thoughtless sabotage.

But I am fan of sabotage in the workplace. Just a different kind. And it just may be that Gaston Lagaffe makes a good role model.

Lagaffe is a very tiring Euro comic book boy who leaves most girls and most adults of any gender rolling their eyes. He's the office gopher, charged with distributing mail, filing, and driving the boss around. Gaston's gaffes are the stuff of loser legend.

But Pierre Ansay, a Belgian diplomat stationed here in Quebec, presented a tribute to Lagaffe at last week's comic strip conference that gave me new insight. Lagaffe is "allergic to public order," noted Ansay (in French -- the translation is mine). Lagaffe hates work, gets into trouble with cops and bosses, but actually puts in a lot of hours... at fighting rules. And at making fellow peons happy.

He brings gold fish or cacti into work, delighting those around him. He sleeps at his desk or turns the water heater into a coffee maker. In short, he inspires employees with these brief moments of poetry. Said Ansay: "He stimulates participation, intoxicates the dominant [bosses], uses the resources around him for his own ends. He brings humanity to the people around him."

And then he gets into a load of trouble. Not that he lets it stop him.

Gaston Lagaffe reminds me of a button I saw on a lapel this weekend: "Kindness is a revolutionary act."

April 10, 2006 3:20 PM

Hirsute power!

Those outside of Quebec may not know that a lesbian is running for political office today. Manon Massé is an out dyke, the very first candidate to run under the flag of the leftist Quebec Solidaire, recently founded.

The provincial by-election is in the downtown Montreal riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, which includes the gay village. (Massé's not going to win, this is a Parti Quebecois stronghold, though formerly held by a gay man.)

I do love Manon Massé's posters. If you get close enough, you can see every bleached mustache hair.

April 7, 2006 5:14 PM

Enviromentalism manqué

Re-usable shopping bags are now so "in" that every chain store in the city is handing out branded freebies. I have so many, I've begun to throw them away.

April 7, 2006 3:55 PM

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

Yowza. The CRTC has approved a queer radio station. Whatever that is. Details here.

It's a tiny, 50 watt deal -- the radio waves are crowded in Tranna. So that's actually pretty smart, focusing on a small geographical area (helps with making those essential ad sales to retail shops). Maybe it could do better than outTV? OutTV means well, but it's endless reruns are too boring. And the place's finances are impressively sad.

Here's the lowdown: "Approximately 7 hours per week would be dedicated to newscasts and an additional 21 hours to talk and information programs." And the rest?

"During the daytime, the proposed station would feature a mix of Top Forty music, pop, and classic hits from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In the evenings and on weekends dance music, Rhythm and blues, club mixes, easy listening, contemporary jazz, Latin beat and world music would also be offered. The applicant indicated that during the broadcast day and between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays it would devote 40 percent of all music drawn from category 2 (popular music) to Canadian selections. This level would exceed the minimum level of 35 percent required...."

And in terms of supporting local talent: "The applicant indicated that it would not participate in the Canadian talent development (CTD) plan created by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Instead, Rainbow proposed an independent CTD plan with several components. In each broadcast year, a $5,000 scholarship for journalism, artistic, or music studies would be awarded by both the School of Media Studies at Humber College and the School of Journalism at Carleton University. An annual expenditure of $30,000 would be made for musical artists to be showcased at the Pride Week celebrations. Rainbow would fund workshops and seminars at Canadian Music Week, at a cost of $10,000 per year during the first four years of the licence term, and $20,000 in each subsequent year. Rainbow would also fund a gay community showcase and art exhibit, beginning in the fifth year of the licence term, at a cost of $40,000 in that year and in each subsequent year."

We'll see. Or rather, listen, to 103.9 FM. Cuz there'll be an Internet simulcast, right?

April 6, 2006 12:32 PM

My comic book diary

Some tidbits gleaned from this morning's sessions at the "Strips of Knowledge," conference (en francais, mostly) on comics. (A part of Blue Met and organized by the ASTED):

- About half of Japan's 20 new millionaires are manga comic book artists.

- the space ships in Star Wars were... inspired... from the Valerian space-time agent comic books.

- The best selling tome of 2005 was not Harry Potter, and it was not The Da Vinci Code. It was the newest Asterix, which sold some 3 million copies. And it was the worst Asterix episode ever, noted one speaker.

Asterix, by the way, apparently sells more than Lucky Luke and -- warning, this part is offensive! -- more than Tintin.

- Bande dessinée nut Benoit Peeters (but more importantly for Oples, tintinologue extraordinaire), noted that Hergé, the creator of the intrepid reporter, was even more of a trailblazer than many realize. In the United States, comics writers and artists were cattle, seen as interchangeable and without any control over their own creations. (Thus, for example, even an American big shot like Stan Lee had to go to court just a few years ago to fight for the rights to his characters.) But Hergé, in Belgium, assumed he owned his characters and behaved as such. Hergé first drew Tintin in a newspaper, then sold the serialized tales to a publishing house. Himself! It was a big deal.

Hergé then started placing Tintin internationally. In Switzerland and Portugal, to start. In "The Cigars of the Pharoah," the artist welcomed his foreign readers by introducing a new and recurring character, the Lisbon-born traveling salesman, Oliviera da Figueira. Although it's not in the later hardcover version I own -- newer editions seem to have been relentless internationalized, and I mean that in the sense of removing some ethnicity -- Peeters says Tintin's dog, Milou, immediately extended his blessing: "Chic!" he wooffoured (how to describe Milou's pup-speech?). "Un Portugais! Tout les Portugais sont sympathiques!" (The Portuguese are cool!)

Only someone with real control could play to his audience in this way, and could thus begin to win their loyalty.

April 6, 2006 8:36 AM

The current tally

More death. ILGA, the Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association, tracks present-day anti-gay-sex laws around the world.

Here. Spend a few minutes browsing. Death-penalty countries include Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia. It appears that those last three might at times substitute corporal punishment for death? Or is it whipping and death? Two other countries offer punishments ranging from prison to death: Mauritania and Pakistan.

April 5, 2006 3:06 PM

Did we forget gay marriage? Er, no.

Homo marriage was noticeably absent from yesterday's Throne Speech, but it's still on the block. "The federal Conservatives say they will follow through on a campaign promise to hold a free vote in the House of Commons on same-sex marriage," it sez here. "Justice Minister Vic Toews says the vote will be held 'sooner rather than later.' The Tory campaign platform says if MPs vote to overturn same-sex marriage, a bill will be introduced to restrict marriage to unions between men and women."

April 5, 2006 12:31 PM

Canada had the death penalty, after all?

History is all about who finds what document, how each bit of gossip or carved stone is interpreted. What and how much background research was done. How obsessed you are with a particular topic.

Now for a different, and at times contradictory look, at Canadian law and homos, this taken from Toronto activist Tom Warner's 2002 tome, "Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada."

Warner agrees that Christian prohibitions were a big deal, but notes that the "immoral" sex problems "dated back to the Mosaic law of the ancient Hebrews. Many Hebrew laws and beliefs were adopted by Christianity, which became the official religion of the Roman Empire. In AD 527, Emperor Justinian introduced the first civil law against homosexuality, and that proscription gradually became enforced throughout Europe, as Christianity became the dominant religion."

The empire collapsed , but many of the legal concepts held on (including the idea that women, children and slaves were inferiour to big daddy). "By the time of the papal supremacy, the laws of the church and state concerning sexual matters became almost indistinguishable and remained that way for centuries. Not only did homosexuality become criminal, but at times the Roman Catholic Church associated it with heresy. Acts of terror and murder were perpetrated against homosexuals; gays and lesbians were among the victims of the Inquisition. In later times, particularly in Protestant countries, homosexuals, like women suspected of being witches, were tortured and executed. Most of the focus was on male homosexuality, but lesbians were also persecuted. The first Europeans law against lesbian acts dates from AD 1270, in France. Later, similar condemnations of lesbian sexual activities were to be found elsewhere throughout Europe. Many of the women executed had been caught cross-dressing or assuming the identities of men."

Britain was anti-gay, but didn't adopt the death penalty (for the Abominable Act of Buggery) until the 1500s. "The penalty was effectively abandoned in 1836, and was formally abolished only in 1861, when it was replaced with imprisonment for a period of 10 years to life. British laws governing sexual practices were eventually incorporated into the Criminal Code of Canada. The Consolidated Statues of Canada, 1859 included buggery as an offence punishable by death. In 1892, it was reclassified as one of the 'Offences Against Morality,' and remained an offence even for consenting adults until 1969. As the language of the law indicates, Canada's Criminal Code, like the statutes in Britain on which it was modelled, largely ignored lesbians...."

Scholars seem to believe this is because women were male property, and so were seen as having no separate sexual identity that would even allow lesbianism. In any case, "until the 1950s the Criminal Code contained no specific reference to same-sex acts involving women." And what would that be, you ask? What occurred in the fifties? The story actually goes back to 1890, when "gross indecency" was introduced as an offence targeted at any man who "commits any act of gross indecency with another male person." What act that might be was not defined. In 1953, the law was amended to also apply to heterosexuals and lesbians.

One last bit of nastiness arrived in 1948. The "criminal sexual psychopath" was a person (oddly, almost always a gay man) who is "likely to attack or otherwise inflict injury, loss, pain or" -- and here's the kicker -- to inflict "evil on any person." Such a criminal was sent to jail indefinitely. In 1961, the new category of "dangerous sexual offender" -- someone "likely to commit another sexual offence" -- also caught up gay men. Unless they could prove they were celibate.

April 5, 2006 12:30 PM

The killing fields

Heh heh. Welcome to Oples: all death, all the time!

Inspired by Bentham's "anxieties" over speaking out in favour of tolerating homosexuality at a time when England punished gay sex by hanging, I've collected some small history of Western gays and the death sentence. Er, this is grabbed from a sociology term paper I pulled together back in 2002. The sources are linked, and the sociology textbook is used throughout the country. The Canadian Encyclopedia is, of course, a must-have.

In the Europe of 1400 to 1700, the masses did not accept the possibility of coincidence. Demons were real and so any bad luck or deviance was all Satan's fault. Including homo sex.

Why was homo sex labeled deviant at all? One theory has it that "this intolerance is rooted in the ancient Judaeo-Christian disgust for sexual acts associated with paganism."

Certainly the Bible condemns male homosexuality (in Leviticus), as did early church leaders like Paul. During Europe's witch and heresy crazes (concurrent with the Catholic church's growing influence), homosexuals were put to death, both male and female.

On the lesbian side, some argue (as in this textbook) that the jealous, male-only hierarchy of the Catholic Church wanted to ensure that women did not pose a threat -- either because of their scary power over life (as midwives controlling the birthing process, or because women, um, you know, control the process by giving birth). Healers and mystics were also supposedly female, even possibly impeaching upon the power of a male-only, professionalizing medical class. The independence of spinsters and lesbians -- who didn't need men at all -- would exclude the Catholic hierarchy in its entirety.

These theories would seem to indicate that the condemnation had different origins for each gender. But certainly anyone trying to hold on to "pagan" ways was going to get whacked.

Deviance was understood as a demon taking over your body. You needed to be painfully killed to chase it off, in order to protect neighbours from being invaded in turn. Alternately, you'd made a pact yourself with the devil, and a particularly painful murder was the proper punishment for your own evil.

Certainly not all deviants were punished. Class (surprise, surprise) saved Margaret, the daughter of Emperor Charles V of Austria, and Italian noblewoman Laudomia Forteguerri, who met in 1537. What could save your neck? Money, power or powerful kin, and a way of successfully spinning your perverted luuuv into the ultimate platonic devotion, for example. Marge and Laudy managed them all.

But a whole lotta people were killed. Lisbon's archives show that 166 sodomites (including one woman) were convicted in the 17th century. Thirty were put to death throughout the entirety of the Portuguese Inquisition. (Some were even turned in by their priest lovers, who believed that their own wickedness should be punished. There came an end, however: "The last recorded Christian burning of homosexuals occurred in Amsterdam in 1730."

And the good news is that the witch and heresy panics did not hit Canada. "Places that were sheltered from change did not develop the craze," writes this academic. (See? There is some good to being an insecure, unnoticed and isolated Canuck!)

This brings us to the end of the end of the 18th century, and now I get to reintroduce our friend the reformer, Jeremy Bentham. The Satan-lives-in-my-brain-and-genitalia-theory was losing its grip. Bentham's treatise on homosexuality was never published, but his squishy ideas seeped through. The punishment should fit the crime, he suggested, and not in itself be morally indefensible. So when policy makers influenced by Bentham began to look at their criminal codes, some realized on their own that death for sex did not add up to an arm for an arm. Or whatever body part's involved.

Over to the south of us, in Virginia in 1779, Thomas Jefferson authored a bill that reduced the penalty for sodomy (and rape and polygamy) from death to mere castration for men; women were to have a large hole cut in their noses. (See Jonathan Katz's book "Gay American History" for a U.S. rundown!)

From Canadian confederation (the year 1867) to 1969, male homosexual sex was punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

It was at the end of World War II that the Canadian outlook on homosexuality began to change yet again. The Cold War brought a crisis in male gender identity, and a new focus on sex, family, responsibility, and the need to create conforming consumers (in order to kick start an economy that had been focused on war). Professor Tom Waugh has suggested that Canada and the National Film Board propaganda machine specialized in a "chilling" psychiatry, with a focus on mental health. "The series [of movies created in an effort to build a national identity and behaviour] symbolically cemented the shift... from the villainy of fascism to the villainy of controlling or distant mothers."

Homosexuality became an illness, with Freud leading the charge (or his less sophisticated hordes of followers, anyway). On this one, women were not ignored: Girls with distant mothers and absent dads ended up hating men. And the movies encouraged boys to play hockey, not chase pretty butterflies.

When did we begin to get outta this mess? In the 1970s. Cue gay activism. Zip boom ba.

April 5, 2006 11:50 AM

Fi-i-i-ve go-o-o-lden rings

A look at this month's Oples e-mail...

36 offers of Viagra or Cialis
3 requests to confirm my credit card or bank account number (because some evil dweeb is stealing all my money)
2 cheap software pitches
1 sales effort for Hoodia weight loss pills.

Plus multiple herbal meds sales spiels from senders Veritable Q. Fluffiness, Laceration B. Steepness, Doormen H. Outvoting, Undisputed V. Pillar, Compartment J. Ruthless, Woofer K. Anorexics, and Expandable K. Antelope.

The Suzhou ( China ) SunShine Imp. & Exp. Co., Ltd. is offering to sell me metal objects, and the ChongQing BIG Science & Technology Development CO. Ltd. has some farming machinery for me.

And I won three lotteries in Thailand and Spain for which I did not even buy a ticket! I'm outta here, kids. Buyin' me an island!

April 4, 2006 8:20 AM

Coping with the irrational

The last of the math you'll have to cope with here this week: Pythagoras, who lived 500 years before Christ's birth, was Mister Mathematical Proof. He treated numbers as science, and founded a school to perpetuate his brilliance. "When Pythagoras claimed that the universe is governed by numbers he meant whole numbers and ratios of whole numbers (fractions), together known as rational numbers," writes science popularizer Simon Singh in his older tome, "Fermat's Enigma."

It is said that Pythagoras did have a blind spot: Irrational numbers. Like pi (a symbol that I can't seem to reproduce on my silly keyboard), a number that keeps repeating (after the decimal) in a random pattern for all of eternity. This irrationality seemed to deny the ability of math to explain All. So the great man denied the existence of "irrationals".

And so there is an (apocryphal?) anecdote of Pythagoras' student, Hippasus, who, Singh writes, "was idly toying with the number [the square root of two], attempting to find the equivalent fraction. Eventually he came to realize that no such fraction existed, i.e., that [the square root of two] is an irrational number. Hippasus must have been overjoyed by his discovery, but his master was not.... Pythagoras was unable to accept that he was wrong, but at the same time he was unable to destroy Hippasus' argument by the power of logic. "

Hippasus was drowned.

April 3, 2006 8:45 PM

Ta-raaaa! Ta-raaa, ta-raaa!

JESUS FUCKING H. CHRIST ON A STICK!

THE COMMENTS ARE COMING! THE COMMENTS ARE COMING!

Click on the headline,
scroll down to the end,
find a word oh-so-fine:
"Comments"! Forfend!

'Tis a sight fer sore eyes --
I'll hype it up, babble!
For too long it's been 'byes
to the words of the rabble.

I beseech you, prithee,
inundate Oples with words:
Published they'll be,
except for those goddamn poker ads.

The rest a youse, type!
Give us a sentence --
please! Send over a gripe.
We need sustenance.

For your patience, plaudits.
We've been suff'rin' fits
o'er here… ah, but anon!
All's good. A new dawn.

Beautiful, izn't it?
Now let's get on with biz'nit.

April 3, 2006 5:51 PM

T'other chickie

I'm a pretty stubborn gal. So I found another woman. Another woman for Einstein, I mean.

David Bodanis devotes a chapter to each of the symbols in the famous E=mc squared in his year 2000 book, subtitled "A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation."

We take you now to the France, and the mid-1700s. Her name was Emilie de Breteuil, the daughter of a rich man who once wrote in frustration: "My youngest flaunts her mind, and frightens away the suitors.... We don't know what to do with her." At 19, she picked a nice dullard to marry, one who'd often be away on business and who never questioned the (many) male friends who kept his wife company during his times away.

One of the (now monikered) Emilie du Châtelet's pals was a physicist, another the philosopher Voltaire. Voltaire had his own room in the rather large spare house they preferred, and would pop by to talk of Newton (although, to arrive unannounced was to risk disturbing his lover in the arms of another!). "There was a library comparable to that of the Academy of Sciences in Paris, the latest laboratory equipment from London, and there were guest wings, and the equivalent of seminar areas, and soon there were visits from the top researchers in Europe."

Newton's math proved the existence of God. To himself, anyway. He believed that two carts aimed at each other at full speed would, once they hit, create energy (and that the energy equals mass times velocity). The energy then created a hole through which it simply passed out of this universe. "Since collisions like this happen all the time, if we live within a great, coglike clockwork, that clock would always need winding. But look around you. We don't find that as the years pass, fewer and fewer objects are able to move. That's the proof. The fact that the universe continues operating was, in Newton's view, a sign that God's reassuring hand was reaching in, to nurture us and to support us; to supply all the motive force we otherwise lost."

Du Chatelet was focussed on the equations of a Newton rival, Gottfried Leibniz, who attacked Newton's belief that God created a clock that needed constant celestial winding -- that God was too incompetent to create a perpetual motion machine. Leibnez believed that energy equals mass times velocity squared, which stayed in the universe and was enough to keep it all percolating along. Emilie brought the Leibniz's idea together with a Dutch scientist's hard research to prove that the squared was essential.

Du Chatelet was working against time. At 40-something she became pregnant, and knew the chances of surviving childbirth were small (at the time, doctors didn't even know that washing their hands was a good idea). In fact, she survived a week longer than she expected. But published.

As we all now know, e=mc squared (c being a specific velocity, that of light) is the motherlode. It was the answer Einstein got, and it fit right in with established theory. All because of a woman.

So there. Have I saved feminism?

April 3, 2006 9:43 AM

The woman behind the fella

Here's an essential tenet of heroine-building feminism: the idea that, in the bad ole days, men got all the glory for work that women either did on their own, or co-authored. "It must have been around 1990 that I first read newspaper reports about the claims that Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric, had made substantial contributions to his early achievements in physics," writes Allen Esterson (via Arts and Letters Daily). After all, PBS said it was so.

In part, Esterson notes, this is based on the belief that Einstein was a mediocre student and that he needed a boost from wifey to get his not-too-good brain goin'. It's a great story, but it's not true. "However, a letter from his mother to her sister in 1886, when he was 7, reports that he was 'again top of the class'. During his years at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich he performed well in science and mathematics... his school-leaving certificate from September 1896 records that he achieved maximum grades in algebra and geometry, high grades in physics and chemistry and some other subjects, and performed badly only in French. He received the highest grade average in his class."

Smarty-pants boy got into a higher institution of learning when he was 17, which is younger than usual. That's where he met Mileva Maric. She was smart, sure. But Einstein was ahead of her by a year or so in his studies, and scored higher grades. She twice failed to graduate, the second time being pregnant (probably barfing every morning, poor thing). And math was not, shall we say, her bestest subject.

Some of the correspondence between Einstein and Maric led to the belief in her essential contributions to relativity's equations. "These contentions were based on the fact that in a number of letters Einstein used the pronouns 'our' and 'we' in relation to physics topics he was working on during the period when they were students. Now there is no doubt that the couple worked together on subject matter pertaining to their diploma course, and to their respective diploma dissertations, which were both on topics in thermal conductivity. But many of the instances in which Einstein used inclusive language clearly relate to extra-curricular subject matter. What is in dispute is whether this demonstrates that Maric worked together with him on this material.

"Unfortunately many of the letters Maric wrote to Einstein in this period have not survived. However, one thing immediately apparent is that whereas Einstein's letters frequently contain reports of ideas he is working on, and of physics publications he is reading in relation to them, there is not a single one of Maric's that contains any corresponding material. Her letters occasionally refer to work related to her diploma studies, including her dissertation project, but are mostly devoted to personal matters relating to friends and family."

One debunker has noted that "significantly, for every occasion that Einstein uses 'we' or 'our' in connection with a particular topic, there are numerous others when he uses 'I' or 'my,' indicating it is he who is actually working on the topics in question. In the case of one specific instance that has been cited, [it's been pointed] out that there are more than a dozen uses of first person singular pronouns by Einstein in regard to this same subject matter."

Still quoting from the Esterson piece: "It is significant that in relation to two instances in which Einstein uses inclusive language Maric explicitly states in letters to her close friend Helene Kaufler that the work in question was written by Einstein. In one of these letters she adds, 'You can imagine how proud I am of my darling,' and in the other, 'I have read this work with great joy and real admiration for my little darling, who has such a clever head.' It is evident that these are not the words of someone who made substantive contributions to the papers in question."

It goes on (and on), rebuffing every statement crediting Maric.

Are we women perhaps over-zealous in our need to claim a role in every historical event?

Writes buddy: "There is a very real story behind Maric's life that's worth telling in its own right, that of an academically talented girl who overcame both personal and institutionalised difficulties to acquire a College education in physical science from which women were disbarred in many parts of Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. But the actual facts of a life lived bravely in the face of adverse circumstances is apparently not enough for some doctrinaire feminists who have sought to make ideological capital out of claims based on misconceptions and erroneous contentions. They have seized upon these dubious claims to produce an alternative history of Einstein and Maric in a way that violates the basic tenets of principled historical research."

Hey, I can let go of Mileva Maric. If only... if only Esterson hadn't used that word, "doctrinaire." It's a stupid slur, and it makes me distrust his own agenda.

Apparently, it's darned hard to let go.

March 31, 2006 11:20 AM

Burn, baby, burn

Canada is an exporter of garbage. The Toronto area alone in 2004 produced "more than half of the 3.4 million tonnes of garbage shipped stateside from Ontario," notes a recent editorial in Canadian Business (about half-way down the page). Our own landfills are pretty much full, and "we need to come up with a comprehensive plan that addresses all aspects of waste management -- collection, recycling, composting, transfer and disposal. That plan should include incineration. Yes, incineration."

Not the toxic smoke belching furnaces of old, but energy-producing sci-fi stoves of the future. That run on "plasma-gasification, which heats garbage until it breaks down. Because it does that without using oxygen, nothing gets burned in the process." Ottawa-based Plasco Energy Group Inc. has a pilot project ready to go, just waiting on the Ontario government for an okay after getting a municipal thumbs-up (and a federal seal of approval via a $6.6 million grant from Sustainable Development Technology Canada).

The plan is to process 75 tonnes of garbage a day, produce electricity for 3,600 homes, and use the "glass-like solid" left at the bottom in construction. Could it be true? Is it okay to love this?

March 31, 2006 10:56 AM

The Pooh perplex

I am crestfallen to discover that EH Shepard, whose pix have cheered every child (and many adults) through A Bad Spell, despised his benefactor. "The man whose drawings brought Winnie the Pooh to life spent the last years of his life hating the bear with very little brain," it sez here.

"The biggest regret in EH Shepard's life was agreeing to illustrate Winnie the Pooh for AA Milne, as it resulted in the bulk of his work, even during his lifetime, being completely overshadowed.

"In his later years, Shepard was heard to describe Pooh as 'that silly old bear' and resented his close identification with Milne's books.

"Although he is best remembered today as the man who drew Pooh, Shepard himself saw these illustrations as very much a sideline. Instead his main occupation, from 1921 until 1953, was working as one of Punch magazine's leading political cartoonists.... From his first published cartoon in 1907, he became a regular contributor until 1953."

The unwashed masses have spoken. A Pooh original sells for tens of thousands. A laboured Punch scribble sells for ... rather less.

March 30, 2006 12:32 PM

Three way?

Montrealers might not have to face the same contest in the next mayoral election. Twice now, we've had to choose between Pierre Bourque, who thinks he was born to be king (one of his old slogans was along the lines of "mayor once, mayor forever"), and Gerald Tremblay, a liar -- no wait, I retract that liar accusation, just as Tremblay retracted his city budget after introducing mondo tax increases when he promised he wouldn't.

Now Pauline Marois, who ran repeatedly for the leadership of the Parti Quebecois and kept... losing, is apparently considering a bid for Montreal's top spot. She announced her resignation from provincial politics earlier this month. This morning's La Presse says friends are trying to conscript her (code for "trial balloon"). Marois has had a distinguished career as Quebec's minister of just about everything during her party's on-again, off-again years in power. She lost the latest leadership campaign to the out, coke-snorting André Boisclair. Who outflanks Marois on the right. (Boisclair, by the way, has taken down his blog, which just forwards to the PQ's official website. He's in now, and can't afford a misstep.)

Marois always looks snotty in photographs. She really needs to work on that.

March 30, 2006 12:02 PM

Sad news...

But not unexpected: "They might look deathly," reports the newest Maclean's, "but the pallid makeup, black hair, jewellery and piercings that are the trademarks of Goths do not mean your children are on the early road to ruin. A study by the University of Sussex in England has concluded that, unlike punks, Goths grow up to be lawyers, doctors and other professionals. Researchers say the look is merely a rebellious interregnum in an otherwise middle-class life."

March 28, 2006 4:10 PM

Bentham, eh wot

We take you now to the world of philosopher Jeremy Bentham, one of the founders of utilitarianism. (Grossly, ya calculate what's best for the world as being what causes the most happiness.) The famous egghead wrote an essay titled "Offences Against One's Self: Paederasty" back around 1785, believed to be "the first known argument for homosexual law reform in England."

It was first published in 1978. No typo -- it took almost 200 years for this thing to see some ink. Homosexuality was punishable by hanging back then, and Bentham had some "anxieties" about expressing his views in public.

In fact, you couldn't even exactly say what you were saying, as noted here: "In law books and in parliamentary debate, homosexual behavior was referred to stereotypically by the Latin formula, 'peccatum illud horribile, inter Christianos non nominandum' -- 'that horrible crime not to be named among Christians.'"

But death for same-sex woo-hoo made no sense, Bentham felt: "I have been tormenting myself for years to find if possible a sufficient ground for treating them with the severity with which they are treated at this time of day by all European nations: but upon the principle utility I can find none."

First off, heterosexuals were doin' it for themselves: "It seems to be more common for men to apply themselves to a wrong part in women," notes Bentham, "and in this case grave authors have found more enormity than when the sex as well as the part of the object is mistaken." The good philosopher was unable to see why this was anybody else's business: "If there be one idea more ridiculous than another, it is that of a legislator who, when a man and a woman are agreed about a business of this sort, thrusts himself in between them, examining situations, regulating times and prescribing modes and postures."

Bentham noted the fear that, if allowed to flourish, homosexuality would attract so many converts that the human race would die out from lack of the wee ones. "On the contrary the country in which the prevalence of this practise... is most conspicuous happens to have been remarkable for its populousness." Bentham suggests that big humanity's greatest impediment to little humanities screeching and careening through the house is... the ritualized celibacy practised by priests.

Lesbians were left out of the criminal equation, of course, though Bentham kindly gave a whole paragraph to the contradiction. "Where women contrive to procure themselves the sensation by means of women, the ordinary course of nature is as much departed from as when the like abomination is practised by men with men. The former offence however is not as generally punished as the latter. It appears to have been punished in France but the law knows nothing of it in England." (Men, of course, use this as a way of showing how much greater is their suffering, but I digress.)

Bentham goes through all the arguments and finally comes to the crux of the issue. He questions whether gay male homosexuality reduces the happiness of heterosexual women. Because under utilitarianism, that would be bad: "A more serious imputation for punishing this practise [is] that the effect of it is to produce in the male sex an indifference to the female, and thereby defraud the latter of their rights."

But not to worry, he writes: "In the first place the female sex is always able and commonly disposed to receive a greater quantity of venereal tribute than the male sex is able to bestow." So -- no worries. (The word "venereal" comes from Venus, goddess of love.) And women aren't allowed to get it from all over, anyway, as they are intended only for marriage. One rod's enough!

Exclusive homo-male couplings are fine, then, unless there's a man shortage. In which case, I guess, we'll have to re-do the happiness calculation.


(Thanks to Samantha, whose interest in His Victorian Nibs led me to this post.)

March 28, 2006 2:39 PM

Kidnappings, Danish cartoons, gays and Islam

I did a quick survey story in this month's Press Pass Q (third news piece down) on how the North American queer press responded to the Danish cartoons fiasco. There was very little.... Here's the copy I found:

Lavender managing editor Ethan Boatner wrote an editorial that's no longer online: "I believe that Lavender's omission of the Danish cartoons stands not for capitulation to terrorists, but rather simple respect for those Muslims living and working peacefully here...."

He asked Minneapolis and St. Paul readers (in an online poll) whether to run the 'toons. The answer's yes, but hey -- only 18 responses were received.

Syndicated writer Wayne Besen (also printed in Lavender) is here. And Camille Paglia pontificated here: "This is simply another episode in a long-running story of iconoclasm. Images have always been a flashpoint in the history of religions. I think what we’re actually seeing has nothing to do with the cartoons in Denmark. It’s a kind of world protest against Western intrusion into the Middle East.

"This spilling out of frustration is not a good sign for the people who have been saying all along that Islam is a peaceful religion. But often, anything, including religion, can be hijacked by a determined and fanatical fringe. That’s what we’re seeing. I think it bodes very ill for our political future over the next century."

Boston's Bay Windows ran a piece Feb. 23 written by former editor Jeff Epperly.

X-Factor is an all-man magazine out of Phoenix, Ariz. See editor Ken Furtado's piece here.

Lotta 'mericans, eh? Here's one I missed the first time around, from Vancouver's Xtra West, here.

I dunno whether queer journalists think religion is irrelevent to their gay mandate, or if they're runnin' scared.

March 27, 2006 3:13 PM

Silence = life?

Kidnapped (and sprung) peacenik James Loney is gay, and friends, family and media kept it under wraps for months.

"The co-director of the Christian Peacemakers Teams says the family of freed Christian peace activist James Loney kept his sexual orientation quiet out of fear for his safety. Doug Pritchard says the family feared Loney might come to harm at the hands of his Iraqi captors had they known he was gay. Pritchard says it likely wouldn't have helped if Loney's partner, Dan Hunt, had come forward with public pleas for his release. Hunt made his first public appearance since Loney's ordeal began last November when he greeted his partner Sunday at the airport."

And the background: "The 41-year-old Loney was kidnapped in Baghdad along with fellow Canadian Harmeet Sooden, Briton Norm Kember and American Tom Fox, whose bullet-ridden body was found earlier this month."


ADDENDUM Tuesday: Only the truth we decide you'll know... Toronto Star media writer Antonia Zerbisias on the journalism blackout, here.

March 27, 2006 2:52 PM

Da plane! Da plane!

It's been suggested that the grounding of North American flying machines following the Sept. 11 attacks helped show the effect aeroplanes are having on global warming.

Theory has it that aircraft leave vapour trails that turn into clouds. Clouds deflect sunlight back into space, keeping the Earth cooler than you'd expect it to be. And Aussie scientist Tim Flannery has noted that as the skies cleared post Sept. 11, the northern hemisphere's temperature went up by a couple of degrees.

Planes are helping mask global warming. It's all just hurting my little head.
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