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July 10, 2006 2:19 PM

I heart Darfur

"Darfur is Dying" is a video game designed to make you learn and to make you care. You live in a refugee camp, and your first task is to get water.

Is this just too darned earnest to be a good game? Another question: "We must not be afraid of putting people in the shoes of groups or people or individuals that are not comfortable, that we don't like, or think we don't like," says video game critic Ian Bogost.

"It's very easy to look at any one side in this conflict, and say these are the good guys and these are bad guys, but if we've learned anything in the 21st century already, it's that maybe there are no good guys and bad guys anymore."

So villagers who join a murderous militia might do so to avoid starvation.I'm sure that's absolutely true for many. Heck, we all hope that's the reason for everybody who's toting a gun, eh? But they might be killing people because, well, they like to kill people. Which is, much as we might hate to admit it, sometimes true. Evil exists, and we need to be able to see all realities, not just hope for the best one.

July 4, 2006 6:07 PM

Stuck on you

Vaclav Havel is a poet and playwright whose resistance to tyranny in Czechoslovakia helped destroy it. Then he became a politician.

All go boom. "Václav Havel, great dissident political intellectual, he goes into politics and finds that he can't -- to use his own phrase -- live in truth.

"You have to make compromises in what you say, you have to censor yourself, you have to tell half-truths, and above all you have to go on endlessly repeating yourself," states a recent interview that takes Havel's name in vain. "I think that at different stages in your life it may be possible to be a critical intellectual and to be an engaged politician, but you certainly can't do both at the same time."

This reminds me of Al Gore, the former "next president of the United States," defeated by George W. Bush. Gore notes in his enviro-scare movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," that the near death of his son forced him to set priorities in life, helped him separate the small stuff from the big. But it was the (probable) end of his political career that allowed him to focus fully on one issue. To live his truth, I guess you could say.

Gore's obsession is the pollution being poured out into air and water and soil by humans. Gore believes it's going to destroy the Earth, and us along with it.

It's all very earnest and nice (in a terrible way, of course), but I doubt this would have happened if Gore had become U.S. president. The environment would just have become one of the 40 million thingies he had to worry about. And single-issue people are bad anyway, right? When they have to run the whole shebang, I mean. There's just so much more out there.

And yet.... I'm beginning to wonder if the problem with politics is that we don't have enough single-issue people elected to office. At least that's what I got out of a recent interview with Allan Rock, Canada's outgoing ambassador to the United Nations.

The UN is a nightmarish mess of opposing opinions poised to stymie any change at all. Rock said that he was forced to become obsessed with one or two things, focussing on them at the expense of all others, in order to extract any change, even as small as it was.

"There cannot ever have been a place where more and better use was made of committees and studies and commissions to slow things down. It's extremely frustrating," said Rock.

"But if you choose your spots, if you pick your issues, and focus like a laser on those issues, build coalitions, work with NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and are persistent, you can use the process to make, albeit modest, progress on some of these issues."

Obsession, it turns out, might be good for us.

June 30, 2006 1:56 PM

This blog

Ah well, the best laid plans.... I want to say hello to the new folks who are discovering this blog. It's a mix of things, this odd creation. Some dumb jokes, a few fun discoveries, reviews of literature, movies and other readings. Lots of questions, and a few opinions.

The opinions are my own, of course, not those of employers. Although, to be truthful, even some of these opinions are not my own. They are ideas thrown out for discussion. Some I discard, some I keep. That's one of the delightful things of debate, both with readers and with myself. Ideas are for the joy of them.

June 28, 2006 5:10 PM

tooooo sweaty

Yer scribe is hot and in a bad way. I'm taking a break until Monday. Read ya then!

June 24, 2006 5:45 PM

Giving Margaret Somerville the last word

The good doc (both earned and hon.) has received her award.

She favours queer civil unions, but not marriage, where the rights of children and of adults clash. "I'm pro gay rights and I'm anti discrimination against gays…. But I think same-sex marriage is one of the things where children's rights trump gay rights," she said recently on CBC radio. And yeah, she had the opportunity to go on about what a martyr she is (your scribe rolls her eyes: I told ya so), claiming that younger colleagues are afraid to speak out against gay marriage because they won’t get cushy university jobs or tenure. As if.

But here's the very bestest part of her interview, as transcribed by moi: Somerville is fine with being despised. "I'm prepared to put up with that… it's really part of my job."

So far, it's all good. "I've often thought, you know, I live not in the country of my birth, I've got no children or partner, and I don't have any relatives in Canada -- and I've lived here for 30 years, and I'm a great believer in destiny, and I sort of think that you'd have to be almost designed in the situation I'm in for someone like me in order to give them the freedom, to do what I can do, is to take that and let that anger and often hatred come out."

Wow. One of the country's biggest names in philosophy and ethics believes in destiny -- that she was made to be alone and strong. Read her lips: There is no such thing as free will.

June 22, 2006 3:38 PM

For the junkies: Media madness

The Canadian Senate's "Final Report on the Canadian News Media" is out. I'd call it a heckuva doorstopper, but that's sooo old technology. It's a memory hogger. (See my past report on the committee here.)

There's not a single mention of the queer press in Canada in there. I haven't finished reading it (that'll take hours), but searches for "queer," "gay," "lesbian" and "GL" turned up nuthin'. GLBT publishers ignored this commission at their peril. You're part of the milieu, and hiding your head in the sand won't work. (And the fact that out senators Laurier L. LaPierre and Nancy Ruth helped out for the hearings isn't enough. Neither has a foot in the queer community press.)

"Blog" is mentioned once, by a reporter who told the commissioners: "The information on the Internet may not always be just the unreliable, opinionated bloggers. I think that, increasingly, people might be turning to more mainstream or established websites like the New York Times. Personally, I almost never watch television any more because it is so slow to sit through a newscast when I can go to the CBC or the CTV website and find all the stories on the line-up and just scan them within a few minutes."

Bloggers also ignored this commission at their own risk.

Oh wait. That's me.

June 22, 2006 10:27 AM

I am down with the young people

Can a 40-something lady wrap her degenerating neurons around them fancy video games? I'm flapping my thumb as fast as I can. But the truth is, the ole brain ain't what she used to be.

Not that I'm out of touch with the young people. Not I! A pop culture zealot and aficionado of the youth zeitgeist, I started hanging in arcades at the age of 30. There's nothing like watching a group of testosterone-charged teens whooping over a sound card to get a sense of what's important to a group I'd not normally connect with.

And if the youth love video games, I can love them, too. The first one I fell for was Area 51, the shoot-em-up where you save the world from invading alien beings. Those faux bullets saved my sanity.

Hate your boss? Best pal eyeing your dream date? Corner store cashier crassly rude? Blow'em all away. Area 51 required only a trigger-happy finger and some semblance of aim. My path through the hallways of death was preprogrammed -- no need for fancy backflips or complex strategy. Just focus every brain cell on exploding the bad guys and feel the headache dissipate, the shoulders lower, the muscles calm. I traded in massages and acupuncture for the simple satisfaction of wanton destruction -- and the only consequence was the loss of a pocketful of quarters.

One pocketful led to 40, then to 102. So I adopted the fiscally responsible route and bought a portable game console, the PlayStation 2. And picked up one of the most popular franchises to go with it, Resident Evil: Dead Aim. It too, was a point-and-shoot, and I was looking forward to destroying a new generation of personal nemeses.

But darned if those new-fangled thingamajigs weren't all different! I had to navigate on my own, constantly worry about finding band aids and bigger guns, and pick up hidden pass keys to open locked doors. I had to keep a pen at my side to jot down an up-to-date map of the maze in which I was losing myself. This hi-tech program wasn't about the quiet satisfaction of wrecking things, it was about multitasking. I got enough of that at work.

Yes, ridding the world of evil murderous zombies bent on eating human flesh was just too hard.

So I downgraded. I went from rated M for Mature ("blood and gore, violence" and, not mentioned on the box, dagnabbed difficult), to something a bit less challenging. A kid's game, rated E for Everyone and starring a cute furry creature. After a month, I'd barely advanced at all.

Look, this stuff is hard. If the penguins touch you, you freeze up into an ice cube. Nasty! And there's a horrible dragon -- and jumping over that big hole is really tough. I then discovered that a bored eight-year-old boy at the tail-end of a baby shower could reach level 29-million in 12 minutes flat.

I downgraded again.

I switched to a first-generation PlayStation game (possible with the additional purchase of an old PS1 memory card). I bought the very first Tomb Raider. The graphics are painful, with the hotsy relic hunter Lara Croft easily walking through solid rock by accident. But I was happy; I knew I'd found my proper skill level.

(What I'd also found were Croft's freakishly -- and giant -- pointy gazongas. The game's at times uncontrollable camera angles often focus on the hooters. Hmmm.)

But moving the rest of Croft through the cave-filled mountain of an ancient civilization proved tougher. I found myself at level 2, drowning. For three days. Even after I'd downloaded the complete cheat sheets.

Thank goodness for Katamari, the newest craze. All you have to do is roll the sticky ball, gathering up household objects into an ever greater mass in order for the King of All Cosmos to toss it up into the sky, eventually replacing all the stars he blinked out during some sort of drug trip. Only two controls to maneuver! No buttons or complicated moves! Katamari, the perfect game for toddlers, seems middle-aged-lady-mistake-proof.

Oh. It turns out there are time limits on how long you have to make the ever-larger clumps.

There go my shoulders -- the muscles are getting all tight. Ow.

June 21, 2006 12:16 PM

Never miiiiiiind

"Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac says he won't be jumping into the race for the federal Liberal leadership." Here.

June 20, 2006 12:36 PM

Moving from gay liberation to mere gay rights

The problem with some AIDS activists and researchers is that their (understandably) desperate need to stop the pandemic is leading them to demand conventional morality as a panacea.

McGill University AIDS Centre director Dr. Mark A. Wainberg is a bit of a Canuck hero. But his op-ed in yesterday's Montreal Gazette (can't find it online) is a step backward: He supports same-sex marriage because instilling in gay men a belief in the importance of monogamy will save lives.

"The reasons for the high vulnerability of gay men to HIV have included higher-than-average rates of promiscuity and non-practice of safe sex. However, the loss of hundreds of thousands of gay men to HIV throughout the 1980s and 1990s had a transforming effect in regard to those same practices as younger generations rapidly understood that safe sex was an essential component of good public health policy aimed at limiting the spread of the virus. Many gay men implemented the safer sex practices that set standards for the prevention efforts that are now being implemented worldwide.

"Yet new infections continue.... Stopping HIV transmission is not a static problem but an unending battle, and one we might lose."

Wainberg says that same-sex marriage is good for gays because it will encourage them to settle down and stop screwing around. "The hope should be that young men and women, mostly in their teens, who struggle with sexual orientation, will understand that being gay is acceptable and that marriage will foster a culture of monogamy and/or stable long-lasting relationships among gay men that will reverse the trends of recent decades." Wainberg hopes that gay marriage will contribute "to increased monogamy and diminished rates of sexually-transmitted disease, values that conservatives have long claimed as their own."

Geez. Where do I start? Sleeping around is about self-hate? Marriage keeps people monogamous? We should give up on education and safer sex in favour of monogamy? In favour of fear?

No. And no. And no again.

June 20, 2006 11:44 AM

The new common language

... or i$ it just the old, made new again? Twelve countrie$ in the European Union have $witched to the Euro, fir$t introduced in 2002. That'$ almost half of the EU'$ member$hip. Now Agence France-Presse has moved a story noting that: "The United States has announced that it's ready to accept a common Asian currency" (my translation from the French). This is an about-face, as the U.S. has previously seen this as creating a rival to its almighty dollar. The one-Asia idea won't come to pass for a very long while, but it's on the radar. (And like it or not, the American opinion matters.)

How much longer before all of North America adopts the U.S. dollar? Or will there be enough crabbiness that the continent will adopt a new currency? I think that's the only way a common currency would work here. I do believe in common currency -- a global currency, in truth, though such will take time, to allow different economies to equalize (might also help encourage it?). But it's gotta be something new. If the US dollar goes continent-wide, I fear its culture will as well -- even more so than now, I mean.

Is this too utopian a vision? Can we have a global currency and maintain the glorious diversity of our many independent cultures?

June 19, 2006 3:57 PM

On written language

The stunning Zhang Yimou flick "Hero" tracks an assassin's plans to take revenge upon the would-be conqueror of China and parts of Asia. But -- spoiler alert -- Jet Li's character instead is convinced to spare the king for the good of the continent.

The argument goes like this: "The people have suffered years of warfare. Only the King of Qin can stop the chaos by uniting all under Heaven."

"He asked me to abandon the assassination for the greater good of all. He said, one person's suffering is nothing compared to the suffering of many. The rivalry of [the kingdoms of] Zhao and Qin is trivial compared to the greater cause."

The 3rd century B.C., it sez here, "was a time of endless brutal wars and much hardship and suffering.... The King of Qin (Qinshihuang) was most ruthless and ambitious of all. Historically chronicled as a brutal tyrant, the Qinshihuang was determined to conquer and control all of the states."

Can there be a just war? "Hero" suggests that there can (from the modern Chinese viewpoint, anyway), though the ends justify the means.

"Political power, generally conceived as the power of constraint and command, was seen in China as the principle that gave life and order, even if this conception did not exclude recourse to force and brutal interventions," notes French historian Jacques Gernet in his monumental work, "A History of Chinese Civilization." (My translated copy is in two volumes, amended, corrected, and published in 2002.) "But constraint is always accompanied in China by the idea of moral correction. It would be a mistake to see in the insistence laid on the regulation of morals only a pretext, a sort of alibi for a tyrannical regime; it is in fact the expression of a privileged mode of political action which has lasted down to our day. Thus we should only be deceiving ourselves if we thought that we had torn away the mask from a power that was simply autocratic."

(I did up look up author Jacques Gernet in watershed academic Edward Said's "Orientalism," an endless and cantankerous overview of offensive Western stereotypes of the East. Gernet, although a force in sino-studies for some four decades, was not listed in Said's index at all. That's a good sign, I think. It's always possible that the indexer missed Gernet's name, but frankly, it will have to do because I'm not ever rereading Said ever again. "Orientalism" is an important work, a ground-breaking work, but also a repetitive and not terribly well-written book.)

Gernet continues: "This remark leads us on to the dangerous ground of the general characteristics of Chinese thought. [...] China does not know the transcendent truths, the idea of good in itself, the notion of property in the strict sense of the term. She [sic] does not like the exclusion of opposition, the idea of the absolute, the positive distinction between mind and matter; she prefers the notions of complementarity, of circulation, influx, of action at a distance, of a model, and the idea of order as an organic totality.... for Chinese thought, the order of beings and of the world is best translated by systems of variable, dynamic symbols. Her logic does not proceed from an analysis of language. It is based on the handling of signs with opposing and complementary values. Perhaps Chinese writing is not unconnected with these deep-rooted tendencies which have ended by giving a privileged position to the written sign at the expense of the spoken word."

And then Gernet looks at the King of Qin (or Ch'in) and written language.

"There are close links between writing and civilization. Without this means of recording and transmitting facts and ideas, which gives man a hold over space and time, the great civilizations would not have been able to develop. But the sort of writing used has had profound effects on the general orientation of these civilizations. Chinese writing enables us better than any other to appreciate this very important fact. It provides the only example of writing totally original in its principle -- every sign corresponds as a rule to a semantic unit -- and consequently extremely complex, which has nevertheless served as means of expression to such a large part of humanity."

Now we get to the movie: The king forced his many subjects to learn to communicate with each other -- his way. "After the unification of the script imposed by the Ch'in in the Chinese lands at the end of the 3rd century B.C., this writing became one of the most effective instruments of political unification.... Chinese writing became a sort of universal means of expression in every part of Asia subject to Chinese civilization or influence.... Written Chinese remained the cultural and administrative language of Vietnam until the French conquest and that of Korea down to the Japanese annexation, just as it had been a part of Japan during the centuries when the influence of China was preponderant in that country. Thus there exists a whole literature in Chinese whose creators -- poets, historians, novelists, philologians, and philosophers -- were not Chinese at all, but Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese. It is consequently legitimate to say that in East Asia there was a real community of civilization characterized by use of the Chinese script."

So, was this Qin conquest good or bad? We have no answer, because we cannot know a different future. We can only marvel at what written language has done, and wonder at what might have been.

June 16, 2006 8:13 AM

The bridge! The bridge! Pick the bridge!

Many will already know what they need to know about the upcoming Montreal Outgames sporting event. Sports are good; community is good. Add as much mom and apple pie as you want.

But there are also things you should know. Because there are some problems. Like the fact that the Outgames are pushing out a bunch of homeless kids from a public square the young people have made into a place for themselves, in their own search for community. I touch on the contradictions here.

June 16, 2006 7:10 AM

Eyes glazing.... glazing....

A quick admin reminder that comments can be accessed by clicking on each post's headline.

That is all.

June 15, 2006 9:35 AM

Happy Pride!

Heh heh. Pride is a sin. And we must revel in it!

Including in its commercialization. Here's my argument.

June 14, 2006 2:56 PM

Living with the illogical

In his 1968 collection of essays, "The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility", the late (conservative?) Christian theologian Paul Ramsey called for -- wait for it -- just wars. "Peace and justice are not linked by an invisible hand, nor can political life endure without the use of force."

The creation of a war-free world would be nice, but would involve lobotomizing large numbers of the populace to keep all hint of aggression in check. Those Marxists who believe in wholesale social control will love this concept. But I'm afraid the end of war will in fact require more self-knowledge, not less; the acceptance of difference; and -- if we can't grow up -- the understanding that there are self-important busybodies who will not put up with the torture and murder of others.

That's not a terribly enlightened concept, the idea that policing is necessary to keep the peace. We're not a terribly enlightened world. (And by world, I'm not pointing the finger at anybody-but-the-West; we too, have monster police forces in every city just to keep ourselves in line.)

Those who claim that violence is never a justified response would have, I guess, accepted the death of every Jew in Europe (and perhaps eventually, other genocides, as novelist Philip K. Dick's what-if, "The Man in the High Castle," suggests is in the works when the Nazis take over Africa). Peace at all cost is really just another way of saying that you don't care about your fellow humans. Fuck'em.

I've already suggested that World War 2 was a just war. But what about Afghanistan, and the displacement of the Taliban and Osama? And in Iraq, with former leader Saddam Hussein accused in the World Court of crimes against humanity? How do we balance human rights with the acknowledgement of national boundaries? What is a just war?

Hey, you decide for yerself. Define "just" in a wide open manner, and the United Nations descends upon dozens of countries with guns. Define it too meanly, and tyrants get away with sentencing whole villages to starvation.

What's true for all is that while the threat of violence may be necessary, it's also inherently contradictory.

Raymond Aron once wrote about the nuclear arms race thusly (though any massive arms build-up will do just as well): "Between the two [theses]... -- peace through the generalization of thermonuclear deterrence and the dangers created by the enlargement of the atomic club -- I do not hesitate to choose: the first is illusory, deceptively seductive, it has the characteristic appeal of sophistries. In short, it is war which must be saved, in other words, the possibility of tests of armed strength between states rather than eternal peace, which would have to be established by the constant threat of the thermonuclear holocaust....

"It is just bizarre to imagine the industrial societies will live in peace because they will no longer have the means to fight as it is to imagine that they will live in peace because that they all have the means to destroy each other in a few moments. The seemingly opposite intellectual error is actually the same in both cases. The doctrinaire of peace by fear imagines an equality between states by the capacity of the weakest to deal the strongest mortal blow. The doctrinaire of peace by disarmament imagines the equality to consist of the strongest to coerce the weakest. Neither equality is attainable."

We are undone.

June 14, 2006 9:32 AM

War is peace

Allison says the latest Canadian military operation in Afghanistan is called "Mountain Thrust."

Karen says the next one should be called "Big Western Wee-wee."

June 13, 2006 3:09 PM

Stick a fork in it

The pronged eating instrument was once considered a tool of Satan, yo.

I humbly suggest that this utensil is thus a natural ally of the LGBTT2IQ (and a * for those I may have left out) community.

Here's the terrible tale: The Catholic Church "so opposed forks" in the 11th century that when a Byzantine princess known to pick at her food with the forbidden trident succumbed to the plague, "a Franciscan theologian called her untimely death 'a just punishment from God.'"

"The knife and the spoon have a venerable history, but the fork, associated with Satanism and hedonism, became widely used only in the past 200 years," notes Smithsonian Magazine in its May ish. "The idea is that if you were a good Christian -- eating gruel and meat -- you wouldn't indulge in anything that called for a fork," sez Sarah Coffin, curator of a flatware exhibit.

The rise of pasta helped the new silverware's acceptance -- in Italy, at least. "But Northern Europeans, Coffin says, continued to resist the fork for centuries, preferring to skewer meat and potatoes on the tip of a knife. When the Victorians began to regard the dinner knife as a brutal instrument and rounded off its point, meat still needed to be skewered. The fork rose to prominence."

As for Americans, they "considered forks to be a European affectation until the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Morgans popularized them in the 1800s." And eventually, flatware became so hip that each food practically had its own implement. "A single dinner pattern could have as many as 146 different pieces."

"In 1925, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, responding to a silver shortage, ordered the Bureau of Standards to limit the number of pieces in a flatware pattern to 55."

It's all too shocking. I call for solidarity with our tined brothers and sisters!

June 13, 2006 1:19 PM

It hits me right there

Music is sooo emotionally manipulative.

If I stop listening to rhythm and melody, I become depressed, and I won't be truly happy again until I hear some Lena Horne. Or mebbe R.E.M.'s "Stand," from 1988.

I also need new music. Sometimes it replaces something old, sometimes it just gets added to my personal soundtrack, shouldering its way in between the bluegrass and the Kurt Weil.

But folk music -- folk gets tiring after a while. Repetitive, unless the voice is so sweet that it shivers my synapses, like a bridge resonating in the wind. I've already added a couple of tunes from long-time folkie Penny Lang's newest CD, "Stone+Sand+Sea+Sky" to the mental repertoire. And yet Lang has a sometimes raspy and at times even slightly off voice. It's a welcome reminder of the import of emotion and charm.

Twelve of the 13 songs are covers, with delightful arrangements -- producers and engineers Roma Baran and Vivian Stoll have outdone themselves.

Though Lang recently moved to B.C. after a lifetime in Montreal, she turned to Quebec for much of the talent on this disk (like Linda Morrison and Kate McGarrigle). I'm particularly stuck on the accordion of Rachelle Garniez in the traditional "Let Me Fly," and on the new arrangement for "Prairie Sky," originally recorded by Steel Rail.

Makes me happy.

June 12, 2006 2:03 PM

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter

Cats are sooo emotionally manipulative.

I dutifully blogged this morning -- writing as fast as I could to meet the self-imposed deadline of posting before I had to be out of the house. And ba-ding! Right on schedule, I scooped up the youngest for a trip to the vet. Er, in this case, "youngest" means a charmingly crabby coot of senior years, who needed a blood test. And after he'd been grabbed and immobilized and poked and bled, he flattened himself against the metal table top, extended his claws over the edges, and refused to meet my eyes.

I'd shift into his field of vision, and he'd stubbornly move his whole head away from me.

It was like comforting a child -- except that they grow up and become more sophisticated. They change! Cats are forever simple. Within a few minutes, that kitty's Very Small Brain caused him to forget all the trauma and demand a snuggle.

Are those who consciously eschew, say, children, in favour of felines, hopelessly addicted to the emotional certainty of the four-legged creature? To the guaranteed adoration of the stunted pet?

I understand that cat. I appreciate those simple emotional responses. After all these many years, I'd be lost if he showed any sign of evolution.

June 12, 2006 10:59 AM

Penny Lang is in my ears and in my eyes

Penny Lang is one of those lesbian names that drifts about the outskirts of my brain. She's in there with fellow folkies like Lucie Blue Tremblay -- I know the moniker, I know there's a queer connection, and then I go back to sleep. Apparently, that's more than most lesbians do.

As much as we -- we being the queer community -- believe that our loyalty immediately goes to those who have taken courageous steps to be out in public, Lang says she doesn't seem to have much of a lesbian fan base.

"I don't write radical enough material," she says.

I met Lang on the patio of a Montreal coffee shop earlier this month (I dutifully rented the chair via a cuppa, she didn't). Lang's mixing a quick holiday with some publicity for her new album, her eighth, "Stone+Sand+Sea+Sky." So I check out the lyrics of the one song she penned ("Diamonds on the Water"): Nope, no Big Message Lesbo Stuff. Just feelings -- some sadness and longing.

Waiting by the roadside, waiting for you
Waiting on the roadside, don't know what to do
I got to see the sunshine every day
Wanna feel the sunshine every day

Says Lang: "I don't write songs that... lesbian women want to hear. I've never been invited to Michigan." That's the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and the "y" gives you the politics. Lang doesn't do "womyn's music... it just hasn't happened."

In part, she says, that's about privacy. Everyone's entitled, and "I don't particularly want to be put on the job market. I'm 63, not 32, and I like my privacy."

Having said that, Lang has been out for years. She performed some 20 years ago at a Montreal university group's gay event (she can't recall whether it was McGill or Concordia), and has been open about her sexuality since. "I've talked about it off and on, depending on the audience, on how comfortable I feel." (She's been with partner Nancy, a retired nurse, for 19 years. And just to keep the family info together, son Jason Lang often performs with his mum.)

Lang was a lifelong Montrealer who left last September, moving to a remote spot in British Columbia, who periodically returns to civilization by ferry or small plane. She was never happy in the concrete jungle, and left soon after her parents died (within a year of each other). "I wanted to be by the ocean, closer to nature. I need the solitude."

Lang says she hasn't written a song in six years, though she's recently realized that she creates tuneful beginnings while walking through the forest. That's when she begins to hum and sing, but of course the note arrangements are forgotten once she returns home. Future walks will be taken with a recorder, to tape the melodies. Lang says the beginnings of songs are the hardest to create.

Music has always been important. It "helped calm [her] down" as a child. (She was recently diagnosed with six separate learning disabilities.)

"I love relating to people through music." And she doesn't get bored of singing the same songs, because she doesn't keep repeating them unless there's a new CD to launch. "I choose the songs very carefully. When you really love the songs you're singing, it's easy to keep them fresh."

Musical faves include the phrasing and piano of Nina Simone, the guitar and tunes of Bonnie Raitt, and the work of Etta James, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Mavis Staples, and the Norman Luboff Choir. To start. There are many pianists on the list, though Lang can't really play that instrument. She's a strummer, sort of. "I'm a rhythm player. My guitar is really limited."

For all the joy of music, it's not a lucrative career. Lang's lived on the poverty line for much of her life. Her worst year recorded $4,000 in income; her best, about $25,000. Nonetheless, she's managed to survive (thanks to an understanding partner who held a full-time job for many years), but this past year was forced to take out a loan from a friend -- in part because of the expense of the move.

Financially, if a tour has a dozen scheduled stops and three get canceled, Lang's in trouble. No performance, no payment. She doesn't want to retire, but isn't in the best of health. "I hope to keep playing forever."

The music industry has changed, though. "Years ago, you played in the same room three to six nights a week," she says. "That's how you found your fans." Big crowds would come on the last couple of nights after four days of favorable word of mouth. "We used to go out and do auditions where we wanted to perform. Now you send CDs," often full of technical yeehaws that can't be reproduced during a live performance, "and people complain."

Touring has become a series of one-night stands and a fan base comes from CD sales. Yet radio play is almost impossible to come by, except on small community radio stations (usually university-based)... and on the CBC. As controversial as the CBC is these days, says Lang, it plays Canadian artists. Without the MotherCorp., "we wouldn't have anyone rooting for us."

June 8, 2006 5:52 PM

Gayness sells out

Congrats to Toronto's Rob Sands, who has sold his tiny Canadian business, the online news service, to the bigshots of the mainstream media monster Viacom, via its subsidiary, the queer American Logo TV network.

Rob founded the site in 2000 and worked like a crazy man. I once had coffee in his home-slash-office and watched him methodically chain smoke and go online multiple times while we chatted. (He also, for a time, bought a biweekly column from me that I wrote for very little money, out of a belief in the import of the gay media.)

So again, congrats to Rob. As for the rest of us media consumers, well, I'm worried. I hope the Yanks won't dump's Canadian coverage, an important resource for us Canucks. Much of the copy came from the wires, certainly, but Rob dug it up and posted it immediately, providing an invaluable service.

Also sold to Logo: the terribly smart and fun AfterEllen and AfterElton.

The continuing loss of independence of the North American queer media brings with it some good -- more resources, for example -- and lots of potential bad. We shall see.

June 8, 2006 12:05 PM

The wrong reason

Unaccountably famed ethicist Margaret Somerville has always argued that marriage is hetero because heteros say it is.

Her argument's a squirming stain to those who believe in, well, the clean lines of logic. So opposition to Ryerson University's offer of an honorary doctorate to Ms S is understandable. Except that this petition to keep Somerville from getting the award has nothing to do with the fact that she's an embarrassment to the rigourous thinkers of academia, but rather simply because her anti-gay and anti-feminist views are "controversial."

Please don't sign it. Not if "controversial" is the reason cited.

All together now: We are big enough and brave enough and strong enough to allow people to disagree with our politics. Those who sign this petition are stifling dissent, and helping to create a martyr.

June 8, 2006 10:27 AM

I did not have sexual relations with that man

Slang alert (from these folks): "Gold star lesbian / noun: a lesbian who has never had sex with a man."

I love purity tests.

June 7, 2006 7:24 PM

We won't be perfect, but we'll be better than Estonia

The Danish ambassador to Estonia is fleeing his posting over what he calls overwhelming racism and homophobia. "Mr [Hans] Glaubitz said he and his partner, a black Cuban man, were regularly insulted when they went out."

Just so: "It is not very nice to be regularly abused by drunken skinheads as a 'nigger' and to be continuously gawped at as if you have just stepped out of a UFO."

This is on the streets, not at goverment functions. "An Estonian foreign ministry spokesman said the men had been well received at an official level, but expressed 'regret' over any public abuse."

And this analysis from Estonian poli-sci prof Rainer Kattel: Estonia has "not really gone through the enlightenment revolution. Estonia does have latent racism, but it is not violent like in other countries. If you are openly gay and of a different race people will make mean comments to you," he said.

And where are Glaubitz and his spouse going next? Why, Mr G. is to become the Dutch consul-general in Montreal. Aw! It's gotta be a reward for putting up with all the other crap. We can feel a bit smug about that. But not too smug.

(Thanks to Eric for the forward!)

June 7, 2006 7:14 PM

Oh, Canuckistan!

We've got reporters screeching that the wife of an accused Canadian Al Qaeda-type terrorist is anti-gay. She's been in anti-queer demos, and made at least one presentation against the higgledy-piggledy promotion of gay rights.

A week ago, everyone in the country -- Muslim, Christian, Jew and atheist -- would have considered her actions to be a laudable show of democracy and religious free speech in action. Now it's proof of evil Muslim bastard efforts to violently blow up our country. Yay, hysteria. We wear it well.

(Thanks to the folks on the Egale list for discussing that news report.)

June 7, 2006 3:03 PM

The capacity -- heck, the need -- for self-deceit

Alison Hennegan, in her 2000 anthology "The Lesbian Pillow Book," notes that lesbians have often hoarded less-than-uplifting portraits of their lives. In times past, lesbians "could not afford to be as selective as many of us have since become, insisting upon our right to be so; they found ways to take what they needed from the books they could find, and to leave or rework less palatable matter.

"Long before theories of 'the reader as author' became modish, many a lesbian was, perforce, an adept."

June 6, 2006 8:38 PM

Cheater deater

Fooled ya. I wrote two blurbs for Monday, pre-programmed the new (-ish) upgrade to post 'em yesterday (at decent intervals), and ran off to Ottawa for three computer-free days. An' it worked.


June 5, 2006 9:02 AM

Gay trumps tough-i-ness

From the May editorial in The Leather Journal: "On another note, we are seeing the beginning of a backlash against the cold impersonal meeting space known as the Internet in the Leather community. In New York, Mr. Eagle Leather 2005 Robert Valin has stirred up Leatherfolk in New York and nearby New Jersey with monthly Leather Invasions where those who have spent hours nightly on a variety of websites talking to, but seldom ever meeting that perfect Leatherman. They have gone ice skating, to IKEA, and have more trips planned for the future." And there was a visit to the Museum of Modern Art.

You go, you buncha hunka burnin' guynesses!

June 5, 2006 8:36 AM

E-mail home

Ahmed had sent his sales pitch to seven people, according to the address list, and I was curious. So I tried to contact my fellow spam sufferers. Wanted to know who they were. Do they read their spam? Do they buy from spam?

Are they finding, as I am, that the latest subject lines are worth reading?

Here's a cutesy theft: "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced." Ha! Or, "On the other hand, you have different fingers."

Ahmed chose "Lose that ugly Belly." I love Capitalized Nouns. They're very Pooh Bear. Not to mention the poetry at the bottom o' the plug (to scam the compu-coppers): "slide the apology inspiration ! gang a maintain may band introd try balfour not dutchmen see cherish but asynchronous a competition in applied the coercible may gorham not hereinafter some." Those brillig toves! Gorham's not in my dictionary.

Yeah, I tried to connect.

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