Saturday, December 31, 2011

“Ambassadors of affable storms honor my effigy”

Thanks, George Hitchcock, for giving me the title of this last post of 2011. The words are from his poem “My Days and Nights,” which appears in The Wounded Alphabet: Poems Collected and New, 1953-1983. See you all in Twelve!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

“a matter of common report”

I have to quote this excerpt from the medieval guidebook to the prosecution of witches, Malleus Maleficarium. The author takes as a given that everybody knows about “those witches who … sometimes collect male organs [yes, penises] in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird’s nest or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many and is a matter of common report[.]” (The ellipsis is in the original excerpt.)

source: Bonk: the curious coupling of science and sex by Mary Roach

Friday, October 07, 2011

“I like America”

In his book on poetry, Beautiful and Pointless, David Orr does some research. Into the Google search box he slips a phrase like “I like baseball,” then compares the number of results to a phrase like “I love baseball.” “I like baseball,” Orr says, returns nearly 5 times as many results as “I love baseball.” Orr:
[T]he phrase “I like music” appears roughly three times as often as “I love music,” and the phrase “I like movies” is about five times as common as “I love movies.” (Indeed, the general preference for “I like X” is stronger than you might expect: Even “I love America” gets roundly stomped by “I like America,” just as “I love beer” is, to my sorrow and surprise, trumped by “I like beer.”) But the phrase “I love poetry” beats “I like poetry” by a ratio of two to one. … [N]o matter how many times I ran these particular searches (and I did this repeatedly over several days), I never got a result in which “I love poetry” failed to outperform the “like” version; in fact, one particular, presumably aberrant search returned thirty-six occurrences of “love” for every occurrence of “like.”

I repeated the experiment. For “I like poetry” I got about 1,260,000 results. For “I love poetry” I got about 4,170,000 results.

Then I thought, why not, I’ll try, “I don’t like poetry,” and got about 961,000 results. For “I hate poetry” I got about 285,000 results. Amusingly, many of the initial “I hate poetry” results are poems or poetry discussion groups.

I did pretty quickly find another supposedly atypical love/like asymmetry. “I love sex” (about 31,000,000 results) vs. “I like sex” (about 11,900,000 results). Does this say something about Poetry?

Interestingly, considering yesterday’s post, the likes vs. the loves as regards ping-pong are fairly comparable: “I like ping pong” (about 287,000 results) vs. “I love ping pong” (about 263,000 results). (For Orr the likes vs. the loves for “poker” came out about the same.) He also searches Cooking (2.8 : 1), Gardening (2.54 : 1), Romance Novels (3.36 : 1), and Stamp Collecting (3.5 : 1).

source: Beautiful and Pointless: a guide to modern poetry by David Orr

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Poetry as Ping-Pong

What is Poetry? One might “claim that all fictional and/or figurative language is a subset of poetry.”

I like this claim. The above formulation is David Orr’s, from his book on poetry, Beautiful and Pointless. I prefer to say, “Poetry is Art created using the material of Language.” This subsumes “all fictional and/or figurative language” under the term Poetry, doesn’t it. I partly like this definition because it makes so grand a pronouncement as to stymie argument, or, rather, to move the argument so far away from the usual fussing over line breaks and stressed syllables that those tiresome old niggly bits don’t even come up.

David Orr does not approve. He calls this an “untenable position.” He says this “is like asserting that all games played with vaguely spherical objects are really ping-pong.”

So. Poetry is Ping-Pong? No, Mr Orr. Poetry is not Ping-Pong. No more than it’s Tennis. Or Football – can one say American football is played with a “vaguely spherical object” anyway? Is poetry a game? What score does one need in order to win?

source: Beautiful and Pointless: a guide to modern poetry by David Orr

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

“atypical and exceptional”

[C]ompetitions are the way in which many, if not most, books of poems are published nowadays. For example, when you see a phrase like ‘Winner of the Colorado Prize for Poetry’ on the cover of a collection, it means that the manuscript in question was selected in an open competition … Typically, books published through these competitions have a series editor who appoints judges each year, and in some cases those judges are anonymous. In addition, these contests cost money to enter – usually around thirty dollars or so. … Every year, large numbers of poets … end up spending hundreds [of dollars] for the chance to publish a book …

The above comes from David Orr’s new book about poetry today, Beautiful and Pointless. I quote him mainly to introduce the next quote, this one from Carolyne Wright’s essay on how her books came to be:
[T]he publication of both my first and so-called second books qualified, according to some rubrics, as a chapbook and a limited edition, respectively – they represented such atypical and exceptional publishing circumstances that very few publishing contest organizers could determine what their actual designation was. Before sending to competitions for second or third books, on several occasions I had to query managing editors and explain these circumstances in order to learn whether I was qualified to submit. Fortunately, the ostensible third collection, Seasons of Mangoes and Brainfire, won the Blue Lynx Prize, an open competition for poets at any stage of their publishing career, so the status of earlier collections didn’t matter.

When Carolyne Wright’s first two books – each of which was the winner of a different competition – turned out not to fit the standard definition of a full-length poetry book, she found herself in difficulty. Wright seems to have concluded she could not ethically enter a first book competition, but could she justify entering a second book competition? In the end, as she says, she managed to win a competition that wasn’t restricted to first books or second books. (Or third books? Who knew there were competitions exclusively for third books?) Carolyne Wright seems to have gone all-in on the competition as the way to see her books into print.

I hate contests. Well, not per se. But I do hate that contests have become “the way … most books of poems are published.” It seems to me that if you are going to get into the business of publishing poetry you should choose to publish what you love. Or who you love. There is no money in it. The reward you’re going to get (if you get any at all) is seeing poetry you believe in by poets you admire get into the hands of readers who, for a few precious moments, will not be wasting their time reading bad poetry by tiresome poets. And you’re going to be putting a lot of time and effort – and your own money – into that triumph. So why waste your time publishing anything but what you love?

There is no money in it? Not in selling poetry. (Yes, every so often there’s going to be the freak like Billy Collins or the perennial dead poet who gets assigned in enough college courses to make it worth a publisher’s while to keep her – and books about her – in print. There is a little bit of money in selling poetry. It just doesn’t spread far.)

There is money in publishing poetry. But it’s not from selling it to readers. The money comes from the other side of the transaction – the poets. Poets are so desperate to get into print they shell out hundreds of dollars in contest entry fees. $30+ entry fees fund the publication of the lucky winners. It could be you’re super talented (or super connected) and you win the very first contest you enter. One wants to believe one would be that poet! But even good poets who have published frequently in literary magazines and ezines have to enter contests over and over before they win. And there isn’t even a guarantee anyone will win. A few years ago the name poet who was hired to judge one of the most prestigious contests, The Yale Series of Younger Poets, decided not one of the manuscripts submitted was worthy of his recommendation. The prize went unawarded that year. Fun, huh?

Do these prize books sell out their print runs? More frequently than the book brought out by the publisher who put his effort into it out of love? Some contests will send the winning book out to all entrants. Is that a way to get it read?

Because so many poets are academics, David Orr says, they have to publish in order to keep their jobs. The contest entry fee as a business expense? If you never win, what happens?

sources: Beautiful and Pointless: a guide to modern poetry by David Orr, and “A Reply to Storms: How Some Collections Were Ordered (or Disordered)” by Carolyne Wright, appearing in the bookOrdering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems edited by Susan Grimm

Sunday, October 02, 2011

what I picked up at A.P.E.

Gaylord Phoenix by Edie Fake I’ve purchased mini comics, but this is the first time I’ve seen a collected edition.

Lies Grown Ups Told Me a comics anthology edited by Nomi Kane, Caitlin M., and Jen Vaughn

Love Is the Reason: a Cavalcade of Boys story by Tim Fish

Wish the World and Sidewalk Empire: the avenues mini comics by Eddie H. Ahn

The Book of Boy Trouble!, vol. 2: Born to Trouble a comics anthology edited by Robert Kirby and David Kelly

Luci’s Let Down created and written by Marjee Chmiel, art by Sandra Lanz

Pardon Our Dust no. 4, Spring 2011, a tabloid-sized literary & art magazine out of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena

plus scads of postcards – most free promo, though I did hand over money for one or two.

The Alternative Press Expo (A.P.E.) in San Francisco continues for a few more hours today.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“A screaming comes across the sky.”

I found The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. So much for memory.

I remember buying a copy of the Books of Wonder edition of Wizard for the son of our contractor. The contractor had borrowed a copy of the recent University of Nebraska edition of Baum’s Twinkle Tales, a collection of fantasies starring a girl named Twinkle that were actually set on the prairie, rather than in a separate fantasy land like Oz (or Mo or Ix). The contractor’s son reportedly loved the book, but had never read The Wizard of Oz so when I saw the Books of Wonder edition at the used bookstore I bought it as a gift.

The contractor had had the strange notion I’d be doing him a big boon in his seven-year-old son’s eyes if I found an original edition of The Twinkle Tales. The contractor’s own eyes clearly glazed over when I said the U of NE paperback is the first time all those stories appeared together and tracking down the originals would be very expensive and … And I knew having some dumb collectible wouldn’t be any fun for a small boy.

When I found the copy of Wizard in good condition without a dust jacket I knew it the better choice. A couple weeks later the boy came to the house with his mother and, after parental prodding, thanked me for the book. But what gratified me more than a few mumbled words was the way he hung onto the book and swung it around while he talked about it and talked about how he liked the Wicked Witch.

I liked the Books of Wonder edition and decided I would get one for myself. So I guess it seemed like a lot of time passed between the purchases. Must not have. Because I discovered the copy I bought for myself (also used, but with dust jacket!) at the bottom of the shelves I shoved my Oz books onto, hidden behind cardboard to keep the construction dust from coating them (& to protect from cats peeing). Time elongated over the course of that renovation …

Finding the book after looking for it so long was almost a disappointment. I’d taken to picturing myself paging through other editions in search of the perfect unDenslow Wizard, thus shaking up my settled notion of the classic. Okay, so I was wrong about the book not being purchased “long after things had to be gotten out of the way of the workers and the dust.” My tactile memory was good, even if my chronology was whack. And, having looked over another illustrator at the bookstore I ducked into on my way home from the dentist this morning, I’m good with W.W.

I did buy an Oz book while I was there. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Also a Books of Wonder edition. Nice color plates. I got it for 20% off because I was able to identify the opening sentence the bookseller had written as a challenge on the chalkboard on the sidewalk. “You Googled it!” he said. Oh please.

“A screaming comes across the sky.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Mysterious Disappearance of Oz

Sometime in the last year I found a like-new copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at a local used bookstore. It’s a recent edition created by Books of Wonder & Morrow, but it is modeled after the first edition of Wizard and W.W. Denslow’s beautiful design.

I’ve been imagining rereading the Oz series, all 40+ books, and I was thinking that recent acquisition would be a fine place to start. Y’gotta start with Wizard, of course, but there are many editions and many illustrators who have added their vision to Baum’s. Being as I fell in love with Wizard reading a Dover edition, a paperback which does a pretty good job of reproducing Denslow’s design – as well as his illustrations – and considering I virtually have the book memorized I read it so many times as a child, perhaps it would make the reread a fresher experience if I took advantage of an edition illustrated by someone very unlike Denslow.


… No, no. It’s not a bad thought, actually.

A thought that probably would not have entered my head had not that nice BoW/M edition gone missing. I have no idea where it could be. I haven’t dug down to the bottom of every pile or opened every stacked box, but I was sure I had no need to. Since the renovation completed we’ve been unpacking boxes, not filling them. I don’t remember when exactly I bought this new edition, but it was quite recently, long after things had to be gotten out of the way of the workers and the dust. So where could it have hidden itself?

Monday, September 05, 2011


For LoveSettlement, my other blog, I set up a Sitemeter, but for Dare I Read I haven’t had any statistics. Until this week. When Blogger decided at last to offer some up on the publishing dashboard.

I didn’t have a Sitemeter on DIR because when I signed up for it, it didn’t look like you could have more than one. Maybe that changed or maybe I just didn’t understand the way it worked. But LuvSet got so few visitors that the stats service told me little; it hardly seemed worth bothering with. The one thing that seemed clear, the more frequently I posted, the fewer visitors I got. The “Thousand” project, which has been just about all LuvSet’s been occupied with this 490 days, sure hasn’t brought in the readers.

When I got the Sitemeter I was making efforts to promote LuvSet. DIR I was just letting gather what eyeballs it could on its own. I didn’t figure people would care that much about my reading. My one test to see if DIR was getting noticed was adding Google Adsense. I forget how long the ads have been there, hunkered down in the right hand column. Two years? Three? Five? You don’t get a check until the ads have earned $100. So far the account has accrued $7.01. Only $93 away from getting paid. Thanks, new dashboard! I haven’t checked the account in ages. Now it’s so easy to see.

So it’s fun to see info you used to have to search for. I now know which is my most popular post: Dialect in Wuthering Heights

The post (from 2008) gets twice the page views of any other on DIR, not just in the history of the blog, but every day.

The top four most visited posts are all from 2008. The fifth is from May of this year.

If you’re curious, they are:

#2 Stegosaurus v. Tyrannosaurus

#3 Ant Head Sutures

#4 The French in Tropic of Cancer

#5 Cowboys and Pistols

And to put this in perspective, not even the Wuthering Heights post has yet had a thousand visitors.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

what I picked up at SF Zine Fest

The Comic Book Guide to the Mission: a cartoon tour through San Francisco’s Mission District collected and edited by Lauren Davis

Kiss and Tell: a romantic resume, ages 0 to 22 by MariNaomi

Estrus Collection, vol. 2 by MariNaomi

Elf World Vol. 2, No.2 edited by Francois Vigneault

Ebb and Flood no. 1 by Brian Herrick

a painting of a falling robot by Adam Davis

also a bunch of postcards, most of them free promo, one or two purchased

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"two guys who kissed each other – often"

SimCity and The Sims are games designed by a shy skinny guy named Will Wright. He worked on SimCity on spec while at Broderbund but that company couldn’t see a way to market it. Not until Wright formed a new software company, Maxis, with business partner Jeff Braun did SimCity get its chance. Gee, it was a huge success. In his book on the history of videogames Harold Goldberg describes the trouble huge success got more than one videogame company into at the end of the 90s when the tech bubble was in full expansion. “Maxis incurred pressure from investors to … earn big money. … [A]rrogant idiots were brought in as bosses. They knew nothing about games. …[B]ean counters forced Wright and his crew to release … generally unfinished, unpolished, sometimes untested games.” One of the bits of coding that slipped through was this instance of guerrilla gay activism:

While working on SimCopter, a programmer who was secretly annoyed that there were no gays in Maxis products surreptitiously added two guys who kissed each other – often. That did not sit well with Wright and Braun, who had made certain that Maxis did not discriminate and had health care benefits for gay partners. The employee was shown the door, but the damage was done. SimCopter had to be recalled, which hit the company’s stock hard, not to mention the harm it did to its reputation.

Goldberg does not make clear whether the blow to Maxis’ reputation had more to do with the poor quality of the game(s) or the gayness of the kissing. I’ve never played any of the Sim series. So I was curious about how they treat gay folks.

According to this post by Lyle Masaki at AfterElton, The Sims “was a breath of fresh air … The Sims' idea of love included same-sex romances. It was a welcoming touch of the real world.” As in the real world, Masaki says, gays could move in together but not marry. As of The Sims 3, however, “after a week of game time, I was able to get a male couple to plan a wedding party and tie the knot.”

And if you want to see some Sims-style gay canoodling, there’s a youtube video you can watch. (It’s kind of cute.)

source: All Your Base Are Belong To Us: how fifty years of videogames conquered pop culture by Harold Goldberg

Saturday, August 27, 2011

dolphins swimming badly

Since the mid 80s Denise Herzing has been studying the spotted dolphins who live in the clear waters off the Bahamas. To help fund the project the research boat makes room for a handful of non-scientist observers, or “passengers,” as Herzing calls them in this discussion about mimicry in the new book Dolphin Diaries:

Humans in the water often try to ‘dolphin’ swim, which means keeping your legs together and undulating from the waist. For the most part we are pretty bad at it, jerkily swimming while barely moving through the water. As a well-meaning passenger followed a spotted dolphin trying to get his dolphin kick right, a second dolphin followed the human, but the dolphin used jerky and awkward movements mimicking the struggling human – a dolphin mimicking a human mimicking a dolphin!

source: Dolphin Diaries: My 25 Years with Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas by Dr Denise L. Herzing

You can also check in on Herzing and the dolphins at the website for The Wild Dolphin Project.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is Uncle Henry a Gale?

Before the house was swept away by cyclone little Dorothy “lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife.” That’s the way L. Frank Baum puts it in the opening sentence of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The order in which they’re introduced suggests that Uncle Henry is Dorothy’s blood relation, with his wife Dorothy’s aunt by marriage. In a sequel to Wizard Baum gives Dorothy’s last name as Gale. He never (so far as I recall) explicitly says whether Henry’s last name is Gale, too.

At the Oz convention this summer I asked a couple friends and Oz scholars if they knew of any post-Baum Oz historian who had given Dorothy parents. Eric Gjovaag remembered an author who had written about Dorothy as though she were a real person and this author had suggested Dorothy was not biologically related either to her “Uncle” or to her “Aunt” but had been shipped West on an orphan train. I thought that an interesting take. I didn’t write any of this down so I’ve forgotten the author and title. I’ll write Eric and see if he remembers.

Anyway, I am reading volume one of The Complete Annotated Oz Squad by Steve Ahlquist and see that he has given Uncle Henry a last name different from Dorothy’s. A panel of the comic shows a mailbox. Explains Ahlquist, “The name on the mailbox is Snow, Dorothy’s mother’s maiden name. Uncle Henry is Dorothy’s mother’s brother.”

In volume two we learn that Henry’s sister is a prominent person in Oz who has been of much help to her daughter.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Nezahualcoyotl is a rare pre-Columbian American Indian* poet who is remembered by name. What caught my attention in the small print where editor William Brandon includes biographical material was the second of the two “popular names” by which Nezahualcoyotl was known. One of the names “was Acolmixtli (‘Lion Arm’), another was Yoyontzin (‘Beautiful Fucker’).”

Considering the variety of connotations “fucker” has acquired, from worst insult to admiring praise, and the fact that “fuck” doesn’t always (or even usually) mean the act of sexual intercourse, I find myself blinking at the moniker. Beautiful Fucker. A legendary name!

*Nezahualcoyotl was an Aztec king

source: The Magic World: American Indian Songs and Poems edited by William Brandon

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Malecite Tale

there was once a woman who admired a dog
the dog was handsome
she liked his face

that night the dog turned into a man
he became her husband

never tell anyone I used to be a dog
never mention it at all
he said to his wife

for a long time they lived together
she never thought of him as a dog
she never spoke of it

but one day she saw some dogs in the village
they were all chasing a bitch
everywhere here and there

so she asked her husband if he would like to be one of them
and instantly he said yes and turned back into a dog
and away he ran with the others

source: The Magic World: American Indian Songs and Poems edited by William Brandon

I found The Magic World on the library book sale shelves at Berkeley Public Library’s North Branch. For many years the library has hosted these mini-sales for the Friends of the Library. People pay on the honor system, twenty-five cents a book. I think the Friends have finally decided not to support this arrangement. Or maybe it was the library administration. The shelves do take up space that could be used for something else. And I imagine the money they bring in is not great.

Still, it’s been a nice resource. Over the years I’ve found quite a few books of interest. Mostly yellowed classics. When I looked it over I didn’t remember The Magic World, though I went through several Native American poetry anthologies some years ago. The copy is in good shape, a lightly-read 40 year-old book. For twenty-five cents I figured it wasn’t a loss even had I read it before.

And I have. Enough time has passed, it seems, that I remember almost nothing specific, except for (curiously?) the typography. I find the cover ugly, a line drawing of a big-chinned American Indian man with his long hair parted in the middle and restrained by bands at the sides. A silhouette of a man on horseback seems to be riding out of the Indian’s left eye socket. Maybe I read an edition that had a different cover or a rebound copy. The pieces in the book are from a variety of sources, many not originally recorded as poetry – speeches, explanations, contracts. On the whole I wasn’t much impressed, but toward the back I came upon some pretty brilliant dream-like stories, the “Malecite Tale” being one. (A few pages later the Natchez tale, “The Cannibal’s Seven Sons,” confirmed for me that I’d read the anthology before. The poem is one I copied out by hand and have read over many times.)

The “Malecite Tale” above was first published in The Journal of American Folk Lore in 1917. According to Wikipedia, “The Wolastoqiyik, or Maliseet [Malecite], are an Algonquian-speaking Native American/First Nations/Aboriginal people of the Wabanaki Confederacy. They are the Indigenous people of the Saint John River valley and its tributaries, between New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine.”

hat tip to VintageVida for the cover scan

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Orcas in grief

[A]n adult male and female [were] swimming side by side in the weak November light. One had a baby draped over its head. Van Ginneken had seen this activity before as a form of play, with the mother lifting the infant from below or the baby swimming onto her head as if to hitch a ride. But there were only two spouts rising from this group of three. The baby, she realized, was dead.

Next, van Ginneken saw the male rise with its head high above the water as in a spy-hop. It was carrying the baby on its pectoral fins, held forward the way we would carry a child in our arms.

The observer, Astrid van Ginneken, is a scientist studying whales. She loses track of the infant and the male/female pair as they come upon a larger group of orcas. The orcas formed a stationary circle, “heads partly raised and facing inward …”

There in the middle floated the baby’s corpse. Time and again, the whales broke off, reformed their line at a distance, approached the infant, and spread out to face it in a circle. A storm gathered, sucking what little brightness remained from the sky. As van Ginneken’s boat left for shore, the ceremony was still being repeated.

source: The Grandest of Lives: eye to eye with whales by Douglas H. Chadwick

Thursday, July 21, 2011


When Dan Savage married Terry Miller, his partner of ten years, the wedding was a rush job. Sometimes in my reading I come across people describing things that happened to them that happened to me pretty much the same way. I will title posts about such instances “Notes Toward an Autobiography by Others” (see where I’m from in the tags). I’m not giving this post that title. But there are some parallels. The wedding Kent and I put together was a rush job. Although, if you believe Dan’s account in his book, The Commitment the rush of theirs makes ours look slow and deliberate. Actually, Dan and Terry had a reception carefully planned – with help from professionals – that they’d intended only as an anniversary party, celebrating their ten years together. Yet shortly before the party they decided they had to tie the knot legally. (Read the book to get the whole story on that.) Living in Washington state the closest place they could get a legal ceremony was Canada.

The Canadian official who agreed to perform the ceremony on short notice told them to meet her at such and such a time with their rings. Terry knew a shop in Chinatown where they could get rings with no waiting. To help their young son get in the spirit of the thing Dan told him he could pick out the rings. DJ looked in the display case and pointed at two silver rings that featured skulls. Dan’s protests were quelled when DJ offered his reasoning:

”You’re going to promise to stay with Terry until you die. So when you look at your ring, you’ll see a skull and you’ll remember that you and Dad will be together until you’re both dead and you’re both skeletons and both your skulls are showing.”

After a day of various hilarious mishaps (only funny to those of us reading about it later), the newlyweds collapse in their hotel bed, their son snoozing between them. Dan, like me, a sometime insomniac, stares awhile at the ceiling.

I was about to roll over when I noticed that Terry was awake, propped on an elbow, watching me turn my wedding ring round and round on my finger. Terry made a fist with his left hand and held it out, above our sleeping son, his silver skull glinting in the dark. I made a fist with my left hand and we knocked our knuckles together, our silver skulls clacking as they smacked into each other.

“Powers of gay marriage activate,” Terry said, smiling sleepily.

Kent and I, we tap our rings together, too. And some sort of secret powers active.

source: The Commitment: love, sex, marriage, and my family by Dan Savage

Saturday, July 02, 2011

straight-washing the emperor

Although copious evidence exists to confirm the homosexuality of Puyi, final ruler of the Qing, the creative heterosexual love scenes in the acclaimed film The Last Emperor have created a lasting impression in both Asia and the West that Puyi zestfully took advantage of his female concubines.

What? Hollywood rewrote history to conform to popular tastes?

You know, I bet so many “real” figures have been straight-washed for their filmic treatments that if every biopic for the next ten years included a prominent gay affair (at the very least) the result would be more true to life than the last hundred years of gay-free moving pictures. (I should note that Hollywood will make the occasional exception from its landscape of hets for the villain whose sexuality is merely more proof of his depravity.)

source: Passions of the Cut Sleeve: the male homosexual tradition in China by Bret Hinsch

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Half-Eaten Peach

Bret Hinsch traces a tradition of male loving through 3000 years of Chinese history in his Passions of the Cut Sleeve. As time went on those who would speak of gay love could use a sort of shorthand – referring to a “cut sleeve” would conjure a story (an emperor was so enamored of his male lover that the emperor cut the sleeve on which the lover had fallen asleep in order not to disturb him), a story of gay love, which the highly educated literate elite would recognize and understand. The names of famous gay “favorites” of ancient emperors would provide similar service in conversation or poetry.

Another bit of shorthand was “the half-eaten peach”:

[One] day Mizi Xia was strolling with the ruler in an orchard and, biting into a peach and finding it sweet, he stopped eating and gave the remaining half to the ruler to enjoy. ‘How sincere is your love for me!’ exclaimed the ruler. ‘You forgot your own appetite and think only of giving me good things to eat!’

I like this one. Back in those days I imagine the product of the peach tree was less uniform. Pick two peaches and the chances of them both being delicious is not great. If you luck out and get a yummy one there’s that much more incentive for polishing it off. And you are that much more generous for sharing the treat.

I don’t like the “half-eaten” part of the phrase, though. “The saved peach”? Maybe … “The selfless peach”? … Neh … I’ll have to think on it.

source: Passions of the Cut Sleeve: the male homosexual tradition in China by Bret Hinsch

Sunday, June 26, 2011

space density

I have seen pictures of spiral galaxies, glistening whirlpools of stars, and I always took it for granted that (somehow) the matter in a spiral galaxy was concentrated in the very visible arms. Not so:

The spiral arms are delineated by a high space density of particularly luminous stars and luminous interstellar clouds. Elsewhere in the disc the space density of the stars and interstellar clouds is no less; it is just that they are not as bright.

I suppose someone has a guess why matter separates into luminous matter and less luminous matter (which is not “dark matter,” right?).

source: Pluto: sentinel of the outer solar system by Barrie W. Jones

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Go, Gay Nephews!!! Go, Gay Brothers!! (And you girlfriends, you're great, too!)

So I'm reading this morning's NY Times article about the tight campaign (mostly orchestrated by Governor Cuomo, the Times says) that finally brought marriage equality to New York State, and I come across a sentence that makes me do a double-take.

Let me set the scene. Senator Kruger is a Democrat. When a bill came up two years ago, he voted against marriage equality. According to the article, marriage advocates saw him as a lost cause, figuring it was more likely they could turn enough Republicans than that they could get Kruger. But there was something marriage advocates didn't know about Kruger. He was getting blowback for the anti-gay vote in his own home:

The gay nephew of the woman he lives with, Dorothy Turano, was so furious at Mr. Kruger for opposing same-sex marriage two years ago that he had cut off contact with both of them, devastating Ms. Turano.

You mean Senator Kruger, who is living in sin, gets to veto whether other people get married? Yet he's realized the error of his ways because he needs to repair the relationship between his unmarried partner and her gay nephew!

OK. So I'm remembering reading that Governor Cuomo's wife has a gay brother or sister, and wife has been pushing Cuomo to get gay marriage legal already. To clear up my fuzzy memory I reread the article looking for that part and find I am mistaken:

The pressure did not let up at home. Mr. Cuomo’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee, has a gay brother, and she frequently reminded the governor how much she wanted the law to change.

It's not Governor Cuomo's wife who is pushing for equality but his girlfriend.

Let me paraphrase. Straight legislators were lobbied to support marriage equality by their unmarried partners who were concerned about their gay relatives inability to marry. Yay!

Friday, June 10, 2011

“translate that estrangement”

Todd Ramon Ochoa:

The task of translating is not so much to transform the difference, which is to say the difference from Spanish to English, as much as it is to communicate the difference poetry generates in its own tongue. … Translation is not to … bring foreign language under control … Rather, I see translation as the turning of English into a foreign language unto itself, which is exactly what poetry is doing: it’s creating a foreign and strange turn in whatever language it is written in. It’s vital to also translate that estrangement.

source: an interview conducted by Hania Hussein in Berkeley Poetry Review #39

Thursday, June 09, 2011


A couple weekends ago we went to a matinee of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the new 3D movie of the Chauvet cave paintings. The paintings are more than 30,000 years old. And they are dramatic, fully realized, not at all primitive. Clearly the artists who created them had practice and were working in a tradition.

Although I found Werner Herzog, the filmmaker, an irritating presence (and Kent found the 3D nausea-making), I became intrigued by the paintings. When Gregory Curtis’ recent book on Ice Age era European cave paintings passed under my nose at the library I decided to give it a try.

After listing a number of similarities among paintings found in caves from France to Spain Curtis says:

The immutable similarity in themes, colors, and techniques shows that the cave paintings were the creation of artists working in a cultural tradition that survived for more than 20,000 years. … [A]s painting is both an art and a skill that must be learned, and as there was a single acceptable style to which the painters had to conform, the skills of painting must have been taught.

The paintings are the physical remains of a sophisticated culture? A civilization that lasted 20,000 years? Can one talk about civilization without cities? The paintings reveal a continuity that can’t be coincidence. These were people who knew how to transmit consistent and well-defined ideas across millennia. Today we have a hard time comprehending the mindsets of people a hundred years removed from us. A culture a thousand years old seems weird and foreign, even if we can trace our ancestry to the people. The painters decorating a cave in 10,000 B.C.E. were comfortably working in a style their brethren of 10,000 years prior would have known and approved.

sourceThe Cave Painters: probing the mysteries of the world’s first artists by Gregory Curtis

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tasp or Taze?

In The Ringworld Engineers Larry Niven posits a pleasure Taser. Imagine you are a cop and you are faced with a man brandishing a weapon, maybe holding somebody hostage. The man is clearly in pain, angry, anguished. But also dangerous. And you have to neutralize that. So you point your Tasp at the man and remotely stimulate the pleasure center of his brain. The tension goes out of him. He relaxes, smiles. He laughs at the gun in his hand and lays it gently on the ground.

Or, in Niven’s more innocent scenario: “A dour stranger wanders past, rage or misery written in the sour lines of his face. From behind a tree you make his day. Plink! His face lights up. For a moment he’s got no worries at all.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Chris Palmer has been involved in producing nature documentaries since the early 80s. In his history of the genre Disney’s wildlife films come in for praise and criticism. I know I saw Disney stuff growing up, some of the movies staples of the classroom. My mother’s criticism: Disney cuted up the animals, making up stories and putting words in the animals’ mouths. Palmer agrees with that. He also discusses instances where the Disney filmmakers forced or tricked animals into performing for the camera.

The most infamous example of misleading information in a Disney film involves that scene from White Wilderness in which the lemmings jump off a cliff en masse – or so it appears. … So memorable were these images that even today many people believe that lemmings engage in blindly self-destructive behavior. But the whole scene was fabricated. A 1982 investigation by reporter Brian Vallee of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation revealed that Disney filmmakers had forced a few dozen lemmings to run on a snow-covered turntable and even threw some into the sea to create the dramatic scene. … Some species of lemmings do become overpopulated, do migrate in swarms, and sometimes do drown crossing streams, but they never jump off cliffs suicidally.

Lemmings. The narrator of White Wilderness claims that there has long been a legend of suicidal lemmings. Having read the debunking of the Disney version of the “truth,” I wonder how ancient this legend is. Did the Disney filmmakers create it out of whole cloth?

The Urban Dictionary includes a very contemporary definition of lemming, “A lemming refers to a purchase/wished-for-item which results from reading an enthusiastic post about a new fabulous product. Overcome by compulsion, readers follow like lemmings diving off a cliff.”

That gibes with other definitions. Lemmings are creatures who, without thought for themselves, will follow a leader right over the cliff. It ain’t true?

There’s also a Snopes article on White Wilderness, which backs up Chris Palmer and adds a few details. The film’s narration claims the rodents are swimming out to sea, for instance. Snopes says no, the footage was grabbed “in Alberta, Canada, which … has no outlet to the sea. Lemmings were imported …” The water the poor wee critters are bobbing in? A river.

You can watch (or rewatch for the umpteenth time), the lemmings snippet from White Wilderness on youtube.

Let me conclude with a couple lines from a poem I wrote in high school:

Where did you go?
The edge of the world where the sea falls off and the lemmings stop to ponder their fate before plunging.

source: Shooting in the Wild: an insider’s account of making movies in the animal kingdom by Chris Palmer

Monday, May 23, 2011

remember to write your memoirs

Three memoirs I’ve lately liked:

A Round-Heeled Woman by Jane Juska.

Chasing the Sea: lost among the ghosts of empire in Central Asia by Tom Bissell.

The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler.

I suppose I should say something to convince you each is worth a try. A capsule review. A summary sentence even. I started to. I swear.

Instead let’s wish my brother many happy returns of the day:

Happy Birthday, David!

Almost six and a half years of Dare I Read, too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ode to Joy

Kirk Read’s account (from his How I Learned to Snap: a small-town coming-of-age coming-out story) of acquiring a copy of The Joy of Gay Sex by Edmund White and Charles Silverstein:

I feverishly ripped the bar codes out of the book so that I wouldn’t trigger the sensor gates on the way out of the library. I’d seen library clerks demagnetize books before by rubbing the spine across a black metal slab. The spine, too, had to go. It was full of alarms. I ripped the cover off altogether and shoved it into the trash can, then covered the evidence with handfuls of paper towels. I stuffed the book under my jacket and into the waistband of my pants. A friend and I had shoplifted hundreds of dollars worth of cassettes in the pockets of our camouflage pants, the covers of tennis rackets, and long shirt sleeves. [Yet] I’d never stolen anything that mattered so much.

… What can I say?

I’m appalled? I can identify with the desperation, though, and the terror of being suspected. If suicide is a way to escape the opprobrium society (even our loved ones) heap on the gay, theft is a minor transgression if it means survival?

I got my own copy with an employee’s discount when I worked for a Christmas season at Books Inc in Santa Rosa’s Coddingtown Mall. 1985. The year I came out. I was twenty. Would I have had the nerve to buy the book over the counter? Maybe. Maybe not. I was checking out from the local library books on gay topics (though they hadn’t the pictures). I’m pretty sure I’d managed a couple gay magazines from a Santa Rosa magazine shop by this time. A couple of them of the pictorial sort …

Saturday, May 21, 2011

cowboys and pistols

From a capsule tour diary of the Sex Pistols 1978 U.S. tour, their final tour:

Jan 8: Randy’s Rodeo, San Antonio, Texas

… The band take the stage around 11pm, Lydon wearing a ripped tartan suit and his Tom of Finland gay cowboys T-shirt. The band are pelted with popcorn, beer cups, hot dogs, whipped cream, bottles and pies. Sid premieres his ‘Gimme A Fix’ DIY chest tattoo, shouts, ‘You cowboys are all a bunch of faggots!,’ has his nose bloodied by a beer can and brains a troublemaker with his bass.

Oh the irony! Sid Vicious calls the Texans faggots while his bandmate Johnny Rotten (Lydon) wears a tshirt of two affectionate cowboys with their gigantic cocks hanging out.

I snatched the image from That’s not the tshirt, which was sold in Malcolm McLaren’s shop SEX, McLaren being the Sex Pistols svengali, but the source image for the shirt’s design. It is not, says Mr Gormanis, a Tom of Finland drawing, but one by Jim French.

If you’re curious, there’s more to read at (“SEX specialised in transgression … selling fetish and bondage clothing, and with a variety of erotic material on its hand-made shirts.”) and (“’The whole drawing was simply jacked. … McLaren and [Vivienne] Westwood made a whole bunch of money … stealing it.’”)

You can spot the shirt itself in a 1980 image of Boy George, pre-fame.

source: Andrew Male, Mojo: the music magazine, July 2009

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kiss Me …

The Green Day tour has come to Osaka, Japan. Aaron Cometbus, old friend from the early days and longtime chronicler of the punk scene (& theorist), was invited to come along and write about the experience. Japan is the last country on the Asia tour. For the first time everybody parties together. It’s a small bar and musicians and crew fill the tiny dance floor. One of the Green Day guys takes over the DJ booth to play “scathing, straightforward punk.” The party gets a bit crazy with more than one injury, but the spirits, Aaron insists, remain high and friendly. There is a pause as a song winds down then:

Billie motioned me to join him on the dance floor. Over speakers came the notes that never fail to give me goosebumps: the opening chords of the greatest song of all time, ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ by Generation X.

Dancing in the middle of a maelstrom was different than with just one person in the middle of the room. I deferred, but Billie knew me better than that. ‘Please drag me out onto the dance floor’ is what I really meant.

He did, and everyone else gave us space.

I’d needed to shake off the self-consciousness and lethargy … Touring with Green Day had been great because I got to dance – but only to the band, not with them. Once upon a time, Billie and I had danced together at every show. …

Dancing together was sexy, it was sweet. It was everything that friendship – and being on tour – should be. It was the prom night I’d never had, done right. …

As the song concluded, [Billie] wrapped me in his arms, leaned over, and gave me a long and tender kiss.

Does it matter that Billie Joe Armstrong has a wife back home (does it matter when he kisses girl fans on the stage?) or that Aaron has a girlfriend?

Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division says that when they were invited to open for Green Day on the first tour after Green Day released its major label debut the Green Day boys all said they were bi. That doesn’t seem to manifest in a boyfriend for any of them, but it does say they are more healthily open than so many who lock down thoughts & feelings they think they’re not supposed to have. And in some cases, as in Aaron’s account, a man can demonstrate affection physically that’s tenderer far than the usual het boy punch on the arm.

source: Cometbus #54: In China with Green Day by Aaron Cometbus

Thursday, May 19, 2011

pile of reading

Because I can keep one book going for a long time I checked my last pile post to see if I was still working on one I’d listed then. I am. Another of them isn’t in the pile anymore but I’m not quite done with it. The 1000+ page anthology Voices Within the Ark: the modern Jewish poets edited by Howard Schwartz and Anthony Rudolf is leaning against my personal anthology binder, the poems I’ve copied out by hand over the years. There are still four or five placemarks where poems wait on my decision. Well, let’s get to the list:

Wishbone poems by Priscilla Lee
This was the fifth volume in an ambitious poetry series Heyday Books began back at the turn of the millennium. “The California Poetry Series celebrates the great diversity of aesthetics, culture, geography, and ethnicity of the state by publishing work by poets with strong ties to California. Books within this series are published quarterly.” I bought this copy at a slashed price from Joyce Jenkins, the editor of the series (& of Poetry Flash), when she had a table at last fall’s small press event at Berkeley City College. When I asked what killed the series Joyce said the publishers didn’t want to compete with themselves. Small press publishing often does not pay for itself. Poetry more rarely than most. Putting a book together often involves applying for grants, it seems. Joyce said Heyday Books wanted to apply for the same grants for other titles that Joyce was applying to for the poetry books. Despite all the gushing over poetry I remember at the series launch, when it came down to a book of poems or a book of something else – a guide to California trees? a memoir of Paris in the early years of the twentieth century? – the poems didn’t have the upper hand. Anyway. Wishbone is a mix of family & personal history and odd, fantastic characters. Lee doesn’t offer an easy dividing line between the real and the unreal. “There are stories / about people making love in empty houses, / but this isn’t about that. We stand awkward, / the emptiness all around us.”

In Southern Light: trekking through Zaire and the Amazon by Alex Shoumatoff
Written in the early 80s. The author goes to the Amazon to try to track down the truth behind the story (& legend?) that gave the river its name. Was there really a tribe of female warriors? Probably not. But there seem to have been indigenous myths about women-rejecting men that came close enough to European legends that the two versions of the warrior woman story reinforced each other even across the cultual and language divides. In Zaire Shoumatoff visits a friend who is studying and living among African pygmies. Shoumatoff finds the pygmies so shy they won’t make eye contact, but when he records some of their singing they laugh, delighted, and will sing in response to the playback.

The World Split Open: four centuries of women poets in England and America, 1552-1950 edited by Louise Bernikow
The anthology was published in 1974 and Bernikow’s introductory essay partakes of the period’s angry feminist critique. Fine with me. I like that sort of unapologetic anger at injustice. The demand was that an educated lady be modest, Bernikow says of the English Renaissance. “Her virtue was to be praised and therein lies the problem, for more poets have been lost to ‘virtue’ than to death in childbirth or early starvation or disease in factories and mines. … Women knew quite well that if one woman signed her work … she opened herself to moral and social abuse.” I’m just to the poets who span the divide between the 17th and 18th centuries. This sort of strictly formed verse rarely interests me, unfortunately. Written by man or woman, it hardly matters. I want to expose myself to (force myself through) some older poetry in order to have a better grounding in the history of poetry. My favorite bit so far is probably this passage from a “A Nocturnal Reverie” by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720): “When the loos’d horse now, as his pasture leads, / Comes slowly grazing thro’ th’ adjoining meads, / Whose stealing pace, and lengthened shade we fear, / Till torn-up forage in his teeth we hear …” Stomping sounds in the dark, scary, until the listener identifies the horsy munching of weeds and feels relieved.

This Is Reggae Music: the story of Jamaica’s music by Lloyd Bradley
The book was originally published in the UK as Bass Culture: when reggae was king. This spring I went through several CDs of reggae music from the 60s and early 70s and really enjoyed the experience so I wanted to read more about what made the music. Bradley’s writing has a casual feel and I often lose interest. I can only make it through a few pages at a sitting.

The End of Major Combat Operations by Nick McDonell
Published by Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s Press, I was hoping McDonell would have something new to say a war that was winding down. If he does, I haven’t gotten to it. He pretty much offers up the usual depressing stuff – people telling you stories you’re not sure you can believe, the interpreters (“terps”) who were essential to the success of the mission (which is what?) but who the U.S. abandons, etc.

Kundalini: the evolutionary energy in man by Gopi Krishna
This is the book that was in the pile on January first. I’m now about halfway. Gopi Krishna meditated so much and so long he released the Kundalini energy coiled in the lowest chakra – and it almost drove him mad!

Quarterly Review of Literature, Poetry Series IV edited by T. & R. Weiss
This is a hardcover that contains book-length sections by five poets, including the Polish Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska, and the first book by Jane Hirshfield. I like both of those poets. I’ve gone on to the next, Christopher Bursk. “I was hurt deep back into history, / and timed my torture. / It took ten minutes to make Zarthor appear / in the body of Richard Ainsbruck, / a boy held back twice. / I borrowed the long brown hair / and merciful eyes of a girl … / I could make the pain from one lash / endure for twenty minutes …”

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
I started reading Bechdel’s self-syndicated Dykes to Watch Out for in a local gay free paper not long after it began, apparently. I’ve looked forward to being able to reread the whole thing. I think this collection includes all the strips since it became a narrative.

La Perdida a graphic novel by Jessica Abel
There are some library books that aren’t in today’s pile of reading because I’ve barely begun them or haven’t begun them at all. La Perdida is one I’m a few pages into. I like the idea of reading an American expat’s account of living in Mexico City.

Cometbus #54: In China with Green Day by Aaron Cometbus
Aaron Cometbus knew the Green Day boys when he was an elder – he was 24? And they were just pushing out of their teens? One notes that his daughter is the same age he was when he met Aaron. Having just reread Jon Ginoli’s Deflowered: my life in Pansy Division which includes tour diaries from the time PD supported Green Day, just as Green Day’s major label debut is making them Big, I was curious to read more about where GD was today. Aaron is a cranky purist and had a falling out with Green Day over their stardom (“selling out” in punk DIY parlance). But they recently reconnected and Green Day invited Cometbus along on their Asia tour. Aaron seems to have gained some perspective over the difference between pursuing your dreams (and stepping over some ethical lines) and giving up your dreams altogether (is it really better to be so uncompromising you stop creating?) …

The New Yorker, November 19, 2007.
Just finished an article about how low birthweight predicts heart disease later in life. Makes me wonder how skinny a baby I was.

Mojo, August 2009
A music magazine out of Britain. Comes with a free compilation CD, usually thematic. I’ve been working my way through the issues the library owns. Just finished an interview with Bob Dylan, the last pages of which have been torn out. “The land created me. I’m wild and lonesome. Even as I travel the cities, I’m more at home in the vacant lots.”

The Best American Comics 2007 edited by Chris Ware
Most of the work in this is excerpted from longer stories. Which is not entirely satisfying. Not that different, I suppose, from the ever unfinished story you get when you read a regular comic series. I’ve even read some of this before, the pages from Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the Adrian Tomine. Still, it’s a handsome book and it was remaindered so I feel like I got a deal.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

be your own DJ

I played DJ for myself, picking songs from around a thousand cassettes and five hundred records. I’d dubbed hundreds of albums from friends and padded my collection by repeatedly sending in fake names to record clubs. When I received the twelve free albums or tapes, I’d write the company a letter saying no one by that name lived at this address.

I don’t suppose playing DJ for oneself is unusual. As a teen I didn’t have very many records to choose from but I found songs that went together, I thought, and played them in my preferred sequence so often, lunging for the stereo’s needle arm to catch it before it could touch the next track in order to put on the exact song that should follow, that when I hear certain songs by one artist I frequently think of the song by another artist that it went with. “Medicine Show” by Big Audio Dynamite going into Martini Ranch’s “Reach,” for instance.

The quote above is from Kirk Read’s How I Learned to Snap: a small-town coming-of-age coming-out story. I never could have or would have engaged in such subterfuge – theft, isn’t it? Not that I didn’t think I ought to take advantage of the 12 records for a penny that the record clubs always claimed you could keep after canceling your membership – no obligation! I suspected I would not be on top of it enough to get the cancellation in on time.

Now that it is far easier to grab your free digital musical files via the internet or rip songs from cheap or borrowed CDs, is it ethical to do so, ethical in a way that it wasn’t when it was 12 heavy vinyl record albums that came in the mail?

Monday, May 16, 2011

notes toward an autobiography by others, part 10


this afternoon
i thought of the acid
that has been festering
in the fridge for months
but instead
i took a nap

when I woke,
i had one of those headaches
creeping up the back of my skull
which you only get from sleeping
too much in the middle of the day

-- Heidi E. Cooper

Late last year I attended a small press gathering at Berkeley City College. After I’d walked around the tables and bought a few wares, I sat to chat with a friend, my back to the table where people had put out giveaways. A small young woman with a pixie cut came in and dropped a stack of a tiny photocopied chapbook. I saw this out of the corner of my eye. When she stepped away I scooped up a copy and dropped it in my bag.

When I read the poems I nodded along to “untitled // this afternoon / i thought of the acid …” Totally, I thought to myself. This is so me.

I wrote to Ms Cooper, asking her if I could put the poem up on my blog. She said I could. “I had that small free pile sitting out for about 10 minutes before snatching them all up myself to hand out directly to folks,” she wrote me. “I am almost certain you are the only person who snagged one while they were sitting on the freebie table.”

Well. Happy happenstance!

source: A Collection of Poetry & Prose & Photos, a self-published chapbook by Heidi E. Cooper

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Where are you on the tongue?

It is only in the past decade that the redoubtable ‘map of the tongue’ has begun to fall out of circulation. The diagram, which dates to the early twentieth century and can still be found in some medical textbooks, places the taste buds for sweetness on the tip of the tongue, those for bitterness at the back, the ability to taste salt on the top edges, and sourness on the bottom edges. … In fact, all the regions of the tongue are capable of recognizing sweet, salty, bitter, and sour flavors, as well as savory tastes, which had been left off the original map altogether.

I remember that silly tongue map from the grade school science textbook. I remember thinking it was absurd the second I laid eyes on it. It’s easy enough to test. Point your tongue and touch a bit of salt to it. Do you taste the salt? Bet you do! I recall pointing this out and being given some amazing nonsense about how the molecules of salt flavor must have instantaneously been transported to the edges of my tongue.

The quote above is from The New Yorker, May 12, 2008, D.T. Max’s profile of the chef Grant Achatz.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Falling vs. Gravity

When you launch something into orbit … you have launched it, via rocket thrust, so powerfully fast and high and far that when gravity’s pull finally slows the object’s forward progress enough that it starts to fall back down, it misses the Earth. It keeps on falling around the Earth rather than to it. As it falls, the Earth’s gravity keeps up its tug, so it’s both constantly falling and constantly being pulled earthward. The resulting path is a repeating loop around the planet.

I don’t get it.

I mean, “falling” in this instance is something different from gravity’s “tug”? If I jump out of an airplane I will fall to Earth, right? I thought I was falling because of gravity’s tug, because I was being drawn toward the center of greatest mass. The orbiting body is falling away from the Earth (“around the Earth”?) yet being constantly tugged back toward it? “It starts to fall back down,” Mary Roach says. What prevents the object from finishing what it started?

If gravity is strong enough to slow the launched object’s forward progress, why isn’t it strong enough to pull that object back home?

How can an object “miss” the Earth? That’s a pretty big target, especially right up close. Has a barn door beat by orders of magnitude.

Mary Roach is attempting an explanation in layman’s language, avoiding math, which, admittedly, I wouldn’t understand either, but what does “falling” mean here? Although a gravity-free experience is often termed “free fall,” what does falling mean if there is no destination for the fall? If there were no atmosphere (with all its buffeting) would your fall toward and ultimately onto Earth be a different experience from gravity-free falling? If you weren’t looking toward it would you know you were falling toward anything?

source: Packing for Mars: the curious science of life in the void by Mary Roach

Friday, March 11, 2011

The right of traditional hate is great

”What tipped me over into sobbing,” [E.J.] Graff later wrote in the Boston Globe, “was when the Unitarian Universalist President Rev. William Sinkford said, ‘By the authority vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts . . .’ At long last, the government was recognizing officially, openly, proudly what was already true between those two, and so may others.”

Ms Graff was weeping at one of the first weddings after same sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts.

I don’t know if anybody teared up at my wedding. Nobody ‘fessed to it. If anyone did, I doubt it was over our Unitarian minister invoking the authority vested in him by the state of California.

But that was something I needed from him. Kent and I were getting married. Legally. The state was explicitly involved – and approving. I wanted the state to say to me, to us: YES

“Yes,” is not what the state has had to say to gay people. “No,” is the usual word. “No,” and “Go away,” and “You are not wanted.” Hets marrying take it for granted that marriage is not just what their parents want for them, not just what their friends or older relations think they ought to do, but marriage is something the state wants. The state wants it for them. The state approves, likes what they are doing.

It was bitter when the voters turned around and slapped us with their NO, their Proposition 8. “No,” the voters said. “You are not human enough. You are not what we want. Go away. Fuck you. Drop dead.”

Well. We are still married. Still married legally. In California, at least. The California Supreme Court decided that those of us who’d trusted them to read our equality into the California Consitution , those of us who got married in those few months it was legal back in 2008, we would not be betrayed. It is, on the other hand, bitter the right of the voters to attack, to hurt, to encode fear & lies into the law was, according to the California Supreme Court, deserving of greater deference than those flimsy new-fangled notions of justice and equal treatment the Constitution windily espouses. Those same sex couples who did not marry in 2008 get the old familiar NO. The right of traditional hate is great.

source: Travels in a Gay Nation: portraits of LGBTQ Americans by Philip Gambone

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Barney Frank outs Sam Rayburn

In Philip Gambone’s interview with Massachusetts Congressional Representative Barney Frank, Frank recalls that, shortly after he came out publicly, House Speaker Tip O’Neill said to him, “ ‘Oh, Barney, I’m so sorry. I thought you were going to be the first Jewish Speaker,’ meaning that as an out gay man I couldn’t become Speaker. I could have told him that there had already been two gay Speakers: Joe Martin and Sam Rayburn.”

The office building for Congressional Reps is named after Sam Rayburn. Rayburn, according to Wikipedia, “was a Democratic lawmaker from Bonham, Texas, who served as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for seventeen years, the longest tenure in U.S. history.”

Joseph Martin was a Massachusetts Republican and served as Speaker in a couple two year periods in the 40s and 50s.

I don’t know where Barney Frank got his information on the personal lives of these two men. But, you know, on this I’ll trust Barney.

source: Travels in a Gay Nation: portraits of LGBTQ Americans by Philip Gambone

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Hotsy Totsy Club

I know Lillian Faderman for her histories of lesbians in the U.S., Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present and Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers : A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. (Someday I will read them!) I didn’t know Lillian Faderman put herself through school working as a stripper.

When I read that she’d stripped at the Hotsy Totsy Club I said to myself, “The Hotsy Totsy Club is a strip club. That explains the name. I’d always wondered about its cute/racy, quaint/titilating name.” I’ve passed the Hotsy Totsy Club lots of times going up San Pablo Ave to Target or Abby Pet Hospital. From the outside it’s a dark little box. No windows. One neon sign, not too garish, the name and nothing else.

Having looked up their website I wonder if perhaps the Hotsy Totsy Club is a strip club no longer. (Faderman’s stint there was all the way back in 1958.) Nothing about stripping on the Hotsy Totsy Club website. Alongside the logos for Best Neighborhood Bar 2010 (awarded by the San Francisco Chronicle) and Best Dive Bar Renovation 2009 (awarded by The East Bay Express), the homepage does offer, “Transgressive cinema, adults only, always free,” so there seems to be something Hotsy-Totsy-ish still afoot.

source: Travels in a Gay Nation: portraits of LGBTQ Americans by Philip Gambone

Monday, March 07, 2011

“a conversation across boundaries of identity”

[O]ver time and with exposure, people learn to live amicably with gay and lesbian people. Indeed, he says, because of the presence of openly gay people in the world, a ‘perspectival shift’ occurs, one that breaks down old prejudices and barriers.

That’s Philip Gambone’s paraphrase of Kwame Anthony Appiah. Gambone interviewed Appiah for his Travels in a Gay Nation: portraits of LGBTQ Americans.

While I agree with the idea (mostly), I am troubled to recall Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s accounts of neighbors butchering neighbors, even celebrating the execution of blood relatives, that occurred in Rwanda and in Bosnia. These monstrous acts took place despite the future victims living cheek-by-jowl with their future killers. I remember Goldhagen describing an ethnically Tutsi woman being murdered with her half-Hutu babies by the relatives of her Hutu husband. I remember elsewhere reading accounts of Bosnian Muslims being driven from their homes by Bosnian Serbs beside whom they’d lived their entire lives, some of whom they’d fed at their dinner table, had considered friends.

Appiah does advocate a little bit more than mere proximity, it seems. Gambone says in his book, Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers, “Appiah emphasizes what he calls ‘conversations across boundaries of identity’ – the imaginative engagement with the experience and ideas of others – as a way to help people get used to one another and thus develop more harmonious relationships and happier lives.”

In Rwanda and Bosnia, Goldhagen says, an intragroup conversation existed among the future killers that persisted over time and which derogated the ‘others’/their future victims, and regularly fixed on these ‘others’ the blame for Hutu or Serb misfortunes. Perhaps a “conversation across boundaries of identity” would have helped?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Born to Run

One of the books that garnered a big waiting list at the library last year was Born to Run: a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall. I can’t say as I was all that interested in the book’s main subject – footraces – but a couple years ago K & I visited Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Before the trip I read up on the Tarahumara Indians who live in the Copper Canyon. There wasn’t much to read. While we were there we bought finely crafted little baskets offered by Tarahumara women at the entrance to our hotel and at canyon overlooks. I heard that Born to Run was about Tarahumara runners, among other things, so I thought I’d pick it up when the waiting list evaporated.

Although McDougall’s goofy persona grated on me at first, I soon got into the cast of characters – runners, Indians, scientists. Turns out it’s quite a fascinating pop science book, too, offering the argument that the human body evolved to run. No, not speed. Endurance running. Faster animals will tire before we will. It is, one of the scientists McDougall consults says, theoretically possible for a human being to run an antelope to death. The antelope will wear itself and overheat after a few hours and the human thumping along on its trail can just step up to the poor antelope panting in the dust and dispatch it. I’m not going to lay out the evidence here; it’s fun following McDougall as he puts it together.

The marathons McDougall discusses stretch to a hundred miles or more. Over that kind of mileage women, it seems, can compete in the same class with men. Here’s a charming little example:

[A]t the 2007 Hardrock 100, Emily Baer beat ninety other men and women to finish eighth overall while stopping at every aid station to breast-feed her infant son.

100. That’s 100 miles. In the Colorado mountains.

I wonder if baby Baer noted a difference in the milk.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

“nothing at all to do with human beings”

Here’s a gentle riposte to recent languages DIR blog posts. To set the scene I have to tell you that “borrowers” are small persons who live secretly in human houses. They meet their needs by borrowing from the excesses of the house – a sock here, a thumbtack there, a broken cookie or corner of cheese.

Young Arrietty is new to her Aunt Lupy’s (which is hidden behind the lath & plaster of the wall) and she has learned that Lupy makes clothes for another borrower who is seen by everyone else as something of a wild thing – unlike the others he lives most the time out of doors. Homily is Arrietty’s mother.

”It’s very kind of you to make his suits,” said Arrietty …

“It’s only human,” said Lupy.

“Human!” exclaimed Homily, startled by the choice of word.

“Human – just short like that – means kind,” explained Lupy, remembering that Homily, poor dear, had had no education … “It’s got nothing at all to do with human beings. How could it have?”

source: The Complete Adventures of the Borrowers by Mary Norton

Thursday, January 20, 2011

what do you know about your word?

Following up on yesterday’s idea, that before becoming literate people experience words as ahistorical, that is, a word means what it means now, as though it had just been invented and had never meant anything else. I’ve seen highly literate people so enamored of a word’s history that they seem convinced that history remains indelibly a part of the word’s body, that archaic meanings never quite go away, that they remain, at least, a subliminal meaning.

In her book on adopting the ways of the urban naturalist, Crow Planet, Lyanda Lynn Haupt recalls her early infatuation with the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Among the naturalist practices that Thoreau praised (& that Haupt recommends) is walking. Get out of your car. Get off your bike, even. Walk.

Haupt quotes a passage in which Thoreau waxes philosophic about “’sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under the pretense of going “a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer, a Saunterer, a Holy Lander.’”

After a little research Haupt declares Thoreau’s a “false etymology. … The modern lexicographic scholarship states that the origin of saunter is unknown,” though there are guesses, the Sainte Terre idea not being one currently given credit, it seems.

I’ve read about other false etymologies, particularly with regard to names, whether animal or place, that originated outside English. If one learns a bird’s name and it sounds like, say, Shouthead, it seems reasonable enough to assume that the bird was given that name because the darn thing shouts a lot. But suppose you were to learn that the first English-speakers asked the locals the name of the bird and the locals said something that sounded vaguely like “Shouthead”, the word meaning in the original language something entirely different, “Beautiful feathers,” maybe.

How significant is a word’s history to the word’s meaning if we have no knowledge of that history?

source: Crow Planet: essential wisdom from the urban wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

do you read?

In an article in The New Yorker (December 24 & 31, 2007) Caleb Crain looks into the possible passing of reading as a widely used skill. What would happen if people stopped reading? People didn’t always read, of course. Most people in the world still don’t, I’d wager. He looks at research into the way non-literate people use language. For them, he says, “Words have their present meanings but no older ones[.]”

Earlier this month I talked about the claim some make that when they use offensive words like “faggot” and “gay”* they don’t mean to denigrate gay people. One clever teen in a discussion thread I read put it this way (I’m paraphrasing): “The ‘gay’ I’m using to denigrate things and the ‘gay’ used to refer to homosexuals are not the same words. They’re homonyms. I don’t mean to refer to gay people when I say something stupid is ‘gay.’” I give the kid credit for a cleverness. It’s a lawyerly answer. Suppose gay people were completely accepted, even celebrated as a matter of course in this society; if ‘gay’ persisted as a put-down then a case might be made for their being two completely separate words that just happen to be spelled and sound alike. “Anti-gay people! Gawd, they are just so gay!

I don’t see it. But I will add that when I was a kid I had no idea I was taking advantage of anti-gypsy stereotypes when I would say, “What a gyp!”, referring to a bad deal. I no longer use that word. When I learned the word I didn’t even know it was spelled like the first syllable of “gypsy” or that gypsies had a bad reputation. I probably thought of them as fairy tale characters, like pirates or witches.


* That is, I mean people will use "gay", which I don't consider offensive, in a way that is clearly intended to be offensive, as a synonym for "unacceptable". [update as of 1/23/11]

Friday, January 14, 2011


As you’ve noticed if you’ve seen my pile posts I’ve always got several books going. I read a little bit of one, then put it aside and read a little bit of another. Frequently, more than one book at the same reading session will mention the same something – Proust, say, or Plato. Maybe even referring to Proust’s madeleine or Plato’s shadows on the cave wall. One book will be a novel, the other will be a book on crows. Or whatever. It’s not like I’m reading two books about Proust – or Plato.

A couple days ago I found two different authors describing a scar on a woman’s belly as she was undressing.

My books are talking to each other.

Monday, January 10, 2011

spotting the egg

”Many kinds of birds have spotted eggs … Eggs do not grow spotted, but have spots ‘applied’ as they pass through the oviduct, sliding against special pigment-laden pores (which is why the markings so often look streaky).”

So birds color their eggs (beyond the single color brown, white, blue) much like humans do. We paint an egg, applying pigments with brushes. Birds paint their eggs, too, daubing paint on them as the eggs leave their butts. Who knew?

source: Crow Planet: essential wisdom from the urban wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Sunday, January 09, 2011

redefining homosexuality

There was nothing offensive in this love. That is to say, it wasn’t homosexual.

That’s from Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan. The narrator is referring to Salo the Tralfamadorian’s love for Winston Rumfoord. Salo is an alien robot. A sexless alien robot, the text is at pains to emphasize. Rumfoord is human. The novel was published in 1959.

Homosexuality was, by definition, offensive. It’s true that Kurt Vonnegut frequently has a tongue lodged in a cheek, so one might suspect that Vonnegut was being over the top intentionally in equating homosexuality with offensiveness. That he was being ironic, even. On the other hand in 1959 few would have gotten the joke, if joke it was. Most readers of the time would have just nodded, or, perhaps, felt relief that the love being spoken of was not that nasty kind, but the kind purer even than het sex, the kind in which no sex is involved.

These days we gay folk refuse to be considered offensive merely for existing. We’ve made some progress. Though the abundant use of words like faggot and cocksucker and the ubiquitous That’s so gay! to denote the offensive, the unacceptable, the pathetic, the disgusting, means that Progress requires an asterix. Yes, we can legally marry in a few states, but our essential beings are still definitionally wrong. It’s a cultural embed so deep some who use the words just mentioned will claim they mean no insult to gay people, the words, they say, have nothing to do with homosexuality! They’re just taking advantage of a word everybody knows is bad, disapproving, ugly, that, in fact, that’s all they mean to express – disapproval, condemnation, disgust.

Well. You can be stupid. And stupider. And stupider yet. But how much brain damage do you have to sustain to be that stupid?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Dustin Heron

It’s January 2011? OK. Time to offer up this link I threw in my DIR doc three years ago. Write about it sometime, I told myself. I’ve been cleaning out a few of those today. One was on whether it’s becoming normal journalistic practice to mention the same-sex partner of a prominent figure being featured in a magazine profile. So far as that one went, I couldn’t figure out anything to say, really. It’s long been the practice of journalists to treat a gay relationship like a secret, a shameful one, perhaps, or one that they fear will lead to reader complaints (or editorial suspicion) or something. Best just not to mention it, even if the interview subject is fully forthright and proud. I had written some paragraphs trying to say something. I did not succeed. I’ve deleted that at last. I’ve now said at least as much as I previously said at length. Another potential post was on how Anne Sexton depicted God – Jesus in this case – in a poem. Uh. Just not up for that, you know.

So what have I decided to share?

Because I'm bored at work, I'm being drunk. I'm being drunk by the Ogre from H.R. His hands are enormous … He squeezes me in his hand and snaps the top of my head back like a soda can. I make an effervescent sound. My skull is filled with carbonation. Carbonation and porn. Porn begins to jump from my skull and run all over the office.

That’s by Dustin Heron. I discovered Heron in an issue of Watchword and asked him if he would read for Poetry & Pizza, the series I was coordinating (with Clive Matson & Katharine Harer) in San Francisco.

His blog, Because I’m Bored at Work, from which I snagged the above quote, seems to be on hiatus. There’s been no update since January 2008. Before that there had been no update since Jan ’07. I think my praising the blog and his Watchword story goosed Heron to write a couple entries.

But to make it a regular thing you need more motivation than a few nice words and one pizza parlor gig, I guess. Anyway. Still fun writing there to be encountered.

I bought his book, Paradise Stories, but haven’t read it yet. It’s got lots of stars at Good Reads.

Poetry & Pizza is also, by the way, on hiatus, permanent maybe. Had a good run.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

pile of reading

My last pile of reading post was August 1st. At the time I was reading Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. I finished the damn thing yesterday. Yes, the author says many valuable things. He offers ideas for preventing genocide, for instance, (or, as he has decided to rename it, “war against humanity”), ideas which include giving every new leader a handbook describing the likely punishments for engaging in eliminationism (the term Goldhagen prefers to genocide). The topic is so important that any book that tries out new thinking on it is important. I just wish I could recommend this one. I’m not telling anybody not to read it. I don’t have a better one to recommend.

I keep trying to offer up a critcism of Worse Than War and erasing what I write because, like I said, it’s such an important topic that I don’t want to do anything but recommend people spend time thinking and working on it, but the book …

Stuff I’m reading now:

Faster Than the Speed of Hope poems by Donna M. Lane
My favorites are the portraits of people Lane knows, friends, lovers, exes.

Crow Planet: essential wisdom from the urban wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Having observed urban wildlife awhile (particularly crows), Haupt offers up a primer on how to be a naturalist in the city. More crow anecdotes please.

I Am Secretly an Important Man by Steven Jesse Bernstein
A collection of short prose published posthumously. I discovered Bernstein in The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, which I finished reading last week. I wasn’t able to find a collection of Bernstein’s poems in the library, but did come across this. In “Murdered in the Middle of the Dance,” the poem in The Outlaw Bible, Bernstein engages in a magical realism that is both humorous and grotesque – the speaker of the poem cuts off his head then wanders about a party bleeding. I haven’t read anything so striking in Secretly yet, but I’m only a few pages in.

Sorry We’re Close poems by J. Tarin Towers
Enjoying the way Towers makes connections, leaps, a friend calls them. “I stop / caring about myself to try to fix the world for you. / No one can fix the world, but I show up with my tool kit: / … what can I do for you? / Nothing? Oh, well, I’m sorry I came. / I’ll go home and fix my broken bathtub if you don’t need me then. / Oh! Of course I’ll stay on so you can drown your boyfriend.”

The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris
Just started. Haven’t yet got past the Introduction. I am reading a lot of poetry lately. Big fat anthologies and slim volumes by individual poets.

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley
I loved the movie made from this series of graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and a library colleague likes the graphic novels better so I’m giving them a shot. So far this first graphic novel and the movie so closely parallel that it feels a bit like I’m reading the movie’s story boards.

Two Lines: a journal of translation, volume 13, 2006
I like the opportunity to read work from languages other than English. Haven’t read anything I love in this yet.

Kundalini: the evolutionary energy in man by Gopi Krishna
In my yoga practice lately I’ve been going through periods I’ve felt lightheaded, if not enlightened. The book is a memoir by a yogi who inadvertently accessed kundalini energy – and it came close to wrecking his life. Not quite a pageturner, tho.

The Complete Adventures of the Borrowers by Mary Norton
Four books under one cover. A fifth Borrowers book was published a few years later making the title no longer accurate. A copy of the first, titled simply The Borrowers, occupied a place on our bookshelf most of my childhood. I know my brother read it. But I could never get past more than a few pages. I admire Norton’s prose style in a way now that I would not have as a child and I find the gossiping of the mother mildly amusing, something that I’m sure bored me as a child, especially considering the emphasis Mrs Clock (one of the mouse-sized human “Borrowers” that live under the floor boards in English houses) places on class and propriety, things that would have puzzled me as a child.

Voices Within the Ark: the modern Jewish poets edited by Howard Schwartz and Anthony Rudolf
Another fat fat anthology. The writing is consistently good. Much allusion is made to the Torah (the Old Testament, more or less), and to the same old stories …