A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for October 2010

[H&F] “An unedited, stream-of-consciousness, but rational piece on the Jon Stewart rally”

Over at History and Futility, The Oberamtmann reacts to Jon Stewart’s rally. What I saw and heard of the rally was fantastic. My co-blogger’s reaction makes me appreciate it more; the rally was really about the antithesis to fear, a new sort of mobilization in a time of tension.

Pundits say there is too much political apathy among the younger voters. We just do not care, what with our video games and facebook. We do care. We care a lot. Growing up in the current poisonous American political culture means that apathy is often the only sure way to prevent insanity or depression. We cover our ears and go LALALALALA because it is the only way to get through the day. We could stop and listen, but all we learn is that the other side hates America and wants to kick our grandmothers and rape our goldfish. Sure, we could pick one of the screaming sides, but that is not what most people want. We want to be heard without shouting and we want to hear the news without being bombarded with idiocy. Satire seems to be the only way to cut through the crap. If you want us to be more engaged, try treating America’s citizens like intelligent, rational human beings who know how to handle large amounts of critical information. The biggest joke may be that it takes a Comedy Central program to not only recognize that, but deliver the goods.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2010 at 11:56 pm

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[FORUM] When did you feel the most scared?

Hallowe’en started off as a festival linked with the breaching of walls between the supernatural and natural worlds and the resulting unheimlichness, but it’s since become a matter of fun without any fear.

In The Know: Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized?

(Well, it has in most places.)

As one reader noted, some time age–a decade, with Buffy?–vampires stopped being monsters of the id and are instead now mostly exotic sex partners. The rehabilitation of zombies I’ve seen in mainstream fiction–even teenage fiction!–would have surprised most people five years ago. Yes, I can see how the mute isolation experienced by zombies could map onto high school, but still. Is it that the exotic just isn’t as intrinsically terrifying as it once was?

There’s still room for terror in our lives, in those moments where the wall between the expected and the unpredictable breaches and we’re left to cope with what’s erupted into our world. It still happens.

My most terrifying night? The early morning of the 5th of February, 2002, easily. In the first hours after I’d recognized I had a sexual orientation, I felt ashamed that I hadn’t recognized it before. Pushing past that shame for a moment, I realized that I needed to enlist the help of other people to try to manage this, since even after the past couple of years of slow twitchy improvement I was lacking. Who did I know in town who’d be able to help me, immediately and as a friend?


“Dear God, what have I done to myself.”

And you? (If you dare.)

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2010 at 10:21 pm

[CAT] Devil Kitty

Devil Kitty
Originally uploaded by jciv

When I saw this picture in Flickr’s Cats group at Google Reader, I recognized it as the perfect Hallowe’en cat picture. Photographer jciv kindly gave me permission to reproduce the photo here.

The subject of the photograph is Jingle, perhaps four and a half years old; her owner the photographer found her as a kitten. You can find many more non-eerie photos of Jingle via this search.

And on a related note, I strongly recommend jciv’s photography. The interesting lighting that he uses for his pictures, close-ups and otherwise, creates genuine experiences.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2010 at 10:51 am

Posted in Assorted

[FORUM] When have you been deceived about your home? and about what?

We care about our homes. At one point or another, most of us are unlucky enough to find that something’s terribly wrong, that some help is unavailable, that some terrible flaw exists, that someone (or any number of someones) have lied.

My posts the past couple of days have given you a good idea about my home’s faults. And you?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 30, 2010 at 7:42 pm

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On Prince Edward Island’s normative homophobia, and its slow change

It took a firebombing and two attempted murders to start a dialogue on homophobia on Prince Edward Island. This says something about the province.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, a gay couple in Little Pond awoke to the sound of their window being smashed and a fire erupting inside their home. They escaped without injury.

The fire is the subject of a criminal investigation.

“This is two guys who were sleeping in their beds and an incendiary device came through the window in the early hours of the morning and they had to escape out the window, not knowing what was on the other side,” [one neighbour] told CBC News.

“That’s attempted murder.”

Maureen Campbell-Hanley, a friend of the couple, said she is devastated by what happened to her friends. (CBC)Since the two men moved from British Columbia to the small community in eastern P.E.I. five years ago, their home has been broken into, their mailbox destroyed, and now, their house has been burned to the ground.

The couple have not spoken publicly about the incident. Their friends said the emotional damage is severe and the men are afraid for their lives.

The community is rallying around the couple, as you’d expect any community to do. The arson seems to be the culmination of a pattern of escalating violence.

Days before they fled their home, the men told police that women’s underwear had been planted in their clothes dryer — evidence, their friends say, that the couple was targeted because of their sexuality.

The underwear may have been part of an escalation in crime at the men’s now-destroyed home on Route 310, where their mailbox was torched on Oct. 12.

“To me, somebody was trying to make a point with the underwear,” said Harvey Francis, a friend of the couple who worked with one of the men last year.

“This was not a one-off,” Ms. Campbell echoed.

RMCP Corporal Dan MacInnis said police are “not convinced” the fire was a hate crime. He confirmed that they were notified of the underwear, but said there was no sign of break and enter. “There’s nothing conclusive to tell me someone physically went in and put [the underwear] there,” he said.


A local United Church minister, Beth Johnston, gave a sermon calling for tolerance, saying that hate was not an Island value. Her parishoners’ reaction was interesting.

Reverend Beth Johnston, speaking from the pulpit at Dundas United Church last Sunday, urged tolerance and support for the men. Nobody clapped, but nobody left, she said.

With such overwhelming support from the community, I wonder why this couple is so ready to leave.

Eastern Kings is a region where hate is normative, although I will certainly grant that since the region integrated its school system in the 1980s things have become much better. Letting Protestants and Catholics befriend each other, maybe even become romantically interested in each other as scandalous as that might be for the older generation, is a step forward. Reach for that rainbow, guys!

And hate is a Prince Edward Island value. How could it not be? The province of my birth is a place that’s largely rural, ethnically quite homogeneous (95% native-born, 95% Anglophone or mostly so, overwhelmingly British and Acadian in background), with little history of immigration, a tendency towards social conformity, and (leaving homophobia aside) a long history of ethnic, racial, and sectarian bigotry that simply hasn’t been talked about. African-Canadians early in the 20th century either tried to pass for white or left; in the 1950s, Jews visiting the North Shore tourist areas found hotels were filled; in the mid-1980s, future premier Joseph Ghiz was called a “black boy” by someone in a session of the provincial legislature. (Islanders, can you tell me if this incident was recorded in Hansard?) The Island’s emphasis on familial connections, meanwhile, is rather heteronormative. Don’t forget the public ideology, proferred in tourist campaigns and largely internalized, that presents an image of the Island as ideal, a pastoral society with few problems in the past, none now, and few foreseeable, an attitude that doesn’t lead to much collective self-reflection. It would be surprising if the Island wasn’t homophobic. The reverend’s sermon was more prescriptive than descriptive.

Did I experience much homophobia myself? I couldn’t tell you. The isolating, crippling depression I suffered on the Island had any number of negative consequences, but one positive consequence that it did have was that it kept me from recognizing any homophobia that might have been directed towards me. I do remember nasty jokes about out queers as a teenager and young adult, and a fair amount of mockery of Pride parades. In the otherwise friendly English department lounge at UPEI, I do remember jibes tossed at a flamboyant queer (by people who’ve since proven their gay-friendliness, it’s important to add). Things certainly could have been worse.

But. In the summer of 1999, while I was working for the provincial tourism department as an information counsellor, part of the time I was stationed at the Charlottetown airport. While I was there, sitting in the kiosk waiting for disembarking passengers, there was one young man who kept trying to engage me in conversation. His was a lost cause; even leaving aside my tendency to shut down conversations, there was something about his approaches, a certain confusing energy, that made me uncomfortable. In winter of that year, I learned that he was the young man who had drowned himself in Charlottetown harbour. I only realized what may have happened, queasy sense of horror included, several years later. I don’t know for certain that he was trying to reach out; it’s been too long, and I could easily have misjudged it. The incident has never stopped bothering me, not least because I’m never going to know what was going on. I really wish that I hadn’t had that experience.

Things are changing. Prince Edward Island’s population is less than 5% of Toronto’s–the size of a couple of neighbourhoods–and well under one percent of Canada’s. The Island is a very peripheral society, fairly well assimilated to central Canadian norms. Thankfully, secularism Canadian-style has caught on in the province; Canada’s distinctive quasi-monopoly religious market has saved everyone from American evangelical Christianity. Conformity is still a factor, but it’s less important than before.

Prince Edward Island has gotten better, much better, since the 1980s; it’s gotten better since I left. There was, as a video shows, a 2009 Pride parade, for instance. I know queers of my generation who lead perfectly happy, unharassed, lives. Rural areas like Eastern Kings are still problematic, but they are declining relative to the influence of a fairly cosmopolitan Charlottetown, a provincial capital and a university town that’s such a help to the province. Open homophobia just isn’t seen as cool by Islanders, especially by the younger generation of Islanders. Critically, given tourism’s importance to the economy–the Island’s government is trying to promote the Island as a queer tourist destination, as awkward as the effort may be. I know other people who had to leave, in less pleasant times. Me, I’m still glad that I left, and I was eager to go; only a year and a half passed between the time I realized my sexual orientation and the time I moved away. I’m still happy that, more than before, people don’t have to leave.

I said at the beginning of the post that the fact of the firebombing starting a dialogue on homophobia says a lot about the province. It does say any number of negative things–one’s letter-writer’s speculation that rural Prince Edward Island is still homophobic isn’t easy to argue against–but it does say positive things. Islanders took in gay rights in a way befitting their status as a periphery of Canada, absorbing them while perhaps not being as critical of itself as it should have been. Coming up against the personalized reality that a toxic homophobia does still exist on Prince Edward Island, that this homophobia did result in attempted murders in a society where violence is fundamentally wrong and where people really do try to be friendly and good with a fair amount of success, will be a good thing. Homogeneous societies can be stagnant, yes, but they can shift rapidly.

I would like to think of this incident as the equivalent to the belated realization, by the mainstream media, that queer teenagers suffer from a terribly elevated risk of suicide; belated recognition, yes, but recognition nonetheless. And you?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On opposing homophobia in Serbia

Serbia, as some of you may know, doesn’t have the best reputation insofar as respect for minority populations goes. slow-motion liberalization, starting from laws against male-male sexual relationships that weren’t applied, through legalization in autonomous Vojvodina in 1978 and eventual explicit nation-wide legalization in 1994. Serbia was part of a Yugoslavia that was fairly liberalized and Westernized, but the collapse of Yugoslavia and the beginning of Milosevic’s autarchy complicated things still further. As Eric Gordy wrote in his The Culture of Power in Serbia, the Milosevic regime’s power came from its ability to close down options–to denounce urbanites as decadent, cosmopolitans as contaminated, et cetera. Gay rights remain limited, with constitutional provisions against same-sex marriage and a generally conservative population. Sometimes, it breaks forth into violence; the recent rioting by skinheads in Belgrade, a scandal with huge numbers of arrests and injuries, is a case in point.

The musical genre of turbo-folk emerged in response to Yugoslavia’s cosmopolitanism, a fusion of folk music with an Eastern-styled pop that replaced the Yugorock scene. Turbo-folk was closely linked to the ideology of closed options, sometimes quite literally as evidenced by the marriage of turbo-folk star Ceca to the gangster and ethnic cleanser Arkan. Things are changing there, though. My thanks to Zlatko for pointing out this article at KurirJby star elena Karleusa, talking about the ridiculousness of homophobia. (Don’t you find Google Translate’s becoming increasingly successful at idiom? I’ve hacked things a bit for idiom; I can make no claims about accuracy, but it should not be wildly off.)

How long will the millions of Serbs will do a handful of shit that will make us look like savages and fools? HMM? HMM? How long will scum be free to be loud and clear, leaving we are dumb people? How long shall hooligans smash the city and attack those who promote human rights by marching? How long will our police smash heads? I

[. . .]

Hey, it’s okay that many of you do not like gays and do not support Gay Pride. But it is not okay, just let me tell you. Why do not you like gays? It’s like saying you do not like blacks, or Muslims, or Buddhist monks, just because they are different from you! Maybe you do not like polar bears? But, that’s your thing. If you are racists, chauvinists, homophobes, idiots, you are find, but keep it to myself. Or consider that it’s time to change things. Man is born black and yellow and white and gay and straight. It’s true. It is time that many of you have heard around that homosexuality is not a disease — and proved so, officially and unofficially.

[. . .]

In Serbia it is normal that a child watches as dad beats him lightly, but it is not normal for two adult men to prefer each other. In Serbia it is normal for someone who killed more than 100 people of another religion to be called a national hero by every one, but not normal to walk around the city of those who advocated love, peace, freedom, tolerance!


Written by Randy McDonald

October 30, 2010 at 8:34 am

[DM] “Statistics, stories, and their tensions”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters reacting to a recent New York Times article examining the tensions between statistics and stories. How do they affect our blogging (there and here and everywhere) and the specific sort of blogging there?

Go, read

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the failure to recognize long-standing patterns of queer teen suicide

As many of you may know, I took part in the It Gets Better YouTube project. It was a brilliant idea on Dan Savage’s part, really, using the power of social media to bridge the gap between isolated queer youth and the wider community, incidentally getting not a little international press coverage about the project and the theme of queer teenagers and the particular issues that they face. Even homophobic groups and blogs have had to confront the issue. Ivor Tossell’s recent Globe and Mail article sums up the project’s appeal.

The fact that this project has gone from grassroots (or as grassroots as you can be if, like Mr. Savage, you’re an enormously popular relationship-advice columnist) to something the Oval Office deems politically expedient is extraordinary.

First, it’s a testament to the project’s universality. Put aside the question of homophobia for a moment. Who hasn’t, at some point, wanted to deliver a message-in-a-bottle to their younger selves? Who hasn’t wanted the reassurance that the trial of adolescence will eventually end? (Never mind youth being wasted on the young: The years that are the hardest are the ones that drag on the longest.)

One of the most refreshing things about the project is how unmanipulative it is. There’s plenty of emotion in tales of harassment, repression, redemption and acceptance. But, by definition, this is a bunch of people talking about how happy they are now. That’s the kind of sentiment it’s easy to get behind.

More importantly, the project arrived at the right moment in North American life.

[. . .] That might be why a project whose audience was meant to be a group of voiceless, at-risk youth has instead found itself on the national agenda, giving leaders a framework for action. It’s become a bridge between the experiences of citizens and the national dialogue, from a teen’s darkened bedroom to the legislature.

It also shows us that online activism doesn’t always stay online. When a groundswell of citizens embraces a cause, it gives leaders an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and provides them with a time, and a reason, to speak out. It’s a framework for taking a stand, and that stand comes none too soon.

But. There’s a fatal false assumption here, one that Tossell–and many other commenters on the issue, I hasten to add–has made.

It Gets Better comes at a time when homophobia – like many forms of nativism and xenophobia – is enjoying a period of acceptance in the United States.

The U.S. media still give credibility to the kind of people who put the word “gay” in quotation marks. America is so great, so wild-eyed, that it’s not just debating gay marriage; it’s simultaneously asking itself whether it’s all right to be gay at all. Voices that comfortable urban liberals, gay and straight, once wrote off as hopeless fringe elements are coming to dominate U.S. politics.

Just two weeks ago, the Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for governor in New York, a nasty piece of work named Carl Paladino, delivered a major speech urging that children not be “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is a … valid and successful option.” Mr. Paladino was pressed into backpedalling, but the fact remains: This is where their national conversation is at these days.

This is a misreading of the situation. It has never been better to be queer, teenager or otherwise, in the United States particularly but the world generally. Sodomy laws have been abolished; homophobia is increasingly recognized as pernicious; ordinary people and governments recognize the rights of queer people to form families, through adoption and through marriage; `critically, the Internet allows queers regardless their personal background the ability for form communities. If we’re talking about a particular moment, it’s actually a very good moment.

The fact that queer teens have a vastly, sadly, elevated risk of suicide has been known since the 1980s, along with the fact that this suicide is precipitated directly by ill-treatment; Adam Solomon noted in The Noonday Demon the study demonstrating a statistical link between being a queer teenager and having your locker vandalized. The Youth Suicide website has a disturbingly and distressingly long list of anecdotal, press, and academic studies proving this reality. In my Firefox browser, it comes all told to 38 pages.

And yet, despite this voluminous evidence, in press report after press report, the emphasis is made on a “wave” of queer teenage suicides. There isn’t a wave; queer teen suicides are at their normal level. It’s only that the mainstream media and the general population have recognized that this phenomenon does in fact exist, and is quite alarming, and does need to be countered.

Better late then never?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2010 at 9:14 pm

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[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • 80 Beats lets us know that China now has the fastest supercomputer in the world.
  • Centauri Dreams notes that, if anything, it should be easier to form planets in binary systems like the very nearby Alpha Centauri than in planetary systems like our own with single stars.
  • Eastern Approaches rightly criticizes London mayor Boris Johnson for comparing the flight of poor people from London once housing subsidies are cut to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, as seen from a Serb nationalist perspective, no less.
  • Geocurrents writes about the top 100 tourist destinations in the world, finding surprises in Turkey and southern China alongside expected tourist destinations in the Mediterranean basin, et cetera.
  • Joe. My. God shares the good news that an Arkansas school official who wrote astonishingly homophobic statements on his Facebook wall has no resigned.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy writes about the differences between the latest Narnia movie and C.S. Lewis’ original, when the movie (not the book) notes that the Pevensey children’s experience made their quotidian lives more difficult.
  • Wasatch Economics reproduces an article by Michael Lind when he says that the biggest threat facing the American economy isn’t Japanese-style stagnation, but rather British-style deindustrialization.
  • Windows on Eurasia notes that Tatar mosques–and not only in Tatarstan–are using Tatar, not Russian, as their vehicular language.

[URBAN NOTE] Three maps, two Torontos, one election

Torontoist presented a remarkable map showing how Torontonians voted.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Ford-supporting wards are in blue, Smitherman-supporting ones in purple.

What does this mean? Back in March, I posted two maps of Toronto’s internal divisions. The first was a Patrick Cain map–5 Janaury 2010’s “Map of the Week: Commuter cycling by census tract”–showing which neighbourhoods of Toronto are home to people who commute regularly via bicycle and which are not, and, in so doing, shows why biking isn’t big across Toronto and why there are so many disputes within Toronto as to the use of biking. The areas coloured dark blue in the area of the Cain’s map of Toronto bike commuting are all but one of the areas where 10-12% of the resident population commutes via bicycle, and are themselves surrounded by most of the other bicycle-happy districts of the city.

Excerpt from "Map of the Week: Commuter cycling by census tract"

The second map, originally from here, created by Wikipedia’s Lencer and edited by Simon P, showing the municipal boundaries of the various communities federated in Metropolitan Toronto (1954-1998) before these communities’ amalgamation into a single megacity.

Metropolitan Toronto Map, from Wikipedia

See a correlation?

blogTO noted that the electoral vote reflected. long-standing electoral patterns where left-wing candidates take the center of the city always and the south more generally, and the right-wing takes the suburbs. It also reflects long-standing cultural differences, too.

A map at the bottom of the Torontoist post linked to above shows the relative strength of the two lead candidates. Even on this map, the contrast remains as sharp as ever. The gaps in most wards between Ford and Smitherman was huge. Patrick Cain has more maps at his website showing the Toronto election in greater detail.

What does this mean? Kelly McParland at the National Post had an interesting idea.

In essence, Toronto is two cities that don’t like one another much but have been forced to cohabitate. And who performed the ceremony? Yes, Mike Harris.

It was the former Ontario premier, who didn’t like Toronto much and decided it would work better if there was just one big city to dislike, instead of a bunch of smaller ones. He also suggested costs would be cut by reducing overlap.

Well, the cost thing definitely hasn’t worked: Toronto spends more money than ever, has more employees and provides crappier services. On that basis, you could argue amalgamation has been a disaster.

On the other hand, maybe Harris was more devious than we give him, credit for. Who’s the mayor now? A right-winger from the suburbs. i.e. just the sort of guy Mike Harris could get along with just fine.

Could she be right, I wonder?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 28, 2010 at 11:13 pm