A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for August 2013

[BLOG] Some Thursday links (2)

[BLOG] Some Thursday links (1)

I’ve accumulated more than a few links in the past couple of weeks. I wanted to share them, in two posts, before I left Toronto on a week-long vacation in Prince Edward Island.

  • Acts of Minor Treason’s Andrew Barton shares a vintage photo of Toronto’s Union Station from 2010, before the massive construction on Front Street that transformed the scene.
  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait notes that the very large majority of stars in the night sky are quite likely to still be alive, not having died in the mere tens of thousands of years (at most) it has taken for their light to reach us.
  • The Burgh Diaspora’s Jim Russell notes that German attitudes which force women to choose between motherhood and employment aren’t going to work in the long run.
  • Centauri Dreams suggests that landing sites on icy Europa’s chaos regions are likely to give probes access to its biologically interesting water oceans, and notes the serious problems associated with focusing lasers for interstellar solar sails across light years of space.
  • Crooked Timber’s Chris Bertram notes the hardening of British attitudes towards migrants, while John Quiggin notes the role of nepotism in the centres of globalization.
  • The Dragon’s Tales has plenty of interesting links: one suggesting that known exoplanet systems seem to follow Kepler’s law, another suggesting that habitable exomoons are likely to orbit at least part of the time outside of the local stellar habitable zone if they’re to avoid overheating, and a third one mapping the genetic legacies of different ancient migrations to the Western Hemisphere.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the new cosmopolitanism and experimenting of Polish cuisine and chronicles the destructiveness of the continued alienation and even oppression of the Roma of Hungary.
  • Far Outlier’s Joel notes the growing popularity of baseball in the late 19th century Kingdom of Hawai’i and chronicles the origins of smallpox inoculation among the beauty practices of Circassian female slaves.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Alex Harrowell makes an argument that independent satellite surveillance played a role in the decisions of France and Germany not to involve themselves in Iraq. Commenters dissent, suggesting that an Italy equally plugged into Franco-German networks didn’t care about the intelligence.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that a bare majority of Taiwanese now support same-sex marriage, and comments approvingly about American gay conservative Jamie Kirchick’s calling out of Russian homophobia on Russia Today at the expense of his career with that station.

[MUSIC] T.A.T.u. and “All the Things She Said”, five years later

Back in 2008 I devoted one of my Thursday music posts to T.A.T.u.‘s 2002 international hit “All the Things She Said”.

They did good music. I still like the defense of their music written by Michael Idov at Slate in 2005.

The band t.A.T.u. was a product that one could only sell, or buy, once. Even as the goth-chipmunk ardor of their 2002 single “All the Things She Said” was steadily denting stateside radio playlists, it was safe to assume there would be no competing teenage-lesbian Slav duo that year. Lena and Julia took the waning Britney-vs.-Christina debate and resolved it as only a reeling post-socialist mind would–Both! Making out! In a way, they formed the ultimate, albeit belated, punch line to the 1990s: liberation as political correctness as farce. Not bad for two girls in Catholic-school uniforms, especially considering there are no Catholic girl schools in Russia. The highbrow reaction was a mix of bemusement and horror, with Gary Shteyngart doing the requisite hand-wringing in The New Yorker. His conclusion: The girls were in need of deprogramming, and the duo’s manager, Mr. Shapovalov, was a man capable of mesmerizing Mesmer.

One small detail spoiled the otherwise immaculate picture of corrupted youth, hair-raising exploitation, and proto-capitalist greed run amok: ”All the Things She Said” was a terrific song. Tightly constructed by craftsmen unknown and given a steely sheen by the celebrated producer Trevor Horn, the killer single ostensibly about same-sex lust was, in fact, a valentine to all of us who like a bit of a challenge with our pleasure. In an era when one good hook is enough to hang an album’s worth of filler on, “All the Things She Said” contained at least five distinct parts, each catchier than the other. What’s more, it drew freely from disparate sources, both above- and underground: goth rock, industrial, sleek ’90s techno. In short, it was a ubiquitous hit that also doubled as a hip discovery—a phenomenon that hasn’t recurred until Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.”

The second-highest trend comment at the band’s VEVO page now? “looking at this makes it even more clear what a huge step backwards Russia has taken… wonder what would happen if they released videos and music like this today? yes, I know they would be thrown to prison.”

Alexander Kondakov’s Open Democracy essay “Do Russians give a damn about homosexuality?” makes the argument that there actually has been substantial improvement in Russian attitudes towards homophobia and GLBT people over the past two decades.

The CISR has actually been polling Russians on homosexuality since 1990. Comparison of the data over the years is quite revealing. At the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, for example, Russians were asked ‘What should we do with homosexuals?’ Almost half of those polled (48%) answered ‘isolate them from society’, 10% suggested they should be ‘helped’; 16% answered ‘leave them alone’, and 26% were ‘don’t knows’. When the same survey was repeated in 2005, the numbers had changed significantly: 31% of those surveyed answered ‘isolate them’, 10% again wanted to ‘help them’ and 10% were don’t knows, but this time 49% favoured leaving them alone. In other words, acceptance of homosexuality had risen very significantly.

If people were presented with only two options, ‘homosexuals should be treated as criminals’ and ‘homosexuals should be left alone’, then the majority in favour of tolerance is even greater: in a poll run in 2002, for example, 36% of respondents supported criminalisation, 64% were happy to let them be. There was no particular difference in response between different social and occupational groups, although people working for the police and armed forces showed the least tolerance.

On the other hand, when those polled were asked to say how they would define the term ‘homosexuality’, a much more marked homophobic attitude emerged. In a 2001 survey where people were asked to complete the statement, ‘Homosexuality is …’, 36% answered ‘a form of immorality’; 31% – ‘an illness’; 20% – ‘a sexual orientation’, and 1% -‘a sign of talent’ (12% were don’t knows).

There has also been hardening. In my 2008 post on the group and their song, I suggested that the success of T.A.T.u. within Russia was a sign of increased tolerance, of Russian normalization, of the end of that country’s particular Sonderweg in this particular area. It turns out that I really, really underestimated this tolerance, or at least underestimated its durability. Or is it a paradoxical sign of partial success, that GLBT people in Russia have just now managed to become prominent enough and organized enough to become targets?

Written by Randy McDonald

August 9, 2013 at 3:56 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Crooked Timber’s Chris Bertram writes about the racist raids against immigrants in the United Kingdom.
  • Charlie Stross fears revolution against increasingly xenophobic and increasingly police states in the West.
  • Eastern Approaches touches upon the still-vexing question of how to deal with Romania’s Communist past and its perpetrators.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Alex Harrowell notes that the United States really has largely recovered from the 2008-2009 recession.
  • Geocurrents describes the awkward position and questionable future of Burmese migrants in Thailand.
  • GNXP’s Razib Khan notes that a crowd-sourced South Asian DNA project suggests interesting things about South Asian history, apparently confirming–among other things, to my eyes–Indo-European migrations.
  • Language Hat notes a Mexican telenovela broacast in Yucatec Maya.
  • New APPS Blog notes that Detroit’s bankruptcy is a consequence of too-limited frames–for instance, the self-exclusion of prosperous suburbs from the city they are part of.
  • Registan’s Kendrick Kuo argues that Russia and China need to be engaged by the United States as stakeholders in Central Asia.
  • Strange Maps maps lactose tolerance in Old World populations. Conquering groups are quite ready to take to milk.
  • Understanding Society links to description of a fascinating-sounding project analysing populations in Eurasia for differences and similarities in their evolution over time.

[META] A weekend note on the future

I recently came across Anna North‘s Salon article “When blogs go dark”. In the article, North describes reasons why established bloggers stop blogging.

When Allie Brosh published her now-famous illustrated account of depression on her site Hyperbole and a Half, she was lauded, rightly, for producing one of the most moving descriptions of the disease since David Foster Wallace. But what was also notable about the piece was that it came a year and a half after her last substantive post — an eternity in Internet time. From October 2011 to May 2013, Brosh dropped off the face of the web.

This doesn’t mean she was idle — her first book comes out this fall. But her long break is a reminder that the pace of Internet publishing can now make us feel like we’re experiencing a stranger’s life in real time. Until, suddenly, we aren’t.

[. . .]

The changing nature of the Internet can make it harder for writers to share their troubles. Blogger and author Esme Weijun Wang, who writes at her eponymous site, has been writing about mental illness online since the heyday of the social network LiveJournal in the early 2000s, and says those days offered a greater feeling of a closed, and therefore safe, community: “[LiveJournal] provided the illusion of privacy, which most of the Internet does not, now; LJ did so by allowing its [users] to write what were called ‘friends-only’ posts, which meant that everyone who read your ‘journal’ had been vetted by you prior to being allowed to read your (often intensely) personal material. Often, we only knew one another by our LJ names; I knew my closest LJ friends by their first and last names, but I for example went under a Caucasian-sounding pseudonym for years.” Now that more blogs are open to whoever wants to read them, Wang says, “I feel more isolated than I did during the height of the LJ days of writing, when everyone else was equally open and unconcerned with fear about, say, their boss reading about their last night’s crying jags.”

And, she adds, “The sweeping monetization of blogs, by which I mean the nagging feeling that there is no room on the Internet left for bloggers who aren’t interested in moneymaking, also affects how I experience the Internet these days.” People trying to make money from their blogs may be less inclined to reveal the darkest aspects of their lives, and more likely to take the “cupcakes and unicorns” route.

Blogging for those who monetize their sites is, of course, a job, and hard to walk away from for many of the reasons any job is (there may be no boss to apologize to, but there’s also no disability insurance). And for the many bloggers who’ve built a following, it’s a little like being a celebrity — you can’t quit without people noticing. Eleazar Eusebio, a therapist and professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, notes that blogging about mental illness creates certain expectations: “If you put something out there, you almost have to come out with some finished product. We’re always looking for what happened.” And if we don’t get it, “there’s a feeling of, where did this person go?”

[. . .]

If you trace it back to LiveJournal as Wang does, then blogging didn’t start out as either a job or a road to celebrity, however small. It started as a way to share feelings, sometimes exceedingly raw ones. And even if sectors of the blogosphere become overwhelmed with “relentless positivity,” there will always be those readers who came in the first place for a writer’s personality — for a glimpse, however small, of his or her real life. And sometimes that life includes the need to simply stop writing for a time. Wang says she’s anxious when she needs to let her site lie fallow, preoccupied with “the fear that my site’s readers will have forgotten me by the time I return.” But, she says, “my readers tend to be loyal ones, I’ve found, and are generally still there when I come back.”

I’m not stopping, although I have slowed down and will continue to slow down. This has nothing to do with the ongoing heat death of Livejournal, and it doesn’t connect to catastrophic or worrisome personal issues. Rather, it has to do with my being involved in a variety of other projects making use of my skills.

I’ve been blogging for a dozen years, at A Bit More Detail and elsewhere; it’s time for me to try to put these skills to more practical use. God knows it’s time that I do so.

This has been fun. Thank you all for being here.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 5, 2013 at 3:59 am

[BLOG] Some Friday links (2)

  • Centauri Dreams reports on a model for atmospheres of Earth-like planets orbiting red dwarfs that, as pointed out in comments, doesn’t take their tidal locking into account.
  • The Dragon’s Tales describes how the New Horizons probe will approach the Pluto system during its flyby.
  • Eastern Approaches notes continuing tensions in Georgia about how “European” the country’s political system is.
  • Geocurrents notes how the formation of a new Indonesian province bordering Malaysia on the island of Borneo (North Kalimantan) reflects Malaysian-Indonesian tensions.
  • Itching for Eestimaa’s Guistino notes that levels of economic and technological development in Estonia vary greatly between Tallinn and the rest of the country.
  • A post at Lawyers, Guns and Money argues that the proposed Dream Act that would enable illegal migrants in the United States to regularize their status is necessary from the point of justice alone.
  • The Map Room’s Jonathan Crowe links to fantasy-style maps of real countries, Australia and Great Britain.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Emily Lakdawalla notes a minor problem in the exploration of Pluto: what are the lines of latitude and longitude?
  • A Registan post observes that a weakening of China wouldn’t do good things for Pakistan’s status in the world.
  • Peter Rukavina contrasts old photos of Charlottetown with contemporary pictures of the same locations.
  • Strange Maps’ Frank Jacobs describes the quixotic French plan to flood areas of the North African Sahara.

[BLOG] Some Friday links (1)

  • Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster describes, after Timothy Ferris and Greg Egan, the idea of a “galactic Internet” that we just have to find a way to plug into.
  • Will Baird at The Dragon’s Tales describes one theory for identifying life-supporting worlds on super-Earths orbiting red dwarfs from their spectrographic signatures, and another suggesting that gravitational resonances from Jupiter and Saturn prevented the formation of more, and more massive, planets in the area of Mars.
  • Daniel Drezner notes that austerity is controversial in Poland.
  • Eastern Approaches touches upon illegal–that is to say, unregulated–adoption in Poland.
  • Language Log considers the phonemic–vowel-like, even–qualities of the “Mc” in McDonald’s. I’m amused.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes that the United States is no longer supporting Argentina’s international legal issues with the foreigners claiming its debt.
  • Is Towleroad essayist RJ Aguiar correct in claiming that the gay rights movement has neglected sexual freedom for more conservative marriage-type issues?
  • A couple of posts at the Volokh Conspiracy suggest that the fall of Detroit can be connected to the use of eminent domain to confiscate property for development. (I suspect causality is reversed.)
  • Window on Eurasia points to some interesting articles: one claims that Ukraine for all of its issues is more pluralistic and thus more hopeful than Russia; another talking about the unlikelihood that South Ossetia, once Georgian, will be reunited with North Ossetia inside Russia; and, a final one suggesting that anti-GLBT attitudes are rife throughout the South Caucasus.