A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

[META] On one impending good reason to move from Livejournal

Dwight on Facebook linked to a Metafilter feature noting that the servers of Livejournal–the social networking and blogging platform I got started on, the social networking and blogging platform that I still use–has moved to Russia. In light of that country’s issues with basic freedoms, it’s probably worth considering ending blogging on this platform.

As of a few days ago, the IP addresses for blogging service LiveJournal have moved to 81.19.74.*, a block that lookup services locate in Moscow, Russia. Now users — especially those who do not trust the Russian government — are leaving the platform and advising others to leave.

For years, the online blogging community LiveJournal — popular in Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine — has served as a key communications platform for Russian dissidents (the Committee to Protect Journalists earlier this month called on Russian authorities to release a LiveJournal user who has been sentenced to 2 years in prison for a critical blog post). Even after Russian company SUP bought it from California-based Six Apart in 2007 (previously), the fact that SUP continued to run the servers in the US meant that users felt relatively safe; a 2009 press release specifically said that LiveJournal, Inc.* would continue to run technical operations and servers in the United States (and claimed that 5.7 million LiveJournal users were Russia-based).

[. . .]

Tracerouting livejournal.com now points to a Moscow location and an ISP operated by Rambler Internet Holding LLC, the company that also owns SUP. (Former LiveJournal user Gary McGath says that a few days ago, he checked the IP location of livejournal.com, and it was in San Francisco.) LiveJournal’s official news posts do not mention the change; users have begun to ask questions there and on their own journals.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 2, 2017 at 5:15 pm

[META] More blogroll and news links

The start of a new year is a good time to add links to my blogroll, bloggish and otherwise.

Enjoy!

Written by Randy McDonald

January 2, 2017 at 4:45 pm

[FORUM] How do you express your creative energies?

With me, I suppose that my amateur photography is a major way I express my creativity nowadays. I do write, but not nearly enough of the longer-form stuff–non-fictional and otherwise–that might be a true outlet. Photography is increasingly it, from my selection of things of note about the world to their framing to their presentation.

What about you? How are you creative?

Written by Randy McDonald

December 11, 2016 at 11:59 pm

[DM] “What demographic issues do you think matter right now?”

At Demography Matters, I ask some questions of our readers. Are there particular trends you are interested in? Are there particular regions you would like to read about? Would analyses of the present here, try to predict the future, aim for a better understanding of the past? Would you like to be the one doing the analyzing?

Discuss, please.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 23, 2016 at 11:59 pm

[URBAN NOTE] Torontoist on the life and career of journalist Kathleen Blake Coleman

This weekend, Torontoist reposted “Kit’s Kingdom”, Jamie Bradburn’s 2013 article describing the life of pioneering Edwardian journalist Kathleen Blake Coleman.

Regular readers of the “Woman’s Kingdom” page in the Saturday edition of the Mail noticed something new in the October 26, 1889, paper. Amid the usual excerpts from other publications, a new column appeared. Little did they know that the author of “Kit’s Gossip” would become a weekend staple for the next two decades, providing Toronto’s first strong female journalistic voice.

Portions of that debut column resemble a social media feed, especially the “Chit-Chat” section. Kit complains about women who think opera should be sung in English, block her view with their bonnets in churches and theatres, and speak stridently when unwelcome guests visit. She also transcribes a conversation overheard on the streetcar. Her feisty tone quickly won readers, and was soon employed for weightier matters than the fashion and toiletry tips she offered that day.

According to the fictional biography she employed during the early years of her column, Kit was the descendant of a deposed Irish king (she wasn’t) who shared her home with her trusted friend Theodocia (who existed only as a literary device). The reality for Kit’s creator, Kathleen Blake Coleman, was far more complicated. Sorting out Coleman’s background has challenged biographers. An intensely private person, she urged her readers to burn their diaries and letters to avoid post-mortem scrutiny. She left few papers apart from correspondence with Sir Wilfrid Laurier, some family letters, stories inspired by her childhood, and an unpublished novel. She fictionalized much of her background, claiming to be a relative of a prominent Galway family, and shaved eight years off her age upon arriving in Canada.

She was born Catherine Ferguson at Castleblakeney, Ireland, in 1856. Her major influence was her uncle Thomas Burke, a liberal priest who encouraged her tolerance of others. She changed her first name to Kathleen shortly before an arranged marriage to a man 40 years her senior. When he died, his family disinherited the young widow. Immigrating to Toronto in 1884, Kathleen soon married Edward J. Watkins. Beyond being a poor breadwinner, Watkins was an alcoholic philanderer who may have had another wife in England. After a period in Winnipeg, the couple split, leaving Kathleen a single mother with two children. Watkins left his mark in the doomed marriages, affairs, and alcoholics that appeared in his ex-wife’s fiction.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 21, 2016 at 6:00 pm

[WRITING] “Queer Writers in the Age of Trump”

The Atlantic hosts Gabrielle Bellot’s article talking about the ways in which queer writers–in the United States, in her telling, but I’d argue worldwide–will have to mobilize to the forces gathered together by Trump.

In 1948, when the American writer Patricia Highsmith started writing The Price of Salt, her seminal novel of lesbian love, she knew it would be difficult to find a publisher as an openly queer author. At the time, as she reflected in her 1989 afterword to the novel, it was already difficult enough just to be out as a lesbian in New York. “Those were the days,” she wrote, “when gay bars were a dark door somewhere in Manhattan, where people wanting to go to a certain bar got off the subway a station before or after the convenient one, lest they be suspected of being a homosexual.” It would be career suicide, she feared, to be known as a “lesbian book-writer.” So when the publisher of her first novel, Strangers on a Train, rejected The Price of Salt, she released the latter elsewhere under a pseudonym, Claire Morgan. It went on to become one of the most important works of queer American fiction.

The United States in 2016 is generally more accepting of queer writers than the country Highsmith described. But some of the rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump and a number of his supporters paints LGBT people in much the same way that they were seen in Highsmith’s day: as people who don’t deserve the same rights as other Americans. In January 2016, Trump told the Fox News host Chris Wallace that he would “strongly consider” appointing conservative justices who could repeal the ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage legal last year. In June 2015, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who has a long history of opposition to LGBT rights, had responded more strongly to the decision, reaffirming his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

As a queer American and as a writer, the prospect of a Trump presidency troubles me. Yet Trump’s tenure, ironically, could be a spur to LGBT literature, propelling the development of an even more self-assured literature of American queerness than before.

I came to America from the Commonwealth of Dominica. For me, like many other queer writers in the U.S., particularly those who’ve come from less safe places, America represented a kind of hope. Here was a country I’d decided to stay, as a dual citizen, after coming out. My former home in the Caribbean wasn’t a safe place to be openly queer in, and unlike the U.S., it lacked laws protecting LGBT persons from discrimination or violence. When I immigrated, I felt like a sea-traveler who had escaped from a storm, waves high as Hokusai’s, and who was now in a calmer place, free to fill my eyes with stars.

Of course, the United States was far from perfect. The killing of trans women is in the news so often that I’ve come to expect it. Bigotry against LGBT people is written into innumerable “religious freedom acts” akin to the one Pence signed. But, for all that, America was still a sanctuary, a world that could accept—and even defend—someone like me. Queer people were never fully safe, but here we could be happy and hopeful.

The day Trump was elected, I began to think of Shirley Jackson’s famous New Yorker story, “The Lottery.” In Jackson’s tale, published in 1948—the same year Highsmith began The Price of Salt—a New England town holds an annual lottery, in which each member of the town must pick a piece of paper from a closed box. One unlucky person who gets the single paper with a black dot on it will be stoned to death by the townspeople. Jackson’s story is cool and compressed, revealing the mundane savagery in an ordinary American town that exists when people cling too closely and literally to violent traditions. I had voted, not taken part in a lottery, yet felt like I had pulled out a card with a smudged black dot: an indication that something terrifying, was coming.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 19, 2016 at 7:59 pm

[WRITING] Maciej Cegłowski, “Shuffleboard At McMurdo”

Maciej Cegłowski’s essay “Shuffleboard At McMurdo”, recounting his experience of a visit to the less popular side of Antarctica, is superb travel writing.

Rodney gathers us in the ship’s auditorium for a briefing. Both the Americans and the New Zealanders have invited us to visit. Zodiac landings will be conducted with military precision, with four groups of twelve passengers sent on the half hour, and a final raft of ten picked volunteers from the crew. In a nod to geopolitical realities, the Russians will be taken directly to the gift shop.

On the other side of the continent, the question of how to handle visitors at research bases has become vexing. The boom in Antarctic tourism now brings forty thousand people a year across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. At Palmer station (population 40), smaller ships are allowed to come ashore, but kept out of the buildings where work is done. Larger ships aren’t allowed to land at all. Instead, volunteers from the base come aboard to brief the passengers and awkwardly sell souvenirs in the ship’s bar. Palmer handles about a dozen ships and over a thousand visitors every summer, sometimes on consecutive days, and the staff there feels the pressure.

Things are easier in the Ross Sea. This year only two ships—the Shokalskiy and its sister ship the Khromov—will visit this side of Antarctica, bringing about a hundred visitors. There are never going to be cruises here in any numbers. The trip takes too long and cannot be made comfortable. The same rounded bottom that keeps the Shokalskiy from snagging on sea ice makes it roll like crazy in open water. On a regular cruise ship, thirty degrees of roll sends grand pianos smashing into the walls, and leads to refunds, incident reports and investigations. The Shokalskiy rolls to thirty degrees every four seconds, back and forth, all the way across the Southern Ocean. A few times a day the ship tilts past forty degrees, the angle at which the grippy foam placemats on every surface release their hold on a coffee mug. And at least twice during the voyage, we roll past fifty degrees ①. At that point it makes more sense to try to stand on the walls than the floor.

Rodney says there is no cost-effective way to build a new passenger ship that could cruise the Ross Sea. The Russian charters ② are marginally profitable, but they are getting old, and are probably not worth overhauling. Few people have five weeks and tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a trip that can’t even guarantee them a glimpse of their destination. The ban on heavy fuel oil, strict limits on the numbers of people who can land, ice safety requirements, and outrageous weather mean you will never see a Carnival cruise ship at McMurdo. And that’s for the best.

The only way tourists might come to the Ross Sea in numbers would be by air, but the memory of the 1979 crash, when an Air New Zealand plane flew into the side of Mt. Erebus, is too painful. There’s still visible wreckage on the volcano. Once the Russian ships are gone, the only people touring the Ross Sea will be dignitaries flown in by the various national programs, one-off charters, and the occasional mad sailor.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 26, 2016 at 9:40 pm