Sunday, October 24, 2010

Remembering... Harry Hay

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In 1950, a generation before Stonewall, Harry Hay helped to co-found the Mattachine Society, which argued for gay and lesbian civil rights; at a time when it was illegal for lesbians and gay men to even congregate in public, he and his fellow members took a terrible risk. Where an earlier group - The Society for Human Rights - formed in Chicago in 1924 but was very quickly suppressed by the authorities, Mattachine survived well beyond the Stonewall era, not officially disbanding until 1987.

Harry Hay's place, then, as father not only of the gay rights movement but also of gay culture is unquestioned, like Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon are among the mothers of the lesbian community and culture.

Not satisfied, though, to liberate just one oppressed group, he co-founded the Radical Faeries in 1979 alongside his partner, John Burnside. Radical Faeries espoused an Earth-based neo-pagan religion which embraced all sorts of gay men, who in those days were largely ostracized from all religions, and in his opinion needed a welcoming place in which to be spiritual.

In his final years, Hay was dismayed to see the toll both AIDS and assimilation was taking on the community he had worked so hard to build. Harry Hay died on this day in 2002 of lung cancer at the age of 90 in San Francisco. He was survived by Burnside, his partner since 1963, who himself died in September 2008 at the age of 91.
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The Death of Tycho Brahe

Danish nobleman Tycho Brahe was, like many astronomers of the 16th Century, a prodigious dreamer; at a time when so little was understood of the mechanics of the sky, it took a man of two minds - one philosophical, the other analytical - to unite the physics and mythology of the skies into a unified whole.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn in December 1546, Tycho was just such a man. Alongside contemporaries such as Johannes Kepler (whose own work was a continuation of his), Tycho made observations which formed the basis of astronomy for decades, if not centuries. Despite this, he was never a believer in heliocentrism, which caused some friction between himself and Kepler; Tycho believed that the Sun orbited the Earth, while the other planets orbited the Sun.

The long-standing myth surrounding Brahe's final days is that he died of a bladder infection; because it would have been impolite for him to leave a banquet he was attending before it was over, even to relieve himself, he stayed and was said to have strained himself, dying 11 days later. Subsequent analysis of hair from his remains, however, detected massive quantities of mercury.

Since like most scientific men of his day, Tycho was also a keen alchemist, it's unlikely that he would have taken such massive quantities of it himself, even though mercuric chloride was a staple ingredient in much of that era's medicine. Modern fingers tend to point to poisoning, and to Kepler as the poisoner; Kepler had the means, motive, opportunity, and not only stole much of Tycho's research following his mentor's death but worked at submerging Tycho's reputation for generations to come as well.

Tycho Brahe is buried in the Church of Our Lady in front of Týn, in Prague, near the Old Town Square.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Zac Posen

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOnce upon a time I wanted to be a fashion designer...

I bought and studied fashion magazines religiously, and even attended a couple of classes at a local fashion school, where I learned the essentials of millinery and fashion illustration among other arcane mysteries. It was something I was serious about, and dovetailed well with the study of makeup artistry and hairdressing which I undertook later, as well as with the photography that came after that.

All of this, of course, was prior to the rise of such designers as Marc Jacobs and Hedi Slimane, back when Isaac Mizrahi was still fat, and it didn't matter what fashion designers looked like.

Chased away from my dreams by the looks fascists I settled briefly in hairdressing and makeup, before being driven out of there; I was then driven out of photography by the same forces, and soon I'll be driven out of writing and blogging as well, the way things are going.

Nevertheless, by capitulating I'm as much to blame as the gay men I continue to meet who tell me that I'm 'so disgusting I don't deserve to live', which gives me a laugh now but really hurt when it started occurring (as it will) immediately following my 24th birthday.

New York City native Zac Posen's reputation is built principally upon the fact that he is the pet gay of such renowned fashion-plate actresses as Natalie Portman, Liv Tyler, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Claire Danes. Honestly, it's been so long since I studied fashion now that I couldn't tell a Zac Posen dress from the schmatte run up by the late Alexander McQueen; I just like looking at him.
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Pop History Moment: The Execution of Vidkun Quisling

Few people in history have been so good at what they do that their name becomes synonymous with their vocation; Vidkun Quisling, though, was one such person.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPrior to the outbreak of World War II, Quisling and Johan Bernhard Hjort formed Nasjonal Samling (NS), or 'National Unity', a fascist political party in Norway founded in accordance with the same principle of Führerprinzip as applied to the National Socialists under Adolf Hitler.

Unilaterally declaring himself Premier of Norway following Operation Weserübung in April 194o, the former Minister of Defence tried to form a government under Josef Terboven, who'd been appointed Reichskommissar. Shortly thereafter The Times of London coined the term 'quisling' to mean 'traitor' or 'collaborator'.

Following the abolition of Norway's monarchy, Quisling was named Minister-President or Fører in February 1942; he remained in power until his arrest in May 1945, despite having never been recognized by the popular King, Haakon VII, and therefore enjoying little or no support from ordinary Norwegians. Although his party did boast 50,000 members at one point during the occupation, as many as half of these received jail time following the war.

Beginning with the outbreak of peace after six years of war Norway began to prosecute its traitors, and the chief quisling among them was naturally Quisling himself, along with the other two leaders of NS, Albert Viljam Hagelin and Ragnar Skancke. Quisling was found guilty of treason for his role in the coup of April 1940, and sentenced to death.

All three were eventually executed by firing squad at Akershus Fortress in Oslo, Vidkun Quisling's fatal bullet being the first to do its righteous duty on this day in 1945.
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Happy Birthday B. D. Wong

Born on this day in 1960, Bradley Darryl Wong is a talented actor and writer, whose breakthrough Broadway role in M. Butterfly opposite John Lithgow was showered with honours: the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Clarence Derwent Award, and the Theatre World Award - an unprecedented feat.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketB. D. Wong currently appears as Dr. George Huang on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; previously he appeared as Father Ray Mukada on Oz. He also played Linus (my favourite character) in the 1999 Broadway revival of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

In 2003 Wong wrote a memoir entitled Following Foo: the Electronic Adventures of the Chestnut Man, which concerned the tribulations involved in surrogate parenting when he and his partner Richie Jackson had their son Jackson Foo*.

That same year he was also given a GLAAD Award, which almost never go to gay people, since GLAAD's job is kissing up to straights. Not that I'm bitter.

*Jackson Foo Wong had a twin brother named Boaz Dov, who died 90 minutes after he was born; the pair were conceived using Wong's sperm and an egg from Jackson's sister, then carried via a surrogate mother.
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Remembering... Raúl Juliá

Born in Puerto Rico in March 1940, Raúl Juliá was both a gifted dramatic and comedic actor; married since 1976 to Meryl Poloway, he was the father of two sons (Raul, born in 1983, and Benjamin, born in 1987).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHis breakthrough dramatic role was in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), opposite William Hurt and Sonia Braga; it was his comedic turn as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993), though, that made him a household name - at least around this household!.

Diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1991, Juliá went out of his way to conceal his illness; in fact, for his fans - myself included - the news that he'd suffered a stroke 8 days before he died (on this day in 1994) was nearly as much a shock as his death itself, even though his illness had been apparent for some time, and was the subject of much speculation by tabloid television.
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In Memoriam: Melvin Purvis

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The United States in the 1920s - before the era of big government - was a mostly lawless place; about all a criminal had to do to get away with any crime in those days was cross a state line, rendering most border towns dangerous in the extreme... Into this sad state of affairs stepped a young lawyer named Melvin Purvis (born this day in 1903) who was one of the first men to join the Bureau of Investigation before it was given more sweeping powers by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following his inauguration in 1933.

Although he only served in the FBI from 1927 to 1935, Purvis still holds the record for the most public enemies arrested or killed: Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger were all killed either by him or by agents serving him. It is rumoured that he left the FBI because J. Edgar Hoover was jealous of the attention he got, which Hoover thought should be either his or the Bureau's.

Since his suspicious death in February 1960 Purves has been played on film by Ben Johnson, Geoffrey Binney, Dale Robertson, Will Patton, Chuck Wagner, and most recently - in Michael Mann's 2009 film Public Enemies opposite Johnny Depp as John Dillinger - by Christian Bale.
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"Rosa Parks" by Outkast

Personally, I can think of no greater tribute to Rosa Parks than the utterly joyous Rosa Parks by OutKast, which originally appeared on their 1998 album Aquemini; alas, Parks herself wasn't quite so honoured by the homage, so what do I know? Whether the ensuing lawsuit over the song was the doing of Parks or whether she was put up to it by her advisers (who had some financial interest in the outcome, after all) will have to remain a mystery, though, as that knowledge died with her on this day in 2005.
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Remembering... Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, the mother of the American civil rights movement, died on this day in 2005, nearly fifty years after refusing to give up her seat at the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe ensuing Montgomery Bus Boycott polarized the nation, in much the same way the murder of Emmett Till did, demonstrating once and for all the evil inherent in 'race' prejudice. Said Parks of the incident:

People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

The seat Parks refused to give up was not a whites-only seat, but rather in the front row of the 'colored' section.

Within the five days between her arrest - for 'disorderly conduct' - and trial, the boycott was planned, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got involved, and soon the entire story was front-page news, not the first time Southern bigotry made news around the world, and certainly not the last.

The legacy of the soft-spoken seamstress and her so-called disorderly conduct must never be forgotten, affecting (and effectively disordering) an endemic system of segregation which denied the fruits of the American Dream to untold millions of people simply due to the colour of their skin.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Queen Jane Seymour

Of all his six wives only the third - Jane Seymour - earned the sobriquet 'my only true Wife' from Henry VIII; her death is said to have left the King in mourning for the rest of his life...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHaving served as lady-in-waiting to his previous two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, she was betrothed to the King in May 1536, the day after Anne Boleyn was beheaded. They were married ten days later.

Proclaimed Queen on June 4th (but never formally crowned due an outbreak of the plague), she found herself pregnant early in 1537. In October 1537 she gave birth to a Prince, named Edward (later Edward VI) at Hampton Court Palace; three days later she participated in her son's christening, although ill. She died on this day in 1537 of complications related to puerperal fever.

Because she was female, the date of her birth was not recorded; it is thought, however, that she was 29 at the time of her death. She was buried at Windsor Castle, with her stepdaughter Princess Mary acting as chief mourner.
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"Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf

On what would have been Canadian-born drummer and Steppenwolf co-founder Jerry Edmonton's 64th birthday*, it's Magic Carpet Ride, arguably the band's biggest hit**. The first single from their 1968 album Steppenwolf the Second, and written by John Kay and Rushton Moreve, Magic Carpet Ride has been widely used by pop culture - mainly as a musical shortcut to establish either the trippier years of the late-60s or else an advanced state of buzz...

*He died in a car accident in November 1993.
**Fans of
Born to Be Wild - which made it all the way to #2 - may beg to differ; Magic Carpet Ride stalled at #3.

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POPnews - October 24th

[Chartres Cathedral was dedicated in the presence of France's King Louis IX on this day in 1260, having seen a number of its predecessors on the site go up in smoke; this incarnation nearly became rubble itself at the hands of a mob during the French Revolution, only to be saved by its more courageous townsfolk.]

69 CE - At the Second Battle of Bedriacum forces under Antonius Primus - the commander of the Danube armies, loyal to Vespasian - defeated the forces of Emperor Vitellius.

1147 - After a siege of 4 months crusader knights led by Afonso Henriques reconquered Lisbon.

1260 - The Mamluk sultan of Egypt, Saif ad-Din Qutuz, was assassinated by Baibars, who then seized power for himself.

1590 - John White, governor of the second Roanoke Colony, returned to England via Plymouth after an unsuccessful search for the 'lost' colonists.

1648 - The Peace of Westphalia was signed, marking the end of the Thirty Years' War.

1857 - Sheffield F.C. - the world's oldest football club - was formed.

1861 - America's first transcontinental telegraph line was completed, rendering the Pony Express obsolete.

1901 - Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

1917 - The Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, marking what is now generally called the Russian Revolution.

1926 - Harry Houdini made his final public appearance, at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit.

1929 - Black Thursday marked the initial crash of the New York Stock Exchange; Black Tuesday, five days later, finished the job.

1930 - A bloodless coup d'état in Brazil ousted Washington Luís Pereira de Sousa, the last President of the country's First Republic, and his heir apparent, Júlio Prestes; Getúlio Dornelles Vargas was then installed as 'provisional president' under a system known as Estado Novo. Vargas' steady drift to the right ensured that Brazil had become a fascist dictatorship by the time he left office for the first time in October 1945.

1931 - The George Washington Bridge, linking upper Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey, was dedicated; it opened to traffic the following day.

1945 - The United Nations was founded once all five permanent members of the Security Council - the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China - had ratified its charter.

1980 - The government of Poland legalized the Solidarity trade union, which was a first within the Soviet bloc; the union was de-legalized two years later by Wojciech Jaruzelski.

1990 - Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti revealed to the Italian parliament the existence of Operation Gladio, a 'stay-behind' paramilitary force organized by NATO and the CIA in order to prevent the spread of Communism into Italy after World War II.

1998 - The Deep Space 1 mission was launched.

2002 - Washington, DC, area spree killers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo - the infamous Beltway Snipers - were arrested.

2003 - British Airways' last Concorde made its final commercial flight.
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