felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So I finished John Ralston Saul A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada last night. It's a brilliant book, although with a lot of tangents that don't seem to quite fit -- Saul is a little like that brilliant professor who tends to ramble off down brilliant side roads and forget what he's lecturing on.

But still, all Canadian progressives need to read this book. His basic argument:
Cut for length )

Saul said in an interview that Canadians who read this book say he put into words something they'd always felt but could never put into words. I concur.

The most interesting criticism is that people have accused him of romanticizing or misrepresenting First Nations people, or of oversimplifying the relationship between them and Europeans. Interestingly, none of these responses seem to be coming from First Nations people, and he's leaned heavily on their own words over four centuries for his arguments.

There are problems here, though. Saul is a little too much a booster of capitalism for this socialist to handle. I thought he'd given up on that after The Collapse of Globalism. Interestingly the book was finished just a little before the credit collapse, and I notice he's downplaying these elements in his interviews.

I also wonder what's up with him and gay people. He only seems to mention us dismissively in passing, whereas he has no problem championing other marginalized groups. This in spite of the fact that the relatively easy time we've had in Canada compared to other European countries (no recorded use of capital punishment for the 270 years when it was punishable by death) would seem to support his arguments.

Still, it's a great book, and highly recommended. Saul writes about history and philosophy in plain, easy-to-understand English, so it shouldn't be intimidating for anyone.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
A poem for Remembrance Day:


What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
By gay British poet Wilfred Owen, who was killed while crossing the Sambre-Oise Canal a week almost to the hour before World War I ended. It's my favourite poem about World War I. As a Canadianist, I should probably like "Flander's Fields" more, but I suspect this better captures what was going on in Europe.

Private George Lawrence Price was the last Canadian to die in that war -- the second-to-last soldier of any nationality, two minutes before the ceasefire took effect. He was hunting a German sniper who was moving from house to house. The sniper got him first. So that's a bit of Canadian lore for the day.

Meanwhile, I tried to find out last month if any of the soldiers dishonourably discharged for homosexuality in World War II -- and there were many, according to Paul Jackson's book on the subject -- are still alive. I've been thinking about making this a political issue by bringing it to the NDP convention. These men had their benefits taken away, and had the fact that they were discharged "with ignominy" added to their discharge papers, which any potential employer could ask to see.

I tried to contact Jackson about the subject, but he seems to have no contact info anywhere in cyberspace. Strange for a published author. But just now, I found it -- turns out he's at Concrodia now instead of McGill. I've just sent him an e-mail.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Just thought I'd mention that I've updated my historical website. Today it's about two celebrity trials, one local and one international.

Widdows, in particular, was fun to research. He seems to have been very much a victim at his first trial -- he was the one who go seduced, by the look of it, but his lover confessed and not him. He gets less and less likeable, though, as his story continues.

I really didn't need to mention much about Oscar Wilde, though. Everyone knows his story.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Things have been quiet. I've been slowly going over my novel, excising this, re-writing that in preparation for the big re-write when I get feedback.

I've also been doing a fair bit of research for the website, which has involved reading up on a number of fairly obscure political figures, such as British Radical Henry Du Pré Labouchère, and Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, who served two years before he died at lunch with Queen Victoria.

(For some reason, the ice cream shop around the corner from my house has a very random counterfeit bill on display, with Thompson's face on it.)

I also finished The Farthest Shore -- the last of the original Earthsea trilogy. It's gorgeous -- LeGuin writes the best fantasy I've ever read in English. She gets that sense of beautiful longing that Tolkien is always trying for.

There was a brief kerfuffle awhile back when she said that she didn't think J.K. Rowling was that good a writer. I like Rowling a lot, but it is clear that LeGuin is the better of the two -- she manages to pull off the same themes way back in 1972 that Rowling explores in the Potter series with much better grace and poetry and psychological realism, and does it in 600 rather than 3000+ pages.

'Course, I'm biased toward LeGuin because her gay character wanders in on page six of her third book, where he's announced in plain English. No subtext, no interviews after the book was written -- right there, a newly-introduced character falls in love with another man.

Funny how she was able to do that without the controversy Dumbledore aroused. Was it because fantasy novels weren't yet on the mainstream radar, or because the religious right was not as well-organized back in the pre-Reagan days?
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)

I've posted another entry in my historical blog, this one about the end of the death penalty for homosexuality in Canada in 1869.

I sifted through a lot of 138-year-old political debates to find out how controversial that provision in the criminal-law reform bill of 1869 was. The short answer: it wasn't.

The politicians spent a lot more time arguing whether garotting should be punishable by whipping -- which sounds like a debate from "The Onion in History," or one recalled by Grandpa Simpson.


Harper prorogued Parliament, meaning he's shut it down for a month. This is the culmination of the tantrum-throwing in the committees, the blanket secrecy Harper demanded from the bureaucracy, the secret trade discussions, the illegal campaign financing, and the refusing the implement the Kyoto requirements voted on as law by parliament.

This means, in practical terms, that a lot of high-profile bills have died on the order paper before they became laws, including the highly flawed and unconstitutional "age of consent" bill.

It also means the Clean Air Act is dead, and hearings into the RCMP pension theft have stopped. Convenient, eh?
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I updated -- this part is a revised version of the middle of that post I put up a couple of days ago, on the English Renaissance.

I wish I had a travel budget for this project. Some of records I'm in are in Hamilton, Ontario. Others are in Toronto, or in Quebec City.

I also love that the second warden of the the Kingston Pentitentiary had the name Donald Aeneas MacDonald. Given the story about the underworld, "Aeneas" is the perfect name for a prison warden. he also shows up in earlier court trials -- he seems to have been a reformed criminal himself.

It's funny, doing research like this -- reading the words of mostly-anonymous people long dead, you develop an affection for some of them, become interested in their stories.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I updated my mostly-history blog. This one is about the Jesuits and France's clergy.

I've been reading a lot about sex in New France, lately, which is a fascinating subject (it'll be the topic of my next blog entry). I'm amused that in 1699, two soldiers from Trois-Rivières were charged with witchcraft for possessing a magic spell to cure impotence.

They only got a slap on the wrist for possessing ensorcelled Viagra -- a few livres in fine, rather than being burnt at the stake for witchcraft. Maybe the judge was sympathetic?

Things have been good. I'm finally getting caught up on my own writing, and I've hit the one-third mark in my massive edit.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I updated my other blog with a series of corrections. That'll teach me to trust secondary sources -- it turns the little work done in unearthing the Saint-Michel case had been done very badly, and when I went to the original documents, I found most of it had been done incorrectly -- factual errors everywhere.

I think I've unearthed every surviving bit of information on this side of the Atlantic about Saint-Michel, unless there's some old mouldering book out there no one's discovered. As for information from France, I can't tell -- France's online government archives seem to have been programmed to be as difficult as possible.

Because of all this research, I've been scarce lately.

In any event, the entry is now four times as long and as accurate as possible. I think it's safe to say I know more about this man than any other living person. I plan on updating again tomorrow.

Meanwhile, just in time for the Fête Nationale, an anecdote from the great historian of New France, W.J. Eccles:

"Five years had elapsed since [French explorer Jacques] Cartier's departure with ten kidnapped Iroquois [including Chief Donnacona], and he had promised to bring them all back safe and sound in ten months. all but one of them, a child, had died in France. When asked, Cartier admitted that Donnacona, was dead, but he declared that the others were alive and well, great lords who now preferred to remain in France."
Some of the Natives were as good con artists as the French, though. The Hurons kept stringing the French along with promises to lead them to the Kingdom of the Saguenay, a magical land with all the gold and gems they could want, if the French would only keep coming back to trade with them exclusively. The French bought it.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I updated my history/political blog. This historical entry's mostly filler -- it's an introduction to other entries that I've been researching quite heavily, and which won't be ready for a couple of days.

Towards that end, I've been poring over the complete judgements rendered by New France's highest court -- its court of appeal and high criminal court, the Conseil Souvrein. I'm looking for cases involving homosexuality, and also trying to get a sense of New France's legal culture -- what it punished and how, which is almost always a different thing from what the law says.

I found it tedious, at first, but I've developed an odd fascination with some of the cases. The same names crop up again and again as the cases wind their way through all the formalities over a course of months, and it's become a little like a historical soap opera:
  • On Mar 5, 1691, Guillaume Hébert was commanded to give back François Poissot de la Couche's beavers. No explanation was given as to why Hébert had de la Couche's beavers, or whether beaver-theft was a common crime in New France, but the affair was considered so important that an assessor was assigned to watch over the beaver-transfer and make sure it happened honestly.

  • On January 11, 1694, a woman asked the court to annul her son's marriage to a Native woman. According to her, her son didn't know he was getting married -- he didn't know the language. The boy's wife only spoke Cree, while he only spoke French.

  • In March, 1694, a Father Foucault of the church of Batiscan felt so insulted by accusations a certain Captain François Dejordi had made against him -- unnamed accusations involving a young woman -- that he not only banned Dejordi from his church, but preached from the pulpit that he would have Dejordi tied to a post in a cabin in the woods, and whipped by little boys who Father Foucault had bribed into the act with plums and candies. So I'm guessing the Catholic Church hasn't changed much since then.
More as I tumble across these things. I still have about 9 decades of material to plow through.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
On a lighter note, since some people like the weird facts I stumble on to in my researches, here are some of the stranger things I found in the book I'm reading, One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the [Canadian] Military in World War II:

The Sambians

Comparing views of homosexuality, masculinity, and military from around the world and across time, Paul Jackson brings up the Sambians, a people from Papua New Guinea.

I've heard of them before. The Sambians believe that semen is an extremely limited resource -- (pauses while "Every sperm is sacred" jokes are made) -- but that a boy can only finish puberty and become a warrior if he drinks the semen (and thus the masculinity) of older teenagers. Homosexuality is required during their teenage years, but forbidden in adulthood as a waste of precious bodily fluids.

This practice is considered unique to the Sambians, but I understand that some all-boys British boarding schools work the same way.

Real Anti-Dentites

During World War II, men who wouldn't enlist and conscientious objectors were despised. So despised, in fact, that a Corporal Joanis and a Private MacRae of the Canadian dental corps were beaten in Toronto by an infantry unit because dentistry was considered an unmanly way to spend the war.

Nineteenth-Century Crackpot Theories

In other news, it seems Montreal is firmly in the Sotadic Zone -- the area of the Earth in which (according to 19th-century explorer Richard Burton) the climate causes homosexuality. Please note that Burton was an English writer, and England is carefully excluded.

Indeed, he was so careful to give England a wide berth, that he even excluded Paris.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Things are a tad less crisis-y right now, and I've very slowly begun to get caught up on my friends' pages.

Again, let me know if I've missed anything vital.

The last few weeks have been hectic and sleep-starved. Two weeks ago, I prepared an exhaustive presentation on the first 200 years of the sonnet in Canada -- using mostly poets who've been long-forgotten, but were popular once.

Poets disappear in this country, like words written in sand beneath the rising tide.

Then I polished off my journal for that class, and submitted it (it came back with an A).

For my rare-book class, I was also doing research into the long-forgotten. I'm now probably the sole living expert on one of the Schoolbook Battle of 1866 -- mostly because no one else knows it even happened. Virtually all my sources were things written last century.

The battle was a major public controversy at the time, but has nearly disappeared, except for a few experts on early-Canadian publishing. Strange since it involved two figures who are actually remembered -- George Brown (a father of Confederation and founder of the Globe) and Egerton Ryerson (father of universal education and the guy Ryerson University is named for).

I have one last essay until this semester is over.

I am looking forward to the game this Saturday, though -- it's keeping me sane. And D&D will be Saturday this time, at noon. We shall have an extra guest. And [livejournal.com profile] foi_nefaste, get back to me as soon as you know what he's playing...? And he'll have to come up with a reason why he's on the one trade route through the world's most desolate desert. This reason must be a) imaginative, b) interesting, and/or c) funny.

My old-book teacher is batshit crazy, but I learned a lot in that class.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
A lazy day. Revised about 25 pages, felt inspired to rewrite one section heavily. Other than that, I've been slowly slogging my way through CanLit.

Right now it's a journal of the explorer Sir John Franklin, and I have discovered that 19th-century writers can still write pages of effusive, soppy description while their fingers are freezing off. The internet will never be as emo as the Victorians, no matter how hard it tries.

Spent yesterday evening doing research for the novel. Ancient microfilm machines are interesting. Came up with a lot of information on the Lion d'Or raid -- where 376 people were tried simultaneously as "found-ins" at a gay dance in 1950.

I also stumbled across a hilarious article from La Presse in 1950. The president of the University of British Columbia was predicting that there were be no major political or social change in Canada between 1950 and 2000.

If it weren't written in French, it could've been a The Onion in History article.


felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)

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