Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Contest Runs Until 31 January

Don't forget to stop by Over The Edge Book Reviews, read my lovely interview and enter the contest/giveaway!  You have until 31 January....

Monday, January 25, 2010


Have you ever wondered why Americans switch hands to eat with their fork, but Europeans don't?

Yes you have. You lie awake at night, in the cold early morning, pondering life, the universe, the number 42, and why Americans eat with a zig-zag fork pattern. Admit it.

Well, now there will be one less thing to ponder in the bitter existentialist dawn because I am here to share the answer with you:

If you're American, you know the proper way to hold your dining utensils is:  fork in left hand, knife in right. After you cut your food, you release the knife and switch your fork to your right hand. Then you eat right-handed with the fork.

If you're British, you know the proper way to hold your dining utensils is: fork in left hand, knife in right. Full stop. Period.  After you cut your food, you eat left-handed with the fork.  No switching occurs.

Why the difference?

Time was, your average fork possessed two narrow tines, spaced apart, and was absolutely flat.  Sort of like a carving fork, which was basically what it was. You used it to hold the food still while you cut with your knife, then you lifted the food to your mouth with your knife's wide, flat blade.  (Remember, this was considered far more genteel than eating with your fingers.)

The technology for making utensils changed over the 1700s so by the early 1800s flatware was financially within reach of more people and, to establish your place in high society, the idea of having whole matching sets came into vogue.

At which point, etiquette moved from use-your-knife-not-your-fingers to use-your-fork-not-your-knife.

"Where, excepting among savages, shall we find any who at present eat with other than a French fork?" - The laws of etiquette, 1836

Forks weren't French, but Americans associated them with good manners, and the French were our arbiters of taste (remember, we'd fought the British twice at this point). At this time, the French ate in the zig-zag pattern, so the US did, too.

The British invented the fork-stays-in-left-hand method.

Other Europeans saw this as a "simplification" of table manners - always a good thing in an age where there was etiquette for everything - so a German etiquette book recommended the "English method" in 1832 and a French manual recommended it in 1853.

Meanwhile, patriotic Americans did not wish to be "influenced by imported manners" (Mrs. Farrar, 1830s).  So we kept to the zig-zag. And ended up being the only country that did.

Now you know. Go forth and amaze your friends at the water cooler. :)

Research from:
Ambitious Appetites: Dining, Behavior, and Patterns of Consumption in Federal Washington (Octagon Research Series)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Always On A Monday

I am going to make the attempt to post here regularly every Monday.  I figure Monday needs something to recommend it, right? :)  I'll still be posting randomly, of course. But this way you know definitely when to look for stuff. I'm told that's the way to run a blog. So we'll give it a go. :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Nude That Launched a Thousand..well, One Trial

Meet Narcissus.

The original of this statue of him was discovered in Pompeii in 1862 and housed in the Naples Museum.

In 1873, an enterprising art dealer of New Bedford Massachusetts, one Charles Hazeltine, purchased a replica of this very Narcissus in Boston and displayed it in the front window of his shop.

Now, this particular shop window opened onto a very busy public street, normally a boon for a business.  However,

"the good people of this New England town were not used to nude figures, either in marble, bronze, or plaster, and very soon the sidewalk was crowded with young and old, gazing at the unaccustomed sight."

The marshal ordered Hazeltine to remove the statue from his window and when he refused, Hazeltine was arrested.  He went on trial for "exhibiting a lewd and lascivious statue."

Many citizens testified on Hazeltine's behalf, saying that of course they'd allow this statue in their homes, trying to explain that this was Art.  Perhaps they were embarrassed at how this case was making their town seem like a mad, prudish backwater.  One testified that the only reason not to have one in the house would be, "if I had a daughter of an unfortunate turn of mind."

[ah, yes, got to protect the womenfolk from seeing tiny, relaxed representations of normal body parts]

The prosecution denied that "that botch" was Art and furthermore, "if such instruments as that are necessary to teach art, then we don't want any art taught.  We have got along very well without it in New England for many years, and we can in years to come."

On the stand, Hazeltine admitted to the court, "The image is entirely nude, a male youth; the sexual organs are represented." But his defense attorney argued that anyone who could "look on this figure with anything but the loftiest sentiment must be already corrupt."

You might think he had a good point, but no, this was a slippery slope.  The anguished prosecutor protested, "If he is allowed to go on, will he not fill his window with sexual organs in all positions?"

Besides, the prosecution added, along with corrupting the populace, the statue had been causing a public scene and obstructing the thoroughfare.

To which the defense replied:
"Narcissus did not obstruct the sidewalk. He asked nobody to stop and look at him. If the street was obstructed, the marshal ought to have arrested the boys and girls who obstructed it."

The jury deliberated 9 hours, balloting 22 times, but could not come to an unanimous decision.  Charles Hazeltine was released.

What Narcissus thought about all this is unknown.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Erotic Diaries of a Victorian Seafarer in the US Navy

An American Seafarer in the Age of Sail: The Erotic Diaries of Philip C. Van Buskirk, 1851-1870 An American Seafarer in the Age of Sail: The Erotic Diaries of Philip C. Van Buskirk, 1851-1870 by Barry Richard Burg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is not what you think it's about. :)

Philip C Van Buskirk was an educated young man whose family fell on hard times. Consequently:

1) He is an outsider to the world in which he now must live. For example, although he is a common drummer boy/sailor/marine he has more in common with the officers.

2) He has beautifully clear handwriting.

His urge to record his internal life is amazing - he kept diaries for *years*. And they're mostly about his private hopes, disappointments, and thoughts - not about the places he went (China, Japan) nor the Civil War he fought in.

This is a very different record of shipboard life, and of interest to anyone who likes the Age of Sail.

The reason the title has "erotic" in it is because Van Buskirk - a moral, if not Puritan, middle-class boy - is seriously appalled at the frequency of male/male relations between other crew members. Apparently unlike the British navy, the American navy accepted these liaisons as a matter of necessity and as long as it didn't interfere with your duties all's well that ends well.

Because there was little privacy on board, Van Buskirk's diaries were often read by others. Sometimes people objected to what he wrote. Interestingly, his descriptions of male/male erotic behavior were NOT objected to, which furthers the idea that this was normative behavior.

Van Buskirk is a complex, not to say seriously messed-up, person. When he grows up, he has difficulty forming friendships with adults his own age. And thanks to Victorian America's obsession with masturbation as a direct road to death and Hell, he keeps meticulous track of his bodily fluids and constantly writes of how he despises himself.

As a narrator, you may not like him, but this window into a male mind of the mid-to-late 19th century is priceless.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Saga of Kate O'Hare

Kate Richards O'Hare, American socialist and anti-war activist in 1917, went to Bowman, North Dakota as part of a speaking tour and "in the presence of 125 people" said:

"that any person who enlisted in the army of the United States for service in France would be used for fertilizer, and that is all he was good for; and that the women of the United States were nothing more or less than brood sows to raise children to get into the army and be made into fertilizer."

On the grounds that "such statement so made was made with the intention of willfully obstructing the recruiting service of the United States, to the injury of the service of the United States," she was arrested and indicted under the Espionage act.

It came out during her trial that she had further said The Great War was only being waged to protect capitalists, and that had the US loaned more money to Germany, we would be on Germany's side, but since our investments were more with the Allies, we were on the Allies' side.

The judge told her there was "no foundation" for this idea.

As part of his sentencing speech, the judge also said the Secret Service had told him, "We have been unable to secure anything specific on her that would be a violation of the Federal law ....but .... we are morally certain [she is] for Germany against our country."

Apparently being "morally certain" outweighed the lack of "anything specific."  Kate was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in a Federal prison.

If stating your opinion to 125 people in North Dakota would get you 5 years, can you imagine what would have happened to her if they'd had 24-hour television back then?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Current Security Levels

I received this as one of those forwarded-forwarded-forwarded emails from a friend.  If you know who wrote it, please name them in the comments section so I can give them credit.  

Current security levels:

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved."  Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross."  The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the Blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorised from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance."  The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

The Scots raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards" They don't have any other levels.  This is the reason they have been used on the front line in the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide".  The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender."  The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country's military capability.  It's not only the French who are on a heightened level of alert.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout loudly and excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose".

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy.  These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Americans meanwhile are carrying out pre-emptive strikes on all of their allies, just in case.

New Zealand has also raised its security levels - from "baaa" to "BAAAA!".  Due to continuing defence cutbacks (the air force being a squadron of spotty teenagers flying paper aeroplanes and the navy some toy boats in the Prime Minister's bath), New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is "Shit, I hope Australia will come and rescue us".

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, mate". Three more escalation levels remain, "Crikey!', "I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend" and "The barbie is cancelled".  So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Save the Coffee Boy, Save the World

This is from

January 9th is the day!
January 9th marks the sixth month anniversary of the (temporary) death of sci-fi's favourite coffee boy. 
And, with all possible love and goodwill, we're here to spread the message ... 
On January 9th let's ramp it up and send as many emails as possible to the BBC with one simple message:
Anything is possible in sci-fi.  Save Ianto Jones!

On 9 January, Tweet your fingers off sending our key message,
Anything is possible in sci-fi.  Save Ianto Jones!
Working together, we can put Ianto back on trending topics!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New John Barrowman Album Coming 22 Feb

John Barrowman's new CD is coming out 22 February.

When I Get My Name In Lights (from The Boy from Oz)
One Night Only (from Dreamgirls)
Copacabana (from Copacabana)
I Won’t Send Roses (from Mack and Mabel)
Memory (from Cats)
The Kid Inside (from Is There Life After High School?)
My Eyes Adored You (from Jersey Boys)
Don't Cry Out Loud (from The Boy From Oz)
So Close (from Enchanted) duet with Jodie Prenger
Unusual Way (from Nine)
You’ll Never Walk Alone (from Carousel)
The Winner Takes It All (from Mamma Mia!)
Oh What A Night (from Jersey Boys)

For all the information you need, please visit:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Laundry Pug Spotted in Ad

This is from an old magazine advertisement for the Kenmore Elite HE3t.

And who is the star of clean living but a PUG!

Because if you're a person concerned with being green who has the disposable income to purchase a high efficiency washer (the current HE5t is something like $1600), the expensive, high-maintenance pug is probably the dog for you.  :)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Enduring Lovecraft

There is something touching about this.

Here is a short story, handwritten in parts, by H.P. Lovecraft. It is a submission copy.

Which means this is the actual manuscript he sent in to a publisher hoping it would be bought for publication. His address is in the top corner (along with a request to "please return").

This happens to be one of my favorite of his stories, so I know it does get published, though perhaps not by the person to whom he sent this particular copy.

Lovecraft was one of those writers whose genius was not discovered by the mainstream until long after his death.  He struggled monetarily all his life.

This manuscript here was just sold on eBay for over $2,000.

I wonder if he ever made half that much on his writing himself.  I hope, wherever he is, he's amused.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Do You M/M?

Are you one of the many (many, many) readers of m/m romance? Do you swoon to Alex Beecroft's False Colors: An M/M Romance or Erastes' Transgressions: An M/M Romance?

For anyone who might be thinking, "What, M&M's have romance?" and trying to picture the green girl M&M in something slinky.... no.

M/M is short for male/male - as in leave-out-the-annoying-heroine-and-just-give-us-two-hot-men - romance. This genre is extremely popular, especially in ebooks.

I like the historical ones. Now, you might think there wouldn't be much scope for realism in such romances.  And there you would be wrong.

I have been reading Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships and it is fascinating how fluid love could be in early America. Not only was there no word yet for homosexuality, there was no real concept of it as a permanent existence. As this was also before companionate marriage, both men and women got married because it was expected - not only for social but for business and economic reasons. So whom you married often did not coincide with whom you loved. And once in a while someone left us evidence that the person they loved shared their gender. How they then handled this can be very emotional and touching.

We tend to think of maritime settings as being the best venue for historically accurate m/m romance, and indeed, next I am going to be reading the non-fiction An American Seafarer in the Age of Sail: The Erotic Diaries of Philip C. Van Buskirk, 1851-1870. However, there were Virginia planters, mountain men, trappers, farmers, and even urban citizens who experienced the love that dared not speak its name. (BTW, apparently Philadelphia rocked when it came to wild sex during the Federal period.)

Quite a diverse field for authors to mine for story-lines!  I encourage anyone who writes or reads m/m fiction to check out the non-fiction.

And speaking of inspiring tales of m/m non-fiction, I must of course mention I Am What I AmJohn Barrowman's new autobiography.

Yes, I'm a fan-girl. I dare you not to be. :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

So did y'all make any resolutions? How long do yours usually last?
My answer is: not long. I have sooo many good intentions ... I must have a very well-paved road to Hell. ;)

A friend of mine has made a resolution to blog regularly one day a week. I should probably make that my resolution, too. I'll still post haphazardly whenever I have something to rant about, but I'm going to pick a day to post on regularly.
Any suggestions for which day?