Gay marriage sounds like an ultra-contemporary idea. But almost twenty years ago, a Catholic scholar at Yale shocked the world by publishing a book packed with evidence that same-sex marriages were sanctioned by the early Christian Church during an era commonly called the Dark Ages.
John Boswell was a historian and religious Catholic who dedicated much of his scholarly life to studying the late Roman Empire and early Christian Church. Poring over legal and church documents from this era, he discovered something incredible. There were dozens of records of church ceremonies where two men were joined in unions that used the same rituals as heterosexual marriages. (He found almost no records of lesbian unions, which is probably an artifact of a culture which kept more records about the lives of men generally.) […]
How could these marriages have been forgotten by history? One easy answer is that — as Boswell argues — the Church reframed the idea of marriage in the 13th century to be for the purposes of procreation. And this slammed the door on gay marriage. Church scholars and officials worked hard to suppress the history of these marriages in order to justify their new definition.
Michael Stevenson revisits the “Mondo 2000 vs. Wired” of the early 90s to compare it to the contemporary blogger and startup culture:
The co-optation argument, however, fails to recognize a subtle but important difference between Mondo’s ‘rebel cool’ and that found in previous subcultures. Where subcultures are typically conceived of as ‘outsider’ scenes, from those in the counterculture that consciously ‘dropped out’ of mainstream society to more recent outsider scenes like punk and rave culture, the subversive computer culture Mondo proclaimed to represent was different. To borrow a key theme from Alan Liu’s book The Laws of Cool, Mondo’s cyberculture is best described as a scene of insiders-outside and outsiders-inside. The ideal subversive computer culture was something simultaneously inside and outside of mainstream, corporate America – for example, the corporate- and state-employed hackers and cyberpunks that Mondo imagined to be driving a social and cultural revolution from “inside the belly of the beast,” as Robert Anton Wilson wrote in the magazine’s first issue.
Wired’s style was similarly built on this contradictory positioning. Think, for example, of its portrayals of tech CEOs as rogue upstarts, as outsiders bringing about a subversive future from inside the system. This was also the essence of how Wired itself was imagined and operated – as an independent magazine that would infiltrate and revolutionize the mainstream publishing industry (on this, see especially Gary Wolf’s history of Wired, in which he often points out Louis Rossetto’s ambivalent relationship with his traditional publishing ‘peers’). This was not a co-optation of Mondo’s style, but an elaboration of its outsider-inside identity.
Guernica: How, after seeding that initial idea in their minds, did he end up trapping them—if that’s what happened—in the jungle?
Julia Scheeres: Here’s the key thing: Everyone who went to Jonestown thought they could leave at any time if they didn’t like it. But once they arrived, via a two-day river boat trip, Jones confiscated their money and passports. He told them that if they wanted to go back to the United States, they could swim back: he wasn’t paying their airfare. I believe his plan all along was to sequester them in an isolated spot and kill them. Most Peoples Temple members arrived in Jonestown in the summer of 1977, and he introduced the notion of “revolutionary suicide” soon after. They were shocked; they’d immigrated to Jonestown seeking a better life for themselves and their children only to discover their pastor was intent on killing them. One of the most heartbreaking things I discovered in my research was dozens of notes to Jones from residents begging him to let them return to California. One mother said her daughter was having nightmares after listening to debates on the best way to kill the one thousand residents of Jonestown, and that she didn’t know how to convince her daughter that “death was a good thing.” Many offered to send down their paychecks for the rest of their lives if he’d let them go. He couldn’t of course; they would have let the world know that he’d gone completely mad.
I think the folks who joined Jones’s church did so because they truly believed in his stated ideals of racial equality and social justice. That’s why he was able to convince one thousand of them to immigrate to the jungle of Guyana. Although history has stigmatized Jonestown residents as the people who “drank the Kool-aid,” I’d argue that they were noble idealists. Furthermore, they were murdered. They didn’t willingly drink poison—they were forced to do so at gunpoint. They sought the ideal, only to have their leader horribly betray them.
Vice’s Claire Evans just got to check out the largest known collection of OMNI related ephemera in the world and shares some interesting news (emphasis mine, since I almost missed this):
OMNI was bankrolled by a fountain of cash generated by Penthouse. And by bankrolled, I mean bankrolled: the most shocking thing I found in Jeremy’s filing cabinets wasn’t the Penthouse negatives but stacks of magazines annotated with invoices detailing how much each contributor was paid. For the issue dated November 1989, Guccione’s company, General Media Incorporated, spent $16,843.65 on illustrations – solar sails, airbrushed mazes, a silhouette of Neptune pressed up against an inky sky. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that this sum eclipses the entire monthly operating budgets of many modern magazines.
This is because Bob loved art. His mansions in Manhattan and on the Hudson river were both filled with old masters and paintings by the hundreds of artists he tapped to illustrate OMNI and Penthouse. “Design was everything for Bob,” Jane said. No matter if they were selecting pictorials for Penthouse or laying out the sleek, futuristic pages of OMNI, it was the same. “I knew in the end, we would thinking about that vertical, that horizontal, we’d be thinking about that perfect placement, we’d be thinking about design, color, light.” When Guccione’s empire crumbled – General Media went bankrupt in 2003 – his personal assets were liquidated to pay off debts. The Van Goghs, Modiglianis, Picassos, and Renoirs went to the auction house; the rest of the artworks – sexy pictures and science fiction landscapes alike – were scattered to the wind. […]
OMNI is returning with a vengeance. An exhibition of its art is in the works, some of which I saw: original lithographs and paintings from the magazine, artworks that Jeremy et al. have been tracking down at huge cost. The warehouse now stashes 53 surrealistic oils and fantasy landscapes and contains works by Rafal Olbinski, Robert Kittila, Jon Berkey, Tsuneo Sanda, and Bruce Jensen. Coming up: a book of this collected artwork, released by Powerhouse Books; a panel at the Toronto Fan Expo; and eventually booths at conventions around the country.
I bought a stash of OMNI magazines on eBay a couple years ago and it was totally worth it. But you can read scans online for free at Archive.org. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of issues with William Gibson stories and here’s the famous issue seen above, with an H.R. Giger cover and an interview with Future Shock author Alvin Toffler conducted by Guccione, a “Computer Lib” article by Ted “Xanadu” Nelson, John Lily on dolphins, fiction by Greg Bear and more.
Damien Kempf on Tumblr came across this image from a 12th century manuscript known as the Bible of Stephen Harding. This work contains many images, including this page that details the story of King David. Just like a modern day comic book, you are supposed to go through this page from left to write and top to bottom, and read the caption for each box.
What all this means, I think, is that vodou became a fault line running through the very heart of Haitian society after 1804. For most citizens, and especially for the rural blacks who had borne the brunt both of slavery and the struggle for independence, it became a potent symbol of old dignities and new freedoms: a religion that, as Dubois notes, helped “carve out a place where the enslaved could temporarily escape the order that saw them only as chattel property” during colonial times, and went on to “create communities of trust that stretched between the different plantations and into the towns.” For the local elite, who tended to be of mixed race and were often French-educated, though, vodou was holding Haiti back. It was alien and frightening to those who did not understand it; it was associated with slave rebellion; and (after Soulouque’s rise), it was also the faith of the most brutal and backward of the country’s rulers.
These considerations combined to help make Haiti a pariah state throughout the 19th century. Dessalines and his successor, Henry Christophe—who had every reason to fear that the United States, France, Britain and Spain would overthrow their revolution and re-enslave the population, given the chance—tried to isolate the country, but even after economic necessity forced them to reopen the trade in sugar and coffee, the self-governing black republic of Haiti remained a dangerous abomination in the eyes of every white state involved in the slave trade. Like Soviet Russia in the 1920s, it was feared to be almost literally “infectious”: liable to inflame other blacks with the desire for liberty. Geffrard was not the only Haitian leader to look for ways to prove that his was a nation much like the great powers—Christian, and governed by the rule of law.
When the then-Berlin-based drug maker Temmler Werke launched its methamphetamine compound onto the market in 1938, high-ranking army physiologist Otto Ranke saw in it a true miracle drug that could keep tired pilots alert and an entire army euphoric. It was the ideal war drug. In September 1939, Ranke tested the drug on university students, who were suddenly capable of impressive productivity despite being short on sleep.
From that point on, the Wehrmacht, Germany’s World War II army, distributed millions of the tablets to soldiers on the front, who soon dubbed the stimulant “Panzerschokolade” (“tank chocolate”). British newspapers reported that German soldiers were using a “miracle pill.” But for many soldiers, the miracle became a nightmare.
As enticing as the drug was, its long-term effects on the human body were just as devastating. Short rest periods weren’t enough to make up for long stretches of wakefulness, and the soldiers quickly became addicted to the stimulant. And with addiction came sweating, dizziness, depression and hallucinations. There were soldiers who died of heart failure and others who shot themselves during psychotic phases. Some doctors took a skeptical view of the drug in light of these side effects. Even Leonardo Conti, the Third Reich’s top health official, wanted to limit use of the drug, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
I wrote about the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a boarding high school in Aurora, IL, for Wired:
The IMSA Wednesdays are like Google’s “20 percent time” — only better. “At Google, 20 percent time is actually tacked on to the rest of your job. ” says Daniel Kador, another former IMSA student. “At IMSA, it really is built into your schedule.” And though Kador and other students admit that they spent more than a few Wednesdays just goofing off — as high school students so often do — they say the environment at IMSA ends up pushing many of them towards truly creative work. And it pays off.
After teaching himself to program at IMSA, Chu went on to the University of Illinois, where he worked on NCSA Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, following in the footsteps of fellow IMSA alums Robert and Michael McCool. And, eventually, he joined several other IMSA graduates as an early employee at PayPal, where he still works today.
Chu is just one of many tech success stories that have sprung from IMSA over the years (see sidebar, page two). Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well. You can think of IMSA as a Hogwarts for Hackers.
Alexis Madrigal on his quest to find the first recordings of the urban soundscape:
Could I go back a hundred years and listen to New York or Paris?
When it comes to film, you can see all kinds of old places. Sometimes even in high resolution, thanks to the work of archivists like Rick and Megan Prelinger. These films are incredibly important records for historians and citizens alike. They give us eyes in the past.
There’s an amazing film sequence of San Francisco in 1905. A camera was placed on a streetcar and driven down Market Street, the diagonal that cuts through the city’s core. Pedestrians, cars, carts, horses, the whole dizzying array of urban life before electricity and the automobile turned our cities inside-out. We recognize our buildings, but not our city. Similar recordings exist of most major cities.
I figured that there had to be similar documentation of the metropolitan soundscape, or any soundscape really.
Drummond and Cauty claimed that their solicitor was sent…
…a contract with an organization or individual calling themselves ‘Eternity’. The wording of this contract was that of standard music business legal speak, but the terms discussed and the rights required and granted were of a far stranger kind.
“Whether The Contract was a very clever and intricate prank by a legal minded JAMS fan was of little concern to Drummond and Cauty,” Information Sheet 8 continues.…
For them it was as good a marker as anything as to what direction their free style career should take next.… In the first term of The Contract they, Drummond and Cauty, were required to make an artistic representation of themselves on a journey to a place called THE WHITE ROOM. The medium they chose to make this representation was up to them. Where or what THE WHITE ROOM was, was never clearly defined. Interpretation was left to their own creativity. The remuneration they are to receive on completion of this work of art was supposed to be access to THE “real” WHITE ROOM.
The pair claim that they went on to sign this contract, despite the advice of their solicitor to have nothing to do with it. It is worth noting at this juncture that Cauty and Drummond were ignorant of Operation Mindf**k. Their sole knowledge of Discordianism came from Illuminatus!, which Cauty had never read and which Drummond had not, at that time, ever finished. By signing any such contract they were not simply ‘playing along’, for they would have had no context for what the contract was, or where it had come from.
In this reading of events, Drummond and Cauty appear to have taken a Discordian Operation Mindf**k prank letter at face value, and spent hundreds of thousands of pounds making a piece of work that would fulfil their part of a hoax contract that they chose to sign.
As to what the ‘real’ White Room which the contract alluded to was, Drummond and Cauty were typically candid: “Your guess is as good as anybody’s.” In Discordian terms, however, the meaning is relatively clear. The White Room refers to illumination, or enlightenment. The word ‘room,’ however, is interesting. The use of a spatial metaphor defines enlightenment as a place that can be travelled to, or sought in a quest. The search for the White Room becomes a pilgrimage, with the White Room itself taking on the character of the Holy Grail. Drummond and Cauty’s film, when seen in this light, becomes a means to an end. The White Room was not intended as a film that would make money or enhance their careers. It was, instead, a step along the path in a search for enlightenment.