The Daily Agenda for Monday, January 20

Jim Burroway

January 20th, 2014

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Advocate, March 15, 1972, page 4.

 
In 1969, The 5th Dimension had a massive hit with the medley “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” from the hit musical Hair. It stayed at number one for six weeks, and celebrated the popular hope for a new age of peace guiding the planets and love steering the stars. As for the age of Aquarius itself, “the now generation” believed that they had seen its dawning, but among people who take these things seriously there is actually a raging argument over when and whether the 2,150 year astrological age actually starts. Whatever. As for the zodiac sign, today is the first day for Aquarius, according to most calculations. So how about some harmony and understanding?

Murder, she wrote.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
Phyllis Lyon Kills Ann Ferguson: 1957. When the Daughters of Bilitis began publishing The Ladder in October 1956, the masthead identified its first editor as Ann Ferguson. In the second issue, Ferguson penned a short article addressing the first problem they encountered in publishing what would become the nation’s first magazine for lesbians. As Ferguson explained it, too  many people feared “that names on our mailing list may fall into the wrong hands, or that by indicating interest in this magazine a person will automatically be labeled a homosexual.” She assured readers that subscribers included all kinds of people, including lawyers, social workers, psychiatrists, business, and other professionals. She also assured readers that “Daughters of BIlitis is not outside the law — we advocate no illegal actions by anyone.”

Ferguson revealed that the organization had obtained legal council and would file for incorporation under the laws of California. She also explained a recent Supreme Court decision which upheld the rights of citizens to refuse to reveal to Congressional committees the names on subscription lists or lists of purchases. So in addition to the organization’s own bylaws prohibiting the disclosure of The Ladder’s subscription lists, “the decision also guarantees that your name is safe!”

Ferguson had been at the helm for only thee months when the January 1957 issue included this startling announcement:

ANN FERGUSON IS DEAD!
I confess. I killed Ann Ferguson. Premeditatedly and with malice aforethought. We ran an article in the November issue of THE LADDER entitled “Your Name is Safe”.” Ann Ferguson wrote that article. Her words were true, her conclusions logical and documented — yet she was not practising what she preached.

Somehow it didn’t seem right,

She spent some time considering the situation. Then came to a conclusion. At the November public discussion meeting of the Daughters of Bilitis we got up — Ann Ferguson and I — and did away with Ann. Now there is only Phyllis Lyon.

Seriously, my pseudonym was taken in the first place without much thought. Somehow, it seemed the thing to do. But all it did was create problems. If you’re going to write under a pseudonym then you should go by that name in personal contacts. But everybody connected with the Daughters of Bilitis already knew me as Phyllis and the attempt to call me Ann confused everyone, including me.

I’m sure that I’m not placing myself in any jeopardy by using my real name — and I’m only simplifying matters and practising what I preach.

Phyllis Lyon (see Nov 10) with her partner Del Martin (see May 5) were among eight women who founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955 (see Oct 19). In 2008, they Phyllis and Del became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the state of California. Del passed away later that year. At last report, Phyllis still lives in their home in San Francisco.

[Sources: Ann Ferguson. “Your Name Is Safe!” The Ladder, 1, no. 2 (November 1956): 10-12.

Phyllis Lyon. “Ann Ferguson Is Dead!” The Ladder, 1, no. 4 (January 1957): 7.]

An Improved Method for Delivering Electric Shocks for Aversion Therapy: 1965. Electric shock aversion therapy was just one of many torturous methods which had been used to try to “cure” gay people throughout the twentieth century. Being that it’s use of electricity somehow managed to convey a “technological” gloss into a very crude affair — male patients were shown nude photographs and given painful jolts if the showed any kind of interest in photos of men — it might be surprising that there had, in fact, been only a few basic “improvements” since the technology was first developed in 1935 (see Mar 11 and Sep 6). Three researchers, Bernard Tursky, Peter D. Watson and D.M. O’Connell from Harvard’s Department of Psychiatry and the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, wrote in the journal Psychophysiology about that lack of progress:

Very little systematic work has been done toward designing a satisfactory electrode for the delivery of electric shock in psychological experimentation, although a wide variety of electrode types have been used. These, for example, have included: (a) plates of various metals and different sizes and shapes, either taped or strapped to the fingers, arms or legs of Ss (subjects); (b) cups filled with saline solution into which Ss’ fingers were immersed; (c) standard EEG electrodes attached to the earlobes; and (d) wires attached to the teeth by wax or cups.

Several studies have been conducted to determine the effect of varying the absolute and relative sizes of electrodes. It was found that the smaller the electrode, the less current was needed to produce a given subjective intensity, and that when there was a considerable difference in the relative sizes of the two electrodes, the sensation was felt primarily under the smaller electrode. These studies indicate that the size and the configuration of the electrodes are important variables.

Such was the nature of this kind of research that the very people who were being subjected to painful electric shocks were reduced to the smallest abbreviation possible: they were just “Ss”, and the less said of them the better. The real problem, as far as Tursky, Watson and O’Connell were concerned, was that currently existing technology really did have some problems that they felt needed addressing. Those problems were fourfold:

These are (a) precise delimitation of the area of stimulation; (b) minimal interference with the mobility of the S; (c) freedom from skin irritation and burning; and (d) reduction of muscle involvement as a secondary concomitant of shock stimulation.

The “improved” electrode (click to enlarge).

Tursky, Watson and O’Connell believed that they had an answer. Instead of separate electrodes placed throughout the body, they devised a concentric electrode configuration which “has been found to be highly satisfactory. An inner aluminum disk was surrounded by second aluminum ring, both of which were held together in a plastic case. In order to avoid skin irritation and burning, the electricity was conducted between the device through small sponge pads soaked in saline and coated with an electrode paste. This, they said, was a marked improvement over the older methods:

When an electrical stimulus is applied through a simple metal electrode in direct contact with the skin for long periods of time, small area burns may occur. This can be explained by thinking of the metal electrode as an infinite number of conductors making contact with the skin. Any one of these contacts can form a low resistance path which becomes the focal point for all current flow. The sponge and salt paste contact, used in our electrode, acts to diffuse current flow and insures equal density over the entire surface. In two year sof use with over one hundred Ss, this electrode has not caused any burns.

In other words, they created the torturer’s dream: a system of torment that leaves no mark. Well, at least none that we can see. It was also your parents’ and grandparents’ tax dollars at work. The research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Public Health Service.

[Source: Bernard Tursky, Peter D. Watson, D.N. O’Connell. “A concentric shock electrode for pain stimulation.” Psychophysiology 1, no. 3 (January 1965): 296-298.]

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

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