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The Daily Agenda for 3.14

Jim Burroway

March 14th, 2014

Today is International Pi Day (although I have to wonder just how international it really is. In most countries the date is written as day/month/year. Anyway.)  Here are some interesting facts about pi:

  • The letter π is the first letter of the Greek word “periphery” and “perimeter.” The symbol π in mathematics represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. In other words, π is the number of times a circle’s diameter will fit around its circumference.
  • The Rhind Papyrus was the first attempt to calculate pi by “squaring the circle,” which is to measure the diameter of a circle by building a square inside the circle.
  • Ludolph van Ceulen (1540-1610) spent most of his life calculating the first 36 digits of pi (which were named the Ludolphine Number). According to legend, these numbers were engraved on his now lost tombstone.
  • William Shanks (1812-1882) worked for years by hand to find the first 707 digits of pi. Unfortunately, he made a mistake after the 527th place and, consequently, the following digits were all wrong.
  • In 2002, a Japanese scientist found 1.24 trillion digits of pi using a powerful computer called the Hitachi SR 8000, breaking all previous records.
  • If the circumference of the earth were calculated using π rounded to only the ninth decimal place, an error of no more than one quarter of an inch in 25,000 miles would result.
  • Thirty-nine decimal places of pi suffice for computing the circumference of a circle girding the known universe with an error no greater than the radius of a hydrogen atom.
  • Since there are 360 degrees in a circle and pi is intimately connected with the circle, some mathematicians were delighted to discover that the number 360 is at the 359th digit position of pi.
  • Computing pi is a stress test for a computer—a kind of “digital cardiogram.”
  • In the Star Trek episode “Wolf in the Fold,” Spock foils the evil computer by commanding it to “compute to the last digit the value of pi.”

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: Scandinavian Ski Pride, Hemsedal, Norway; Elevation Mammoth Gay Ski Week, Mammoth Lakes, CA; Carnival Maspalomas, Maspalomas, Gran Canaria.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Advocate, April 16, 1981, page 27.

 
Weldon Webb and Kevin Hartley moved from Salina, California, to Monterey and bought a little dive bar, Johnny’s Dew Drop In, and transformed it into a flashy gay bar and discotheque. In addition to an inviting dance floor and top-notch sound system, After Dark featured a spacious multi-level patio with two fireplaces and a quieter bar out back. Meanwhile, the dance floor featured some of the finest D.J.s in the country. But by the 1990s, times had to changed. After Dark finally turned dark on January 31, 1999. The building now houses a low key straight bar, Carbone’s, which still features the multi-level patio and one of the fire pits.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Naval Intelligence Police Raid Gay Brothel: 1942. Prostitution was against the law, and police regularly raided brothels whenever they found them. On that point, this raid wouldn’t be much different, at least at the start, when Navy police raided one at 329 Pacific Street in Brooklyn. But because the Brooklyn Naval Yards had been the center of Brooklyn’s gay life since Walt Whitman’s days there after the Civil War, and Naval intelligence was very sensitive to the goings-ons in the area. They also had received tips that the brothel had become a hangout for Nazi spies and sympathizers. They arrested the brothel’s manager, Gustave Beekman, and then told him that if he cooperated with federal authorities, they’d go easy on his sentence. His cooperation led to the arrest of several foreign agents. So far, so good, right?

Well, when the New York Post broke the story of the raid on May 1, the paper all but named as one of the brothel’s patrons Sen. David Walsh (D-MA), a confirmed bachelor with a reputation as a dandy — and, more to the point of this story, Chairman of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. The FBI moved quickly to clear Walsh of wrongdoing and the case was closed, despite his homosexuality being one of the worst kept secrets in Washington and Massachusetts. As for Beekman, federal agents reneged on their promise. He was charged with sodomy and given the maximum sentence: twenty years in Sing Sing. He entered prison on October 5, 1942 and wasn’t released until April 1, 1963, at the age of 78.

[Sources: Jonathan Katz. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976): 580-581.]

Joseph McCarthy Adds Names to His Famous List: 1950. In February, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s national profile went through the roof when, during a speech at the Republican Women’s Club if Wheeling, West Virginia, he announced, “I have here in my hand a list of 205 — a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.” He never did make that list public, but on this date in history he submitted 25 more names of State Department employees that he said should be investigated to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee. He also claimed, according to press reports, “that a homosexual had been hired by the Central Intelligence Agency after the State Department allowed him to resign. He did not name the man, but said his perversion made him a bad security risk.” And thus, the Lavender Scare was born.

“1,112 and Counting…”: 1983. More than a year had passed since playwright Larry Kramer helped to found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (see Jan 12) to provide the kind of social services to gay men with AIDS that New York’s public health agencies were loathe to address. In the succeeding fourteen months, the death toll continued to rise and the paralysis which had struck local public health officials seemed no closer to abating. Kramer, who was never known for squelching his anger whenever or wherever it arose, took his frustrations out in an essay, titled “1,112 and Counting…” in the March 14, 1983 edition of The New York Native, which at that time was just about the only source the gay community could turn to for the latest news (and obituaries) on the epidemic. It began:

If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.

I am writing this as Larry Kramer, and I am speaking for myself, and my views are not to be attributed to Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

I repeat: Our continued existence as gay men upon the face of this earth is at stake. Unless we fight for our lives, we shall die. In all the history of homosexuality we have never before been so close to death and extinction. Many of us are dying or already dead.

Before I tell you what we must do, let me tell you what is happening to us.

There are now 1,112 cases of serious Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. When we first became worried, there were only 41. In only twenty-eight days, from January 13th to February 9th [1983], there were 164 new cases – and 73 more dead. The total death tally is now 418. Twenty percent of all cases were registered this January alone. There have been 195 dead in New York City from among 526 victims. Of all serious AIDS cases, 47.3 percent are in the New York metropolitan area.

These are the serious cases of AIDS, which means Kaposi’s sarcoma, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, and other deadly infections. These numbers do not include the thousands of us walking around with what is also being called AIDS: various forms of swollen lymph glands and fatigues that doctors don’t know what to label or what they might portend.

When Kramer wrote his essay, the announcement of the discovery of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was still two months away (see May 20):

And, for the first time in this epidemic, leading doctors and researchers are finally admitting they don’t know what’s going on. I find this terrifying too – as terrifying as the alarming rise in numbers. For the first time, doctors are saying out loud and up front, “I don’t know.”

For two years they weren’t talking like this. For two years we’ve heard a different theory every few weeks. We grasped at the straws of possible cause: promiscuity, poppers, back rooms, the baths, rimming, fisting, anal intercourse, urine, semen, shit, saliva, sweat, blood, blacks, a single virus, a new virus, repeated exposure to a virus, amoebas carrying a virus, drugs, Haiti, voodoo, Flagyl, constant bouts of amebiasis, hepatitis A and B, syphilis, gonorrhea.

I have talked with the leading doctors treating us. One said to me, “If I knew in 1981 what I know now, I would never have become involved with this disease.” Another said, “The thing that upsets me the most in all of this is that at any given moment one of my patients is in the hospital and something is going on with him that I don’t understand. And it’s destroying me because there’s some craziness going on in him that’s destroying him.” A third said to me, “I’m very depressed. A doctor’s job is to make patients well. And I can’t. Too many of my patients die.”

Not that finally knowing that a virus was causing this mayhem was going to ease the sense of panic among those who saw the devastating effects first hand. Whatever panic Kramer experienced, he channeled it towards anger. He lashed out at the National Institutes of Health for its delays in grant funding, at The New York Times for its lack of coverage, at city Health Commissioner David Spencer for the “appalling” lack of health education, at the publishers of medical journals for the excruciatingly slow pace of the peer review process which had the effect of withholding vital information — sometimes by as much as a year — from doctors on the front lines, at The Advocate for soft-peddling the growing epidemic, and at the gay community itself:

If all of this had been happening to any other community for two long years, there would have been, long ago, such an outcry from that community and all its members that the government of this city and this country would not know what had hit them.

Why isn’t every gay man in this city so scared shitless that he is screaming for action? Does every gay man in New York want to die?

But his sharpest barbs were reserved for the (barely) closeted New York Mayor Ed Koch:

Our mayor, Ed Koch, appears to have chosen, for whatever reason, not to allow himself to be perceived by the non-gay world as visibly helping us in this emergency. Repeated requests to meet with him have been denied us. Repeated attempts to have him make a very necessary public announcement about this crisis and public health emergency have been refused by his staff. I sometimes think he doesn’t know what’s going on. I sometimes think that, like some king who has been so long on his throne he’s lost touch with his people, Koch is so protected and isolated by his staff that he is unaware of what fear and pain we’re in. No human being could otherwise continue to be so useless to his suffering constituents. When I was allowed a few moments with him at a party for outgoing Cultural Affairs Commissioner (and Gay Men’s Health Crisis Advisory Board member) Henry Geldzahler, I could tell from his responses that mayor Koch had not been well briefed on AIDS or what is happening in his city. When I started to fill him in, I was pulled away by an aide, who said, “Your time is up.” … One can only surmise that our mayor wants us treated this way.

Kramer closed by listing his friends who had died of AIDS, twenty-one names long, “and one more, who will be dead by the time these words appear in print. If we don’t act immediately, then we face our approaching doom.” The article also included a call to direct action. In doing so, it forever changed the way AIDS was discussed in the gay community. Randy Shilts, writing in And the Band Played On, called Kramer’s essay “inarguably one of the most influential works of advocacy journalism of the decade. ‘1,1112 and Counting…’ swiftly crystallized the epidemic into a political movement for the gay community at the same time it set off a maelstrom of controversy that polarized gay leaders.”

You can read the full essay here.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Sylvia Beach: 1887-1962. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister and a doting mother, Beach became enthralled with Paris while her father was posted there as an assistant pastor at the American Church. The family returned to America in 1906 when her father took a post at a church in Princeton, New Jersey, but Beach returned to Europe for several return trips, including a two year stint in Spain. During the First World War, she served in the Red Cross in Serbia before finally settling in Paris to study contemporary French literature.

It was during the course of her studies that she discovered Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop, La Maison des Amis des Livres. The two took an instant liking to each other, became lovers, and remained together for the next thirty-six years until Monnier’s death in 1955. In 1919, Beach opened her own bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, as an English-language counterpart to Monnier’s bookshop and lending library. Beach’s bookshop quickly became a favorite meeting place for American expatriate writers, and in 1921, she moved Shakespeare and Company to larger quarters at 12 rue de l’Odéon, right across the street from Monnier’s.

James Joyce, with Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, 1938.

For the next two decades, Shakespeare and Company would operate as a kind of a community center, bank, library, post office, crash pad, office, and even publishing company, when Beach took the chance to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses when no other publisher would touch it. Loyal customers and patrons included Ernest Hemmingway (she called him “my best customer”), T.S. Elliot, Paul Valery, André Gide, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Natalie Barney, Gertrude Stein and Man Ray. Her supporters rallied to Beach’s aid when she thought she would be forced to close the shop in 1936. She remained open after the Germans entered Paris, but she was forced to close in 1940 and was interned for six months. She kept her books in a vacant upstairs apartment. In 1944, Hemmingway famously “liberated” Shakespeare and Company, but the shop never re-opened for business.

In 1955, Beach wrote her memoir, Shakespeare and Company, about the cultural life of Paris during the inter-war years. She remained in Paris until her death in 1962. Columbia University Press published an edition of Sylvia Beach’s letters in 2010.

In 1964, George Whitman, an American bookseller in Paris, renamed his bookstore Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to Beach’s shop. He also named his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, who runs that store today.

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?

Comments

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William Burns
March 14th, 2014 | LINK

It looks like you have Monnier’s death date wrong.

Jim Burroway
March 14th, 2014 | LINK

I’ve corrected the typo. Thanks.

Josh
March 14th, 2014 | LINK

“The Rhind Papyrus was the first attempt to calculate pi by “squaring the circle,” which is to measure the diameter of a circle by building a square inside the circle.”

That’s not what squaring the circle means. To square the circle is to construct a square with the same area as a given circle, typically using only a straightedge and compass (though that version is impossible; the modern proof is relatively short–it just uses some basic field theory and the transcendence of pi).

By contrast, the Rhind Papyrus first draws a square around a circle, lops off corners to get an octagon, and computes the area of that octagon, which turns out to be off by only a percent or two. The strategy of inscribing and circumscribing regular polygons in/around the circle and using their areas as lower and upper bounds is similar but different.

(I don’t know what it means to “measure the diameter of a circle by building a square inside the circle”. I’m also not sure what “first” is really referring to.)

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