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The Daily Agenda for Thursday, March 20

Jim Burroway

March 20th, 2014

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: European Gay Ski Week, Alpe d’Huez, France; Amsterdam Bear Pride, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Los Angeles Leather Pride, Los Angeles, CA; Black Party, New York, NY; Gay Snow Happening, Sölden, Austria; European Snow Pride, Tignes, France.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From TWN (The Weekly News, Miami), October 21, 1987, page 10.

 
If you Google the address today, you get a business called Costumes, Etc., but when you go to Google Streetview, you get this.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Florida Supreme Court: Gays Can’t Be Barred From State Bar: 1978. In 1976, Robert F. Eimers, a recent graduate of Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, had already been certified for admission to the Pennsylvania bar when he moved to Florida and took the exam for the Florida bar. He passed, but the Florida Board of Bar Examiners found that he might fail to meet the “good moral character” standard for admission because, in response to a question at a hearing, Eimers said that he was gay. The twelve member board deadlocked on whether to admit him and referred the matter to the Florida Supreme Court. On March 20, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-1 decision that a “substantial connection” between private behavior and the ability to carry out professional responsibilities would be required to bar Eimers from practicing law, and his homosexuality did not rise to that level. “Otherwise, the bar will be virtually unfettered in its power to censor the private morals of Florida bar members, regardless of any nexus between the behavior and the ability to responsibly perform as an attorney.”

That’s where the “Today in History” part of the story ends, but Eimers’ story continues. While Florida’s Supreme Court was correct in ruling that a gay man cannot be prohibited from practicing law because of his “private morals,” that same court nine years later would wind up disbarring Eimers because of his dismal public morals, not to mention breaking a few laws along the way. In 1982 Eimers, his law partner (who was not licensed to practice law) and husband-and-wife clients Daniel and Sally Phelps, were the subjects of an undercover sting involving money laundering and prostitution. In November 1982, they were all charged with two counts of money laundering, and the Phelps’s, in addition, were charged with three counts associated with the prostitution ring. After their arrest and indictment, they were all released on bail. The Phelps and Eimers were tried and convicted in June, 1983, but Eimers’s conviction was in absentia due to his becoming a fugitive in March. Eimers was sentenced to ten years and fined $100,000. In 1987, the Florida Supreme Court officially disbarred him (PDF: 176KB/6 pages) because of his felony conviction and allegations that he had misappropriated funds from three of his clients. I can’t find any record of his having served his sentence, but in 1993 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also ordered his disablement in that state as well. He apparently died in 1998 at the age of 51.

And that, as they say, is the rest of the story.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Samuel-Auguste Tissot: 1728-1797. You know you’ll go blind if you keep doing that, don’t you? Ever wonder where those old medical “facts” came from? Blame this eighteenth-century Swiss physician from Lausanne, but also consider his time. In his day, the medical establishment was built on little more than folk medicine and superstitions, some of which where handed down from as far back as ancient Greece.

To his credit, Tissot tried to change that and turn the practice of medicine into a scientific endeavor. His 1761 textbook Avis au Peuple sur sa Santé (Advise to the Public Concerning their Health) became the best-selling medical self-help book of the century and it established his international reputation. In a 1769 essay, he argued that doctors must have a working knowledge of physics and the natural sciences: “Whoever is unacquainted with the powers and properties of bodies and the laws of motion will never be able to learn the art of healing.” He became an early proponent of exercise for “literary and sedentary persons,” observing that exercise “strengthens the fibres, preserves the fluids in their proper state, procures an appetite, facilitates the secretions particularly perspiration, raises our spirits, and produces an agreeable sensation in the whole nervous system.” His 1789 Traité des Nerfs et de Leurs Maladies (Treatise on the Nerves and Nervous Disorders) included an 83-page chapter devote to the study of migraines, which is today considered a foundational work for future doctors’ understanding of the phenomenon.

So you can see he was off to a pretty good start in professionalizing the practice of medicine. But his efforts were ultimately constrained by the state of medical knowledge in the 1700s which still came mainly from two sources: ancient manuscripts, from Greek and Roman times through the Renaissance, and ongoing observations by physicians who knew nothing about viruses, bacteria, hormones, genetics or even the precise functions of a number of organs. And so Tissot believed, like many of his contemporaries, that the human body was governed by a balance between the excretion of vital fluids — the ancient Greeks called them “humours” — and their replenishment through eating and drinking. Blood, obviously, was an essential humour. Lose too much of it, and death is certain. Perspiration was a humor, as was mother’s milk, which he called a “non-essential” humour — for the mother, anyway. Also, in the tally of humours:

There is another, the seminal fluid, which has so much influence on the strength of the body and on the perfection of digestion which restores it, that physicians of every age have unanimously admitted, that the loss of one ounce of it, enfeebles more than forty ounces of blood. We may form some idea of its importance by observing the effects it produces; when it begins to form, the voice, the countenance, and even the features change; the beard grows, and the whole body often assumes another appearance, since the muscles become so large and firm that they form a sensible difference between the body of an adult, and that of one who has not arrived at puberty. All these developments are prevented by debilitating the organ which serves to separate the fluid producing them. Correct observations prove that the extirpation of the testicles, at the period of virility, causes the loss of the beard, and the return of an infantile voice. Can we doubt, after this of its action on the whole body, and not perceive the many bad consequences with which the emission of so precious a fluid must be attended.

The third edition of Tissot’s L’onanisme, 1765.

That passage is from the introduction of Tissot’s most enduring work, his highly influential L’onanisme, ou Dissertation Physique, sur les Maladies Produites par la Masturbation (Onanism: Or a Treatise Upon the Disorders produced by Masturbation), published first in Latin in 1758, then in French in 1760. According to Tissot, the loss of just an ounce of semen brought about a terrible blow to the body. During the sexual act, Tissot observed that other humours were excreted through perspiration and heavy breathing, leading to the “evacuation of the semen,” which is accompanied by:

a general shock, a convulsion of all the parts, an increase of the rapidity of the movements of all the fluids, to displace and expel it. Is it too great presumption to say, we must regard this necessary concurrence of the whole system, at the moment of its evacuation, as a rational proof of its influence on the body? …The promptitude with which the weakness follows the act, appears to many people, and with reason, a proof that this cannot be occasioned by merely a loss of semen; but the debility of all those affected with convulsive diseases, proves that the weakness is produced by the spasm…

Men weren’t alone in their susceptibility to masturbation’s dangers. Semen’s analog in women was the fluids of vaginal lubrication. Like men, women also experienced the perspiration, the “rapidity of the movements of all the fluids,” the general shock and convulstions, and so forth. But masturbation posed an even greater danger to women because their weaker nerves made the loss of those vital fluids all the more serious. The consequences, for men and women both, were numerous: pimples, hemorrhoids, tuberculosis, weak-mindedness, weakness or partial paralysis in the limbs, ashen skin, pain, digestive problems, epilepsy, blindness, and even death.

The loss of semen was always bad, but it was worse when the loss occurred during non-procreative sex, all forms of which he grouped under the umbrella term “Onanism.” At least with ordinary vaginal intercourse, he reasoned, there was a reciprocity taking place which helped to lower the dangers:

A person perspires more during coition than at any other time, because the power of the circulation is quickened. This perspiration is perhaps more active and more volatile than at any other time: it is a real loss, and occurs whenever emissions of semen take place, from whatever cause, since it depends on the agitation attending it. In coition it is reciprocal, and the one inspires, what the other expires. This exchange has been verified by certain observations. In masturbation there is a loss without this reciprocal benefit.

Tissot’s L’onanisme wasn’t the first anti-masturbation tract. Some thirty-five years earlier, an unknown London doctor and clergymen published the final edition of Onania; or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution (see Oct 16), which warned about the many dangers of masturbation from both a medical and moral standpoint. But Tissot criticized the English Onania for its “theological and moral trivialities” which made it  “truly a chaos, the most unfinished work written for a long time.” Tissot’s L’onanisme, on the other hand, sought to correct those errors and re-cast sexual morality solely on the basis of the physical imperative rather than a divine one. It became a best-seller. Twelve authorized editions appeared between 1760 and 1799 in the original French, with translations into German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and English. Thanks to Tissot, the idea that masturbation was the source of a number of serious physical, medical and social diseases quickly became medical dogma all the way up to the beginning of the twentieth century.

[Source: Samuel-Auguste Tissot. Treatise on the Diseases Produced by Onanism. Translated by “A Physician” (New York: Collins & Hannay, 1832). Available online at Archive.org. The original 1760 French edition of L’onanisme is available at Google Books.]

 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).

This your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Comments

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Jons
March 24th, 2014 | LINK

“Correct observations prove that the extirpation of the testicles, at the period of virility, causes the loss of the beard, and the return of an infantile voice.”

The proof that half-knowledge is often more dangerous than no knowledge at all. The 18th century inability to separate cause from consequence and isolate causes altogether shows well here.

Nathaniel
April 15th, 2014 | LINK

Its a shame. Tissot was building on the best work available to him. The Greeks and Romans were getting along pretty well until the Dark Ages shut down human advancement in Europe. It is no surprise that those texts were of great value in the 18th century. What is disappointing is that Tissot’s work also went unquestioned for so long. I am reminded of the authors/translators of the King James Bible, whose work is today the only acceptable version of the Bible in many Christian groups (that is, if other versions are even recognized), but who, in the introduction to their masterpiece, asked that others continue to build on the advancements they had made, ever improving the translation of the Bible for future generations. How easy it is for us to take “the best work thus far” and turn it into “the best work that ever will be, so why bother trying to do better.”

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