Friday 28 October 2016

Time Out Update

UPDATE : I have revised and updated the "About This Blog" and "Heritage CV” pages and "About Me" information. I am currently beginning to index the whole blog in more detail. This will be a major task and I hope to make the finished index available in instalments throughout next year. I am also considering setting up a Facebook page. My schedule for December has been set out and I hope to begin blogging again on 1st December.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Time Out

After some thought I have decided to give myself a little rest. I’ve been spending several hours a day researching and writing since the day I first began this blog back in August 2011 and can’t believe how much I have written in five years – over 700 articles.

Recently I’ve had affairs in my “proper job” which need dealing with and I must concentrate on them for a while. I don’t want to be away for too long, but I intend to take off the rest of October and all of November. That means several articles I have promised to write will appear at a later date.

During December I’ll get right back to it again, finishing some of the articles that I’ve begun and researching and writing new ones, and I hope to return by Christmas 2016.

That doesn’t mean that I'm going to stop working on my blog completely. I’ve thought of tidying up some of the articles and going through them to revise, amend or correct them. When I’ve finished revising an article I’ll add a note to say so and, hopefully, keep you updated on the revisions.

If there happens to be anything in the news or media which could relate to one of my articles I'll write a little piece and link you to them.

There are also several other ideas I’ve been toying with, including collecting related articles together in book format. These will give me the opportunity to expand the original articles and introduce new illustrations.

I hope you don’t mind if I take some time off, and I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you, particularly my most dedicated followers, for your interest and support. Perhaps you all need a rest from me as well!

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Coming Out Socially

Today and tomorrow are designated as National Coming Out Day in the USA (today) and the UK (tomorrow). If there’s one thing that proved my belief that people in the public eye don’t have to come out to the media to be described as “out publicly” it was the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics.

As I described in thisOlympic Alphabet article as soon as the list of known lgbt Rio Olympians was published many others asked to added. The new names were all openly lgbt but hadn’t made a big media event out of it. Most of them were out only on social media.
When I was researching for the initial list I “discovered” 10 former Olympians who were also out on social media in July alone. That’s how many I often identify in one year!

I’ve said several times that coming out is a personal thing. Do it however you want, as long as you feel comfortable about it. Social media has increased the ease with which some people can express their sexuality and gender. Just a few words on Twitter of Facebook is all they need.

My friends at Outsports, Jim and Cyd, wrote about the issue of determining if someone is out publicly or not in this article.

Perhaps it is time to stop saying “out publicly” and just say “out”.

Since Coming Out Day last year there has been the expected celebrity outings who have declared their sexuality and gender in the media. Here are just a few.

Gus Kenworthy, US Olympic and world champion skier,
Tofik Dibi, Dutch Green Party MP,
Eliot Sumner, Sting’s daughter,
Jill Soloway, creator of award-winning series “Transparent”,
Amandla Stenberg, “The Hunger Games” actor,
David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland,
Lilly Wachowksi, director of “The Matrix”,
Harris Wofford, US senator,
Javier Raya, Spanish Olympic figure skater,
David Rodriguez, Mr Spain (not Mr Gay Spain),
Nicholas Chamberlain, Anglican Bishop of Grantham, and
Lord Ivar Mountbatten, cousin of Queen Elizabeth II.

Saturday 8 October 2016

Star-Gayzing : A Extraterrestrial Home from Home

Earlier this week I looked at some dystopian and apocalyptic fiction by lgbt authors. I ended by asking the question of whether humanity can escape by going to another planet. Is there another planet that can support human life? Not in our own solar system. But just a few months ago a planet which might be suitable was discovered in orbit around Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our own, in the constellation of Centaurus.

In the past decades thousands of exoplanets, planets outside our solar system, have been discovered. Not all of them are suitable for life as we know it to survive (i.e. carbon-based, liquid water-dependent life). There are a couple of hundred exoplanets which fall into the “Goldilocks Zone”, those distances from their sun which support liquid water, but fewer that are believed to be Earth-like. In fact, there are less than ten which astronomers list as being the most Earth-like exoplanets.

The nearest of these is around Proxima Centauri and has been given the name of Proxima Centauri b. The other most Earth-like, potentially habitable, exoplanets are called Gliese 667Cc, Kepler-62f, Kepler-186f, Kepler-442b, Kepler-452b, Kepler-1229b and Wolf 1061c. And that’s the problem I want to write about today. The names of planets. Most of those listed here were discovered by the Kepler Mission, hence their names. The other hundreds of exoplanets have the same “Kepler-” prefix. It’s all very confusing. But that’s not the only confusing naming system. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) who are responsible for naming extraterrestrial objects have even designated an exoplanet with the name MOA-2007-BLG-400-Lb. That takes almost as long to say as that famous Welsh town with dozens of letters in it’s name.

Recently the IAU began to give proper names to some exoplanets, not all of them Earth-like. But one gay astronomer had already attempted to name the 400 exoplanets that had been discovered before the prolific Kepler Mission was launched in 2009. The astronomer is Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at California State University and his name if Wladimir Lyra (how ironic that an astronomer would have the same name as a constellation). He is also a member of the American Astronomical Society and is currently a member of its Committee for Sexual-Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy.

When Wladimir Lyra came up with his list in 2009 the IAU didn’t consider giving names to exoplanets as being practical. However, last year they launched a competition to name a select group of them and the stars around which they orbit which also have no proper name. Unfortunately, none of the winning names on the 2015 IAU list matched Wladimir Lyra’s 2009 suggestions. The table below shows those exoplanets which both lists named and how the names differ. Wladimir didn’t give new names for the stars, thought the IAU did and I’ve put them in the table as well. Only the star Fomalhaut had already been given a name. The old star names are those in the “Exoplanet old name” column – just take the final letter, the planetary designation (b, c, or d), off each name.

Exoplanet’s old name
New star name
Lyra’s new planet name
IAU’s new planet name
Upsilon Andromeda b
Upsilon Andromeda c
Upsilon Andromeda d
HD 149026b
Fomalhaut b
PRS 1257+12b
PRS 1257+12c
PRS 1257+12d

The reason Wladimir Lyra chose his names are given here, and the reasons the IAU chose their names is given here.

It’s a pity that Proxima Centauri b hadn’t been discovered when these names were being decided. Wladimir Lyra chose the names of mythological Greek centaurs for his exoplanets in Centaurus. This is a shame because they are already being used as names for a specific group of minor planets in our solar system called Centaurs.

Wladimir’s list wasn’t without criticism when he produced it in 2009. A lot of his names had already been used for minor planets, satellites and asteroids. Another exoplanet he named, orbiting a star in the constellation Columba, was Peristera. A Greek-speaking colleague pointed out that Peristera is the Greek for “female pigeon”. Fortunately, this particular exoplanet is too far away and not habitable for humans so we can avoid the embarrassment to our descendants of having to escape a future dying Earth and move to the planet of the “female pigeon”!

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Utopia Lost

Back in July I celebrated the 500th anniversary of Utopia by looking at a handful of Utopian novels by lgbt authors. Today we look at the opposite, at what are called dystopian novels.

As soon as people began thinking about an earthly paradise they have also thought about the end of civilisation. Perhaps the greatest of all dystopian literature is the New Testament Book of Revelations. Not all dystopian fiction is as apocalyptic but features worlds where humanity is dominated by ruthless forces, or nature itself has made life a challenge.

The novel “Erewhon” by Samuel Butler which I mentioned in my Utopia article was also dystopian in some respect. The novel describes how sick and ill people are treated as criminals and how criminals are treated as if they were ill.

The current debate on the global environment has provided many writers with a wealth of possible futures to explore in their novels. The nuclear winter is one such concept that has been widely used as a means to create a dystopian world. As I wrote in “Nuclear Winters From Mars” it was a gay astrophysicist called James B. Pollack who helped to alert the world to the effects a nuclear war might have on the climate.

Quite often is it war and politics that are the basis for dystopian fiction, and we’re going to have a look at three of them written by lgbt authors.

Angus Wilson’s 1961 novel “The Old Men at the Zoo” originated in his own fascination with zoos and the events during World War II when most of the animals at London Zoo were transferred to others. Wilson’s novel contains the descent into totalitarianism resulting from a non-nuclear European war. The zoos of Wilson’s future become prisons for criminals who are treated as Roman Christians in the animal arena.

A lot of the characters were based on Wilson’s contemporaries and throughout the writing process he toned down the similarities to distance his characters from the real people. The novel received mixed reviews, many of them saying how unlikeable the main character is.

A totalitarian state also features in “Kallocain” by Karin Boye. This 1940 novel may have been influenced by either the growing power of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, perhaps even both. Rather than use armed force and imprisonment to subjugate its population Boye’s novel uses fear around the state’s use of drugs. The regime she devised used a fictional drug, one which gives it name to the novel, which is invented to detect subconscious dissident thoughts – a sort of truth drug.

Both Angus Wilson and Karin Boye created future worlds in which the dominant force for oppression was human power. E. M. Forster wrote a short story in 1909 which foresaw a world where humanity is ruled by technology and machines. “The Machine Stops” echoes the more famous “The Time Machine” in that it depicts a future where the descendants of humanity are split between those who live above and below ground. The lives of those underground are controlled by the omnipotent Machine. Everyone lives in their own cell and travel is discouraged. Very few humans have dared to escape and live on the surface because humans have lost the ability to live by their own wits and abilities. The Machine rules everything. This is a complete opposite of what appears in Samuel Butler’s “Erwhon” in which all machines have been consigned to museums.

The main protagonists in “The Machine Stops” begin to realise that the Machine is breaking down. When the Machine finally stops society collapses and only the surface dwellers survive to carry on the species.

All three of these dystopian novels have been turned into television dramas. What many novels set in the future seem to achieve is a prediction of something which actually seems to come true. “The Machine Stops” features a method of communication which is very much like the internet and text messaging. Can we claim that E. M. Forster predicted the internet in his 1909 short story?

Whatever future horrors dystopian fiction can create there are some which offer hope in the form of escape to another planet. If that should ever become a reality where would we go? That’s a question I’ll try to answer next time when we go Star-Gayzing.