Launch of my new website at craigrowland.com

I will soon be launching a new website after being with LiveJournal four fourteen years. I wanted a site that offered more options with graphics and creativity in expression. LiveJournal was stiflingly limiting in its blogging features and storage capacity as I needed to create no less than four separate blogs after each one of my blogs ran out of room. And the whole Russian thing: I do not want to use a platform hosted in Russia. Each time I log on I see Russian advertising and the only traffic I get are by Russian bots. So after stewing about it for years, I finally decided to develop a site that did everything I wanted it to. A web designer used my ideas to create it, just as a facial composite artist creates an image based on descriptions alone. I learned how to do some artistic editing myself. 

I wanted all of my LiveJournal posts transferred to the new website. Unfortunately my web designer could not find any coding to make a quick and easy cut and paste. She had to break the news to me: the posts would have to be copied one by one. I rolled my eyes and took the task upon myself. I thought it would take months to do but there was no other way. So during Christmas week I started working in reverse chronological order, uploading my most recent LiveJournal posts at wrongradical4 going back in time to when I was known as just wrongradical. 

For the past six weeks I have been uploading my blog posts going back to 2007. Before LiveJournal I used to send out travelogue posts--going back to 2000--using E-mail. I wanted to upload those E-mails to my new blog site too. I didn't upload everything from LiveJournal, as I chose to leave all but twelve of my 366 diary entries behind as well as a lot of moaning about cellphones, Amazon and the state of my computer. In the end I uploaded 1102 travelogue and LiveJournal entries. During this process I had the opportunity to tweak my posts to present consistency in formatting and style, as my personal preferences have changed over the years. I didn't realize that I wanted to make changes however until after I had uploaded sometimes hundreds of posts. Unsightly patterns aren't noticed right away and when I realized I wanted to make some changes, I had to make revisions. While I never opted to rewrite history by rephrasing what I had written sometimes two decades ago (cringeworthy some of it), I did spend hours combing over texts to ensure that what you saw in 2000 looked as if it had been written now. I even left my smiley emoticons in. Although I abhor them now, I used them twenty years ago. I know that some of my older styles and formatting preferences must have been left behind in the retroactive editing process.

Being a line editor I of course found it fascinating to pore over my work and note the changes I have adopted after twenty-one years of writing. My editing notations are a pedant's paradise. In reviewing twenty-one years' worth of travelogues and blog posts, I have made the following changes to how they appear on my new website:

Album titles changed from regular type all in capitals to not all in capitals but instead in italics, thus ABBEY ROAD becomes Abbey Road

The Scrabble player that I still am now finds it distracting to read texts with notations such as #; $; and * next to certain words. These notations pertain to words that are acceptable in Scrabble play in the international lexicon but not in North America; only in the North American lexicon; and in neither lexicon, respectively. As Scrabble lexica on both sides of the Atlantic are updated I find that many of my notations are now obsolete and I have no desire to retain these notations for historical purposes. The notations are annoying, so I have tried to find them all and remove them, so kinda# becomes kinda

Certain compound nouns I prefer to write now as one word in closed form: thus bookstore and website. I have changed them to be spelled as one word (or done my best to find them all). I had been inconsistent in my rendering of cellphone, alternating between spelling it as one or two words. I prefer to see it as one word now, yet my arbiter Merriam-Webster prefers the open form. I was also inconsistent in how I rendered prices using euros. I sometimes left a space between the total and the euro symbol, and sometimes not, thus you'd see 100€ as well as 100 €. I have eliminated the space throughout.

After I discovered the music of the Beatles in May of 1980 at the age of fourteen I went on a Brit kick and decided to spell words the British way, thus realise and recognise. I still spelled words that way into the early 2000's, but no longer now. I have changed these spellings back to the North American standard. 

When I started to blog about my language classes I would place foreign words within quotations. I prefer now to write these words in italics. There are still valid reasons for leaving foreign words in regular type within quotations when I post, but that depends on the context. Some of my posts had the foreign words all in capitals and I have decided to keep those posts as is. Posts where I have greetings and closing remarks in a foreign language will not be in italics, nor will geographical names.  

As a new learner of foreign languages I sometimes made spelling mistakes, especially with the Finnish language. As I am a more experienced user of the Finnish language, upon review of my travelogues these typos were immediately evident. Some typos were twenty-one years old. 

I have added hyperlinks to posts, especially to posts in the future. For example, if I wrote about buying a certain book, I have now added a hyperlink to the book title to direct the reader to a review of that book (a review would often come many years after I bought it). While on the subject of hyperlinks, going through twenty years of past posts meant finding a lot of dead links. As of the date when my new website goes live, all hyperlinks are active. If there was one job that truly did my head in, it was the endless string of hyperlinking my past posts. I would find that one post would lead me to link it to another and then I'd have to link another...I would be led down the garden path of hyperlinking till I got lost. 

From 2000 to early 2007 I did not have a blog, and used E-mails to deliver my travelogues. I decided to copy all of these E-mails to my blog, yet in so doing tried to delete any references within the text that they were originally E-mails. While I still have these mails in their original form stored in E-mail folders, they do not read well as blog posts if I have references to a "travel mailing list" and "trouble with some E-mails bouncing back". So I deleted such tech talk which had no relevance to the travelogue. I have also removed references to LiveJournal and the LJ community of contributors from my posts, but out of necessity had to leave some references in. I am certain I have overlooked some of these references as I didn't come to the decision to expunge LiveJournal and LJ from my new blog until after I had already uploaded several hundred entries already. Therein lies the problem of retro-editing: when faced with the colossal task of uploading 1102 past entries into a new site, decisions about what you want to keep and what you want to ignore, and overall patterns don't emerge until you've been uploading for a (long) while. So I am sure there will be stray references to LiveJournal, a British realise and maybe a RUBBER SOUL or a hiya# I missed. I will make corrections as I come across them. 

Visit me at craigrowland.com

Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement



Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement by David K. Johnson was a brief academic read about the role physique magazines played in gay liberation pre-Stonewall. Its brevity did not belie its intellectual heft: 236 pages followed by 49 pages of endnotes made for a thoroughly researched read which propelled me after each chapter to search on-line for the source material. With dozens of endnotes (and two of the seven chapters had over a hundred endnotes each) I saved referring to all of them until I had finished each chapter. 

Johnson wrote about the history of physique magazines--as distinct from workout or bodybuilding magazines--from post-WWII to the seventies. At first these magazines, such as Physique Pictorial, were marketed under the ostensible purpose for artists specializing in figure drawing. Buff satyrs wearing nothing but posing pouches filled these magazines at first. Reader surveys led to more features such as personal ads, mailing lists and book distribution. To postwar gay men, these magazines served the same purpose as bars and Grindr do today. Johnson profiled the earliest magazine editors, such as Bob Mizer, and their relentless pursuit by the US Postal Service for allegedly using the mails to distribute obscenity. The physique magazines were challenged also for printing mailing lists and catalogues of books dealing with homosexuality. If there was ever a hero of freedom of expression--regardless of sex or sexual orientation--it was Mizer. He was an out and proud gay man decades before Stonewall who was not afraid of tackling the US government in court. His victories outnumbered his defeats and inspired later publishers to be fearless before the courts. Even after the courts had declared that the images were not obscene, publishers still found themselves before judge and jury. It became very clear that the images themselves weren't the issue: the courts were in fact putting the intended magazine audience on trial by trying to suppress LGBT forms of expression. It was homophobia pure and simple. 

Physique magazines and homophile organizations advanced the causes that the Stonewall riots continued to fight for. Johnson's level of detail, from interviewing magazine publishers and customers, finding court transcripts and the magazines themselves produced a work like no other in LGBT history. While an academic read true to the core, Buying Gay was nevertheless a page-turner.

Regardless of the state of my poor eyesight, I don't think anyone would have been able to read some of the reproduced magazine pages within the text. Shrunk to fit standard hardcover page dimensions, the text accompanying the physique images or magazine ads required me to use a magnifying glass in every case. (Not that there was anything disconcerting about looking at nearly nude buff men with a magnifying glass.) For an academic read there were a handful of spelling errors, the most striking was referring to Tom of Finland artist Touko Laaksonen as "Finish".

Jack’s Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac



Jack’s Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee was published in 1978. I have had this book for close to thirty years yet never bothered to read it until now. During my later university years I read the beat classics and still own quite a few beat novels that remain unread. This is one of four Kerouac biographies I have which, with the exception of this one now, also remain unread. Jack’s Book is a compilation of reminiscences-–often lengthy ones-–by his friends, girlfriends, fellow writers and wives. Gifford and Lee knit them all together seamlessly with their biographical fill-ins. It never felt like an abrupt stop-and-start whenever I left the authors’ text to read the interview subjects’ responses.

I learned how fame and the reputation the press bestowed upon him ruined Kerouac. Succinctly put, he couldn’t deal with the attention after On the Road was published in 1957, and drowned himself in drink. Kerouac felt pressured to be something he was not, and publishers were only interested in an On the Road sequel and not so much in the work he had written in the years he waited before the beat classic could be published. Teens would hang outside his homes looking to be enlightened by the King of the Beats (an appellation he abhorred). The biography recounted numerous episodes where young people showed up and took Kerouac to bars. With his life focussed on getting drunk there must have been no attraction in having these young people around except for their capacity to drive him to the nearest bar to get hammered.

Interviews with intimates, especially the women in his life like both of Neal Cassady’s wives, Luanne and Carolyn, sorted out the facts from the fiction in Kerouac’s novels. They proved what the authors stated at the very beginning, that Kerouac often used his friends and family in his novels as character types, but enhanced real-life events or altered reality around them within his work. His immediate pen-to-paper writing style rang true but it was not always autobiographical. The authors let their interview subjects speak freely and the responses would go on for multiple pages, which showed the degree of comfortability they had speaking with Gifford and Lee. I could even picture subtle eyebrow raises and poignant moments when Carolyn Cassady took a drag on her cigarette as she spoke. The transcriptions were astonishingly realistic.

One remark often made was about Kerouac’s prolific memory. He wrote about the people and events in his life and it was a game among his friends to pick up his latest novel and to find themselves in it. The authors wrote:

“Superbly organized from the beginning of his career, he was a most formal curator of his own memories. He intended to make use of them.”

And indeed he did. Publishers were afraid of lawsuits but none of Kerouac’s friends cared that they had been written about, even though he did use pseudonyms.

Over forty years since the publication of this biography, I could see that only two of the interview subjects remain with us: Luanne Henderson (Cassady) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Music on Film: A Hard Day’s Night



Music on Film: A Hard Day’s Night by Ray Morton was a brief yet thorough account of the making of the Beatles’ first film. The idea to make a film initially was raised in mid-1963, when the Beatles were in the throes of British Beatlemania yet still unknowns in the United States. Morton revealed that while the filming only began once the group returned to England after their American invasion in February 1964, the entire background work–finding a director, producer, screenwriter, sets, actors–had already been months in the making. I have seen this movie many times and Morton provided information that I had otherwise not known, especially about the hiring of director Richard Lester, producer Walter Shenson and screenwriter Alun Owen. He also covered the legal shenanigans that managed to get United Artists in on the record deal when the Beatles were already signed to Capitol. In spite of the worries some executives had about the film’s chance of international success–American audiences wouldn’t be able to understand the Liverpudlian accents or the humour–the team of Lester, Shenson and Owen worked with the Beatles to create as much a natural film as possible, one that portrayed their daily lives and fishbowl existence and often irreverent humour. The Beatles had their say into what they wanted or didn’t want to do and plenty of ad-libs were kept in (who can forget the scene where John takes multiple sniffs of Coke from a capped bottle while on the train?). Morton profiled the actors, even the minor ones, and answered a question I had long thought about–which genuinely made me gasp “No way!” in front of my computer:

Charley, the young boy who rolls a tire that knocks down Ringo during his (hungover) scene when he deserts the band, was played by David Jaxon. Jaxon grew up to be known as David Janson, the actor who played the postman on “Keeping Up Appearances”. I found clips of the young actor, who was fourteen at the time yet playing ten, and could tell immediately that yep, it was Hyacinth’s postman, all right.

The Korean Workers’ Party: A Short History



I do not remember where I obtained The Korean Workers’ Party: A Short History by Chong-Sik Lee. All I can remember is that it is the first book I ever acquired about the DPRK and that I have likely had this book for close to thirty years. Why has it taken me so long to read it? Since I have read dozens of books on the country already, the interest is there, and if this book was my first one of all, why wouldn’t I touch it? The answer I can tell you: I thought this book would be dry-as-dust boring. Sure, it would be about the political party that rules North Korea and that in and of itself interests me, but to read a 160-page book on the subject? Especially a book that looks so crushingly boring? I was surely judging a book from its inside appearance. Nevertheless as I continue my great books purge I assessed even the “boring” books and decided finally to read the ones that have been kicking around for decades.

The author was commissioned by Hoover Institution Press to write a short history of the Korean Communist party as part of their sixteen-volume historical series on the ruling communist parties of the world. And what can I say about The Korean Workers’ Party? It was an exciting page-turner, which surprised me to no end. Lee stated up front that he wanted to make his history accessible, and he succeeded. What had appeared to be uninspiring with chapter titles such as “The Social Basis for an Agrarian Revolution” ended up being a complete history of how communism developed in southeast Asia and how it was transformed by Kim Il Sung into the personality cult and dynasty it still is today. The Great Leader Kim Il Sung is not even a major part of the book until halfway through, so the reader gets a thorough background in Korean history and the situations that developed to allow communism to take hold.

However to Lee’s credit the book didn’t drag on until Kim rose to power and started purging his enemies and rivals in Stalinist emulation before it got exciting. The author made the entire history an engrossing read. I especially liked the section on Kim’s ever-evolving need to reform his own policies. Once Kim decided to focus on political education, he targeted the teachers who he felt were unskilled and not up to the task. He accused the party of “cramming the teaching material into the heads of Party members in the manner of reading a Talmudic service” where everyone parroted what he had learned but understood none of it. I could not help but laugh at the following quotation from the Great Leader:

“Furthermore, some propaganda workers in charge of Party education fail to give their explanations in plain and simple language…but reel off difficult terms and theses which they themselves do not fully understand. In many cases, our press carries poor and extremely tedious propaganda articles and comments under headings which all sound more or less the same.”

All North Korean literature sounds and reads more or less the same! I have read plenty of it, and it’s the same story with the same themes of Superman Kim Il Sung and the Boy Wonder Kim Jong Il, book after book after book.

Lee concludes his book, which was written in 1978, with this harrowing assessment:

“No other communist party in the world appears to have cultivated as strong a faith in its leadership. Unlike the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] or the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union], the KWP does not permit self-doubt, self-ridicule, cynicism, or mild dissension even in a humorous vein. President Kim’s words must be followed relentlessly in dead seriousness
….
To think otherwise is to invite trouble. Any temptation to indulge in private thoughts that are not in line with the commands of the leader must be quickly suppressed, lest such thought have an effect upon one’s behavior and actions.”

In 1978 the DPRK was still doing all right; the disasters caused by the collapse of the USSR and the famine were still ten and twenty years away respectively. For a capsule of North Korean political history while the country was still performing well economically, I would recommend this book. It was free of jargon yet enhanced by descriptive endnotes and a dream of a bibliography.

The Corfu Incident



In October 1946 four British ships were sailing north through the Corfu Channel when one of them, the destroyer HMS Saumarez, struck a mine and suffered a loss of 36 men. In an attempt to tow her to safety, HMS Volage, another destroyer in the same fleet, herself struck a mine and lost eight crewmen. The Corfu Incident by Eric Leggett was an account of the events, the trial and aftermath up to 1974, the year of publication. I have a large Albanian book collection, most of which focusses on the regime of Enver Hoxha. I acquired this book as an unwanted library donation. Since I already knew about this notorious incident I didn’t feel the need to read more about it when I got the book, and it was typical of me to let it sit on my shelves for years. As I continue to assess my book collection I turn to the subject of communism and have decided finally to read some books that I have had safely for well over twenty years. And so I reacquainted myself with this peacetime act of Stalinist paranoia perpetrated against innocent men by Hoxha.

Under Hoxha Albania functioned as a xenophobic police state, like a European version of North Korea. It was a poor isolated country whose list of capital offences grew daily. Life was not easy within the People’s Republic of Albania and foreigners were kept out. Thus the official policy was to keep the borders sealed from pernicious outside influences. The narrow Corfu Channel–less than 4 km separated Albania from Greek Corfu–irritated Albania since international ships needed to navigate close to the mainland because the Greek side was too shallow and rocky. To Albania, the Corfu Channel was not an international zone and they regarded this passage as their own territorial waters. Hence the reason for the mining of this channel during peacetime.

Leggett, who was aboard one of the other ships in the convoy, did not witness the moment when each ship struck the mines but he was literally on deck during the mayhem and rescue. He wrote with the suspense of a war story and I was gripped from the first page till the end. Military talk and legalese did not permeate this book and Leggett used witness testimonials that he had the advantage of finding easy access to. He took us moment by moment as each destroyer navigated the channel and covered the damage suffered by each ship. With his sailor cap in place he took the reader aboard each vessel and described it from bow to stern. I winced as he described hearing screams from compartments that were unreachable because of the fires on board. His description below was rich in simile:

“The explosion had blown rivets from the ship’s side and, through the rivet holes, thin pencils of light pointed into the compartment like accusing fingers.”

The International Court of Justice heard the case brought by the UK against Albania and Leggett wrote about it with all the twists and surprises of a TV courtroom drama. That there was even a surprise defector witness for the prosecution made the case seem all the more suspenseful. The case dragged through the courts for years and Albania being as belligerent and isolationist as it was conveniently ignored or massively delayed legal process such that by the year of publication, 1974, the UK still had not seen any justice despite the Court’s ruling in its favour. It wasn’t until after the fall of the Communist regime that the two nations finally settled the case (in 1996).

A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End



As I reported in my review of History of the USSR: An Outline of Socialist Construction, I have had a dismal record in finding engaging national histories. Fortunately, A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End by Peter Kenez, published in 1999, has been the best of the bunch. Like the above title I acquired it as a rejected library donation. Both were likely study materials as the Kenez book was filled with highlighted passages–a definite no-no for library collections. The Kenez history was a longer and more detailed read than the Kukushkin, and as it was written by a University of California professor after the fall of the Soviet Union, and not by a Soviet propagandist during the time Brezhnev was in power, it was more credible. Monographs such as this with minimal endnotes make for easier reading as the author managed to incorporate the additional details within the main text. After a brief introduction Kenez started with the October Revolution and followed it with chapters on New Economic Policies and the First Five-Year Plan. The author managed to make Soviet economic history interesting, as the truth–involving stories of forced collectivization, purges, kulaks, and economic shortfalls–is always more of a page-turner than Soviet propaganda. We learn how Stalin gained so much power and how the Khrushchev regime tried to obliterate him from Soviet history. Kenez affirms that the USSR was on a rapid downfall even before the ascension of Gorbachev as General Secretary in 1985, yet his reforms sealed the deal. I found the history about the old-guard opposition to Gorbachev, and their unsuccessful August 1991 coup, to be gripping reading. The extensive bibliography and author notes about the best books among them have given me future reading ideas.

Scrabble with Mark in 2020 and...2021

For the past several years I have kept a record of my win-loss record against Mark in Scrabble. We played more games in 2020 than in any other year, thanks to COVID keeping us inside and away from other Scrabble opponents. My 2020 win-loss record against Mark was 201½-51½, or a 79.6% win record. That blasted tie game occurred on March 19, so I had to carry that annoying fraction around for most of the year.

We played four games on New Year's Day and my first bingo of 2021 was the politically incorrect KLAVERNs for 65. I played it through the A, and was lucky to do so, since there was no spot for KLaVERN. Mark's first bingo of 2021 was the powerful EXERCISE for 104.



Mark and me at Riverdale Farm on New Year's Eve

Christmas



This photo was snapped just after Santa had come and filled the stockings and laid out the presents. Had I been there even a minute earlier I know I would have seen him.



Christmas morning stockings and presents



Mark, just before the stocking emptying began



I wrap everything, including stocking stuffers. Our unwrapping tradition can take a couple hours. After a meal break we resuming unwrapping around 3:00 p.m.



Happy Mark



With architectural precision Mark arranged all the gifts under the tree



The architect beside his work



Yesterday afternoon we visited my brother and sister-in-law at their home in Guelph for a socially-distanced gift exchange. We are taking Trooper out for a walk.



Happy Trooper and Grant



Grant, Evelyn and Trooper

Christmas at my house in the morning

Photos from Christmas Eve morning. Expect more photos tomorrow. One more shopping trip this afternoon: to the local Polish deli to get sausage and cheese. I will buy some not only for Mark and myself, but for Grant and Evelyn. We will visit them sometime this weekend. They may not be able to visit for an overnight stay but we can still do a "curbside gift drop". They must have Polish deli sausage and cheese, so I will bring some over, as well as a hamper full of yummy treats that they would have eaten if we were all together.