"I wanna take you to a gay bar"

Well, it's April 12th and after the freezing Arctic forces began to wane this week, spring has officially arrived. It came, it saw, it spontaneously combusted... because today it is snowing again. Hard.

Oh well, it didn't impede my plans of loafing around the apartment all day, recovering from a night out drinking. It was my friend's last hurrah before leaving to start a new life in a new city. Naturally, she wanted to celebrate by going to the always-interesting gay bar another teacher and I stumbled upon a little while back. How, you ask? By hailing a cab and asking to be taken to one. Cab drivers are the closest to omniscience among the people here, for better or worse.

It would be our third time visiting what I'd call a hole-in-the-wall if it weren't for the fact that most restaurants and bars in Harbin would match the description."Gay bar" isn't even the term I'd use, but the Chinese aren't going to be empathetic to any other words relating to the subtleties of the spectrum, nor would I be able to communicate them in any capacity in Chinese. Come to think of it, my English probably isn't adequate, either. That Wikipedia page reads like the kind of acronym soup you'd see on a programmer's CV, and unfortunately I doubt it will make any more casual readers (read: "vanilla") sympathetic to the groups adopting the nomenclature, especially since it confusingly mixes both sexual preference and gender identity together.

Away from the abstract and back to the physical nature of this bar, then: it might not be a gay bar because nobody is advertising their sexual preferences. The first time, there was a big group of drunken men sitting close with arms on one another and close whispers, but hey, the place is loud and that's how most men are here. Men will walk around outside holding hands or leaning on one another like girls would. And why not? Why shouldn't we unashamedly express our closeness to the people we care for? Why must Americans (for example) instead pretend that touch is naughty? We all need it. As humans, it's hard-wired into our bodies.

I think it's a Puritan spectre that continues to haunt us, mainly because our society keeps deliberately telling us ghost stories that our hyperactive imagination takes too far. We tell children not to even talk to people they don't know - stranger danger! Well, I don't know about your kids, but I'm a third of the way through my life and I still don't know most of those other folks out there. That puts them in a shitty position to get help when needed if they're not allowed to ask the people right in front of them! Oh, but they're probably child rapists and murderers, I forgot. Ones that spend all day cruising the mall, ogling kids, just waiting for them to get lost, hoping they come over to ask for help, all so they can nefariously guide them... straight into the rapemobile. What a silly worry. Yet, we still drill into children: "Don't talk to strangers!" No wonder there's social anxiety on such a grand scale these days.

These statistics should dispell the stranger myth:
"Most children are abused by someone they know and trust, although boys are more likely than girls to be abused outside of the family.2,5 A study in three states found 96 percent of reported rape survivors under age 12 knew the attacker. Four percent of the offenders were strangers, 20 percent were fathers 16 percent were relatives and 50 percent were acquaintances or friends.24"

Thus, revising "Don't talk to strangers!" to "Don't talk to Dad!" would be five times as effective in preventing child molestation. By the way, the majority of unapologetic child rapists I know of work in churches yet are ironcially the ones pushing the Puritanical bullshit that is suffocating our society's ability to healthily express affection.

It's this Puritan-warped worldview that interprets two female friends walking down the street holding hands to be a lascivious lesbian sin-fest. God forbid those deviants be allowed near a school to fag up our kids! It's therefore a breath of fresh air over here to see men, women, and children of all ages hugging, hanging off one another, and holding arms and hands without fear of derision.

So I can't tell you if the patrons of this "gay bar" were actually gay. Here's what I do know: there was a stage, and  performers dressed in exotic fashions would step up and sing a few numbers each. All of them dressed in what one would consider female clothing, and all had uniquely feminine features such as breasts. Some, however, had the amazing ability to sing both parts of a duet: the woman's and the man's. And the presenter himself made comment that many of those onstage had undergone surgery - illustrated with a chopping motion across his pelvis. So now you have all of the information that we did. Regardless of which sex they preferred to be identified as, which parts they were (currently) equipped with, and who they preferred to love, they all shared one inspiring trait: they were amazing singers and dancers, unafraid of breaking out of the mold they were born into, especially in a society that largely wouldn't understand their explanation if they offered one.

Good for them!

"Good men must die, but death cannot kill their names."

I re-worked this essay for use in a lesson on evaluating information that I contributed to the University of the People a while back. The lesson contents haven't been openly published, but I feel this is one of the most beautiful works to have ever come from Searchlores, and will post it here so a wider audience might be able to appreciate its insights. While I may have never met the site's curator (known to me only by his pseudonym, "fravia+"), his works have contributed greatly to my development not only in the realm of technology, but as a person in general.

It's been almost a year since his passing, but the community of crackers, reversers, and seekers that gravitated around him thrives on. To them, I would apologize if any aspect of this adaptation seems to betray the spirit of the original.

Sielaff's Lessons

adapted from fravia+'s original version at http://searchlores.org/evaluate.htm


We sat there waiting and rather tense. January - quite cold in Berlin, but, after all, that was the reason we were there: Sielaff was still teaching.


And he did come - with his classical quarter-of-an-hour “academic delay.” He came in, leaning to one side, because he carried a dozen books under his left arm, and then he sat down without even looking at us and let all of his books fall onto the teacher's desk.


Mind you, this was the most cherished post-university course for historians of the early middle ages in Europe in those days, so you can imagine how silent and attentive we (students from all over Europe) were...


He still did not look at us. “These books,” he began, “deal all, more or less, with the same subject: the history of Denmark in the middle ages. Now, please try not to focus too much on the subject. Actually, the subject could be completely different - it would not matter in the least. The point is that you should learn how to EVALUATE all kinds of books BEFORE buying or reading them.”


Sielaff looked sharply at his audience. “I imagine,” he said, “you already know that most of the books and data around us are next to useless, don't you?”


I don't know about the others, but this took me by surprise. I had always thought, innocently enough, that anything that was published must have had some sort of “value.”


“This book,” Sielaff began, taking the first book from his pile, “is titled, quite appropriately for today's example: 'History of Denmark in the Middle Ages.'” He paused and looked at us. “Unfortunately, the Author, as stated by himself in the introduction, does not know Danish at all, therefore...” - he suddenly threw the book to a far corner of the teaching desk in disgust.



Obvious, but very often underestimated


“This book, on the other hand,” he continued, picking another book from his pile, “which is titled 'Denmark Between 500 and 1200,' has been written by an Author that actually does know Danish. Unfortunately, the same Author wrote - before this book - a book titled 'Cactuses and Other Desert Plants' and - should that not be enough for you - he wrote, a short time after having published the book I am holding right now in my hand, another book titled 'Aquarium Techniques for Home and Profit.'”


The book flew to the far corner on the desk, where it hit the previous one.



Obvious, but very often underestimated


“I am sure you are beginning to understand now...” he said, “but let's continue, because there is MUCH more to understand and reverse. Here is another book, 'Denmark in the Middle Ages'” - and he lifted a third book from his pile - “that has been written by someone who definitely knows Danish, who only worked on Danish history of the middle ages, and who happens to be a recognized authority in such matters.” He paused, and then threw the book, disgusted, to the “reject” side of his desk. “I know you won't like what I will say, but it is quite important anyhow: the Author wrote this book when he was only THIRTY years old!” In fact, we were all still approaching thirty ourselves. With the students speechless, he continued: “You won't enjoy hearing it right now, but believe me, if you want to be really sure someone knows anything about what he's writing about - especially in complex sciences like early medieval history - you wait until he is AT LEAST fifty years old, and even in that case you should take GREAT care; most of the so-called 'experts' are often enough just releasing hot air. This has nothing to do with Danish history specifically, of course... it happens everywhere.”



Obvious, but very often underestimated


“You see,” continued Sielaff, “the fact that the previous Author worked a lot on a single subject may be relevant for the books he wrote / will have written at the END of his career. But this does not guarantee anything at all about the books he may have written at the beginning. And now we come to this article, 'About Medieval Denmark' which was written by an expert on Danish medieval history when he was fifty. The article appeared in November, 1982, in a university monthly collection...”


Silence followed; we were trying to guess. “Ahem, I repeat: it appeared in November in a monthly...” More silence - we didn't know what to say. “OK, if you don't know it yet, then you better learn it right now. Monthly publications are tricky - especially university ones. They actually HAVE to publish their 12 issues year after year in order to survive and get public money for the following years. Yet, the quality varies considerably, and though it may be relatively easy to find some sound and interesting material for the first, say, five or six months, you'll have to scratch the bottom of the barrel to be able to fill and publish all 12 issues. Therefore, my dear students, everything published 'from September onwards' should be regarded with suspicion. Mind you - it doesn't MEAN that the stuff is useless, it is only LESS PROBABLE that you'll have some outstanding work there.”



You should always take into account the economic factors behind anything


“And now we are approaching the heart of today's session.” Sielaff yawned. “Here you have another book: 'History of Denmark Through the Middle Ages.'” He raised a hand holding a thick book from his pile. “This was written by a recognized expert of Danish history, towards the end of his life, building on many essays he wrote before on the same subject. It was published by the most renowned Danish editor, and was translated into German, English and French.” Sielaff paused. “It has no footnotes, only endnotes.”


Sielaff coughed, smiling sadly. “This basically means that you should 'believe' the historical reconstruction of the Author, instead of having the possibility - and the ease - to verify his writings AT EVERY STEP.”


“So even the 'formatting' of your target resource is important as well, and please note that most of the time this formatting will NOT be casual.”


He threw the book away in disgust.



Some Authors only refer to secondary sources, if ever. Others will bend backwards to avoid giving readers direct access to a primary source that could be interpreted differently.


“Today's introduction is almost finished. I guess you may enjoy this book.”


Sielaff held in his hands the last book of the pile. “Titled 'A Short History of Denmark in the Middle Ages,' this book was written by a recognized expert on the matter, 60 years old at the time of writing, has footnotes, uses the sources correctly... as far as I can judge, everything seems 'in order.' It has all the characteristics of a sound book.” Sielaff opened the book and sniffed among the pages. “It even smells good.”


Sielaff's head jerked back. “Yet, you should NOT trust its assertions - not in the least! Check the sources yourselves, confute the 'truths' and the 'discoveries' of this Author... think about the possible alternative interpretations." Sielaff hands waved in the air. “They're only WORDS! Never forget it: books, knowledge... just a cobweb of words; behind them, often enough, nothing. A cobweb of theories, that's 'science.' It's up to you to dispel it.”


Sielaff's eyes pierced the audience. “A critical mind - that's your only weapon inside the dark forests of bogus knowledge you will have to cross again and again. Your critical mind... never, ever allow it to get dull.”


Sielaff put the book down, closed it gently, and left.



A critical mind - that's your only weapon inside the dark forests of bogus knowledge. Never, ever allow it to get dull.


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