A Curious Miscellany of Items Philosophical, Historical, and Literary

Manus haec inimica tyrannis.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Spectacled Avenger's Reading List, 2016

On this blog, a new year means a new reading list. Every January I publish the list of books I’ve read over the previous year. The total number of books on the list for 2016 is 86, up significantly from 65 in 2015. I attribute this in part to the unusually high number of novels on this year’s list. I read 12 novels this year, 13 if we include Sidney’s Arcadia. I also went through a phase of reading works by 17th-century English divines (Whichcote, Taylor, et al.), and Alexander Pope’s works. Otherwise, I don’t have much to say about the content of the list, other than that very few of these books were written after the 19th century. But then, I could say much the same of previous years’ lists, so nothing particularly unusual there.

In any case, without more ado, here’s the list. As always, bolded entries represent books I particularly enjoyed.

*    *    *    *    *

ADAMS, John. Writings from the New Nation, 1784-1826. Gordon S. Wood (ed.). New York: Library of America, 2016.

ADDISON, Joseph et al. The Spectator (Vol. VIII). London: Jacob Tonson, 1715.

AESCHYLUS. Persians, Seven against Thebes, Suppliants, Prometheus Bound. Alan H. Sommerstein (trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

ASHWORTH, Andrew. Principles of Criminal Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

ATIYAH, P. S. An Introduction to the Law of Contract (4th Edition). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

BAKER, J. H. An Introduction to English Legal History (4th edition). London: Butterworths, 2002.

BLAKE, William. Milton. Kay Parkhurst Easson and Roger R. Easson (eds.). Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1978.

BOLINGBROKE, Henry St. John, Viscount. Contributions to the Craftsman. Simon Varey (ed). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.

BOSTROM, Nick. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

BROWN, John. Essays on the Characteristics of the Earl of Shaftesbury. London: C. Davis, 1751 (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969).

CICERO, Marcus Tullius. De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. H. Rackham (trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931.

CLARENDON, Edward Hyde, Earl of. A Compleat Collection of Tracts. London: C. Davis, S. Austen et al., 1747.

CLARENDON, Edward Hyde, Earl of. The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (Part III, Vol. II). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1816.

COVENTRY, Francis. The History of Pompey the Little: or, The Life and Adventures of a Lap-Dog. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.

COWPER, William. Poems, by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. (Vol. I). London: J. Johnson, 1800.

CRAGG, Wesley. The Practice of Punishment: Towards a Theory of Restorative Justice. London: Routledge, 1992.

DEETZ, James. In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.

DEFOE, Daniel. Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.

DEFOE, Daniel. Colonel Jack. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.

ELIOT, George. Middlemarch. New York: Modern Library, 1994.

EPICTETUS. Discourses (Books I-II). W. A. Oldfather (trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

FULLER, Thomas. Thomas Fuller: Selections. E. K. Broadus (ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928.

FIELDING, Henry. Joseph Andrews and Shamela. Thomas Keymer (ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

FIELDING, Henry. Amelia. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1974.

GIBBON, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Vol. III). New York: Everyman's Library, 1993.

GRANT, George. Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (40th Anniversary Edition). Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.

GRAVES, Richard. The Spiritual Quixote. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

HITCHENS, Christopher. No One Left To Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family. London: Verso, 2000.

HITLER, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Ralph Manheim (trans.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

HOFFMANN, Richard C. An Environmental History of Medieval Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

HOGARTH, William. The Analysis of Beauty. Ronald Paulson (ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

HOWARD, Benjamin C. A Report of the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States... in the Case of Dred Scott versus John F. A. Sandford. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1857.

HUME, David. The Natural History of Religion and Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. A. Wayne Colver and John Valdimir Price (eds.). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.

HUME, David. An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. Tom L. Beauchamp (ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.

JAMES, William. Writings, 1878-1899. New York: Library of America, 1992.

KAMES, Henry Home, Lord. Sketches of the History of Man (Vol. I). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007.

KAMES, Henry Home, Lord. Sketches of the History of Man (Vol. II). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007.

KAMES, Henry Home, Lord. Sketches of the History of Man (Vol. III). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007.

KEATS, John. Poetical Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

LANGLAND, William. Piers Plowman. Elizabeth Robertson and Stephen H. A. Shepherd (eds.). New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.

LENNOX, Charlotte. The Female Quixote. Margaret Dalziel (ed.). London: Oxford University Press, 1970.

LEWIS, John. The Life of the Learned and Right Reverend Reynold Pecock. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1820.

LOVELACE, Richard. The Poems of Richard Lovelace. C. H. Wilkinson (ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.

MACINTYRE, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.

MIDDLETON, Thomas and William ROWLEY. The Changeling. Patricia Thomson (ed.). London: A. and C. Black, 1985.

OAKESHOTT, Michael. Hobbes on Civil Association. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975.

PARKINSON, C. Northcote. Parkinson's Law, and Other Studies in Administration. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.

PATRIDES, C. A. (ed.). The Cambridge Platonists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

PEPYS, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys (Vol. I: 1660). Robert Latham and William Matthews (eds.). London: G. Bell and Sons, 1970.

PEPYS, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys (Vol. II: 1661). Robert Latham and William Matthews (eds.). London: G. Bell and Sons, 1970.

PEPYS, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys (Vol. III: 1662). Robert Latham and William Matthews (eds.). London: G. Bell and Sons, 1970.

PIKETTY, Thomas. The Economics of Inequality. Arthur Goldhammer (trans.).Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

PINTO, Vivian de Sola. Peter Sterry, Platonist and Puritan, 1613-1672: A Biographical and Critical Study with Passages Selected from His Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934.

PLATO. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus. Harold North Fowler (trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

POOS, L. R. A Rural Society after the Black Death: Essex 1350-1525. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

POPE, Alexander. The Rape of the Lock and Other Poems (Twickenham Edition, Vol. II). Geoffrey Tillotson (ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962.

POPE, Alexander. An Essay on Man (Twickenham Edition, Vol. III.i). Maynard Mack (ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964.

POPE, Alexander. Epistles to Several Persons (Twickenham Edition, Vol. III.ii). F. W. Bateson (ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961.

POPE, Alexander. Imitations of Horace, etc. (Twickenham Edition, Vol. IV). John Butt (ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961.

PUTTENHAM, George. The Art of English Poesy: A Critical Edition. Frank Whigham and Wayne A. Rebhorn (eds.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.

REYNOLDS, Sir Joshua. The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Knt. (Vol. I). London: T. Cadell, Jun. and W. Davies, 1797 (facsimile, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1971).

REYNOLDS, Sir Joshua. The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Knt. (Vol. II). London: T. Cadell, Jun. and W. Davies, 1797 (facsimile, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1971).

RICHARDSON, Samuel. Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

SHAFTESBURY, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of. Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (Vol. III). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001.

SHAKESPEARE, William. Macbeth. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1997.

SHAKESPEARE, William. Antony and Cleopatra. M. R. Ridley (ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956.

SHAKESPEARE, William. The Third Part of King Henry VI. Andrew S. Cairncross (ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964.

SHEPARD, Benjamin Heim. White Nights and Ascending Shadows: An Oral History of the San Francisco AIDS Epidemic. Washington, DC: Cassell, 1997.

SHERMAN, William Tecumseh. Memoirs of General William T. Sherman (Vol. I). New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886.

SHERMAN, William Tecumseh. Memoirs of General William T. Sherman (Vol. II). New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886.

SIDNEY, Sir Philip. The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia. London: William Ponsonbie, 1590 (facsimile, Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1970).

SMOLLETT, Tobias. The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

SPENSER, Edmund. The Faerie Queene (Books IV-VII). J. C. Smith (ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978.

SPINGARN, J. E. (ed.). Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century (Vol. I: 1605-1650). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968.

SPINGARN, J. E. (ed.). Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century (Vol. II: 1650-1685). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968.

STERNE, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy by Mr. Yorick, to which are added The Journal to Stella and A Political Romance. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.

STRYPE, John. The Life of the Learned Sir John Cheke. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1821.

SWIFT, Jonathan. A Tale of a Tub. London: The Fraser Press, 1970.

TAYLOR, Jeremy. The Golden Grove: Selected Passages from the Sermons and Writings of Jeremy Taylor. Logan Pearsall Smith (ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.

TAYLOR, Jeremy. The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying (Whole Works, Vol. IV). London: Longman, Brown et al., 1839.

TILLOTSON, Geoffrey. On the Poetry of Pope (2nd edition). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

VAUGHAN, Henry. Poetry and Selected Prose. L. C. Martin (ed.). London: Oxford University Press, 1963.

WHICHCOTE, Benjamin. Moral and Religious Aphorisms. W. R. Inge (ed.). London: Elkin Mathews and Marrot, 1930.

WOOD, Gordon S. (ed.). The American Revolution: Writings from the Pamphlet Debate, 1764-1772. New York: Library of America, 2015.

XENOPHON. Cyropædia (Books I-IV). Walter Miller (trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

XENOPHON. Cyropædia (Bks. V-VIII). Walter Miller (trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Kristmas Karol

Around this time back in 2009 I shared with the world some of my Christmas haiku. I therein mentioned that I’m no great lover of Christmas. So, over fifteen years ago, when a friend held a "White Trash Christmas"-themed party and encouraged us to contribute original carols to be sung, I rose to the occasion and duly wrote a carol. Since the tide of my inspiration was unstoppable in those halcyon days, I also wrote those Christmas haiku, even though they were not strictly in keeping with the party’s theme. Both haiku and carol were hits. By popular demand, I now make the latter widely available for the first time. I should say that since I was never quite happy with the last verse, I changed it, which accounts for its mention of more recent events.

To tell truth, looking at this now, I gasp at my youthful genius and regret not further nurturing my obvious talents in this poetic direction. I indeed sigh for a road not taken. Tentanda via.

*    *    *    *    *

Good King Elvis

[Sung to the tune of “Good King Wenceslaus”]

Good King Elvis last passed out
On the feast of Stephen,
After eating fried pork rinds,
Fatty, crisp, and seasoned.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Upon the swimming pool,
When he heard stern nature’s call
To produce a stool.

Went he then to his “throne room”
And sat himself upon it,
Set his beer down by the sink
And then began to vomit:
Forth went pork rinds, forth went beer,
Forth went wine and Ex-Lax,
Ho-Hos, Twinkies, Pogos dear,
And thirty tabs of Xanax.

“Fails my heart, I know not why,
My lungs can breathe no longer,
My head grows hot, my hands grow cold,
The bathroom smell grows stronger.”
The Memphis Mafia drinking late,
Heard the noise, all seven.
They saw the King dead on his throne,
God’s new saint in Heaven.

“Praise we now our new-found King,
Praise the good Lord Elvis.
Seize a relic, anything,
A finger bone or pelvis.”
Make the journey, all ye folk,
The pilgrimage to Graceland.
Hear Him sing down from on high,
With his backing angel band.

Who was Jesus anyway?
Just a dirty hippie.
Who needs Allah or Yaweh,
When you’ve got Lord Presley?
Bow ye heathens, sing ye hosts,
Raise hymns up to the Stout One.
Praise the King and his friend Prince,
And bless Saint Michael Jackson.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Self-Sorting of America

A basket of deplorables.
When the result of the 2016 US presidential election became clear, most of my liberal friends — which essentially means most of my friends — were shocked. They were truly convinced that victory would be a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton. With a couple of exceptions, they never for a moment imagined that there were enough people who would vote for Trump to propel him to the presidency, since they never socialized with any. Other than in a few pockets of ignorance and/or irrational disaffection, they held fast to the delusion that “progressive” good would prevail over retrograde evil. Their delusion was enabled by almost all of the mainstream media, including The New York Times and CNN (or the “Clinton News Network”, as a libertarian friend of mine likes to call it).

Yes, I say delusion advisedly. I too did not predict a Trump win, though I was less sanguine about the notion that liberalism in America was anywhere near as predominant as my friends seemed to believe. The real America is far different from my liberal friends’ imaginings, especially my academic liberal friends. These latter suffer from an extreme form of the delusion, because they are even less likely than regular liberals to socialize with conservatives.

In a post back in April 2014, I noted a certain tendency, though specifically with reference to the Canadian political context:

“Despite signs that conservatism, broadly speaking, and in one form or other, is a majority view in this country, I would contend that liberals (again, speaking broadly and in one form or another) tend to view themselves as forming a majority, while conservatives tend to view themselves as a minority, the exact reverse of what I believe is more likely the case. I don’t have a completely plausible explanation for this phenomenon. Perhaps more liberals live in cities than in rural areas, and since people generally hang out with their own kind, it’s easier for liberals to hang out with each other and form the belief that they are the majority, whereas conservatives are more spread out geographically, and perhaps feel more isolated? This would require empirical verification.”

I further noted some consequences of this illusion:

“On the liberal side, it results in a certain complacency, with liberals mistakenly tending to assume that their political view on a given issue is the consensus one. When reality rudely intervenes, they are shocked, surprised, and can only conclude that dark, secret forces are at work to thwart the will of the people. Or if they are brought to perceive that perhaps the people truly have spoken, then they conclude that said people must be vicious, benighted, or ill-informed puppets being manipulated by a few plutocrats. For their part, conservatives are led by this illusion of minority status into a sort of siege mentality, believing that an ever-growing legion of decadents and evildoers is massing on the frontier, waiting for the opportunity to stage the coup that will bring some Marxist or atheistic despot to power. When they win political battles, as they do more often than not, they too are surprised, but they believe it to be an aberration in the overall tendency towards creeping liberalism. Thus they are neither contented nor gracious in victory. And because they see themselves as so utterly disadvantaged, I would contend that they are more likely than liberals to view underhanded means as justified in the political struggle.”

That liberal complacency was clearly on display in the lead-up to the US election. The Onion made this clear when, following the election, it published a satirical article headlined “Area Liberal No Longer Recognizes Fanciful, Wildly Inaccurate Mental Picture of Country He Lives In”. Like the man in that Onion article, most of my liberal friends, I contend, live in a private nation of their own imagining.

In that 2014 post of mine, I also noted some benefits that might come from both conservatives and liberals jettisoning their delusive beliefs about their relative numerical strength. I wrote that “liberals, with a correct view of their situation, might lose their infuriating tendency to speak on issues in the ‘royal we’ where it is not necessarily warranted — as in ‘We all know that the death penalty is wrong’”, and that it might eliminate “much of their complacency about their views and make them a more effective political force than they currently are”. Conservatives, on the other hand, in realizing that they are not as numerically beleaguered as they had believed, “might lose their unpleasant siege mentality and paranoia, which is a huge turnoff to many people who might otherwise be disposed to support at least some of their views.”

I think the latter realization is slowly starting to dawn on conservatives, whether for the better remains to be seen. The election results seem to have surprised many conservatives just as much as they did liberals. Let us hope conservatives are gracious in victory, though I’m not seeing it so far.

What about my liberal friends? Have they been shaken from their delusions into a realization that they might not be as numerous as they thought? Again, I’m not seeing it so far, but it’s still early days and the emotions are still raw. Below, I am going to present a series of maps to hopefully ease some of them into the process, to convince them that they are not necessarily the moral majority they like to think they are.

The maps are taken from a post-election New York Times piece. Or they may have come from The Atlantic. In any case, I can’t seem to find the article now. You’ll just have to take my word for it that the maps come from a legitimate source, and not from Breitbart or Stormfront. What they show are districts in successive presidential elections which voted either landslide Democrat (blue), landslide Republican (red), or no landslide (grey):

As you can see, there is a lot more red on the map now than there was in, say, 1992 or 1996, and there is somewhat less blue. This was the main message of the article from which these maps were drawn: Republican support has been deepening and spreading. That is what I want my liberal friends to understand, if for no other reason than so they can arm themselves with this knowledge and stop their complacent slide into irrelevance.

But there are a couple of other messages that these maps are trying to tell us. First, notice that the biggest loser on these maps over time has not been red or blue; it has been grey. Simply put, the population of the United States seems to be geographically self-segregating along party lines. There are more areas where the voting is not close. This cannot possibly be healthy. If the two sides do not start acknowledging each other’s basic humanity, there will no longer be a United States of America as such. The cracks are already appearing. Such a future is not a good one, for either red or blue Americans.

Second, at least to my mind, these maps belie the cherished liberal belief that the forces of racism took this election. If that were the case, how did Barack Obama manage to temporarily reverse the growing tide of red? Of course there have always been racists out there, plenty of them. But I doubt very much that any of them were voting Democratic in the elections that produced these maps. In order for these maps to be consistent with the racism narrative, you’d have to convince me that that many Americans across the nation suddenly became hard core racists since 2012. It’s just too implausible.

I have one more thing to say about these maps. A lot of the liberal friends I know have been expressing sentiments to the effect that all those red areas can go screw themselves. After all, Democrats won more of the popular vote in this election (as many as 2 million more votes at last count), so the democratic majority was in that sense “cheated”. In other words, this line of thought says, democracy ought to “trump” (pardon the pun) geography.

This is a dangerous way of thinking, and here’s why. The maps above show that the United States is increasingly “two nations warring within the bosom of a single state,” to use Lord Durham’s words. Now, let us suppose that demographically, one of those warring nations can be expected always to outnumber the other, as Blue Nation currently outnumbers Red Nation. Let us further imagine that there has been some kind of electoral “reform” in America, such that the electoral college has been abolished and presidents are simply elected by a plurality of the popular vote, period. The predictable result would of course be an America dominated by Blue Nation, indefinitely. If you think a two-party state is bad, try a one-party state.

What do we call it when one nation is dominated politically and subjected to the will of another nation? I think “empire” is the commonly accepted term. In such a situation, how much loyalty and obedience can be expected from the subject people? Very little. And how much political legitimacy can the dominators claim in the eyes of the dominated under such a system? Again, very little.

The American Founders were wise enough to realize that their new nation had little chance of holding together under a unicameral system of purely democratic representation. They knew that eventually a coalition of like-minded populous states could dominate the smaller ones and that the smaller ones would not stand for it. So they counterbalanced the democratic element by instituting a Senate that apportioned an equal number of representatives to each state regardless of population. Democracy is desirable, but it is not everything.

We in Canada are perhaps more aware of this than our American cousins, since Lord Durham’s words were intended to describe us. Canada is first and foremost a confederation of regions. Our nation is an ongoing experiment in holding together against the centrifugal forces of “regionalism”, an ongoing experiment in making compromises that seem on their surface to violate the democratic will of the majority. If, for example, Quebec seems to get a “special treatment” sometimes, it is because our confederation will not hold together without them. And they ultimately stay because their national identity is more secure in the long run within the confederation than outwith it.

Similarly, to Americans living in the Blue islands on the electoral map who ask why they should continue to tolerate an “unfair” system of representation that “discounts” their votes, I can only repeat the slogan of a certain Democratic candidate for president: Americans are “Stronger Together”. Such is the price of living in a federal republic, and much better than the alternative. In the meantime, rather than clamoring for recounts, and reforming the electoral system or the constitution to make them more “democratic”, it might be more constructive (or rather, less destructive) to work on ways of reversing the process of self-segregation reflected in the maps above. Such a process will necessarily involve listening and trying to understand each other.

Blue America, meet Red America. Red, meet Blue. Now start talking.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

An Elegy for "Patient Zero"

This photo haunts me. I first saw it when I was a young man of around 15. It was in the Toronto Star, and the year must have been either 1987 or 1988, because it was not long after the publication of Randy Shilts’ mostly excellent book As the Band Played On (1987). The man pictured is Gaetan Dugas, the Air Canada flight attendant who became infamous as “Patient Zero” after Shilts’ book introduced him to the world. Dugas was an early AIDS patient at the centre of a study by the Centres for Disease Control published in 1984, which came to be known as the “cluster study”. CDC researchers interviewed a number of those early AIDS patients and traced their sexual histories. It was found that 40 of these patients could be linked, directly or indirectly, to one case — Dugas. In the original study, all the patients were assigned a number within their geographical area. Dugas was labelled as patient “O” (the letter, not the number), standing for “Outside the area”. Through some miscommunication in the media, he came to be called “Patient 0” (the number). This was unfortunate, as it gave the misleading impression that he was somehow the first AIDS patient (he was not). It should also be noted that the cluster study was not intended to figure out who had the disease first. It was intended to help ascertain whether or not the new disease was sexually communicable (it was).
The cluster study

In any case, it came to be popularly believed that Patient Zero was the person “responsible” for bringing AIDS to the United States. The fact that Dugas happened to be a flight attendant probably helped this narrative along. It also probably helped that he was not an American — he was Canadian — and had a foreign-sounding name.

Shilts portrayed Dugas as a cold-bloodedly negligent sexual athlete who didn’t much care whether he was spreading AIDS. Shilts’ publisher went a step further: their marketing for And the Band Played On portrayed Dugas as intentionally infecting people, i.e. as murderous rather than merely negligent. Shilts never claimed that Dugas was the person who imported AIDS to the US. That was the publisher’s angle, to sell more books. Still, I don’t want to let Shilts off the hook: he inserted scenes villainizing Dugas — including internal monologue — that neither Shilts nor anyone else could possibly have been privy to, scenes that, in other words, were fiction.

A Long Time Ago, In a Decade Far, Far Away…

As I said, that photo of Gaetan Dugas haunts me. It used to haunt me because of the demonizing media coverage which made it somehow seem to me like the face of evil. I know better now. Instead, it haunts me now because it brings me back to a different time, and to the accompanying fears of that time. In the late 1980s I was just upon the threshold of the world of the sexually active and, with the possible exception of the late 1490s, there has likely never been a less auspicious time to do so. During the eighties, the very same Toronto Star that ran the above photo of Dugas also ran a dedicated space in every Saturday issue of the paper to news about the AIDS epidemic. That space was invariably accompanied by the grisly tally of new infections and AIDS deaths. In 1988 the epidemic was raging, with no end in sight. Those ever-growing weekly numbers seemed apocalyptic to me, like my generation’s very own Bill of Mortality. Doomsayers regularly warned us about the inevitable proliferation of AIDS in the heterosexual community. I can remember reading predictions about how, for example, by the year 2000 the health care system would be swamped and that something like one in every two hospital beds in the US would be occupied by an AIDS patient. This heterosexual proliferation never happened, at least not to the degree we were led to expect, and at least not in North America.

A Bill of Mortality for 1665.

I remember one person in the pages of the Toronto Star at the time who told us that these warnings were overblown, and that a widespread breakthrough into the heterosexual community was unlikely: Dr. Morton Schulman, physician, politician, and for a time Ontario’s chief coroner. It was his opinion that the threat of AIDS to the heterosexual population was purposely being overblown in order to generate funding and sympathy from mainstream society. He became Public Enemy #1 among activists. Of course, it turns out Schulman was (mostly) correct. Even so, there were extremely good reasons to fund research into AIDS regardless of whether it was primarily a heterosexual disease or not. After all, homosexuals are citizens too. In any case, I only bring it up to remind people of the somewhat paranoid and frightening atmosphere of the AIDS years, the atmosphere in which Gaetan Dugas became a media bogeyman.

(An aside: If anyone reading this can remember when the Star stopped publishing its weekly AIDS feature, I’d like to know. I stopped reading that paper around 1990. Sometime after the 1997 introduction of the AIDS “drug cocktails” I remember reading something about how San Francisco’s Bay Area Observer was celebrating the fact that it had no AIDS deaths on its obituary pages for the first time since the epidemic began. Perhaps with the AIDS threat perceived to be subsiding in the developed world the Star feature no longer warranted all that column space?)

Generationally speaking, there are two geopolitical circumstances or events that I would say were fundamental in forming the person that I am, and that probably had a disproportionate effect in forming a certain generation. One was the Cold War, with its constant threat of instant nuclear annihilation. The other was AIDS, with its threat of slow and horrifying physical annihilation. Neither of these makes the news much anymore, so I sometimes feel like I’m an old soldier mentally fighting wars that, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, are long over.

(Though mark my words: sooner rather than later we’ll find that our historical business with Russia is not concluded — they know it, while we’re only gradually coming to the realization. And contrary to common belief, AIDS is not over either if you happen to live outside the developed world.)

Some New News, Some Old News

So imagine my surprise about a month ago when I came across a story accompanied by that same photo of Gaetan Dugas. And in the Toronto Star no less! For me it was a real blast from the past. The story was about a study recently published in Nature on the early history of AIDS in North America. The methodology of the study was interesting. However, to someone who is fairly well-versed in the early history of the AIDS epidemic, the results of the study demonstrated that which was already known independently of the methodology.

Let’s begin with the methodology. In a nutshell, the researchers mapped the genes of HIV viruses extracted from old blood samples. Since in some cases the material they were working with was degraded, they developed a method to fill in the missing parts of the viral samples. They then worked out how the virus had evolved and placed the versions of it in a rough timeline. This is fascinating stuff and merited the media attention

This process led them to infer that the HIV virus was circulating in the US since around 1970, well before Gaetan Dugas came on the scene, and that the strains in circulation probably were imported to North America via the Caribbean, particularly Haiti. Neither of these inferences is new. Indeed, the researchers were working with blood samples preserved from hepatitis B studies done on gay men in New York and San Francisco in 1978 and 1979. These had already been tested for HIV a long time ago, so it was no surprise that they would find HIV there. In fact, between 3.7% and 6.6% of the subjects tested were already infected with the virus back then. The study did find that the strain of the virus Dugas carried was not one of the strains in common circulation at the time, meaning that it could not be the case that Dugas was the man who was doing most of the transmitting.

So again, Dugas did not give America AIDS. And again, this was known before this study. One might note, for example, that well before the first medical reports in 1981 of what would eventually be called AIDS, there had been numerous reports of what was then variously called “junkie pneumonia” or “the dwindles” killing off IV drug users in New York in the 1970s. This was a population mostly invisible to the media at the time, so a new disease spreading there could go undetected for a long time (as it did among the homosexual community).

And, of course, there was the sad case of Robert Rayford, an African-American teenager who showed up in a hospital in St. Louis in 1969 suffering from an array of florid infections, including Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a telltale AIDS-related opportunistic infection. Tests done on Rayford’s stored blood samples in 1987 confirmed the presence of HIV. Repeat testing done years later found the same results. There were possible earlier cases than Rayford’s, for which blood samples weren’t preserved but for which convincing diagnoses could be made based on criteria in use in the early 1980s, when a blood test was not yet available.

I mentioned the misleading and sensationalist marketing and media coverage of the “Patient Zero” story from Shilts’ book. The marketing around the recent Nature study has ironically carried on the same theme. The study is described in various media reports as “exonerating” Dugas, as if he stood in need of exoneration, as if he was guilty of something. The disease was new at the time Dugas suffered from it, and in any case nobody was entirely sure whether it was spread through sexual contact — hence the whole point of the cluster study in the first place. And it’s not like Dugas could have intended to bring a new disease to the US, nor was he purposely trying to infect people. As we’ve seen, the first charge lacks a factual basis: he did not bring AIDS to the US. Regarding the second charge, of malice aforethought, he is likewise innocent, according to any real evidence (excluding Shilts’ dubious hearsay) yet presented. Perhaps he was negligent, and if so, he certainly wasn’t alone. Dugas would only stand in need of “exoneration” if his portrayal by Shilts and his publisher were true. Largely it is not. But the study would be a lot less interesting to the lay public without this villain narrative.

Ironically, in separate work, Richard McKay, a medical historian who is one of the Nature study’s co-authors, had already ably debunked this villain narrative, while reconstructing a sympathetic portrait of Dugas as a human being, with friends, family, interests and hopes that were cut short. It is well worth reading. One concern I have about Shilts' portrayal of Dugas, aside from its inaccuracy, is the questionable morality of naming "Patient Zero" in the first place. The ethical question here is twofold: 1. Was it ethical for Shilts to name the patient? and 2. Was it ethical for Shilts to be made privy to that name in the first place? Which leads to a third question, one having more to do with accountability: 3. Who, among the researchers involved in that cluster study, outed Gaetan to Shilts as "Patient Zero"? If a villain be required, we might begin our search there.

Given the Toronto Star’s early complicity in propagating the Patient Zero myth, that article last month should have come with a formal apology to Gaetan Dugas and his family and friends. At least now in my mind I no longer imagine Dugas as an evil Typhoid Mary. Instead, I imagine him as what he probably was, a very frightened young man unfairly cut down in his prime by a disease little understood at the time, a disease which no decent person would wish on their worst enemy. As I said, that photo still haunts me.

Postscript 1:

Since writing the above I went back and re-read the McKay paper to which I referred. I'm glad I did, for two reasons. First, it allows me to make a correction/clarification. I had posed a question of accountability, asking who "among the researchers involved in that cluster study, outed Gaetan to Shilts"? It turns out it was not anybody connected to the study. The researchers themselves seem to have maintained confidentiality. Shilts put two and two together based on his interviews with people in the community who were acquainted with Dugas. It is worth noting, however, that Shilts got much personal information about Dugas from interviewing his friends in Vancouver. This information was given on the understanding that Shilts would not reveal Gaetan Dugas' name an understanding which Shilts obviously violated.

The second reason I'm glad I re-read McKay's paper is that I found information about that Toronto Star article buried in an endnote. It turns out the date of the article was December 12, 1987 and consisted largely of an excerpt from And the Band Played On. To give a sense of its demonizing tone, the headline was "Patient Zero: The airline steward who carried a disease and a grudge". Even back then, this bit of character assassination prompted a critical letter to the editor on December 29, the anonymous writer of which took particular issue with Shilts' claim that Dugas represented "what every man wanted from gay life".

 Postscript 2:

For anyone interested in the early history of the AIDS epidemic in the US, there is an indispensable but little-known source that I highly recommend. In 1983, the BBC program Horizon did a documentary on AIDS called “Killer in the Village”. If you live in the UK you can view it online through the BBC’s website. It is currently unavailable in North America via legitimate sources, but it does pop up from time to time on YouTube before being taken down. At the time of writing this (14 December 2016), it happens to be available there, though the sound quality is rather poor.

It is a fascinating document. Most of it was filmed in 1982, very early days for the epidemic. To my knowledge, no mainstream television program had yet to cover the disease in-depth (please tell me if I’m wrong). At the time, the disease had just ceased to be called "gay cancer" or “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency” (GRID), and was being referred to — at least by the BBC presenter — as “A-I-D-S”, the letters of the acronym being individually pronounced. No virus had yet been discovered. Indeed, part of the program’s focus was on the medical “mystery” of the emergent disease’s possible causes, in particular, whether it was caused by some new virus.

For present purposes, the program’s main interest lies in the fact that “Patient Zero” gets his very first discreet public mention, four years before Randy Shilts indiscreetly introduced him to the world. In one scene, a researcher from the original cluster study is being interviewed. He shows a detail of the chart I reproduced above, the part specifically showing the California cluster. Clearly marked on the chart is one patient labelled “Outside California”. The narrator points out that all the patients on the chart are linked to him sexually, and then helpfully refers to this patient as a flight attendant. Knowing that this nameless flight attendant would be “outed” as Gaetan Dugas four years later and made a media monster, I find it a chilling moment in the program.

Also chilling — and sad — is the realization that every one of the many AIDS sufferers interviewed in that program, all of them relatively young at the time, must have died soon after.