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February 19th, 2024

A Thread On AIDS In The 80s/90s

I still log onto Twitter/X every now and then and this is why. Despite the gutter Musk has dragged it into there is still the story of the human status to find in there. This was posted by  Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson). I also lived through that period of time. This is how it was.


A thread on #AIDS in the 80s/90s

Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson)


I was 15 when I first had sex with a man.

I’d snuck off to London’s Heaven nightclub with the express intent of ridding myself of my ‘gay virginity’, a goal I achieved easily with a visiting American photographer.

Later that week, I watched with rising panic the Horizon documentary, Killer in the Village.

It warned of a new disease that was killing gay Americans. A few cases had just been identified in the UK too.

At that time, the disease did not have a name.

We now know it as AIDS.


The government’s ’Don’t Die of Ignorance’ HIV advertising campaign, featuring icebergs, a tombstone and a doom-laden voiceover, came out a couple of years later when I was in my first year at university.

At the same time Section 28, inserted into the Local Government Act in an attempt to ban “the promotion of homosexuality”, started making its way through Parliament.

The ‘gay plague’, as the tabloids dubbed it, was all the justification needed for politicians, journalists and religious leaders to condemn our sick and short lives.
AIDS provided a powerful new weapon for those who wished to attack us.

My love life at the time was complicated and messy, often fuelled by alcohol and poor judgement.

I considered myself to be safe – I almost always used condoms but there were slips and breakages and mornings where I woke up with only hazy memories of the night before.

And then my friends started dying.

Death and grief were bound up in my experience of being young and gay.

And it didn’t even feel odd – a community dealing with fear and loss was the only one I knew.

I still picture those I lost: wise, twinkly Mick, a member of the Gay Liberation Front and the first person I knew with HIV; Roy, who denied his illness beyond the time when all of his friends knew; handsome James – and his legendary parties.

I think of David who took his own life rather than face lingering death, and I think of Derek, who loved beauty but lost his sight.

I think of Ian, always the smartest but kindest man in the room, and of Paul with his huge blue eyes and even bigger heart.

Fear, hatred and intolerance of homosexuality, attitudes which were then widely shared across all regions and social classes, combined with a virus to kill people like me and people like my friends.

It was AIDS that killed those men, but it was homophobia that allowed it to happen – and that led to so many men dying alone.

Homophobia killed us then.

Worldwide, it remains the cause of thousands of deaths, through violence and neglect, even today.

An HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.

We need to share the good news that treatment will prevent AIDS.

We must challenge fear by ensuring that everyone knows effective treatment means we can’t pass HIV on to our sexual partners.

Just as we fought for greater acceptance of LGBT people, we now must fight to end HIV stigma if we are to end this epidemic.

I can think of no better way of honouring those who died.  #LGBTplusHM #UnderTheScope




In 1996 effective treatment was introduced that prevented HIV from progressing to AIDS.

I was diagnosed with HIV in 1998.

I was 30.

At the time I did not expect to live to 50.

I will be 57 this year. #MakeStigmaHistory

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 16th, 2024

…And You Are The Easiest Person To Fool

Some time ago I read an article about safety regulations in some profession, I forget now which. A trainee sat in on a class with an instructor who would go over OSHA law as it applied to them. He began his class by telling the trainees that every regulation he was about to teach them was written in blood.

I spent just over three decades of my life as a software engineer. You could say that my job didn’t involve any hazards to my own health. True enough, I sat at a desk staring into a computer screen trying to mentally picture the algorithms I was creating in program code. Not very dangerous stuff. To me. Unless you count all the alcohol and nicotine I consumed to manage stress (I worked at an IT firm back when I was a youngster as the mailroom clerk, and a programmer there called his inevitable pack of cigarettes his “programmer’s candy”). But what I did was potentially extremely dangerous to others if my program didn’t do what it was supposed to.

One of the contracts I worked on ages ago, before I came to Space Telescope, was for a large medical diagnostic company. I had a piece of their new diagnostic machine’s reporting system. The machine it was hooked up to would identify specimens that had whatever disease they were testing for just then, and the report terminal would keep a database of results and generate reports for individual patients and disease rate of spread in a population for the CDC. The federal government imposed requirements on the software process for medical equipment, including allowable software tools, multiple code reviews, and independent verification of requirements as the software matured. Because lives were at stake.

I wasn’t subjected to that level of oversight at Space Telescope because I was not involved in creating any of the actual flight software. I did business applications mostly, science needs business applications too, although I could also build you a PC if you point me at a source of parts for one. I attended meetings, issued progress reports on my work, discussed requirements with managers. Those I gave my output to, both during development and when it was in production, were able to verify that my software was correct or not from their own experience with their numbers.

I would occasionally get a call from one about something missing from one of their spreadsheets. I was almost always able to trace that to the data not yet being entered in the “problem report” or “discrepancy report” databases. I could re-run the program for them when that was fixed. But now and then I found a bug in my software that I had to fix that was making the numbers wrong. That was unlikely to get anyone killed, but it could have given management a false idea of progress being made. So it was still very important to get it right.

At the major public utility I once contracted for, I worked with an accountant who Knew His Numbers. He could look at my output and go…”ah…you know…I don’t think you’re picking up…” and he would refer to some number bucket, one of many such, that I needed the report to digest. And I would go to my code and look and sure enough I wasn’t doing that. So I’d fix it and run the output by him again. I loved it. He didn’t know software but he knew his numbers, and I didn’t know his numbers but I knew my software and it was a perfect working relationship. He was my independent verification.

I can’t stress enough how important independent verification of your software is. The more mission critical it is, the more thorough that must be. It gets to a point, and I lived this while working on that medical diagnostic machine report, where periodically a group of other programmers get together with you and beat up on your code. It can be brutal. Ask me how I know. But when it’s that important, like with medical diagnostic software, it Must happen. Lives actually are at stake.

But beyond bugs, there’s also making sure both you and your users understand what the software is, and is not doing. Most of the business software I wrote wasn’t about life and death situations, or so you’d think. But that’s not always cut and dried. Like the one at my first big contract at a major public utility where I was tasked with designing and coding a report that would tell management how much revenue each of their field technicians were generating and at what cost. My report uncovered such a massive subsidy of one department by another such that, so I was told later, jaws dropped in the boardroom. Annapolis was Not going to be happy.

Then came the layoffs. I heard later that one of those laid off had a sudden heart attack at his dinner table in front of his wife and kids and died. You could say it was management policies that did that…they knew they were putting money where it did not belong, that they were subsidizing something they weren’t supposed to, but didn’t realize how badly it had become until my report waved it in their faces. So they did what management often does, they just started laying people off to make the money stop going in that direction.

They did that. But…my software did that. Management wasn’t just using my report to tell them where the money was coming from and going to, they were using it to tell them who their best workers were. And I still deeply regret it. I wonder if I couldn’t have done more in meetings to remind them a computer program can’t substitute for human judgment. There was a union that was supposed to be protecting the workers from that sort of thing. You could say none of that was on my plate. But my hands were in it too. He was a nice guy. Always had a friendly smile for me.

I never doubted after that, how dangerous my tools could be.

The procedures and best practices of software development have evolved over the decades from big iron to little silicone for a reason. Maybe they aren’t all written in blood, but they are all at least written in sweat and tears. They say mistakes are human but to really foul things up takes a computer. But no. What it takes, is thinking you can get away with bending the rules. Maybe just this once. Because we have a deadline. Because we have to get it out the door. Because there isn’t enough money for best practices. Just this once. And then the next once. And the next once. And the next. And the next. Take off your engineer’s hat and put on your management hat.

There are reasons for all those practices and procedures. And especially, there are reasons developers do not test their own software before putting it into production. Yes, do your unit testing, but then you hand it off the testers. Testers are your friends. They keep crap from going out the door that worked fine for you but that’s because you were running it on a workstation with all your software tools on it, and the test data you cobbled together that you always use. Out in the wild it will be different.

The physicist Richard Feynman once said (paraphrasing) that science is a way of trying not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I think that’s a good general rule for software testing too. Testing is a way of trying not to fool yourself. And since you are the easiest person to fool, because you wrote it, you hand it off to an independent tester. Or put another way: beware the result you wanted because you had a deadline. It needs looking at by someone with no stake in the outcome, other than honestly reporting did it pass or fail.

There are reasons for the procedures and best practices of software engineering. They need to be respected. Not for the sake of tradition, but for the sake of not screwing things up badly. Because we are human and it takes a human to screw things up badly. But we can be aware of this, and build our guardrails accordingly. We do that, and we are capable of wonderful, marvelous things.

Why am I telling you all this? Just venting. I’m old and cranky is all.


by Bruce | Link | React!

December 13th, 2023

When The Sunlight Wanes And You Are Surprised At How Quickly The Night Comes…

My annual reminder of why the various faiths and secular peoples celebrate Solstice this time of year, under various names. Or as I wrote some years ago: …because a friend is uneasy about saying “Merry Christmas” this year. There was more to this post but I won’t repeat it because it’s irrelevant. However it began with a slam at Andrew Sullivan via Matthew Yglesias who noted that Sullivan seemed to think holiday cheer is a liberal conspiracy. Why not say “Happy Christmas” (it’s an anglicism apparently) Too much diversity. “Don’t despair. It will all be over soon enough.” Just shut up Andrew. There’s more to it than the trappings of any one religion. Something deeper, more ancient, and more reverent. Something perhaps only those of us in the high northern latitudes get to appreciate this time of year…

(The following is edited a tad from previous versions…)

The holidays have always been a semi-solitary time for me. Being an only child probably made the holidays in my house quieter then most. After present opening I basically sat on my hands the rest of the day. I was always told it was impolite to call up my friends to play. They were supposed to be spending Christmas with their families. So for me, the best day was always the day after Christmas, when all the neighborhood kids would get together and compare our loot. That’s still basically the way it is for me. I get together with friends and family before and after the holiday, but the day itself is my quiet time.

I am not a misanthrope, but a hate phoniness. I dislike advertising, intensely, and especially when that advertising takes something real and wonderful, like love and sex, and turns it into a gimmick to sell cheap junk no sane person would want in their house. Every year of my life I have watched the holidays become more and more commercial. But this one time of year I make an exception. I will never hate the Christmas trimmings, the Santa Clones, the plastic holly, shopping mall creches, plug in candles, and mass marketed holiday spirit. For this one time of the year I am willing to let it all in, and even relish in it.

I remember one Christmas day when I was a kid, while my folks prepared dinner, I walked way out past the apartments into a field by a small creek. I wandered further then I normally went and sat down by a big rock. It was cold, and gray and there were no other kids outside because they were all inside doing whatever they did with their families that day. There weren’t even any birds or animals that I could see. The temperature was something like in the teens and nothing moved. The only sound was the wind which was gusting very strongly through the trees; even when it wasn’t blowing in my face I could still hear it howling somewhere not far by, as though it was looking for something.

The trees surrounding me were bare wooden sticks held against a grey sky. Their fallen leaves on the ground had been compacted by several rains and at least one snowfall that had only partly disappeared. There were some ice patches left on the ground and the creek was frozen solid. I was a very slightly built little kid and even now being warm when I’m outside is something I take care about. I turned my face towards the sun and I couldn’t feel the slightest shred of heat.

I remember thinking that if I was a caveman who had never seen the likes of this before, I would be sure that the world was dying. I had a pretty good idea then of how the motion of the Earth worked to produce the seasons; I tried to block that knowledge out and think of what it would be like to experience winter without knowing, to watch everything get colder and colder until there was nothing left but the wind restlessly looking for something else that moved. I think I understood then why some people are such sourpusses, and why I wasn’t one of them.

Solstice are the most ancient of rites for a reason. I don’t mind the plastic lighted Santas or the relentless Christmas muzak in the shopping centers, or the wire reindeer with motorized heads. I don’t mind the relentless crowds of shop til you drop shoppers. I will even accept manufactured exuberance side by side with the heartfelt joy of total strangers this time of year. I walk among it all, drinking it in, taking time to find something, some little gift or card, to give to the ones who make my life sweet, even if it means wading through forests of vinyl pine. Tell yourself that it is tradition and all in good fun if you want, but it is really nothing less than an ancient reflex that arises when the earth grows cold and still and the sunlight wanes and you are surprised by how quickly the night comes, to be good to your neighbors, and tell the ones close to your heart that you love them, and blaze defiantly into the night.


by Bruce | Link | React!

June 16th, 2023

Racial Hierarchies Are Real And Well Of Course We’re The Top One

A casual stroll through the internet tubes this afternoon, brings me to a decades old argument between Steven Pinker and Stephen J. Gould. First, from Pharyngula

One accidental occurrence is meaningless and forgivable, but when you keep hanging out with the same group of racists for over 20 years, and when you are repeatedly informed that these are bad guys, the correlation becomes rather more substantial. 

Then, following the links, comes this from Box of Rocks

Even though Gould passed away in 2003, Pinker still fights his ghost on the regular, probably because burns like that leave you scarred for life. He urges the members of his field to write compellingly so that they can hold their own in the realm of public opinion, citing a need to rebut Gould’s clear, well reasoned arguments against their endless and transparent attempts at reviving race science.

It is working. Sociobiology and eugenics is once again being repackaged for the public as part of the TESCREAL ideologies, pressed into service to rationalize why those with power and resources are morally justified in doing everything they can to retain it. This rebrand is made possible by those like Pinker, Wilson, Dawkins, and Dennett, who have carried the gospel of biological determinism out of the NYRB and into the public sphere for the last 30 years…

You can find the argument here and yes it is totally engaging. Gould was amazing…

If we define poetic justice as defeat by one’s own favored devices—Robespierre before the guillotine or Midas in golden starvation—then we might be intrigued to find Steven Pinker, a linguist by training, upended by his own use of words.

Ages ago I read Pinker’s The Blank Slate with interest. I was a young man barely out of my teens when I’d come to accept the notion, by way of Robert Audrey’s African Genesis (Yeah, I know…), that to understand ourselves we needed to understand those ancient animal horizons from which we, as he wrote, made our quick little march. Pinker’s book seemed to be a useful exploration of that idea. But I am also a post WWII baby boomer child, and I also had a pretty good understanding of how the fascists prior to world war two had employed a deeply false understanding of Darwinism as justification for totalitarianism, their wars of conquest, and the Holocaust. Pinker lost me part way through the book with an approving mention of Thomas Sowell, but I gamely plugged on. 

There are books on science, politics, and ideas that I will return to and read passages from over and over again, some that I profoundly disagree with but which I think are important to engage with anyway. The Blank Slate isn’t one of them. When I closed that book I never opened it again, probably because the ideas in it that I felt drawn to were expressed much better elsewhere, and there seemed a lot of posing and fluff everywhere else. I never read any of his stuff again, initially and simply because he just didn’t strike me as all that interesting a thinker. I also suspected he was more right wing than he let on (Sowell? Really??). It was much later that I saw the drift toward Charles Murray land.

What Gould was saying there in those arguments about traits evolving from things that might not always benefit the organism strikes logical man of science me as obvious, and emotional intuitive artist me as beautiful. Think of the evolutionary process as occasionally being Bob Ross seeing a small mistake on the canvas and saying “we’ll just make that a happy little tree.” What the artist knows is that the work is an exploration, and that beauty can present suddenly and unexpectedly from the most commonplace of things…things that you would never have noticed until that one small detail that changed, ever so slightly, changed everything. You put down some lines…maybe you make a mistake…maybe you draw it a little differently than you intended. You go to erase it but you look at it again and suddenly you see a direction you can take that is better than what you were thinking before.

This is the face of Stephan Borgrajewicz, who like me was born in Poland. In plate 175 it is seen by the Polish artist, Feliks Topolski. We are aware that these pictures do not fix the face as explore it; that the artist is tracing the detail almost as if by touch; and that each line that is added strengthens the picture but never makes it final. We accept that as the method of the artist.

-Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man – Chapter 11, Knowledge or Certainty.

Art, like science, is a personal exploration of nature. Every line we put down is tentative. Does it add to the work or subtract from it? And the work is never finished, never final. You take it as far as you can and then you stop. This is the likeness between science and art that Bronowski illuminated for me. And as it turns out, you can see it everywhere in nature too. Evolution explores, it deals in possibilities, it is chaotic but not random; there the laws of physics behind what it does. Sometimes it is a gift to the organism, sometimes it is a dead end, and sometimes it is a dead end that, should the environment around the organism change, suddenly becomes a gift. Probably the evolutionary scientist would say that nature does whatever it damn well pleases. And the thing is, there is no plan. Only the physics of it.

“Pinker has spent his life defending those who would rank humans from best to worst…” and it strikes me as something akin to the never ending search for the great watchmaker. Surely evolution must have a purpose, and surely that purpose must be the slow steady perfection of the rational brain. And just look at us…we are the men of the mind…the great intellects of our age…surely we are the purpose evolution was aspiring to! But there is no purpose. There is only what the physics allows, and what time could make of what it had to work with on our little blue marble. That’s beautiful. It is sublime. Yes, the rational brain works for us, and very well. But it could have appeared anywhere, or nowhere. As Penn Juliette once put it, we hit the cosmic jackpot. But those that would make of our little walk from the African plains a purpose, and from that a hierarchy of race, are no different from the feverish pulpit thumpers, babbling about the saved and the unsaved (I was taught to never, Never assume you were saved), and never really wanting to know what God, let alone nature, hath wrought.


by Bruce | Link | React!

November 17th, 2022


When I was a kid, the comic books that attracted my attention mostly had science-fiction themes or they were humor titles. But I had to be careful. My bitter Baptist grandmother threw a lot of them out when I wasn’t there to protect them from her. She would say they weren’t fit for children, but I’m pretty sure it was I thought they were fun and the son of Bill Garrett wasn’t allowed fun. I had a bunch of Scrooge McDuck comics that would be collectors items today if she hadn’t put them in the trash. But then, so I’m told, a lot of kids of my generation have similar stories. Thank you and rot in Hell Dr. Wertham.

My only interest in anything Super was the TV Superman played by George Reeves, but the Superman comics of that time were hit and miss with me. I only have a few left from those years. Oddly, so it may seem, the early Batman comics struck me has having a kind of science-fiction element to them because that character had no super powers, but he had a lot of futuristic gadgets. Back then DC would publish Annuals, which were thicker reprints of much older stories, and that’s where I came to know that golden age Batman and Robin.

I had high hopes when I saw the first TV ads for the series by William Dozer. But it almost completely ruined the character for me. I realize it’s still enjoyed by a lot of people for it’s campiness but Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey (who also did Action Philosophers) in The Comic Book History of Comics really hit it on the head in their chapter on Pop Art. In it they describe how Dozer, a TV producer was given the job of bringing the character to TV by the network. So he bought a few Batman comics and his initial conclusion after reading through them was that putting Batman on TV was nuts.

But then he had the idea of going so over the top with it, making it so square and so serious, that adults would find it amusing. And it was a hit. The network’s market research showed that it was a hit with small kids who took it seriously and loved the colorful POW ZING, and also with adults who thought it was hilarious comedy. But teenagers Hated it. Van Lente and Dunlavey suggest that it was because that age group realized their culture was being mocked by it.

That was me. But back then I stayed tuned for the gadgets and that cool Batmobile, and also watching some big name guest stars ham it up. But it quickly became tiresome and I stopped watching. Worse, by then the comics had become infected with camp too, and I stopped buying, except for my usual science-fiction titles. And Mad Magazine, which did a killer parody of the TV show. I still have that issue. Yeech!

Time passes…the universe expands…and none of the later Batman and Superman movies and cartoons did anything for me. I’m sorry, not even Chris Reeve’s Superman movies did either. I’d say he was the best of the lot, but I just could not get into the stories. And I began to realize that part of the problem with bringing those characters to life was they needed to be set in the timeframes they were created in, because they really didn’t make much sense in the here and now.

Then Batman The Animated Series came out, and I was wowed.

It was Miller’s Dark Knight (which I liked the first couple issues of and then hated the rest…don’t get me started on Frank Miller…) meets golden age Batman…and they set it in an art deco Gotham City that seemed as if it was still 1930s/40s but also today. The art direction was pitch perfect: it set the character squarely in both its time frame and ours, which I didn’t think was possible. But you can do things with animation you can’t, or can’t easily with live action. I still think that the Gotham City they created for that series was among its most stunning achievements. But the voice actors they got for it was another.

None of it would have worked without the great writing, and none of those stories would have worked without the voice artists. I had no idea that Mark Hamill was voicing the Joker, but the voice he gave that character was perfect. There’s a YouTube video of Hamill at a convention panel somewhere and he’s asked to give that Heath Ledger Joker line “Why so serious” but in His Joker voice. And he does and the audience roars with cheers and applause.

All of the voice actors who worked on that series were perfect. The characters weren’t campy clowns mocking the audience anymore, they were integral parts of the story that made the stories make sense.

And especially Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne/Batman. The series rescued that character for me from Dozer and camp, and Miller and his bitter strongman fascism. He made the character larger than life, because those characters have to be that, and yet his Bruce Wayne/Batman was so very Very human. In it’s way as amazing an achievement as the art direction. It all worked, and Conroy’s voice acting was a big reason why the character worked, and why everything else worked.

And now he’s gone and I feel the loss of it, because he did so much for those of us who really wanted to like that character and his stories but just couldn’t for all the stuff the studios had done to him.

And now I understand more how Conroy could make that character come to life in a way nobody else could. This is from a Facebook gay superheroes page I follow (Gay League). Representation matters…not just to us, but to everyone. Because our stories resonate deeply in the human status. Everyone benefits by hearing our stories too.


I cried a little today when I heard Kevin Conroy had exited the stage for the final time. His death is the second time he’s elicited tears from me and I’m generally not much of a cryer, especially where celebrities are concerned.

A little background ( and by little, I mean a lot. Hang in there. It’s worth it):

I have to admit, I was never the biggest fan of Batman. I’d seen and loved Tim Burton’s “Batman” in 1989. But, even that was not enough to make me care for the character much.

Of course, I liked Batman as a mainstay of the Justice League. But his inclusion in their exploits (and reruns of the 60s era television series) was pretty much where my interest ended.

It was 1992 and I was visiting my aunt who had the television on for my younger cousins.

I had my head buried in a book, much like I always did, when I first heard the iconic theme song of “Batman, the Animated Series” and Kevin Conroy’s distinctive, “I am VENGEANCE! I am the NIGHT! I AM BATMAN!”

And. I. was. hooked!

Batman, the Animated Series was my new jam. I was obsessed with finding and watching every episode I could find from then on.

If I had to pick a favorite episode from the first season, undoubtedly it would be “Beware the Gray Ghost” featuring my other favorite Batman, Adam West, as the titular Gray Ghost – Gotham’s first crime fighting vigilante in the continuity of the show.

Conroy would go on to portray the DCAU Batman for over two decades in “Superman Adventures”, “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” as well as many other projects featuring the character over the years.

I truly hate when fans claim a character in this way. But, in this case it must be said: Kevin Conroy was MY Batman. When I think of the Dark Knight Detective, I think of Conroy. Every time without fail. All other Batmen are measured by his standard.

It’s always his voice I hear in my head when I read the comics. Kevin Conroy (and Bruce Timm, natch) made me like Batman way more than I ever would have otherwise.

The stories he starred in made me actually care about this privileged orphan boy millionaire who had a fetish for dressing in a leather bat suit and beating people up accompanied by a pre-teen boy wearing little more than a domino mask and a cape, little green undies and elf shoes (okay, when they finally introduced Robin in the show, he was wearing pants and boots, but you get the idea).

When Conroy was briefly featured in the Episode 2 of the WB’s live action Arrowverse “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event as Bruce Wayne, I cheered!
This was *the* man!

The only actor I feel who ever brought true depth to the character was reprising his role -LIVE ACTION- even if only for a single scene and I. Was. There. For. It.

I never knew until recently why he resonated so much with me, why – out of dozens of portrayals over the years, some by the biggest, most sought after actors of their time – Kevin Conroy’s Batman was the only one who ever caught my interest.

And here, those who have followed from the beginning of this screed will be happy to learn, is where my first set of Conroy inspired tears were made manifest.
Earlier this year, shortly after Kevin Conroy came out publicly as a gay man in his 60s, DC Comics published their 2022 Pride Issue which featured a number of Queer characters in their stable.

I have mixed feelings about those sort of things because on the one hand I am very wary of non-Queer people who profitize and corporatize Queerness into a commodity.

But on the other hand, I understand how vitally important representation in such things can be for young Queer people grasping for something – anything – which make them feel less an outcast, less a misfit, more accepted for who they are and more loved by those around them.

I usually hold my nose and buy the Pride issues anyway despite their exorbitant pricing and dubious quality as a “special edition” (whatever that is) because I know DC will only keep making Queer interest material so long as it sells.

This time around, the yearly Pride issue contained a story about a hero we hadn’t heard from in a completely Queer context before.

Kevin Conroy – MY Batman – had written “Finding Batman”, a biographical comic at the end of the issue exploring the trials and tribulations of coming of age during the height of the AIDS epidemic, of being a closeted actor in an environment which was completely unforgiving to gay actors, of the many times someone casually called him “faggot” as if that were acceptable.

He spoke about living a double life, being one thing in private and another in public, hiding who he truly was to protect himself while watching practically his whole generation of gay men succumb to AIDS while the world just…watched.

It was a story of growing up Roman Catholic while watching his world fall apart around him. It was a story of a young man whose parents divorced as his father succumbed to alcoholism and eventually death.

It was a story of watching helpless as his brother was taken away inch by inch by schizophrenia at the same time friends and colleagues were wasting away in hospitals dying of a disease no one wanted to talk about.

It was a story of survival and a story of triumph.

Finally, the masked cowl could come off and he could be seen as who he really was: a phenomenal actor who inspired an entire generation of comic and animation fans-who, as it happened, was also a gay man. Finally, he could openly embrace who he was, his own story fully without fear.

Suddenly, this man who had always played a role in both his personal and professional lives could take off that mask and be who he wanted and needed to be.

As the short narrative drawn by the excellent J. Bone came to a close, I shed a few bittersweet tears as I thought about my own journey, my own “secret identity”, my own experience with AIDS both as a gay man and a person living with HIV.

Suddenly, I got it. I knew why Conroy’s portrayal resonated so perfectly for me when Hollywood heartthrobs the like of George Clooney, Val Kilmer, Bruce Willis, Christian Bale and Robert Pattenson looked good in the suit but ultimately fell short.

In fact, I feel like all of them were adept at playing either Bruce Wayne or Batman consistently but couldn’t quite nail the other. But, not Kevin Conroy. He could do both flawlessly and made it seem effortless.

I know what you’re thinking, “We get it. It’s because he’s gay and you’re gay and blah blah…”

Who TF is telling this story anyhow?

Yes, acknowledging my people for their achievements is important. The fact he’s a gay man is a definite plus. But, it goes far deeper than that.

I’m a gay man, yes. But before I even knew what that meant, I was a comic book nerd and like him or not, like all comic book nerds, I KNEW Batman!
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Conroy may not have had washboard abs or bulging biceps to fill out the leather and latex outfits. But, he did have authenticity of character. He practically was Batman in a way none of the other hunky hunks who played the role could even approach in their clumsy heteronormativity.

Conroy could convincingly play a man with a double life because he had lived a double life most of his life.

He could play a man driven by tragedy and trauma because he *had* experienced loss, tragedy and trauma on an almost daily basis.

He could play a successful man who was awash with guilt and anger because he had survived while his friends and family were not so lucky.

He was believable because that imaginary mask was a reality for him.

As I write this, I’m streaming “Batman: The Animated Series” on HBO MAX and remembering all the times as a young gay man I lost myself in an episode of the series.

As a few more tears escape the near watertight edges of my eyes, I want to thank Kevin Conroy for all the times he was there for me and other kids both Queer and straight when we didn’t have anywhere else to go.

For some of us, no doubt, Batman saved us from our own traumas, our own trials and tribulations, our own masks and double lives and Kevin Conroy was the vessel through which he acted.

I can think of few stories more inspiring than knowing Kevin Conroy-the best, the ONLY Batman – got to take off his mask and be his authentic self after years of hiding his trauma from the world and living a double life for the benefit of his public life and his career. Would that we all could come to terms with ourselves so completely.

I only wish he’d been able to enjoy it longer.

Rest well, old friend.

You are missed.

But never, ever forgotten.

-F. Daniel Kent


by Bruce | Link | React!

September 13th, 2022

How Nuclear Reactors And Democracies Fail

YouTube recently started feeding me clips from the HBO docu-drama series on Chernobyl. I’d never watched it or even knew of it, and the clips are mesmerizing, and especially every scene in it with Jared Harris’ Valery Legasov.

This exchange is brutal. Understand that this happens well after Legasov was at Chernobyl, and knows that the radiation he received there, even at the distance he was from the reactor, will kill him in a few short years. He is giving testimony as to what caused the explosion to party officials and he is a man who has nothing left to lose. He is going to tell the Party what it does not want to hear. Because he knows Chernobyl has killed him. Because he is not afraid of the Party anymore. Because it is the truth.

Judge Milan Kadnikov: Professor Legasov, if you mean to suggest the Soviet State is somehow responsible for what happened, then I must warn you, you are treading on dangerous ground.

Valery Legasov: I’ve already trod on dangerous ground. We’re on dangerous ground right now, because of our secrets and our lies. They are practically what define us. When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there, but it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid. That is how an RBMK reactor core explodes. Lies.

This was pure gold. It’s meaning goes beyond Chernobyl:

Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.

Trump. MAGA. Fox News. The election was stolen. January 6. Or if that isn’t good enough, just pick any of the other lies they’ve been waving in our faces. Your LGBT neighbors have had them yelled in our faces for decades. Every lie incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid. That is how democracy fails. That is how we fail as human beings. Lies.

by Bruce | Link | React!

August 23rd, 2022

It Began With A Heart Attack

This Twitter thread from user Electra Rhode (@electra_rhodes) was actually very good for my heart…

Tube on strike, I dawdled to Paddington on Friday. Passing the old wrought iron sign for Pizza Express, I was reminded of an event 30+ years ago, when I got caught up in a drama that resulted in a divorce, two marriages and many changed lives.

It began with a heart attack

Like Friday, I was ambling along the Marylebone Rd.

Coming towards me are two guys, one a bit older than the other, nicely dressed, laughing, backs of their hands brushing occasionally, as they walked side by side. It’s 1pm & I assume they’ve just had lunch or are on their way.

The older man stops in the middle of the pavement & clutches his upper arm. And drops to the ground. The other guy shrieks, I might do too. I’ve just done a first aid course. I throw my jacket on the ground, kneel down, fish out the mouth guard thing we’d been given & start cpr.

I keep going with heart attack guy (his name’s Tom, btw). His friend, (Tim) wails at our side. In this distance I think I can hear sirens, but it might just be my own heart beating faster than is ideal. Bystanders comfort Tim, someone definitely calls an ambulance.

It feels like 6 years, but only 10 minutes later a paramedic nudges me aside. Good job. He says. I struggle to my feet. Tim and I cling to each other as we wait to see what’s coming. Tom’s loaded into the back, and Good Job Jeff tells us which hospital they’ll go to.

Tim & I are left at the side of the road. The looky loos disperse, & I ask Tim if he wants me to come to the hospital. Better not, he says, they’ll call his wife. Tim isn’t the lover I thought him to be, he’s Tom’s assistant at a fancy merchant bank. Oh. I say. Yes. He replies.

We swop addresses, me because I want to know if Tom makes it, Tim because he’s been snotting up my best cloth hankie which I’d forgotten I’d given him, and he’d like to return it. We pause then. On the corner of the street, at all kinds of crossroads.

Maybe tell him, I say. Maybe. Tim replies. Neither of us checking in on what exactly that means.

Three weeks later there’s a hankie in the post. Washed and pressed. A little note inside.

He’s ok. I told him. We’ll see. Xx T.

Alright, I think. We’ll see.

A month later I get a letter in the post. This is Sheila, Tom’s wife, and boy is she pissed. Legitimately.

She got my address from Biff, who got it from Tom, who got it from Tim. Who, if you remember, got it from me. Wait. You say. Who the hell is Biff? He was best man at Sheila and Tom’s wedding. Back in the day. I find this out three weeks later after a flurry of post goes each way.

So. Tim has told Tom he loves him. Tom has told Sheila he might love Tim (sorry and all), Sheila has cried at anyone who’ll listen. And now Biff has written to me. He loves Sheila, do I think he should say? I ask him if there’s a reason why he shouldn’t. I wait. And wait.

Roll it forward a year. Apart from a Christmas card, a bunch of birthday flowers & a postcard to my pa (idk, it’s a thing) it’s gone quiet. I think no more it except when I walk down the Marylebone Road or blow my nose.

Then a wedding invite turns up on the mat. Sheila & Biff.

The wedding is fancy & I buy a new hat (dark blue velvet, thanks for asking). It matches my best shoes. Tim & Tom give Sheila away & pay for the champagne & flowers! So, that’s a better surprise than the last one they gave her. Biff says, hey the best man finally got the bride.

Roll it forwards another few years, when equal marriage comes in, and there’s another invite on my mantelpiece. Tim and Tom.

It’s a glorious day. I wear the same hat, but I’ve got new shoes. Biff and Sheila fund the drinks and flowers. A gay men’s chorus turn up and sing.

More years pass. The hankie is getting tattered, so I stick it in a clip frame on the wall. Occasional postcards still turn up. Then there’s a lull.

I still think of them though, when I walk past that wrought iron sign. Once or twice a year. Or if someone asks about the frame.

A while later, there’s a black edged card in the mail. Tom’s heart finally did for him.

Tim says, we got almost 30 years, because you learned CPR on a first aid at work course, that your boss made you do.

Thanks, El, he writes, for saving all our lives.

Wow.  Just…wow… Thanks, El, for reminding me how good life can be after all…how good people can be after all.


by Bruce | Link | React!

December 26th, 2021

We Went To Space To Discover The Universe And We Discovered Ourselves

That’s a paraphrase of something Neil deGrasse Tyson once said about going to the moon. We went to the Moon, and discovered the Earth. What I’ve learned from 23+ years working at the Space Telescope Science Institute, first on the Hubble Space Telescope grant management system, and then JWST integration and test, is how deeply human that desire is to know more about the cosmos. All the tribes of the Earth share it. And doing that work not only gives us a better understanding of the universe, but also of each other. 

Webb launched from the European Spaceport in French Guiana. It’s a cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The morning of the launch I was at home watching the event on NASA TV, streamed through my Roku box. As we got down to the final minutes of the countdown, I was hearing NASA commentary in English, but the mission operation center in Kourou is run by the French, and all the call outs I was used to hearing from Cape Canaveral, I was hearing now in French. I don’t know much of any French, and yet I could follow along because I knew the drill; I’d watched this over and over and over again since the first Mercury astronauts went up. Hearing it in French for the first time, it struck me how Webb was a human project.

For a moment we were all earthlings with a common purpose. I’d heard that said over and over during Apollo, and I could see the truth of it, but my reference back then was still firmly planted in the United States. This was a European launch. It was their baby, with ours on top of it. I was watching it happen from the European point of view. But even our baby on top of that rocket, the telescope itself, was a project of many different countries. And I knew that for a fact, because for the past couple decades I’d been living it at the Institute.

I was raised by a single divorced mother and made my way there by way of restoring shortwave radios and building my own computer from parts I got at a HAM Fest. I taught myself how to program it, and that path eventually led to my becoming a software developer, and eventually to the Institute. And there I was working side by side with scientists, astronomers, computer geeks with multiple college degrees in computer science. But also facilities people, AV nerds, public outreach specialists. Many people, from many walks of life worked on this thing. I could walk the hallways and hear English spoken, but also other languages. We had astronomers from all over the globe working there. And we’re located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, where kids from all over the world come to learn. Practically every human tribe on Earth had a hand in the work we do.

For two decades I have been surrounded by this culture, this deeply human culture of science and exploration. It has kept me sane through the past several years more than I knew.

And so yesterday morning was a very spiritually uplifting event. Something I really needed to see in this horrible time of rising fascism, conspiracy theory kookery, anti-science nuttiness. From all walks of life and every corner of the Earth we came together and put a new instrument up into space because we wanted to know more about the universe that we were born to. I got back my view of the human status. We can do good things. We can make progress. 

We went into space, and we discovered ourselves.

by Bruce | Link | React!

March 18th, 2021

The Anti-Vaccination Industrial Complex…And How To FIght It

Cracking good article in Nature about the scope and reach of the Anti-Vaxers, how they are funded, and how to fight them…

When we see anti-vaxx misinformation on social media, we must resist falling into the trap of engaging with it, however tempting it may be to point out obvious flaws and falsehoods. Engaging with misinformation online spreads it further: if we scratch the itch, we spread the disease. It is far more helpful and effective to instead share good information about vaccines from trusted sources. And when we each have our turn to be vaccinated, we should tell our friends and followers. Photos and clips posted on social media of the early recipients of vaccines encourage us all and show there is nothing to fear.

For the public-health organizations involved in developing and rolling out the vaccine, it is vital that they study the anti-vaxxers’ plan to prevent it from succeeding. Every anti-vaxx message can be boiled down to a master narrative of three parts: “COVID-19 isn’t dangerous; vaccines are dangerous; you can’t trust doctors or scientists.” Instead of attempting to rebut every silly conspiracy theory, practitioners should inoculate against those three central claims. And they must do so in every corner of the internet, meeting people where they are. For example, doctors and scientists should join their local community’s Facebook group and offer to answer any questions their neighbors have about the vaccine against COVID-19…

Go read the whole thing.

by Bruce | Link | React!

March 6th, 2021

The Stab That Saves

March 3:

I take care to arrive early, because it’s a doctor’s appointment (sort of) and I know I should expect to be asked to fill out forms maybe, or answer a bunch of questions, and then sit and wait. Normally I bring a book, and maybe a water bottle, but this should be just an in and out kinda thing. But I allow for some processing up front even so. I arrive early.

At the main entrance I’m asked at the guard desk to verify my identity, my destination, given a temperature check and a crack and peel visitor’s badge. Large signs direct me to the vaccination room. I wait at the door until called over to the registration desk. I’m asked to verify my identity again, given a few more questions, then an appointment is made for my second shot and I’m given some paperwork describing the vaccine and something called V-Safe which I should load onto my smartphone, plus a Q&A about the vaccine I’m about to be given. Then I’m directed to take a seat in front of the vaccination stations and wait to be called.

When I’m called I sit at another station and answer a bunch more questions. The nurse IDs me from my visitor’s badge, but asks me to verify my full name and date of birth. Did you ever have a colonoscopy and did you get a bad reaction from the prep fluid. Have you had this or that other allergic reaction. Have you had any other vaccinations in the previous 14 days. Have you been treated for COVID-19.

A briefly creepy feeling washes over me when she walks over to the station to get the vaccine (the needles were pre-loaded) and says “Is this all?”

It’s the Pfizer vaccine. The shot is intramuscular. It doesn’t hurt any more than other such do, but at age 67 I am still a wimpy little kid when it comes to needles and can’t watch. I turn my head away.

I’m given a CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, and told to go sit in an observation room for fifteen minutes. So I walk over and check in with the observation room nurse. She asks me for my name, checks it off a list, and says to sit down anywhere.

The sudden familiarity of it gets my attention. I read the papers I’ve been given…

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is an unapproved vaccine that may prevent COVID-19. There is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The FDA has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to prevent COVID-19 in individuals 16 years of age or older under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)…

This is familiar territory. In 1988 I volunteered for an HIV vaccine trial. It was an initial toxicity study. Friends of mine were dying and I felt it was a calculated risk. The study had been slowly ramping up the dosage and I was signing on near the end when volunteers would be getting the highest dose. When I eventually got the candidate vaccine I sat in a small room hooked up to a bunch of monitors and a nurse sat there with me for one hour to see if I had any sudden adverse reaction.

Now I’m sitting in a room with maybe a half dozen others who had their shot and a nurse at the front behind a desk with a computer screen and some paperwork. Next to her disk is what looks like a machine to administer intravenous drugs and monitor your heart. I vaguely recognise it from the room I spent the night in when I had my heart attack. This is all still experimental, I think. We are getting this now, instead of many years later, because it’s an emergency. We are getting a vaccine that has been shown to be safe and effective in the initial trials, but the reality of it is still that the careful step by step process has been overruled by the necessity of getting it out there faster, before this thing mutates even more and kills hundreds of thousands more. It has already killed more than half a million of our neighbors here in the US.

In an ongoing clinical trial, the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has been shown to prevent COVID-19 following 2 doses given three weeks apart. The duration of protection against COVID-19 is currently unknown…

Now we’re finding out how it behaves in the population at large and how long the protection lasts. This is why there is so much emphasis in the paperwork I am given on notifying the CDC if I have any side effects…

The first week after you get your vaccine, v-safe will send you a text message each day to ask how you are doing. Then you will get check-in messages once a week, for up to 5 weeks...

I know the drill. I had to give blood once a month at the NIH in Bethesda for a year after I got that candidate HIV vaccine, and sit down with the doctors and answer questions about my health and behavior. Also, I had to agree not to have sex for the duration, because they wanted to see if the vaccine generated antibodies and getting infected would also do that. My love life wasn’t going anywhere then anyway so it was no trouble, sadly. They could have asked me that now in fact.

I drive home feeling good about being alive in 2021 and not back when the black death was raging all over Europe…

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 12th, 2020

We Must Turn Our Rage Into Action. . .

A Pulse survivor speaks…

I remember the thumping Latin music. The unbridled joy of a space safe for me to bring my whole self. A plastic cup teetering on the edge of a bathroom sink. Gunshots — endless gunshots. A panicked sprint for the exit. I remember waiting on a street corner for news, dialing my best friend Drew’s number countless times. I remember when I finally realized he would never pick up. By sunrise, 49 people, including Drew and his partner Juan, had been killed by a man filled to the brim with hatred and armed with weapons of war… – Pulse survivor: We must turn our rage into action, The Orlando Sentinel

Probably the most heartbreaking thing I read in the aftermath was from a homicide detective investigating the scene. He was new to the job and had always thought homicide scenes would be quiet as the detectives worked it. But this one had the cell phones of the victims constantly ringing, and he knew every ring was from a loved one desperately hoping for an answer that would never come.

Go read the whole thing. He links the shootings then to the police killings of unarmed black Americans now, and the bigotry and hate that fueled them both. We have work to do to honor their memories, and drag this nation inch by inch back to its promise of liberty and justice for all, and make it real.

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 7th, 2020

Remembering What’s Important In Life

Saw this on Twitter just now…


It’s good to remember the important things in life during these stressful days. Or to paraphrase a certain someone who swears he never reads this blog, when you’re on your deathbed it won’t be all the times you had sex you’ll remember, but all the people who helped you dump that slave owner’s statue in the river next to where his ships once docked…

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 24th, 2020

Evil Does Not Require Malice

From our Thump Your Pulpit In Lieu Of Climbing The Walls department…

This came across my Facebook stream, via Songwriter Janis Ian…

Evil does not need malice to spread, or even to exist. Malice is probably the least of its needs. What really gets it going is that absence of empathy. Or as I like to say, sympathy. It’s when other people simply become a means to your ends, whether economic or emotional. It’s when your neighbors in this life stop being people, with their own hopes and dreams, their own human desires, and needs, but become faceless means to whatever your needs may be. And there is no more needful thing than empty pride.

“Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there.” -Eric Hoffer

They say faith can be a source of strength and inner peace, but the hard lesson to learn is faith is utterly neutral. It can give you strength to stand side by side with the oppressed. It can grant you peace as you turn away from them. It can be the calm self assurance that persecuting them is both righteous and just. It is Himmler telling his troops after they’d just massacred a village in Poland that because we can do such as this and still remain moral men is what makes us strong. It is Ntakirutimana telling the Tutsi congregation, about to be slaughtered and begging for his help, “You must be eliminated, God doesn’t want you anymore.” Their faith was strong. The evil that grew within them found it a completely willing ally.

“Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.” -Eric Hoffer

I’m in my sixties now and I think I can look back on everything I’ve seen in this life and make a few judgements now. And as to faith, I’ve seen it give battered hearts hope, but I have also seen it take people’s brakes away. Faith will come to the aid of whatever a person has within them, whether good or evil. But I have seen the most miniscule shred of sympathy in a bitter person finally soften a heart I was certain had been hardened beyond any hope of redemption. I have seen it turn people away from great wrongs they had been calmly certain of being good and righteous, and atone for them. It isn’t faith we need in this life, it is sympathy. Even if it’s just the size of a mustard seed. It will save your soul.

[Edited a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | React!

Hubble Turns 30 – Scientific American

I am still so amazed to be a part of all this…

A Birthday Message from the Hubble Telescope

I have seen 160,000 sunrises and sunsets, more than anyone could hope for. Circling hundreds of miles above the surface of our big blue marble for 30 years, I’ve had a remarkable view of the universe. I haven’t always been comfortable up here, but thanks to many of you I have outgrown a host of problems and found a purpose far more expansive and satisfying than anything my creators envisioned.



Go read the rest. Happy Birthday Hubble!


by Bruce | Link | React!

April 20th, 2020

Disturbing Echos Of The Past

This came across my Facebook news stream this morning…


A friend posted this with a comment about how it reminded him of that iconic photograph of the solitary Chinese man standing in front of a line of tanks during the Tiananmen Square massacre. And if you think that’s hyperbole recall how in Charlottesville Virginia a neo fascist drove right into a crowd of people peacefully protesting the Unite The Right rally there killing one and injuring 28. These were more of Trump’s Very Fine People in those cars.

These healthcare workers were risking their lives here. Which, yes, they do anyway. But they shouldn’t have to do it like this.

by Bruce | Link | React!

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