Thursday, April 30, 2009

Playing For Change

Playing For Change | Song Around The World "Stand By Me" from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

"Stand By Me" Around the World

From the Concord Music Group.

This is such a great idea. I love street music. I've done it off and on my entire life. In San Francisco, San Diego, L.A., New Orleans, and many other cities, even while on tour, I would sneak off with a guitar and a case to leave open, and just play for who ever happened to be passing by.

As a performer there simply is not a more immediate medium. The street lets you know what works, and what doesn't. There's no better way that I've found to take the pulse of a community and find out what they like to hear.

If you can make folks in a subway, or park, stop their point A to point B travels long enough to listen to what you're playing you've accomplished something great.

Many Christmas seasons I would set my harp up in a shopping mall or other high traffic area and play carols. I would see the music touch people on a very deep and primal level. A lot of that has to do with the harp itself. Harps are the first stringed instrument, and almost every culture of humans has them in one form or another. They reach us right into the guts.

Playing harp in a mall, I would see people burdened down by the bustle and tension of the highly commercial season, see the tension on their faces and watch as the pure notes of the harp grabbed them, made them stop. I would see them relax a bit, see the tensions slide out of them. It was a beautiful thing to see.

One of the things I've been planning to do at NetRoots is to park myself outside the venue, with a guitar, and an open case and just see who stops.

Enjoy ya'll.

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Making Links

Pig farm run by Granjas Carroll/Smithfield in La Gloria, Mexico, showing typical pink "lagoon" filled with fecal matter; photo from Atisba por la Cerradura.

Making Links

Martha Grimes is a mystery writer whose books I eagerly wait to see published. Her standard set of characters are entertaining and interesting, but in each book she tends to have an incidental character who steals the show. Every now and then, she abandons her usual cast and writes an ordinary novel, almost always with a girl or young woman as the central focus. And when she writes these characters, she is at her best. They are complicated, ferocious, brilliant, and vivid.

In a past book, she created an incidental character named Andi Oliver who generated so much interest in fan mail that Grimes decided to bring her back as the main protagonist in her own book. Published in 2008, her novel Dakota follows Andi as she becomes a serious animal rights defender through covert work at a commercial pig farm. I read it last month, and was taken by surprise at how it slowly became a polemic about the horrific abuses common to massive corporate pork production. I didn't stop eating pork, but I decided to stop eating pork that came from such places.

Consequently, when the recent outbreak of a mutated strain of influenza was possibly linked to such an establishment, I wasn't at all surprised. Ground Zero of course has not yet been definitely established, but according to The Guardian, Granjas Carroll pig farm in La Gloria, Veracruz state, Mexico, generated enormous complaints of illness from inhabitants of the nearby village, one of whom, Edgar Hernández Hernández (age four), is reportedly the first documented case of this strain of influenza. Granjas Carroll Farms is co-owned (along with Agroindustrias Unidas de México) by US-based Smithfield Foods.

Smithfield is the largest pig farmer in the world and controls 26% of pork production in America. Without spoiling the book for you, it seems obvious to me that Grimes' model for the giant corporate offender she wrote about in Dakota includes the likes of Smithfield. This is borne out by the Rolling Stone article you've no doubt seen referenced at various progressive blogs the past week (including our own excellent Evan Robinson.) This article is well worth reading. It will help you understand, if you do not already, how cramming sentient beings for their lifetime into extremely filthy, unimaginably crowded quarters, forcing them into cannibalism and removing them from all natural exposure, makes them unable to survive except by injecting them continuously with antibiotics and other chemicals. The run-off from these farms tends to completely overwhelm the surrounding area. In such toxic offal, the emergence of a mutated superbug seems inevitable, almost as if that is what the corporate decision-makers had as an ultimate goal.

The chairman of Smithfield, Joseph W. Luter III, is a Republican about whom the Rolling Stone article states "In 1995, while Smithfield was trying to persuade the state of Virginia to reduce a large fine for the company's pollution, Joseph Luter gave $100,000 to then-governor George Allen's political-action committee." NNDB lists his affiliation with Friends of George Allan (a.k.a. Mr. Macaca), Santorum 2006, and the Good Government for America Committee.

To expand Smithfield into its dominant position, Rolling Stone reports "Luter wanted to create a system, known as 'total vertical integration,' in which Smithfield controls every stage of production, from the moment a hog is born until the day it passes through the slaughterhouse...The system made it impossible for small hog farmers to survive -- those who could not handle thousands and thousands of pigs were driven out of business. 'It was a simple matter of economic power,' says Eric Tabor, chief of staff for Iowa's attorney general."

A second means of increasing profit is to skimp on or outright defy environmental responsibility. Again from Rolling Stone, "According to the EPA, Smithfield's largest farm-slaughterhouse operation -- in Tar Heel, North Carolina -- dumps more toxic waste into the nation's water each year than all but three other industrial facilities in America. ... There simply is no regulatory solution to the millions of tons of searingly fetid, toxic effluvium that industrial hog farms discharge and aerosolize on a daily basis. Smithfield alone has sixteen operations in twelve states. Fixing the problem completely would bankrupt the company... From the moment that Smithfield attained its current size, its waste-disposal problem became conventionally insoluble."

Thus, the lower costs which enable Smithfield to control more and more share of the pork market arise from practices which I simply don't care to support. I'm poor, I survive on charity, and my food budget is inadequate. Even so, I choose to spend my food money so that my long-term health, and that of my descendants, is not compromised. I'm not a vegetarian; I'm a pork-eating Southerner, descended from crackers and rednecks, who is smarter than Smithfield apparently thinks we are.

The Smithfield Family Foods of Companies website reveals they own the following food providers in the United States, in addition to Smithfield:
Carroll's Foods
Cumberland Gap
John Morrell
North Side Foods
Patrick Cudahy's
Stefano Foods (which provides sausages for McDonald's)

Internationally, Smithfield owns:

Smithfield's hog production subsidiaries, American and international, include:
Granjas Carroll de Mexico
Premium Standard Farms
Smithfield Ferme

Boycotting or banning pork will do nothing to stop the spread of this flu because it is not transmitted by eating pork. Further, the economic damage caused by a plummet in pork sales would hurt SMALL farmers, including clean growers. Corporate near-monopolies would ride out a boycott and emerge with more control than ever. Poor people are not going to stop eating pork, folks. But we can choose to buy it from clean producers.

There's a website available to locate organic pork, often called Niche Pork. The USDA offers a farmer's market search engine for specific criteria such as location or if they take WIC vouchers. Local Harvest also has an excellent farmer's market locator, with means to find Community Supported Agriculture, farms, restaurants, and grocery stores, with an interactive map.

A quick Google search also turned up the following organic pork purveyors:
Angera Pork Products
Applegate Farms
Jolie Vue Farms
Llano Seco
My Rancher
Organic Prairie
Tide Mill Organic Farm
Wholesome Harvest

Lastly, if you do seek positive change via consumer choice, your power is vastly multiplied when you make sure grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses know what you are doing. Vocalize, write letters, and spread the word. And, as always, share your successes and insights here.

(Hat-tip to Tristero at Hullaballoo and to My DD for excellent coverage of this issue.)

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Daze

Some excerpts:

Day 2: President McCain nominates the only Republican willing to accept the position as secretary of the Treasury, whose appointment is fast-tracked through Congress in light of the growing economic crisis.

Day 3: Treasury secretary Ron Paul promptly disbands the department of the Treasury.

Day 20: Dick Cheney shoots President McCain in the face.

Day 21: President McCain apologizes to Dick Cheney for all the trouble his being shot in the face has caused the former vice president.

Melissa is a wicked, wicked girl. She's probably going to burn in hell. Since that's where I will end up too, I'm bringing Marshmallows.

With folks like Melissa there, hell's doable.
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Would You Step Up To Support a Progressive Challenger to Arlen Specter?

Click Here to Go To Adam Green's Facebook Page

We need Senators who will not shift with the wind. From "Open Left" where Adam begins the long list of Arlen Specter's history of being a politician who is mainly concerned with the survival of Arlen Specter rather than any real issue, any real concept.

This is a man with a proven history of doing what ever it takes to gain, and hang on to power.

tip o'the tinfoil hat to digby.

Part of the disturbing nature of this whole thing is that Specter is considered to be a "moderate" in today's environment. When the moderates wear jackboots and support things like data mining, warrantless wiretaps, state secrets, and the odious "Unitary Executive" theory, the state of political thought and action in this nation is in some seriously deep kim chee.

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First US Flu Death

(Photo: 1918 flu poster, Idaho Observer, October 2005)

Veratect's Twitter Feed
James Wilson (Veratect) Blog

Houston Health and Human Services reported that a Mexican child died of swine flu while visiting relatives in the US.

A Mexican toddler died of swine flu while visiting relatives in the United States earlier this week, officials confirmed Wednesday.

The 23-month-old child died at a Houston hospital Monday evening.

A spokesperson for the Houston Health and Human Services Department said the child had been visiting relatives in Brownsville, Texas.

Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed the child's death from swine flu on Wednesday.

This sort of falls into the "technically, a US death" category. Young children are one of the two demographics hardest hit by seasonal, as well as pandemic, influenza. This toddler almost certainly developed the disease while in Mexico but succumbed in Houston while visiting relatives in Brownsville.

Generally speaking, news flow on swine flu seems to be down today. The Mexican health authorities have reduced the number of deaths confirmed to be from the flu from twenty to seven while upgrading the probable number of cases to almost 2500, more than half of whom have been hospitalized.

That ratio is probably significant. Everywhere but Mexico we're seeing mild (or at least non-life-threatening) cases, many of which probably wouldn't even be noticed if it weren't for the special surveillance associated with the pandemic risk. Certainly less than half of the non-Mexican cases require hospitalization. It's probable that there are many (many!) more Mexican cases which don't require hospitalization or which are so mild as to fly beneath the radar. In some ways, the more cases there already are in Mexico the better, because more cases means a more developed spread and a lower mortality rate. That's not a comfort for those severely afflicted, but it might suggest that this is a less dangerous situation than we might otherwise assume.
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Health and Peace: Sebelius Confirmed

Kathleen Sebelius
Health And Peace: Sebelius Confirmed

Former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius has been confirmed to be our new Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Talking Points Memo, the vote was 65-31.

Raising Women's Voices states of her: "Ms. Sebelius has eight years experience as Kansas’ insurance commissioner as well as six years as governor running a state Medicaid program. She is also, notably, extremely adept at working bipartisan politics as a Democratic politician in a Republican state. For both of her terms, Ms. Sebelius ran with a Republican on her ticket. As the Kansas insurance commissioner, Ms. Sebelius helped draft a proposed national bill of rights for patients, and blocked the sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield to an out of state company because it would have raised premiums."

In honor of this very positive move, I'm making a not-quite-beside-the-point pun by posting below the video of Jean Sibelius's great symphony "Finlandia" as performed by Sinfoniaorkesteri (Finnish radio symphony orchestra), conducted by Sakari Oramo on October 22, 2005 at NHK Hall, Tokyo. After it are the opening lyrics as sung by us peace activists from the 1970s, still fresh today:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean
And sunlight shines on clover leaf and pine
But other lands have sunlight too and clover
And skies are ev'rywhere as blue as mine
O hear my prayer, O gods of all the nations
A song of peace for their lands and for mine

(Hat-tip for the conflation of Sibelius/Sebelius to the witty community of commenters at Dykes To Watch Out For.)

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Obama at the National Academy of Sciences

(Photo: The Blue Marble; NASA photo ID #AS17-148-22726, by Gene Cernan, Roland Evans, Jack Schmitt)
Science can't answer every question, and indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be. Science cannot supplant our ethics or our values, our principles or our faith. But science can inform those things and help put those values -- these moral sentiments, that faith -- can put those things to work -- to feed a child, or to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this Earth.
President Obama spoke yesterday (2009.04.27) at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. While he highlighted several specific policies and budgetary priorities, I believe his most significant contribution was, as Woody Allen famously said, "just showing up".

We of the progressive left feel that science has been under attack in America for decades. From James Watt to Rush Limbaugh, the Republicants and their media allies/masters/attack dogs have routinely belittled science, bent science, or just dismissed science. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they derided those of us who believed in science as hopelessly "reality-based".

And now here comes Obama, who shows up at the National Academy and delivers a few thousand well-chosen words (and as Ben Fry says, "did our former President spill that many words for science during eight years in office?"), laying out a 3% of GDP target for R&D, establishing a new ARPA for energy, and talking about the necessity of basic research!

As portions of our reality-based world seem to spin out of control via potential pandemic, peak oil, species loss, ocean dead zones, and the seemingly endlessly accelerating consequences of climate change, it's nice to have someone on board who gets it.
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Arlen Specter Will Run as a Democrat

We Won't Know the Full Implications

Until the first critical votes come down. I doubt that Anita Hill is impressed by this at all.

The report was broken by Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post.

This looks more like a single person doing the pragmatic things required to hang, however tenuously, onto his own power.

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"Containment is not a feasible option"

(Photo: 1918 flu poster, Idaho Observer, October 2005)

Veratect's Twitter Feed
James Wilson (Veratect) Blog

Argentina -- Ten suspected cases
Australia -- 70 suspected cases under investigation
Australia:Australian Capital -- Five suspected cases
Australia:New South Wales -- Five new suspected Cases
Australia:Queensland -- Six new suspected cases; total 16
Australia:South Australia -- 14 suspected cases
Australia:Tasmania -- One new suspected case
Australia:Western Australia -- Three new suspected cases
Austria:Steyr -- One new suspected case
Canada:Ottawa -- Five suspected cases
Chile -- Nine total suspected cases
Czech Republic -- One new suspected case
France -- Total of 20 suspected cases
Honduras -- Two new suspected cases
Hong Kong -- Four new suspected cases; Three of yesterday's dismissed
Israel -- Two confirmed cases
Mexico:Juarez -- Four suspected cases dismissed
New Zealand -- Four new suspected cases, three confirmed cases
Peru -- Five suspected cases dismissed
Poland -- Two suspected cases in Warsaw, possibly one additional
Spain -- Second case confirmed
Thailand -- One suspected case
Uruguay -- One suspected case
US -- Unconfirmed reports of 50 confirmed cases
US:California -- Two new confirmed cases; total 13
US:El Paso -- Four suspected cases
US:Michigan -- One new suspected case
US:North Carolina -- Two suspected cases in Buncombe County

Quick News
Australia -- Health officials may forcibly detain and disinfect suspected cases
Egypt -- calls to cull all pigs
Hong Kong -- "panic" buying of face masks & Tamiflu
Mexico -- UN inspecting swine production facilities
Mexico:Mexico City -- ~35000 restaurants closed or limited by government order

Travel Restrictions
Argentina, Japan restrict Mexican travel
Canada issues warning for "non-essential" travel to Mexico
US issues warning for "non-essential" travel to Mexico

Media Matters has a piece on how the right wing in America is trying to make the pandemic an immigration (i.e. racism) issue instead of a public health issue. And the conspiracy nuts are out in force.

La Gloria, which may be Ground Zero for this event, is a town of 3000 in Veracruz state which hosts a Smithfield industrial hog farm. There have been health concerns reported to the federal government since February. Smithfield denies any connection to the outbreak, but La Marcha in Veracruz headlined a story "Granjas Carroll, causa de epidemia en La Gloria". Granjas Carroll is a joint venture of Smithfield's in Mexico. They raise almost a million hogs at the La Gloria facility and there is some possibility that flies may have transported infected feces to the human population

WHO raised the alert phase from 3 to 4 yesterday, meaning that there is now "sustained human-to-human transmission". That's what was lacking in the Avian (H5N1) scare. Keiji Fukuda, deputy director general of WHO:
Because the virus is already quite widespread in different locations, containment is not a feasible option
Realistically, containment was never a sustainable option once the disease spread to any major city with a significant transportation hub. Veracruz probably would have done it: Mexico City was perfect.

What's it all mean? It's still an open question whether we're going to see truly widespread mass infection, much less widespread mortality. The serious cases in Mexico are dying but the cases seen elsewhere are so minor that they probably wouldn't be picked up except for the hypervigilance of health services worried about a pandemic. I expect that we'll see either a reduction in new cases or a bloom in the next month or less and that will tell us whether this phase of the scare is over. Even if new cases drop into the background noise, though, that doesn't mean we're out of the woods. The 1918-20 pandemic showed several distinct phases of activity, with significant mortality differences in the phases. We are in the longest (41 years and counting) influenza inter-pandemic of at least the last 160 years.

As so many things are, Modern Technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to influenza pandemics: it allows earlier detection, reporting, identification/diagnosis, and production of a vaccine; but it also allows the disease far more rapid transportation, sometimes in ideal environments (recirculated air, for instance) and faster reporting offers the chance for higher stress levels in the overall population, whether those stress levels are useful or not. In a world without mechanized transport, flu pandemics would have to spread more slowly, but we'd be much harder put to specifically diagnose, identify, and vaccinate against them.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Mexican Flu Update

(Photo: 1918 flu poster, Idaho Observer, October 2005)

US:Colorado -- Ouray County possible case
Canada -- Eight cases nationwide
US:California -- 12 samples being tested in Santa Clara County
Australia -- Two suspected cases in Tasmania
US:South Dakota -- Two suspected cases both negative
Costa Rica -- Seven new suspected cases, totaling 21 suspected. Sixteen cases dismissed
US:Arkansas -- Health officials believe flu already spread across state
US -- Santa Cruz one suspected case, family member tested
Belgium -- Six suspected cases test negative
Australia -- Queensland activates pandemic plan
US:New Jersey -- Five possible cases
US:North Carolina -- unspecified number of suspected cases "involuntarily isolate[d]"
US:Idaho -- Four residents with ILI tested
US:Texas -- Dallas County confirms two new cases. State total is six
Switzerland -- Five suspected cases
South Korea -- One suspected case
Brazil -- Three suspected cases in Belo Horizonte
Netherlands -- "Rules out" any suspected cases
Singapore -- Two suspected cases test negative
New Zealand -- 56 suspected cases nationwide
Mexico -- 30 suspected cases in Jalisco
US:Texas -- School closure in Rio Grande City

WHO raised the pandemic alert level (phase) to 4
Swine flu factsheet from The Age
Swine flu cases and precautions around the world
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Simple Questions

Questions for those who are concerned about torture investigations:
1) Are you "tough on crime"?
2) Should people who break the law and brag about it on TV or in writing be investigated? If there is evidence to support their having broken the law, should they be tried? If convicted, should they be punished/rehabilitated?
3) Should someone who has admitted killing thousands of Americans avoid trial and punishment because "it's time to move forward"?

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Habiiti Dawo Ga'an, Habi'do'atiil

I Didn't Choose These Ghosts, They Chose Me

One of the strange things about haunting is that one doesn't get to choose the shit that sticks.

I am nobody's hero, I'm flawed grievously. There were a few times when I performed well and was noticed. There were many other times when I fell very short of any mark or goal. Probably those times of shortfall were the bulk of experience.

The main reason I am so worked up over the failure to take a firm, and legal stand against torture is that I know very well the price to be exacted from doing nothing.

While I was in Vietnam, and later Africa, I saw instances of atrocity, murder, torture, and rape. I either did nothing at all, or when I was told it wasn't my business, I shut up, rucked up, and moved on.

Moved on I thought anyway. I knew that this post was going to take me to some very uncomfortable places so I took steps.

The first step was to buy a quart of organic strawberries from Takahashi's farm outside of Leucadia. I cleaned, hulled and sliced them. I put them into a glass bowl and sprinkled them with raw sugar that has been stored with vanilla husks, some lemon zest, some vanilla extract (actually it's some Cuban rum that has some split vanilla beans in it), a splash of Chambord, and almond extract. I covered that closely and stuck it into the fridge overnight. I figure since I don't drink or do dope anymore I better have some ice cream handy. My first sponsor in AA, Jessie Joe, used to preach the value of ice cream to newcomers. The sugar, the silky mouth feel, all work well when cravings for alcohol or other oblivions come to call. One of the tricks I picked up in recovery is that my head can be a very dangerous neighborhood, I know better than to go there alone and unarmed.

The memories that bother me when it's late at night, when I'm tired and want only to rest, aren't the scenes of combat. Force on force action not only doesn't bother me all that much, some of it was beautiful. There were some times when we found fuel cached on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Our SOP was to booby trap the hell out of it and leave somebody behind to trigger the kaboom when the trucks were there. That produced lots of bang for the buck. Rather than just blowing fuel and other supplies we were blowing up fuel, supplies, trucks, truck drivers, and infantry. At night it was beautiful to see, especially on acid. (some of my most memorable letters from California friends started out with "Eat the stamp.")

I called in an arclight on an entire valley. The place was crawling with NVA, heavy equipment, and they were all embedded deep into the civilian population. There wasn't any other choice. The civilians would have been causalities of a raid by conventional forces. The cost in human terms for us would have been horrific. Later, as I did an eyes on recon of the place after the bombing one thing struck me. Even the bugs were dead. Central Highland rainforest with no bugs. Spooky.

I killed my fair share of the enemy. Sometimes with a long rifle, sometimes up very close and personally with a knife or garrotte for the sake of silence. That's OK too, it's all part of war.

Even though it was outside the conventional parameters of warfare I applauded when we started adding mustard gas to the mix of noxious shit we pumped down the tunnels. I was glad to see the canisters of tear gas because that meant I didn't have to take a pistol, a sawed off shotgun and a knife in my teeth to crawl down into those fucking tunnels anymore. Since I was almost always the smallest guy on the team, even without being the guy who spoke the language, I was always the first one picked to go down there. I hated those fucking tunnels. Thing was, when only CS was pumped the VC and NVA came up out of the ground all over the fucking place and they were very pissed off. When mustard gas was added along with the CS, even though by the letter of the law it was a war crime and the use of a forbidden weapon, I didn't mind a fucking bit back then, and I don't give a Hong Kong Hoot today.

I remain fairly at peace with the things that I did. I was a soldier, it was war, and I tried mightily to adhere to a code of conduct. I could be ruthless, violent, even brutal in response to the situations as they happened. I tried to not be cruel.

The things that I didn't do, aye, there's the fucking rub ya'll.

Once the strawberries had macerated I mooshed them good with a hand potato masher. I scalded a couple cups of heavy cream, a couple good glugs of 1/2&1/2, while I beat six eggs until they were a nice lemon yellow. I tempered the hot cream into the eggs with the stand mixer on its lowest stir setting. Then I added the strawberry moosh. It all went into the canister of my ice cream freezer, I topped it off with more cream and 1/2&1/2 to reach the full line. Then back into the fridge for a few hours.

After the siege of Dong Ap Bai was lifted I was out with other survivors walking the killing zone that surrounded us. I gathered bodies of friends, along with the bodies of men I didn't know. The smell of burning, and the stench of gut woundings, along with the rot that starts quickly in the southern tropics was vile. I shut down my feelings, I tried to turn off my soul too. There was a job to be done. Our guys were tagged and bagged so that reports could be written and filed, our final goodbyes were said at the heliport. We treated our own with honor and respect. The enemy dead were tossed into piles, after they were counted of course, the REMF's got hard ons from high body counts, the piles were doused with diesel or JP5 and lit. Even the hardest fight is no excuse for an unnecessary outbreak of disease. There were times when the enemy we found wasn't all the way dead. They died on the way to the piles. Most of them anyway. More than one pile had screams coming from it when the fires were lit. Weak screams. Pitiful screams. I never complained about them. I never reported them. There are nights after all these years when I hear those weak, pitiful screams. The hurtful part of that is that I did nothing about it. I saw it. I knew it was wrong. I did nothing.

When the ice cream base had cooled off I put the canister into the freezer pail. I layered it with ice and rock salt. Not a lot of rock salt to start off. I want the freeze to start slowly.

During the fight to take back the Citadel at Hue, I saw instances of torture. It was being done by the ARVN forces as a matter of course. They did it because they were fucking furious and the CIA spooks and other "advisors" were standing there doing nothing. When I complained I was told to shut the fuck up. I shut the fuck up. At Hue I also saw my first instances of women, or even very young girls, being raped by U.S. personnel. Again, I did nothing.

Again, those instances are what has stayed with me.

In Quang Ngai we were sent in after a seven month rampage by members of an army unit. For seven months they had been killing everything that moved. Livestock, dogs, cats, children, old men and women, everything that moved. The region had been declared a "free fire" zone, and those lads fired very fucking freely. The entire place was psychotic. We came across little villages, or even small clusters of four and five huts, where the survivors had all been kneecapped, or tongues cut out. More than a few of them were missing ears and fingers. The few folks who survived in that region hated everybody. They hated us for sure, but they also hated the VC and the NVA. Those guys got the blame for bringing the damdam down on them.

We didn't catalogue the record of atrocity. We simply reported that the area was no longer a haven for the enemy. It wasn't a haven for anybody. At one time it had been one of the most productive rice and fruit farming regions of South East Asia. Now it was a fucking wasteland populated by bitter cripples. Freedom. On the fucking march. Too bad we didn't have any Lee Greenwood or Toby Kieth songs to play for them. We had to make due with singing "The Ballad of the Green Berets."

When I heard the pitch of the motor on the ice cream maker change, about 45 minutes into the freeze process, the ice cream base was very thick now, I started to really load on the rock salt as I kept the ice topped off. The total freezing process took about an hour and a half. I transferred the ice cream to another container, I spooned gobs of ice cream off the dasher down my throat until it went past numb and into sharp ache. I put the rest of the ice cream into the freezer to set.

The ice cream is glorious. By itself though, it wasn't enough to take the bitter taste out of my mouth. I know it will ease a bit with time. I also know it will always come back.

It's easy to tell yourself that "it's not my job or my business," or, "It's more important to move forward, this isn't the time for looking back."

I always have to look back. Too much of what I see I don't like. We cannot afford to make our national memory like mine.

Investigate the crimes. Bring the criminals to account. Give them the fair treatment and trial that they denied to so many. If convicted give them a just punishment under the law. Then give them a decent incarceration. Fuck dude, go fucking nuts and pardon some of the bastards. I won't care. Pardon means that they have been made to accept that they broke the law and did wrong.

The price of doing nothing is too fucking high.

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"It feels like the Apocalypse" as earthquake hits Mexico.

(Photo: 1918 flu poster, Idaho Observer, October 2005)

Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos, Mexican Secretary of Health, reports 149 confirmed dead and almost 2000 hospitalized cases of "grave pneumonia".

The news is moving faster than the web can track. Britain's Daily Mail, in a story datelined 6:26 pm today (about 35 minutes ago as I write this) reported Villalobos as saying 103 deaths and 1614 suspected cases. Keep your eyes on the Veratect twitter feed for up-to-date information.

To add insult to injury, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit about 150 miles south of Mexico City in Guerrero state, near Tixtla. No reports of injury or damage, but office workers poured into the otherwise empty streets of Mexico City as tall buildings magnified the earth motion. NBC says 5.6 magnitude.

Sarai Luna Pajas, a social services worker was standing outside her office building after the quake:

I'm scared ... We Mexicans are not used to living with so much fear, but all that is happening -- the economic crisis, the illnesses and now this -- it feels like the Apocalypse.
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NYTimes Flu Graphic

(Graphic: New York Times, Understanding Swine Flu)

Alongside the Veratect Twitter and Biosurveillance Blog, this looks like a useful tool for keeping up on what's happening with the Mexican flu.
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A Call For Help

Welcome Back To Pottersville

writer, JurassicPork, just got laid off. If you can, give him some monetary love. Words of encouragement are welcome, but bux are what is needed.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Pandemic potential" for Mexican flu outbreak

(Photo: 1918 flu poster, Idaho Observer, October 2005)

Veratect's Twitter Feed
James Wilson (Veratect) Blog

[20090427 0930 PDT]
First confirmed case in Spain, a 23 year old who returned from Mexico on 22 April.
Five suspected cases hospitalized in Sweden
Five suspected cases hospitalized in Denmark
New Zealand flight attendants & crew grounded "as a precautionary measure", testing still pending on students. At least 12 and as many as 32 people are voluntarily quarantined after sharing a flight with the college (high school) students.
Probable case in Michigan.
Second suspected case in Israel.
Suspected case in Italy.
Five suspected cases in Switzerland.
Patient being tested in Norway
Suspected cases (no numbers) reported in the Netherlands
Five suspected cases in Costa Rica. Nine ruled out.
Canadian vacationing in Manchester hospitalized. Being tested.
Nine suspected cases quarantined in Australia (4 in Sydney, 5 in NSW)
Four suspected cases reported in France.
Seven new fatalities, suspected swine flu, in Mexico City.
Khazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues travel advisory for Latin America
WHO confirms 40 cases in the US
First suspected case reported in Peru
20 additional suspected cases in Catalonia, Spain
Confirmed case in Veracruz, Mexico
Three suspected cases in Bielefeld, Germany
Three suspected cases in Murcia, Spain
Suspected cases in Mexico now at 1600
Private school closure in South Carolina because of "fears that young people who recently returned from Mexico might have been infected"

As you can see from the tweet summary, news coverage and detection of cases is accelerating. Rumour says that WHO may raise the pandemic alert phase today.

The BCCDC reminds us that cases reported here are "mild". Dr. Danuta Skowronski:
It’s reassuring that this swine influenza virus does not automatically mean hospitalization and death ... It may have just the typical influenza-type presentation and symptoms. … This is not necessarily scary monsters.

[20090426 2300 PDT]
Michael Osterholm, University of Minnesota:
What makes this so difficult is we may be somewhere between an important but yet still uneventful public health occurrence here — with something that could literally die out over the next couple of weeks and never show up again — or this could be the opening act of a full-fledged influenza pandemic
Death toll in Mexico reaches 103 (confirmed and suspected swine flu cases).
Canada confirms two cases in BC, institutes surveillance at YVR (Vancouver International Airport).
Bronx day care tests negative (5) or "inconclusive" (1).
Suspected cases in Dallas-Fort Worth (3).
Australia suspected cases from Queensland test negative (2). Two NSW residents being tested.
Three more students in New Zealand test positive for Influenza A.
Mexico City produce vendors/taxi drivers report business down 50% in last two days.
Sacramento (grade?) school ordered closed until no influenza-like illness detected for one week.

Pandemic preparation funding in the stimulus bill was attacked by Republicants.
HHS nominee has been opposed in the Senate by Republicans.
Swine flu: thoughts for the day on 20090426

[20090426 0900 PDT]
Overnight, Mexico raised the total of confirmed flu deaths to 64, then 68, then 81. Unconfirmed reports of over 200.

In NY, preliminary testing of "probable" swine flu cases does not match any known H1/H3 subtypes. CDC performing further analysis.

Price gouging on face masks in Mexico City. Mayor says 70% of bars, clubs, & restaurants are shut down. All public events canceled for 10 days. All Sunday masses in Mexico canceled.

Suspected cases: France, Israel, Spain, Chile.

New Zealand suspected cases confirmed.

[20090425 2311 PDT]
Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, says that the current outbreak of flu in Mexico has "pandemic potential".

Wikipedia is wonderfully up to date.

Mexico has seen 1300 potential cases, with 20 confirmed flu deaths and as many as 83 possible deaths. At the upper end, that's about a 7% mortality rate, and apparently the deaths are skewed to young adults. Flu mortality is usually a 'U', with highest mortality in the very old and the very young. Higher rates of mortality in the young or middle adult ranges is unusual, and the most famous example of that mortality profile is the 1918 flu pandemic.

Potential non-Mexican cases are in the US (CA, TX, NY, KS), Canada (Montreal, Nova Scotia), the UK (one member of a flight crew who's been to Mexico recently), and New Zealand (college students).

Biosurveilliance has a timeline up and Veratect is on twitter.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sobriety Day

April 24, 1993

It started, like so many of my days back then, on an airplane. My first memory of the day is that I was sitting on an airplane going home. I was smugly proud of myself because I had only used enough dope to be straight. I wasn't stoned, just functional. That was a lot of my using at this point. I needed a lot to be functional though. A. Lot.

I get to the airport and there's nobody there to meet me. This isn't unusual either. My wife is a dedicated addict herself. (I tend to use the terms addict and alcoholic pretty interchangably. If I'm speaking of being an addict, assume I'm drinking in a pretty dysfunctional manner too.) So, I catch the shuttle from the airport and in about a half an hour I show up at the house. My young kids (there is one older daughter from my first failed marraige but she's an adult in Alaska at this point of the story) are there, and they come running up "Hi Da! Didja bring me anything? What? Cool! Thanks, gotta go!" They really don't care at this point whether or not I'm home. They know that my being home means mainly that their mother and I will be fighting viciously at some point in the very near future.

I go into the house and find lovely wife (even in the throes of addiction she remained lovely in a Kate Moss sort of way) is trying to find a vein. She's been trying since she knew that I was coming home and has been trying hard to get in shape to drive and pick me up. (Scary to think that there are people out there that are incapable of functioning unless they're legally under the influence ain't it?) So, being as good a husband as I ever was (which isn't all that good) I use my experience and skill and get her dose delivered where upon she plants a hello kiss on my cheek and goes about her business. So, here I am. Just got home, after going to all that trouble and expending energy on self control to show up straight and functional rather than stoned and nobody cares.

I know. I'll show them. I dig into my bags and I find a good sized going on stage dose (which at this point involves a 1/2 gram of heroin mixed with a 1/2 gram of cocaine and this is good shit too. The only people that get better dope than musicians are lawyers, judges and narcs) With a minimum of fuss the deed is done and I feel the rush. The problem this time is that even with all this dope on board. Standing there rushing my ass off, I still feel like shit. I know my life is a failure. My kids don't care whether or not I'm home, my wife, once she gets hers really has no use for me.

This is confusing. I have a job that people fantasize about having. I make pantsloads of money doing that job. (for you accountants a pantsload is way more than a shitload approaching the rarified zone of stupid money) I tour the world, playing music, listening to people bang their hands together and shout merely because I deigned to show the fuck up. How can my life suck this bad? I can't escape the fact that it does suck. It. Sucks. Out. Loud.

Now I'm really getting depressed. Refer to the dosages above. It is really impossible at this point to physically get more dope into my body. I'm drinking way more than a bottle a day. Yet, at the upper limits of consumption. Every. Thing. Sucks.

I go and find my lovely wife and tell her that I need to go to the DeTox at the hospital. This isn't unusual behavior on my part either. Generally at the end of a tour I spend a week or two bringing my habit down to managable levels. Not with the idea of living a clean and sober life, but being able to get a buzz off a quarter gram and a double shot of Jameson's.

She takes me, I check in. The journey began. It was the best thing I've ever done. A few days into the detox process, I had a heart attack. If any of you are planning a heart attack I recommend having it while you are actually in the hospital. Survivability is better there.

While they had me at the medical wing of the hospital I got to enjoy lots of disapproving looks and glares from the folks who were trying to do things like find a vein. At one point I finally just said "Want me to do it?" There was also a very earnest young cardiologist who was looking at my readouts. He told me that according to the stuff he was reading this wasn't my first heart attack. I said "I guess speedballs kick the shit outta them."

He didn't even grin. But, you know, a sense of humor is not high on my list of things to look for in a cardiologist. Save that for the shrinks.

Anyway, those little kids have grown up to be pretty damned impressive young adults. I may not be aging all that gracefully, or well for that matter, thing is, since that day sixteen years ago, I've made it a point to be an eyewitness to my own life.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Saint George's Day

Juan Cole Has a Modest Proposal

In Barcelona they celebrate St. George's day by giving a rose to women, who then give their man a book. The reasoning, which makes perfect Catalonian sense, is to have the rose given because a drop of the dragon's spilled blood sprouted up into a red rose. Then, since Cervantes was Catalan, it just made good Spanish sense.

I have no objection to the use of St. George. Using the Knight of Knowledge to slay the Dragon of Ignorance is an attractive proposal.

Next April 23rd I will be giving books and roses. You are all invited to join me.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stop Letting Their Lies Frame The Discourse

Inigo Montoya I do not think it means what you think it means. ~ Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Stop Letting Their Lies Frame The Discourse

During the late 1980s, some millionaire in Texas (whose name I cannot remember) began floating the idea that the state should build a wall around its entire borders, not just against Mexico, and start steps to secede from the United States. It was a news item for a short while, causing much hilarity. Every single Texan I spoke with, even the reactionary members of my family, thought he was ridiculous. There were a few comments made about how he must have thought Viva Max was a documentary, and then it all went away.

Those of us who went through seventh grade in Texas, where Texas history is a mandatory part of the curriculum, were taught that part of our agreement to joining America instead of remaining a Republic included provisions allowing us (a) to secede at will, and (b) divide into as many as five states at some point in the future. I think the later U.S. reaction to Southern secession pretty much put paid to the first of those provisions. Texans will joke about these archaic cultural flotsam, but let me assure you, the overwhelming majority of us are not hankering for severance from America. Reformation, you bet. But divorce, nah.

So when I heard that Rick Perry had trotted out secession as a serious strategy at the Fox News Teabagger Jamboree™, I had a hard time believing it at first. It seemed like political suicide, and made me wonder if all that hair product has soaked into his cerebellum. For one thing, I thought, he can kiss goodbye the vote of any self-respecting Hispanic or African American: Secession and The Alamo share a white supremacist cultural etymology.

Of course, impossible contradictions do exist out there. Log Cabin Republicans -- say no more.

I began trying to do electoral math in my head. Texas damned near went blue for Obama, and I think I'll live long enough to see that happen. One main reason why it went red in the last two decades is because during the Bust of the 1980s, we had a massive influx of folks from California and the Rust Belt who had jobs they could relocate, keeping good salaries but finding the dirt-cheap real estate here worth a move. These immigrants, who swelled suburbs of our major cities, were mostly Republicans or Independents who were easily swayed right. They like to think of themselves as Texans now, in the same way Dubya does, but they are John Travolta-esque urban cowboys, not the real article who is much more populist and resistant to propaganda. They were bundled together with fundies and racists (not that any of them are mutually exclusive) by Republican gerrymandering, and the takeover of our state government was accomplished.

But their numbers have declined, and by any count, it's not nearly enough to win Perry a future political office by using one of their dogwhistles. In fact, it's patently obvious that he put the whistle to his pretty lips and gave a public blow, even to those who take pride in "knowing nuthin" about politics. And while we love our characters and eccentrics, we tend to not actually give them a government salary if they are more of a Kinky Friedman than a Will Rogers. I mean, Dubya was packaged as a regular guy, not the dangerous buffoon he patently is. And Perry was second-in-command under Dubya, he watched and learned.

So what, I wondered, did he stand to gain from it? I have a couple of guesses. One, of course, is money: White supremacy is coming out from under tissue-thin wraps among the corporate elite who run things and intend to go on running things. This is on a national level, not just Texas. And it's always been half of the money card for the Christian Right (the other half being woman-hating, which is decoupaged as the efforts to fight abortion and stop lesbian/gay marriage). Put those two fundraising bodies together under a common tent, and Perry will be rolling in it.

Further, it's becoming increasingly clear, the Republican Party has abandoned all pretense at winning major elections based on the actual vote. They will use money to disenfranchise beforehand or tie up elections in court challenges afterward in order to keep control as citizens turn away from them. If Perry wants to continue on in the Party of No, he needs to be in the money stream.

Even more, I hope it is obvious to everyone that the entire point of the Fox News Teabagger Jamboree™ was to further the goals of white supremacy. They needed to:
(1) Get white people in contact with each other while
(2) Whipping up lizard-brain emotions associated with generic patriotic fervor whose real message was
(3) Hate Obama. (The real reason for hating him didn't have to be said. But that dogwhistle "secession" is a great clue.)

The network they've begun with all this, small as it is at the moment, will be exploited to greater extent in the future. Thus, it doesn't matter if Perry just alienated himself from a majority of the voting public, just as the Villagers don't give a rat's ass what the actual majority of Americans are clamoring for. Nationalist-based fascism and separatism is not a Texas or Southern issue, it's the train that the Far Right is now riding in every region of America. It's embedded in our national fabric, and the time has come to deal with it. The Civil War not only did not resolve it, but Northern capitulation to the money boys actually exacerbated the problem.

So, gosh, thanks, all of you remote urban analysts who seized the opportunity for some Texas-bashing and regionalist superiority, you really helped us along, as usual. However, for those of us who long ago abandoned the Kyool Skool practice of making fun about other sections of the country as political strategy, there was a lot to learn from this episode. Especially living in a state that's the size of New England, the Mid Atlantic states, and several more combined, with profound geographic and cultural diversity, and a solid tradition of leaders like Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Sarah Weddington, LBJ and Lady Bird, Leon Jaworski, Henry Cisneros... Yeah, we elected Dubya, but so did you. Start looking at the bigger picture, will ya?

Because we are all in this together.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Favorite Poem

"La Guitarra" Federico Garcia-Lorca

Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Se rompen las copas
de la madrugada.
Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Es inùtile
Es imposible
Llora monуtona
como llora el agua,
como llora el viento
sobre la nevada.
Es imposible
Llora por cosas
Arena del Sur caliente
que pide camelias blancas.
Llora flecha sin blanco,
la tarde sin maсana,
y el primer pбjaro muerto
sobre la rama.
Oh guitarra!
Corazуn malherido
por cinco espadas.


It begins, the lament
of the guitar.
The wineglass of dawn
is broken.
It begins, the lament
of the guitar.
It is useless
to silence it.
to silence it.
It cries one note only,
as the water cries,
as the wind cries
over the snow.
to silence it.
It cries for
distant things.
The sands of the hot South
that demand white camelias.
It cries arrows without targets,
evening with no morning,
the first dead bird
on the branch.
Oh guitar!
Heart wounded deep
by five swords.
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Bring Out Your Poems

Judy Grahn Judy Grahn with Chris Brandenberger: The Earring. Oakland, California, 1988; photo by Robert Giard

Bring Out Your Poems

April is National Poetry Month, and since one of my primary identities is as a poet, I would be remiss if I did not avail myself of the opportunity to participate/invite you to participate in the Favorite Poem Project. (Flourishing hat tip to Batocchio at Vagabond Scholar for the links and idea.)

The Favorite Poem Project is "Americans saying the poems they love". Their website states they are "dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives. Robert Pinsky, the 39th Poet Laureate of the United States, founded the Favorite Poem Project shortly after the Library of Congress appointed him to the post in 1997."

I own a battered copy of Pinsky's The Sounds of Poetry, and have used it often to help me break through a poetic block. Before I became housebound, every mid April for a decade found me reading my work at the Austin International Poetry Festival, where I heard marvelous work from around the world and always had a poem chosen for the juried anthology.

In lieu of that energizing experience, I'm going to open up the comments to you all, asking you to share your favorite poem. One only, please, and NOT your own work or that of your best friend/brother/sweetheart/child. Choose a poem which has substantially affected you in some way, which you might know by heart, and if you must talk about why, save that for after you give us the poem, so it can do its work first. If the poem is long, or the formatting is difficult, try to find where it might be printed online and give us the link instead. I promise I'll go read it.

I won't ask you to avoid song lyrics, although I find most lyrics actually don't stand on their own if you've never heard the music. However, the genius of Paul Simon, Lennon/McCartney, and James Taylor, for example, produces verse that I believe will stand the test of ages as poetry. I've often thought if I could write a poem as complete as Taylor's "Millworker", I'd die satisfied.

I receive a poem daily in my e-mail via my subscription to The Writer's Almanac, and it's always interesting to me to read what others are writing and appreciating, even when I don't see how on earth that particular poem made the cut. Art seeps into and out of every nook and cranny in human culture, it's how we imagine the world that is due us, and poetry, in particular, is its own language: Metaphor is how our brains process language and experience, more than any other mechanism (the other two primary tools being music and mathematics). That's why every successful revolution has poets at its core.

To kick things off, I abided by my own rules above, although it was terribly difficult to choose between Frost, Dickinson, Millay, and Hughes. Still, I eventually settled on "A Woman Is Talking To Death" by Judy Grahn, which I find the most important poem I've read in my life. (I've been blessed enough to have heard her read it out loud, in its entirety, twice, and I can still hear sections of it in her voice. It's a gem to read aloud.) I refuse to use Group News Blog for blog-whoring, but the fact is, I have a post at my own blog which has all of "A Woman Is Talking To Death", and since I had to type it out myself then because it wasn't on the web anywhere, and since her anthology (The Work of a Common Woman) may be out of print, I'll link to this beautiful examination of sex, race and gender here. (My post also has biographical information about Judy Grahn and links to her other places on the web.)

As a second choice, and to give you a taste of Judy Grahn, here's a one-stanza untitled poem by her that literally shaped my life in more ways than I can describe:

I'm not a girl
I'm a hatchet
I'm not a hole
I'm a whole mountain
I'm not a fool
I'm a survivor
I'm not a pearl
I'm the Atlantic Ocean
I'm not a good lay
I'm a straight razor
Look at me as if you had never seen a woman before
I have red, red hands and much bitterness

© Judy Grahn

There's more...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who Knew that Racists Drank So Much Tea?

photo courtesy Progress Now Colorado

The Tax day Tea-bagging circus promoted and fomented by Fox and Rush and the RWNM (right wing noise machine) are not about taxes, the are about losing. These folks lost the election and they don't know what to do about it. And since there are no reasonable people leading or uniting the republican party-- the vacuum is being filled by the fringe elements and the greedy news media.

Unfortunately the tea bag party has clearly become the happy home of racist, angry, and yes crazy people and they are more than willing to be the literal poster children for the GOP. (like this lovely young racist above)

During the scary Palin rallies it was the left who exposed photos and stories of some of the racist and violent elements that Sarah was stirring up. Like the grandpa that took the Obama monkey to a rally only to hide it and then give it to a kid when he realized he was on a CBS news camera,

(he was proud out in line when he thought it was just a regular person filming him)

During the election the racists were happy to share their propaganda with each other but were not displaying it so opening in the news. The media was downplaying it all back then-- calling the left hysterical when we pointed out the hatemongers that the GOP was whipping to a frenzy. But things are different now.

In their minority status-- the GOP and Fox have decided to encourage their followers to lead the charge and so the crazy racist slogans and hate speech are suddenly all over the news-- not just the blogs. FOX has put hate speech front and center-- and given the racists and crazies a national microphone.

I'm hopeful that this will turn out to be a huge mistake. I think be so out front with your racist hate and bile will turn off more and more people, shrinking the gop like a pair of tea bags in the icy cold ocean on an early summer swimming day in the northeast. (sorry couldn't resist-- too much Rachel Maddow this week)

cross posted from

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day

Tax filing is due by midnight tonight.
(In almost all cases.)

If you're not filing your taxes today, file an automatic extension.

The tax burden in the United States is one of the lowest of any first world nation.


(Yes, we posted the same post last year, plus some stuff about Bush.)

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Monday, April 13, 2009

What's In A Name?

An Idiot, By Any Other Name

Would still be a stupid asshole.

The comments were part of an exchange with Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans, during a hearing Tuesday by the House Elections Committee.

Ko told the committee that people of Asian descent have problems voting because they may have legal transliterated names as well as common English names on their drivers licenses or other forms of identification. Brown asked whether Asian-Americans could "adopt" names that "we could deal with more readily here."

Even taken in the context of State Legislatures, or in the context of Texas dumbass, this is incredible.

There I was, flying high. I've completed the run of "Godspell" with great success. The producers loved my ass, the director was effusive in his praise, the band dug working with me, even the cast was appreciative of the work I did.

Best news of all, as I get ready to enter another bit of blogging silence, my daughter who is no longer going to be Medskool Girl, but my daughter, the doctor. Called to tell me that on her medical license, and on her diploma, she will be listed by her Apache name.

Ga'age Biittsaakesh (gah-ageh beet zah kesh)
Raven, daughter of the Snake.

Thank goodness my cousin, the brilliant attorney is on hand to make everything OkieDokie with the White record keepers.

See, just like the Asian Americans, we Apache have gone round and round with the dominant society about the way our names work. It's not unusual for us to regularly use five or six names. It works like this.

Medicine Name:

This is the name that is used in council, or in official society. It is the name used when performing ceremony.

Warrior Name:

Given by one's warrior society. It can change as one matures and gains a reputation. I started out as a soldier in the Cloud Society like most young kids. When I was initiated I was called alch iseh dii'i dits'agh (allch eeseh deee ee deets ahhg) or "little four times tough." I wasn't a big kid, but I loved a good scrap and I didn't have much back down in my make up. When I came back from Viet Nam I was initiated in the the Raven Society and was given the name hiidloh gonalkaih (heed low gone all kaeyeh) or, "laughs in battle." When folks talk about me as a Cloud Soldier, they use my Cloud name, as a Raven, and a proven warrior, they use my Raven's name.

Family Name:

What your family calls you of course.

Enemy Name:

I don't know if I ever got one of these. This is something that only the greatest warriors achieve. The enemy gives you a name. In the Zuni langauge, "Apache" means "the enemy." We would show up at a Zuni ville, and everybody would start shouting "Apache! Apache!" We deduced that they were talking about us, thought it sounded cool and that became the name of our people. Geronimo got his name from the Mexicans, as did Mangas Coloradas (Red Cape or cloak). Getting an enemy name is big medicine.

Sacred Name:

This is a private, very personal name. It is usually given by a holy one. It is only spoken aloud once. Never again. It is used in silent, and personal prayer.

So, now imagine yourself, a low level army pencil pusher. You're stuck out in the middle of nowhere at the end of the Apache Wars. You have this big line of pissed off Indians that you're trying to get written down on the lists to be sent to Washington. This Indian stands in front of you and you ask "Name?" He starts reeling off all these names you can't comprehend, and even if somebody spoke Apache to translate you probably wouldn't understand the nuance and levels of meaning anyway. If you were that smart and intuitive you would not be pushing pencils in the middle of godforsaken ass nowhere.

Just like they did with the Lakotah, the Comanche, the Kiowa, the Navajo, you make yourself up a fucking name and you write it down.

We have some creative family names on the rez. We have the Peaches, the Whiskey, the Chaw, the Barefoot, the Skinnies, you get the idea.

Confronted with that, we simply created another naming class and convention.

White Name:

What some poor ass soldier called your grandpa.

I'm picking my Harpergirl, her hubby, and her new baby up at the airport tomorrow morning and we're going to Tucson.

It's going to be a great week.

Join me in welcoming Dr. Ga'age Biittsaakesh M fuckin' D

State Representative Betty Brown on our rez would probably be given the medicine name of:

Bi'eh Besh

Nose Picker.
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Hateful Ignorance Versus Hate As A Sword

Ellen Degeneres
Hateful Ignorance Versus Hate As A Sword

In the early morning hours on Friday, I was channel-surfing and stopped briefly on Family Feud. A white family with strong Texas accents were competing with a Latino family, and both teams had only one male in the line-up. The mother of the white family won the play for her side by answering the question "What is Ellen Degeneres best known for?" with "She's gay." (Uh, no, she's LESBIAN, but since Ellen shies away from the L-word, I didn't scream that at the TV screen.) It was the number one response, and the family hopped up and down, starting play. There were three daughters in a row, all blond, perky, and sporting names that began with H. In quick succession, they got three right answers: "She likes to dance", "She has a talk show", "She's a comic actress." Play returned to the father, and John O'Hurley, the host, said "You have a chance to make this a clean sweep."

Dad said, with a nervous smile: "She's known to not care for our country."


John O'Hurley is extremely good as a host. He gets along with everybody, he laughs with them instead of at them, he seems to actually enjoy human foibles and eccentricity in an unsupercilious way. He's a professional. But this visibly jolted him. He managed to keep his smile, even as the rest of his body went stiff and formal. The audience with their frenzied cheering at nothing much sensible also went quiet. O'Hurley turned to the board, and of course that answer wasn't up there, total zero. He went on wordlessly, back to the mother, who said "She's married" with no overtones at all, simple statement of fact. And ding ding ding, they had now swept the board and won that round. No thanks to dad.

The thing is, he wasn't just taking a pot-shot because he couldn't resist. For one thing, twenty grand was at stake. But mostly it was his expression, his tone, which indicated he actually believed Ellen Degeneres hates America, that it's a commonly known reality, and while he wasn't going to pretend it was okay with him, he had to speak the truth in order to win the question.

Epic delusion. I mean, has he ever watched her show? Her shtick is talking to Americans from every walk of life with interest and connection. She raises endless money for charitable ventures of all kinds, she's great with kids and animals and old ladies (especially old ladies), and I personally wish like hell she'd be a lot MORE political, a little less everybody's token darling.

It bothered me so much I couldn't shake it. Was this code for saying if you're queer, you hate America? Is that the way "their" logic runs? Or was that he's heard her at some point object to oppression, to George W. Bush, to some obvious flaw, and from that he deduced she must hate America, because if you find anything at all wrong, you're a traitor?

I deliberately don't watch the elite white boys who fill mainstream media because they don't know what the fuck they are talking about and listening to them actually lowers my energy, clogs up my brain. I don't want to hear this kind of shit coming at me from a game show, of all places. I'll bet you anything O'Hurley calls Ellen at some point and apologizes for it having occurred on his watch, I think he's that kind of guy. Drew Carey sure wouldn't, but O'Hurley still has a conscience, I think.

This incident became linked in my mind with the hearing this week about mandating photo ID, where Texas State Representative Betty Brown (R - District 4, Henderson and Kaufman Counties) was interacting with Ramey Ko, representing the Organization of Chinese Americans. Ko was eloquently explaining that because not all alphabets use the same letters as English, or use letters at all in the way we define them, transliteration of names is difficult and inconsistent, leading to different versions on various documents. Brown responded, in a genuinely empathetic voice, "Do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown later expounded on this by stating she was suggesting the adoption of a name "just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

Okay, brief rundown of racism 101: "You and your citizens" is racist when you are talking to another American from a different ethnicity. "They" are "Americans" too. And "their" names deserve the same respect as anyone's name at a polling site. It is the JOB of poll workers to "deal" with names; that more or less sums up the job. It is not the work of government to ensure poll workers do not have to encounter names which are ethnically distinct from what they perceive as the dominant culture.

Various folks began insisting Brown apologize, and eventually she did. It wasn't the best apology in the world, but it wasn't the usual Republican "You are making this shit up, I'm no racist because I like Michael Jordan" dodge, either. It's certainly a better apology that the kind I always got from one smooth-talking ex of mine, who could say "I'm so sorry you got upset over nothing" in such a convincing manner, I bought it for several years. I've watched this clip several times, the whole exchange, and I believe Brown was actually not meaning to be offensive.

Just as dad on Family Feud wasn't trying to make up something about Ellen, either. He believed what he said.

Now, don't get worked up, I'm not about to excuse white supremacy or lesbo-hating. I'm not going to argue that we need to credit people for good intentions, because I believe in actions and behavior over intentions (it's a recovery-based philosophy). I believe in demanding accountability and respect at every turn.

But when we are dealing with the Right, there are those who deliberately lie, deliberately try to create division and fear, and there are those who are ignorant/scared. The former are constantly manipulating the latter for their own gain (power and money). I don't think we have to try to rescue the ignorant and frightened. Still, the schism has deepened drastically under my observation as an adult, and now the "culture wars" is becoming an armed conflict in growing instances. I am raising the question: If we ourselves don't espouse eliminationist rhetoric, if we refuse to condemn the ignorant/fearful to oblivion, then what do we do with them? How do we set an example of respect, how do we explain their delusion in a manner which may (at some point down the road) sink in enough to allow them to change?

Even more, obviously Betty Brown exists in an environment where no one ever points out the racist underpinnings of her language, her assumptions, her world view. Calling her a hate-monger won't encourage her to renovate her environment. I think a distinction should be made (by those of us who self-identify as progressives) between those who are intentionally, by design, fostering hate versus those who are adding to the pain accidentally. The "accidentals", the nonthinkers, the delusional are not necessarily lost causes, you know? Women are raised to believe men don't mean to be pigs. People of color are raised to ignore as much of white shit as they can. The contradiction to this upbringing, this conditioning, is not living with raised hackles but, instead, living with complete awareness of what's going down AND assuming your ability to enact change around you, in every instant.

On a good day, of course.

As always, it's fine with me if you don't want to consider these questions or do this work. Just don't hurl frustration at those of us who are willing, at times, to assume this burden, okay? I absolutely have days where if I have to hear one more dick make a joke about bitches and leg hair, I will want to sharpen my axe and slip ricin into tubes of Cruex. But writing from that place is not helpful, doesn't advance me one iota toward the world in which I'd like to live, and "venting" simply redistributes foul air, in my opinion. I won't muck up your space and I ask you don't muck up mine.

P.S. I switched away from Family Feud, because I was so upset, but went back before it ended to see who made it to the final round. It was the Latino family, and one woman by herself got 191 out of 200 possible points. They won $20,000 and I cheered, you bet I did.

There's more...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Requiem For A Tiny Town

Topo map showng Stoneburg, Texas
(1961 topographical map including Stoneburg, Montague County, Texas; click on image to enlarge. Key to annotations at end of post.)

Requiem For A Tiny Town

Stoneburg, Texas is no more.

When I was 13, my family stopped over in Stoneburg to spend the school semester with my mother's adoptive mother, on our way from Brazil to Singapore for my father's work. My father went on to Singapore, but I fell in love with this tiny place, where four generations of my family had lived before me. In April (1969), I went to my mother and asked that she find a way for us to live here through my high school years, instead of us continuing to move around constantly. I wanted to graduate from the very same school where my mother had gone all 12 years, her mother before that, and her mother before that. Mama wanted to stay, too. But it would mean leaving my father.

We stayed, and my mother kept putting off telling my father why we weren't joining him. In fact, she never did tell him. Instead, right after the Moon Walk, she suffered a massive heart attack from the stress she was under. My father was called back from Singapore, bought a house trailer, and we stayed in Stoneburg until I went to college. I never told Daddy about Mama's intention, either.

But as of Thursday night, Stoneburg has been wiped from the map, burned to the ground during a hellstorm of fire sweeping across Texas and Oklahoma, fueled by winds but eventually creating its own wind, during this worst drought in recorded history.

Most of the current news reports are focusing on larger towns. The few accounts I've found call it a "hamlet of two dozen buildings", which is generous. The story goes on to say two dozen buildings burned, and that only one structure remained intact. I wonder which one it was. I may well know them all, despite having left 30 years ago. Tiny rural places like this don't change a great deal unless some commercial interest arrives to make use of their resources, and that is definitely not the case for Stoneburg.

When I was a teenager there, one day a few of us (ranging in age from me to some elders) were speculating about the actual population of town. I pulled out a piece of notebook paper and between us, we were able to list everybody in town by name. It didn't take long. We counted and came up with 86.

Mostly, the inhabitants were people who ranched a little, had oil leases, or had stayed after high school because their parents lived there and they didn't want to leave the old folks on their own. There were teachers, and one gas station which sold a few groceries. If you didn't ranch or teach, you probably worked elsewhere, in one of the "big towns" a 15 minute drive away, Bowie or Nocona (which might have a dazzling 2000 people). Some people did car repair or other home-based industry. Mostly, everybody was poor, but the class range was so limited, they/we didn't really feel poor.

Stoneburg was once much larger, a solid farming community whose population probably peaked around 1900-1910. Even by the time of my mother's childhood in the 1930s, in addition to the school there was a general store, a gas station/mechanic shop (run by my grandfather Bill Atkins), four churches, a train depot (run by my adoptive grandfather Auther Atkins), and assorted small industry. In 1900, it had even a small strip of downtown brick buildings, including the blacksmith shop of my great-grandfather Joseph Atkins. But after the war, people began moving away, as was the case in most farm communities in the U.S.

The first of my family to arrive there was David and Margaret Armstrong, my great-great-grandparents, with Margaret's parents Tommy and Johannah Ritchie and their family. They had traveled by wagon train from Ash Flat, Arkansas first to Tarrant County, Texas, settling on land outside the town of Grapevine. This was the famous blackland prairie, incredible farming territory, and we've never been able to find out why they sold out and migrated 70 miles north to Montague County, bordering Oklahoma. While Montague County is part of the Western Crosstimbers, it cotton-farming soil would not have been superior. The two families arrived around 1885, and immediately several related families also from Sharp County, Arkansas migrated to join them in and around Stoneburg. David Armstrong donated the land for Oak Hill Cemetery, where every generation of my family except my mother has been buried since -- and where I already have a plot waiting for me when I pass on.

Montague County has always been intensely rural. There were few adventurous (that's one word for it) white families who ventured there prior to 1870, but the area was regularly swept by Comanche and Kiowa raids. Nobody who wanted to live free of terror was going to migrate into that part of Texas until the U.S. Army and Texas Rangers after the Civil War began enforcing the racist vision of Manifest Destiny. Montague County got railroads, one cattle trail, and a few oil fields over the succeeding years, but nothing major, not enough to create or maintain population.

The only reason Stoneburg has managed to hold onto its local school is because there's enough revenue from oil fields under the town's land base (including the famous Hildreth field) to fund the school's fight against annexation by nearby towns. Even so, during the 1950s Stoneburg had to consolidate with nearby Ringgold, ten miles to the north. Grades 1-6 go to school in Ringgold, the junior and senior high kids go to Stoneburg, and the new district was named Gold-Burg -- a name which drove my cosmopolitan relatives in paroxysms of laughter, because this is utterly Baptist country with a wide anti-Semitic streak. But the people there are so removed from knowledge about the larger world, they had no idea "Gold-Burg" sounded Jewish.

It was also, until after I graduated from high school in 1973, part of a dry county (which meant you had to drive to Oklahoma or nearby Muenster in a neighboring county for alcohol, absolutely not a deterrent to drinking) and strongly adherent to a Sundown culture. No people of color could spent the night in Montague County. I understand the latter has changed now. I wonder what pioneering folks busted through that barrier.

Once, when I was living in California, I flew back to Texas on a genealogical research trip and drove to Montague County for the day, hunting abandoned cemeteries and trying to plat family land. In the mid afternoon, I realized I had not seen another living human being or automobile for several hours. It's that isolated. I got a little spooked. I topped a small hill and saw the falling-down Copeland place below me briefly flicker into new condition, with fresh whitewash. A woman was walking to the barn wearing a long full skirt, carrying an old-fashioned wooden bucket. She turned and looked at me, shading her eyes. The light around me was glinty, silverish.

I turned my car around, drove straight to the nearest two-lane blacktop, and headed for Bowie. About a mile outside of town, the funny light shifted, the normal afternoon sun returned, and I finally passed a pickup. I stopped at the first pay phone I found and called my little brother Bill, figuring he would make fun of me but wanting the reality of his rough humor. Instead, he said "They're trying to suck you back into the past, sis. Better come on home." I did. I still don't know if he was serious or just playing along with me.

When I was 13, I wanted to be sucked in to the past. I loved how connected to the land I felt there, how many of the kids in my school were distant cousins, how quiet it all was. I desperately needed that quiet and sense of continuity. While I was in high school, I came out to others as a lesbian and as a writer (although I'd admitted to myself both of these identities when I was nine). I became an anti-war activist and discovered feminism. Despite the fact that most teachers who come to that school are either on their first teaching job or unable to find work elsewhere, I had a couple of extraordinary teachers who gave me the education of my life. Class size averaged 5-8, so individual attention was readily available, and I thrived under it. In addition, my mother did not buy into the rural Texas working class value which says education corrupts the mind, so I stood out in that regard as well. When I was a sophomore, all four girls in the senior class and one of the two juniors (including an out lesbian) managed to get pregnant during the school year, a combination of ignorance, lack of social outlets, and drinking.

My senior year, I did persuade my high school history teacher to leave her husband for me and we began raising her two-year-old daughter together, but it was not the result of alcohol or ignorance. I knew exactly what I was doing.

I hear they still gossip about me there in Stoneburg. That's all right with me. I feel like my ancestors are thrilled with who I turned out to be, and that I'm living up the best of my heritage.

I can't imagine that most of the people who live there now have adequate home insurance, if they have any at all. One news account said they all survived because they contacted each other as the fire raced their way and got everybody out of harm's way. That sounds like the Stoneburg I knew. Still, they've lost the entire town, such as it was. I watched a tiny clip of coverage from a Wichita Falls station where a man named Layne Posey was interviewed, saying "Don't know what we'll do. Figure it out and rebuild, I guess." I used to babysit Layne Posey when he was seven and eight years old. Apparently he had some kind of junk car lot there which is now gutted. It's not much compared to mansions in Malibu that are swept into the ocean by mudslides every year, but I could see on his eerily familiar face the anomie, as we called it in sociology class: The altered reality which, for the time being, has no recognizable rules or conventions.

We'll see if Stoneburg rises from the ashes. If not, the headstones of my ancestors are still there, and maybe that woman on what was once the Copeland place is still heading out to the barn to do milking. Stoneburg helped make me who I am, and I'm grateful for it.

(Key to map above: This map shows the Stoneburg where I lived as a teenager. I could name the inhabitants of every house on it. Here's a few details:
(1) An abandoned chicken ranch where I used to walk when I was at my wit's end. I'd go to a concrete-lined room in the middle where there were stacks of emptied brown glass jugs. I'd hurl bottles at the walls, shattering them and screaming, until I could think clearly again. During the 1980s, this ranch was renovated into a fundamentalist church enclave by a local family, and in 1983, this is where infamous serial killer Henry Lee Lucas was run to earth.
(2) Gold-Burg High School (four generations of my family went here.)
(3) The First Baptist Church, which only had services one Sunday a month from a visiting preacher.
(4) Home and farm of my adoptive grandmother Zura Atkins.
(5) The lot where my mother was born, where her mother died, and where we parked a trailer to live in during my high school years.
(6) The land where David and Margaret Armstrong farmed cotton, in a sod house, later a two-room dogrun.
(7) The gas station/grocery which was the only commercial entity in town when we lived there.
(8) The rock-walled gas station once run by my grandfather Bill Atkins.
(9) Where my great-grandfather Joseph Atkins had his blacksmith shop, next to what was Smith's Store during my mother's high school years.

There's more...