Saturday, May 30, 2009

Join La Raza In Stopping The Hate Speech

("I Remember Mama" by Xavier Viramontes)

Join La Raza In Stopping The Hate Speech

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) are fighting back against the Right Wing racist, sexist smear campaign which is designed to permanently tarnish the reputation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. In addition to statements in every venue they can reach, they've set up an online petition to demand leaders of the Republican Party stop these hate-based attacks. I'm going to copy in below the e-mail I received from them. The links embedded in it will take you to their website which has the same information as the e-mail plus a message form for you to complete.

I'm thrilled to live in a city that is approximately 30% Latino/a and a GREAT place to be as a result. This crap has to stop.

The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court was an historic and proud moment for Latinos and the country as a whole. But her ethnicity has proven too much of a temptation for the voices of hate and extremism, who instead of looking at her judicial record have launched a vocal rampage that has reached new heights of absurdity.

Take action to put a stop to it.

Rush Limbaugh, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and others are claiming that Sotomayor is a "reverse racist" because she believes that more judges with diverse backgrounds and experiences would be a good thing for the judicial system. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies (the "think tank" of Tanton's web of anti-immigrant extremist groups) and his pals at the National Review online are just beside themselves that Judge Sotomayor had the temerity to pronounce her own name correctly. They basically said that if she was a real American, she would butcher it. In an article that appeared in The Hill newspaper, Republican insiders are quoted as being "concerned" that Sotomayor's avowed love of arroz con gandules and other Puerto Rican delicacies will cloud her judicial decision-making.

This one, however, takes the cake:

Former Congressman, failed presidential candidate, and anti-immigrant extremist Tom Tancredo, unable to provide a shred of evidence for his assertion that Judge Sotomayor is a "racist," went off the deep end on CNN, saying Sotomayor belongs to "the Latino KKK without the hoods and nooses."

That's what Tancredo called NCLR-a 40-year-old, national Latino civil rights organization that works with community organizations all over the country to help Latino families achieve the American Dream. NCLR has been recognized by members of Congress and the media, has hosted presidents of both political parties, and works hand in hand with other national civil rights organizations in a bipartisan way to
improve the lives of all Americans.

Act now to stop this nonsense.

Raising questions and concerns about Judge Sotomayor's 17-year record on the bench is legitimate. Resorting tooutdated stereotypes, defamation of character, and outright falsehoods is not.

Please join us and send a message to Chairman Michael Steele of the RNC, House Minority Leader John Boehner, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asking them to denounce these statements and restore the nomination process for Judge Sotomayor to a more appropriate and civil discourse.
There's more...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Follow The Power, Stupid

(Photo by ©Liza Cowan.)

Follow The Power, Stupid

Once again, it becomes necessary to do some ABC training on the actual definitions of oppression and "isms". I do this not to answer all the white Right currently throwing around charges of racism -- because we know they are, in fact, racists by belief and deed. Nor do I seek to educate those who would listen to such opinions, because if you look for insight about race from the likes of Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter, you are looking for confirmation of a bias you already hold. It is akin to asking Hugh Hefner for insight about respectful relationships with women.

I'm going back over this ground to correct profound misunderstanding within progressive communities about how to effectively work against oppression, especially in a collaborative, non-guilty manner.

I use the theoretical framework taught to me by anti-racism activist Ricky Sherover-Marcuse. One of her fundamental definitions is: "Oppression is the systematic and pervasive mistreatment of individuals on the basis of their membership in various groups, which are disadvantaged by the institutionalized imbalances in social power in a particular society."

Point one: Note the key words systematic and institutionalized. It is not an oppression if those factors are absent.

Point two: All "isms" are referring to oppression, not preferences or discrimination in the sense of differentiating between two things. "Ism" means a power imbalance, i.e., it has a systematic and institutionalized mistreatment aspect.

Thus, any of the well-understood oppressions or "isms" have one group advantaged with regard to power and all other groups in that category disadvantaged. Power does not flow in both directions when it comes to oppression. There is no such thing as a "revere"-ism. When people of color talk about white people, no matter what they say, they are not capable of being racist because there is no systematic and institutionalized mistreatment of white people in this society. There is no threat to back up their language or beliefs. The power goes in the opposite direction.

This is simply not that hard to understand. When we are growing up, we learn very early which groups are "real people", i.e., advantaged by the power structure and which groups are not. We KNOW who these groups are: Males, whites, middle to upper class, adults (but not elders), Christians, able-bodied, and heterosexual. Or convincingly appearing to belong to those groups, since our culture values appearance far above actual content of character.

As children, when we are being taught these systems of oppression, we are powerless to completely hold onto our own clarity and sense of justice. We resist to the point where our own survival is at stake before we capitulate and accept lies into our world view. This is true of every human being who has ever lived. As we take in the lies, many different kinds of confusion can and do occur. Once we become adults, we have an opportunity (and responsibility) to clear our confusion, as best we can. It will take the rest of our lives, the burden of growing up under oppression.

The lies we ingest are just as likely to be about the groups to which we belong as they are about the "other". When we absorb as truth forced misinformation about our own identity, this is called internalized oppression. But if we act on those beliefs, we are playing into the system, not "becoming the oppressor to our own people". The "oppressor" is the system. Yes, it is human beings who maintain the system, but it will also be human beings from every group who will ultimately dismantle it. We are all allies in this task.

Another common form of confusion is personalizing our mistreatment to the individual doling it out. For example, many boys grow up with abusive mother figures who use any tool available to act out their adultism. Such a boy, when grown, may insist that "women" are equally oppressive to men in the realm of sexism. But humiliating a boy because of his gender is, at baseline, adultism using gender as a tool. It is critically important that each of us sort out our growing-up experiences into actual systems of oppression rather than relying on anecdotal experience, however devastating that experience may be. Empowerment comes from taking on a system, not from simply naming past hurt and remaining mired in confusion. This is particularly necessary if, as adults, we acquire membership in groups which are privileged by the institutions of oppression.

This practice requires maturity, of course. It requires a mindset that can embrace something other than polarities and binaries (including so-called subverted or queered binaries, which are still binaries if you believe they have a basis in reality). It requires accountability and reciprocity, not rhetoric or intentions. It requires street smarts in equal measure to academic theory. It requires a comfort with or preference for pluralism and diversity. It is, thus, a practice found among liberals, if it is found at all.

Dismantling an interrelated system of institutionalized oppressions will require we never engage in trying to compare oppressions -- for instance, is it harder to be a black man or a white woman. (Sound familiar?) There is no way to quantify oppressions against each other, and anybody who engages in this activity is, to put it charitably, giving us a roadmap to how they have been hurt and confused.

Dismantling an interrelated system of institutionalized oppressions will require we not confuse "biological/cultural/ethnic/sexual/religious/age differences between human beings" as a reason or excuse for oppression.

Dismantling an interrelated system of institutionalized oppressions will require we identify all those arenas where we as individuals are non-target for oppression and then act as allies to those who are target in every way we can imagine, not from charity but because it is our liberation we seek.

Begin by interrupting any charge of racism or sexism being leveled against those targeted for these oppressions by those who are non-target. It is bogus and designed to perpetuate confusion. Once we actually HAVE a level playing field, we can at that point discuss whether power is flowing backwards. But that day is not going to arrive in the spring and summer of 2009.

There's more...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

BREAKING: California Supremes uphold h(8), existing marriages

According to the SF Chronicle, the California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 to uphold Proposition 8, but also decided that the 18000 or so gay marriages performed are valid and will remain so.

This is exactly the slicing and dicing predicted by many commentators. The RWAs can remain happy in their ability to remove fundamental rights from an oppressed minority, the progressives can remain happy that nobody had their marriages annulled. A new constitutional amendment will undoubtedly be on the Cali ballot in 2010 and will remain so until it passes and sticks. Time and demographics are on the side of liberalism in this case.

There's more...

Sotomayor for SCOTUS

The background press release is out:

Sonia Sotomayor has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit since October 1998. She has been hailed as “one of the ablest federal judges currently sitting” for her thoughtful opinions, and as “a role model of aspiration, discipline, commitment, intellectual prowess and integrity” for her ascent to the federal bench from an upbringing in a South Bronx housing project.

Her American story and three decade career in nearly every aspect of the law provide Judge Sotomayor with unique qualifications to be the next Supreme Court Justice. She is a distinguished graduate of two of America's leading universities. She has been a big-city prosecutor and a corporate litigator. Before she was promoted to the Second Circuit by President Clinton, she was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H.W. Bush. She replaces Justice Souter as the only Justice with experience as a trial judge.

Judge Sotomayor served 11 years on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, one of the most demanding circuits in the country, and has handed down decisions on a range of complex legal and constitutional issues. If confirmed, Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the Court in the past 70 years. Judge Richard C. Wesley, a George W. Bush appointee to the Second Circuit, said “Sonia is an outstanding colleague with a keen legal mind. She brings a wealth of knowledge and hard work to all her endeavors on our court. It is both a pleasure and an honor to serve with her.”

In addition to her distinguished judicial service, Judge Sotomayor is a Lecturer at Columbia University Law School and was also an adjunct professor at New York University Law School until 2007.

The question uppermost in my mind about Sotomayor is her stance on Presidential power. Glenn Greenwald at Salon has been writing about Obama's preventive detention proposal and yesterday he mentioned Charlie Savage discussing the question of the expansion of executive power. Today he praises the nomination, but specifically notes the lack of information about Sotomayor's position on executive power:

There are many vital issues that Sotomayor should be asked about, obviously including her views on executive power limits, which -- as Charlie Savage noted this weekend -- are largely unknown. One's view of her selection should be shaped by things that are as yet unknown. But judging strictly from what is known, Obama deserves substantial credit for this choice. There were choices available to him that would have been safer among the Respectable Intellectual Center (Diane Wood) and among the Right (Elena Kagan). At his best, Obama ignores and is even willing to act contrary to the standard establishment Washington voices and mentality that have corrupted our political culture for so long. His choice of Sotomayor is a prime example of his doing exactly that, and for that reason alone, ought to be commended.

I am slightly more comfortable with Obama wielding unchecked executive power than Bush doing so. But both make me uncomfortable -- possibly so uncomfortable that I would refuse to move back to the US and be subject to them. There is always a swing of the pendulum, and whatever powers you grant to someone you believe worthy of them will eventually be thrust into the hands of someone who isn't.

I hope to see discussion of executive power during the confirmation hearings but doubt that I will.

There's more...

Looks Like It Will Be Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor Sonia Sotomayor, photo from Pace University

In what is some version of Friday Take Out The Trash Day, Bloomberg is reporting that President Obama is about to announce Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee for Supreme Court Justice. This makes it more likely, to my mind, that he knows the Prop (h)8 verdict will go against progressives. He's quite the juggler.

The announcement is scheduled for 10:15 a.m. EST. If the prediction is correct, bunuelos all around!

There's more...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Decision Day on California's Prop 8

Sara wrote Decision Day on California's Prop 8 over on Orcinus.

Go read it right now please. Seriously important, no kidding.

There's more...

Riding Along In A Handbasket

Riding Along In A Handbasket

Peace is a way of life, a series of cultural choices which build on each other long before conflict appears on the horizon. It's a life that America does very badly, if at all. We have been colonizers, genocidal artists, and bullies since the onset.

Even so, the Bush Years took this appetite for aggression to its ultimate extreme. We are now seeing, reaping, the results of eight years of no foreign policy aside from threats and belligerence.

You label an isolated, paranoid nation as part of the "Axis of Evil", you have to expect they'll live up to your smear. Male adolescent immaturity makes the roads a dangerous place to be, and is partly compensated for by higher insurance rates. Where was our version of State Farm when it came to dealings with other countries? Yep, I'm scared by North Korea exploding a bomb on Memorial Day weekend (no accident in that symbolism). But I'm just as scared about Pakistan having the capability we handed them. And more scared about the fact that Obama explicitly said he would not remove nuclear options from his playbook. We are the chief danger to the world, especially when we deny that fact.

Any approach at all is better than Rumsfeld/Cheney/Wolfowitz/Rice, et al. However, that's a ludicrous standard to beat. Obama and Clinton are both hawks. As my mother used to say, when it comes to militaristic roles in foreign policy, you could throw 'em both in a gunnysack and there's no tellin' which of 'em would crawl out first.

This is where we're going to need serious leadership of the liberal variety, not middle-of-the-road pragmatism. We have to push as hard as we can here, if we're to have any chance of bringing in future approaches which will not shy away from saying no to the Right in all its permutations.

Fear and distance are not environments where our brain's abilities shine. Start there, with your own visceral response. Clean house and get ready to help us think our way out of this mess. It's time for Something Completely Different.


I woke up this morning remembering this poem I wrote. It's been published somewhere, can't find the journal title right now.


The last two times we’ve slid to war
I was awake and saw it start

I watched alone, with just a cat
And wept in what I think was rage

I would have called on god except
God’s name was already in use

And I was pretty sure the chore
Was ours. Rage was no help at all

I did pray in those blasted dawns
For innocents beneath the drop

But also for the souls of those
Who made the choice to cause a death

My chance to sit at home and watch
Is luck, more than a righteous heart

We buy all honor with a myth
And if I lie down free of ghosts

As I close my eyes and stretch
My long-bone muscles into peace

I name my luck and pray for you
It isn’t much, but it spins forth

A filament from then to here
A rosined thread that god can pluck
A way out of the labyrinth
A bind I need as much as you

©Maggie Jochild, written 11:05 p.m., 8 October 2004

There's more...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Women Among Us: Achy Obejas

Achy Obejas (Achy Obejas, photo courtesy of Depauw University)

Women Among Us: Achy Obejas

Achy Obejas is a brilliant, innovative, lyrical novelist and poet whose work is a motherlode of synthesis. She uses her solid background in journalism to report on culture, but with a poet's sensibility, using a combination of brevity and metaphor to animate across borders.

She was born in Cuba in 1956 and brought to the U.S. by her parents after the Cuban revolution at age six. She grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, with her parents expecting to eventually return to Cuba. Instead, in 1979 Achy moved to Chicago, where she has lived as an out dyke who writes with authority and grace on embracing multiple identities.

The biography up at her website states:

Achy's poetry and fiction have been published in Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, Indiana Review, Story, La Gaceta de Cuba, Habana Elegante, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Best of Helicon Nine, Another Chicago Magazine, Abraxas, Antigonish Review, Bilingual Review, Conditions, Ikon, Interstate, Phoebe/George Mason University Review, Rambunctious Review, Revista Chicano-Riqueña, Sing Heavenly Muse!, Sinister Wisdom, Strong Coffee, Third Woman, and many others.

An award-winning journalist, she worked for more than ten years for the Chicago Tribune writing and reporting about arts and culture. Among literally thousands of stories, she helped cover Pope John Paul II's historic 1998 visit to Cuba, the arrival of Al-Queda prisoners in Guantánamo, the Versace murder, and the AIDS epidemic.

She writes regularly about Latin music for the Washington Post and about books for In These Times.

Her articles have appeared in the Village Voice, Vogue, Playboy, Los Angeles Times, MS, Weep,, Latina, Latin Girl, Poz en Español, The Nation, Out, Chicago Reader, The Advocate, Girlfriends, Windy City Times, High Performance, New City, Chicago Reporter, The Catalyst, Chicago, Chicago Sun-Times, Hispanic, La Raza, Hispanic Link (a bilingual national syndication service), and many others.

Achy's translation projects have included Maria Torres Piers' By Heart (Temple University Press); catalogue text for "Passionately Cuban," an art exhibition at the University of Albany, Albany, New York; catalogue text for the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria; Picturing Cuba (University of New Mexico Press, 2002) by E. Wright Ledbetter; and articles for the Chicago Tribune. She was recently contracted by the family of the late Cuban poet laureate Nicolás Guillén to produce a new translation of his work, including the classic "Motivos de Son" (the only authorized English version was previously translated by Langston Hughes in 1948).

During her career, Achy has received a Pulitzer for a Tribune team investigation, the Studs Terkel Journalism Prize, several Peter Lisagor journalism honors, two Lambda Literary awards, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry, and residencies at Yaddo, Ragdale and the Virginia Center for the Arts, among other honors.

Her work has been translated into Spanish, German, Hungarian and Farsi. She has lectured and read her work in the U.S., Cuba, Mexico, Spain, Argentina and Australia, and has served as the Springer Writer-in-Residence at the University of Chicago and the Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Hawai'i.

Achy Obejas is currently the Sor Juana Visiting Writer at DePauw University in Chicago.
Watch Achy Obejas read from her current novel Ruins at Galeria De La Raza in San Francisco on 14 January 2009:


“I like to think that a poem sort of floats above the banalities of things like calendars and clocks. And I like that space that poetry puts you in—where all logic is suspended.”

Not in Cars

dark danger in the shadows of the city city city driving
by the danger darkness urban building and the men men
that serve as girders beams the backbone of the danger
men in windows stories high indiscriminately lurching from
the speeding cars the freeway thieves that drop their
compliments their vile demands commands from rusting
cars on cracking crosstown roads twisting twisted shadows
grotesque mouths that vomit words like green white bullets
to the womyn on the sidewalks in the buildings not in cars

~~ from Sinister Wisdom #16, 1981

"It's just that sometimes other lives lived right alongside mine interrupt, barge in on my senses, and I no longer know if I really lived through an experience or just heard about it so many times, or so convincingly, that I believed it for myself--became the lens through which it was captured, retold and reshaped." ~~ from Memory Mambo


cry sorrow sorrow
coming with your dried snakes charm
charming the crazed and
the innocent with your lyrical
tales of the moon
you claim immortality
you think you'll find me there
the lost child torn from
you by demons that swirl and
burn amidst the golden
brown hair of your devil devil
oh cry sorrow with
your spells and the magic no
one doubts you own
the power that swallows everyone's
you claim life forever
using scars for tears and a
noise noise that shakes
beating all the passion
with a passion
the black sweet bruises and dark systems
wanting to wring them out of
me out of you
you claim life forever
again and again thinking
I'll be there steady ready
to take up the fight
of mother and daughter divided
unsatisfied forever
antagonistic cry sorrow
let your ovary
throb from the pain of my absence
I am the daughter the children
shredded castrated decapitated
in the arid desert
the blood red flames in your eyes
which serve as blinders
to keep you from seeing what
you wish not to see

take a white woman to lie
with you
clean smooth as
the veins plainly visible
through vinyl skin
rest your head on what
you claim so close to perfection
and take repose
rest rest
but when when all seems finally
there's a beat beat
a beat in your head
a pain in your abdomen

siempre por las
there's that fearful wailing

~~from Sinister Wisdom #16, 1981


Achy Obejas website
Her MySpace page
Bio at Voices from the Gaps
Interview with Achy Obejas about Days of Awe at the National Yiddish Book Center


Ruins, 2009, Akashic Books, ISBN-10 : 1933354690
This Is What Happened In Our Other Life (Body Language), 2007, Midsummer Nights Press, ISBN-10 : 0979420822
Days of Awe, 2001, Ballantine, ISBN-10 : 034543921X
Memory Mambo, 1996, Cleis Press, ISBN-10 : 1573440175
We came all the way from Cuba so you could dress like this?, 1994, Cleis Press, ISBN-10 : 093941693X

ONLINE WRITINGS AVAILABLE (Available at her website via Other Writings)

"My Own Private Cuba", an account by Obejas -- in both English and Spanish -- of her most recent visit to Cuba, published in The Chicago Tribune, 19 January 2002

"The End Of The Affair", an article by Obejas about Cuba and Alma Guillermoprieto's memoir Dancing with Cuba, published in The Nation on 15 March 2004

"From Havana With Love", an article by Obejas on how "A new generation faces Cuba's dark reality", published in The Village Voice in February 2001
There's more...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

While We Remember,

they still live.

This song, so beautifully done with her usual underappreciated excellence by Kathy Mattea was written after one of the first battles of the Civil War.

It's simple truth, spoken so plainly made it a favorite of both North and South.

Strange how something as cruel and destructive as war has such an ability to unify us in our spirits.

That's something that artists since Homer have tried to comrehend and explain.

The Vacant Chair (We Shall Meet But We Shall Miss Him)
(Words: Henry S. Washburn, Music: George F. Root)

We shall meet, but we shall miss him
There will be one vacant chair
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our evening prayer;
When a year ago we gathered
Joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden chord is severed
And our hopes in ruin lie.

cho: We shall meet, but we shall miss him
There will be one vacant chair
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our evening prayer;

At our fireside, sad and lonely,
Often will the bosom swell,
At remembrance of the story
How our noble Willie fell;
How he strove to bear our banner
Through the thickest of the fight,
And uphold our country's honor
In the strength of manhood's night.

True, they tell us wreaths of glory
Ever more will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only
Sweeping o'er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, Oh early fallen,
In thy green and narrow bed,
Dirges from the pine and cypress,
Mingle with the tears we shed.

At almost every funeral I have played my small part in honor guard for, I have been struck by the narrowly focused, yet, devastating sacrifice that these two, avoidable, and senseless wars have produced.

Once, while I was piping graveside in Phoenix, a man driving through his normal rush hour commute saw the tell tale signs of the burial that was taking place. Right there, in the middle of the traffic, he stopped his car, got out, stood respectfully with his hand over his heart until we were done. The other people, for the most part, did the same.

If your family, or your circle of friends has a vacant chair this year. My heart is with you.
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The Dallas Principles

The Dallas Principles

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend and Lane Hudson at Huffington Post, among others, have distilled an eight-point list of guiding principles to achieve full civil rights for the LGBT community. Known as The Dallas Principles, they are eloquent, succinct, and speak to every aspect of our liberation:

The following eight guiding principles underlie our call to action.
In order to achieve full civil rights now, we avow:
1. Full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay and excuses are no longer acceptable.
2. We will not leave any part of our community behind.
3. Separate is never equal.
4. Religious beliefs are not a basis upon which to affirm or deny civil rights.
5. The establishment and guardianship of full civil rights is a non-partisan issue.
6. Individual involvement and grassroots action are paramount to success and must be encouraged.
7. Success is measured by the civil rights we all achieve, not by words, access or money raised.
8. Those who seek our support are expected to commit to these principles.

Being united by common principles and engaging in united action, we will achieve the following goals:
1. DIGNITY AND EQUALITY. Every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person has inherent dignity and worth, and has the right to live free of discrimination and harassment.
2. FAMILY. Every LGBT person has the right to a family without legal barriers to immigration, civil marriage or raising children.
3. ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY. Every LGBT person has the right to economic opportunity free from discrimination in employment, public housing, accommodation, public facilities, credit, and federally funded programs and activities.
4. EDUCATION. Every LGBT child and youth has the right to an education that is affirming, inclusive and free from bullying.
5. NATIONAL SECURITY. Every LGBT person should have the opportunity to serve our country openly and equally in our military and foreign service.
6. CRIME. Every LGBT person should enjoy life protected against bias crimes.
7. HEALTH CARE. Every person should have access to affordable, high quality, and culturally competent health care without discrimination.

1. We demand that government officials act now to achieve full civil rights without delay.
2. Our organizations and individuals need to develop a collaborative and revolutionary new organizing model that mobilizes millions of supporters through emerging web and phone technologies.
3. All LGBT individuals must accept personal responsibility to do everything within their power for equality and should get involved in the movement by volunteering, giving and being out.
4. We will hold elected officials and our organizations accountable for being transparent and achieving full civil rights by active participation when possible and active opposition when necessary.
5. Our allies need to be proactive in public support for full civil rights.
6. Every government measure that quantifies the US citizenry must permit LGBT individuals to self-identify and be counted in every way citizens are counted.
7. We demand that the media present LGBT lives in fair, accurate and objective ways that neither include nor give credence to unsubstantiated, discriminatory claims and

The Preamble reads:

President Obama and Congress pledged to lead America in a new direction that included civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. We now sit at a great moment in our history that inspires the nation to return to its highest ideals and greatest promise. We face a historic opportunity to obtain our full civil rights; this is the moment for change. No delay. No excuses.

Nearly forty years ago, a diverse group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people stood up to injustice at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. In doing so, they submitted themselves to bodily harm and criminal prosecution.

Their demand was simple -- equal protection under the law.

Still today, full civil rights has eluded the same community that rioted forty years ago. Instead, untold sums of resources have been spent to divide our nation and turn our lives into a political football.

At several junctures in American history, the stars have aligned to deliver the promise of equal protection under the law to those previously denied. At this unique time in history, our nation must once again exercise the great tradition of making its people equal.

Justice has too long been delayed. A clear path toward full civil equality for the LGBT community is overdue and must come now.

Using fear and misunderstanding to justify discrimination is no longer acceptable in this nation. Those content with the way things are will be judged harshly by history. Those who do not actively advance these ideals or offer excuses will be judged just as harshly. Those who attempt to divide our community or to delay and deny action on civil equality, waiting for the right moment to arrive, will be held accountable.

We reject the idea that honoring the founding principles of our country is controversial. We believe in the inherent human dignity of all people. No longer will we submit our children, our family, our friends and ourselves as a political tool for any Party or ideology. A new day has arrived.

After almost an entire lifetime in this movement, I find this the most coherent grassroots approach to date, which can cut across divisions of gender, race, class, age, and geography. This umbrella will allow special focus without loss of collaboration. I am genuinely excited about this development.

The fact is, the Principles listed above are a basic human rights manifesto for any oppressed group. They will lift all of us toward freedom.

The fact is, the lies and violence used to keep anyone deemed "not heterosexual" or "not the right gender" have a chilling, soul-crushing effect on every woman, man, boy or girl born into this culture. The fear of being labeled "other" (regardless of who you really are) is a fear the Right must keep in place by any means necessary. Otherwise, sexism -- which is how this fear is enforced -- will be unraveled and the whole system of oppression will no longer keep us able to be manipulated.

I'm not saying the institutionalized repercussions come down on all of us in the same way and to the same degree. Articulating those differences are an important step in self-empowerment. But articulating difference is not a political strategy. The larger truth is that we are all in this together, and the Reaganite/Christianist backlash against a growing realization of this larger truth (fomented by dynamic intersections between feminism, antiracism work, the peace movement, labor unions, children's rights advocates, environmentalists, and lesbian/gay liberation, to name a few) -- the backlash understood viscerally their first step was to divide us into non-majority, weaker segments with ridicule of identity politics, exile/imprisonment, and dismantling an economy which offered security for those who have to earn their daily bread.

But, as Gandhi-Ji reminds us: "When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always."

And when that freedom train starts rumbling, it's a life-affirming action to grab Harriet Tubman's hand and climb on board.

To learn more and find out what you can do, visit The Dallas Principles.

Pam Spaulding has created a counter widget which can be inserted at your website to keep track of how long it's been under the current administration since that "Equality Achieved At The Federal Level" has remained at ZERO. (122 days and counting.) You can get the code for yourself by clicking on her name.

Because "in the end they always fail". And you might be here to see the pendulum shift.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jesse

Photo of Che with quote
Happy Birthday, Jesse

One of the talents I most admire in other human beings is the ability to recognize and foster that which is special in the people they encounter. It's a skill which requires self-confidence and an open mind (which accounts for its relative rarity, I suppose). Jesse Wendel is someone who possesses this talent to a pronounced degree. I'm honored to call him friend as well as colleague.

Jesse began reading my blog because of a tip from Sara Robinson, who likewise has a keen appreciation of humanity. He declared himself an avid fan of my Great American Lesbian Novel and threw himself into learning about the subject. But he didn't do it from a position of being a 'guilty' outsider, he simply assumed this new territory would enrich his existence and that, in turn, he could offer a valued perspective. When this is done without arrogance, it's delightful to encounter.

He's a hilarious, attentive, and nimble conversationalist. His sense of responsibility is profound, and his kindness is legendary. As I grow older, I have come to believe kindness is the attribute that matters most in human relationships.

Jesse was raised Mormon, and it's intriguing to me how often I encounter stellar progressives who are ex-Mormons. I don't think this is simply a case of those who leave behind a narrow religion are going to be open-minded. I think, like all faiths and cultures, there are some essential truths peculiar to the Mormon way of life which can be transformative and liberating, especially if they are taken in by a child who continues to believe in truth and goodness even when his innocence is betrayed by the religion itself.

For example, the reason why the LDS Church funds genealogy to such an enormous extent is not only because they have a religious mandate to offer the option of salvation (i.e., conversion to Mormonism) to everyone who has ever lived -- which is why they "baptize the dead", hoping to save them from the eternal fires of hell. Beyond this superstition is an accurate comprehension that every human being on the planet is more closely related that most people know or would feel comfortable knowing. You literally cannot separate out Mormon "kin" from other folks. Thus, you have to embrace all lineages as your own. It may not have been practiced by church leadership, but the principle is there and that sort of world-view sticks with some folks.

As a result, the LDS Church has collected orally transmitted genealogies from all around the globe, some of which go back 1500 years. I've read them, transcribed onto microfilm and held in the nuclear-bomb-proof archive in a mountain near Salt Lake City: A litany of names from South Sea Islands whose way of life may have vanished since they were collected. I sat in the dark cubicle of the Oakland Temple research library and wept as I whispered these begats to myself. Good manifests itself in the most unexpected places.

Jesse escaped an abusive and violent upbringing by joining the military, marrying impetuously and having four children in six years. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, in some sense, and yet every step of the way, he's made the most of his decisions, even ones which contained a mistake in the mix. (Not that I'm judging any of the things I've named a mistake.) He's never stopped working on cleaning things up. He believes, as I do, that the unexamined life is not worth living, but he also knows the demands of such a life leave you with skin scraped raw much of the time. You either love yourself though the process or you won't survive.

He's an extremely good writer who takes seriously the obligation you owe your readers, should you have any. That's actually a redundancy, from my point of view. I lean on him as an editor more heavily than I think most of you know. He's taught me a ton over the past year, and I don't expect it to stop any time soon.

One of the things I treasure most about him is I can tell him exactly what I'm contending with physically, as a multiply disabled person, without him either feeling compelled to "fix" things, offer advice, point out options which of course I've already considered (I live in this carcass 24/7, you really cannot offer me an unconsidered notion) or taking the opposite tack of inserting distance between us so he won't have to feel what it feels like when you hear difficult reality. He stays present, and has even offered up the absolutely heretical joke here and there, making us both laugh until we pee a little. It's an extraordinary gift, that ability to stay present in the face of another's suffering. It's all we ever hope for in our travels through this world.

Last July, Netroots Nation was coming to Austin, and Jesse moved heaven and earth to make sure I could attend, raising money, helping organize assistance, and talking me through my qualms. Not the least of my fears was that it would be our first meeting in person -- what if we did not, in fact, turn out to like each other? My resources are virtually nonexistent. I was terrified of losing this new friendship.

At the last minute, the woman who helps me with errands and tasks I cannot perform took a trip out of town and was unavailable to do laundry for me. I could not locate anyone else to do it for me, and was faced with not being able to go to the conference because I literally didn't have clean clothes. I was humiliated and depressed about it. Jesse flew in the day before and said if I could get a bag of laundry to a cab, he'd take care of it. That was as much as I could manage, and it felt like a godawful way for us to meet, but in the end, I had to say yes. He slid into the back seat of a cab beside me, we went to the nearest laundromat, and with him leaning on his stick, he washed a bag of clothes for me.

It's one of the most intimate acts of love I've ever received. And as if that weren't enough, when he left, he handed me a small bag of fresh fruit. Good as gold in my limited world. I ate it the next morning for breakfast before heading out to meet up with him and Lower Manhattanite as Netroots Nation began.

Happy birthday, Jesse my boy. I'm gladder than I can express that you got born. The rest has been up to you, and you've done your mother proud.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Girls Love Baseball

Ten year old Birthday Girl, Seattle Mariners v. Detroit, April 18, 2009. photo Chelsea Wendel/Group News Blog.
Ten year old Birthday Girl, Seattle Mariners v. Detroit, April 18, 2009.
photo Chelsea Wendel/Group News Blog.

Daughters, Parents, and Baseball

The first really big purchase I made as a single Dad was baseball tickets.

The first year the Mariners were in SafeCo I bought a quarter-season between third base and the outfield foul line, field level. My kids loved it, coming early, shagging balls. By then Avian, my oldest was maybe 13-14, Chelsea was 12-13, Kyle was 10-11, and David was 7-8. They has a blast. So the next year I bought a half-season right behind home plate (weekdays) and wow did the kids and I rock out. Forty games a year; what's not to love?

We kept our half-season tickets for a few years, including the year the Mariner's won the Division Playoffs. Game after game with my kids. Hell, one year we won 116 regular season games! It was wild.

I gave up my tickets the following year, 2002, as I was recovering from neurosurgery and wasn't in any shape to go to the games, plus I had the suicide attempt that May and I wasn't in any condition to go out into large crowds such as down into field level seats. None the less, over the last seven years, I've still gone to one or two games a year, but always up in a suite. Suite's have their own entrance to that level, each suite is restricted to only 15-20 people (and you know in advance whom those people are), and the entire suite level is restricted to people who have suite tickets. In other words, they are an okay place to be for someone who even now always sits with his back to the door, and very much couldn't handle crowds in any way then.

Last month I was given two tickets, field level, between first base and home plate. Beautiful seats. For over seven years I'd always turned down similar seats. This time, I took them. Invited Chelsea, daughter number two, twenty-one, and a sophomore at college. She drove up. We found a parking spot not too damn far away -- $30 freaking dollars just to park, ouch -- and we had a great time.

The game kind of sucked, but the game isn't the point. The point is hanging out with one's daughter (or son, when it's David), eating ballpark food, drinking the sodas (although I pointed out to Chelsea that for the first time in her life she could legally have a beer at the ballpark; she declined...and I don't drink.) So we ate our food, made fun of the other team, watched our pitcher work his pitch total almost to 100 pitches before getting pulled, and talked about old great ball games we'd seen together. We had fun.

Near the end of the game, about the seventh-inning stretch as folks started to head out, a mom and her daughter came down and sat in the row in front of us, just to our left. Turned out it was the girl's tenth birthday and they were at the ballpark to celebrate. She has the Mariner's bag, a Mariner's baseball with "Happy Birthday" written on it, an official Mariner's baseball hat. This kid was in heaven. And she knew her baseball. She was talking who was a good pitcher, who had the stats, interpretation of the rules, even which umpire had a wide strike zone and who didn't. This kid knew her stuff. Smiling, laughing, sitting on her Mom's shoulders, having the time of her life.

Baseball ties generations together. My daughters and I. This mother and her daughter. Fathers and sons from 50-75 years ago and I hope, parents and children 50-75 years from now.

Last week I was driving home. As I cut through a park to avoid a traffic jam, I saw kids in team uniforms playing baseball out on the fresh-cut grass with chalk lines, their parents on the beat-up old bleachers watching them play. Could have been any time in the last 100 years.

Happy Birthday to the ten year old kid. Thanks to my Chelsea for taking time away from her studies to go to a ballgame with her Dad. Hopefully 20-30 years from now that kid (and 10-20 years from now, my own daughters) will take their children and go watch baseball.

There are other sports more fun to play -- soccer, for example. But baseball has a history in this country which brings us all together across the generations in a way nothing else does.

Here's to Baseball -- the great American sport.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday, Flu-ey Sunday

(Visualization: Evan Robinson, Group News Blog; Data: WHO | Influenza A(H1N1))

Sunday morning in Paris, and Rue Cler is quiet, especially compared to Friday & Saturday nights.

I'm sorry to have been so long between updates, but the news is relatively benign and we're coming back to the hotel exhausted every day (sometimes twice a day if we're worked really hard). We have covered many of the basics: ile d'citi; tour eiffel, flea markets; seine cruise, etc. Today is for the Louvre and possibly Musee d'Orsay.

But first, I'll try and struggle through our unreliable network and get an update (probably the last) on our current flu outbreak.
(Visualization: Evan Robinson, Group News Blog; Data: WHO | Influenza A(H1N1))

The world has taken this outbreak very seriously. WHO has dusted off their brand-spanking-new pandemic phase system and news, especially television news, has given H1N1 the sort of treatment previously limited to wars and major terrorist attacks.

The current data doesn't justify that level of response, but that doesn't mean that we are completely out of the woods yet.

This outbreak appears to be starting to die out. We've been well under exponential growth rates for a week or so and even the current Ground Zero (the US) has been under exponential growth rates for 4 or 5 days. Unless there is another burst of activity, this phase will end by the end of May or so (possibly the middle of June) and we'll all stick our heads back into the ground for a while.

If, however, this flu follows the pattern of the 1918-1920 pandemic, we can expect a resurgence in the fall, which may well be more lethal (the 1918 flu had varying lethality over different phases, but overall was probably the most lethal influenza ever seen). Several processes can contribute to growth in flu's lethality, including progression (as the virus moves from host to host, sometimes it gains potency), transposant changes (the exchange of DNA material from multiple viral strains in one host), and good old fashioned "mutation". The Great Influenza points out that the 1918 flu, by starting out incredibly lethal, almost had to "revert to the mean" and become more benign, but even the more benign strains of the later phases were still twice as lethal as a "typical" flu season.

Two factors combined in the 1918 flu to make the virus more lethal to young adults (20-40) than the typical flu: a previous pandemic (not the 1889, but another, possibly so weak that it had gone unnoticed) had apparently provided older people some measure of immunity to the 1918 flu; and many victims of the 1918 flu were actually killed (or severely weakened) by an immune response rather than the virus itself -- because young adults have stronger immune systems, they were hit harder than children and older patients.

Ultimately, in 1918 the most effective public health response was isolation. A number of locations or organizations enforced strict quarantine and escaped the flu altogether, but army camps, which were notoriously poorly quarantined, proved to be major elements in spreading the disease. Without antiviral drugs or a real understanding of the infectious agent (scientists argued for years over whether bacillus influenzae was the etiological agent of the 1918 flu pandemic, until a "filterable virus" was eventually determined to be the cause), patients were basically on their own against the disease, and the only useful response was a public health one. Because of Wilson's obsession with the war in France, public health took a backseat to military preparedness and morale boosting, and the appropriate public health measures were not taken quickly or strongly.

Mexico's decision to shut down nearly all public events for a week was exactly the right response to create a firewall against the epidemic: flu spreads most easily in crowded conditions, and with a 24-48 hour incubation period, a week was sufficient to slow the spread of the disease. The US response (which was basically to do nothing) has shown to be inferior as the number of cases in the US has risen. Fortunately, we aren't dealing with an extremely lethal strain. This time.

There's not much else to say unless/until the next wave comes around. It wouldn't be surprising to see another outbreak over the summer or into the fall. Whether this particular flu becomes more lethal or less is an open question, and we'll just have to wait and see.
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Women Among Us: Dorothy Allison

Dorothy Allison, 2002
Women Among Us: Dorothy Allison

I cannot pretend to any objectivity about Dorothy Allison. In 1993 I was given a gift certificate to Book People here in Austin and went shopping in that store for the first time -- I usually did all my book buying at BookWoman, our feminist bookstore. I purchased Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison and two books by Sarah Schulman, After Delores and Empathy. I read them all, one after another, and, as they say, my world split open.

I first began writing at age nine, urged into collaborating on a short story with a girl whom I loved passionately, desperately. After we moved away from the town where she lived, I continued writing short stories but also, at the end of that summer, wrote my first poem. It is linked temporally with the point at which I discovered there was a word for who I was: Lesbian. I shared that first poem with my mother, who was overwhelmed by our family circumstances and offered only a hurried criticism. After that, I did not tell anyone about my poems for another four years. I didn't share my sexual preference for another year beyond that.

But both identities are core to me, inextricable from Who I Am. During the 1970s and 1980s, I thought of myself as a writer as much as I called myself a dyke, though there were times when I didn't write much, if at all. Occasionally I was published. Mostly I was focused on activism, on trying to save the world.

I felt powerful barriers to being/becoming a writer. I could not imagine ever being paid for what I wanted to write, because my voice and my story were not valued by the world at large. It wasn't just the lesbian aspect, although that was certainly a clear gulf at that point in our culture -- the only people who cared about the lives of dykes were other dykes. Beyond that, however, I had been raised poor and had rejected upward mobility. My repudiation of shame made me suspect, even (and sometimes especially) among the working class. In addition, I had terrible secrets about sex and violence. I had broken silence on these secrets, but how could that become literature?

My friend Holly and I sometimes talked about what she called "survivor art", which she defined as artistic expression that went beyond simply naming what had been done to us as children, beyond confession. She envisioned it as reclaiming a whole girlhood, envisioning and creating (through writing, in my case) a reality where scars no longer acted as boundaries. It was an idea I found compelling.

And when I read Bastard Out of Carolina, I discovered Dorothy Allison had made the idea manifest. She told an entire story, all the pieces that my own contained, in a way which every reader understood. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, ferchristsake. This alone was concrete proof that my reality was no longer relegated to the shadows.

Likewise, Sarah Schulman wrote about a lesbian existence I comprehended intimately, but she did not offer a great deal of explanation: no back and fill to make it "easy" for a non-native reader. Again, her books were selling like hotcakes. If I didn't have to apologize, or translate, or temper my own words, then I too could write whatever I wanted. These women had just handed me an E-ticket to one of my core identities.

I had read occasional essays or poems by Dorothy Allison in women's publications. Now I went on a feeding frenzy, consuming The Women Who Hate Me and Trash in a gulp. Every time a new book appeared by her -- Skin, Two or Three Things I Know For Sure, Cavedweller -- I was first in line to buy and read them. In particular, her essay A Question of Class gave me much of the bedrock I now occupy in understanding and talking about classism.

She broke the trail I now follow. Still, I didn't take the step to becoming a Writer. Not yet.

Then in July 1999, after my left knee had decided to retire from my body but before I replaced it with titanium and plastic, I read that Dorothy Allison was teaching a workshop on writing memoir at a literary arts nonprofit called Gemini Ink in San Antonio. I enlisted the help of friends to get there and enrolled. I was terrified that morning of the workshop, and almost backed out. Once I was there, however, Dorothy looked across the room at me and grinned. By the end of the day, she gave me her phone number, the phone number of her agent, and said when I was ready, to call her.

I learned worlds that day about exactly what I needed to do. She was candid and generous. I can still hear her voice in my head saying certain things. Like "You get to tell your story, exactly how you want to tell it. Nobody else can tell your story, don't edit it for anybody." That writing is catharsis, if done right, but that's not why you should write. That she doesn't "do" therapy -- that's what friends are for. That to gear up for a hard patch of writing, she'll down a 2 liter bottle of Coke (me, too, my drug of choice). That nobody except Stephen King and Danielle Steel are earning a living strictly from what they write, every other writer either has a teaching gig, sells screenplays and movie rights, or has somebody to support them while they pursue their art.

When my friend and I got to her car afterward, my friend pounded on the dash and yelled "You got her phone number! She's going to make sure you get published, you wait and see." But I knew I was only just beginning.

Since then, I've had to contend with increasing disability, a lost year due to the cognitive injury during my surgery, growing poverty and isolation, and much, much death and loss. However, I've never stopped heading toward the next step in becoming a writer. Others stepped in to mentor me (Sharon Bridgforth, Terry Galloway), and I finally got the writing group of my dreams. I crossed the border and became the writer I was meant to be. Now I'm almost done with my novel, and eventually, when I have product in hand, I'll be calling Dorothy. I owe so much to her.

So do we all, in various ways.

She was born to an unmarried, dirt-poor 15-year-old girl in South Carolina, raised in poverty and abuse but also with love and rich Southern family culture. Lesbian-feminism saved her, as it saved me (although she was East Coast during those critical years and I was West Coast, which makes a difference). She's been partnered with Alix Layton for a couple of decades, and they have a teenaged son, Wolf Michael. She travels around lecturing when she isn't writing. She gives her energy away as much as she can -- more than she should, probably. She wears her hair long, is blind in one eye, and lives now in Northern California, the promised land for her. She looks damned good on a motorbike. Her recipe for red velvet cake is the best ever.

Read her as if she holds the key to emancipation, because in fact I think she does.


"I grew up poor, hated, the victim of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, and I know that suffering does not ennoble. It destroys." -- from A Question of Class

"I do not write about nice people. I am not nice people." -- from Skin: Talking About Sex, Class And Literature

“Change, when it comes, cracks everything open.” -- O Magazine, January 2004

"There was a myth of the poor in this country, but it did not include us. no matter how hard I tried to squeeze us in. There was an idea of the good poor—hard-working, ragged but clean, and intrinsically honorable. I understood that we were the bad poor: men who drank and couldn't keep a job; women, invariably pregnant before marriage, who quickly became worn, fat, and old from working too many hours and bearing too many children; and children with runny noses, watery eyes, and the wrong attitudes." -- from A Question of Class

Re the early feminist movement: "It was like opening your eyes under water. It hurt, but suddenly everything that had been dark and mysterious became visible and open to change."

“Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that if we are not beautiful to each other, we cannot know beauty in any form.”

“Independent presses and bookstores give access to literature specific to a place. Readers can find stories they need.”

“I wear my skin only as thin as I have to, armor myself only as much as seems absolutely necessary. I try to live naked in the world, unashamed even under attack, unafraid even though I know how much there is to fear.” – from Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature

"Entitlement … is a matter of feeling like we rather than they … Why are you so afraid? my lovers and friends have asked me the many times I have suddenly seemed a stranger, someone who would not speak to them, would not do the things they believed I should do, simple things like applying for a job, or a grant, or some award they were sure I could acquire easily. Entitlement, I have told them, is a matter of feeling like we rather than they." -- from A Question of Class

“It’s an illusion that writers have a lot of choice about what they write. Your stories are your stories. They’re the only ones you can really tell, and if you try telling ones the world would like you tell, you’ll do it badly.”Curve Magazine 2001

“Feminism gave me a vision of the world totally different from everything I had ever assumed or hoped. The concept of a feminist literature offered the possibility of pride in my sexuality.”

“I’m completely aware that people would like me to write a love story. It’s just that when I write a love story you probably are not goin’ to be able to tell. I don’t believe in romance in that sense. I actually believe romance is almost as much work as raising children.”Curve Magazine 2001

"The horror of class stratification, racism, and prejudice is that some people begin to believe that the security of their families and communities depends on the oppression of others, that for some to have good lives there must be others whose lives are truncated and brutal. It is a belief that dominates this culture." -- from A Question of Class

“I don’t want to simplify when I write. I want people there with their warts on. I want you to love them even when you hate them.” - from "Dorothy Allison: Telling Tales, Telling Truths", essay by Kate Brandt in Happy Endings: Lesbian writers talk about their lives and their work

“I write who I can write—people I can understand. I can understand deeply wounded, hidden kinds of girls.”Curve Magazine 2001

“There are only supposed to be certain people who are worth the trouble and you basically have to be middle class or exceptional in some way, really beautiful or really smart or be kissed by Jesus for god’s sake—the rest of us, we’re background noise and our stories aren’t important. And I just don’t believe that. I think the working class is the story of this country. The rich and the upper class have been riding on our asses for hundreds of years, and I don’t want to see us made over into a story that glorifies them. Our stories are glory enough.”Curve Magazine 2001

“We are the ones they make fiction of – we gay and disenfranchised and female – and we have the right to demand our full, nasty, complicated lives.”


The Women Who Hate Me (poetry), 1983 by Firebrand Books, ISBN-10 : 0932379982

Trash (short stories), 1988 Plume Books, ISBN-10 : 0452283515 -- Winner of Lambda literary awards as best lesbian small press book and best lesbian fiction

Bastard Out of Carolina(novel), 1992 by Plume Books, ISBN-10 : 0452269571 – National Book Award finalist, Ferro Grumley & Bay Area Book Reviewers Awards, translated into more than a dozen languages and published in more than a dozen countries; in 1995, it was made into a movie directed by Angelica Huston and premiered on Showtime

Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature (essay collection), 1994 by Firebrand Books, ISBN 1-56341-044-3 – Gay & Lesbian Book Award, American Library Association

Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (memoir), 1996 by Plume Books, ISBN-10 : 0452273404 – named notable book of the year by New York Times Book Review

Cavedweller (novel), 1998 by Plume Books, ISBN-10 : 0452279 – Lambda literary award for fiction

She Who (forthcoming from Penguin Putnam)


Dorothy Allison's website

A Question of Class (essay at History Is A Weapon)

FemBio biography of Dorothy Allison

Interview with Dorothy Allison as Zale Writer in Residence at Tulane

Interview with Dorothy Allison at Salon

Interview with Dorothy Allison at Identity Theory

(Maggie at Dorothy's writing workshop in July 1999, Gemini Ink, San Antonio, Texas; Maggie is upper right, Dorothy is to my right)

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'd Rather Be A Hammer Than A Nail": Fallacy in the Construct

Venus of Hohle Fels statue (Venus of Hohle Fels; photo by H. Jensen, University of Tübingen)

"I'd Rather Be A Hammer Than A Nail": Fallacy in the Construct

The finds at Hohle Fels Cave in Germany keep arriving. The latest, announced this week, is the small figure of a woman deliberately shaped without her head. Exquisitely carved from mammoth ivory, the figure has exaggerated breasts, buttocks, and genitals typical of so-called prehistoric "Venus" statues. She is dated as being approximately 35,000 years old, and many are now saying this is the oldest verified figurative art ever found. She's at least 10,000 years older than the comparable "Venus of Willendorf" and perhaps 20,000 years older than the cave paintings at Lascaux. It is presumed that she was created by Homo sapiens sapiens, although there were Neanderthals still alive and in the area at that time.

Venus of Willendorf statue (Venus of Willendorf figure, in limestone, carved 20,000 to 25,000 years ago)

The Venus of Willendorf and other similar figures may have heads but do not show clear faces. This newly discovered statue has a ring where the head would be, indicating it was possibly worn as a pendant. One article stated she should be interpreted as a fertility symbol. From my reading of anthropology, it seems fairly clear this carving is an object of reverence, of worship, with fertility being only one aspect of what was revered about her. She is quintessentially woman: Fleshy, powerful, and gorgeous.

An art history professor I had in college told us that most of the cave paintings in Europe are believed to have been created by women. He said even if you assume humans were much smaller than they are now, the "signatures" of handprints found in association with the scenes of animals are likely female. Recent interpretation of the Lascaux scenes, for example, indicate the point of the paintings was not to depict "a successful hunt". The spirituality goes much deeper than that, probably something like a metaphysical examination of the natural world and our place in it.

Likewise, hunting was not the main source of nutrition or necessarily even of protein for prehistoric peoples. Gathering, as opposed to hunting, was far more crucial to a band's survival, with nuts and roots offering richer, more reliable, and far less dangerous means of obtaining essential amino acids. Hunting has been emphasized and glorified because the anthropologists studying and interpreting artifacts have tended to be male, and hunting is seen as a male activity (an inaccurate Western view, but that's the stereotype).

My second year of college, I took an introduction to anthro course from a prof named Roy Miller because someone had said he really knew his stuff. He was not impressive, at first glance, with an unfortunate mustache, bad posture, and a squeaky voice. When we arrived the first day of class, he had covered the chalkboards on two sides of the room with details of a field study of baboons. He began going through these observations in a pedantic manner, and I found myself quickly bored. I started doodling in my notebook. My attention returned when he faced us and said the obvious conclusion to be reached about this primate's social structure, as proposed by the eminent scholar Robin Fox (not a cartoon name, but a real scholar whose work I had already found offensive), was that females were expendable and subservient to the power structure of the group. Dr. Miller went on to say should we not then draw a conclusion about the role women should be playing in human society, that biologically we are not meant to assume real leadership?

I remember clearly the reactions of two other students in the class. One was a jock, a blond fratboy who sat up straight and snickered loudly. He clearly thought he was bound to get an easy A in this course. The other student was a woman in her 30s (I thought of her as "old" then, g*d help me), with unfashionable clothes and hair, who immediately argued that extrapolating human trends from baboons was bad science.

Dr. Miller challenged her to back up her statement with examples. She looked around at the rest of us, despaired of our slack-jawed state, and took him on. It was 1974, and feminism did not yet have any kind of foothold on that campus -- nor would Polly (that was her name) likely have called herself a feminist. But she smelled a rat and she wasn't going to take crap off any man. Later, Polly and I became friends. She was divorced, after having put her husband through college, and now was raising two small children alone while trying to get her own degree. She was a toughie.

I was still terribly shy at that point, but within a few minutes, I raised my hand and began arguing as well. A few other women joined me and Polly. No men on our side, and the jock backing up Dr. Miller didn't have anything intelligent to say, just jeers. I made a silent decision to go drop this class soon as I could, find another professor who wasn't such a swine. In the meantime, slowly over the next hour, we women were able to punch holes in the conclusions offered by Dr. Miller by going back to the data on the board and coming up with another possible interpretation of each step. Dr. Miller began grinning. Finally he held up his hands, cutting off Polly about to stand up and yell at him, and said "You're absolutely right. The deductions drawn by Robin Fox were erroneous in every regard, based on his male-centered view of how he imagined things must be. His sexism completely distorted his reality. The fact is, the females in this band are in charge of every important decision, they are the life's blood of the troop. Kudos to you for not buying his bias."

The jock looked like he was going to pass out. (He did, in fact, drop the class before we met again.) Polly pounded on her desk in jubilation, and when the bell rang soon thereafter, and she and I stayed behind to talk to Dr. Miller. By the end of that semester, I had switched my major from journalism to anthropology.

Thus, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The fact is, there's a preponderance of evidence to suggest that the first humans to develop agriculture, to build dwellings, to use fire, to domesticate animals, were probably women -- at the very least, women and men working together. Interestingly, a high percentage of the earliest hominid remains are also female. And if human biology of that earlier time can be compared to ours of today (not at all guaranteed, but if...), then more many of the elders in a band would have been women. Elders carried the accumulated knowledge, wisdom, and culture of a nomadic tribe.

Something to think about. Thanks, Dr. Miller, for encouraging me to do just that.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

I Finally See a Valid Use For Torture

Nancy To CIA: "They lied to Congress."

CIA: "Did not, not, not."

Nancy: "Did too."

CIA: "Did not."


What we have here, is two mutually exclusive claims. Since they were all in a room together at one time. Either the CIA lied to Congress, or Congress, through Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is lying to us now.

Both stories cannot, like Shröedinger's Cat exist simultaniously.

This presents us with a perfect situation for the application of the torturer's art.

Tómas de Torquemada once, when defending his use of the dungeon, wrote that if a subject of inquisition was truly and honestly an innocent then God and Jesus, and the Saints would give that person the strength to withstand the pain of torture, even unto death. When subjects of the Inquisition would die under torture, they were presumed to be innocent of the charges, and their bodies released for Christian burial.

My proposal is this.

Since Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Cheney, and a whole host of people have declared that the techniques of "enhanced interrogation" were not torture and perfectly legal to be used, why not take Nancy Pelosi, and anyone from the CIA who disputes her account of the what happened during the classified briefing and turn them over to be waterboarded, walled, forced to stand, deprived of sleep, slapped, grasped, stripped, exposed to extremes of cold and heat, starved, beaten, forced to perform dog tricks while wearing a collar, and any of the other perfectly legal techniques which, since they have been all used without legal consequence, are now the law of our land.

Who ever holds out the longest will be presumed to be telling the truth.

Think of the great things that this would accomplish. Tort Reform? Don't need it anymore. All we would have to do is send somebody to the dungeon to be "examined," then take the word of the torturer as an article of faith. No more messy trials.

We could reinstate that time honored system of trial by combat or ordeal.

The accused would be bound and tossed into a swimming pool. If they float, they are guilty, if they sink, they are innocent and we can hope that we can fish them out before they are taken home to sit at the right hand of Jesus.

Like Theresa of Avila. What more could someone aspire to achieve? A glorious, Christian death that proves the truth to all the world.

Why are we waiting? Have we become a nation of weaklings?

We won't have to deal with messy pardons like happened with the Church Commission. It will spare us the pain of a Sam Ervin style investigation.

Look at all the problems and messy things that we would be able to bypass and ignore.

Yes, by going backwards, to say, the fifteenth century, we can truly and certainly move forward with faith and confidence.

There's more...

Hubble Chuptzah

Nebula NGC 2818 in Pyxis (Planetary nebula designated NGC 2818, which lies in the southern constellation of Pyxis. Click on image to enlarge.)

Hubble Chuptzah

Whether planned repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope actually work, whether we've got five months or five years of science left to us from its orbit above us, I'm taking the opportunity to learn and be grateful for what we've learned thus far.

HubbleSite has one page devoted to Discoveries , "the scientific leaps that never would have been possible without Hubble's farseeing capabilities." This includes a multimedia journey into Dark Energy.

You can also spend hours browsing through their Picture Album, from which the above image was taken. And, of course, there's an in depth look at the current servicing mission.

So, for all you bona fide science geeks out there, here's a question I honestly don't understand any answer I've ever read: We keep hearing that Hubble shows us images almost back to the beginning of time. But if time has a beginning, what was there before time began?

There's more...