Friday, May 1, 2009


Sojourner Truth
During the mid 1970's, a poster depicting Sojourner Truth hung in my living room. It contained an abbreviated version of her most famous speech, and my young daughter learned it by heart.

I am continually astonished that people like her are not on the lips of every child when they name their heroes. It is only by suppression of the truth -- her Truth -- that this can be so.

Day before yesterday, a bust of Sojourner Truth joined those honored in the U.S. Capital. She's one of very few women to be represented, and the first African-American woman. There are no statues of Asian or Hispanic women.

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery, owned by a Dutch family in New York in 1797. She had an unimaginably hard time of it. After emancipation, she became a traveling preacher who electrified those who heard her speak. In honor of her new incarnation, she renamed herself Sojourner Truth. Click on her name to read her full biography, but briefly: During her life she worked tirelessly for abolition, recruiting blacks for the Union Army, tried to secure land grants for former slaves, and when she went to meet President Lincoln in 1864, she took the opportunity to attempt desegregation of Washington DC streetcars. (A hundred years before Rosa Parks.) She twice tried to vote in Presidential elections, she spoke relentlessly for women's rights, and she argued against capital punishment and for temperance.

Her best known words came at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851:

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to
be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
Michelle Obama was present to unveil the bust in the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol, to welcome the sculptor Artis Lane, and make the remarks on this occasion. Below is the CNN video of her comments. She stumbles a few times, but hear the emotion in her voice when she refers to her daughters and when she speaks to the children present.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]



Kelly McGillis
This week's best swap:
Lindsay Lohan for Kelly McGillis


Thursday, April 30, 2009


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.

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 Group News Blog's 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.)

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Kathleen Sebelius
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.)

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Strength or Leo card from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck
In the early 1980s I was given a psychic reading as a gift, done by a Jewish dyke named Tasha Silver. I was skeptical when I went in, a believer when I came out, at least as far as Tasha's abilities were concerned. Later that year, I took a class from her in psychic defense, which taught me how to manipulate my aura for protection. It was a stupendous skill that I've used ever since: I stopped being harassed in public after that.

I also had her read my astrological chart, and she was the first to tell me about Saturn returns. This is shorthand for the period when Saturn (a very slow-moving planet) returns to occupy the sign it was in at the time of your birth. Since Saturn stays in each sign of the zodiac an average of two years, you hit your first "Saturn return" at around age 28 and stay in it until around age 30. You have subsequent returns at around 56-57 and, if you live long enough, 28 years or so after that.

Saturn is a planet which governs major life lessons, so the Saturn return, as Tasha put it, is when the piper first comes due: Whatever you have resisted learning smacks you up alongside the head and keeps doing so for a coupla years. I have six planets in Leo, which is a curse and blessing all at once. But my Saturn is in Scorpio, and sometimes those six Leos are no match for the single Scorp.

Tasha said Scorpio is associated with death, sex, and secrets. Well hello Hannah. Sex and secrets had governed much of my life up to that point, and I was already hard at work disentangling the mess. Death didn't scare me so much.

Until I hit 28 in 1983, and folks began dying. Eventually, in April 1984, it was my mother who died, the loss I had been fearing the most. At some point during the mourning that following, I noticed that Mama had been 56, which meant she was in her second Saturn return when she died -- and that I had been born during her first Saturn return. Interesting.

A year later, still as part of the mourning process, I began doing genealogy in earnest. And at some point, I stumbled across this math:

My mother was born in 1927 to Hettie Alberta Turner Atkins when Hettie was 29 and in her Saturn return -- in Scorpio, of course. That same year, Hettie died, still in her Saturn cycle. (Her death anniversary is tomorrow.)

Hettie Turner was born in 1897 to Sarah Lee Armstrong Turner, whose sun sign as well as four other planets were in Scorpio. And Sarah died at age 27, during her Saturn return.

Thus, I'm the fourth matrilineal generation where Saturn returns have determined birth and death times. Does this make me nervous about my approaching 56th year, three years away? On bad days, yeah.

But then I remind myself of the fortune-telling I did for our annual high school Halloween carnival, sitting in a dark booth, dressed in scarves and hoop earrings, with a deck of fake Tarot cards. (Later, in my 20s, I got real Tarot card and turned out to have a serious knack for reading them.) No matter who sat down at the table opposite me, I took their hand and studied it for a minute, then had them draw three cards and lay them face up. After a suitable dramatic interval, I'd say (no matter who it was):

"You are far more sensitive and intelligent than anybody realizes, even those who seem to know you best. You long to make a difference in this world, to be a force for good. You wish your parents had shown you more clearly that they loved you. You struggle to be fair and just, though you have not yourself been treated fairly and with justice enough of the time. You have longings which would deeply touch others if they knew your heart, and a goodness that soon will be revealed, if you can only hang on."

These words were accepted as utter truth by everyone I "read" (I can be very convincing) and I was the hit of the carnival. One man, the crusty rancher father of a friend, burst into tears there in our dark cubicle. I figured out I wasn't actually tricking people, I was speaking to a universal condition with empathy and handing out hope.

Which is all we really want when we turn to others for answers. Right?



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.

We have no little gator offering this week because she and her partner are currently dealing with (new) Serious Health Issues. Please send them your love and energy.


Sunday, April 26, 2009


(Liquid Kachina, acrylic on canvas by James Wille Faust)

I was just directed to a news item from Radio Netherlands which states:

"The Czech authorities have ordered the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan to leave the country by midnight on Saturday. David Duke, a US national, had been invited to Prague by a number of neo-Nazi groups to celebrate the presentation of a translation of his book.

"The Czech authorities say the book denies the extent of the Holocaust and approves of it and other Nazi crimes. On Friday evening, Czech police detained Mr Duke on suspicion of denying the Holocaust, an offence punishable by up to three years in jail in the Czech Republic."

I find this very heartening, and wish there was some way to similarly deny him re-entry to the U.S.

I also thought of how, when Duke was running for Governor of Louisiana, a member of my family decided to relocate from Texas to Louisiana because they hoped to live in a state under his leadership. Yep, blood kin to me. Hard for me to admit. I believe a lot of people can be reached and given a roadmap to change, probably most people, but I have given up on that relative.

It's been a tough week here in Maggieland, in some respects, and I'm looking for good news wherever I can find it. If there is a global pandemic of the swine flu, I may be one of the survivors because I have no human contact and thus no means of transmission. Of course, without outside help to deliver groceries, I'll also starve to death, that is if the utility infrastructure stays operational, so I'll call that one a draw.

Last week I undertook some physically demanding tasks around my house which I have been literally putting off for months. I pushed myself through the pain and strain to get 'em done, and felt virtuous as I collapsed in bed for the next 36 hours, in severe muscular distress. One of the tasks was to finally get my DTV converter box working, on the third try. (The difficulty lay in accessing all the equipment, plus dead batteries in the new remote control which took me an unconscionably long time to troubleshoot.) So, as I was laid up, I had sudden access to wildly improved reception and a range of channels I hadn't ever gotten before, including a PBS side channel that shows cooking, garden, and home improvement shows around the clock. Or, as Jesse remarked, "crack cocaine" for the likes of me.

I had a second relapse in Saturday, with prolonged bouts of vomiting which is a new development after profound exertion and muscular stress. I'm up at my computer with caution, choosing not to eat or take any risks with my body for the time being.

(Carrots at Boggy Creek Farm: Yellow, Orange, Maroon, White...)
During my down time this week, I was thrilled to find that one of these shows, called "Cultivating Life" with host Sean Conway, featured a tour of our own Boggy Creek Farm, an urban organic intensive farm here in Austin, including a delightful interview with Carol Ann, one of the owners and who I think of as "my farm gal". They re-ran it and I watched it a second time through, nostalgic for the smell and look of the place itself.

(Acarajé frying, photo by Joao Eduardo Penna de Carvalho)
I was also taken back to my past by Daisy Martinez on her excellent cooking show when she made acarajé, a dish we ate from street vendors when I lived for a year as a girl in Brasil. When I was grown, my mother and I back-engineered the recipe and it's been a favorite of mine ever since. I included the dish in my novel, and have written about it as memoir, including the recipe, and in a poem, both located in my post Brasil As A Girl.

I watched the second installment of "We Shall Remain", the PBS documentary series purporting to be a history of Native Americans. I've decided it's deeply flawed, both in approach and some of the content. I didn't realize until this episode that Ric Burns was involved with it, and his weaknesses are definitely evident -- he has a hard time with the macro view, always leaving a glaring gap. And, in particular, he is absorbed with the male gaze: His inclusion of women and girls is too often incidental and distorted. With this series, the speakers and focus has been overwhelmingly male-dominated, which is particularly galling to me given how First Nations culture prior to white overrun had a gender balance that we often fail to comprehend.

For instance, this second episode concerned Tecumseh, a Shawnee military strategist who came close to shutting down U.S. expansion into the Midwest, creating a pan-Indian confederation the likes of which has never been accomplished before or since. Tecumseh worked in collaboration with his brother Lowawluwaysica, a prophet and spiritual leader who emerged from near-death due to alcoholism to re-invent himself (as Tenskwatawa) and inspire all who came into contact with him.

The obvious question is, how did these two men become such brilliant leaders and innovative thinkers, especially at a time when Native culture was under profound assault, having suffered at least two generations of disruption from epidemic and attempted white genocide? At one point, the documentary refers to the fact that because of constant warfare, the male Shawnee population had been dramatically reduced, and in some villages there were four females to every one male. But this is glancingly referred to as a toxic imbalance. At another point, it is mentioned that Tecumseh's father died when he was seven, which is around the time his younger brother was born. This means that these boys were raised with strong female influence and a widowed mother. But no exploration of how this might play a role in their singular development is ever undertaken, and indeed, their mother is never named. Nor is any other female in the entire 90 minutes, despite the fact that someone had to be doing the farming, home construction and maintenance, making clothing, tending the ill and wounded among these warriors, as well as raising the next generation. But Burns doesn't find it worthy of mention.

What a fucking joke. I wish Paula Gunn Allen. were still alive to make her opinion about it known. However, even in death, she has something pertinent to say: "I have noticed that as soon as you have soldiers the story is called history. Before their arrival it is called myth, folktale, legend, fairy tale, oral poetry, ethnography. After the soldiers arrive, it is called history."

(Paula Gunn Allen. Oakland, California, 1988; photo by Robert Giard)

Also this week (Friday) was the 25th yartzeit of Mama's death. How can it be 25 years I've gone without her? You know, even with my imagination, I cannot grasp in my mind the ways in which she would have grown and changed by now, had she lived.

Since Dinah's mysterious illness a couple of months ago and my freak-out about it, she and I are much closer, interacting in a different way. I make sure not to ever take her for granted, and in turn, she's allowing more tactile affection between us. It's quite the blessing.

I feel I should also inform those of you who are readers of my novel, Ginny Bates, that there are six months left of the story as I intended this (initial) book to be -- I designed it to end in June 2020. Further, this does not mean the remaining chapters will extend over the next six months in real time. I think it may be over in six weeks or perhaps two months. Of course, I've created characters who will go on, with a third generation emerging, and I'm definitely planning to continue the joy of writing. But I don't have the draft in hand that I did of this first monster effort, and I'm not sure if I should keep posting much rawer, new material, without the intricate structure and plot development I had devised for what I've done so far. Let me know if you have thoughts on the matter.

I'm now going to lie down, drink some water, and see if Jacques or Julia (or Ming or Daisy) have something diverting to show me. Dinah is sitting on the back of my chair, chirruping about treats and possibly throwing a toy for her to chase. Catch you later.