Sunday, October 31, 2010

42, La Calavera

Alexei Kondratiev and Len "Black Lotus" Rosenberg were two friends of mine back in the 1990s when I was a Neo-Pagan. Both men were brilliant, hugely knowledgeable about Pagan paths and fonts of lore and tales. Alexei was a Celtic scholar, and Black Lotus was a student of the Shakti path of Hinduism; both were also "witches" of NeoPagan tradition. They projected a kind of quirky eccentricity. Len was a bit of a bear, bearded and bellied and balding; Alexei had a wild mane of unruly graying hair. They both had the air about them of being too concerned with the cosmic forces swirling around them to be too concerned about such trivialities as unwrinkled clothes, but they were wonderfully warm and open men. In a fortuitous stroke of cosmic fate, they found love in each other and were partners as long as I knew them. Len had some terrible health problems; when I knew him he walked with a cane, often grimacing though never complaining about his physical limitations. I ran into Alexei out and about a few times after I left that circle and he seemed always unchanged. Both Black Lotus and Alexei passed on this past year, a few months apart. Ibaye. I'm sad to think I won't be running into them again this side of, well, that cosmic veil said to be so thin on Halloween night, what Len and Alexei would have called Samhain. But I'm hoping their spirits, having shuffled off the proverbial mortal coils, are running together, united in the mysterious world on the other side.

It's what Halloween is traditionally for, this day of the dead, besides donning amusing costumes and projecting momentary alternate egos: remembering the transformational passage at the end of this plane of life. Those skulls and bones make us laugh, but they're a reminder of both the temporary nature of our flesh and also the core of bone at our center: a dialectical alchemy of the ephemeral and material.

This world lost a lot of wonderful musicians this year. Marion Brown, the creator of hauntingly evocative jazz suites in the early 1970s. Aminata Moseka Abbey Lincoln, who brought the fire of the civil rights movement into jazz in the 1960s and then aged and mellowed like fancy cognac. Soul singer Solomon Burke. Calypso singer Arrow of "hot hot hot" fame. Lena Horne, actress and singer, one of the most elegant women who ever lived. Malcolm McLaren, innovator of punk rock, hip-hop, and house music who approached and then curated urban music as high art. Ibaye. Fortunately for us still on this side, the music, the sounds they made, are left behind.

It's a good night to light candles for the spirit world. It's a good night to offer up a few prayers for the spirits on this side and for the spirits on that side. It's a good night to remember those who have passed, and to ponder the mystery of it all. You can't know yet what happens in that fearsome transition. There are hints, and you can hear whispers from the other side, but get used to it, sooner or later you will know. And this is the night when it's not dark or morbid or obsessive to look at the skull like a kind of magic mirror. What do you see there? Boo!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Anti-American Art: Surrounded

I don't know much about the source of this political cartoon; the caption is in Chinese but its sardonic humor and the scale of its illustration seem at odds with Chinese Cultural Revolution-era propaganda. I suspect it's a 1960s North Vietnamese illustration translated into Chinese and republished there. If I remember the translation correctly, the sentry at the American jungle outpost is taking instructions from headquarters to be on the lookout for Vietcong infiltrators and he informs them that it's too late, he's already surrounded. Looking pale and washed out compared to the National Liberation Front guerrillas who have captured him, the American and his outpost is made to seem dwarfed and out of place amidst the tropical locale. It's a clever and effective cartoon.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bad Old Days: When the Left Hated the Gays

I remember sometime during the 2008 elections various discussions about how "values" issues were suddenly off the table, how "electorally divisive" issues like gay marriage were no longer national campaign issues. Well, here it is two years later and it seems like with the rise of the teabaggers, the so-called tea party, social issues are back on the campaign trail with a vengeance. Despite the bizarre denials by the mainstream media that the teabaggers are only issued in economic issues, it doesn't take much observation to see that while "values" issues might not be campaign slogans, one after another teabagger and mainstream Republican candidates are making sure it's clear exactly where they stand on social issues. Thanks in large part to Christian fundamentalist hate groups like Focus on the Family (what one lesbian blogger bitterly calls "Focus on the Anus") and the National Organization for Marriage, it's fashionable once more for the far right to use gay issues as bonafides of their social conservative intent. The pendulum swings.

Which brings me to this hilarious pamphlet I dug out of a file drawer. It's another example of how much of the left also used to ride that social conservative bandwagon, replacing concern for "Christian values" with concern for "proletarian values." It's called Revolutionary Union On Homosexuality: A Stalino-Leninist Guide to Love and Sex and it was put out by some gay anarchists in Ann Arbor, Michigan back in 1975. The bulk of the pamphlet is an internal position paper of the Revolutionary Union, the American Maoist faction led by Bob Avakian that is today known as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). The guerrilla gays who reprinted the document have spiced it up, talmud-style, by filling the margins with Brenda Starr-like cartoon frames (examples shown above and below) where the soap-opera dialogue is replaced by absurdly homophobic quotations from the text. Pictures of popes and Communist icons are splashed around the pages next to accounts of anti-gay repression. There are photos of Fidel Castro sucking on a hugely phallic cigar and a photo of Lenin and Stalin sitting almost romantically together on a bench. It's introduced by the pamphlet's anonymous gay authors and with an inspiring manifesto from the French "Front Homosexuel d'Action Revolutionnaire," The Gay Revolutionary Action Front. "Go Gay and Smash the State" was an irreverent slogan that came out of the radical wing of the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement. The Maoists, of course, missed the humor of this slogan, and wrote their position paper as though gay people were actually suggesting mass conversion of heterosexuals.

Here are a few excerpts from the original Maoist document:

"Homosexuality is a response -- consciously or not -- to a male supremacist society. Because it is a response to oppressive institutions and oppressive relationships it is not necessarily a progressive response or one that challenges the power of the monopoly capitalist.... As our relationships become unstable, people -- particularly the petty bourgeoisie, which has more leisure time -- scramble about in a desperate attempt to find some meaning in their lives. Today people are grasping at all kinds of straws, at exotic religious sects, mysticism, drugs, pornography, promiscuity, sex orgies, trotskyism, etc..... In posing an individual solution to the contradictions of monopoly capitalism, homosexuality is an ideology of the petty bourgeoisie, and must be clearly distinguished from proletarian ideology.... While gay people can be anti-imperialists, we feel that they cannot be Communists. To be a Communist, we must accept and welcome struggle in all facets of our lives, personal as well as political.... We feel that the best way to struggle out contradictions in our personal lives is in stable monogamous relationships between men and women based on mutual lives and respect. Because homosexuals do not carry the struggle between men and women into their most personal relationships they are not prepared, in principle, for the arduous task of class transformation....

When homosexuality is raised to a principle, when the banner of 'gay is good' is raised as a strategy for defeaing imperialism, then it becomes a reactionary force retarding the struggle of the working class and of the people as a whole....The only real liberation, the only road to real happiness for homosexuals -- like all people caught in the mire and muck of bourgeois decadence -- is to eliminate the reactionary, rotting system that drives them to homosexuality; and to build a new society, under the rule of the working class, that promotes working class culture and opposition to selfishness, self-indulgence and the decadence of individualism and exploitative relations."

What utter bullshit, and the anarchist authors of this pamphlet rightfully call it out. "Leninist vanguard parties...almost universally condemn love for one of the same sex as a transitory byproduct of capitalism, instead of seeing it as one basic way of relating to people.... Are we to overthrow [capitalist] control of our personal relationships without overthrowing that same control of our social productive lives? One is impossible without the other, just as there is an indissoluble link between love and creativity. Down with the Mao Tse-tung/Pepsi Cola/Billy Graham axis!" The authors quote the gay revolutionaries of FHd'AR: "We know, because we know one another, because we alone can know. We are, with women, the moral door-mat on which you wipe your conscience. We are saying here that we've had enough, that you won't smash our faces any longer, because we will defend ourselves."

Those bad old days are over... for now. I've read discussions on leftwing blogs where straight leftists said that since there were now gay Republicans and a host of pro-capitalist established mainstream gay institutions, gay issues were no longer particularly progressive. So who knows, maybe the pendulum can swing back here as well. Homophobia -- and heterosexism (what a great word; I'm sorry it's fallen out of use) -- remains virulent. The far right finds it a useful tool; it would disappoint me but not surprise me to find homophobia re-embraced elsewhere on the political spectrum.

I have posted excerpts from another Maoist tract against gays here, and written before about my experiences with homophobic leftists here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Anti-American Art: Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

From an extended set of stamps celebrating the 40th anniversary of Libya's 40-year old "revolution" (most people called it a coup) comes the stamp above marking among the revolution's achievements "the evacuation of American troops from Libyan soil." Wheelus Airbase had been seized from the Italian colonialists occupying Libya by the U.S. during the Second World War. It was a functioning military base on the Mediterranean during the cold war until Colonel Gaddafi demanded the U.S. surrender the base shortly after he overthrew the Libyan monarchy. U.S. forces left in 1970 and the evacuation has been touted as a victory against imperialism by Gaddafi ever since. The base was later used by both the Soviets and the Libyan Airforce; ironically it was among the targets bombed during the 1986 American attack on Libya.

As an aside, each of the forty stamps in this series marks a unique milestone in the "revolution" of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and the one shown below is more than a little ballsy:

Yes the "Return of the Political Hostage A.B. Almagrahi" stamp in this series shows Gaddafi welcoming home the Libyan citizen who had been imprisoned for his alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing. Almagrahi was released from jail in Scotland last year on supposed humanitarian grounds, and offending many, gave him a hero's welcome on his return home. That would be quite a stamp to use on your electric bill.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Directed by director Doug Langway, Bear City is a sweet portrayal of romance and friendship in the "bear" subculture of New York's gay community. Described by one of its writers as a "chick flick without chicks," it's the story of a group of friends dealing with relationship issues, body acceptance issues, sexual identity issues, social acceptance, and the standard movie fare of love and sex. While that might sound like a dry mouthful, it's not only frequently funny and occasional touching and quite moving, it's also full of heart. There's ribald and risque nudity, albeit tamed and not full frontal. I've seen a fair number of would-be commercial gay independent films, and this was the first time I felt more than a passing identification with the film's subjects and characters. While of course this is a fantasized movie not a realistic documentary of bear culture, it manages to depict the bear world successfully straddling realism and idealism. While any movie like this is by definition filled with cliches, it avoids being cloying or over-idealized. And crucially for me, the bear heroes of the film, including ones shown in varying stages of undress, range from svelte to plus size and from young to old.

For the uninitiated, "bears" are big and/or hairy gay men. In the super-objectified sexually-charged urban gay culture, identification with big, lumbering, furry animals was a way of disarming a dominant culture that seemed to value only skinny, hairless boyishness. Copping a certain exaggerated hyper-masculinity from the gay leather culture, the bear community grew into a recognized subculture in the early 1990s. It has spawned sub-subcultures like muscle bears, daddy bears, chubby bears, and bear admirers, or chasers.

Full disclosure: I am a bear!

I've always been a big guy, and when I found the developing bear culture my experience of the gay community around me changed qualitatively. I found myself no longer shunned but desired. It was great for my sex life, great for my love life, and it was a great community to become part of and make friends in. It was liberating to find an accepting home outside of the world of body-fascist pretty boys. Over time calling oneself a "bear" has peaked and valleyed as a social trend, and there are plenty of gay men who call themselves bears without embracing its openness and warmheartedness. Some of today's bears, for instance, deny the place of fat guys at the foundation of the community. But two of the things I really appreciated about Bear City are that one of its sympathetic characters is a middle-aged fat guy--with a super hot smaller man as his lover--and that the revisionist exclusivity of "muscle bears" is portrayed as a kind of "mean girl" snobbishness.

Among the actors in the film are Gerald McCullouch, Brian Keane, the Big Gay Sketch Show's Stephen Guarino, Gregory Gunter, and Joe Conti. There's even a quick cameo from Randy Jones of the legendary Village People disco group. It's a great cast. And I won't be giving away the ending to say this is a lovely gay movie that ends happily: there's no tragically self-destructive main character and no drawn-out deathbed plea for sympathy.

I saw the movie last weekend with my boyfriend; I can be a grouch about movies and I was really blown away by how much fun this one was. The director, the producer, the cowriter and many of the movie's stars appeared for a Q&A afterwards. The audience at the packed theater was pretty much all bear. Woof!

Bear City is currently on a very limited run in New York City at the Quad Cinemas. The DVD will be released by TLA Releasing in November. Check out the film's trailer here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cute Cat Interlude

Allow me to present my feline roommate Henry! Seen here on my stoop in the summer, Henry is a long-haired mutt of a rescued cat about twelve years old. He went by the name "Skylark" when he lived at the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC), an excellent no-kill shelter in Williamsburg. BARC rescues abandoned cats and dogs, and places them in deserving homes after giving them shots and um (don't listen, Henry) spaying or neutering them. Their site is full of galleries of their resident animals. Many, like Henry, came from crazy cat lady homes; others were found on the street or left there by owners who could no longer keep a pet. Henry has lived with me about seven or eight years; he's a great cat, very loyal and quite cuddly, who rarely leaves my side. He's usually trying to sleep on my mouse hand when I'm on the computer, and he's purred away next to the keyboard for most of The Cahokian's entries.

I'm a cat lover from way back: Henry is the third in my adult life after the late Estelle and Effie. Shelters like BARC deserve our support, and the animals they rescue deserve good homes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Anti-American Art: Beyond Thunderdome

Here's the cover of an early 1970s Chinese Cultural Revolution booklet calling for preventive measures against imperialist weapons of mass destruction: it urges preparation for chemical, biological and nuclear attack. The booklet itself contains all sorts of instructions for building bomb shelters and carrying on the struggle. While the title doesn't mention the U.S. by name, little doubt is left as to who might be pointing these WMDs at the People's Republic. While the central motif features the typical resolute trio of resistance, waving AK47s and the quotations of Chairman Mao aloft, the background is darkly hilarious. Like some kind of post-apocalyptic revolutionary tableaux the typically diverse crowd massing under the red flags is now clad in a combination of haz-mat suits and surgical masks. One wonders how they would operate their AKs with their toxin-proof mittens. China itself has had nuclear weapons since 1964.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Yesterday in third parties...

"KPD...End This System" reads this poster from the Communist Party of Germany, ca. 1932. The Communist Party came in third in the 1932 German elections, after the Nazis and the Socialists. Without suggesting that this year's elections are as momentous as those of waning Weimar, or that the Republican/teabagger side is quite as precipitously genocidal as the Nazis were, I'd like to note that bad strategy by the left in those long-ago elections resulted in the victory of the far right.

It's easy in the upcoming election to be pissed off at President Obama's failure to advance more than a centrist agenda given his rhetoric about fundamental change. It's not wrong to point out all the defective similarities between the Democrats and the Republicans, to note that neither party is actually on the side of regular people. It's not wrong to look to long-term strategies which would repudiate the class bias of these two parties and the lock they hold on the American political system. But as I have said before, elections have winners and losers, and the fact that many people--but not enough people--think neither of these parties represents a vehicle for progress and justice is ultimately irrelevant. The year 2000 elections had a very strong showing by a left-of-center third party candidate, and the victory of George Bush was the result. (It should be noted that most third-party candidates who make a showing in American presidential elections are distinctly right of center.)

Now is a time of deep class division, but not a time of deep class struggle. Early 1930s Germany was a time of both. And yet the failure of the left with mass popular support to make strategic choices like uniting against the fascist threat meant that the vast numbers of politically active progressive forces still lost. Today in the US I think it is fair to say that the activist majority is right-wing. Those who would sit the upcoming elections out or throw a vote away on a protest candidate are doing only the ascendant teabagger movement a favor.

Should the Democrats pull off an unlikely win in the midterms, they will give us plenty of reason to be pissed off at them: that is a known danger. But a teabagger win has many disastrously ugly potentials, and if this is not 1932 Weimar Germany, it might be 1923 Germany when economic collapse sowed the seeds of future calamity.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Anti-American Art: Stopping Traffic

From the Palestine Popular Struggle Front ca. 1980 comes this expression of solidarity between Palestinians and Cubans: "Our People Stands with Cuba Against American Imperialism." With a special traffic sign the PPSF says no bombing America's southern neighbor.

Of course given the relationship between the State of Israel and the United States, Cuba's Che Guevara is and was a popular icon of rebellion for Palestinians, but he was killed before the days of major Palestinian resistance in the wake of the 1967 June War. The illustration at left is from Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff ca. 2002.

The PPSF poster is another archived at the Palestine Poster Project.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Barbarity of White People, Continued

I found this map while idly following links on eBay. I don't remember what I clicked on to find it, and I didn't buy it, though I don't recall it being expensive. You'll want to click on it above to see it larger, to see what I saw. It's a map of the west coast of Africa, from the 18th century. It's dated 1739 down at the bottom, and is in French. It's mostly a map of the coasts, with the capes and river mouths all noted. Several regions and nations are noted. There's Sierra Leone. There's Guinee. There's Benin and Biafara. Congo. Angola. Maiumbo. Many of these names are still around today.

One other thing is noted. Carefully noted. The exploitable commodity available in each region. There's the "Coste de Grain," the grain coast. There's the "Coste d'Ivoire," the ivory coast. There's the "Coste d'Or," the gold coast. And yes, you know what's next. The "Coste des Esclaves." The slave coast. This is a map of a holocaust. A guidebook to the world's shame.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Anti-American Art: Addressee Unknown

Here's a stamp from North Korea, vintage 1978. It's part of a series marking the thirtieth anniversary of the People's Democratic Republic. It shows hot-pink-colored Koreans at a demonstration bearing placards and banners in Korean about reunification. Peeking out from behind the main banner is a placard in English, partialy obscured, which reads AMERICANS GET OUT OF SOUTH KOREA. It's jarring to see English appear like this. As can be seen from the North Korean propaganda stamps I've featured previously, these tiny posters entirely in Korean seem aimed at a domestic audience. Yet here's this stamp in the language of the "addressee."

And yet it was a completely futile message: in 1978 it was illegal according to U.S. treasury regulation to import North Korean goods including postage stamps into the United States. This embargo was lifted in the 1990s, although numerous other trade sanctions remain. But in 1978, the message the North Koreans were sending was not being received by its intended audience.

Click on the image to see it larger.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Save the Country

Sunday I got it in my head to listen to a bunch of Laura Nyro, one of my favorite singer-songwriters. I loaded up my iPod and have been reliving her songs. Well it turns out yesterday would have been her 63rd birthday; sadly she passed on in 1997. My favorite Laura Nyro song, and there are very many Laura Nyro songs I love, is "Save the Country."

Come on, people
Come on, children
Come on down to the Glory River
Gonna wash you up
And wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down
Gonna lay that devil down

Come on, people
Come on, children
There's a king at the Glory River
And the precious king
He loved the people to sing
Babes in the blinkin' sun
Sang "We Shall Overcome"

I got fury in my soul
Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind
I can't study war no more
Save the people
Save the children
Save the country, now

She recorded it many times; among my favorite versions is the live acoustic/vocal harmony version on the CD anthology released just before her passing; it's also been covered beautifully by many other musicians. It's such a simple statement, a sort of reworking of the old spiritual "Study War No More," and despite its late-1960s vintage, it's lost none of its evocative power. With its gospel allusions and oblique reference to Martin Luther King Jr it transcends utopian naivete, saying to me, anyway, that we can do this... if we want to.

It resonates to me now as I read an article in the paper about how the country's two unjust foreign wars are registering near zero in importance to voters in the upcoming elections. Americans are so shut off from these events it's as if we have trained ourselves not to gaze upon the horror, hoping it will go away if we don't pay attention to it. Movies about the wars go made but unseen, photos of the fighting and the dead on all sides go unprinted. I notice on the radio now it is always reported of casualties in Afghanistan that "NATO soldiers" rather than "American soldiers" have been killed in Taliban attacks, knowing that nobody will care. Except the families of the dead American "NATO soldiers," perhaps. Nevermind the total American denial of the value of Afghan or Iraqi life.

There's no election choices we can make coming up that will end these wars, that will end war. That should give us all pause. There's a lot of fury in the American soul, most of it misdirected and misguided. How much longer can Americans waste their fury on the ridiculous objects of Fox News' or even MSNBC's and ComedyCentral's contempt? So much wrong in this country and people are up in arms over government spending? There is so much to overcome.

Thanks Laura Nyro for your love and wisdom: In my mind I can't study war no more

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Anti-American Art: Teach Your Children Well

See the happy children's playground! See the happy children! See the happy children with the pretty flag! Pretty pretty flag! Pretty pretty People's Democratic Republic! See the swing. See the happy children on the swing. The swing is a horsey, a happy happy horsey! See the happy children ride the happy horsey! Little Kim wants to be a sailor when he grows up. Brave little Kim! Little Chun wants to be a political commissar when he grows up! Smart little Chun! See the wicked American. Wicked wicked American! Little Chun says to crash the horsey into the American! Little Chun says oh what fun! See the brave little happy children crash into the American! Die, wicked American, die! Oh what happy fun! Happy happy fun! Long live Kim Il Sung!

(1970 postcard from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Legalize It!

For all the awful choices in the upcoming elections, one good thing may happen in California. Marijuana, reefer, ganja, cheeba, weed, pot, hemp, molta, is finally up for legalization with Ballot Proposition 19. Prop 19 seeks to legalize pot, recommending turning it into a profit center for the government through taxes and legal control. While I believe pot should be legal for the simple reason that it is an entertaining herb arguably less toxic than alcohol or tobacco, if this economic approach works then so be it. Fascinatingly and tellingly, the greatest special interest behind efforts to oppose Prop 19 has been the alcohol industry, not eager for possibly cheaper and less centralized mind-altering entertainment. I'm sure ultimately business will find a way to coopt and commercialize pot, and that will be sad; but better that than the dangerous and utterly hypocritical status weed has today.

The illegality of recreational drugs has been the gift that keeps on giving for the international narco-terrorist empire, corrupt police, and the forces of repression. The so-called war on drugs has been an utterly stupid waste of money, life and civil liberties. While there are chemical drugs that should probably remain controlled just like health-giving presciption chemical drugs are, marijuana is widely recognized to have therapeutic qualities. And not that I am admitting to any illegal activity, but smoking weed is -- reputed to be -- good clean wholesome fun, making everything from social interaction, bad television, complicated music, sexual encounters, and junk food a hell of a lot more fun. Legalizing pot and narcotics would undercut many of the world's most dangerous criminals, sure, but it would also help stressed out people across this stressed out country lighten up a little.

While pot has been widely decriminalized in recent years, it's time to just legalize it. California is hopefully leading the way with this upcoming referendum. While predictably--and stupidly--the Obama justice department is suggesting it will continue to persecute federal drug laws in California, our nation's politicians, who smoke weed behind closed doors just like everybody else does, need to listen to their heads and stop their foolishness.

Again I'm quoting the immortal Grace Slick: "Feed your head."

Yes on 19 in California; legalize it nationwide!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Anti-American Art: Bad Holiday Trip

From wartime Vietnam circa 1966 comes this fairly direct work of art that wound up appearing on a Soviet postcard. The top caption reads "Washington to Saigon" and shows a flight of American choppers. The bottom caption reads "Saigon to Washington" and shows a flight of flag-winged coffins. That's the flag of the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front flying high. According to Wikipedia, this was the journey experienced by 58,000 Americans. Over a million North Vietnamese and NLF fighters were killed, and over two million Vietnamese civilians died.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Obama's Gay Problem

The following is based on a comment I made in a discussion on the Joe.My.God. blog about the Obama justice department choosing to appeal the recent court ruling overturning DADT.

At the state of the union address this year President Obama urged Congress to repeal DADT. It passed the House, and then stalled in the Senate, eventually being voted down, opposed by all the Republicans and two Democrats, toward the end of the recent Senate session. Meanwhile Obama mobilized his chiefs of staff to oppose DADT, while also endorsing a study of the impact of repealing DADT on the armed services that looked to some as a delaying tactic. I have written elsewhere on The Cahokian on my mixed feelings on this issue. Meanwhile a lawsuit against DADT brought by, of all things, gay Republicans during the Bush adminstration finally bore the fruit of a federal judge ruling that it was unconstitutional, and immediately nullifying its enforcement throughout the American armed forces. Despite the fact that Obama has repeatedly stated his opposition to DADT, his justice department decided to defend the law of the land and appeal the decision banning DADT.

Immediately many in the gay community, especially its highly vocal blogosphere, have cried foul. Obama has even met vocal opposition to this move at town hall meetings for the upcoming midterm elections. He responded by affirming his intention to end DADT "on his watch." Many in the gay blogosphere are now calling him a homophobe, a failure, a liar, and worse.

I acknowledge this is frustrating and confounding. But all this crap about Obama being a homophobe is a conspiracy theory no different than the ones the right wing is spinning. Many in the gay community are caught up looking for simple answers to complicated problems. They're being swept up in the same know-nothing anti-intellectual media shitstorm that the teabaggers are swimiming in. But there is no actual evidence that Obama is a homophobe. The gay community has hurt feelings, and some in the blogosphere are quite shrill in their accusations. But the gay blogs tend to avoid reporting on how some Obama supporters defend his strategy of seeking pure legislative overturn for DADT...and contrary to the additional conspiracy theories floating around the blogs, not everybody who believes that Obama is actually committed to what he says he is on this instance is a paid agent of the Democratic National Committee or the mainstream gay lobbying organization the Human Rights Campaign.

I'm not sure I agree that the president has chosen the correct strategy here. I freely admit I don't understand the ramifications of either possible path based on the DADT court ruling. But I am absolutely certain that the response of so many in the gay blogosphere is way off base.

I think it's quite interesting in a perverse way that this discussion has been going on since 2007. While Obama had a lot of gay support, large sections of the gay community lined up behind candidate Hillary Clinton, and bitterness endured past the Democratic primaries. By and large the sides haven't changed much: many in the gay community unhappy with Obama now were unhappy with him them. It's been established that white men are the constituency least behind Obama; this is mirrored in the gay white male community though it's certainly not true that the only gay people having huge problems with Obama are gay white men. But I do think the distrust between the white gay community and the black community does color this continuing distrust and worse that many gays have with him. I've read gay men, for instance, suggest that Obama learned to hate gays at the hands of "anti-gay preacher" Jeremiah Wright, not knowing that Obama's old and now-renounced spiritual mentor was in fact thoroughly pro-gay, wrongly assuming that he was just another anti-gay Christian preacher.

Let's look at the past, at the things that pissed us in the gay community off before. Donnie McClurkin, a hugely popular gospel star who also happens to be a bigot: Obama bridged his fans and supporters and us for votes. End of story; we won that when Obama got elected. Megachurch leader Rick Warren: The guy made a bumbling inarticulate speech at the inauguration and now, as an acknowledged Obama supporter, we haven't heard too much from him in two years; in fact he was even shamed into denouncing his friends in Uganda. Obama bridged his fans and supporters and us because, like it or not, he's all of our president. I think we won that one, too.

DADT, DOMA [the defense of marriage act which bans gay marriage], ENDA [the employment nondiscrimination act which would ban discrimination in hiring]: Some strategic choices were made here. I would rather this whole fight was over ENDA not DADT. I'm not sure who to thank for that, HRC maybe. But even the one thing that as many point out has 75% popular support, repeal of DADT, wasn't able to get through Congress. Because of the Republicans, not Obama, not the Democrats. And the blogosphere is saying this is just SIMPLE? Are they fucking nuts? For that matter can we imagine getting a bill calling for ending discrimination against transpeople through the current senate? Really???

I believe Obama honestly opposes DOMA. I also believe there is not a snowball's chance in hell of touching it in congress. DOMA is hugely popular on the right and center, and even Hillary Clinton wasn't for its blanket repeal.

I don't think any of us foresaw the massive teabagger reaction to Obama's election. We all thought, oh Obama can win, the country must have changed magically from the nightmare of the Bush years. Well maybe it didn't. It's frustrating. It's confounding. But this country is a mess. And coming up with lefty conspiracy theories to match the right wing ones is just stupid. And that is all the notion that Obama is a homophobe is, it's a conspiracy theory.

I HATE Obama's foreign policy. But it's pretty much what I expected, it's what American presidents do. I want socialized medicine. But I also want a beach house in Puerto Rico. I hate the money that was given to banks. But I'm pretty sure I would hate living in a cardboard box and going to breadlines more. I'm sorry Obama is a flawed human being. I wish he was still going to Jeremiah Wright for advice. But things could be so so much worse. I remain unregretful of how I spent my vote. I wish there was a Democratic Socialist party out there to give the Democrats and Republicans a run for the money. But there's just not.

These are frustrating, dangerous times. There's an election in a couple weeks. I'd rather see a frustrating party that struggles to get things done remain holding the reigns of power than the teabagger movement. I think that's a simple choice. It is not a blanket endorsement of the Democratic Party. But when the shitstorm is swirling around on election day and everybody's pissed off at Obama, even if some of the people are pissed off from the left and some from the right, when the teabaggers win we're all gonna be swimming in shit and nobody's gonna care who the stink came from.

(Photo snagged from the CS Monitor)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Anti-American Art: North "American" Treaty Organization?

While calling this item "art" might be a bit of an overstatement with its crazy arrows and oddly tilted map, I never promised all the entries in this series would be pretty. Anyway "US and NATO Out of Africa, Asia, South- and Central-America!" reads this poster from a Palestine solidarity group in Germany and Austria. The map calls attention to the NATO/German bombing of Yugoslavia, the US/NATO blockades of Cuba and Iraq, the US attack and embargo against Libya, and Israeli attacks against its neighbors. "Solidarity with all oppressed Peoples!" it concludes.

What I appreciate about this poster is that it doesn't let the other members of NATO off the hook for their international alliance with the aggressive foreign policy of the U.S. It's all well and good to see Europeans protest American policies, but the planes that bombed the crap out of Serbia in the early 1990s weren't all American, and if many European countries balked in the end about joining Bush's post-9/11 attack against Iraq, they were all in favor of the murderous blockade during the 1990s. And yes I know that NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization but my headline is clever, no?

Another poster archived at the Palestine Poster Project.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

10, El Arbol

A tree does grow in Brooklyn!

When looking for the house I live in now the most important thing was actually whether it was on a block with trees. Our block, where the houses were all erected in 1907, is one of those blocks in Brooklyn still full of trees. From the look of them they're probably not the original trees of the block. I'm imagining long-gone elms. Anyway there's a big plane tree that rises up by the top-story window I look out of as I type away on my computer. In summer its leaves remind me of green life and block the worst of the sunlight. In winter, coming soon, it's a little stark but the branches rock wonderfully during a storm. When we moved in there was also a sad little empty spot where a thin tree's sawed off stump remained. This past spring the city came and ripped out that stump and planted a small cherry tree, the first on the block to bloom this year, which seems to be so far doing fine.

Out back the neighbors have a northern magnolia, a wonderful huge tree that bursts into pink bloom the minute a whisper of spring is in the air. It took a hit with all the snow last winter, a big bough crashing to earth with the weight of snow, but the amputee seems to be holding up well despite its loss.

We haven't had frost yet in Brooklyn, so the leaves out front are mostly green, though a tired, brown-at-the-edges, read to give up color. The cold is coming soon I'm sure, and I imagine it will be a quick burst of red and yellow before the leaves all fall to the street below.

I can't bear the thought of not seeing trees outside my window. As much as I love cities, this city, I need that connection to the world below the concrete. I'm not sure how they survive here, but they do.

Thanks, Tree!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Anti-American Art: BFF?

Here's a 1966 Chinese poster promoting solidarity with the Vietnamese resistance to the United States. A camouflaged guerrilla fighter gathers the weapons and helmets of American soldiers as his comrades in the background celebrate the downing of an American plane. There's an interesting, if pro-U.S., account of Chinese support for North Vietnam--which was massive--during the war over at Military History Online. Of course by the late 1970s Vietnam and China fought each other in a short but bloody border war as Vietnam dislodged Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Would Rather Have Sex with a Horse than Vote for Carl Paladino

(A note to Googlers: It has come to my attention that this is statistically one of the more popular posts on my blog, and that's because it comes up in google searches for people looking for pictures of people having sex with horses. First, this is an article about politics not bestiality. Horses do not want to have sex with people, and people, if you're looking to have sex with horses you have a problem. Seek professional help. Sex is about intimacy, intimacy that it is not possible to have with animals. If you're looking for pictures of women being brutalized or degraded, you are not welcome here; do the world a favor and go someplace and cut your dick off. Finally, let me say that while I continue to be glad that a pig like Carl Paladino was defeated, turns out Cuomo is his own kind of pig. I regret my vote for this Democrat; never again. —ISH, August 2013)

"I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t...I didn’t march in the gay parade this year — the gay pride parade this year. My opponent did, and that’s not the example we should be showing our children." Republican candidate for New York State governor Carl Paladino on Sunday, Oct. 10

"Exposing [children] to homosexuality, especially at a gay pride parade — and I don’t know if you have ever been to one, but they wear these little Speedos and they grind against each other and it’s just a terrible thing." --Paladino defending his remarks the following day.

It was a good weekend for Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo. Andrew Cuomo is a moderately liberal career politician who believes he is entitled to the job once held by his father, Mario. Mario Cuomo sought, and got, the endorsement of the fake "Independence" Party, the unlikely coalition of the Fred Newman mind-control cult and wealthy business interests. He blackmailed the progressive Working Families Party into backing his policies in return for accepting their endorsement: WFP is dependent on getting a certain number of votes in an election to stay on the ballot, so they've been forced to toe Cuomo's line to keep their electoral viability. But Carl Paladino, who won the Republican primary by a huge margin over the establishment candidate who had been expected to win, probably just handed Cuomo the election.

Citycouncil member Charles Barron is running a left-of-center campaign from his newly formed Freedom Party, but for me, Paladino has just gotten me to vote for Cuomo. I don't want Carl Paladino spouting his anti-gay, racist crap from Albany. Cuomo has denounced Paladino's remarks. I'm sure--and saddened--that Paladino's remarks just reinforced his support among the plentiful bigots who voted for him already. But hopefully more people are disgusted by his latest remarks.

Carl Paladino is a real estate developer who has taken millions in tax breaks who complains about government spending. He's a marriage-equality opponent who cheated on his wife and had a child out of wedlock. He is renowned for sending out racist emails like the one below, as well as sexually-objectifying emails like one reputedly showing a woman having sex with a horse. He's endorsed by the teabaggers and by anti-gay organizations.

Well, Carl, I'd rather have sex with a horse than vote for you.

Above is one of the horrifying racist graphics emailed by Carl Paladino. The rest can be seen here.

Carl Paladino is the true face of the so-called "Tea Party." Let them win the midterm elections at your own risk.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Celebrate the Insatiable Hunger of White People for Gold!

Here are some excerpts from the journal of Christopher Columbus, 1492:

"At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, very handsome; their hair not curled but straight and coarse like horse-hair, and all with foreheads and heads much broader than any people I had hitherto seen...They came loaded with balls of cotton, parrots, javelins, and other things too numerous to mention; these they exchanged for whatever we chose to give them. I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold....I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possessed large vessels of gold, and in great quantities.

"About sunset we anchored near the cape which terminates the island towards the west to enquire for gold, for the natives we had taken from San Salvador told me that the people here wore golden bracelets upon their arms and legs. I believed pretty confidently that they had invented this story in order to find means to escape from us...

"We set sail about ten o'clock, with the wind southeast and stood southerly for the island I mentioned above, which is a very large one, and where according to the account of the natives on board, there is much gold...

"[These islands] are all extremely verdant and fertile, with the air agreeable, and probably contain many things of which I am ignorant, not inclining to stay here, but visit other islands in search of gold.

"Now, writing this, I set sail with a southerly wind to circumnavigate the island, and search till we can find Samoet, which is the island or city where the gold is, according to the account of those who come on board the ship.

"The wind being favorable, I came to the Cape, which I named Hermoso, where I anchored today. This is so beautiful a place, as well as the neighboring regions...Tomorrow morning before we depart, I intend to land and see what can be found in the neighborhood. Here is no village, but farther within the island is one, where our Indians inform us we shall find the king, and that he has much gold. I shall penetrate so far as to reach the village and see or speak with the king, who, as they tell us, governs all these islands, and goes dressed, with a great deal of gold about him.

"Presently we saw several of the natives advancing towards our party, and one of them came up to us, to whom we gave some hawk's bells and glass beads, with which he was delighted....I shall depart immediately, if the weather serve, and sail round the island, till I succeed in meeting with the king, in order to see if I can acquire any of the gold."

Finding little gold among the Arawak-Taino population, by 1496 Columbus was writing back to Spain: "In the name of the Holy Trinity, we can send from here all the slaves and brazil-wood which could be sold." Which is what he did!

And continuing in Columbus' tradition, here's FoxNews' Glenn Beck on gold: "I've been spending a lot of time with the founding fathers lately...they talked about what the future of America was going to be like... There would be troubled times, and then it would reset self....I'd like a little bit of insurance. That's why I want to talk to you about Goldline."

Happy Columbus Day!

Read more about the Taino people of Boriken (Puerto Rico) here. An excellent essay by Howard Zinn on Columbus and the Indians is excerpted here. Art snagged from "Columbus Day: American Holocaust."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thieves' Charade

A shameful spectacle is infolding in the Middle East and Washington. Much lauded by the press, President Obama's round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is near collapse. The issue is simple, these surrender negotiations whereby the United States is trying to force the Palestinians to accept a neutered microstate in a tiny portion of historic Palestine in return for eternal gratitude to the U.S. and the abandonment of international law and any Palestinian aspirations for justice and civil rights, are being jettisoned by the Israeli refusal to stop stealing more land from the people it already enslaves in a vice-like Apartheid-style grip. President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are making truly embarrassing entreaties to Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, offering lavish arms deals with thrown-in free jet fighters and all sorts of other perks to Israel not for peace, but just to extend the "settlement" construction moratorium for a few months. Netanyahu and his racist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman can't be bothered watching America crawl around at his feet, they're discussing instituting new loyalty oaths for Israeli citizens--including non-Jewish ones like the Palestinian Arabs who remained within Israel's pre-1967 borders as second-class citizens--demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish entity. Lieberman would rather expel all Arabs from all of Greater Israel, but hey, what are you gonna do. Lieberman is all about population transfers, codeword for the ethnic cleansing of as much historic Palestine as he can reach.

Meanwhile the accommodationist Fatah/PLO leader Abu Mazen is meeting with Arab leaders in Libya trying to strike the right militant posture while avoiding doing anything that might actually either help the Palestinians nor jeopardize the relationships of the corrupt Arab regimes with the United States. Israel and the U.S. have so poisoned this whole process that the alleged defiance of the Palestinians and Arab leaders is not about substantive issues like the rights of Palestinians to determine their own future or about land or about refugees or about justice or about occupation but about begging the thieves to take a brief pause in their thieving. And meanwhile Mazen's corrupt rump Palestinian Authority has already cut loose the people of Hamas-ruled Gaza, turning a blind eye to Israel's blockade and repression. There's speculation that whatever deal Mazen the U.S. and Israel are cooking up it won't apply to Gaza at all.

Abu Mazen took a mildly principled stand at the beginning of the negotiations that if Israel let its construction moratorium lapse, the Palestinians would walk out. The moratorium lapsed weeks ago and while nobody's talking, nobody's walking out either. This is not a negotiation it's a route, with Israel leading the charge. Whatever comes out of this thieves' charade is most certainly not going to be actual peace.

Obama spoke at the United Nations General Assembly session and devoted a large portion of his speech to his peace efforts. "When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations -- an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel." But what he is talking about in such exalted terms isn't an independent sovereign state according to the definitions anybody would recognize. It's a rump demilitarized fragment of an already small country with its best land, its resources, and its capital city clawed away by the Zionist state.

Here's the harsh truth. There can be no real peace while the State of Israel exists. It is a fundamental injustice in the landscape of the Middle East. Let it be said, it is not the presence of Jewish people in historic Palestine that is the problem, it is the presence of a racist, colonialist state. It is this state with its loyalty oaths, with its ethnic cleansing, with its brutality, with its racist laws, with its core rejection of secular law, with its murderous intent against its neighbors, that must go. As long as it stays there will be injustice. The dismantling of the state of Israel in favor of a democratic, secular nation where people of all faiths and ethnicities live together under the rule of law would be a blow against not only the colonialist holdover of Zionism but against the authoritarianism and corruption of neighboring countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and crucially, against terrorism; removing the emotional resonance that allows reactionary terrorists to capitalize on injustice for their own anti-democratic ends.

Obama is still giving lip service to the cause of peace and justice for Palestinians, but ironically he redefines peace and justice to be near meaningless. The two-state solution is no longer a solution, but a posture that allows the Israeli State, the PLO leadership, the Arab regimes, and the U.S. all to pursue their own ends while solving absolutely nothing at all.

It's time for the charade to end.

(Top photo shows an IDF soldier confronting a demonstrator during protests this July over ethnic evictions in Israel from Yossi Gurvitz' blog "Wish You Orwell." I saw it first on the excellent information/opinion site on the Middle East Mondoweiss.)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Anti-American Art: Collateral Damage

This sheetlet of 16 stamps was issued by Libya -- the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya -- in 1986 to mark the attack earlier that year ordered by U.S. President Reagan against targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. The joined vignettes focus on the toll among Libyan civilians, including, apparently, many children. While dead children are a bonafide propaganda cliche, it is quite remarkable how frequently these tiniest collateral targets get in the way of American (and Israeli) bombs. The presence of enemy tots seems never to have deterred American imperial interests, whether in Libya in 1986 or the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2010. No wonder that world opinion of the U.S. is a complicated matter.

Other gory Libyan stamps marking the U.S. attack of 1986 can be seen here.

Update: I just read the late Howard Zinn's excellent article on the U.S. attack on Libya "Terrorism Over Tripoli." He puts it in excellent perspective: "Even if we assume that Khadafi was behind the discotheque bombing (and there is no evidence for this), and Reagan behind the Tripoli bombing (the evidence for this is absolute), then both are terrorists, but Reagan is capable of killing far more people than Khadafi. And he has.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Jasmine in My Mind

While I'm a huge music person with all sorts of eclectic tastes, I can't actually play a note. I'm lucky to run in very musical circles, though, and somehow many of my friends are musicians. Last night I went to a performance by one of my boyfriend's bands, The Soft Rock Renegades of New York City. A seven-piece band that covers the latest songs of thirty-five years ago, the Renegades played an awesome set at Fontana's in New York City's Chinatown.

The Soft Rock Renegades play songs from sing-along 1970s and 1980s radio like Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze," Bread's "Everything I Own," or Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are." Last night's best numbers were showstoppers: "I Can't Go for That" from Hall and Oates, and "Africa" by Toto. Two songs just added to their repertoire for this concert, Olivia Newton-John's "Magic" and Andy Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything," were terrific. While many of the seven members do double-duty on multiple instruments, the band consists of two keyboard players (including Jesse), two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, and a percussionist. Most everybody sings backup vocals, and while two of the musicians handle most of the lead vocals, everybody but the drummer gets a lead star turn.

Their sound is really infectiously fun, turning all these familiar chestnuts into party-time celebrations that transcend mere nostalgia or kitsch. I look forward to seeing them perform again!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Anti-American Art: Unfriendly Reception

There's no inscription to explain it, but this restrained and elegantly engraved 1964 North Korean stamp shows a 19th-century scene with a jubilant crowd of Koreans standing on a shore while a ship burns in the distance. That would be the U.S.S. General Sherman which thought it might have a go at opening up the very closed Korean kingdom to western diplomacy and trade. Guess again! The American ship was torched and its occupants hacked to death in 1866. The incident is celebrated in North Korea as evidence of the nature of the long relationship between that country and the U.S. Apparently the more things change the more they remain the same.

Click on the image to see it larger. (An earlier post showing a newer stamp marking the sinking of the General Sherman is here).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

16, La Bandera

It's emotion on a stick, that's what the flag is.

Though I was born in Mexico the green, white and red holds no feeling for me, pro or con. With no disrespect meant, it amuses me to no end that the Mexican food vendor around the corner offers a choice of salsa roja, salsa verde, or "a la bandera" on his excellent handmade sopes, huaraches and gorditas: a ladle of red sauce, a swath of cream, a strip of green sauce, laid side by side.

What doesn't amuse me is the stars and stripes. I know it brings grown men to tears. I know that its broad stripes and bright stars are comforting to many, symbolizing some powerful vision of fury and righteousness. I understand that it is revered as a sacred pennant, dripped in the blood of the fallen. I know you're supposed to love it, to respect it, to salute it, to pledge to it, to keep it from touching the ground. To keep it safely away from flame.

But it doesn't work that way with me. Never has. Maybe it was growing up in the 1960s, but the pledge of allegiance always seemed wrong to me, under or above God. I won't say it. I can't say I never have said it, but I know it was in that long ago decade that I stopped mouthing those words in school. I won't rise for that awkward anthem. I won't hold my hand above my heart for it. I suppose I'm lucky I'm not a sports fan.

I quoted my grandmother here a couple days ago about the intense patriotism of her grandfather, a Union Army veteran, and God bless him; he was devoted to the better of two flags. But forgive me, I can't follow in that tradition.

I don't take comfort in seeing it on every truck and bus and subway train. I don't feel kinship with someone wearing it on their lapel or their hat or their jacket. I don't feel my testicles expanding and my cock hardening when I see it paired with a white-headed bird and some defiant slogan like "these colors don't run" or "never forgive or forget." Speaking of never forgetting, do you know what's been done in the name of that flag?

The red-white-and-blue represents to me the absolute worst of America: its entitled arrogance, its narcissistic cluelessness, its bull-in-a-china-shop way of stomping about the world. It's a substitute for substance, an end to the conversation. I remember that horrible amazing picture from the 1970s of a white racist in Boston wielding a flag like a weapon as he attacks a black-skinned Haitian immigrant. Go ahead, Google "American flag as a weapon" and it comes right up. 5 seconds of typing and an icon appears.

See? Emotion on a stick. I guess it brings up rage in me. Where others see promise and hope in it, I see despair and deception. With liberty and justice for all, really? Is that what it has fluttered over all these years?

Oh I know America can be better than that. I'm grateful for my constitutional rights. I'm grateful for a march of progress. And I'm grateful it's not the stars-and-bars floating overhead: now there is a repulsive flag that should be condemned to fire.

In truth some flags don't bring out this reaction in me. Like red ones. I would stand and sing for James O'Connell's "The Red Flag": The workers flag is deepest red/It shrouded oft our martyred dead." Even with the mockery that Russia and China made of the crimson banner, it still has the power to make my own spirit rise. Against the odds the red flag does mean promise and hope to me. Go figure.

But The Flag? The stars and stripes? As Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane said long ago, "Point that thing somewhere else."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Anti-American Art: Competing Interests

In the time-honored propaganda tradition of showing dead or wounded children comes this poster from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from 1982. "The Interests of U.S.A. Are Not More Precious Than Our Children," it reads. I'm guessing this has something to do with the invasion of Lebanon by U.S. ally Israel and the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shattila refugee camp. Lebanon, in the midst of an extended civil war, was host to the P.L.O. leadership as well as to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced out of their neighboring homeland. American intervention in the aftermath of the invasion ended badly with the bombing of a Marine barracks in 1983.

This poster is archived at the amazing Palestine Poster Project.

Monday, October 04, 2010

A little bit of Family Heritage

I've written before about my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Scott. She was born in Michigan in 1904 and died in California in the early 1990s. It was she who willed me the box with many old family photographs I've put up here. Looking among old papers I found a letter she wrote to me as a teenager with many old family details. As a child I felt fairly alienated from my extended family: my mother's parents were long gone and her brothers and their families all lived far from us. My father had been close with neither his own father nor his mother's extended family so we didn't really have frequent visits with relatives. I asked my gramma for some information on my roots, this would have been in the 1970s, and I was lucky enough to receive this letter with all sorts of genealogical details.

The first section was a bit about my father's family. Considering how badly my grandfather treated her I was surprised to read fairly objective facts, though key parts of the narrative ommitted some crucial details. I'll leave all that for a future post on my father's paternal lineage.

The rest of the letter is filled with facts and details. By way of offering up a bit more internet immortality to these long-gone ancestors here's a big portion of my grandmother Dorothy's letter:

"My mother, Eudora Kimble Scott, was the only child (she'd had a baby brother who died in infancy) of Alice Holmes Kimble and Ransom E. Kimble. The Holmes family (my great grand-parents were farmers near Vicksburg, Michigan. As a child I remember older people saying I resembled my great-grandmother whose name was Emily Holmes amd it was for her I named my kitty! Incidentally all the Holmes-Kimbles-Scotts seem to have been quite long-lived. Somewhere I have a photo of my sister Ruth as a baby being held by her (also my) mother surrounded by 6 grandmothers! Let's see these were Grandma Kimble, her mother Emily Holmes and Grandpa Kimble's mother ___ Kimble then Grandma Scott, plus her mother ____ Decker and grandpa Scott's mother ____ Scott.

"Grandpa Ransom Kimble's family were Pennsylvania Dutch who pushed westward and became Michigan farmers just south of the little town of Vicksburg where I grew up. They retired by the time my mother was high school age. They sold the farm, bought property and built their house in Vicksburg. They invested their farm sales money in property in Vicksburg: a couple of stores and houses which brought them income during the remainder of their long lives. Grandpa died in his 70s, Grandma Kimble at 80.

"They lived only 1 1/2 blocks from us as we (my 4 brothers 3 sisters and I) spent many happy hours, days, sometimes at their lake cottage, weeks with them. I remember sitting on my grandpa's lap in front of this big coal stove listening to his tales of their first years in Michigan when much of the country was still forest. He knew many Indians, even one Indian chief (Pottawattamies I think ) all friendly apparently and from whom he learned much lore. My mother Eudora (who was always called Dora and for whom I was named) was born July 19, 1872. She went to high school with my father...

"My paternal grandmother, Maria Decker Scott, was born in 1844 and died in 1932 in Vicksburg. I'm not sure where the Deckers came from, a fairly large family. They lived in Indiana...I once knew her brother Alf Decker who moved to Montana, also his sister Mina who we knew as children. (Emily keeps walking across my papers so the cat hairs are gratis!)

"My grandfather Scott's family came from Yorkshire, England. In fact he may have been born there. William Woodhead Scott b. 1844, died in Vicksburg Michigan in 1918. When he was a child they came west to Ontario, Indiana, where they established prosperous woollen mills. He had brothers and sisters, I think. Young William joined the Union Army during the civil war. He became a captain. (After the war he gathered a lot of regalia: uniforms, swords in sheaths, beaded epaulets and such which we children used to dress up with, swords and all, and parade up and down the block!)

"As his vocation he chose to be a dentist and came with his wife (Maria) and his son, my father Clinton, and his daughters, my Aunt Clara to Vicksburg, which was then just a 4 corners with few buildings to set up what became a very successful practice. They built quite a large house with 'elegant' furnishings and became important as the village grew. He helped (with his hands) to build a church -- congregational -- and my father and aunt helped haul stone for it with their team of spotted ponies. He was quite a student -- self taught -- used to give steriopticon lectures of the Holy Lands for church and civic groups... Always on Memorial Day he led the parade and delivered the address of the day at the cemetary while the hundreds of townspeople including all the town's children trudged along carrying our armloads of flowers to put on veteran's graves.

"My father, Clinton Robert Scott, b. 1870 d. 1937...decided to be a dentist like his father, so went to Ann Arbor was graduated a DDS...They lived first in Schoolcraft Michigan, then Marcellus, where I was born, and then in 1906 moved to Vicksburg where my father practiced for the rest of his life.

She lists her siblings Ruth, Florence, Robert, William W., Lynn, Rollo and Frances. "... Interesting enough (and disappointing to my father) it was his four girls who sought and self-financed college educations. Dad would have paid expenses for the boys (though how he would have done it, I don't know. We had a good home but no money) but the boys weren't so inclined."

Though I've been to Michigan many times I've never been to Vicksburg, or to St. Joseph where she lived with my grandfather Horst after their marriage. I hope the people who live in their houses in Vicksburg today, assuming they're still standing, are nice people. Anyway, I don't believe as the Mormons do that I need to convert my departed ancestors to my own religion, but I do believe in thanking them earnestly for the lives they lived, and the steps they made that allowed my own life to be.

(Calendar at top from the office of Clinton R. Scott, Dentist, Marcellus, Michigan; my great grandfather, showing my grandmother's older siblings Ruth, Robert and Flo; 1899. The caption under the photo reads, "Dr. Scott does all our dental work." Bottom photograph shows my grandmother in 1926, the year before she married my grandfather.)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Anti-American Art: Against the Terrorist Empire

This is a stamp with souvenir sheet from Cuba, issued in 2009 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. It shows a photo of a demonstration and a sweeping montage of Cuban flags next to a statue of Jose Marti, hero of Cuban independence from Spain.

The banner reads: "Contra el Imperio Terrorista, La Solidaridad Junto a los Pueblos. Avanza!" "Against the Terrorist Empire, The Solidarity of the People Together. Forward!" Shown on the banner are portraits of the Cuban Five.

The Cuban Five are five heroic Cuban intelligence agents who came to the United States to monitor the actions of anti-Castro Cuban organizations including the terrorist network led by CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles. They were arrested in September of 1998 and charged with espionage and other charges. Despite the fact these agents were actually engaged in trying to stop real bomb-throwing, aircraft-exploding terrorists, they have been imprisoned as political prisoners for the past twelve years. There is an international campaign for their release.

Ironic, isn't it, that actual terrorists are being protected by the United States. Who'd'a thunk it? Just....well, el pueblo.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

"We Need Each Other"

I found these flyers from the first specifically gay political event I ever attended while digging out materials for my recent post on the 1984 gay march on the UN I helped organize. They were from a protest of police raids on Bughouse Square in Chicago, a popular cruising ground/meeting place for gay men, back in 1979. There's something quaint about the content of these flyers: "One Chicago for Gays & Lesbians, Also!" "Peaceful March" and "We Need Each Other." They're such plaintive calls for decency and solidarity, it's interesting to me that such simple, basic human rights level pleas should have been the political discourse a mere five years before the complicated sloganeering and copywrighting of that 1984 effort.

I don't remember too much about this event, or who "Gays & Lesbians for Action" were. The paragraph on the front of the event's actual program read, "In recent months several of our Bars, Business, and Meeting Places have subjected to unusual police action -- Bar Raids, excessive use of force, entrapement, and selective arrest. To adress this proverbal 'The straw that broke the camel's back', we have organized ourselves here tonight to prove that we, too, are enfranchised, viable, and visible citizens of the City of Chicago, and State of Illinois." (spelling and punctuation all as it appears. --ish)

This was not an event organized by a sophisticated political machine. The inside of the program appears above, with suggestions for chants and songs to be performed along the march and rally. Click on it to embiggen; it's worth a read. "Two four six eight, Gay is just as good as straight; Three five seven nine, Lesbians are might fine." I actually remember that chant.

In some ways we've come a long long way.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Anti-American Art: Machine Gun Sing-Along

Today is the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China; here's a Chinese poster from the bygone era of Chinese Anti-Americanism, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. While it doesn't mention the U.S. by name, this 1971 poster marking the centenary of the Communist anthem "The Internationale" displays the a particularly militant tableau of world revolutionaries united in defiance against imperialism. From the top there's a Vietnamese guerrilla, an armed Albanian peasant, an armed Chinese worker, and a traditionally-clad Korean woman with bayonet-mounted rifle slung over her back. The ranks of singing revolutionaries below them run from a Cambodian guerrilla and headband-wearing student rebel to keffiyah-clad Arab, to blonde European or American to my favorite, a sten-gun-carrying African guy in some sort of sporty striped tunic over a white polo shirt, a leopard-skin cap jauntily set atop his head.

When I was in the organized left, we actually used to sing this song all the time. Everybody sing along:

Arise, you prisoners of starvation!
Arise, you wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation:
A better world's in birth!
No more tradition's chains shall bind us,
Arise you slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations:
We have been nought, we shall be all!

'Tis the final conflict,
Let each stand in his place.
The international working class
Shall be the human race