Dear Walt

Dear Walt Whitman, on your 200th Birthday, some words back atcha:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

… 200 years old and as alive today — your atoms and your words still among us — as when, in your body, you lived and loved. Thank you for the many times you have led me to recognize joy in this life, the words you paint on the canvas of visceral connection to Everything, your spirit transcending time, across generations. Today I will close my eyes, take a ride on the Brooklyn Ferry and give you a hug.



Martyrs of the Race Course

To truly honor Memorial Day means putting the politics back in. It means reviving the visions of emancipation and liberation that animated the first Decoration Days. It means celebrating those who have fought for justice, while exposing the cruel manipulation of hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members who have been sent to fight and die in wars for conquest and empire.”

Chew on that while enjoying the BBQ.

And here you can read the actual history of Memorial Day from a Yale professor, a history in which 28 black workmen in Charleston, SC exhumed and gave proper burial to 257 Union soldiers who had died at a confinement camp on a former race track, and built an archway entrance bearing the double-entendre: “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Black Civil War soldiers.

Black Civil War soldiers.

Guns Don’t Kill People, Ex-Husbands Who Threaten to Put a Cap in Ex-Wives Do

(source unknown)

Michael Luo recounts a chilling episode experienced by  a woman who obtained an order of protection from her former husband in a state that does not require him to relinquish his firearms. In all but a few states there is no law allowing a judge to force a threatening individual to do so. Why?

The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups “argue that gun ownership, as a fundamental constitutional right, should not be stripped away for anything less serious than a felony conviction — and certainly not, as an N.R.A. lobbyist in Washington State put it to legislators, for the ‘mere issuance of court orders.'”

Ban poverty, not soda

If you don’t know what a quarter water is and you’ve never resorted to drinking one when in need of liquid & carbs because 25¢ is all you’ve got, or because in the environment you were brought up in quarter water (or, on rich days, Tropical Fantasy) is what you know … please don’t pontificate on the subject of inner-city dietary choices. 

Ginia Bellafante knocks it outta the park in the New York Times today: “The articulated goal should not simply be to create a population of poor people who are thin, but to create a population of poor people who are less poor. In 2010, the poverty rate in the city remained what it was 10 years earlier, 21 percent. ” AMEN. (Not to mention the poverty rate in NYC of children is 30 percent. Yes. In the 2nd richest city in the world.)

They died but, hey, we gained a strategic relationship

From military dot com, a piece about an Iraq War study done at Brown University:

Study: Iraq War Cost 190K Lives, $2.2 Trillion

 Remember the Team Bush estimate of war costs was $50-60 billion?

This piece quotes State Dept response to this report: “both countries made enormous sacrifices”… when 70% of the casualties were Iraqi civilians! (This is !!not!! to dismiss the sacrifice made by US troops sent over there, and their families … who had no choice but to follow orders.) State Dept also points out that we have forged a “strategically important” relationship with Iraq … I wonder what the legions of dead folks and their famlies might say about the importance of a US/Iraq strategic relationship when weighed against the cost of so many lives and so much destruction.

Bring back the concept of ZPG

In today’s Guardian:

Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Agreed, but WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT POPULATION CONTROL, SCIENTISTS??? When I was a kid in the 60s a very important discussion began about a concept dubbed Zero Population Growth. It was a point of discussion even in my conformist baby-boom grade school classrooms. We don’t talk about it anymore.

Just more evidence of how scientists have grown scared of going up against religious forces that are opposed to reproductive freedom including birth control.

I might add that when I was in that baby-boom-era grade school classroom and we were required to learn various dry facts about geography and demographics, one fact was this: “There are 3 billion people in the world.” I am 55. To some people reading this that might be “old,” but think of it as “less than one expected life span.” The 3 billion has already turned into over 7 billion as of March 12, 2012.

The exponential breeding of humans is one of the most frightening factoids. Check this chart.

And since the vocal anti-science forces are breeding faster and indoctrinating their offspring … if The Awake Ones are not outnumbered yet we will soon be, by far. What does that mean in this democracy? That our progeny will have to experience a horrible toxic world complete with massive disease and die-offs? ‎And will it by then be too late to “learn our lesson” and rectify the situation?

I personally stave off the depression from peering into this particular abyss by engaging in teaching the children. Teach the children (all children! this has nothing to do with “parenthood”) and, more importantly, teach them to teach others.

Women’s "natural right" to be society’s slave

Law professor Shari Motro proposes “Preglimony” — the codified responsibility of a male involved in the conception of a fetus to contribute financially to the mother’s well-being while she is pregnant.

The problem is that under current law, most states frame men’s pregnancy-related obligations as an element of child support or as part of a parentage order, which generally kicks in only after the birth of a child and is limited to medical expenses. Until and unless the pregnancy produces a child, any costs associated with it are regarded as the woman’s responsibility.


Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange, 1936

But we need more than to institute such societal expectation as a matter of law with regard to pregnancy. And we need to look much deeper than fiscal support when we consider the responsibilities of procreating men.

We need to rewrite the laws that stipulate that default custody of offspring born “out of wedlock” (isn’t wedlock such a strange word?!), goes to the woman. WHY? When a single mother is unable to care for her children with some level of stability they are taken from her; when she goes completely off the deep end and throws her baby in the dumpster, she is arrested. Does all this happen in one day? No, the problem perhaps started before the child was born, and the safety and well-being of the child is at risk prior to the day that he or she is abandoned or abused.

So where was the child’s father during this period of escalating disorder in the child’s life? Even if he pays his child support (which so many get away with not paying), why does the father have no custodial responsibility to help raise the child, to check in on the child, to offer the mother some relief in the duties of child-rearing, to intervene before tragedy happens? Why is the father not also arrested when a child is abused, after he completely ignored his child’s welfare during a developing situation?

The answer to “why” is codified in our laws. It is beyond reason that, for the simple fact of the absence of a marriage certificate, 100% of the responsibility for rearing a child lands on the female and 0% lands on the male apart from “child support” … unless he proactively seeks some level of custody. Unless he decides that he would like to share the responsibilities that go so much farther than economic burden, he is free to walk away.

A quick web search on “child custody laws unmarried” turns up a page on LegalMatch that summarizes the way our laws stick it to women with regard to the duties of child rearing, while disguising that solo burden as a “right” (emphasis added here):

The unmarried mother is presumed to have the primary or natural right to custody of children born when she is not married.  Therefore, she has the legal right to custody, care, and control over the child and her rights are superior to those of the father or any other person.

“Her rights are superior” my ass! Where is her right to take a break, to have the father rear the child so she can go to college or take a job on the other coast or just have a frickin’ week off? “Rights” are something we may or may not choose to exercise. Yes, in some cases, a child might be better off with limited or no contact with their father, and in such a case the mother ought by default to enjoy full control over the child’s welfare. But where does the law speak to an unmarried mother who perhaps is not interested in rearing the child, or simply needs the father to share in everything from taking time off from work when a child is sick or to taking kids to the dentist, to teaching the kid how to ride a bike, or running all the errands involved in ensuring a child is fed, clothed and equipped with necessities?

The next sentence on that page proves my point that the law looks at this question in a very strange way:

These rights can be defeated if it can be shown that the mother is unfit or has abandoned the child.

Okay, then, so we wait until the mother is acting “unfit” or has abandoned her child, before we contemplate looking at whether the father ought to be pitching in with some relief from the daily grind, for the children’s sake at least?

This perspective also shines a light on fathers’ rights. I personally have known men who wanted equal access to their own children, or full custody when they truly were the more “suitable” primary caretaker, yet had to do battle with judges and social workers while working at a handicap under law and social policy. The results of their fight to partner in, or take over, raising their children were mixed and any successes were very hard-won. My brand of feminism looks for equal rights for all. Including men.

Until we revamp laws that actually codify that a woman’s biology is her destiny, women will remain second-class citizens in this country, will continue to contribute billions of dollars’ worth of services to the GDP without any consideration or compensation, will continue to bear the stress of putting in exhaustingly long days, day after day, for decades, shouldering alone the work that by all reason ought to be shared by two people. And fathers who want to be equitably involved with raising their children – and also men who have gained custody and then need the same social support services (subsidized daycare, etc.) that a woman would need in the same situation – will continue to find themselves at a handicap in the courts and social services systems.

Awesome Woman: Ursula Sladek

The incredible Awesome Woman of the Day is Ursula Sladek, who started a successful cooperatively-owned  green energy company.

After the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant it was revealed that radioactive isotopes had landed in the Black Forest region in western Germany where she lives. Children could not play outside for two weeks (and even 25 years later mushrooms from the forest are not considered safe to eat). Sladek and her husband Michael formed “Parents for a Nuclear Free Future”and began researching alternative forms of energy. When the local power company’s lease was coming up for renewal Sladek launched a nationwide campaign and raised 6 million DM (about 3 million Euros) and bought the power grid so that she could break the monopoly of the energy companies.

Her company, Schönau Power Supply, uses power that is produced by local people’s wind turbines, streams, solar panels, and other sources that feed the grid. Sladek pioneered a pattern of green, decentralized energy production. She enables citizens to become private green energy producers and to sell their electricity surplus back into the grid, and to share in the profits. Most of the revenues, which reached 67 million Euros in 2009, are reinvested in renewable energy sources. Sladek also has become a speaker and educator, and has a share-alike ethic when it comes to spreading information about how others can embark on the same type of initiative in their locale.

In 2011, Sladek won the notable Goldman Environmental Prize (the world’s largest prize for honoring grassroots environmentalists) for Sustainable Energy in Europe, and is a fellow of the Ashoka “Innovators for the Public” institute that brings together social entrepreneurs, experts, and policy makers to inspire and support a new generation of local changemakers.

Awesome Woman: Elizabeth Cochran, a.k.a. Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly c. 1890

Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922) was the pen name of pioneer female journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran, who was first noticed and hired by a newspaper editor after she wrote a strong letter to the editor in response to a sexist article. According to Wikipedia, “The editor was so impressed with Cochran’s earnestness and spirit that he asked the man who wrote the letter to join the paper. When he learned the man was Cochran he refused to give her the job, but she was a good talker and persuaded him. Female newspaper writers at that time customarily used pen names, and for Cochran the editor chose ‘Nellie Bly’, adopted from the title character in the popular song ‘Nelly Bly’ by Stephen Foster.”

Bly, who lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the time, was naturally inclined to cover stories of working women and the labor conditions of female factory workers. In rebellion against the pressure from her employer to cover home-and-garden sort of topics, she quit her job and moved to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent to the newspaper. Never one to hold back, she wrote critically of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, and then had to move back to the U.S. after being threatened with arrest. She was once again assigned typical women’s stories and in frustration left the newspaper and moved to New York City.

After a few months barely scraping by in New York, Bly found work doing an undercover investigative assignment for the New York World. As a groundbreaker in the field of investigative reporting, she was to feign insanity in order to be committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). The asylum had a reputation on the street for brutality and neglect, and Bly was to observe conditions first hand in the role of an inmate, and then write an exposé. The year was 1884, and she was now a mere 20 years old. Her work was first published in the World, and then she republished it as a book to satisfy the demand of a public who were asking for copies.

In order to ensure that she would gain entrance to the asylum, Bly practiced the behavior and mannerisms of insane persons. She then, continuing her strategy, checked into a working-class women’s boarding house on lower Second Avenue (see footnote). There she conducted herself in such a way that the home’s matron called the police, and Bly appeared before a judge and convinced him she was insane.

In her own words:

I took upon myself to enact the part of a poor, unfortunate crazy girl, and felt it my duty not to shirk any of the disagreeable results that should follow. I became one of the city’s insane wards for that length of time, experienced much, and saw and heard more of the treatment accorded to this helpless class of our population, and when I had seen and heard enough, my release was promptly secured. I left the insane ward with pleasure and regret–pleasure that I was once more able to enjoy the free breath of heaven; regret that I could not have brought with me some of the unfortunate women who lived and suffered with me, and who, I am convinced, are just as sane as I was and am now myself. 

But here let me say one thing: From the moment I entered the insane ward on the Island, I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of insanity. I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life. Yet strange to say, the more sanely I talked and acted the crazier I was thought to be by all except one physician, whose kindness and gentle ways I shall not soon forget.

Her first stop was Bellevue Hospital where she was to be evaluated, and then was transported on a boat — under awful conditions — to the asylum on Blackwell’s Island.  Both hospital and asylum were freezing cold, food for the patients was scant and atrocious, and nurses kept inmates awake all night by talking and clomping around in loud shoes. But most egregious of all was what seemed to be a common practice by doctors of declaring women insane who likely were only down on their luck, based upon only the most cursory verbal examinations. Bly was deemed “hopelessly insane,” a diagnosis arrived at after a simple conversation a doctor held with her during which she did nothing in particular to “act insane.” She reported that she overheard other patients being asked similar questions, answering as any normal person would, and also being deemed insane. Bly wrote, “After this, I began to have a smaller regard for the ability of doctors than I ever had before, and a greater one for myself.”

Bly wrote up many details of the treatment and incidents she witnessed at the asylum, and her work “Ten Days in a Mad-House” can be read at With no special journalistic training, she had taken on a distasteful and even dangerous assignment and aced the tricky job of simultaneously pretending to be a real inmate while also staying aware and observant of others at all times. Her write-up makes an engrossing read and gives us tremendous insight to the status of women, particularly those in the working class, in the latter part of the 19th century.

And her work had tremendous impact. The public soaked it up and politicians were put in the hot seat. When she republished her work in book format she noted in an introduction:

SINCE my experiences in Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum were published in the World I have received hundreds of letters in regard to it. The edition containing my story long since ran out, and I have been prevailed upon to allow it to be published in book form, to satisfy the hundreds who are yet asking for copies.

I am happy to be able to state as a result of my visit to the asylum and the exposures consequent thereon, that the City of New York has appropriated $1,000,000 more per annum than ever before for the care of the insane. So I have at least the satisfaction of knowing that the poor unfortunates will be the better cared for because of my work.

In another major adventure, in 1890, Nellie Bly took on a challenge to compete against another female author to beat, for real, the fictional record set by Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days — and on the 73rd day after her departure she won the challenge by arriving back at her Hoboken, New Jersey starting-point after making her way around the planet almost completely unchaperoned.

In 1895 she married a man 40 years her senior, a wealthy industrialist, and after his death she became an industrialist and inventor (of the 55-gallon oil drum still in use) in her own right. But after being bankrupted by employee embezzlement, she returned to reporting, covering the women’s suffrage movement, and the action on the Eastern front in World War I. She also had a continuing interest in the plight of the downtrodden in society, and adopted or looked after a number of orphaned children.

In 1922, at the age of 57, Nellie Bly died of pneumonia, but her spirit lives on and she set in motion a huge legacy of exposing greed and incompetence in order to better the circumstances of those “at the bottom” of society. In 1998 she was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 2002 she was one of four female journalists honored with a U.S. postage stamp. A New York Press Club award bears her name, an amusement park is named after her, and a “4-D” film has been shown in the Annenberg Theater in Washington, D.C. dramatizing her experience in the asylum.

FOOTNOTE: The Temporary Home for Females was located at 84 Second Avenue. It was actually a web search for “84 Second Avenue” out of my interest in that building itself that led me to the story of Nellie Bly. The building at that address is only a few doors away from where I live and has been an object of my interest since I moved to my current location in 1977. Several people have written articles or blog posts about the place, and I do have more to add to what folks have thus far recorded, being one of very few people who have actually  been inside the building and talked to its present-day occupant. Another day I will take up that topic (and will try to remember to come back and add a link here).

Awesome Woman: Edra Mbatha

The AWOD for this Sunday March 4 is EDRA MBATHA of Nairobi, Kenya, who has dreamed up an innovative way to protect children from widespread sexual abuse and neglect. After she completed her O levels, Mbatha moved from her rural hometown — as do so many young adults with no resources in Kenya — to a slum in Nairobi in hopes of finding employment and making a life for herself.

But soon after arriving and seeing the terrible conditions in which people were living, and noticing how so many women had “given up” and just stood around all day gossiping, Mbathe began working as a volunteer with a grassroots women’s group. Close to two decades later, Mbatha is still working within the Mathare community.

In 2008 during preelection violence she noticed that children were at high risk. “It was a chaotic time for children,” she remembers. “In the slums, the myth that having sex with minors could cure people living with HIV was rife and children were defiled in large numbers.” While the women’s organization was providing some services to the children, Mbatha saw the clear need for early intervention to prevent victimization from happening at all.

She realized that sexual predators would strike during those hours when working parents left their children alone. So she started Mathare Early Childhood Development Centre, which began as a daytime “safe house” collectively funded by parents of the children, and has become a school that also provides nutrition and counseling for 30 children.

Beyond the powerful support and direct aid being provided to the students and their parents, Mbatha has a broad vision in which the Centre will produce politically aware adults and long-term changes in Kenyan society. “It’s lack of education that sees Kenyans manipulated by politicians to take arms against their neighbours.”