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  • Tuesday, February 28, 2006


    Happy Mardi Gras!

    Mardi Gras is such an integral part of my memories and experience of growing up in New Orleans, I have trouble imagining the city without it. Of course, Mardi Gras proper is being celebrated today but the so-called Mardi Gras season goes on for several weeks before the actual calendar date.

    The celebration of Mardi Gras has spread widely in recent years, so it's easy to forget it used to be found only in very Catholic areas of the world such as Brazil, New Orleans, and the Caribbean. I usually explain Mardi Gras as a spectacular excuse for excess before Lent. Lent requires devout Catholics to give up something important (usually some sensual pleasure) for the forty days before Easter.

    Mardi Gras is what is known as a "moveable feast". This means its calendar date is dependent on the date of Easter. Easter's date changes from year to year depending on calculations involving the first full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21). I've always found this to be a rather significant Pagan accommodation by the Catholic Church but only one in a long series of the Church's co-opting and absorbing of Pagan celebrations and sacred locations.

    Anyway, Happy Mardi Gras!

    Monday, February 27, 2006


    Abu Ghraib Photos and "Embarrassment" for the U.S.

    The argument that releasing additional Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse photos would embarrass the U.S. and stir up anti-American sentiments in the Middle East has some validity. No, really! Don't laugh! Oh, go ahead, get it out of your system.

    While the argument has validity, there's a question I have to ask: Is the embarrassment justified? I'd answer a big yes. The U.S. government should be embarrassed to have been overseeing (and authorizing) the mistreatment, torture, and murder of prisoners in its care. I used the past tense in the last sentence but, of course, this continues today because of a lack of accountability. And the U.S. government is very adept at denying responsibility, no matter how clear the chain of evidence and command is from the event to the highest military and political levels.

    The anti-American sentiment is indeed fanned but I also have to ask: Is the anti-American feeling justified? Big yes there as well. If the situation were reversed and Americans were routinely being tortured and killed by Iraqi officials, would we be adverse or hesitant to being "anti-Iraqi"?

    Saturday, February 25, 2006


    The Weather Underground and Activism Today

    I went out to a screening of the documentary The Weather Underground tonight at the Media Education Foundation (MEF) in Northampton, Mass. I had seen the film when it came out on DVD but I wondered what the experience of watching it in a group would be like so I went to see it again.

    I noticed a certain amount of uncomfortable laughter for the first five or ten minutes. The phrases and attitudes of the late 1960s counterculture sound very dated and quaint now, relics of another era. The laughter mostly disappeared as the film progressed. Whatever you might think of the Weather Underground (WU), there is no denying the power of people who are willing to put their lives on the line for their beliefs. I'm put in mind of the closing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence: "...we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, & our sacred Honor."

    I know it was a different mileau yet I'm left wondering where to find such American radicals are today. Yes, I know people are being arrested at demonstrations and are doing hard work organizing events but it doesn't seem to me to be at the same level as the WU. Not that I'm advocating blowing shit up, which would be a rather foolish thing to do in a public forum like this blog, but I still wonder about where to find the modern parallel to such commitment to a cause.

    After the screening, Carl Oglesby spoke at some length about his experiences and discussions with some of the Weatherpeople at the time. Mr. Oglesby was president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) around the time the "Weather Kids" (his phrase) took over SDS. He was quite adamant about not idolizing the WU. In his opinion, they turned down a path of actions which were very wrong.

    Mr. Oglesby also preferred a different documentary about the SDS in that general time period, Rebels with a Cause. Unsurprisingly, he was one of the interviewees in this film.

    While the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society, 1962 may seem naive today, for the time it was bold analysis and important. Let me end this post with a bit from it.

    Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity -- but might it not better be called a glaze above deeplyfelt anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these anxieties produce a developed indifference to human affairs, do they not as well produce a yearning to believe there is an alternative to the present, that something can be done to change circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government? It is to this latter yearning, at once the spark and engine of change, that we direct our present appeal. The search for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them, is a worthy and fulfilling human enterprise, one which moves us and, we hope, others today. On such a basis do we offer this document of our convictions and analysis: as an effort in understanding and changing the conditions of humanity in the late twentieth century, an effort rooted in the ancient, still unfulfilled conception of man attaining determining influence over his circumstances of life.


    Making values explicit -- an initial task in establishing alternatives -

    • is an activity that has been devalued and corrupted. The conventional moral terms of the age, the politician moralities -- "free world", "people's democracies" -- reflect realities poorly, if at all, and seem to function more as ruling myths than as descriptive principles. But neither has our experience in the universities brought as moral enlightenment. Our professors and administrators sacrifice controversy to public relations; their curriculums change more slowly than the living events of the world; their skills and silence are purchased by investors in the arms race; passion is called unscholastic. The questions we might want raised -- what is really important? can we live in a different and better way? if we wanted to change society, how would we do it? -- are not thought to be questions of a "fruitful, empirical nature", and thus are brushed aside.

    Thursday, February 23, 2006


    Chanting at Demos and Dramatic Exits

    I went to a vigil/demonstration tonight in Northampton, Mass., a combined anti-illegal wiretapping and anti-torture kind of thing. I stood with my candle and my "Stop Illegal Wiretapping" sign and listened to chants written to the tunes of children's songs. Eventually some people read the U.S. Bill of Rights over a speaker system. I was bored.

    I left after forty minutes, wondering what difference this gathering made. Some days I am not very nice company and some days I feel crappy about being an activist. It seems like a long way from AIDS die-ins on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in the 1980s and participating in coordinated acts of civil disobedience. A long way from being a peacekeeper along the route of the "Gay and Lesbian Liberation March" and being spat on by rabid homophobes spoiling for a fight.

    In the light of these experiences, the ho-hum routine of a measured and calm vigil seems more like a social event than a fierce affirmation of principle or a declaration of power. This is not what I signed up for. But I guess it's better than doing nothing.


    Starhawk on Bioremediation in New Orleans Part 4

    I didn't realize when I posted the first part in this series that there would quickly be four rather lengthy parts to it. I didn't want to stop in the middle, though, and the narrative is very interesting to me so I continue to post them. I hope y'all like them too. (See, I start thinking of New Orleans and my normally nonexistent accent comes out and howls at the moon, strong like French roast coffee with chicory.)

    Bioremediating in New Orleans, Part 4: Doing It!
    By Starhawk


    Yesterday was the day to finally do it. We arrived at the Common Ground office called The House of Excellence to find our biobrew air pump had been shut off sometime in the night, The brew needs air constantly bubbled through it to remain aerobic and full of beneficial bacteria. If the air goes off, it can go bad and become toxic. Our dissolved oxygen meter doesn’t seem to be working, so Juniper and I resorted to more intuitive methods—smelling and tasting. It seemed fine, and we decided to go ahead and use it.

    We organized ourselves into teams. Our team went down to the lower Ninth Ward, to continue work on the women’s house and the small yard in front of the blue house. Other groups went to the garden, a second site in a different area of the city, to the garden to get tools, and Juniper went off to take soil samples.

    Our first task, before leaving the House of Excellence, was to empty our fifty-five gallon barrels of brew and and transport it. We bucketed out one barrel into blue, six-gallon never-used gas cans, washed it out, and refilled it with tap water. We ran out of gas cans at that point, and left the other to continue bubbling, while we put air stones and hoses into the clean water to start pumping air through. Before we could begin a second brew, we needed to let the chlorine from the tap water off-gas, a process that would be hastened by the extra air.

    Then we loaded the gas cans into Charlotte’s van. Unfortunately for Charlotte, her van is also her bed, and one of the cans leaked biobrew onto her bedding. I thought she was remarkably nice about it. At least she won’t be lonely at night—with all those beneficial bacteria to keep her company. She did say, however, that she would hang the bedding out to dry.

    At Miss Eva’s house, the big piles of garbage had been taken away the day before by the city, and it was pleasure to arrive and see the yard and entrance mostly clear. All up and down the street, big mounds of sticks and rotting drywall and ruined possessions still sit in front of houses that lean at crazy angles, slipped off their foundations or in the process of collapse. But Miss Eva’s little brick house stands sound, and we grabed forks and began to turn the soil in the yard to aerate it. With several of us working, in gloves and rubber boots and masks to protect ourselves from potential toxins, the work went fast. I loaded the biobrew into a watering can, and followed behind, spraying it into the soil to inoculate it with the beneficial bacteria that can break down fossil fuel residues.

    Our plan for this house was to use several different methods of bioremediation in concert, to deal with the cocktail of toxins the EPA data for the neighborhood told us might be present.

    Some toxins, like diesel range organics, are big, chainlike molecules mostly composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and can be broken down into harmless substances like carbon dioxide and water. Beneficial bacteria can do the job, and so can enzymes released from fungal mycelium, the underground weblike matrix from which mushrooms emerge. We intend to do some trials with mushrooms, but its harder to grow mushrooms on a mass scale than it is to culture bacteria, so we’re starting with the brews of aerated compost tea. We’re also using a different preparation of micro-organisms, known as Efficient Micro-organisms or Effective Micro-organisms, which is anaerobic and has many different uses. The house-gutting crews have been spraying it to counteract mold, with great effectiveness. They’ve had assistance from someone who does professional mold abatement and who has the equipment to do spore counts before and after. The bacteria and yeasts in the EM spray eat the mold spores and then colonize the surfaces mold grows on, preventing its regrowth. It’s non-toxic and much safer to use than bleach, and more effective. It’s success against mold has made me wonder if it would also be effective against Sudden Oak Death, the fungus-like disease that is devastating our forests in Northern California. The company that produces EM, and has donated a lot of it to Common Ground, has offered to bring a mobile processing unit down to New Orleans to produce it on a mass scale. But they have been unable to get the funding—nearly $200,000—they need in order to do so.

    EM is mostly anaerobic—the organisms involved do not need or want air in order to reproduce. We’re also experimenting with EM sprayed on the soil, to see if it will help get life back into the dead, compacted, muddy sediments.

    But there are other toxins that don’t break down. Heavy metals: lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury and more, are elements. By definition, they are already substances that cannot be broken down into anything smaller—except by nuclear fission which is a bit beyond our capacity and doesn’t exactly fall under the category of ‘bioremediation.’ Heavy metals can be taken up in the bodies of plants and certain mushrooms (which then need to be disposed of as toxic waste) or sequestered—immobilized in the soil. The catch is that different heavy metals become more soluble in different soil conditions. (And if you want more technical information on all of this, I promise to write something up and get a link posted on my website by March 1.)

    We suspect that this soil may have both arsenic and lead in it. Mustard greens will take up both arsenic and lead, but under different soil conditions. It’s late to plant them in New Orleans, and we can hope for at best one crop before it gets too hot for them to survive. So we’ve amended the soil to favor the uptake of arsenic and bind the lead. We’re looking for sources of brakefern (pteris vitatta) which is an excellent accumulator of arsenic, and will hope to plant some later. This will be a long process.

    So I spend my last two days in New Orleans digging, spraying, mulching, and slinging around heavy buckets of water and biobrew. And then meeting to plan how this project will carry on. At our final meeting, a young woman turns up, Yarrow, fresh from a forestry degree in Humboldt State. She volunteers to learn to propagate ferns from spores. And Toby, the mushroom man, who has vast experience at propagating spawn and the equipment to do so, springs up like a fruiting body appearing suddenly after a rain. Our crew of brilliant and beautiful young women, Emily, Jen, Randy, Bronwyn and Rain, awesome organizers and researchers whose mothers are younger than I am, take charge of different aspects of the plan. And yes, there are some wonderful young men and older women involved, as well. And more, some underlying force of health and life and serendipity that we tap into when we do this healing work. There’s an excitement, a sheer raw energy unleashed that animates the digging forks and keeps us working joyfully and eagerly into the twilight. It’s as if the earth herself wants to be healed, and when we take on that work, we tap into an upwelling spring of life giving power. Out of nowhere, benevolent allies appear.

    In front of the house is a large shrub that at first looks completely dead, covered with a thick layer of dust, strewn with plastic and the flotsam of the storm, an old boot wedged in its trunk. But as we take the garbage away, we notice little tops of green emerging from its branches. In spare moments, I’ve cleaned away the debris, pruned it back, mulched it with rotted wood chips and given it extra doses of the biobrew. Each day the green is stronger.

    Now, leaving New Orleans, that bush seems an emblem of our work. On the plane home, I finish Jared Diamond’s Collapse. In New Orleans, amidst the miles of ghost towns, the unreconstructed ruins and continued mismanagement, we can see what the collapse of our society looks like when it has begun. Like those little peeping tips of green, we can also see small signs of hope, of what might grow out of the sediments.

    Our efforts, the whole growing Common Ground project, show what people can do without government support of resources. And yet the scale of this disaster demands a response far beyond anything we can do on a lesser scale. I put down Collapse and pick up Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell, a beautiful description of his journey through Louisiana’s wetlands, which are rapidly disappearing because Mississippi flood control measure have starved them of the sediments that that counter the sea’s advance. Louisiana loses an acre of land every thirty five minutes! With the vanishing wetlands and barrier islands will go a huge proportion of our migratory birds, sealife, a unique culture and way of life, and the only truly effective protection for New Orleans from future storms. Every 2.5 miles of wetlands and barrier islands reduces the storm surge by a foot. When New Orleans was founded, vast marshes and chains of islands reduced the impact of hurricanes. Now, as hurricanes intensify and the ocean rises with global warming, that protection is dissolving.

    The good news is that a plan exists to address this problem, a plan that everyone from environmentalists to oil companies agrees upon, and has actually been adopted by the Louisiana legislature in 1998, the Louisiana Coast 2050 Plan. It would divert water from the Mississippi upstream from New Orleans and bring it to the wetlands areas, allowing the river to flood in a directed fashion that would rebuild sinking lands and restore barrier islands.

    The bad news is that the Federal Government has yet to fully fund the plan. It is estimated to cost 16 billion dollars over two to three decades—a fraction of the cost of Katrina’s damage, or of the ongoing cost of war. No community-based effort, no bunch of college kids on spring break with shovels, are going to do this. It needs a commitment on the scale only the Federal Government can provide.

    So I will end these reports by asking you to do something. Contact your representatives. Tell them three things:

    We need to stop the FEMA hotel evictions of Katrina refugees and fund and create programs to bring them home.

    We need to protect the city with levees designed to withstand a Category 5 huricane.

    We need to fully fund the Louisiana Coast 2050 Plan, and begin implementing it.

    Thanks to all of you who are supporting this work,


    Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana:

    To send an email message to Washington:

    Feel free to post, forward, and reprint this article for non-commercial purposes. All other rights reserved.

    Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of The Earth Path, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, The Fifth Sacred Thing and other books on feminism, politics and earth-based spirituality. She teaches Earth Activist Trainings that combine permaculture design and activist skills, and works with the RANT trainer’s collective, that offers training and support for mobilizations around global justice and peace issues.

    Donations to support the work can be made at

    Checks, made out to Alliance of Community Trainers, can also be sent to:
    1405 Hillmount St.
    Austin, Texas 78704 U.S.A.

    See also the Common Ground website, Volunteers are still needed and will be arriving throughout the spring.

    This post has been sent to you from This is an announce-only listserve that allows Starhawk to post her writings occasionally to those who wish to receive them.

    To subscribe to this list, send an email to

    To unsubscribe, send an email to

    Starhawk is a lifelong activist in peace and global justice movements, a leader in the feminist and earth-based spirituality movements, author or coauthor of ten books, including The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, and her latest, The Earth Path.

    Starhawk's website is, and more of her writings and information on her schedule and activities can be found there.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006


    Metal Tears & Kisses

    Not really a "random ten" but a sampler I (with some help from Fierce Celt) put together for a friend of ours.

    Also not really all "metal" but, hey, it was a theme and a catchy title. Some guilty pleasures include AC/DC, early Black Sabbath, and the Runaways. Not-at-all-guilty pleasures include the Godfathers, Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Screaming Blue Messiahs.

    Ms. Twisty Faster of I Blame the Patriarchy pointed me to the download of "Paper Cut" from a punkish group she was in. It's quite good. I was particularly impressed with the album title "Still Life with Strap On." I'd point y'all to the download but I'm too lazy to look it up.

    And Spinal Tap, well, because I can't help admiring their career arc.


    Starhawk on Bioremediation in New Orleans, Part 3

    More info from Starhawk. One reason why I'm reprinting these pieces here is as a reminder that the city hasn't suddenly become fully functional. Since the immediate crisis has passed, we hear only small bits about NOLA. This is the curse of the cycle of crisis in news reporting: If there are no compelling images, it is no longer "news." Yet the toil and daily anguish of rebuilding continues.

    Starhawk continually evokes the city and people of my memory. I hear the accents she hears spoken, I know the body language, I smell the mold magnified a hundred times. It's a troubling and troubled culture in many ways but the people can be welcoming and enfolding in other ways, impossible to imagine in most large US cities.

    My mother lives in a part of NOLA/Orleans Parish untouched by flooding yet only got her land line reconnected two weeks ago. That's five months after the hurricanes. At least she had a house to go back to, unlike many.
    Bioremediating New Orleans 3: Miss Eva’s House
    By Starhawk


    I spend the morning in the lower Ninth Ward cleaning up the yard we intend to bioremediate. It’s a small yard in front of a modest, brick house that withstood the hurricane and the breaking of the levee. On one side, a mound of rubble, trash, rotted drywall and garbage fills the driveway. Similar mounds line the street, a barricade in front of every house, leaving narrow pathways through which we can enter the yard. They remind me of the way the snowploughs would pile drifts along the Minnesota streets of my childhood.

    As we arrive and begin to suit up in protective Tyvex, masks and gloves, an official arrives from the company that has the contract to clear the streets. He offers to send a crew that afternoon to remove the piles in front of our house. We are thrilled: then we can begin to work on the yard without mountains of garbage leaching back into the ground.

    I begin moving the china which the Common Ground crew who gutted the house has carefully placed on the walkway in the side yard. Some of it is very close to the garbage pile, and I’m worried that the machinery the crew will use might crush these frail survivors from the flood. I move dishes, wineglasses, cups and saucers. Statues of saints, crosses encrusted with china paste flowers.. Flowered china plates with gold rimmed edges, embossed platters, a cut glass candy dish shaped like a heart. Gradually I begin to get a picture of the woman who lived in this house. She’s a Catholic. Her taste in china is very similar to mine. She had children, perhaps grandchildren, that she loved. Her dead refrigerator sits out front. On it are stickers with children’s faces—the kind that school districts now give out with the yearly school pictures printed on them. Most are blurred and faded. One or two show a bright, smiling young girl with a dark face and neat braids.

    Grandchildren, maybe great grandchildren? This woman’s name is—I sincerely hope still is—Eva. I hope and believe that she evacuated in time, and is still alive, and will come back. And that when she does, she’ll be glad to find these white and silver cups. I can see her serving coffee to a special friend, or pouring tea from this pale blue and yellow teapot with the silver rim. I find a certificate from a Senior’s program, damp but still legible. Then I find a plaque—To Our Beloved Aunt Eva, on her 95th Birthday. It’s dated back in 2002. The woman who lived here is nearly a century old. I take her books of photographs out to the yard to try and dry them out and save some of the pictures. One or two are still intact: a baby of fifteen months, two teenage girls who might be twins, flanking a tall, rangy, teenage boy. But the pictures have all run into abstract amoebas of shapeless colors, like the blurring of lives that have faded even from memory.

    Juniper spends the afternoon poring over data. We look at the maps together, pondering the geography of contamination. Why is this cluster of arsenic here? Could it be the golf course nearby? But why the barium, the cadmium? Could there have been a smelter here long ago? A landfill? The archaeology of toxicity. No crime can truly be hidden forever, no taint disappears. The soil knows. The earth holds its memories in molecular bonds of clay and silt and sand. Every toxin leaves its trace.

    When I was a child, my mother, a psychotherapist, used to tell me stories about her clients instead of fairy tales. I was fascinated by the process of delving into someone’s past, tracing back the veins of emotional toxicity to their source. Today I’m thinking about the similarities to this work. The contaminants in the soil reflect the history of social toxicity, the taints in our thinking that allowed a society to locate a smelter in a poor community, to claim the high ground for the privileged.

    We don’t yet have techniques to test the soil for the lingering anguish of slavery, the ongoing depletion of poverty, the scars of abuse, the miasma of hopelessness. Nor do we yet know how to bioremediate racism, corruption, or greed. But it’s my hope that healing the poisons in the soil will also in some small way help to heal the toxins in the soul. The cures for both arise from this simple understanding: we are all connected. We all live in Miss Eva’s house. Her name means ‘life’.


    Feel free to post, forward, and reprint this article for non-commercial purposes. All other rights reserved.

    Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of The Earth Path, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, The Fifth Sacred Thing and other books on feminism, politics and earth-based spirituality. She teaches Earth Activist Trainings that combine permaculture design and activist skills, and works with the RANT trainer’s collective, that offers training and support for mobilizations around global justice and peace issues.

    Donations to support the work can be made at

    Checks, made out to Alliance of Community Trainers, can also be sent to:
    1405 Hillmount St.
    Austin, Texas 78704 U.S.A.

    This post has been sent to you from This is an announce-only listserve that allows Starhawk to post her writings occasionally to those who wish to receive them.

    To subscribe to this list, send an email to

    To unsubscribe, send an email to

    Starhawk is a lifelong activist in peace and global justice movements, a leader in the feminist and earth-based spirituality movements, author or coauthor of ten books, including The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, and her latest, The Earth Path.

    Starhawk's website is, and more of her writings and information on her schedule and activities can be found there.

    Monday, February 20, 2006


    V-Day and Other Sundry Sites

    I am not keeping current with my favorite blogs and I am woeful in turn. In FeedDemon, my RSS reader, many of the blogs show 200 unread posts. Since that's the limit I've set, this means I haven't been reading them at all. To assuage my guilt, I must recommend sites.

    "V-Day is an organized response against violence toward women."

    The Daily Feminist News from the Feminist Majority Foundation is a good read, as is the main site,

    Sunday, February 19, 2006


    Starhawk's Valentine from New Orleans

    This post came hot on the heels of the previous one from Starhawk. My memories of Mardi Gras are painted indelibly with awareness of class and racial divides in how Krewes were organized. However, the satiric elements were often quite sharp and clever. The disaster seems to have brought this to the fore at least in some cases.

    A Valentine from New Orleans
    By Starhawk


    Saturday Night, we went down to the French Quarter and saw the first walking parade of the Mardi Gras season. The parades are sponsored and carried out by groups called Krewes, and Krewe de Vieux is known for its irreverence and satire. The theme this year was Katrina, and the satire was lively. Most memorable float—probably the last one, Mandatory Ejaculation, with a giant vagina on the cart and lots of people carrying sperm on sticks, white balls with long wiggly tales, behind.

    I went down with Sue and Juniper, and Scotty who promised to desert us in favor of some of his younger friends. It was great to see the streets filled with people, to be crushed in the crowd and to hear the drums and follow the parade. The French Quarter is a perfect setting, with its narrow streets and high balconies that turn the whole city into a stage. If I ever get to design a city, I will be thinking about how to make it work for parades and processions, demonstrations and insurrections, with maybe a few hidden bowers for lovers here and there. At last I got to hear jazz, with band after band parading through the streets, trumpets and trombones and drummers with those lively, syncopated rhythms that make your feet dance. You can’t help but feel happy when that music is playing. After huge traumas and great sorrows, music knits the world together again, and that’s what the jazz musicians and the singers of blues know how to do.

    After the parade, eight of us went out to dinner. Somehow, once we squeezed past the crowded, smoky bar, the restaurant was quiet, the food was delicious—gumbo and shrimp creole and good wine. Melissa, who was born and raised here, was in her element—at last our whole workaholic cluster had relaxed enough to go out to dinner and experience a bit of the culture she loves.

    Monday we saw another face of New Orleans. It was the day that FEMA hotel vouchers ran out, and people were being evicted. Common Ground set up a demonstration at City Hall, prepared to put up a tent city if local residents requested it. I stayed there much of the morning, while we waited to here if an injunction would be issued to stave off the evictions. The injunction was denied. I heard some of the sad tales of FEMA incompetence and bureaucratic nightmares: the woman who had a job in New Orleans but no housing, who was offered a shelter in Shreveport by FEMA but then would lose her job, and who wanted to stay together with her family. The woman whose sign for the demonstration was a board from her house, who had a voucher from FEMA for a hotel room up until March 1, but couldn’t find an hotel in town that would accept the voucher. Later, Sue came home from a long day with the sad tale of the man who was evicted from his hotel. FEMA wouldn’t pay for a room but, in the only incidence of efficiency I’ve ever heard attributed to them. Immediately issued him a plane ticket to Illinois where he had family. It might seem that they were eager to get people out of town, were it not for their unwillingness to issue him a cab voucher or give him any help to get to the airport. Sue drove him, helping him sort out all of his worldly possessions, which were in clear, plastic bags, and fit what he could into a suitcase.

    Today, Valentine’s Day, I spent taking samples of soil from some of the most toxic sites in New Orleans—a romantic occupation if ever there was one! The EPA tested most of the neighborhoods here, but is refusing to go back and retest, a pretty standard procedure, saying that access is too difficult. Juniper and Jen combed through the EPA data to actually identify twenty or so of the most toxic sites, and trained a group of us to take the samples. The sites are street corners, peoples’ back yards, schoolyards. We wear protective boots and carefully keep the soil we scoop up from getting contaminated and record all the necessary data. I am the photographer and recorder on our team. Mark, the driver and chief sampler, is an experienced biologist who has done this before, so it goes quickly. The samples will be sent back to Washington DC, where the National Resource Defense Council will at some point hold a press conference and present the samples to the EPA.

    I am overwhelmed at the scope of the destruction I’ve seen. We go into areas I haven’t visited, and I hadn’t realized what vast sections of the city are still deserted, still in ruins, still fully of collapsed homes and sediment covered yards. Miles and miles of desolation stretch out from the city’s core. Block after block of public housing, still standing but boarded up and shuttered. Someone went to a lot of trouble to board each door and window—I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t spend the same energy to fix the places up and bring people home. Street after street is still empty. Here and there a FEMA trailer sits in a yard, but most are deserted, at least during the week while their owners are elsewhere trying to hold down a job, coming into the city on weekends to work on gutting the house. Vast stretches of strip mall leading out of town are in ruins. And the lower Ninth Ward is a shambles of wrecked homes and cars. Little has changed since we drove through in October, except that now a huge mound of garbage sits on the streets in front of every house still standing: the whole contents of a family’s life mixed with the broken sticks of their structure. Stir with mold and let sit for weeks: a recipe for despair.


    Yesterday we spent looking at sites to bioremediate and making our plans. A surreal day.

    We all went down to the lower Ninth Ward and together looked at the building that will house women and children. It’s a small, brick, single family home that somehow survived the onslaught of the waters when the levee broke, even while many of its neighbors were washed away. Common Ground teams have gutted it, and sprayed it with EM, the preparation of beneficial microbes that eat mold more effectively—and with less toxicity—than bleach. The yard is covered with thick, cracked sediment, but in some areas weeds, wild geraniums and clovers and others I don’t recognize, poke through the mud. Alongside, someone has carefully laid out what is left of the family’s possessions: a few pieces of unbroken china, some soaked and molding pictures, an antique washbowl edged in green. It’s a small house, but someone lived in it, cared for it, made it nice, carefully arranged these broken china birds and flowers, fed their children off these plates. It reminds me a lot of the modest house my aunt and uncle lived in, with their treasures on the sideboard and their neat hedges bordering the walkway. Or like the apartments and houses I grew up in. It’s reminding me of my mother’s final illness and death, how taking apart her house was like taking apart her identity, her life. I can still walk through that house in my memory, tell you clearly which pottery bowl was on the mantle and which was on the bookcase. A child’s face stares up at me from a molding photo album, a baby of about eighteen months, café-au-lait skin and dark eyes. Someone who loved that child would treasure that picture, but I don’t know what to do to save it.

    Down the street the Common Ground center in the lower Ninth sits like a small blue beacon amidst a sea of rubble and sticks. They’ve fixed up one small house to serve as a distribution and welcome center for people coming back. They are providing resources for the community to organize and fight the city’s plans to bulldoze the entire area. The city, in turn, has not removed any of the debris and garbage, for the five months that have now elapsed since the hurricane. They are not making it easy for people to come home.

    From the women’s house, a carload of us head down to the neighborhood near the Murphy’s Oil Spill, where 25,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a tank during the flood. This neighborhood is surreal in a different way. At first, it looks like any optimistic new suburban development, bright new houses a little too big for the empty lots they stand on. But look a little closer, and it resembles a ghost town. The houses are empty, not because they are models waiting for people to move in, but because they are covered with a thick, black, goo. Doors stand open, gutted interiors revealed. Here and there someone has scraped away the caked ooze and revealed bare soil. In one or two yards, FEMA trailers stand, but no one is home.

    We drive back, past miles of gutted and abandoned strip malls, the kind of soulless places that are horrible even when they are functioning. In ruin, they achieve a kind of stark beauty, as if some giant conceptual artist had installed them all, a huge, open-air exhibition of the end of the world.

    And then somehow we are uptown, winding our way through an enclave of beautiful, huge old homes with green lawns and landscaping, untouched by the flood, or by poverty, or seemingly, by any of the ills and disasters that plague life. Lovely old architecture, gracious, arching trees, quiet streets, and on the avenues, cafes and open stores and lights. Here, you could believe the flood never happened—or if it did, that all is being dealt with efficiently, expertly. Here all is well.

    The houses border a golf course and a poor neighborhood of modest homes, where we are headed because some of the highest concentrations of arsenic have been reported from these small lawns. We wonder if it comes from the golf course, from all the weed killers they use on their grass. Here again, no one is home. We see some workers at one house, an older woman just now moving into her FEMA trailor who is too overwhelmed to think about bioremediating her yard. Another man tells us, “It hasn’t killed me yet,” and shrugs us off. We decide that this will be a longer term project, and head back for our meeting.

    I once heard Amory Lovins, the designer and architect, speak about how he approaches a project, how important it is to ask the right questions. He was talking about Curitiba, a city in Brazil where they began with the question, “How do we love all the children?”

    I don’t know what questions the city government, the state and Federal officials, the huge relief agencies, have asked themselves. But it is clear to me what they have not asked:

    “How do we bring all the people home again?”

    There are good people in all these systems, but they’re working against the odds. And with all the awesome and amazing work being done, by Common Ground and the other relief workers here, But our efforts are so small, so slight, measured against this oceanic need.


    Feel free to post, forward, and reprint this article for non-commercial purposes. All other rights reserved.

    Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of The Earth Path, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, The Fifth Sacred Thing and other books on feminism, politics and earth-based spirituality. She teaches Earth Activist Trainings that combine permaculture design and activist skills, and works with the RANT trainer’s collective, that offers training and support for mobilizations around global justice and peace issues.

    If you want to help these efforts, you can make tax-deductible donations online at

    Checks, made out to Alliance of Community Trainers, can also be sent to:
    1405 Hillmount St.
    Austin, Texas 78704 U.S.A.

    See also the Common Ground website, Volunteers are still needed and will be arriving throughout the spring.

    This post has been sent to you from This is an announce-only listserve that allows Starhawk to post her writings occasionally to those who wish to receive them.

    To subscribe to this list, send an email to

    To unsubscribe, send an email to

    Starhawk is a lifelong activist in peace and global justice movements, a leader in the feminist and earth-based spirituality movements, author or coauthor of ten books, including
    The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, and her latest, The Earth Path.

    Starhawk's website is, and more of her writings and information on her schedule and activities can be found there.


    Starhawk on Bioremediation in New Orleans

    Another in Starhawk's ongoing posts about the work going on in New Orleans to reclaim and rebuild communities. I think I've said it before but I find these reports moving in ways the news can't touch. Many thanks, Starhawk.

    Bioremediating New Orleans: Round Two Begins
    By Starhawk


    Flying into New Orleans reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse, a whole history of societies throughout history that have collapsed, mostly through destroying their environment, deforestation, soil erosion, and related mistakes. I can’t help thinking that historians of the future will look back on New Orleans’ destruction in last summers’ hurricanes with the same kind of incredulity as we ponder the Easter Islanders’ cutting of their last trees. “How could they not have seen what they were doing?” they might ask. “They knew that hurricanes would come, that the levees were inadequate.” That historian might go on to mark the summer of the hurricanes as the watershed moment for the American Empire, the point where its collapse became evident, if not in the lack of preparations for the disaster, then in the utter failure of every major institution to respond adequately. “It wasn’t the beginning of the end, but it was the point where the end became visible.”

    Or not. They might come to a different conclusions. if they were here with me in the Common Ground office called the House of Excellence, sitting in on our Bioremediation team meeting, watching Emily’s eyes light up with excitement as she says, “We’re really doing it—we’re really going to clean the whole thing up!” In the front room is a bank of computers with open, free internet access open to the community. In the side rooms are offices, a small kitchen. A young man with wild, dark hair spends half an hour reading one of the Narnia books to a three young girls here for daycare. Jen, Randy, Juniper and I are all deep in books on phytoremediation and beneficial fungi and compost teas and doing computer searches as we pull together the material for tomorrow’s public forum on the toxic residues here in New Orleans and our plan for the weekend’s bioremediation training. Working with these young women—it’s like having a team of Hermione Graingers at our disposal, young, incredibly smart, beautiful, and willing to dive into books and internet sites and come up with answers to almost any question, if answers exist Juniper, who middle aged, beautiful and incredibly smart, and in fact in her day job is a respected environmental engineer, shows us her map—she has taken the EPA testing data, 75,000 pieces of information posted on their website in obscure and intimidating detail, put it together with her own data and plotted it on a map that shows the sites tested and the toxins found for all of New Orleans.

    Now that we know where the hot spots are, (or at least, the one’s they’ve tested) and what the problems are, we can decide what will be the most effective ways to clean them up, using beneficial bacteria, or mushrooms, or plants. It sounds simple, but there are many complexities. Petrochemicals can be broken down by bacteria and fungi, but heavy metals are elements, and can’t be broken down. Some plants and mushrooms will extract them from the soil, but some of them need different conditions to work well. Lead, for example, is most soluble when the soil is acidic, and needs special chelating agents to be taken up in quantities. Arsenic, one of the most common pollutants, is most soluble when the soil is alkaline. We can find references to plants that will take it up, but where the hell do we get seeds for Alpine Pennycress or spores of Ladder Brakefern? The methods we would use to uptake metals in plants are exactly contradictory to those we might use to bind them into the soil in a form that will be less harmful to other life forms. Which do we do?

    It’s exciting. It’s also uncharted territory. Lots of people have worked on bioremediation, in the lab, on highly toxic sites, in well funded cleanup efforts. We don’t know of anyone who has tried it on a low-budget, mass movement backyard scale.


    Two days of intense research, followed by the forum and two days of training. The forum went well, with about a hundred people crowded into the gutted front room of the church that is hosting Common Ground’s Community Center on the east side of town. We had the usual technical problems—Juniper’s great maps that showed so clearly on the computer didn’t show up at all when projected onscreen, but otherwise lots of good information and enthusiasm.

    Because of the hurricane, the EPA has now tested New Orleans for a whole host of contaminants. The EPA has not tested the back yards of Brooklyn or Chicago or Detroit—but chances are if they did they would find many of the same contaminants as in New Orleans. Katrina didn’t create the arsenic or the diesel fuels, she just spread them around. Some came from industrial spills and refineries, of course. But the lead and the arsenic, probably the most wide-spread contaminants, were already in the soil. Louisiana has a generally high background level of arsenic in its soils, but much of what is here now probably comes from using treated lumber, herbicides, pesticides and lawn chemicals. One piece of data seems to highlight this issue: the Sun Done garden, an organic garden for fifteen years, tests in the safe zone for all the major contaminants, including arsenic. Other backyards, just a few blocks away, test high. Thinking about how to bioremediate these toxins brings us back around to think about how insane it is to be putting them onto the ground in the first place. On the larger scale, bioremediation means learning to grow food organically and live sustainably I the first place.

    Saturday we began our training at the Sun Done Community Garden, one of sixty coordinated by a nonprofit called Parkway Partners. It’s a big piece of ground, maybe half an acre, tucked between the back yards of houses in a residential area that flooded heavily and is still mostly deserted. When I was here in November, the garden was a shambles, the greenhouse in pieces on the ground, only one or two beds in shape to plant. Now, the Common Ground crew, spurred by Lisa and Emily, have done a miraculous work of transformation. The raised beds and reconfigured and are growing greens and vegetables that we’ve been eating at the Community Center. The greenhouse has been re-erected, covered with new plastic, and fittled with gutters and rain catchment that have filled half a dozen barrels of water from last night’s downpour. There’s a small compost toilet in the back and room for seating and training inside the greenhouse.

    We were expecting somewhere between ten and thirty people, and made handouts for fifty, thinking we’d have extras. But people begin swarming in, and soon the greenhouse is filled and overflowing.

    We spend the day going over the toxins that have been found in New Orleans’ soil, and the three basic methods of bioremediating them—using microorganisms, using fungi and mushrooms, and using plants. We divide people into different groups for hands-on practice, making compost, starting worm bins (worm castings are the major source for the microorganisms we culture), starting seeds and taking cuttings, and inoculating strata with mushroom spawn.

    And then we spent Sunday teaching about fungi and using plants to accumulate heavy metals. Part of our project will be to put up a website with all our data and information, and to do some documented trials to learn much, much more about how all this might work. There’s lots more to tell, but I’m going to send this first report out now, while I have internet access.

    More later, Starhawk

    Feel free to post, forward, and reprint this article for non-commercial purposes. All other rights reserved.

    Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of The Earth Path, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, The Fifth Sacred Thing and other books on feminism, politics and earth-based spirituality. She teaches Earth Activist Trainings that combine permaculture design and activist skills, and works with the RANT trainer’s collective, that offers training and support for mobilizations around global justice and peace issues.

    Donations to support the work can be made at

    Checks, made out to Alliance of Community Trainers, can also be sent to:
    1405 Hillmount St.
    Austin, Texas 78704 U.S.A.

    This post has been sent to you from This is an announce-only listserve that allows Starhawk to post her writings occasionally to those who wish to receive them.

    To subscribe to this list, send an email to

    To unsubscribe, send an email to

    Starhawk is a lifelong activist in peace and global justice movements, a leader in the feminist and earth-based spirituality movements, author or coauthor of ten books, including The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, and her latest, The Earth Path.

    Starhawk's website is, and more of her writings and information on her schedule and activities can be found there.

    Saturday, February 18, 2006


    Who Interpretes the Loyalty Oath?

    Reading about this exchange reminds me of loyalty oaths and dissent. What I find interesting is the border between free speech and a government's expectation of loyalty. There seems to be confusion about the ability of federal employees to perform conscientious work/service and yet also being able to express disagreement with the government or elected officials. These are not mutually exclusive positions.

    When an anti-Bush bumper sticker becomes cause for suspicion about a federal employee's basic loyalties, we are definitely over the edge into mandating political beliefs and a cult of personality. Since the vast majority of federal employees are not political appointees, they continue to work from one administration to another, from Democratic President to Republican. Unless we want to attempt to fire all members of the opposite party every time a new President is elected from a different party, this administration would be well to keep these repressive tactics at bay. It only generates accusations, well-founded in my opinion, of fascism and mandatory party membership.

    Blind patriotism likes nothing more than to poke other people's eyes out.

    (Hey, that's catchy! But the wording needs work. Blind patriotism likes company. Blind patriotism loves to blind the opposition. Okay, the first version is the best, I think.)


    Economic Size Queens

    Joel Miller was speaking at the Cato Institute on his book Size Matters and I watched a little on Book TV on C-SPAN. (Info on the book at Powell's.)

    I might even agree with Mr. Miller on how government has gotten too large and this size actually hinders economic development while negatively impacting families and small business. Yet, as I listened to his points, I was struck by how much was being left out and excluded from his presentation and examples. This is not surprising. People trying to make a point rarely provide a balanced look at the information. They muster only the information which supports their thesis. That, in essence, is the function of such a book: to prove a point.

    But when I, as an interested but not particularly knowledgeable observer, see the flaws in every supporting argument he makes, then I have to consider it to be a poorly constructed central thesis.

    One example he used was home construction. He quoted a builder who once calculated the amount of cost federal regulation and oversight added to the construction of a single home. The amount presented by Mr. Miller was a little confusing but I think it was $40,000. He made a big point about how this amount delays a family's ability to buy a house by 2-5 years. However, unspoken and unaddressed was what that additional $40K purchased. I admit I don't know either but I'll guess items it includes are: worker safety (e.g., OSHA), inspection for construction guidelines/safety (e.g., electrical), ecological impact statements, etc.

    This is a common argument used in used by pro-business interests. (By pro-business I mean completely unfettered business. "Regulation bad, urrh! Regulation big problem!") This is the myth of the pure "free market" where anything harmful to the public will be stopped eventually because it won't make economic sense and continuing harmful actions will cut into profits. Nice theory but not supported by the evidence at all.

    Companies are about profit, not how they get the profit. The history of industrial development is one long string of companies making workers regularly do unsafe and unhealthy tasks with little or no compensation for loss of health, life, or limb. Are some things overregulated by the federal government? Probably. Is government too large? Maybe. But there are many things that the government does that would never be picked up by private enterprise. And that's why we tolerate some government regulation and interference.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006


    Perspectives on Political Blogging

    A recent cover story on political blogging in In These Times prompts me to muse a little on my perception of "political" blogs.

    The meaning and influence of blogs, even the so-called A-list blogs, is difficult for me to assess because I have a condition I'm calling "anti-popularism." This means the more popular and broadly appealing something is, say, a film, the more likely I will find it mediocre or actively dislike it. I don't think this is because it is popular but rather an effect of the qualities necessary for wide popularity. I like to believe it's not just a contrarian streak or sheer curmudgeonly meanness.

    This ties in with the center-left political blogs because I usually visit them a few times and then tend to drift away. Are they doing good things? I guess. Are they affecting the mainstream political dialogue? I guess. Are they encouraging political activism? I guess. But I can't really remain interested in these blogs because they generally want to influence the Democratic Party. At their core, they are usually leftish Democrats. I understand the realities of the electoral system: the Democratic Party is established and probably has the best possibility of widespread and continuing electoral and Congressional challenges to the Republicans. But that isn't enough for me. The far left positions of the Democrats only just start to meet up with my political interests and desires.

    So I've visited Kos and MyDD a few times but didn't see anything to keep me coming back. If pointed at a particular article, I might go read it. Otherwise, I'm almost oblivious to such sites.

    The focus of the ITT article was on blogs' ability to organize grassroots. My understanding is that Kos was a mite peeved by the tone of the article. Lakshmi Chaudhry, the author of the ITT piece, speaks to this in a discussion on The ITT List.
    Can blogs create a truly effective grassroots movement? Within this context, the fact that the blogosphere remains predominantly the realm of white, well-educated males represents a challenge to be overcome. So the "“tedious whining"” charge makes the article sound like some rant from some unhappy Indian chick, when it'’s an extensively reported, researched piece that does its best to offer a fair assessment of an important political phenomenon. And it says nothing about the broader question of effectiveness. So it doesn'’t really add to public knowledge of the issue or carry the discussion forward. But rather suggests that any attempt to even raise the issue of representation is to be dismissed outright, irrespective of its context. The Republicans do that well enough without our help.
    ITT often has a strong labor/union editorial perspective so it is unsurprising that the focus on effective grassroots organizing is central to the article. While they are certainly entitled to that opinion, the value of blogs is not just about unifying and directing people toward political action but in exploring different options, sometimes very obscure options. The amazing thing is these explorations can be made available to be widely read and debated in blogs. Time was you really had to search, and search hard, to find information on non-mainstream political views. Now, you can find a Wikipedia entry on Anarchism or go to a Green Party site.

    Not all political discussion or dialog needs to result in concrete steps or easily categorized goals or effective action. Sometimes the discussion needs to happen to lay a groundwork, a foundation for future action. I, for one, will probably not be happy with the Democratic Party or its goals, no matter how much it changes direction. Will I still vote for Democratic candidates if they are the only choice? Probably. But I feel it's futile to put my daily political energies into influencing the party. In that sense, they lost me a long time ago.

    On a slightly different topic, the ITT cover graphic above includes 14 specific blogs. I admit to feeling a little smug that I was familiar with 13 of them (and visit 7 of them regularly). The only one I was unfamiliar with was also a bit difficult for me to find from its logo. I'm glad I looked. Afro-Netizen is "dedicated to informing, inspiring, and engaging afro-netizens and the communities they touch." Check it out.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006


    The Dark Symbolism of Cheney's Hunting Accident

    There are plenty of jokes about VP Cheney's accidental shooting of a fellow hunter. There are reasons why the incident resonates so deeply with the American people.

    The Bush administration has been shooting people in the face all along, literally and figuratively. This incident just makes it so graphic and with such a strong image that it's impossible to ignore. The ardent militarism of the administration's foreign policies is highlighted by this event.

    The added fillip that Cheney may have not been licensed or authorized to hunt is pure cream, paralleling the illicit domestic spying program. And if accidents happen, if the wrong people are targeted by the program, if civil rights are violated, we are expected to excuse it. Because the intent was pure. Who could have predicted such egregious problems would occur?

    Of course, the aftermath of this accident will be highly expedited. Cheney will never appear in court. He may not even have to give an official statement. He has staff and other witnesses to do that sort of thing. Best not to even have his words in the investigation. Even if the fellow Cheney shot dies, it will be labeled "death by misadventure" so quickly the public won't have time to think otherwise.

    Did Cheney actually do anything seriously wrong in the situation? Probably not, but I doubt the public will ever know. The hunting stamp violation is probably a minor misdemeanor in Texas. We are left with a situation rich in symbolic resonance, a metaphor for the Bush administration's routine daily modus operandi.


    Oddest Conversation of the Day

    First person: If women had penises, they'd rape too.
    Second Person: If women had penises, they'd be men.
    First Person: If women were bigger and stronger than men, they'd abuse men too.
    Second Person: If women were bigger and stronger than men, they'd be men.

    Monday, February 13, 2006


    BushCo. Bunker Mentality and Defining Liberals as the "Other"

    Every once in a while I read something that is so true, I can't believe I'd never heard it articulated. It resonates strongly and I'm certain I must have come up with it myself. I didn't? Are you sure? The following is from Unclaimed Territory (tip o' tha mouse to Pam's House Blend.) [All emphasis mine. I couldn't help it, I had to do the whole paragraph.]
    Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required --– a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more "liberal" one is. Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one'’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one'’s personal loyalty to George Bush.

    One can see this principle at work most illustratively in how Bush followers talk about Andrew Sullivan. In the couple of years after 9/11, Bush followers revered Sullivan, as he stood loyally behind Bush, providing the rhetorical justifications for almost every Bush action. And even prior to the Bush Administration, Sullivan was a fully accepted member of the conservative circle. Nobody questioned the bona fides of his conservative credentials because he ascribed to the conservative view on almost every significant political issue.

    Despite not having changed his views on very many, if any, of those issues, Sullivan is now frequently called a "liberal" (at best) when he is talked about by Bush followers. What has changed are not his political views or ideological orientation. Instead, he no longer instinctively and blindly praises George Bush, but periodically, even frequently, criticizes Bush. By definition, then, he is no longer a "conservative."
    While the example of Andrew Sullivan is quite apt, this is attitude of alienation seems to permeate the utterances of BushCo. Despite BushCo. having almost no meaningful reins on their political actions, they act oppressed and horrified by any criticism. That is, when any criticism can actually reach the ears of the inner circles.

    This attitude of antagonism for the least criticism explains the BushCo. tactic so dear to them: Only speaking to crowds of sycophants who have pledged slavish loyalty to any and all utterances from Glorious Leader Bush.

    Sunday, February 12, 2006


    Agents of Repression

    All the recent hoopla about Bush's authorization for an undeniably illegal program of domestic "eavesdropping" led me to start reading Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall. I previously commented on The COINTELPRO Papers by the same authors here and here. Agents was the first book but they apparently wrote the second book because critics questioned their source material. Papers is filled with example reproductions of FBI documents illustrating the sources.

    Agents of Repression is a stark reminder that, for well over a hundred years, government agencies have been breaking the laws in their pursuit of dissidents in the US. The details of why any given threat is the worst enemy the Republic has changed faces but the result is the same. Excessive and illegal methods are used, many innocent bystanders are accused, and justifications for these acts are always seem to include the phrase "for the greater good."

    The following quote is prefaced by material concerning the "slacker raids" during WWI, circa 1917-18. The slackers in question were avoiding the draft. Thousands were arrested during these raids but "only one in every two hundred of them turned out to be genuine draft dodgers." If the intent was to catch draft dodgers, the arrests were remarkably inefficient. However, the intent was probably to intimidate and break the back of labor organizing, socialism and other dissidents rather than nab draft dodgers.
    Actually, the last sentence above is probably uncharitable to the BoI [Bureau of Investigation, predecessor to the FBI] insofar as there is considerable indication that Attorney General Thomas W. Gregory had seized upon the national war fever to act in concert with major financial supporters of the Democratic Part to "make American safe for industry," crushing the radical opposition once and for all. Conveniently, during the war, radicals in the U.S. could be targeted for wholesale elimination, not as threats to big business -- an approach which all but assured massive public resistance -- but as a "menace to national defense." The slacker raids and similar broadly focused gambits were designed, more than anything, to intimidate the general public to a point where there was a greatly diminished possibility of a popular radical resurgence after the war. In this sense, the BoI, rather than "getting out of control," was simply accomplishing its intended goals for the Wilson administration.
    Does any of this sound familiar? Every U.S. military action of the last century has provoked protests and dissents. And, like clockwork, the government says these protests are voiced by naive simpletons, endangering the country and giving comfort and aid to our "enemies." The less than subtle message is that any and all protest is orchestrated by foreign powers. The reality I see is that the most intense violence and conspiracy is directed against the protesters by the government and its agents.

    So now we have the PATRIOT ACT because, gee, law enforcement has its hands tied. We have the domestic spying programs because, gee, that FISA court is sooo time-consuming and difficult. What's the problem? It's just a few civil liberties, you won't miss them at all, we promise. Trust us, we're the government. Don't worry your silly little childish head about all this, just let the adults handle it, okay?

    Saturday, February 11, 2006


    Paper or Plastic?

    When I checked out at the local Whole Foods supermarket tonight, I was given 20 cents off my bill because I had brought 4 cloth bags in (5 cents credit per bag). I'm always amused by this. It seems so small and symbolic I wonder if anyone actually changes their habits because of this incentive.

    However I was reminded of the summer of 1979 when I was travelling student-cheap through Europe. At that time, when you checked out in food markets, you were charged 10 cents for each bag used for your groceries. If you brought your own bags, then no charge. While this may seem like almost the same thing, it's not. The end result is the same: money off your total for bringing bags, but the philosophy is different. In Europe it was essentially a tax on wasteful consumption. If you use resources (bags), you have to pay for them.

    I find this example illustrative of American consumerism and business practices. Doncha think so?


    Guns on Parade

    I came across a couple of facts which surprised me. I can't vouch for the accuracy but I did find them in separate sources of apparent reliability.

    There are approximately 200 million guns in the US. There are approximately a total of 675 million guns in the world. (One source said 600 million, the other 750 million so I'm splitting the difference.) Undefined in this statistic is the definition of "gun". I assume this basically means a firearm usable by a single person, say .50 caliber or less.

    The astonishing thing to me is the idea that almost a third of all the guns in the world are in the US, almost enough to arm every adult citizen. That's a lot of guns.

    I'm not anti-gun. I know how to handle guns safely. I've trained with guns and I'm not afraid of them. That said, and without using the phrase "gun control", it seems a tad excessive to have so many guns around the US.

    I think guns often promote stupidity. People may kill people, not guns, but the access to guns makes the option of using them to settle personal disputes within reach. Perhaps that's a good thing in some Darwinian manner but I don't really think so. Negotiation to reach an equitable solution takes work and patience. Grabbing a gun and pulling a trigger, not so much. The thing is most people reach a point of frustration where the quick fix seems preferable to a lengthy process of working things out. The stupid people often aren't the ones being shot in domestic disputes, they are usually doing the shooting.

    In international relations, the US regularly and predictably uses military force to resolve situations. As far as I can observe, very rarely are these military actions inevitable or the only possible solution. Like using an accessible handgun, the US is often eager to pull out the guns to make a point. It's less a possible option and more a preferred path.

    The whole military/industrial complex is geared to using military force. If the military (and its guns) are not used, it's like buying a new car, putting it in the garage and only driving it around the neighborhood once every couple of months. I don't think that is a very wise use of resources but it serves some sectors of our society very well, thank you for asking.

    Thursday, February 09, 2006


    Pardon My Dishevelled State

    No, really, this blog is a messy collection of half implemented bits of code and it looks it. I noticed earlier today that my title graphics (there are 20 of them in random rotation, not including the one in this post) were not showing up because I had changed webhosts recently. Poor, forgetful little lackey of words!

    I'm tired of pleading ignorance and lack of skill when it comes to HTML and CSS so I am embarking on a leisurely study of these subjects in an attempt to gain proficiency. However, you shouldn't expect an immediate makeover of DemiOrator. It will take time to transform such a shimmering beacon of tepid revolutionary blogdom into a... uh, well, a shinier beacon. [Addendum: I'm particularly sensitive to how utterly crappy this site looks in Internet Explorer. I made the leap to Firefox and never looked back, only to be horrified the first time I saw the blog in IE. Whew! Really, I'll try to make it better for IE. If only MS wouldn't screw around with how it implements CSS...]

    I'm dithering between two HTML/CSS programs: Evrsoft's First Page 2006 and Bradbury's TopStyle3. While I cut my HTML teeth on HotMeTaL Pro 6, it is getting rather old, the last version being around 1998-9. It barely incorporates CSS into the coding and I'm eager to use CSS. FP 2006 is very easy to use but lacks helpful CSS features. TopStyle3 includes excellent integration with CSS but I find the interface a tad difficult and confusing. Suggestions or comments on your personal favorite program are welcome.

    I'll tell you up front that I'm going to be tinkering with HTML/CSS from some of my favorite blogs. Oh, I won't actually steal their code and use it here; that would be gauche as well as rude. Possibly illegal, too, but that's less of a deterrent to me than not being a good neighbor to fellow bloggers. But I will be using their code to improve my chops. This is a time-honored and hallowed way of learning and hacking toward coding proficiency. [Be warned, Dark Wraith! I've noticed the kewl look of your blog and your 1337 skills, etc.]

    Wish me good speed in my quest for illuminating knowledge. I will undoubtedly need it.

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006


    Things to Keep In Mind About Domestic Spying

    This article, which spurred my writing the previous post, was in the current issue of Z Magazine (Feb. 2006). I liked how concisely it laid out the legalities and illegalities of the situation. It's easy to be confused by rhetoric from the administration calling "terrorism" a new kind of danger which necessitates abrogation of fundamental Constitutional rights. Right. And the Quakers are plotting the overthrow of the U.S. government. The following is taken from the article linked at the top of this post. I've edited it down to the main points; fuller explanations are in the article.

    Point #1: Electronic surveillance by the Government is strictly limited by the Constitution and Federal Law

    The law on surveillance begins with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which states clearly that Americans' privacy may not be invaded without a warrant based on probable cause. [...]

    Point #2: There are only three laws that permit the government to spy

    There are only three laws that authorize any exceptions to the ban on electronic eavesdropping by the government. [...]

    Point #3: The Bush-NSA spying was not authorized by any of these laws [...]

    Point #4: Congress's post-9/11 use-of-force resolution does not legitimize the Bush-NSA spying[...]

    [...] that resolution contains no language changing, overriding or repealing any laws passed by Congress. Congress does not repeal legislation through hints and innuendos, and the Authorization to Use Military Force does not authorize the president to violate the law against surveillance without a warrant [...]

    Point #5: The need for quick action does not justify an end-run around the courts[...]
    I recommend reading the whole thing.


    Lying Hard for Domestic Spying

    I have yet to hear a rational, truthful explanation from Bush administration officials to justify the domestic spying program. The claim that it was authorized by Congress post-9/11 falls apart with the most cursory examination. There are very specific laws in place around the authority of the government in these instances and those laws were passed specifically to curb abuses.

    Alberto Gonzales gives assurances that it's all-so-legal but he lies:
    The hearing got off to a testy start. Democrats wanted Gonzales to testify under oath, saying he had misled Congress in January when he dismissed a question about warrantless surveillance as "hypothetical."
    An ACLU factsheet accompanying a story on their suit against the NSA for their domestic spying program includes this (emphasis mine):
    By seriously compromising the free speech and privacy rights of the plaintiffs and all Americans, the ACLU charges that the NSA program violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The program authorizes the NSA to intercept the private communications of people who the government has no reason believe have committed or are planning to commit any crime, without first obtaining a warrant or any prior judicial approval.

    The ACLU also charges that the program violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers, because it was authorized by President Bush in excess of his Executive authority and contrary to limits imposed by Congress. In response to widespread domestic surveillance abuses committed by the Executive Branch and exposed in the 1960s and 1970s, Congress enacted legislation that provides the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance and the interception of domestic wire, oral and electronic communications may be conducted. Congress enacted two statutes which impose strict limits on domestic surveillance, including prior judicial approval -- Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed in 1978.

    Congress enacted FISA after the U.S. Supreme Court held, in United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, that the Fourth Amendment does not permit warrantless surveillance in intelligence investigations of domestic security threats. FISA amended Title III to provide that the procedures set out therein and in FISA "shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted." FISA provides that no one may engage in electronic surveillance "except as authorized by statute," and it specifies civil and criminal penalties for electronic surveillance undertaken without statutory authority.
    The legal reasoning from the Bush administration is so flimsy, it's apparent even to me that it's an illegal program.


    "Bush Budget Plan for $2.77 Trillion Stresses Security"

    This is a marvelous example of a headline that cuts both ways. It just says it all. "Bush Budget Plan for $2.77 Trillion Stresses Security". Is it irony or sarcasm or just my twisted interpretation?

    Sunday, February 05, 2006


    My Patriarchy Blaming Embarrassment

    I am embarrassed by certain types of attention. Oh, don't get me wrong; I'm a Leo and often bask in the spotlight. Yet I'm embarrassed at the moment. Why? Because I get lots of people coming to this blog from I Blame the Patriarchy whenever I leave a comment there as I did recently on a post on Boy's Achievement Crisis. What's wrong with that, you ask? Because I feel I'm flying under fall pretenses.

    Despite my obvious patriarchy-blaming sympathies and my occasional pro-feminist diatribes, DemiOrator contains feminist perspective rather peripherally. So when visitors come here from an outstanding feminist (and culinary) blog like Ms. Faster's, I'm prone to feeling, well, inadequate by comparison.

    Urm, guess there's not much else to say.

    Saturday, February 04, 2006


    The Public Serpent

    "The Public Serpent: Analysis of Parallelisms Between the Reptilian and Politician Life Cycles" Newmann, Kreger, et al. Annals of Performance Science 103:12 (June 2005): 48-62.

    Précis: Politicians start out warm-blooded but become more cold-blooded the longer they are in office. Despite the politician’s ability to generate heat through campaigning and fundraising activities, they have a remarkably limited capacity for genuine warmth. Like a reptile born from an egg, the politician emerges fully formed and predatory in the post election phase. And like any reptile, politicians must seek out sources of heat/money to sustain them through the election cycle. Definitive parallelism is proven. In their conclusion, the authors suggest they prefer the company of actual reptiles to politicians, claiming “At least they don’t lie.”

    Crossposted to another of my blogs, Invisible Books. Reprinted here because it's funny and political.


    Musings on "Just in Time" (JIT)

    I believe "Just in Time" (aka JIT) was originally a manufacturing and business model for production and supply. It's easy to understand. Keeping large stocks or inventories of parts and inventory wastes money and resources of large companies. The solution now in common practice is to streamline supply streams, make it so efficient that components arrive "just in time" to be used in production of the finished product. The following is from a Navy Strategic Sourcing guide:
    Just-In-Time (JIT): A "pull" system, driven by actual demand. The goal is to produce or provide one part just-in-time for the next operation. Reduces stock inventories, but leaves no room for schedule error. As much a managerial philosophy as it is an inventory system.
    One way of looking at it is to think of a weaving loom. Different threads enter one end and are woven into fabric. JIT is a way of eliminating the spools of thread feeding into the process. In a way, the thread is being created just before it enters the loom process. One problem with this: If there is an interruption of the supply of one thread, the whole process comes to a halt. Detroit automakers commonly use JIT to cut costs. However, because of the assembly line process, it is almost impossible to halt or continue production without any single part. If a shipment of bumpers for a particular model car is delayed because of a dock strike, the whole assembly line stops.

    One thing I've recently observed: JIT is a common supply method for all sorts of things in American society, not just manufacturing. Because of the cost savings, it seems an attractive approach to any supply chain. Thus, to eliminate waste of perishables in the food supply, these items are rarely stored for more than 3 or 4 days before being stocked on market shelves.

    The downside of using JIT is that all supply chains based on this method are extremely vulnerable to disruption. A gasoline shortage would mean the trucking industry would slow or halt. Some cities use JIT to supply the chemicals and minerals used to purify their water, keeping only a few weeks worth on hand at any one time.

    Because JIT is a supply and distribution technique, anything which interrupts the flow of supplies brings a whole range of cascading logistical problems in its wake.

    Our society has become quite dependent on the smooth and efficient flow of all kinds of material through our transport conduits. With such dependence also comes a restructuring of routes and hubs.

    I have no conclusions. Just a suspicion that dependence on JIT will eventually bite us on the ass.

    Thursday, February 02, 2006


    Oops! So Sorry About Your False Arrest!

    Once again from Democracy Now! (which is apparently where I got all my news today.)
    Capitol Police Apologize, Drop Charges Over Sheehan Arrest
    One day after Cindy Sheehan was arrested for wearing an anti-war T-shirt to President Bush'’s State of The Union address, Capitol police have dropped her charges and apologized. Sheehan, whose son Casey died in combat in Iraq in April 2004, was removed from the House gallery Tuesday night after unveiling a T-shirt that read: "2,245 dead and how many more?" --– a reference to the number of US service members killed in Iraq. In a statement, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said Sheehan should not have been arrested. President Bush began his speech shortly after she was removed.
    While Cindy Sheehan has done some excellent anti-war work this past year, that's not what attracted me to this news note. The ability to express opinion in public is important. Laws define what forms of expression are legal and not legal in particular situations. Famously, shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre when there is no fire is illegal. But more importantly, political officials set policy about free expression in certain situations based more on convenience and stifling dissent than actual legality. Was the T-shirt a disruption? I doubt it but it did distract from the Prez's message du jour. And that was the real crime.

    In a political regime and atmosphere which is very actively hostile to opposing views, the attitude of contempt percolates through the security structure. The mere hint of dissent brings down disproportional force to nullify it and remove it from view. This is where the Bush administration has taken a tactical page from the military handbook: instantly use massive force to overwhelm the enemy/dissenter.

    These kinds of attacks on any expression of opposition at Presidential events have become so common it's astonishing that we aren't outraged by them. I'm sure someone can make a case for the need for security but these incidents are almost always about dissent rather than danger to the President. Ms. Sheehan was in the visitors' gallery and undoubtedly went through metal detectors and vigorous security to get there. She was not a danger to the President.

    So security acts as if simple, often non-intrusive, expressions of dissent are illegal. Police the thoughts and the coverage will follow.


    Health Care for All Iraqis! Hooray!

    Or not. From Democracy Now!:
    Report: US Far Behind In Reconstructing Iraq Health Clinics
    In Iraq, USA Today is reporting the US has failed to open any health clinics in the country -- despite initially promising to open 180 clinics by last December. Iraq’s deputy health minister said the US has completed construction on only four clinics.


    Reducing Oil Use by 2025 "Purely an Example"

    This was funny in a sad way. From Democracy Now!:
    Bush Administration Says Mideast Oil Pledge “Purely an Example”
    Just one day after President Bush drew headlines for pledging to reduce the country’s reliance on Middle Eastern oil by 75 percent by the year 2025, two top administration officials said Bush’s promise was not meant literally. In a conference call with reporters, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told reporters the President was giving “purely an example” when he spoke about making dependency on Middle Eastern oil “a thing of the past." Bodman, speaking alongside Presidential adviser Dan Bartlett, said President Bush really meant that alternative energy could take the place of the amount oil the US is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025. An administration official told Knight Ridder the President used the words “the Middle East” only so he could illustrate the issue in way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands."
    Of course it's just an example. The Prez is only in office for 3 more years. Do you think he will actually initiate far-reaching programs to accomplish this goal? Stop it! I can't laugh any more!


    Terrorism, Capitalism, Communism, and Democracy

    "Terrorism" is a widely used word but quite often misapplied. I believe the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union left a vacuum and a groping for terminology in the American press. Anti-Communist rhetoric was so ingrained in the American public, political, and journalistic consciousness that there was a conceptual gap, a lack of appropriate direction and focus for a long time.

    9/11 supplied an enemy, a focal point. Terrorism and terrorists. There is a small problem with this view: Terrorism is not like the other economic and political philosophies named above. Terrorism is a tactic, not a system of government or economy. As such, it is almost always in the eye of the beholder. It is almost a truism that when most established governments use military force with extensive civilian casualties it's called "appropriate and measured" but when insurgent groups use such force to achieve goals, it's terrorism. (Don't take my statement as condoning either. I'm trying to draw attention to the semantics of such labels.)

    I also see parallels in the cost of military action. That is, the larger the expended monetary cost per enemy causualty, the "better" the side inflicting the damage. This is similar to popular US views on capitalism and Calvinist views on piety. Capitalistic success in the US considered a virtue that shows the person or corporation is in more perfect accord with free market forces. The Calvinist view is that the more pious a person is, the greater their material reward in this life. So the side using expensive bombers and equipment is automatically "better" than the side using improvised explosive devices. Again, I'm not saying the opposite is true, but I am trying to point out a pattern I observe.

    Do "terrorists" often harm innocent bystanders with their actions? Yes. But to ignore the fact that "official" military actions do the same, usually on a much larger scale, is a rather facile and blinkered view.

    Despite invoking high ideals for our actions (toppling tyrants, bringing democracy, etc.), I'm reminded of a comment by one of America's military officers during the Vietnam "war": We had to destroy the village in order to save it.

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