Monday, October 31, 2005

Support Needed for Political Prisoner Russell "Maroon" Shoats

I received the following email from the Jericho Movement today, which i am forwarding here – i encourage you all to take a moment and contact the concerned officials, demanding that they stop harassing this political prisoner. -k

Please call and write a letter on behalf of political prisoner Russell “Maroon” Shoats (background info below).

Russell “Maroon” Shoats (#AF-3855) is planning to file a grievance today, Monday Oct. 31st, 2005. From October 13th through October 27th, all his mail was withheld, apparently COI Peters marked his incoming mail as “undeliverable.” Maroon just received mail from Oct 13,05 on Oct 27, 05, only because COI Peters took off Oct 27th. Under the prison’s own regulations, this is a violation of DC-ADM 803-3 (“Inmate Mail and Incoming Publications”). “It is the policy of the Department [of Corrections] to provide an inmate access to communication with members of society through the established public mail system.” See, DC-ADM 803, 4-4492. (

In addition, Maroon also says COI Peters threw urine onto prisoners in the surrounding cells of his unit last week. It's unclear at this point as to whether urine was thrown on Maroon. A recent commissary request slip submitted by Maroon, was pulled, leaving Maroon with no access to the commissary for that week.

When you call please be aware that you may be forwarded to some official whose job is to fill out complaint forms. That official may ask for your name, address, and telephone number. You should be ready for such questions. That official may also ask for your “relationship” to Maroon. You could just say that you are a “friend.” That official may ask for specific details. Just tell the prison official what we know, and nothing more. It’s not our job to provide details, it's the job of the prison to look into these issues and discipline their employees. Be firm, but polite. Not being polite could make things harder on the prisoner we're trying to support.

As you know, our comrades in prison rely on letters to communicate with their families and supporters and we can not allow this type to harassment against them. Maroon has been experiencing health problems recently and it is important that he be able to depend on receiving his mail. It is crucial that we support our comrades who are in prison. We can not leave it to their families and immediate supporters to do this work alone.

Please call or write the following officials and demand that all harassment of Maroon by Officer Peters cease:

Jeffrey Beard
Secretary PA DOC
2520 Lisburn Road
P.0 Box 598
Camp Hill, Pa 17001-0598

Superintendent Folino
SCI Greene
169 Progress Dr.
Waynesburg, Pa 15370

Captain Grainey
RHU Manager-SCI Greene
(contact info same as above)

Clifford O'Hara c/o
Office of Professional Responsibility
1110 Fernwood Ave.
Camp Hill, Pa 17001

Governor Edward G. Rendell
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
(717) 787-2500

More info:

Russell “Maroon” Shoats (#AF-3855) is being held in the control unit of SCI Greene, a supermax prison in western Pennsylvania. Maroon is aging in prison, like many of our freedom fighters, and has some serious health problems. Maroon is a 61-year-old man who has been in prison for over 33 years. He is a father, grandfather and “model prisoner,” who has only had one minor rule infraction in over 15 years.

Maroon was a founding member of Philadelphia's Black Unity Council which eventually merged with the Black Panther Party. While a member of the Philly Panther chapter Russell was arrested and tried for the murder of a police officer. He received an unfair trial, and without adequate legal representation he received two life sentences. Maroon has spent decades in a lock-down sensory deprivation unit.

It is crucial that we support our comrades who are in prison. We can not leave it to their families and immediate supporters to do this work alone.


For more info visit:

Write to Maroon and let him know he has our support:

Russell Shoats #AF-3855,
SCI Greene,
175 Progress Drive,
Waynesburg, PA 15320


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Law & Order SVU: Straining the Truth

I was reading George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier the other day, and happened across this observation: “This is the inevitable fate of the sentimentalist. All his opinions change into their opposites at the first brush of reality.” What Orwell was referring to was the way in which certain “progressives” claim to hold radical views, often pushing them to ridiculous limits, all in a (sub-conscious?) process of setting themselves up for disappointment, so that later they can claim “I used to be open-minded”, “I was a radical when I was younger”, “I found out the hard way”, etc.


In other words, insincere radicalism is merely a way of setting the stage for subsequent conservatism.

This is exploited to good effect by the smarter propagandists. It is elementary that effective propaganda must clothe itself as something other than indoctrination. This is so obvious that any little kid trying to pull one over on their parents sees the logic in it. Telling people to “be happy”, “obey authority”, “trust your leaders” is worst than useless: today it is only understood as irony or sarcasm. Which is why nobody except the most stupid reactionary ever takes that approach.

Rather, good propaganda seduces through false-assurances, offering the possibility of being like Orwell’s sentimentalist, the repentant ex-liberal, allowing one to vicariously “give them the benefit of the doubt” and then feel “betrayed by them”. Finally having this feeling of betrayal validated. Good propaganda allows its consumers to be bitter as the result of experiences they have never actually had.

All of which is why one of my favorite television universes, Law & Order, is such a good example of effective propaganda. With few exceptions, Law & Order episodes are billed as fiction, yet it is the way in which they often trace the outlines of real stories that makes them so appealing. With none of the responsibility of making a “dramatization of real events”, the scriptwriters get to play fast and loose with the facts, often inserting critically misleading twists. Add to this the fact that so many of their episodes deal with issues that may be of particular interest to “progressives”, and you can see why this sneaky dishonesty is so effective. The show paves a liberal road that consistently leads to reactionary conclusions.

Time and time again Law & Order follows this script, and so after slightly more than a decade the series and its spin-offs have become a kind a metaphor for white America’s rightward shift.

Take last week’s Special Victims Unit, which was summed up as follows by

”STRAIN: A man is found murdered execution style in the window of his workplace, and above him the word Killer is written. A stamp on his hand leads Detectives Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Fin (Ice-T) to a gay circuit club, also a methamphetamine hangout. Detectives Benson and Fin scan the ID's of the guests who were at the club and during the investigation, Fin discovers his estranged son Ken Randall (guest-star Ernest Wadell) was also there. As the case continues, Detective Fin confronts his son and Medical Examiner Warner (Tamara Tunie) confirms that the victim Robin Weller had the deadly and contagious new strain of AIDS which is becoming an epidemic. When Weller's boyfriend, who also carried the deadly strain of AIDS, is also found murdered, eyes turn toward Gabriel Thurman (guest-star Brian Bloom) an activist trying to stop the spread of the disease. The case goes to trial and Thompson's attorney Carolyn Maddox, (guest-star CCH Pounder) tries to sway the jury that her client's actions were justified.”

Now, let’s fill in the blanks:

Robin Weller and his boyfriend Lydon Grant are both heavily into crystal meth, they are both promiscuous, they both practice unsafe sex, and they both have this “killer strain” of HIV, which is supposed to lead to AIDS and death within a year of seroconversion. Gabriel Thurman is a prominent member of the “Rainbow Army”, an ACT-UP style group, whose younger brother Alex (also gay) contracted and died from the killer strain of HIV. Thurman is presented as takes the “radical activist” approach to the question, deciding to kill the men infected with this strain.

Let me repeat that: in this episode of Law & Order: SVU a prominent AIDS activist is portrayed supporting the execution of HIV+ individuals who do not practice safe sex!

Now please, take a few deep breaths and scour your brains, and ask yourselves: (1) What parts of this story are true, and what parts aren’t? (2) Do we have any “Rainbow Armies” and would we be better off if we did? (3) What politics does this story advance?

Truth or Fiction?

First things first: there is indeed some inconclusive evidence of a “new more deadly strain” of HIV, and some health officials fear its spread (and the continuing spread of plain-old-vanilla-HIV) may be abetted by meth use. There were several reports in the media (for instance in the New York Blade, WebMDHealth and The San Francisco Chronicle) with at times different opinions of this back in February, after New York Public Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden issued a public alert. However, at this point it seems that there was more hysteria than wisdom in much of the initial hype, as detailed at

Yet the far more important question is one which we can answer far more unambiguously. That is: is the execution of HIV+ individuals something one might associate with AIDS activists, either past or present? Here the answer is a resounding no.

“Strain” is classic Law & Order: a factual inspiration which is likely to appeal to a “progressive” audience (i.e. people who are concerned about crystal meth, HIV/AIDS, and the politics of direct action) that leads to a story that – at the most critical juncture – reverses the facts.

Rainbow Armies

The Rainbow Army we see in “Strain” is an activist group which hands out condoms and enjoins gay men to practice safe sex and avoid crystal meth. Like Fin’s gay son Ken says, “They do good work”. As presented in the episode, they come across as a fairly dull, white, male and healthy incarnation of an AIDS activist group.

Gabriel Thurman explains his motivation for joining the group as follows: “I came of age hearing about how so many gay men died in the 80s when there was no treatment. And now it’s happening again, because of crystal meth.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that this kind of “entertainment” irresponsibly plays into the false belief that the AIDS epidemic ended in the 90s, or that gay men have not been dying in considerable numbers since "the 80s". Instead, let us take a moment to remember the period which Thurman is referring to, because in a sense that’s the backdrop to this story.

The 1980s were a time when AIDS activism was born, only to peak in the early 90s. If resources were devoted to preventing HIV, if funds were made available for researching new medicines, and if this research was at times done in an ethical manner, it is quite simply because of this AIDS activism – including the very kind that the “Rainbow Army” is supposed to allude to, but also taking much more radical and flamboyant and queer forms.

While some AIDS activist groups do still exist, a web search for “Rainbow Army” only turns up a pro-military rainbow bumper-sticker available from GayMart (oh what a sad sign of the times that is!)

This provides the answer to our second question: it would be nice if we had a few “Rainbow Armies” around today – based on their track record in the past, they would almost certainly do some good.

Dreams of Quarantine

The thing about AIDS activism which is worth remembering is that it is an approach generally based on “harm reduction”. In a nutshell, harm reduction “ Works to minimize the harms associated with certain behaviours (eg. Drug Use, Sex, Partying) [and] Respects the individual's needs and lifestyle choices” (

This is a far cry from the approach Thurman took, which his lawyer Carolyn Maddox presents as follows: “Two men with HIV having drug-fuelled compulsive sex puts other gay men in danger. [By killing them] my client was protecting the entire gay community from two men whose sexual behaviour threatens thousands.”

Gabriel Thurman is presented as the radical individual within the “Rainbow Army”, the guy whose actions and ideas obviously push the groups politics too far – all of which subtly covers up the fact that if Thurman were a real person his politics and actions would not be “too radical” for real AIDS activists, but would rather be diametrically opposed to the entire historic push of real AIDS activism. It’s like suggesting that a rapist was someone who “pushed feminist politics too far”, or that the Klan represents an “overly radical kind of anti-racism”…

So Thurman’s repressive strategy of murder would really have no place in the tradition of AIDS activism. Indeed, individuals like Lyndon Larouche and Paul Cameron who have advocated the murder of HIV+ individuals have been isolated and exposed as fascists largely as a result of hard work by AIDS activists. This was not something people took lightly: when Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer proposed a quarantine for anyone who was HIV+ and continued to have sex (even safe sex), he needed a special police bodyguard the reaction was so intense!

But if “Strain” lies in characterizing AIDS activists as being pro-quarantine and pro-murder, it does not do so simply in order to paint “radical activism” as being dangerous and violent, but also as a way of propagandizing in favor of repressive measures itself.

Consider this courtroom testimony by the fictitious “Dr Sloan of the Centers for Disease Control”. She starts by mentioning “radicals” who are proposing “Prosecuting people who knowingly infect their partners or making them bear part of the cost of their medical treatment.”

(Please note that these “radicals” sound like Republicans…)

She continues, describing the “new killer strain of HIV”: “If it spreads further we may not be able to stop it, ever. I believe we might be on the verge of a disaster, a new worldwide pandemic.” (one must ask: how can we be on the verge of a new pandemic when the old one is still going full steam ahead?)

The testimony continues, with Maddox asking the questions:

Q: So what can we do – test everyone and quarantine those with HIV to a desert island?
A: Back in the nineties, the New York City Health Department established detention centers for people with TB who refused to take their medicine.
Q: Sounds like a good way to protect the public, why haven’t you tried that?
A: The law doesn’t allow us to quarantine people with HIV.
Q: So those infected with this new strain can keep on having unprotected sex and spreading this virus?
A: Yes, we have no way to stop them.

In other words, quarantine is made to seem as a quite reasonable response, one which the State is unfortunately unable to put into place because “the law doesn’t allow us to”.

Now do i think the State is writing our television shows? No, i doubt it. Rather, ideas are developed collectively within classes. Repressive epidemiology (i.e. quarantines, criminalization, or in this case murder) is a set of ideas currently being mulled over by the "well informed" (i.e. the establishment). Tensions around the “coming any day soon” bird flu pandemic, the continuing HIV pandemic, the spread of crystal meth, and myriad other health problems are just so much grist for the mill of “sentimentalist” television.

Silly to spend so much time dissecting a television show? Perhaps. But you know, it is one of my favorite shows, and i am not kidding when i say that this is a frequent formula. It’s worth watching if you have nothing better to do, but it’s also worth analyzing.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Another Dead Woman

The Montreal Gazette yesterday carried a front-page story about Julie Croteau, whose body was found in the trunk of her Honda Civic in St.Hyacinthe, about an hour’s drive from Montreal. The article stated that her death was “very violent”.

According to the Collectif Masculin Contre le Sexisme, 777 women and children have been killed in Quebec since December 6th 1989 (the date of the “Montreal Massacre”). This is just the tip of the iceberg of male violence against women.


This story of another dead woman gives me an opportunity to bring up something i’ve had on my mind recently. Remember my October 8th entry, “Rape and Murder in the News”, in which i discussed (amongst other things) the fact that the police were now saying there was a serial rapist attacking women on the North Shore?

Wonder why i haven’t given any updates on this story?

Well, the story broke on October 7th and not a peep in the Gazette about this since October 8th. Charitably, one might assume that there is a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity and investigation and precautions, but despite the October 8th article “Tips on Serial Rapist Pour In” nothing has happened that i have heard about. Compare this to what happens when a case provokes outrage – either amongst police, journalists, or “the community” – you then get semi-daily news-stories, you get people “demanding action”, you get a whole lot of heat and noise… which may or may not be effective in dealing with the particular issue at hand but which does raise its profile.

In my opinion, it is this “raising the profile” which is always the necessary first step to taking effective action. This is particularly important in people taking collective action outside of the institutional channels – i.e. without the police – and so it is perhaps not coincidental that these cases of violence against women are taken less seriously. People are less likely to think about violence against women, certainly less likely to do something about it, if it remains wallpaper to our social reality, rather than appearing as a glaring provocation. There is nothing about violence against women that should make it seem so “natural”, “unavoidable” or “eternal” – it is all in the spin.

And until we change how we see the problem, it is unlikely we will be able to solve it.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Irving news pulls breastfeeding cover, fires editor

This from CBC News , Oct 11th 2005:

The Irving newspaper group has pulled the latest issue of Here magazine from store shelves and fired its editor after a photo of a breastfeeding baby appeared on its cover.

The photo is an extreme close-up of a tiny baby suckling at its mother's breast. The cover promoted a story about World Breastfeeding Week, which began Oct. 1. The story also highlighted the low rates of breastfeeding in New Brunswick.

Irving news executives replaced the photo with a cartoon drawing of a woman holding a baby in a blanket.

Former Here editor Miriam Christensen says she was fired Oct. 6, after Brunswick News executives recalled the paper bearing the original cover from delivery trucks and stores across the province.

Christensen had given notice of her plans to resign for other reasons a few days earlier.

Christensen is surprised at her former employer's reaction to the photo, and says she didn't think an image of a nursing baby would offend anyone.

"I never thought they would pull it. We had a professional photographer in Saint John go to this woman's house, who was more than kind to agree. The photos were beautiful, they were all beautiful and I really like that one in particular. I just thought it was a really sweet moment."

Brunswick News vice-president Victor Mlodecki told CBC the original cover was inappropriate for some of the locations that might have distributed it.

Moncton coffee shop Joe Mokka is one of the few places that received copies of Here with the original front page.

Café manager Gail Morin says her customers didn't seem to mind the photo. "Nobody's ever approached [me]. I wouldn't take it down, even if they did. It's natural, it's nature. It's nothing wrong with it."

Freelance journalist Brent MacDonald wrote the cover story and is angry the photo was pulled. He says the cover was an important part of the piece. He says he won't work for the paper any more.

"That photo was pulled, the image of a mother breastfeeding her baby, and it really didn't do any justice to the story, or the real issue here, that mothers in New Brunswick aren't breastfeeding their babies and babies are being shortchanged."

Here is a free weekly magazine targeting urban youth in New Brunswick. It was an independent publication for five years until 2004, when Irving-owned Brunswick News bought it.

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Something’s Happenin’ Here: An On-The-Ground Analysis of the North Toledo Riots

The following was written by Michael Brooks for the October 2005 issue of Clamor Magazine – you can check out Clamor online at
This article is available online at

The images on FOX News were harrowing: rioting blacks kicking in the door of a Toledo bar owned by an 86-year old man, looters throwing furniture out a window, and a building in flames. The mainstream media, dominated by the early FOX coverage, reinforced the notion that urban America is a wild, dangerous place where chaos is only a moment away. This is just the sort of simple message that appeals to law-and-order types, or, for that matter, to hate groups like the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and its colorful spokesman, Bill White. Unfortunately, the reasons for the North Toledo riot last week defy such undemanding analysis.

Timeline of the Riot

The arrival of NSM in Toledo is directly traced to a series of incidents between a white North Toledo man and his neighbors. Thomas Szych was videotaping teenagers spray painting gang graffiti in an alley when, according to police reports, he pulled a loaded pistol in front of a pair of boys, aged 11 and 14.

Szych’s weapon was seized by Toledo Police in the August 3 incident, but charges have yet to be filed in the case. A member of Szych’s family allegedly contacted NSM about the gang activity in North Toledo, and the white supremacist group announced on October 6 that it was going to march in Toledo in support of the “beleaguered” white populace. An organizational meeting was held at a west side coffee shop on October 9 with about 15 local anarchist and socialist activists, including local members of the ISO (International Socialist Organization), ARA (Anti-Racist Acttion), and several trade unions. I was invited as a media observer with the agreement that I would only write in general terms about what I heard and saw. None of the people in attendance were willing to go on record at that early juncture for fear of providing information to their adversaries. Lacking much personal experience in the planning of protests (those I have participated in have been someone else's design), I nonetheless walked away convinced that there would be a serious confrontation on Saturday October 15. The assembled activists spent their time focused on logistical matters, and reached accord on the manner in which the Nazi rally would be approached.

These groups were instrumental in developing an organized counterprotest, as well as in publicizing the event. George Windau, a local labor activist, said the combined efforts of the aligned groups produced a groundswell of public support.

“These various groups were able to put aside their ideological differences and focus on a mutual threat: Nazis spreading hate in Toledo,” he said. “We delivered thousands of flyers to residents in the area publicizing the counterprotest.”

The coalition’s efforts are even more impressive considering the fact that the city of Toledo and numerous community groups had organized an alternative rally called “Erase the Hate,” which took place at a community center more than a mile from the Nazi rally.

Windau said that many people in the community were desirous of directly engaging the Nazis. “The efforts of the people behind the ‘Erase the Hate’ gathering were well-intentioned, but there was a tremendous amount of support for showing the Nazis that they were not wanted,” he said. “Our coalition just tapped into the collective anger in the neighborhood.” On the morning of the rally several dozen protesters had gathered at a local shopping plaza. Toledo Police chief Mike Navarre stopped and talked with every member of the assembled groups who gathered to oppose the arrival of NSM.

Speaking with an anti-racist skinhead, Navarre issued a friendly warning.

“It’s a beautiful day out today, isn’t it?” he asked. “It is way too nice of a day to be sitting in a jail cell, so let’s keep things legal.” He warned the protesters that police would immediately meet any deviation from the agreed boundaries of behavior with swift action. Marchers were to stay on the sidewalks, not physically confront the Nazis, and were not to engage in inflammatory rhetoric.

“We will have no tolerance for criminal activity,” he said.

The organized protesters, however, would turn out to be the least of Chief Navarre’s worries on this sunny Saturday. As the marchers met the first neo-Nazi arrivals, police found themselves sandwiched between an increasingly hostile crowd and a small group of white supremacists. The organized protesters almost immediately began to be joined by residents from the neighborhood, some of whom were dressed in gang colors. By 10:30 AM the combined protesters numbered about 100 people. The attention of the crowd began to focus on the unexpected presence of a half-dozen neo-Nazis near Stickney and Woodward. This did not seem to fit the original plan, in which the Nazis were to stage a short rally within Wilson Park before beginning their march on East Streicher Street.

The first wave of NSM eight members merely stood at attention approximately 50 yards from the crowd. NSM leader Bill White was dressed in civilian clothes at this time, chatting into a cell phone. Soon, however, three carloads of neo-Nazis pulled into Wilson Park in full uniform. The crowd, which by now had grown to an estimated 250, became more vocal in its opposition to the group. Bill White reappeared in full Nazi regalia, and he was joined by Ohio NSM operative Mark Martin. Both began to address the crowd, taunting them with racial epithets.

“Hey! The Toledo Zoo called, and they want their monkeys back,” shouted Martin, as the NSM members began making chimpanzee sounds. “Why don’t you go cry to your daddy? Oh wait, you’re a nigger; you don’t know who your daddy is!”

White suggested that the protesters “ought to go back to cooking French fries at McDonalds, since that’s all you can do,” and led his followers in a series of white supremacist chants. By 11:20, the situation on Mulberry began to deteriorate, as soda bottles and rocks were launched from the back of the crowd. Mounted police and police in riot gear made a few arrests, and many in the crowd saw these arrests as evidence that the police were more interested in the protecting the Nazis.

“Why did you take that young man?” demanded an older protester. “He didn’t do anything!” Bill White and his supporters moved back about 20 yards, and attempted to continue their taunting. Many in the crowd were aghast at the sheer baseness of the race-baiting. “Come out from behind the police, motherfucker,” said a twenty-something man in gang colors. “You wouldn’t be talking that shit if you were out here.”

“Hey Shaniqua, how many ‘baby’s daddies’ you got?” shouted Martin, creating an African-sounding name for effect. “How many welfare checks do you get every month?”

At approximately 11:40, the police began to move the Nazis to a planned press conference in a secure area in a nearby park. The crowd, which was prevented from entering the park, ran down Central Avenue, where they hoped to confront the Nazis on their planned march through North Toledo. They met, instead, the Toledo Police riot and SWAT teams. A tense four-hour standoff began that would see repeated charges up and down Mulberry Street by both sides, and that culminated with the burning of a local tavern and some isolated looting of nearby businesses. 114 protesters were arrested for their activities, and over two dozen police and rioters were treated for injuries at local hospitals.

The Curious Mr. White

William A. White was born in 1977 and grew up in Rockville, MA. In a 1999 interview with the W, he embraced anarchism after reading Marx and Engel's Cas a teenager. For a period of time he was a writer for Pravda. From the Overthrow website, here is an excerpt of White's resignation letter: Effective immediately please recognize my resignation as corporate officer for Pravda in the USA. I expect my name to be struck from all relevant material. As is clear from the letter I've just sent you . I am discontinuing my column with Pravda. White has alternately described himself a "national socialist," "radical traditionalist," "libertarian socialist," and as a "third-positionist agitator;" he has also been a spokesperson for the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party. There is everything in that last group name but the word Reform, although White has worked on the campaigns of Reform Party candidates in the past, too. In a 2004 interview with the Roanoke News, White claimed he does not hate blacks: "I wouldn't be out here buying and fixing up houses if I had some agenda against the black community," he said. "I don't have anything against black people. The Jews, I despise. They hate me. I hate them. They can

kiss my ass." “Chameleon” might be a better word to describe White, who has morphed from anarchism to communism to national socialism. One researcher, who declined to be identified for this article for safety reasons, said that she believes White is about to assume another political identity. “I am not sure what form this will take, but Bill White seems to last only a few years in a given movement before he is tossed out,” she said. “The man is a sociopath, a patholological liar, and a narcissist.” Indeed, many in the white supremacist movement disavow White and NSM, who are often derisively referred to as the “Hollywood Nazis” for their fascination with brown shirts and shiny boots. Most of the Midwest white supremacist groups declined to participate in the Toledo rally, and even NSM Commander Jeff Schoep stayed away from Toledo.

LaGrinka: A Changing Neighborhood in Troubled Times

Polish immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th centuries settled in several distinctive neighborhoods. "Lagrinka" is the section of North Toledo that once housed one of the nation’s strongest Polish communities. For decades many of Toledo’s industrial workers lived in the neighborhood, and many residents worked in Toledo’s famous Jeep

plant. The exodus of manufacturing jobs that escalated in the 1970s saw the fortunes of LaGrinka decline. Families moved to the suburbs and to other states, and the neighborhood’s tradition of home ownership began to suffer. Today there are many more renters in the area, who ostensibly have less of a sense of permanence and belonging.

Unemployment in the Rust Belt city of Toledo is currently running about 7.2%, but in neighborhoods like LaGrinka the number of unemployed persons is much higher. While the US Department of Labor does not provide data for neighborhoods, a state unemployment spokesperson said that she believes that the unemployment rate in North Toledo “is more like 15%.”

Antoine Jones, a resident who says his current means of income takes such forms as “odd jobs and hustling,” said that employment prospects are particularly bleak for young men in the neighborhood. “The only jobs that are out there right now are part-time and minimum wage,” he said. “How is someone supposed to feed their family on that?

Prentiss Bishop, another resident of North Toledo, described a recent experience he had.

“I managed to get a part-time job with UPS as a loader,” he said. “Then last January they said: ‘OK, everyone’s laid off now because you were all seasonal.’ How can you wait around for a job when you are only going to work less than half the year?”

The automobile industry in Toledo, once the backbone of a thriving manufacturing economy, continues to lose jobs through outsourcing and streamlining. The new Toledo North Jeep plant, which opened in 2001 with the help of nearly $400 million in local, state, and federal assistance, employs less than 60% of the workforce that worked as recently as 1998 in the old plant. Many employees expect that number to continue to fall.

Residents like Bishop are not hopeful for neighborhood prospects to improve any time soon. “Things have always seemed to get worse around here, not better,” he said. “Politicians come in and tell us they are going to bring jobs, but where are they? I’ve never seen any.” Poverty figures from the US Census Bureau show Toledo as the 40th poorest city in the US last year. A total of 16.5 percent of Toledoans were classified as living in poverty, and that number is likely much higher in North Toledo.

The problem of poverty in Toledo is compounded by a near-continuous drain of affluent citizens to the suburbs and other regions of the country. Toledo lost 5.8% of its residents from 1990-2000, and this trend has not reversed in the new millennium. As a result, Toledo’s median family income has steadily fallen, and is only 79.4% of the Ohio average. Poor economic conditions and bleak prospects only tell part of the picture.

Strained Relations with Toledo Police

I spoke with a number of residents and police officers who indicated that there is room for improvement in relations between residents and police, although it would be an overstatement to compare North Toledo with a city that has a more notorious reputation, such as Los Angeles. Jones said that problems with Toledo’s officers are more subtle.

“You can’t even have three people on your front lawn without the police coming up and hassling you,” he said. “They think every person in the neighborhood is a drug dealer.”

Bishop said that the phenomenon of being stopped for “driving while black” is normal procedure in the racially-mixed neighborhood. “Everybody knows it happens, but the police would never admit the truth,” he said. “You just learn to deal with it, but some people carry an attitude about it.”

A TPD command officer, who declined to be named, said that some units have a reputation for being particularly tough. “The bike patrol is used in this neighborhood a lot because they can sneak up on people, especially people they suspect of being drug dealers,” this source said. “They also tend to be the officers who want to bust people for every little thing, instead of using common sense and choosing their battles wisely.”

One of the triggers in the October 15 riot seems to have been the early arrests of protesters by Toledo bike cops. The original crowd of 150 people on Stickney Avenue was angered by the arrest of a black man suspected of rock-throwing. The violence that sparked the police to fire teargas, wooden “knee-knocker” pellet guns, and percussion grenades into the crowd was also preceded by the arrest of another African American

man. Another area of concern for some Toledoans is the case of Michael Franklin Green, an activist who was arrested in May for gun possession. Green, who is African American, was initially charged with two felonies, while similar gun cases involving white defendants saw only misdemeanor charges. Amid negative publicity, Green’s cases were later reduced to misdemeanors, but many in the African American community saw the case as evidence that there are double standards in Toledo for blacks and

whites. In Szych’s case, however, no such charges have ever been filed. This has angered many people in the community. “That man can pull a gun and threaten two kids in the alley, but nothing happens to him,” said a black neighbor who declined to be named. “And you wonder why people are angry?”

Activist George Windau said that he has been under surveillance ever since the riot.

“I have had both marked and unmarked cars outside my house every day,” he said. “They follow me to work, and they are there when I get off work. I don’t know if they are just lousy at surveillance, or if they are trying to intimidate me.”

Understanding the North Toledo Riot

The violence on Mulberry can be written off to the confluence of many factors, and quite a few leaders view the riot as an aberration. Many community leaders also seem willing to go along the editors of the Toledo Journal, a black-owned local newspaper:

But the white professional counter-protesters on their own side of Stickney Avenue may have done more to stir the passions of the mostly African American crowd last Saturday, resulting in the small-scale riot that gained the attention of national media and some international news outlets.

An interesting contrast can be found between this view and that of Bill White, the Roanoke, VA spokesperson for the neo-Nazi group that attempted to stage the Toledo rally. The NSM’s White argued that “the Jewish communists started passing out eggs and rocks to the black juveniles. The black kids started throwing them at the police.”

This patronizing attitude among both the neo-Nazis and the local elites seems to be in agreement: black protesters needed white agitators to guide them and provide them with a political voice. What I observed and the protesters I interviewed are in stark contrast with these condescending views. Participants in the protest and the violence were fully cognizant of their reasons for being at the event. Many expressed anger that the city of Toledo would allow the Nazis to stage a rally in a racially-mixed neighborhood in the first place, and people were outraged that the police would allow the members of NSM to spew forth racial epithets at the crowd. The single most important factor in the escalation of neighborhood awareness of the rally, in my opinion, was the ubiquitous cell phone. The growth of the crowd is directly proportional to the number of phone calls that were made by the initial neighborhood protesters. As I looked back on the photographs, I began to see that the earliest residents on the scene were making a lot of text messages and phone calls to alert their friends about the location of the rally.

Furthermore, it is absurd to characterize this as a “racial” riot; participants were black, white, and Latino. Most seemed to believe that they were either “defending” or “taking back” their neighborhood, and were angry that outsiders could come in and try to take over the area in which they live. I, as a white member of the media, would have been an early target if this disturbance was racial in nature, but I experienced no animosity in the crowd that day, and people were actually courteous. At one point I was standing next to a teenager who hurled a chunk of concrete toward the police. As he went into his best Pedro Martinez impersonation, his throwing arm bumped into me.

“I’m sorry, man,” he said. “You all right?”

For a rowdy mob that was, in the coverage of FOX, supposedly out of control, there was an element of decorum and normalcy that seemed strangely out of place.

Even the looting and burning of a local bar has a context that cannot be understood from the images beamed from a circling helicopter. Residents and police officials agree that the business was long known as a hangout of the white politicians and policeman, and was viewed by some in the black community as a beacon of exclusivity.

“That bar was always a white cop bar,” said one Toledo officer. “Everyone knows it, but no one wants to talk about it because the owner is an 86-year old man, and people feel sorry for what happened to him.” My suspicion is that the violent members of the mob, while engaging in activity that went into the realm of the illegal, knew exactly what they were doing. To deny that rioters possessed a political consciousness is not only shortsighted, but is also an activity that is itself a form of subtle racism.

It is convenient to assign blame for the protest and the ensuing violence on outside, largely white “agitators,” for then we can ignore the underlying social problems that create feelings of hopelessness and despair in communities. By making groups like ARA and ISO the scapegoats for the riot, community leaders in Toledo – and every other American urban setting - can continue to ignore festering problems.

This mentalité also helps elites avoid asking the tough questions about a system of socioeconomic organization in millions are denied access to the critical tools – money, education, and health care – necessary for success in this era of hyper-capitalism.

The arrival of the neo-Nazi group NSM to Toledo on October 15 brought to the surface a host of underlying problems that Toledo shares with countless other American cities. Unfortunately, it appears that many people would rather continue to wear blinders than to confront the harsh realities of modern American capitalism.

About the Author

A newly-inducted member of the Jewish/communist/liberal media conspiracy, Michael Brooks’s blog has become a sort of de facto clearinghouse for information about the North Toledo riot. He will continue to provide analysis and information related to the riot as long as it is needed. View his blog at

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was clearly a great woman, one who played an important and positive role in recent history. She did so despite harassment and death threats (which played a part in her husband having a nervous breakdown, and eventually forced the family to relocate to Detroit).


Without in any way taking away from the courage of her stand, it is important that people realize that she was one of many, and that in fact her prominence was the result of contradictory tendencies and agendas at the time. We can see that this is the case simply by comparing the praise for Parks from the United States establishment with the vengeful hostility reserved those New Afrikan political prisoners and prisoners of war still suffering political incarceration as the result of the stand they took. A particularly painful example of this neo-colonial ideology could be seen in the pages of The Montreal Gazette this morning, where an editorial headline read “Rosa Parks paved way for [Condoleeza] Rice”…
The following is an excerpt from pages 102-107 of The Military Strategy of Women and Children (, by Amazon theorist Butch Lee:

Rosa Parks is a woman that everyone thinks they know about. In one day she made Civil Rights history by her act of deliberate defiance on the evening of December 1,1955, when she refused to yield her seat on a segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus. Now schoolchildren all over amerikkka are taught about her.
In 1990, she was celebrated at a giant “black tie and gown” benefit dinner for her foundation. 3,000 affluent people, from congresswomen to university presidents, came to pay tribute. Cicely Tyson was the m.c., while Dionne Warwick and Lou Rawls sang. Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers performed a song composed in her honor: “Thank you, Miss Rosa/ You are the spark/ That started our Freedom movement.”
So lofty is her place in history that even the racist Washington Post threw uncommon praise upon her.
“But, as the parade of stars and social leaders said loudly and clearly during the celebration last night of Rosa Park’s 77th birthday at the Kennedy Center, her defiance was such a powerful catalyst for the civil rights movement that the grand status of matriarch is hers alone.”
Yet & again, how many women pay tribute to the other Black women who really did what Rosa Parks is famous for? Long before December 1, 1955, the New Afrikan community in Montgomery, Alabama had seethed under the public humiliation not only of being segregated in the back of the bus, but of having to yield their seats on demand to white passengers. Segregation, which was only an outward form of colonialism, was not merely a seating plan. New Afrikans were attacked and degraded everyday on the buses. It was common for the white bus drivers to contemptuously throw transfers on the floor, so that Black passengers had to get down to pick them up. Or bypass bus stops with waiting New Afrikans on rainy days because the drivers said they were “wet and smelly”.
Black women who didn’t act slavish enough or who snuck into “white” seats were called names like “Black bitch”, “heifers”, “nigger whore” (isn’t it a measure of how successful capitalism’s genocide program is that many Black men are proud to degrade Black women using the language first invented by the most racist white men?). Those New Afrikans who resisted were beaten up and arrested—or, in one 1952 case involving a drunk man who talked back, taken off the bus by police and executed right on the spot.
New Afrikan women were pushing the matter to a confrontation. There were more individual cases of spontaneous defiance. In 1953, Mrs. Epsie Worthy refused a bus driver’s demand that she pay an additional fare before leaving the bus, and then had to defend herself when he came at her with his fists swinging. In the punch-up, she more than held her own, but had to surrender when the police came. The Women’s Political Council, which had three chapters of one hundred members each (their size limit so that members of each group could really know each other), had started compiling individual complaints and planning a bus boycott. It was the Black women of the W.P.C. —schoolteachers, college employees, church activists, nurses—who later in 1955 were to issue the actual call for the Bus Boycott, secretly preparing and anonymously mass distributing thousands of leaflets to mobilize the community.
On March 2, 1955—eight months before Rosa Parks got arrested—a Montgomery bus driver on the Dexter Avenue line ordered four Black women to give up their seats so that whites could sit down. Two obeyed, but two pretended not to hear him. He called for the police, who got one Black man to stand up and give his seat to one of the two holdouts. But the last Black woman, who was pregnant, refused to budge and was arrested. Handcuffed, resisting, crying & cursing at the police, she was dragged from the bus.
The New Afrikan community leadership, including the ministers and the Women’s Political Council, quickly began exploring this as a test case to mobilize a concerted attack on colonialism. After much discussion, E. D. Nixon, the patriarch of the Alabama locals of the Sleeping Car Porters Union and Montgomery’s main civil rights leader, decided against it. The woman was not respectable enough, he judged. She was “immature”, a high school student, rowdy and defiant, and—worst of all— she was preg without being married. Nixon decided the battle had to wait until there was a more respectable defendant.
In October of that same year, a second New Afrikan woman refused a white bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white woman, and was arrested. Again, New Afrikan women got ready to launch the long-awaited struggle. But, once again, E. D. Nixon decided that the sister who resisted wasn’t a good enough woman. That time his objection was that the young woman was too low-class. Angry and poor, she lived with her alcoholic father in a shack outside the city.
There was dissent at this thinking among New Afrikan women, especially from the Women’s Political Council. They started saying that the issue wasn’t how “respectable” any arrested Black woman was, but putting colonialism itself on trial. Freedom was the issue, they said, and Nixon and other men should realize that. Under criticism, unable to stall any longer, E. D. Nixon finally turned to his closest supporter in the local NA.A.C.P. She was a “respectable” woman by his standards: employed at a skilled trade, not too poor, an N.A.A.C.P. officer and the supervisor for the city’s N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council. Her name was Rosa Parks.
It takes nothing away from Rosa Parks’ courage and years of dedication to see that she was not the first, not the catalyst, but instead was the symbol reluctantly chosen by men for a struggle that other New Afrikan woman had already started months and even years before. It was fighting women, who weren’t “respectable”, who were “too hot, too Black” for the men of the civil rights movement, who first broke the chains and opened the way. Not just in Montgomery, but all over New Afrika. Now unknown, on purpose not by accident. Why not call them X?

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

2006 Free Political Prisoners Calendar

I am pleased to announce that the 2006 “Freedom for Political Prisoners” Calendar is just back from the printers. Kersplebedeb has carried this calendar for several years now, and it has become one of my most popular items in the October-December period.

The Calendar is a joint fundraising and educational project between outside organisers in Montreal and NYC, and three Political Prisoners being held in maximum-security prisons in New York state, these being Robert Seth Hayes, Herman Bell, and David Gilbert.

The Calendar is chock-full of information about liberation struggles past and present, all from an anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, feminist, queer and trans positive perspective. It also features artwork from political prisoners, their friends, family members and activists. Apart from Herman Bell, David Gilbert and Robert Seth Hayes, this year the list of contributors includes Marilyn Buck, Michael Africa, Hanif Shabazz Bey, Netdake Williams Stoddard, Zolo Agona Azania, Tom Manning, and many others.

As in previous years, all funds raised by the Calendar Committee will go to directly support political prisoners and anti-imperialist struggles. This year funds are being shared between the New York State Task Force on Political Prisoners, All of Us or None, the Mid-Winter Harvest Program and No One Is Illegal (Montreal).

Buying the Calendar is one way to concretely support these organizations, but it is also a way to learn (and educate others!) about those who continue to pay the price for their righteous opposition to this system. Copies are available for fifteen dollars plus postage –wholesale rates are also available (please contact me at for details).

Spread the Word!

For more information, please check out and

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Steal It Back

I received a wonderful little zine in the mail the other day: Wave 2.5 (“the midpoint between second and third wave feminisms”). It contained the following little poem, apparently anonymously authored, from the 18th century:

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
Bu leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine

The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law

The law locks up he man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back

Now tell me, can’t you imagine how great that would sound played by the Subhumans?

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

White Men Can't Count (an old postcard)

No time to type today, but i was cleaning my office and found this postcard i got back ni the 90s. On the back it reads "Inspired by Patricia Williams. THINK AGAIN are artists who strike back at mainstream ideas that perpetuate injustice. We believe that xerox machines can still incite people to THINK AGAIN."

So there!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth (and why anti-capitalists should care)

And now at last, and with some trepidation, on to my final take on Marilyn Waring’s Counting For Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth.

I have already discussed this Introduction to the Second Edition, and the First Half of this book in other posts. Suffice it to say that after having finished the book, i don’t really feel the need to retract any of my first impressions.

That said, seeing as i did get through the second half, i do have to say that it is here that Waring is at her best, making her strongest and most useful (to an anti-capitalist) arguments.

It should come as no surprise that what economists say is good for the economy is not necessarily what we would see as being good for the people trapped in that economy, and it is in this section (especially chapters 7-9, “The Value of Death”, “A Value on Your Time” and “The Eye of the Beholder”) that Waring goes all out showing how this is so. How capitalist development often means that “In the old days we were poor but there was plenty of food. Now, we have money but nothing to eat.” (to quote Dona Ettelvina, a Mayan villager, from page 194).

Of course, Waring’s focus is the way in which gender is built into the capitalist class structure, and she does a very good job exploring this. Her overview deals with militarism, “development”, pollution, reproductive technologies, breastfeeding, diet, the sex trade, rural women’s labour… and she ties all of these quite different subjects together, showing how they are all integrated into standard economic models in a way which heightens the exploitation of women by keeping their exploitation invisible and “off the books”.

If, as Maria Mies and other feminists have argued, patriarchy “constitutes the mostly invisible underground of the visible capitalist system”, then Waring shows how the United Nations and the entire mainstream of economics work to constantly reproduce this invisibility.

To get rid of this invisibility we have to learn to see through capitalism’s lies, and when we do so a new landscape of exploitation is revealed. To give just one example from page 146: “In the late twentieth century, the greater number of the casualties and victims of war are not the military but ‘civilians’ – that is, overwhelmingly, women and children. In the late twentieth century, the greater number of casualties and victims of the market are not the workers but the “economically inactive” – that is, overwhelmingly, women and children.”

Now to me, that is a worthwhile starting point for some really useful analysis. It is observations like this one that makes Waring’s book worthwhile. This is the “good part” of Counting for Nothing – and it really is good.

Just What We Needed: A “New” Revolutionary Subject!

Now as for the downside… as i mentioned last week, Waring claims that the exploitation of women occurs in essentially the same way in developed countries as in the Third World. Here and there she claims that all women share a common oppression, and she qualifies this as “slavery”. She also implies, and at one point even explicitly states, that all men have a common position – in a perhaps purposefully hyperbolic dig at socialist-feminists she states that “male workers are now capitalists”, and that “the property imbued in them is womankind.”(p.5)

Just to be clear: she is not just stating that all male suits, or all middle class men, or all white men, or all First World men, are “capitalists”, nor is she stating (as Leopoldina Fortunati has) that capitalism “sometimes wears a workers face”… no, she is stating that all men from the Third World to the First are “capitalists”, and that all women from the First World to the Third are “slaves”. As Gloria Steinem writes in her preface to the book, “women are a Third World where ever we are.” (p.xii)

Now, this kind of hyperbole is somewhat common in certain sections of many oppressed peoples’ movements (though thankfully less common than it used to be!), and it tends to be the anthem of a particular privileged layer within the oppressed, and this certainly seems to be the case here. Butch Lee in particular has provided a biting attack on this fuzziness. As she puts it in her book The Military Strategy of Women and Children:

“What’s it mean, then, to talk about the Witchhunt and genocide against women? White feminists today like to identify with the ‘witches.’ That’s what i mean, we don’t know who we are. We aren’t the ‘witches.’ We are the ones on the other side: the loyal sisters and wives of the euro-men doing the policing and burning. The sisters of patriarchy trying to protect themselves from the terrorism by submitting, trying to be the unthreatening helpers.”

It is often those women who are most privileged, and who are objectively offering the least resistance to capitalist-patriarchy, who feel the most pressure to “prove” the existence of a homogonous “class of women” with an identical “women’s interest”.

I suspect that this claim that Third World women have the same interests as First World women, that working class women have the same interests as ruling class women, is not unconnected from Waring’s focus on overhauling the United Nations System of National Accounts – the ruling class ledgerbook that includes such figures as the GNP, GDP and official unemployment rate, for example.

Waring’s strategy involves demanding that women’s unpaid labour is included on national censuses, that environmental damage and military production are included as negative growth (today they are obscenely counted in the same way as socially useful work and production), and that until this is done women should refuse to answer the census questions as they are told.

And this will topple the patriarchy!?!

Power Feminism and “The Powerless”

“Of course as long as men rule women there can be no real expectation of change”, she admits, and yet claims that this rectification of the National Accounts is a tactical necessity because “the women in elected and bureaucratic office would be empowered in their lobbying and work. And the information would empower the powerless – to change governments, leaders, and the nature of economic power.” (p.231)

Now the second part of this argument is clearly wrong – “the powerless” will not be empowered by their oppressors including their labour in United Nations statistics, and when they do rebel – in guerilla armies or peasant associations or communist parties or in countless informal ways – it is because of historical processes, personal convictions, the balance of forces… but not what it says in the United Nations System of National Accounts!

Clearly, given Waring’s own past as a politician who felt frustrated by women’s invisibility in the New Zealand National Accounts, it is the empowerment of “women in elected and bureaucratic office” that leads her to privilege this obscure form of feminist struggle. It is because of her desire to see all women – First World and Third World, poor and wealthy – as part of a unitary class that she interprets the success of this most-privileged layer of women as the key to liberating all women. As she somewhat incredibly states in her Epilogue, “when more than half of the elected representatives are women, the institutional structure of government will change: the impact of women’s culture in those numbers will see the hierarchy transformed. We don’t know precisely how, and that’s not really important. We know that the notion of power and its use would be transformed; we know that the substance of what is valued would be transformed.”(p.256)

Check that out: “We don’t know precisely how, and that’s not really important”?!?!?

i have got to say that this passage is such obvious bullshit that i am afraid it may discredit the very worthwhile aspects of Waring’s argument. After all, it is not hard to imagine a country which would formally impute women’s unwaged labour, but in so doing would simply formalize the higher level of exploitation that women suffer. After all, this is capitalism we’re talking about here, when push comes to shove there’s nothing beyond its pale, certainly not differential wage rates! Indeed, it is easy to imagine these “women in elected and bureaucratic office” acting just as diligently as their male counterparts in maintaining the overall class system. It is because Waring sees them as “women” unqualified – not “white women” or “middle class women” or “pro-capitalist women” – that she can identify their interests as the interests of the so-called “powerless”.

And yet Waring herself is not a “power feminist”, and she seems painfully aware of how silly her solution is, how badly her pro-capitalist strategy fits with her anti-capitalist analysis. At one point she is resigned to admitting that “While i knew that reproduction should not be imputed, I also know that we must insist that it be.” (p. 232), and she acknowledges that “our global ecosystem, our environment, all other species, our Mother Earth was still exposed to rape and exploitation by the national accounts, and the creation of visibility for women changed nothing here.” (p.233). As i mentioned previously, her Introduction to the Second Edition seems to be an after-the-fact admission of the inadequacy of her entire strategy. One gets the impression that her great ability to see what is wrong with the present system and her fervent desire to help us escape is not matched by any real sense that she actually knows a way out. If this is the case then hers is a predicament i think most honest people can sympathize with – one only wishes she could have had the courage to say so.

It is unfortunate that one can be both eloquent and clear-headed and yet also completely unrealistic and muddleheaded, but there you have it. Waring is not the only author who has examined a question, exposed injustice, given us a glimpse of how the world could look through new eyes… and then ruined it all by trying to sound “constructive” and tacking on a half-baked “strategy” at the end of her book.

Not Just the United Nations

If Waring’s book were simply to be applied to the United Nations, i would actually go so far as to suggest that readers limit themselves to chapters 7-12 and just skip the rest. But it is a useful exercise to go over her arguments with sexist economists because this problem, of discounting women’s economic role when it is unwaged, also has serious consequences for the left.

Maria Mies, in her book Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, has already shown how the unwillingness of national liberation movements to consider the (primarily female) “informal economy” as being as important as the (primarily male) formal sector as guaranteeing the failure of attempts to uproot patriarchal attitudes and capitalism itself. As Mies noted “Our analysis of the socialist countries has shown that the maintenance, or the creation, of the bourgeois, patriarchal, sexual division of labour and of the nuclear family is the apparently insignificant gate through which reactionary forces can again find entry into a society which tried to free itself from the clutches of capitalism and imperialism.” (p. 223)

Mies looks specifically at China and Vietnam, but the list of countries where the left-wing and national liberation movements have discounted women’s work (and thus women themselves) with fatal consequences is a long one. In Chile, for instance, the left in the 1960s had a strategy that centered around men, largely because Popular Unity (the socialist party led by Salvador Allende) only related to the working class as workers, and working class women were considered to be wives-of-workers, not workers in their own right. (At the time 75% of women worked in the unwaged domestic economy.) Popular Unity tried to “out-macho” their opponents, appealing to male workers’ power but failing to integrate women into the equation.

The sexism of the Chilean left played right into the hands of imperialism, as it was the right-wing that managed to mobilize women in record numbers to oppose Allende. Radical academic Margaret Power, in her book Right-wing women in Chile: feminine power and the struggle against Allende, 1964-1973, shows how the right consciously developed a far more sophisticated (and in some ways less, or at least differently, sexist) approach, and this created a situation where women were in the forefront of the anti-Allende opposition, in a very real way laid the groundwork for the CIA-backed Pinochet coup in 1973.

Nor is this weakness –and the possible consequences – is not limited to socialists thirty years ago...

[the section that was here has been temporraily taken out as i discuss with a comrade how fairly i was interpreting some of his views...]

As i stated in my post on the first half of Counting for Nothing, i would hold to a more pessimistic view than either Waring’s feminism or the clichéd leftist position. Neither “women’s empowerment” (in the sense of getting more women elected to office) nor “worker’s power” (in the sense of workers in the formal economy managing society) is up to the task of resisting capitalism or patriarchy, rather what is needed is an analysis and a movement that would oppose both of these as two aspects of one system of oppression. Much in the same way that some revolutionaries have already grasped that to be truly anti-imperialist one must be anti-capitalist (and vice versa), i would argue that to be truly anti-capitalist one must be anti-patriarchal (and vice versa).

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Friday, October 21, 2005

One (Male) Person's Leisure is Another (Female) Person's Work

Maria Mies, in her fantastically excellent book Patriachy and Accumulation on a World Scale, made this observation which i found quite interesting, especially in light of the repeated calls to "abolish work" that one hears in certain anarchist and ultraleft circles:

“The vision of a society in which almost all time is leisure time and labour time is reduced to a minimum is for women in many respects a vision of horror, not only because housework and non-wage work have never been included in the labour that is supposed to be reduced by machines, but also because it will be women who have to restore to the then idle men a sense of reality, meaning and life.” (page 217)

this passage popped into my mind the otehr morning as i read the following article in The Montreal Gazette (October 18th 2005):

Doc, I'm sick of my husband:
Japanese women say their retired spouses are making them ill;

Sakura Terakawa, 63, describes her four decades of married life in a small urban apartment as a gradual transition from wife to mother to servant.

Communication with her husband started with love letters and wooing words under pink cherry blossoms. It devolved over time, she said, into mostly demands for his evening meals and nitpicking over the quality of her housework.

So when he came home one afternoon three years ago, beaming, and announced he was ready to retire, Terakawa despaired.

" 'This is it,' I remember thinking. 'I am going to have to divorce him now,' " Terakawa recalled. "It was bad enough that I had to wait on him when he came home from work. But having him around the house all the time was more than I could possibly bear."

Concerned about her financial future if she divorced, Terakawa stuck with their marriage - only to become one of an extraordinary number of elderly Japanese women stricken with a disorder that experts here have recently begun diagnosing as retired husband syndrome, or RHS.

Feeling chained to the tradition of older women remaining utterly dedicated to their husbands' well-being, Terakawa said, she devoted herself to her spouse.

Retirement cut him off from his longtime office social network, leaving him virtually friendless and her with the strain of filling his empty time. Within a few weeks, she said, he was hardly leaving the house, watching television and reading the newspaper - and barking orders at her.

He often forbade her to go out with her friends. When he did let her go, Terakawa said, she had to prepare all his meals before leaving.

After several months, she developed stomach ulcers, her speech began to slur and rashes broke out around her eyes. When doctors discovered polyps in her throat but could find no medical reason for her sudden burst of ailments, she was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed stress-related RHS.

Terakawa began receiving therapy from Nobuo Kurokawa, a physician who is one of Japan's leading RHS experts. Kurokawa coined the term retired husband syndrome in a presentation to the Japanese Society of Psychosomatic Medicine in 1991, leading to its use in books, journals and mainstream media here.

Confirming Terakawa's account in an interview, Kurokawa said he offered her the same advice he has given numerous other older women in the same position.

"Come to therapy," he said. "Then spend as much time as possible away from your husband."

In Japan, retirement has become a risky business for many wives, who are finding the stress of their husband's presence at home unendurable.

Though after-retirement stress is a common problem in most developed countries as husbands and wives try to balance relationships in their twilight years, analysts say Japan has become extraordinary for myriad reasons - including the fact one-fifth of Japanese are now over 65, the highest percentage in the world.

Even as gender roles have changed for younger people here, with women entering the workforce in record numbers, older Japanese have remained far more rigid. As with most Japanese men of his generation, Terakawa's husband demanded strict obedience from her, she said, even while he spent his life almost entirely apart from her and their three children.

"I had developed my own life, my own way of doing things, in the years when he was never home," Terakawa said. She said she cannot even stand to look at her husband across the dinner table now and sits at an angle so she can stare out a window instead.


Flu Pandemic Not Yet A "Market Opportunity"

It has been a busy albeit rainy week, but the sun is finally here, as is lots of mail. Without giving a full list, and still putting off that book review i've been promising to write about, and ignoring what i want to say about that television show that was on the other night...

i can at least say with some joy that my November issue of Scientific American arrived in the mail yesterday, yippeee!!!

i haven't had time to read it all, but last night i did manage to get through the article "Preparing for a Pandemic" by W. Wayt Gibbs amd Christine Soares, about the influenza pandemic we're all supposed to be looking forward to.


Now i have no scientific training, and so my ability to critically judge stuff like this is limited, but just lifting a few points from the article is i believe enough to show that this is one issue we should all be thinking about:

  • "Flu pandemics emerge unpredictably every generation or so, with the last three striking in 1918, 1957 and 1968." Now, once you know they're going to happen every generation or so, that qualifies that innocent word "unpredictably" a bit, don't you think?
  • "The most fundamental thing to understand about serious pandemic influenza is that, except at a molecular level, the disease bears little resemblance to the flu we all get at some time." i.e. this is not your garden-variety cough-and-sneeze inconvenience, or as the authors state: "If the virus replicates much faster than the immune system learns to defend against it, it will cause severe and sometimes fatal illness, resulting in a pestilence that could easily claim more lives in a single year than AIDS has in 25." The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed between 20 and 40 million people.
  • "Because delays and shortages in producing vaccine against a pandemic are unavoidable, one of the most important functions of national pandemic plans is to push political leaders to decide in advance which groups will be the first to receive vaccine and how the government will enforce its rationing." And later, in case this isn't clear enough: "Once a pandemic goes global, responses will vary locally as individual countries with differing resources make choices based on political priorities as much as on science." Please note that this new opportunity for the ruling class to decide "who will live and who will die" will be operatve not only within, but also between different countries and continents; i.e. while people are talking in terms of "why can't we vaccinate everyone in the U.S.", you can bet your ass that they're not going to be vaccinating all or even most people in Africa.
  • But even for key sectors of the U.S. population there is nowhere near enough flu vaccine at present; once a new flu virus appears it can take as many as 8 months to develop to produce a new vaccine, and "At current production rates, a [vaccine] stockpile would never grow to the 228 million doses needed to cover the three highest priority groups [key government leaders, medical caregivers, workers in flu vaccine and drug factories, pregnant women, and those infants, elderly and ill people already in high-priority groups for annual flu shots], let alone the roughly 600 million doses that would be needed to vaccinate everyone in the U.S."
  • Partly the shortfall is unavoidable with current medical and technological knowhow, but it is also related to the economic system we are all trapped in. "We really don't see the pandemic itself as a market opportunity" in the words of James T. Matthews, who sits on the pandemic-planning working group of Sanofi-Aventis, the world's third lagest pharmaceutical company.
  • The solution according to Anothony S. Fauci, directior of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is simple: "we need to offer a number of incentives, ranging from liability insurance to better profit margins to guaranteed purchases."

So here we are again, stuck in a situation where knowledge and resources are monopolized by a capitalist enterprise, and we are left hoping that the other key capitalist institution - the State - will arrange to make things profitable enough for the capitalists to bother getting their act together to save some lives.

And the stakes? While it is impossible to know for sure which strain will mutate into the next pandemic, the most likely candidate is a little guy called H5N1 (the bird flu virus you've all heard so much about). "Fatality rates in diagnosed H5N1 victims are runing about 50 percent. Even if that fell to 5 percent as the virus traded virulence for transmisibility among people, [World Healh Organization advisor and University of Virginia virologist Frederick G.] Hayden warns, 'it would still represent a death rate double [that of] 1918, and that's despite modern technologies like antibiotics and ventilators."

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Worth Missing: The Family That Eats Soil

Five minutes into "The Family That Eats Soil", i felt like leaving the cinema. But the "educational" hook had me, the feeling that "i should know what people are into", if only to be able to criticize it.

Then about an hour later i realized that i wasn't seeing "what people are into" either... i was just wasting my time...

...Those "gruesome" scenes with raspberry jam for blood and needlessly needless pseudo-sex or violence scenes could not mask the fact that this was merely an adult version of those moronic experimental kids shows that somehow made it onto tv in the 70s. The ones you settled for watching when sesame street wasn't on. We're talking just one hairs breadth above static here... no plot, no message, no story, just a pastiche of boring scenes, one after another.
If you're the kind of person who has been conned into thinking that inkblots have deep meaningful messages, that dada was revolutionary or that white noise is great music, then maybe you'll like "The Family That Eats Soil". As for myself, i almost slept through it.
The guy who made it, Khavn De La Cruz, actually seems like he may have some interesting ideas, for instance you can check out his Manifesto for a Filmless Philippines, and the film actually seems interesting if you read what it says about it on his site, but note his point number ten, where he says "Take care of the quantity. God will take care of the quality"... i guess that's what he aimed for here, and so if all 75 minute movies are equal, then i guess you can't go wrong whatever you choose to watch.

Some free advice regardless: go watch something else!

P.S. i guess i did learn something fropm this movie. i learnt that the getting pretentious reviews using the word "punk" in them doesn't actually mean yuor movie is any better than what you leave in the toilet after your morning ump. Check out, for instance, the canned quote i have found on several internet sites describing this wste of time:

With his crisp, 75-minute The Family That Eats Soil, Khavn De La Cruz provided a hyper-condensed punk-trash take on Philippine family politics. At times it plays like a de-Pasolinized version of Takashi Miike's Visitor Q, at others like an absurdist experimental bomba flick. Yet it always feels as if cinema is about to end and only no-holds-barred videomaking can save the world.


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Sunday, October 16, 2005


..for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water..
- Isaiah 35:6-7

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
We don't need no water let the motherfucker burn
Burn motherfucker, burn
- The Roof in On Fire, Bloodhound Gang

OK, a few random thoughts because i really don’t feel like getting into Waring’s book today – just finished reading it, second half is much better than the first half, but… i need a break!

It has been raining here for about a week – goodbye summer heat! – and so perhaps it is only natural that i have water on my brain.

Here’s what i’ve been thinking…
  • water is pretty heavy – you can see a chart here of exactly how heavy, but you can sum it up by saying that 1 liter weighs about 1 kilogram

  • According to the Canadian Environmental Law Association, “Sales of bottled water over the last ten years have been steadily increasing – in Canada per capita consumption has risen from 14.6 litres per person in 1994 to about 15.8 litres per person in 1998. In the United States the increase has been much more dramatic – with bottled water sales up by 68 per cent, and an average consumption of 53 litres per person.”

  • According to a study conducted earlier this year by Toronto Public Health and McMaster University, the air pollution that causes smog kills 818 people every year in Montreal, extreme cold kills 143 people and extreme heat kills anoher 121 - my guess would be that like those 14 homeless people who baked to death during a Phoenix heatwave earlier this year, those who die of heat are often dying from a lack of water. Want to know how many of those people who died of "extreme temperatures" and smog in Montreal were homeless? Me too, but from what i can see nobody bothers to keep track of deaths of homeless people here...

  • on July 14th 1987, one of our horrible Montreal heatwaves got broken by a storm that dumped 103 mm of rain within a two hour period – the Decarie expressway turned into a river and for years someone was putting up posters around town suggesting that the storm was a literal Act of God to either punish Quebec nationalism or Canadian federalism – it was never clear which.

  • Outside of the First World, one person in four lack access to clean drinking water – that’s over a billion people. Every day 4,000 children die because they do not have access to clean water. Or more accurately, we should say capitalism has denied them access to clean drinking water.

  • earlier this year Susan Murcott, a Boston-based engineering consultant at Ecosystems Engineering and a Lecturer at MIT, had this to say about water: “In Haiti, where there is a drought currently, I witnessed the women carrying the water. The mountain road/path they had to climb up and down was about 2 miles each way. The women carried 5 gallon buckets on their heads, filled with water (= 40 pounds). The water source in the valley was practically dry, a mere trickle of water, and that source served 8,000 people.” (see:

  • it has been years and years since i was in chemistry class (secondary 4!), but from memory you can see why a substance (like water) weighs what it does by looking at the molecular weight of its individual components. Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen: hydrogen has a molecular weights of 1.008 and oxygen has a molecular weight of 15.999, so i get to blame exactly 15999/18015th (or just under 89%) of that kilo on oxygen.

  • Of the water available from West Bank aquifers, Israel uses 73%, West Bank Palestinians use 17%, and illegal Jewish settlers use 10%. (source: Palestine Monitor Factsheet on Water)

  • If you’re average, your body has five quarts of blood, and 55% of that is blood plasma – “a straw-colored, clear liquid that is 90 percent water.”

  • Although oxygen may account for 89% of water’s weight, it is pretty inaccessible - which is why it is so easy for us to drown. Even the little air bubbles which float around in healthy lakes and oceans are spread out in such a way that there is only 1/20 the amount of oxygen accessible in water as in the same volume of air - which is why fish need gills.

  • Hyponatremia is a fancy name for getting drunk on water, or water intoxication – it happens when you get too much water in your system and your brain begins to swell, and then water seeps into your lungs. You get nauseous and can't breathe, may pass out, may suffer all kinds of ill effects. You can even die from this, either from the brain swelling or from pulmonary edema. Most of us pee when we have too much water in us, but marathon runners who take too much water during their races and kids on ecstasy (which suppresses your urge to urinate) sometimes forget to do this.

  • “In 1993 Ontario's NDP government downloaded the costs for testing drinking water onto the municipalities. At this time the province was still responsible for the actual testing of water in provincially funded laboratories. Municipalities paid closely regulated government labs for this vital service.” Three years later the Tories privatized these testing labs. “Figures from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union show that 42% of the workers employed by the Ministry to test water samples were laid off, reducing the number of workers from 113 to 42.” (Source:

  • When supplies of water are low in the summer months, the Israeli water company Mekorot closes the valves which supply Palestinian towns and villages so as not to affect Israeli supplies. This means that illegal Israeli settlers can have their swimming pools topped up and lawns watered while Palestinians living next to them, on whose land the settlements are situated, do not have enough water for drinking and cooking. (Source: Palestine Monitor’s Factsheet on Water)

  • A 1999 study by the National Resources Defense Council found that in general the only difference between bottled and tap water was that bottled water was less rigorously tested, and thus more likely to be contaminated with gems or pollution; in fact 25% of bottled water was actually just bottled tap water!

  • Spring rains in 2000 washed cow shit into the Walkerton, Ontario town well. Tests revealed that e. coli bacteria was swimming in the water but the privatized lab failed to share this information with either the public or the public health authorities – 2,300 people got sick with bloody diarrhea and seven people died.

  • Under the Duvalier regime, a venture was established to sell the blood plasma of Haitians on the international market (who said imperialism doesn’t have blood on its hands?) When asked about this plan, biochemist Werner A. Thrill (technical supervisor of the operation), asked reporters: “If the Haitians don’t sell their blood, what do you want them to do with it?” (Source: The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer, p. 45)

  • In July 2003 Israel’s Transport Minister Avigdor Lieberman offered to arrange for buses to drive Palestinian political prisoners to the seaside, for he had ideas of how to use that natural abundance of water. He explained: “It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that’s the lowest point in the world.”

This is how a science site i was checking out explains why water doesn’t burn even though all it is made of is oxygen and hydrogen - both of which are very flammable:

“The burning process in the case of oxygen and hydrogen is relatively simple. If you put together suitable volumes of hydrogen and oxygen and provide a spark to start the reaction, one oxygen atom will combine with two hydrogen atoms, and will release energy in the process. The energy gets released in the form of molecular kinetic energy, and since the motion is random, this is exactly what we call heat energy. The gases heat up, and as all expanding gases do, they expand. That fast expansion of hot gases is what we call ‘an explosion’.

What is the result of this burning/explosion? The answer is simple, if the proportions were right (one volume of oxygen for two volumes of hydrogen gas) all you get is water! Thus, water is already burnt. It is the ‘ashes’ of hydrogen after it has burned.”

Ain’t that cute? Water is the ‘ashes’ of burnt hydrogen and oxygen!

It made me wonder: what are we the ashes of? Could it be that at our best, the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-patriarchal movements might be described as the ashes of something that came before, an echo of a world past, what some call “primitive communism” and others remember as life before imperialism?

While reading Marilyn Waring’s book today (ah, i couldn’t completely avoid the topic forever) i had a pessimistic moment. She was describing – in a way that i may criticize in a future post – how women are enmeshed in society, are everywhere, and how of all groups for women it is most undeniably “right to rebel”, and she was arguing that if properly energized and catalyzed and mobilized this ubiquity could make women an explosive social force.

My pessimistic moment was as follows: i thought to myself that if you want to put out a fire you throw water on it. You don’t worry about the fact that water consists of hydrogen and oxygen (both of them explosive elements), you know that unless it’s an electric or grease fire you’re dealing with, those “explosive flammable elements” will put out your fire. Just because a group of people is “everywhere” and should theoretically explode doesn’t actually mean they will…

Depressing? Sure, but then this is what occurred to me:

If i burn my tofu into a charred mess i can’t turn it back into tofu again, but that’s because it’s “organic” (meaning it used to be alive, not meaning anything like it’s pesticide-free). Water is inorganic, which means that you can freeze it, evaporate it, “burn” it (to use the above example), etc. and it can pass through these different states to and fro with no real difficulty. Water is versatile. (This is a “from memory” use of the term organic, so y’know i may be wrong – but that’s how i remember it being explained to me, and regardless of the correct term to use what i’m saying about water’s malleability is true!)

So you can take water, which will put out most fires and is described as the mere “ashes of hydrogen”, and run an electric current through it (as described here) and… you get hydrogen and oxygen again!

This process is called electrolysis, and it has all kinds of industrial applications (from what i understand, it is different from the process used to permanently remove hair, even though that is also called elecrolysis), but what struck me was that our political theory and practice must aim to be like electrolysis – “social electrolysis”, transforming us from elements that drown out revolt and put out fires into flammable elements, ones that need only a spark to start an explosion…

And that’s what i have been thinking about, in the way of water…