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20 September 2014

Seward Cafe at 40

My best story so far, in my own opinion, was picked up by Twin Cities Daily Planet:

The Seward Café, which turns 40 years old some time this year, is a study in contradictions. Although it’s known for its longevity, laying claim to being both the oldest collectively-managed business in the Twin Cities and the oldest collectively-managed restaurant/-café in the U.S., its actual collectives seem to turn over completely about every seven years. Although the café has never been totally vegetarian (the principle is even enshrined in its charter), it has always remained a favorite among vegans and vegetarians. This is probably due to its great range of vegan baked goods and its adherence to an ethos of care with its veg customers by assuring careful separation in the kitchen and full disclosure of ingredients. And further, although it looks small and scruffy and like anything but a gourmet haven, some of its food items are nearly legendary in their greatness. And its amazing survival attests to its success with the public.
The current collective has an average age somewhere in the mid to late 20s, and an average time as collective member of just a few years. Benjamin Acaso, 32, who joined the collective in 2008, is one of the senior members. The hiring process is still the same as it’s been since the early 1980s: A prospective member is hired under what is called “intake,” and after a probationary period, they may choose to join the collective and become an owner-manager. Some choose to remain on as shift-workers, but most choose the path of workplace democracy. Benjamin admits it’s not easy going to long, frequent collective meetings and making decisions by consensus, but he and the other members believe strongly that they make better decisions because of it. “And I don’t ever want to have a boss,” he says.
The decisions are working, so he must be right. One decision that was struggled over for a long time was whether or not to accept credit cards. The anti-corporate, slightly Luddite gene is very dominant in the counterculture even now in the iPod generation. But in 2012, they finally decided to do it, and this was a transformative decision that immediately increased business and allowed new directions to open up. Some of these new directions were actually a return to the roots. In March 2013, the Café switched from closing at 3 p.m. to closing at 11 p.m., also adding (back) beer and wine sales and live music. The collective expected to lose money at first when they switched hours and added new, unfamiliar dinner items. But to their delight, they actually increased profits almost immediately. With no cover charge, musicians are paid 15% of bar sales plus tips, drink tickets and meals if they’re touring.
There are a lot of parallels between Benjamin’s take on the Seward Café and that of Barbara Jensen (or Barb as she was known at the time) one of the founding collective members. Barb said not all of the founders and early collective members were counter-culture, “some were musicians,” for instance. And Benjamin, in talking about the current collective’s desire to bring back live music, mentioned that many of the collective are also in bands of their own.
In 1974, Barb Jensen was one of four full-time employees at the Seward Co-op, then located where Welna II hardware store is now. The space where the café now sits was a 3-2 bar called the Fireside Inn which had recently closed. A group comprising Barb and two other co-op employees, Mike Bird and Lori Zuidema, and Howard Hickman, who was a co-op volunteer, schemed to buy the Fireside Inn and found the Seward Café, a worker-owned and run café that would continue to serve the neighborhood, but serve it better. They each contributed what money they could for the purchase, and in the first years, worked essentially as volunteers. Barb remembers those early collective meetings starting out with the question, OK, who needs what? Who needs rent, who’s having their electricity shut off, whose car just died? Like that. It was pure primitive communism, but the spirit was utopian anarchism.
And then, barely a year after the café opened, the Twin Cities was embroiled in the Co-op Wars. Along with the Seward Co-op across the street, the café in the years 1975 and 1976 was a haven for the resistance against the Co-operative Organization, or CO, which was seeking to “take over” co-ops across the Twin Cities, often violently. But ironically, and here those contradictions are again, even though the Seward Café was stalwartly anti-CO, they had already institutionalized some of the better ideas the CO was trying to push onto all co-ops dogmatically—they were open late, they kept prices low, they served hamburgers and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
One thing Barb says that came out of the Co-op Wars was an increasing “legalization” of the co-ops, both worker-owned and the new model for food co-ops, consumer-owned. This was a good thing in the end, and the legal, in-the-system framework—putting the land in a trust, having a charter and rules to govern the collective, using proper accounting procedures—all manage to contain the anarchist heart of the Seward Café and enable it to live on through all the changes, whether economic or ideological. Barb went on to help found DANCE Warehouse, to be a major participant in the All Co-ops Assembly (ACA—which no longer exists) and the Peoples Center on the West Bank (which still does.) She went back to school, got a masters degree, taught at Metro State, and is now a community and counseling psychologist. A working-class girl who became radicalized in her late teens, she is also the author of a book, “Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America” (Cornell Press, 2012).
Benjamin believes the Seward Café will survive at least another 40 years. So many people love the righteous pancakes, the CP Iced Coffee, the vegan cookies and muffins, the Earth Breakfast. And now they are coming in for local food like Tempeh Tantrum, LaPerla tortillas and craft beers. The Seward Café is successful enough to be a help to other collective businesses, such as Hard Times Café. And ultimately, as Benjamin says, “the community won’t let us die.” A 40th anniversary celebration is being planned for some time in the late fall.
© 2014 Southside Pride

08 September 2014

I make the big time


I got a tweet for my story in Southside Pride, which was then picked up in Twin Cities Daily Planet:

01 September 2014

Colonization in the 21st Century

A new way is emerging for banksters (the international variety in this case) to use debt as a weapon, even if it's low-class debt they purchased for pennies on the dollar. Portside Moderator, one of my new favorite sources of news and opinion, has this article about Argentina's bold defiance of the vulture capitalists trying to liquidate their country.

01 July 2014

One of my heroines - Selina Burch, CWA Organizer (amongst other things)

I went out Googling Selina Burch and found this.  I was just saying to a friend of mine, I would love to write a novel about the 1954 Southern Bell strike. I cannot find a picture of her from any era at all, so the above is a picture of the CWA strike of 1954, which was about the time she said "the rebel in me started to come out."

20 April 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies at age 87


Colombia declares three days of mourning for Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of the enormously influential 100 Years of Solitude, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, passed away Thursday, April 17. He was 87.

19 March 2014

Remembering Tony Benn

Tony Benn was one of the best things about the UK. He will be missed. Here is a great article about him from Portside Moderator.
In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person — Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates — ask them five questions: ‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?’ If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.

I just realized that there are no comments enabled on this blog any more. I think it's because, having a customized CSS template, I was using an external comment manager and they "went out of business" or something. Just went, anyway. I wanted to make a funny comment. I just realized that this post and the four preceding it are about "Four Obituaries and A Wedding". 

18 November 2013

Doris Lessing, 22 October 1919 – 17 November 2013


Doris Lessing, author of The Golden Notebook and many other novels and a few non-fiction works, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, died yesterday at the age of 94. As Alexandra Schwarz noted in her wonderful New Yorker blog post ,"On Doris Lessing and Not Saying Thank You", The NYT in its obituary of her sounded "a tone of peevish, gawking reproach. (Much better to read Margaret Atwood’s wonderful tribute in the Guardian.)" It is ever thus with the boldly unconventional female.

06 October 2013

Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap dies at 101 or 102

Bet you didn't know he was still alive. Well, I didn't; I was surprised. Reading the NYT obituary - it sure takes me back.

05 September 2013

My brother Kevin

September 3, 2013

Richard ‘Kevin’ Keefer

Mr. Richard “Kevin” Keefer, 52, passed away Aug. 29, 2013, after a long battle with cancer, surrounded by loved ones.

Mr. Keefer was born in Atlanta on Feb. 3, 1961, the son of Dolores and Clyde A. Keefer. He attended Dalton High School from 1975 to 1978 and was a member of Dalton First United Methodist Church. He also earned the rank of Eagle Scout and shared his love of Scouting and the Atlanta Braves with his father. Kevin loved to cook and grow his own vegetables. He was an avid hunter and enjoyed being in the outdoors with his hunting buddies. He was a loyal friend and kind-hearted and gentle man.

Mr. Keefer had a long career in emergency services in the area, mostly with the city of Chatsworth. He served as an emergency medical technician with the Dalton Ambulance and Murray County EMS, 24 years with Chatsworth Fire Department as a firefighter and as fire chief from 1987 to 2005. He was also a building inspector.

He is survived by a large, loving family consisting of his parents, Clyde and Dolores Keefer of Chatsworth; his three daughters, Kierston, Kimberly and Katlynn, all of Chatsworth; his brothers, David (Rene) Keefer of Jacksonville, Ala., and Scott Keefer of Atlanta; and his sisters, Deb Keefer (Lewis) Ramage of Minneapolis, Minn., Cynthia Keefer Patton (Denny Fitterling) of Kansas City, Mo., and Dr. Denise Keefer (Bill) Runge of Helena, Mont. He is also survived by his nephews and nieces, Aimee Whatley of Portland, Ore., Carey Hunton Carter of Atlanta, Shane Tyler (Crystal) Patton of Gulfport, Miss., Joshua and Jacob von Herrmann of Hattiesburg, Miss., and Elizabeth Keefer of Jacksonville, Ala.

A private memorial service will be held in the future when his family will gather to remember him.

Mr. Keefer will be cremated and his ashes spread at his favorite hunt camp when his friends gather and celebrate his life.

In lieu of flowers, Kevin requested donations be made to the Boy Scouts of America in his honor.

The family would also like to thank his close friends, Judy and Gifford Laney, Kevin Ballew, the wonderful people of hospice and Chatsworth Health Care Center, and so many others for all they did for Kevin during the last months of his too short life.

Condolences may be left for the family at www.GeorgiaFuneralCare.com.

Georgia Funeral Care and Cremation Services is proud to be serving this family; (678) 574-3016.

26 June 2013

Book review on Deborama's Books - Borkmann's Point, by Håkan Nesser


My quiet return to blogging is heralded by a nice cozy book review.

See above post....Also see Occupirate

I am inspired by teaching my friend CJ Sparrow how to blog on his new blog, Occupirate, to renew my own blogging. So, first I will try to make a Deborama's Books post with the review every time I register a book on Bookcrossing (and I will also try to register every book I read on Bookcrossing.) Later, I will do some serious political blogging here. I have been saving it up, so I have a lot to say.

24 July 2012

20 May 2012

H.R. 347: The Strange History of the Bill with the Confusingly Euphemistic Title


The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act.*
One of the few liberal media sources to cover the bill called it the anti-Occupy bill, but internal Occupy-related media seem to be largely ignoring it. The Tea Party is outraged by it, but nobody else thinks it’s aimed at the Tea Party. The Senate passed it unanimously and Obama signed it, but the few constitutional experts to review it are adamant that it’s unconstitutionally vague. Even the House, over two votes, could only muster three votes against it. And what is the bit in the title about “Grounds Improvement”?  Is that some kind of sick joke?
The bill in question carries the official title of The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. It passed 399 to 3 in the House in 2011, was amended and then passed unanimously by the Senate in 2012, then the amended version passed the House 388 to 3 in 2012. President Obama signed it on March 8, 2012.  The “Grounds Improvement” riddle is solved by reading the introduction, or by more careful explication in the blog post from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund “H.R. 347: Get the Truth on the New ‘Protest Law’”.  As the introduction to the bill itself explains, it is an act …To correct and simplify the drafting of section 1752 (relating to restricted buildings or grounds) of title 18, United States Code.  So it’s not the grounds being “improved”, it’s the original law, which was enacted in 1971 and then substantially amended in 2006.
What many of the more hysterical postings about the passage of H.R. 347 fail to note is that the dangerously vague and overreaching language they are objecting to was present at least from 2006. But there was one noticeable “improvement” that is a new departure. Despite blog posts to the contrary, the act does NOT make infringements that were previously misdemeanors now felonies and it does NOT add new scope to the powers of either the Secret Service or the Department of Homeland Security. These constitutional failings and likely infringements of First Amendment rights were already present in the 2006 rewrite to the federal code. What the act does empower, potentially, is the easier prosecution of a defendant who has committed one of the proscribed acts.
The most significant change was to remove the words “willfully and” before “knowingly” in the description of the crimes in the 2006 act. What this means is, if the law itself or this change to the law is not struck down as unconstitutional, that a protester, for example, does not need to be proven to have known that their alleged trespass was illegal.  As the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund explains, “As amended, a conviction arguably only requires proof that a person ‘knowingly entered’ a certain area. This is an effort to lower the bar for prosecutors who would, arguably, no longer have to prove that a person knew his conduct was unlawful.” Or, as the Senate bill sponsor Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said, it will “improve the law enforcement tools available to the Secret Service in its attempts to protect the President, the Vice President, and others on a day-to-day basis by closing loopholes in the current federal law.” Loopholes?  Tools? An interesting spin.
This law has not really been tested for constitutionality yet, whether we are talking about the new “improved” version where you don’t even need to know the action was forbidden by the law, or the original law itself. Those commenters who realize that H.R. 347 is an amendment to a law that was already a “bad law” in the words of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund point to its vagueness and potential for abuse. A self-described Constitutional scholar associated with the Tea Party, KrisAnne Hall, although she does not mention that the language she is concerned about was part of the 2006 law and not newly introduced in H.R.347, does make a very important first amendment point in this article quoted extensively by the Gainesville Tea Party

The protected right of the people peaceably to assemble is something that has fundamental and historical foundations.  Our founders established a clear “no trespassing sign” in our first amendment to keep the government away from this fundamental right.  “Congress shall make no law abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”    Legislation in the Congress seems to be treading on the grounds of this constitutionally restricted territory.
The right to orderly conduct government is NOT a Constitutionally protected right. However we DO have the right to free speech and the right to peaceably assemble.  Our Constitution establishes the fundamental principle rights to speech and assembly are held by the people and the government must protect these rights, not limit them.

But again, this language was pre-existing in the U. S. Code. And although several constitutional scholars agree that it is but one of several flaws in the existing law, it needs to be tested before one can assert absolutely that it is against First Amendment rights.

And perhaps it will be very soon. When the 2006 law was written, the country was under a Republican administration. There had been no credit crisis, no austerity push (indeed, Federal spending was at an unprecedented high, mainly due to the war in Iraq) and there was no Tea Party. When the 2011 amendment, H.R. 347, was first proposed in 2011, it may have been directed at the Tea Party. But more likely it was in anticipation of both major parties’ upcoming national conventions, of a flood of Republican presedential contenders under Secret Service protection, and also in remembrance of highly volatile protests at G8, G20, NATO and other world “summit” meetings. It certainly could not have been the “anti-Occupy” bill, because OWS had not happened yet.
But it may be Occupy that tests it, for the next NSSE or “National Special Security Event” (this is one circumstance that can invoke the law, and includes all of the above as well as one recent Super Bowl) is the NATO Summit meeting in May in Chicago. And Occupy movements and affinity groups around the country and the world are even now planning an overwhelming and highly committed protest presence at this event, in most cases quite unaware of the constitutional challenge potentially hanging over their actions. 
*This article was originally written for print publication in a small Occupy newsletter but for complex reasons was never published there. I have changed it slightly to embed the links.

18 April 2012

America's Oldest Teenager


Dick Clark, long-time host of American Bandstand, has died at the age of 82.

14 December 2011

A Book Review on my books blog - The Polish Officer by Alan Furst



(Copy of a post on Deborama's Book Reviews and Store) Well, it's not often I review and blog a book I have only read one chapter of. In fact, it's not often I review and blog books at all anymore. And maybe I am more jetlagged and culture-shocked than I thought I was, or maybe it really was that good. I just read the first chapter of The Polish Officer by Alan Furst, entitled The Pilawa Local. I was in tears. It made me wish I was Polish. And to all my Polish friends, my God, you come from a noble people, and I am heartily sorry if ever in my careless youth I retold or even laughed at a Polack joke, no matter how good-natured.

17 November 2011

How to save the economy

I predicted way back in 2008 that the recession soon to follow what was then just a "credit crisis" would last 15 years. Everybody said I was crazy. Now when I remind them, they just tell me to shut up. I was going to indulge my inner economics genius and post a blog about how and why this would occur, but of course, my inner trailer trash layabout kept me from doing it. And then I got laid off (American) or made redundant (British), and my life became so complex I didn't have the energy to even consider it. In the last couple of weeks, like a dam breaking but in reverse, my life has got a lot simpler. I now know (more or less) what I am going to do and when. So to the blog... But wait! I am not going to do the 15-year recession blog (now only 13 years of it left, of course.) The time for that has passed. The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on. Instead...
I didn't think Paul Krugman could ever become more of a hero to me than he already was. But he has. He has a cunning plan to save the US economy, and of course, it's based a bit more on history than on pure economics. If you have closely studied the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing 10-year depression, you will know that it was more due to an outbreak of war in Europe than to government or Fed policies that America began to be productive again around 1939-40. And you will know that there have been quite a few vague historical echoes in our current fiasco as well. So Krugman's idea is that the government should give up on economy-tittivating, which they are frankly no good at anyway, and fake an alien invasion.

18 October 2011

Marie Haff - a dear friend gone

Marie Haff, my friend since 1984 when I first moved to the Twin Cities along with her son, passed away last week. We had drifted apart geographically, especially when I moved to England, but then she started trading in antiques after her official retirement, and was making periodic trips to Lincolnshire to buy British antiques. So we were able to reconnect, and my husband and I even managed to meet up with her in Horncastle one day several years ago. I took this picture of her a little over a month ago at a family gathering in rural Minnesota. I am so sad that when I finally manage to make my move back to Minneapolis, there will be no more meetings or chats with Marie. She was a very special woman.

06 October 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011


Back to obituary blogging, an increasing number of the subjects of which are nowadays my own generation. Jobs, yeah, he was younger than I am. But what a massive impact he has had on the way this century looks and feels. And the way we communicate and live our lives. A ten page obituary in the NYT, you have to admit, the boy done good! Most of the articles, both recent ones on his illnes and early retirement, and corporate ones showcasing his recent accomplishments, show a contemporary Jobs with his grey hair, his black turtleneck and his visionary gaze into the future he knows he won't be here to share. I have chosen an innocent shot with his proud creations of 1984. The boy is the father of the man.

14 September 2011

Minneapolis in retrospect


I arrived back in the UK on the 6th of September, very jet-lagged, and then promptly fell ill. Apologies for the big delay in updating my blog, but then most of my activity, as I have mentioned before, is documented on Facebook. But the archive-index is a lot better here.

I was not successful in finding a job in the Twin Cities, but then that would have been almost miraculous, so I wasn't really expecting to. I was not as successful as I would have liked in laying the groundwork for finding a job, which was disappointing, but largely due to two facts - 1) I did open a credit union account and (I think) buy a condo, but it took a lot more time and energy than I was expecting, and 2) the social scene also took up more time than I was planning for. One of the big surprises of the trip was that my old comrades in the DSA and some new friends who have joined while I was away were so incredibly welcoming and positive about my imminent return to their company. KB, now holding my old post of "only permanent female member" became an instant friend and we discovered loads of common interests, and the old stalwarts really touched me with their insistence that they had missed me terribly and were thrilled to have me back.
Other social events included meeting up with old friends Janet and her daughter Michael, and seeing Michael's three children who I had known only as online photos, seeing Krista and Ben's "new" baby Oskar, along with of course Krista and Ben, and coffee with Loren, with catching up and a little discussion about my possible career choices. I found to my sorrow and distress that Marie, whom I love very much, is suffering a very severe form of cancer, and was able to spend a few hours with her, and also with her son Doug, an ex-bf now married with adult son. My dear friend Lou, whose world is a chaotic whirl completely outwith her control, nevertheless ferried me around, introduced me to Savers, accompanied Dianne and me on a few condo visits and lent me a smartphone for the duration, all of which made my trip a lot easier. I visited Walker Church and caught up with friends too numerous to mention. And finally I must give thanks and more thanks to both Steve S. and KC B., who picked me up and dropped me off respectively at the airport and housed me in their homes for eight and seven days respectively.
No hotel reviews this trip, but I will do some foodie reviews and others on Qype, Yelp, Trip Advisor and Deborama's Kitchen. I also read a really good book or two, which I want to review on Deborama's Book Reviews and Store.

23 August 2011

Minneapolis

I'm in Minneapolis, takin' care of some business. I was going to post a blog from Keflavik airport on my way here, but their darned wifi was not connected to the internet for some reason. That was my first public wifi blog some years ago and I thought it would be cool to do a repeat.

10 August 2011

Another little birdie passed away

Holly passed away last night, suddenly, as budgies do. Holly is the one on the left above; the one on the right, Pearl, passed some time ago. I think Holly was between 5 and 7 years old. He has some offspring out there somewhere, thanks to a little breeding holiday he took care of Cindy, our friend who used to live near here. Here is our current roll call of birds and other critters:

  • Toby, a white, totally deaf English bull terrier / Jack Russell cross, male, neutered, drama queen, thinks he's a cat
  • Max and Chewy, a pair of gorgeous Blue&Gold Macaws
  • Fred, a cockatoo
  • Leslie and Freddy, a pair of Amazons
  • Four! Hahn's macaws (we now have more Hahn's macaws than budgies) : Han, Vernie, Kermie and Harry (we think they are all males)
  • Three budgies : Bill-or-Ben, Little Bob (who is female, and she made babies with Holly) and Nelson (also female)
We are also temporarily boarding a pair of parrotlets, whom I have provisionally named Oscar and Lucinda. Of course, in truth, all these critters are Lewis's, although I do contribute a bit to their care. Quite a lot to Toby's, almost none at all to Fred, who would rip my hand off if I tried to handle him.
Lewis has been making some forays into the world of web design on behalf of the charity he is an officer of, Soft Landing.

The problem with social media

Well, I am on Google+, have been there a while. Definitely still on Facebook, where truthfully most of my online "activity" occurs. My problem with social media vs. old-fashioned blogging (funny that something becomes really old-fashioned in about 7 years) is one I have not heard expressed a lot. I really took to blogging, because it's sort of like being a self-published author and sort of like being an amateur journalist and sort of like keeping a diary. Social media, even if you post frequently and participate enthusiastically, is nothing like that.

Here's the thing. I just last week submitted my (£900!) application for naturalization as a British citizen. I had to recreate my travel journal for the last 5 years for the proof of residency section. Now obviously the passport is the first place to check. But as an American, I didn't always get a stamp on entering the US, and amongst my UK stamps and one Spain stamp and two Ireland stamps, they are not all that legible. So back when I was posting regularly here, I had a record of my travels, all nicely dated and indexed. But as I lazily moved over to Facebook, well it might be there somewhere, but it's almost impossible to look up and the only way to access it is to page backward literally forever (or however long FB keeps them, and frankly, my paging finger got tired.)
Here's another little gripe that may be almost unique to me: I am on this app for sharing blogs on FB, so this post will go there automatically (I think; of course, FB does keep changing stuff.) But to cross-post to Google+ is a major hassle, and you do wonder if it's worth it.
Blogger and mainly this blog is now an aide memoire for me, and also a memory lane trip, having recorded a lot of major events in my life, like Thanksgivings spent with family, death of most of our pets, birthdays I got to celebrate with Savannah, especially nice meals I cooked or books I read. But from about 2007 onwards, I just haven't been posting enough, and there are gaps in the record. Of course, it's a cop-out for me to blame FB, let alone Google. I just need to proper-blog more.

25 June 2011

Peter Falk Obituary


Yesterday, actor Peter Falk passed away. Columbo may not have been the greatest detective show of all time, but it's amazing how Falk's brilliant character study has influenced future TV and film detectives, especially, I think, in British crime drama. And of course, I will always remember and love Peter Falk especially for his role as "Grand-dad" in The Princess Bride, one of the best cult movies of all time. He also starred in several serious films, including Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence by his friend, director John Cassavetes. And he had a great reputation as an actor on the New York stage as well.

05 April 2011

Deborama...

This blog seems to be more and more about obituaries these days. I don't know if it's a sign of my age, or just the fact that it's so easy to post on Facebook that I only post here when I have something personal to say.

Manning Marable, 1950 - 2011


I was sad to learn of the relatively early passing of Manning Marable, a leading light of the DSA and a great historian, essayist and academic. Tragically, he died just three days before the ultimate culmination of his life's work, the publication of his eagerly awaited biography of Malcolm X. Although Marable had published several other non-academic works of history or political philosophy, the Malcolm X biography will probably establish his name with the public in a way these more obscure books could not. But to democratic socialists, students of African-American studies and the culturally aware, Marable was already in the highest ranks. He will be sorely missed.

27 March 2011

Geraldine Ferraro

Feminist icon Geraldine Ferraro, pictured in 2007, the first female vice-presidential candidate to run on a major political ticket, died Saturday 26 March from lung cancer.

25 March 2011

Remember the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire - 100 years today

On this day in 1911, 146 sweatshop workers died in a horrible fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Some of the workers were as young as 14, most were immigrants and many were young women and girls. Read about the fire. Don't mourn, organize.

Deborama...

... you don't see any posts for weeks, and then three come along at once!

Farewell to Liz


The New York Times has this great Elizabeth Taylor timeline.

And when I heard that she was interred already, I thought that might mean that she had stayed faithful to Judaism all these decades after conversion, and so it did. I am glad. And while we're on the subject, there is something kind of grisly about our modern western "Christian" predilection for funerals days and even weeks after the death. The Muslims and the Jews are much more seemly in this respect.

15 March 2011

RIP: Owsley "Bear" Stanley


Owsley Stanley, known to Deadheads as simply "Bear", has died following a traffic accident at the age of 76. He was also known as a pioneer of the psychedelic drug culture and the producer of the highest quality LSD ever made, as a one-time financial backer and early sound engineer to the Grateful Dead and as the first of the "tapers", a community of music activists / deadheads who carefully chronicled virtually every note of every Grateful Dead concert on a myriad of private audio tapes that were always swapped or given away free.

03 January 2011

Things that make me crazy

I was watching a comedy (show or film, don't remember, probably British rather than American) where a comedy bigoted character said about immigrants (paraphrase) : they are lazy, they don't want to work and they come over here and take our jobs. He said this all in one sentence, oblivious to the irony (or something) of what he was saying, and even when a more level-headed character pointed out that they were either lazy OR job-stealing, but obviously not both, he didn't get it. So this was comedy, right?

A few days later, today, I was watching a supposedly serious show about "benefit fraud" on a supposedly serious BBC channel. They featured a story about a woman who came from Ghana to the UK, illegally forged a new identity based on a stolen British passport with her photo substituted and a faked birth certificate and faked educational credentials. she then got a job with the NHS which she had for several years (I am guessing from the earnings cited below seven to ten years.) Most of the fraud involved here was pretty ham-fisted; her birth certificate said Lutterworth, which is in Leicestershire, but then said County of Surrey (hundreds of miles away.) (For Americans, this is sort of like saying Sacramento, Illinois, only even more impossible.) Also, some documents implied she had never left the UK after being born here, but her fake diplomas were from Ghana. And implausibly had a photo on them. The same photo as on her stolen passport. So, look here, I am not saying she is a hero, or not a fraudster, or not a criminal. I am not defending her. But this is how the BBC summed up the story. This woman was said to have earned £230,000 plus a £40,000 "bursary" (not sure what that is, but I am guessing some kind of grant for either work or education.) So they claimed her fraud had COST British taxpayers (which includes me) £270,000, or "over a quarter of a million". But wait a minute, this woman was also a British taxpayer. And she didn't COST the country £230K of that, since presumably they got at least nearly that much value from her in service to the NHS. Oh, but here's the real kicker, just as ignorant in its way as that "lazy and steal our jobs" line: the woman is now in prison for many years! So she is "paying back that debt to society." No, she is now costing the British taxpayers (including me) probably about 10 times as much per annum to support in a prison, doing nothing of worth, as she was paying in taxes while committing her crime. Is it just me, or is this FREAKING INSANE?

27 October 2010

UK's BA chief says boo to US flight security rules

Here are two viewpoints on the same story, one from The New York Times and one from The Guardian (UK).
The Guardian :

Britain should stop "kowtowing" to US demands over airport security, the chairman of British Airways, Martin Broughton, has said, adding that American airports did not implement some checks on their own internal flights.

The NYT :
The United States is making excessive demands for airline passenger screening, including measures it doesn't require on U.S. domestic flights, the chairman of British Airways says.
I read the NYT, WaPo, The Grauniad (British joke) and the BBC news website every day. Most of the stories are just copies of each other. It's interesting to me that in this case, the two stories are not copies at all, and have a subtly different tone and emphasis. Also, the Guardian's story is illustrated with a garish colour photo of the chairman looking stern and exasperated.

07 August 2010

This evil policy, these craven people...



I am so appalled at this latest turn in the saga of Great Britain's immigration policies that I can hardly find the words. You would think after the even worse incidents in France (picture above from a notorious video of French police beating women and children during a protest by immigrants there) that the UK would be keen to be seen as more humane in their treatment of "failed asylum seekers".
I have visions of the scene toward the end of my favourite movie, Lawrence of Arabia, where a British doctor comes upon a marketplace full of dead and dying Turkish soldiers and no one doing anything to help them, and he keeps shouting "Outrageous" in an impotent fury. That's how I feel about most immigration stories I read, but this one really is outrageous, not for naked aggression, as in France, but for an utter failure to do the right thing, for pandering to racist tabloid media, for treating and thinking of asylum seekers and economic migrants as less than human.
After campaigning on the "moral outrage" of children of asylum seekers being kept virtually imprisoned, the LDs as part of the coalition government have helped to hatch this cynical flash-deportation scheme, trying to circumvent both human rights rules and liberal public opinion.

The briefing paper also shows that the border agency is worried that ending the use of detention could give families facing deportation more chance to launch community protest campaigns backed by the media and MPs. It says more police may need to be involved in deportations because "significant public order problems" could follow removals. "The alternative is not to inform the family of the exact time and date of removal, so that they are not prepared. However, this has its own difficulties, which would need analysing and addressing." The document says it is undecided whether a specific time and date should be given, or a longer period of a couple of days.

14 July 2010

RIP Harvey Pekar


In These Times and the NYT cover the death of Harvey Pekar. I loved this film, American Splendor. My British husband "didn't get it." But that happens a lot with him and not just American stuff either.

18 June 2010

In loving memory, Shephard H. Patton, Sr.


My sister Cindy lost her husband of 31 years to cancer on Monday. I was blessed to be able to spend a few hours with them in his last week of life, and painful as it was, to say good-bye. The obituary in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald gives a hint at what an exceptional man he was.

16 June 2010

A long time coming, but an astonishing result



Bloody Sunday.
If you had told me in the early 1970s that there would ever come a day when any government, least of all the government of the UK, would issue such an honest and devastating assessment of its own actions, I would not have believed it.
Of course, there are those who see it as a step too far in laying blame, particularly when a commanding officer is singled out for blame, while individual soldiers who shot and killed have their identities protected, and those higher up the chain are mostly let off the hook.
Families of the victims have had, for the most part, no appetite for revenge now that the innocence of their loved ones is established. One survivor says "Jail isn't something I can see happening. That wouldn't, in any way, bother me, I have no great desire to see a 60-year-old man go to jail."

18 April 2010

Book Blogging at my other blog

I have reviewed a few books over on Deborama's Book Reviews and Store :E. L. Doctorow's The March, John le Carre's A Most Wanted Man and Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document. Check it out.

27 January 2010

We could call it the Mickey Mouse amendment

Following the SCOTUS decision that corporations have "free speech" rights, Facebook has a got a fan page advocating a Constitutional Amendment to assert that human rights only apply to individual humans. If you think that's over-reacting, or if you tend to be swayed by the fuzzy logic of bone-headed so-called Libertarians on this issue, read the article called Inhuman Rights from McSweeney's Internet Tendency. It is a brilliant example of the argument "ad absurdem", right up there with Swift's Modest Proposal.

21 November 2009

Random Appearance of Deborama's WWW and My Life, My Family, Travelling

I'm in Atlanta, which it is now hip to call ATL. I am visiting my son and his girlfriend, and I am staying in the poshest hotel I have ever been in, at a fantastically reasonable rate, thanks to Expedia. (I have a picture of it on my phone, but I will have to upload it later as this computer in the hotel doesn't seem to have a USB port available.)


I have to do another Deborama's Wednesday Website of the Week, but I cannot wait until Wednesday (I will be mostly on the road to Hattiesburg then anyway) and technicallly I should not call it WWW anymore since it is far from being weekly. But I discovered the Believer magazine, a McSweeney's publication, at my son's apartment, and I have been obsessively reading it ever since. Absolutely brilliant, and I hope they'll forgive me lifting the image, since I am using it to plug their product.
Everybody here is laid off, or about to be laid off. It's quite sad what this recession is doing to those of my kids' generation, as if they haven't suffered enough. It's bad for my generation too of course; getting made redundant just as the verdant pastures of retirement come hazily into view is no picnic, I'm sure. Hopefully, I won't find that out firsthand on my return to Blighty, although it is a possibility.

05 November 2009

Unhealthy America

This NYT piece by Nicholas Kristof is good enough to drag me out of blogging semi-retirement, which means too good to only click "Share" and send to Facebook. There is no way this can be repeated often enough to get the message across - the US does not have the "best health care in the world", far from it. Saying if it ain't broke don't fix it is only clever if it ain't broke!

25 September 2009

A notable death, a death in the family

My ex-father-in-law, Lisle Carleton Carter, Jr., passed away on the 10th of September. It had been many years since I had seen him, but my son was very close to him.
Lisle was not only a person who I really loved and admired, he was just generally a remarkable man, a polymath, in that he was a leading academic administrator, a former government official and a lawyer until his retirement some years ago. And also a poet and a patron of the arts and many charities. He will be missed and mourned by many. His many achievements are featured in this editorial obituary in the Washington Post.

23 August 2009

The Best article so far on health care reform

This Huffington Post article by George Lazoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics, is very long and a hard read, but worth it. Although he is focusing on a scathing critique of, and offering a cogent alternative to, the way the Obama administration has failed to sell health care reform, along the way he makes some really razor-sharp points about what is wrong with the current system. I think everyone in favour of health care reform (or insurance reform if you prefer) should read this article as a guide in how to discuss it, not just with those who agree, but especially with those who disagree.

26 July 2009

The passing of a great friend - Gerry Bretzke


On the 18th of July, a great friend of mine back in Minnesota passed away. It was not sudden or unexpected, and from the descriptions on the web that I have been privileged to read, it was one of the most peaceful and beautiful deaths you could hope to have, given old age and disease and an imperfect world. Gerry Bretzke was a member of my church in Minneapolis and also the small spiritual study group ironically called The Initiates. The picture above, of about half of the core members of the Initiates, is an old one, from soon after I emigrated to the UK, or maybe just before. Gerry is the guy in the middle, in the feed cap, with his arm around me. The guy on the right end is George Tofte, who passed away a few years ago.

17 May 2009

Let Women Choose

Michelle Goldberg, author of a recent book on reproductive rights "The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World," has an article in the LA Times that summarises the complex arguments made in her book. Both address the conundrum that the world faces twin crises in its demographic future: soaring birth rates globally, with the great majority being amongst the poorest members of the poorest countries, and plummeting birth rates in several leading developed countries, notably Italy, Japan, Spain and Russia. It may seem crazy to assert at first that both problems are the result of women's lack of reproductive and economic freedom, but the arguments are pretty strong. This book is in my Wish List.
Here's an excerpt from the article:

Some social conservatives are using the threat of rapid First World population decline to argue for restrictions on women's rights. But that gets it precisely backward. In developing countries, lower social status for women is associated with higher fertility, but once societies become highly industrialized and women taste a certain amount of freedom, the reverse is true.
Fertility is reaching dangerously low levels in countries where social attitudes and institutions haven't caught up with women's desire to combine work and family. When faced with men who are unwilling to share domestic burdens, inflexible workplaces and day-care shortages, many women respond by having fewer children or forgoing motherhood altogether.

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