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Category Archives: Current Events

The Hair on the Hill

I wrote this piece for the East Bay Express back in 1995. Though it might be a bit dated in some ways, I think it’s still relevant when thinking of Hillary Clinton past and present, now that she’s running for Prez herself.

link.hillary.clintonLike many women, the real reason I voted for Bill Clinton was Hillary. Unlike most women who did so, however, I did not vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton because she would present to the world an image of a smart, independent American woman; nor did I vote for her because of the feminist influence she’d wield in the White House. I shamelessly confess that the reason I voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton was her hair.

That’s right–that bad hair of hers, trailing haphazardly behind a simple black headband, was a source of comfort and validation to me. Hillary’s uneven strands were refreshingly honest after Nancy Reagan’s inanimate bubble. Oh, sure, we had Barbara Bush’s silver wind-tossed curls for a few years, but let’s face it, I couldn’t relate. As a fortysomething woman, I could better identify with Hillary’s badly colored barely styled mop. I imagined that, like me, Hillary had probably spent years searching in vain for a flattering hairstyle, and had finally abandoned the effort: she’d stopped trying to force her hair (and by extension herself?) into shapes that hair was never meant to assume.

I too had finally relinquished the dream of ever having a real “do.” The last in a long line of coveted hairstyles had been Candace Bergen’s: my elusive goal in mid-life was to look, hair-wise, like Murphy Brown. When I presented this proposal to my hairdresser, who has endured more abuse from me than anyone in this lifetime should have to put up with from anyone, she pointed out that Bergen is continuously shadowed on the set by someone wielding a comb and a can of hairspray.

As a more feasible plan, she suggested a bob. In utter despair and frustration I agreed to let her cut it: for the first time in over a decade I would take the plunge, or rather the reverse, and let my hair end well above the shoulder line. After the deed was done and I looked in the mirror, I let out a blood-curdling shriek that put my completely demoralized hairdresser out of commission for a week.

With a few snips of her deadly shears I’d gained 20 pounds. My chin hung lower, my neck bulged eerily, my eyes had narrowed. Though everyone in my life insisted that I looked “sophisticated,” for the next six months I was inconsolable.

My tresses grew back to their normal state of unmanageability right around the time of the ’92 campaign. My spirits soared when I got a load of Hillary in her black headband: her mess gave me permission to keep mine. Most significantly, she seemed nonchalant about unsophisticated hair. It didn’t prevent her from wearing tailored suits or even drawing attention to the situation by donning a chapeau. Liberated at last, I stopped getting trims. I threw out all my ponytail holders and those plastic combs that I’d never really learned how to use. I bought a plain black headband and let it flow.hillaryclinton

And then my role model betrayed me by getting cut and poufed. My life has not been the same.

It’s easy to guess how this disaster came about: some suave political handler told Hillary that growing up meant shaping it up. He (I’m sure it was a he) probably told her that in these times of fervid debate around health care, the nation’s First Lady ought to have healthy looking hair. But whose standards determine health when it comes to hair? After all, she had to have used a ton of hairspray–decidedly unhealthy– to maintain that bulbous sculpture she sported the night of the big health care speech.

Since then, Hillary’s hair has undergone dozens of permutations. Some of them are really just a variety of the headband bit; others more complex. I concede that she frequently appears more “with it,” now: she looks a lot less like an insouciant hippie undisturbed by extramarital affairs, and more like a public policy maker. But with no more bad hair days, Hill just isn’t someone I could comfortably sit down with to commiserate, not only about our hair, but also about our men, our kids, our jobs. Whereas before she looked like someone I’d go to for advice, now she looks like someone I’d have to pay for it.

So I’m not sure how I’ll vote in ’96. After all, a lot can happen to a woman’s hair during a Presidential campaign. She could decide to get a perm, another solution I periodically consider. She might even let it grow out.

Or she might win my vote by including treatment for the hair impaired if national health reform ever becomes a reality.

Hillary Present

Hillary Present

Moi, Present

Moi, Present

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An Open Letter to Senator Barbara Boxer

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Boxer speaks at an event.

Boxer speaks at an event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just sent the following email to Senator Barbara Boxer:

Dear Senator Boxer:

I recently listened, via podcast, to your speech at the Commonwealth Club. I agree with and am grateful for your point of view on what’s happening in our country, and your policy ideas for repairing some of it, like raising the minimum wage for everyone and addressing climate change on a tangible level. However, I’m sorry to say that some of your perspective is myopic and limited.

When you say those who “play by the rules” ought to reap the rewards of the “American Dream” you…discount me and every other artist in this country. I am a writer, and I’m speaking as well for painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, and everyone else who commits themselves to bring truth and beauty into the world. We are consistently told we do not “play by the rules” because we don’t buckle down and go to work for some corporation or other. Similarly, when you say those who “work hard,” you omit the disabled population who cannot “work hard” at most of the jobs available in our culture. When you say government must step in when “the middle class is in trouble” you omit the poorest of the poor.

In fact, Senator, by your choice of language you are dismissing everybody whose personality or disposition doesn’t fit into the capitalist mold. Some of us just can’t make it in the usual 9-5 routine—and we pay for it, believe me, we pay for it.

I am the mother of a disabled son who is now nearly 50. Between raising him myself (and a daughter) through brain surgeries and seizures, while still trying to write (not to mention being one of, as Erica Jong calls us, the “whiplash generation” of women who had the game switched on us midway), I have had a checkered work history that’s left me with a paltry amount of Social Security and nothing else to support me now that I’m 68 and getting older every day. My son is poor, I am poor, and I’m told it is my fault for not playing by the rules. You should know, however, that I have worked extremely hard in my life by necessity, and it continues. Compared to my still-married friends who’ve retired to Florida or Costa Rica, my life in East Oakland is deprived. I am not complaining: I’m glad I didn’t spend my entire life in some office (as it is I had to spend too much time in them). But I do want you to know that I and millions of us who don’t fit the American Dream mold deserve a decent life just as much as the middle class corporate workers, who I readily admit have also struggled without reward or justice because of what’s become of this country.

Despite my criticism of your language and what it might reflect, I still thank you for holding down the liberal fort in Congress.

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Black Panther Free After 44 Years

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The Hour of Sunlight in Prison by Erik Reuland

The Hour of Sunlight in Prison by Erik Reuland

Marshall Eddie Conway isn’t the first Black Panther to be released after decades in prison, only the most recent, and every time a political prisoner goes free it’s cause for celebration. I’m celebrating by searching for a correspondence program, or a “pen pal” as we called them in grade school, to write to. I’m doing this because when Conway was asked how he got through 44 years in jail he didn’t say “Allah,” or “Jahweh” or reading the Christian Bible or the Koran or Torah; he said it was the love and support of people on the outside that gave him the hope he needed to get through.

Conway

At 68 Conway is one of the most mentally stable ex-prisoners I’ve ever seen and heard. He didn’t just “get through” those 44 years, either: he continued doing political activism, initiating a program of older prisoners mentoring young ones as they entered the prison, and somehow extending youth programs to outside communities. He’s been out less than 24 hours (how does Amy Goodman get these people on her show?!), and I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more of Conway’s activities as time goes by.

Unlike some of DN’s prison stories, especially those about solitary confinement, I was able to watch this one without freaking out. It was when Conway said people on the outside had helped him that it occurred to me to write to a political prisoner. I’ve been beside myself about the growing prison industrial complex, but I’m averse to doing political work that involves meetings and listening to people spout rhetoric, no matter whose side they’re on. And my emotional reactions to jails and solitary send me running from that particular area of human torture. As we all know, however, I can sit home and scribble. I won’t play the same role in someone’s life as Eddie’s friends and family played in his—they helped get him out—but maybe I can engage someone’s mind for a few minutes a week.

jac-demo-big-1-269x300

In the course of researching pen pal programs, I was inspired by an article written by someone who corresponds with political prisoners herself. Molly Fair says, in part:

The powers that be lock people in cages, feed them nasty food, deny them medical attention and education, surveil every aspect of their life and communications with the outside world, deprive them of fresh air and sunlight, deem them criminals (often based solely on the color of their skin, nationality, and/or class background) and profit from this system which is incredibly inhumane to all involved.  

I encourage everyone to see the interview with Marshall Eddie Conway on DN. From Goodman’s introduction:

Supporters describe Conway as one of the country’s longest-held political prisoners. He was convicted of killing a Baltimore police officer in 1970, for which he has always maintained his innocence. The shooting occurred at a time when federal and local authorities were infiltrating and disrupting the Black Panthers and other activist groups…the FBI was also monitoring Conway’s actions as part of its counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO

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Inhuman Conditions

Solitary confinement

Solitary confinement (Photo credit: Chris.Gray

What people do to one another in this world is so distressing I can hardly stand it. To name just a few items aired in this morning’s news reports:

• Big celebration today as an ex-Panther was released from prison. Good news, right? Except his release came after two decades in solitary confinement. I can’t bear to hear these stories about people in solitary for so long, and it seems like recently they’re all coming to light. Why wasn’t I aware of this, if it’s been going on for 20 and 30 years? And I only just learned they throw children into the hole also! Do the powers-that-be really believe that a kid who spends any amount of time all alone in a cell is going to come out improved? Or unharmed, ready to live a full and responsible life? WTF is wrong with these people?!

drone

• Old news but they were talking about it again this morning on Democracy Now: One of Obama‘s drones attacked a group of Yemenis on their way to a wedding, killing something like a dozen people, turning what was to be a joyous day into one of grief. Apparently they believed some big terrorist was “hiding” among the wedding party, but survivors say they never heard of the guy. Even if they had—it seems we no longer believe in or practice the judicial system to which this country was once strongly devoted. No more innocent until proven guilty. And that includes YOU : Uncle Sam is also gunning down his own via the drone method. Our, ahem, liberal president looooves those drones: so neat and clean. Thus, no more messy, complicated trials. It’s just Kill Baby Kill!

cop

• Another kid was killed by a cop because he had the misfortune to be holding something in his hand. Must be a gun! This happened on the kid’s turf, in his own living room—cops came around looking for the dad who violated parole, and  burst in on a teenager playing electronic games. Startled, he raised his hand with the game’s remote in it, and one of the cops blew the kid away. Oh well, shit happens. Shit happens a lot lately.

pesticide sign

• Atrazine, a pesticide used on corn, is turning little boys into girls, apparently flooding their bodies with estrogen so they develop not only secondary sex characteristics but primary ones as well, like ovaries and the whole reproductive she-bang. The company using this stuff claims it’s harmless, and has fired the whistleblower, who’s now getting death threats—but he’s still talking. Good for him!

I know, I know: I haven’t included names, dates, links, or other details to back up any of the above, or direct readers that might want to follow up on these news items; but if I wait until I can do the research and put all my ducks in a row I won’t get to it for a long time, if ever. Besides, I really need to rant.

I might not have done research, but I did manage to fire off a few protest letters to governors and other authorities in the interest of ending solitary torture, since I can’t even think about this without feeling sick. I wonder if I have an extra empathic gene or something. Considering what goes on in this world, someone’s gotta have it.

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This American Justice

heartstitchesbrokenFor their Valentines Day program, This American Life on NPR broadcast a cluster of love stories in their usual format: people tell true life experiences, most with an odd angle or surprise ending. Some spoke of unrequited love, others about unusual breakups, and some even lived happily ever—after leaping over obstacles. One of the stories knocked me out, but not in the way you’d expect or want to be knocked out on Valentines Day. No, this story didn’t fill my heart with love unending, or give me hope and inspiration for the human race. It didn’t even make me cry. This story absolutely enraged me.

It was told by Justin, a high school senior who fell, hard, for a new girl in his school. She arrived mid-term and immediately caught all the boys’ attention with her mature (his word) good looks.  She was in two of his classes, and when he worked up enough courage to talk to her and even flirt a little, she did not discourage him.

There was something about Naomi , however, that we in the audience knew, but the hapless Justin did not: she was an undercover narc. That’s right, those clever slimy creeps at the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) came up with a scheme whereby a bevy of young, recently graduated cops fan out to schools all over the country—that is, to those states in which marijuana is still illegal—posing as students. I’d even hazard a cynical guess that they purposely chose those states with the most draconian drug laws in which to lay their evil traps. This incident occurred in Florida, where marijuana is classified as a

English: U.S. states are shown in green where ...

U.S. states in green where non-medical marihuana has been decriminalized at the state level. Note that marijuana of any kind is still criminalized under U.S. federal law throughout the entire U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use,” according to state statute (Fl. § 893.03). Florida also criminalizes marijuana trafficking, and possession or sales of drug paraphernalia, with a range of penalties, going up to 30 years in prison. (Fl. Stat. Ann. § 893.13.)

This American Life regularly runs long stories, but this one seemed even longer than most. Maybe that’s because I knew what was coming and my heart began cracking long before Justin’s did. He courted her for months while she strung him along, keeping him in suspense about attending the prom with him. This kid was going to graduate in a few months. He planned to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. He had good grades. He had good friends. He did not regularly do drugs. Yes, he’d occasionally used pot; who by his age has not? In California he’d be toking a doobie after lunch on the lawn across from Berkeley High. Not in Florida: in Florida the kid watched his ass—that is, until a pretty girl with a heart made of razor blades sank her claws in him.

While he anxiously awaited her decision on the prom, she casually asked him if he had any weed. He did not, but if she wanted some, he said, he’d try to get it for her. So removed was this kid from drug culture that it took him a couple of weeks and a

Cannabis whole lot of nerve to make a connection, and even more nerve to pass the stuff along to his beloved. When she handed him $25 he, like any teenage boy in love, refused to take it. He was showing off, giving her a present, trying to look like a big shot. Lest we forget, it was Naomi who’d put him in this position.

Ah, but in the state of Florida if you give someone less than 20 grams of marijuana without being paid, it’s only a first degree misdemeanor. For that the punishment is a puny year or less in jail—but selling the stuff can get you as many as 30. Naomi had to make Justin take payment. They went back and forth about it, she insisting, he refusing. Naomi, with more on the line than Justin, was the more persistent, and in exasperation he finally took the cash. Deed accomplished. Criminal apprehended. Another dealer off the street.

Justin got a three year sentence. No high school graduation. No Air Force: the US military excludes “felons.” And Justin’s reaction? With his life in ruins, his future shattered, his dreams all trashed, you’d think he’d be furious at the bitch. But is he? He is not. This poor creature is heartbroken, plain and simple. He responds as he might if she’d left him for another guy. That is the full extent of his emotions—at least as far as the program’s narrative takes us.

And Narc Naomi? No regrets, she says. Well bully for her. And bully for the U.S. of A. and their war on drugs.

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