Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Hallowe'en

This year, litbrit Glinda the Good Witch of the North, along with two Wicked Witches, read spooky stories to Son Three's classmates at the annual Hallowe'en Carnival. Nothing too spooky, though, since the Witches were also Mamas, and we didn't want to have our little goblins and Spidermen and Transformers plagued by nightmares (storybook women need our sleep too, you know).

I couldn't read this wonderful poem by Edgar Allan Poe, for example, to a roomful of six-year-olds, but I thought I'd post it here in honor of the day.

Carpe diem!

The Conquerer Worm

Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.

Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly--
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Woe!

That motley drama--oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.

But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!--it writhes!--with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.

Out--out are the lights--out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

-- Edgar Allan Poe

The definition of Hallowe'en madness:
wearing a faux-fur skirt in Florida.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The move from St. Pete back to Ruskin is almost complete. In the distant past, when a phase of my life came to a close, I'd get all sentimental and weepy, reminiscing endlessly through rose-colored glasses and conveniently forgetting most of the less-than-peachy reasons said phase came to an end in the first place.

Tonight, though, I'm not weepy in the slightest--in fact, I'm thrilled to bits, having been notified earlier today that I'd won the Florida Netroots award for Best Writer.

There are some wonderful people I must thank.

It was Melissa at Shakesville (née Shakespeare's Sister) who first encouraged me to write online, for her popular blog, in this exciting new medium that puts the journal in journalism. And it was Ezra Klein (watch him Thursdays on MSNBC, on Chris Matthews' Hardball) who pushed me further, e-mailing me one day, out of the blue, to compliment my writing and ask why on Earth didn't I get with the program and install an RSS feed if I wanted to move past the year 2004; eventually, I became one of Ezra's weekend contributors. And shortly after Kenneth Quinnell spearheaded the impressive blog and wiki for the Florida Progressive Coalition and invited me to join, Michael Hussey brought me on board his Tampa blog, Pushing Rope (Michael, along with Stogie, was responsible for my nomination).

All these dedicated, talented, and of course progressive writers saw something I hadn't yet noticed, which is to say, they recognized a fellow word-wonk with outrage and concern to spare, and they gave me forum and no small amount of support. I'm profoundly grateful to them, and what's more, I'm honestly, giddily hopeful these days--for a very Blue 2008, and especially for the realization of our dreams for peace and progress.

Finally, an enormous Thank You must go out to my readers. Unlike its eponymous author, litbrit is a very young (as opposed to just rather young) blog, and my readership is small, still. But what an intensely wise and witty bunch this is! I hope I can continue to live up to my award and that you'll always feel free to contact me with suggestions or ideas; that TRex will continue to make me shriek with laughter in the middle of the night; that Minstrel Boy will keep raising the bar while managing to not make the rest of us look too terribly lazy; that oddjob will always know the story behind, well, everything and send me links to boot; that C in DC and Lisa in Baltimore will keep engaging my brain; that Darkblack will never run out of clever double entendres and great FZ clips; that jacqueline and Stephen will share their soulful thoughts with me forever; and most of all, that everyone will keep reading. And keep on keeping on.

Thank you, my friends. This little house would most certainly not rock without you, and I adore you all.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Leaving My Corner Without Losing My Religion

If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind,
of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

- Albert Einstein

I took this photo today, shortly after dawn, because I wanted to immortalize my little corner of this very little house before packing it all up for the Big Move tomorrow. We're going back to the house in the country, you see, though Ruskin is not so terribly "country" any more, since almost all of the orange groves and most of the strawberry fields have been bulldozed flat in recent years, making way for the rows of nearly-identical houses to which buyers continue to flock.

Never mind the hurricanes, damn the tornadoes: Florida continues to be a destination, not just for retirees longing for warm breezes and college students seeking warm beer and beaches, but families, too.

There is little agriculture and no industry in our town, not any more. Not really. It's mainly a suburban residential area these days, though Robert's property remains lushly beautiful with giant pines and oaks that were there in the early part of the previous century, when Ruskin was established as a hopeful experiment in socialist utopianism. The farming-friendly climate and isolation of the Gulf coast led Dr. George McAnelly Miller, a former Chicago lawyer and college professor, to purchase this patch of Florida, which in 1906 was densely wooded and virtually inaccessible to the city folk of Tampa and St. Petersburg (except by boat), and establish the Ruskin Commongood Society.

The town was a commune of sorts, and its principles were based on the writings and teachings of John Ruskin, an English socialist who maintained that higher education should be made readily available to the working class--a fairly revolutionary concept then (and, increasingly and sadly, now)--and that the social ills wrought by the industrial revolution could most effectively be eradicated through education. Education for everyone.

So it came to pass that Dr. Miller, along with the Ruskin Commongood Society, provided for and promoted this notion of liberal arts education for all, along with the teaching of farming techniques, the creation of art itself, and the sharing of blessings and burdens alike. This was the early-1900's South, mind you, and non-white people could not yet own land, even in Ruskin. Bearing in mind that women could not vote until 1920, though, Ruskin was--in the feminist and nonsectarian/inclusive religious senses, at least--a town that was rather far ahead of other Floridian settlements. To wit, an early Ruskin Commongood motto, followed by a bit of history:

Right Relationship
United Effort
Social Purity
Knowledge Unfettered
Industrial Education
New Thought

Dignity of Labor
Ennobling of Character
A Home for Everyone
Link Head, Heart and Hand
Sex Equality

Throughout Ruskin’s early years, life was generally peaceful. People were notified of important events, such as a fire or a meeting, by a bell rung in the community center. There was no fire department, only a bucket brigade. The town church was nonsectarian. Services were held in the college’s assembly hall, and Dr. Miller usually read from his translations of original Hebrew and Greek Bible verses. A. P. Dickman ran the daily newspaper, and his daughter Pauline delivered milk to the local farms. Boys earned extra money by shooting alligators and selling their hides. The colonists built their own cannery, operating the whole process, including soldering the cans by hand, without outside assistance. By 1913, Ruskin had a local and long distance telephone system and electric light plant, and its cooperative store was doing a $25,000 a year business. The colony itself was expanded. Land was bought northward to extend the artesian belt and included more timber acreage, and purchases were made southward to add more truck farming and citrus land.

Cooperation was continually stressed. The colonists labored on public works projects to pay for their land, and college students worked in the fields and cooperative industries to pay for their education. The concept of the “common good” was the motivation for the colony. To this end, it tried to promote “social purity.” To keep the community pure, no liquor or cigarettes were allowed into the colony. Only whites could lease colony land. However, women had the same privileges as men.

And then there was World War I--an event that drained the town of its young people--and the closing of the Ruskin College, a terrible fire, the Great Depression, and the death of Dr. Miller. The Ruskin Commongood Society remained intact until 1967, long after the evaporation, from Ruskin's collective consciousness, of most of the original socialist utopian ideas on which the town was built.

As a result of George Miller's dream of a college within a supportive, socialistic community, the town of Ruskin was founded. Miller's cooperative community surrounding and supporting a socialist workers’ college lasted barely a decade. Nevertheless, the Commongood Society,though generally inactive, existed until October 1967, when it quietly dissolved. [...]

George Miller had depended on his wife’s brothers, three Missouri farmers, to help him finance and organize the colony, and because the community itself was colonized by farmers, Ruskin survived and flourished in an agricultural setting. In the process, the triumph of capitalism nearly erased memories of the town’s radical roots.

I moved to this town in 1987, when my future-husband Robert was starting his nurseries here, assembling the wooded land one parcel at a time, and growing thereupon different varieties of a certain ancient, exotic, and eminently sustainable plant that was, at the time, very new to many Americans: bamboo. Back then, Ruskin's population largely consisted of a handful of farmers--most of whom grew oranges, tomatoes, and strawberries; a few of whom, like Robert, grew ornamental plants--and those who worked for them.

Twenty years later, Ruskin is a place in transition, to put it gently; in fact, it's a patch of Florida that is irrevocably changed. Most of the town's fruit and vegetable farmers--those backbone-of-the-community types who had for years been suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous hurricanes and even more outrageous Free Trade-generated price undercutting by third world growers--succumbed to temptation, one after another, and cashed in on the real estate boom. This in turn led to the replacement of rows of fragrant orange trees with rows of quasi-Mediterranean-Revival-cum-Florida-Cracker boxes, one after another.

And tomorrow I shall return, to live there full-time, at least until the St. Petersburg house is finished.

As I sort through the clutter I've accumulated, not just on my hapless desk but all over the little rental house where the lease is now up, I admit to having mixed emotions about the place, as you'd imagine. Appreciating as I do the rich history of Ruskin and its liberal, socially conscious founders, I experienced some pretty sharp cognitive dissonance at seeing so many Bush/Cheney bumperstickers plastered everywhere in 2000, not to mention having my President Gore signs repeatedly yanked out of the ground or flattened by speeding, swerving pickup trucks.

Ruskin is no different from other growing areas, its residents having enjoyed high-speed Internet connection for years now. So I'll be no less able to read and write, though I'll be more grateful than ever that Robert preserved the massive trees and thick Palmetto that have grown on his land for a century--writers love privacy and quiet, and when home, at least, I won't have to look at all that rampant overdevelopment and destruction of nature. Who knows, I might even fight to save a tree or two and speak out on behalf of those who enjoy a little locally-generated oxygen with their imported orange juice.

Like the natural artesian wells that continue to flow, despite everything, irrigating the bamboo and sending it skyward, hope springs eternal.

Also at Ezra Klein.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sex Pistols Sell Out (and Sell Out)

When I was a punky young thing trapped in the body of blowdried blonde advertising chick, I used to drive to work listening to Holidays in the Sun on my car tape deck and sing (okay, shout) along. The Sex Pistols were agreeably disagreeable, and they dared to flout authority with spectacular rudeness and bluster, something this well-brought-up girl could only dream about in Walter Mitty moments as she sat at her IBM Selectric, trying to think up clever ways to sell things--banking, for example, and ice-cream bars--that people needed and wanted anyway.

So I really have no moral leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing the Sex Pistols for selling out.

Not that I'm going to let that stop me, though. Oh, no. Because I'm more than a little irritated to learn that the band famous for flipping off what we post-Free Love youngsters continued to refer to as The Establishment have, in their middle years, been happily selling their souls to that very Establishment while signing over the rights to their back catalog to Universal Publishing Group. Which in turn has targeted Range Rover and British Airways, among others, to use Sex Pistols songs in their advertising.

Sex Pistols songs in their advertising.

For crying out loud. (As opposed to singing and shouting out loud.)

The band still plays the occasional club show, though, as they did at a sold-out private concert last night, at the Roxy in L.A., part of a warmup for the inevitable Sex Pistols Reunion Tour.

About 500 sweaty fans packed the Roxy Theatre for the private show, the group's first public performance in four years. The English foursome played almost all of their songs during the hour-long set, including their best-known tunes "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen."

The show was predictably a little rusty, with singer John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) forgetting the words to the first song of the night, "Holidays in the Sun." But he added some bonus lyrics along the way, notably "Paris Hilton, kiss my arse" in "Stepping Stone."

He also struggled with sound problems and the heat.

"It's hotter than (expletive) hell up here," said Lydon, 51, clad in a traditional Indian kurta, tartan pants and blue vest and guzzling red wine from the bottle.

I suppose it could've been worse--I'm picturing Johnny Rotten sporting a Just Say No t-shirt autographed by Nancy Reagan, drinking glucosamine smoothies between sets and appearing in Viagra commercials on MSNBC the following week.

Someone tell me I'm not getting old. Please.

I didn't ask for sunshine and I got World War Three
I'm looking over the wall and they're looking at me
Now I got a reason
Now I got a reason

Now I got a reason and I'm still waiting...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What Next, the Sta-puf Mushroom Cloud?

So this is the new Terrorism Busters logo, as designed by one of the top secret, ah, graphic artists at the CIA.

No, this isn't a faux logo being circulated around the Intertubes, meant to promote some new movie starring Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. It is for real, though you would certainly be forgiven for wondering if it was something concocted by a wag at The Onion--that's the first thought I had when I saw it.

As Melissa said, it would seem The War on Terra has finally jumped the shark.

(Via Deeky at Shakes)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's An Honor to be Nominated

I was surprised and delighted to learn that I've been nominated for a Florida Netroots Award for Best Writer. Genuine surprise and girlish delight aside, I am going to shamelessly ask for your vote all the same. (Embarrassment may indeed be part of growing up and being British, but living elsewhere in the hemisphere since age six seems to have dampened the old shame factor considerably--what can I say?)

There are only two days in which to vote, so please--as soon as you're able--e-mail Kenneth, President of the Florida Progressive Coalition, to support litbrit (that's me!) and this little corner of Left Blogistan, for Best Writer. The poll closes early Friday morning.

The entire ballot is posted at Florida Progressive Coalition's blog. Numerous terrific, talented, and deserving candidates--at least a few of whom are surely among your favorite reads--are nominated for awards, and I hope you'll support them, too. For your consideration:

Michael Hussey's superb Pushing Rope for Best National Blog.

Howard Troxler (of the St. Petersburg Times) and his Troxblog for Best Media Blog.

litbrit for Best Writer.

Florida Progressive Coalition for Netroots Organization of the Year.

Finally, let me thank everyone who takes a moment out of his day to stop by litbrit since its inception last year and share a bit of laughter, concern, outrage, and general appreciation for good music (and more)--oftentimes all in the same day*--and encourage you to peruse that ballot and check out the abundance of political passion and creative talent flourishing right here in the Sunshine State.

(And here you were, thinking we were all too busy getting suntans, drinking orange juice, and cultivating invasive Bushes to care very much about a progressive agenda. Wrong!)

* We are moving house this week and next, but posting will resume with gusto very soon, I promise.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Frank: Dupree's Paradise; Stockholm, 1973

More 1973 goodness, with Jean Luc Ponty.

Bon weekend, everyone.

(H/T bongolamp)

Through the Looking Glass: A Striking New World

Defendant Michael Antonio Webb (6 feet, 3 inches tall, 315 pounds), of Columbia, MD, charged with second-degree assault on his girlfriend, which crime was witnessed in full by none other than a female police officer:

"Your honor, she asked to be hit in the face three times. Look, that's her over there--see? She's not disagreeing with me, so you know it's true."*

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Harris, after acquitting Webb:

"You have very rare cases; sadomasochists sometimes like to get beat up."

In the messy world of domestic violence cases, often complicated by a lover's willingness to forgive, this one had a promising twist for prosecutors: Though the woman refused to testify against her boyfriend, a police officer said she had witnessed the attack in a Laurel gas station parking lot.

But Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Harris, in a decision that has victims' rights advocates crying foul, acquitted the man charged with second-degree assault after he was accused of striking his girlfriend three times in the face. The judge said that without the woman's testimony, he could not be sure that she hadn't consented to the attack. [...]

Byron L. Warnken, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said in many cases, key elements of a crime are often proved through "reasonable inferences."

"Unless he found that the officer was not credible, it appears that there would be enough by which a typical fact-finder, a reasonable fact-finder, would have found the element of second- degree assault to exist in that case beyond a reasonable doubt," Warnken said. "The notion that you can't possibly try this case without the victim there is incorrect. What would we do in a murder case?"

Unfortunately for rape and domestic violence victims nationwide, this judge is not an anomaly. And his conduct throughout--the wildly inappropriate comments, the specific directions to the jury that they must prove "the defendant's actions were not consented to by the victim"--strongly suggest a few disturbing notions. That Judge Harris is a deeply misogynistic creature, for one. That Judge Harris is behaving, and ruling, unethically and even unconstitutionally, for two and three.

* paraphrased based on the eye-witness report
** direct quoting of Judge Harris

(H/T Lisa S.)

Also at Shakesville.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Make Up For Missing Friday Wednesday Frank

I want to apologize for allowing two Fridays to go by without sharing a single FZ song.

Instead of offering a dozen valid but nonetheless boring excuses for my lapse in priority-setting, let me make up for lost time by posting this gem, which was apparently filmed for Australian teevee when Mr. Zappa was there in 1973.

With Jean-Luc Ponty, Sal Marquez, Tom Fowler, Bruce Fowler, Ian Underwood, Ruth Underwood, George Duke and Ralph Humphrey.

Bon Wednesday, everyone.

(H/T bigfootpegrande.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Monday Night Mozart: Sinfonía nº 25 k. 183; Karl Bohm

This version of Mozart's Symphony No.25 In G Minor seems a tiny bit slower and less wild than the one I've got in my car, which is by the Orchestra of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields (the CD, not the car), but it's lovely and thrilling and precise, all the same. The very musical exhilaration you're after while driving through beautiful scenery.

(And if the scenery isn't all that beautiful, as much of Florida's roadside viewing simply isn't, the right accompaniment can go a long way toward making it so. Always.)


Toxic Food & Dangerous Imports: An Ongoing Series

All of my posts about food safety and import issues at-a-glance, with links and excerpts. They're listed chronologically, most recent first, and updated regularly.

Today in Bathtub Government: Connecting the Aquadots

November 8, 2007
No budget for testing; a chairwoman seemingly under some sort of directive to refrain from asking Congress for money to hire more inspectors and testing personnel; the same chairwoman accepting gifts from the industry she's supposed to be policing and holding accountable. The only surprising thing is that worse and more widespread incidents have not occurred--certainly there's little standing in the way of this ceaseless flood of cheap and toxic imports. The problem isn't new. I've been writing about it for over nine months now, and I wasn't the first to do so, either.

Bathtub-Government Fun: Toying With Safety While A Lame Duck Leadership Circles the Drain

October 7, 2007
Six holiday shopping seasons ago, the question on many toy-buyers' minds was whether to go with the God Bless America Barbie or the United We Stand Lego Set.

Given the state of the Consumer Product Safety Commission at this point in time, however, parents will be grateful if they're able to choose (not to mention distinguish) between Regular and Unleaded.

Testing Agency Head Under Fire; Senate Committee Asks: Is it Safe?

September 13, 2007
During testimony Nord admits, disturbingly, that despite harsh criticisms of Chinese toy manufacturers and calls for crackdowns in 2004, a "significant amount" of children's jewelry the agency tested still contains lead, amending that, shortly thereafter, to "almost all of it". She also describes the testing facility as a 1950's-era missile testing site in Gaithersburg, Maryland, some of the buildings of which do not even meet code. Nord goes on to report how their lone product tester, a man named Bob, is overwhelmed (imagine that!) and can't reasonably be expected to test the countless thousands of toys and other products coming into the country every day.

FDA Scientists Grade Their Agency: 5/10=F for Failure

July 26, 2007
There is yet more kill-the-messenger posturing going on at the FDA, the federal agency staffed with dedicated, reality-based individuals--scientists--but managed by parties whose pro-small-government ideology, not to mention undeniable fealty to corporate paymasters (Big Pharma), translate to downsizing and privatizing. Both of which, as I've discussed extensively, mean even fewer inspections of food imports (currently the rate is about 1%, if that) and even more fast-tracking of drug approvals despite contraindicative study results and red flags aplenty.

Food Safety This Tuesday: Beware the Botox Chili
July 24, 2007

Vegetarians face plenty of food-contamination problems too, of course, but news like this makes me worry about my carnivorous friends and their families (emphasis mine):

WASHINGTON --Millions of cans of chili sauce, corned-beef hash and beef stew produced by a Georgia food company are being recalled in the largest botulism scare involving commercially canned goods in more than 30 years.

Diminished Capacity: FDA Downsized and Privatized; America is at Risk
June 29, 2007

If the country had not spent the last seven years watching an imperial president and his water-carriers engage in one outrageous and anti-American act after another, this sort of ridiculous bag-man consortium masquerading as democracy might have raised a number of eyebrows, or perhaps even caused a stir. An actual stir! But sadly, Americans are almost at the point of no return, shock-wise; that we have in fact come to expect such constitutionally-questionable behavior from our so-called leaders reflects a disturbing level of resignation on the part of voters. And as far as Big Pharma--or for that matter, any giant commercial interest--is concerned, a resigned electorate is a docile, easily-convinced one.

Once Again, An Imported Seafood Scare
June 29, 2007

Those unsafe drugs and "chemicals" they're referring to? Some, like fluoroquinolone, are powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics with various negative side effects (neuropathy, heart problems, and hypoglycemia, to name a few). Their use in edible goods is prohibited here, largely because certain bacteria have already developed quinolone-resistant strains (gonorrhea, for example) and mycobacterium (i.e. certain strains of tuberculosis) have, alarmingly, begun developing resistance, too.

Food Safety Issues, Toxic Toys, And A Regulatory System In Disarray
June 19, 2007
It's time for our government to declare, in no uncertain terms, that we have a serious problem with imported food and other goods coming to the United States from China. And it's time for our government to bring some real muscle (read: money) into the regulatory agencies--specifically, the FDA and the USDA--who are tasked with protecting American consumers from dangerous products. That we are currently inspecting only 1% of imports is nothing short of pathetic.

Food Safety This Wednesday: Chinese Leaders Vow To Toughen Regulations And Improve Inspection System
June 06, 2007
It remains to be seen whether the Chinese government is responding as gravely concerned leaders, forward-looking and justifiably worried businessmen, or public relations pros throwing down the expected comfort words, muffling fires (or attempting to) before they rage out of control. Perhaps they're acting in all three capacities--judge for yourself.

Import Alert: Put Down That ToothAntifreeze Paste!
June 02, 2007
Antifreeze in toothpaste? For the love of all that is sane, FDA, put a stop to all Chinese food and drug imports until such time as that nation's officials can demonstrate, provably, that they take health and safety standards seriously--at least as seriously as American families, if not American regulatory agencies, are taking all this.

Food Safety This Friday: Imported Monkfish That Are Really Puffer Fish Predictably Contain Deadly Neurotoxin
May 25, 2007
Americans want and need accurate information about the contents and origins of our food. If a country has an official and recorded history of shipping poisoned, mislabeled, adulterated, rotten, or otherwise toxic food into the United States, American consumers deserve the right to decide if they're willing to take the risk, the right to make their concerns known at the grocery store, and the right to hold accountable those who would and do harm us, whether intentionally or as a consequence of institutionalized, profit-driven malfeasance.

Food Safety Briefing: Restrictions on Imported Food Urged; Trade Ambassador Pressured; A Florida Family Reels; From Whence Cometh Garlic?

May 23, 2007
I'm glad another Senator has added his voice to the small-but-growing chorus of criticisms surrounding the regulatory agency (the FDA) that by its own admission inspects only 1% (or "less than 2%", depending on who's talking) of all imports; I'm especially heartened to hear Bayh point out the melamine elephant in the room--that is, how unnervingly vulnerable we are--and even utter the phrase "...potentially poisonous agents [that may be] intentionally delivered to American citizens”

It's Time For America To Legislate Mandatory Country Of Origin Labels

May 20, 2007
It's a matter of greed economics more than anything else--they're afraid that if American consumers find out how many of their purchases contain ingredients from countries with spotty safety records, many if not most of us will start getting uppity, refusing to buy products and foodstuffs that are packed with cheap and potentially dangerous fillers and chemicals, and take our dollars elsewhere, spending them on products that offer what we want, without the rubbish we don't want.

Chinese Government: Says Don't Worry, Eat Happy, Keep Importing And Bans Litbrit
May 16, 2007
The government of the People's Republic of China--the same folks who have blocked their citizens' access to my blog, as well as Shakesville, HorsesAss, and an enormous number of American websites--claim they have conducted their investigations and found that the practice of melamine-adulteration was limited to a couple of individual companies.

UAE: No Melamine In Food, Please, And No Food On Melamine, Either

May 14, 2007
Health officials in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) are issuing a novel melamine warning to their citizens today: Don't eat or drink from it.

China And The USDA: If You Liked Our Chemical-laced Crunchy Grains, You'll Love Our Putrid Plump Poulty!

May 12, 2007

All an unscrupulous chicken exporter would need to do is set up some company and give it a nice, science-y name like, oh, Acme Biologic Technology, let's say. Then, he could purchase some industrial, lab-like building--maybe an abandoned processing plant that hasn't yet been bulldozed to destroy evidence--fill it with stainless-steel tables and inspection equipment, and use it to "certify" the Chinese poultry as safe. Until the USDA's attention wanders, and like the chicken waste that drips into many Chinese shrimp ponds, the inspection process devolves into a foul, dangerous mess.

Food Adulteration Update: Chinese Grain Producer Demolished Own Plant And Fled Before Arrest; Website Pulled Down

May 11, 2007
Chinese officials caught Mao; after weeks of denials, he admitted that his company and another Chinese business had deliberately and illegally added melamine to exported wheat and rice products. I don't even want to speculate how Mr. Mao's, ah, confessin' state of mind overcame the greater devils that had him making his fortune shoveling melamine into food meant for American (and reportedly Chinese) animals and humans and then destroying the evidence. I'm sure it wasn't pretty.

Blogger At Forefront Of Food Adulteration Story Gets Banned In China

May 11, 2007
Yesterday, Goldy discovered he'd been banned in that country, or rather, that access to his online writings had been blocked to any readers and interested parties residing in the People's Republic.

Food Adulteration Update: Farmed Fish Given Tainted Meal; China Cracks Down; Ordinary Flour (With Melamine) Labeled As Gluten

May 09, 2007
So far, officials and scientists have found illegal antibiotics in Chinese catfish (the importation of which was banned in Mississippi on Tuesday); diethylene glycol (antifreeze) in cough and cold medicines; and melamine and cyanuric acid in wheat gluten and rice protein, as well as in the bodies of the animals consuming it: cats, dogs, pigs, chicken, and now, fish.

Adulterated And Counterfeit Chinese Ingredients Sicken And Kill Thousands

May 06, 2007
Terrorism attacked us on our own soil in 2001, but human greed would appear to be going one step further, attacking us within our own bodies. Poisoning our food and our medicine; poisoning adults and children and animals--around the world, and here at home. Poisoning us.

Food Adulteration Update: FDA Examines Human Food; Damning Paperwork Points To Linked Chinese Suppiers; Manager Arrested

May 04, 2007
The FDA said Thursday it would begin visiting hundreds of food manufacturers who use protein concentrates--presumably grain glutens and rice protein--and begin inspections in order to rule out contamination of "other products".

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) On The Pet Food Recall, The FDA And Food Safety

May 1, 2007
At hearings today, Senator Durbin speaks out on behalf of all who eat. (With YouTube clip.)

FDA Widens Import Alert (To Put It Mildly), Concedes That Animal Fatalities Number In The Thousands

May 1, 2007
Expect even those high numbers to continue to rise. What's more, we'll soon be seeing the recall of an undetermined number of food products meant for humans; when that happens, the uproar will be deafening.

Melamine Update: Fed To Poultry, Much Already "Processed" (Sold And Consumed)

April 30, 2007
The FDA are uncertain how many tainted-feed-consuming chickens were involved, and they don't have a clue how many melamine Kievs and cyanuric acid stir-fries have already been served to unwitting Americans. They don't even know where the tainted poultry went (which unfortunately means that Melissa, Iain, and other Hoosiers aren't the only ones who should be concerned).

Melamine A Hot Commodity, Which Means This

April 30, 2007
We who live and dine in America might as well get used to the idea that we've probably already consumed an unidentified amount of melamine and, what's more, that we may have been doing so for as long as sixteen years.

Food Tainting Update: Melamine Spiking A Common Practice in China
April 30, 2007
This weekend, however, New York Times writer David Barboza, reporting from Zhangqiu, found numerous grain and food-processing workers and management willing to talk about what must seem like old news to them--namely, that adding melamine to grain products in order to boost protein-content readings (and market price) is a common practice in China.

Pet And Human Food-Tainting Update: FDA Raids ChemNutra's Office; China Admits Problem For First Time; Menu Foods To Sue ChemNutra

April 27, 2007
Two days after tainted wheat-gluten importer Stephen S. Miller (CEO, ChemNutra) testified before a Congressional committee looking into food safety issues, the FDA raided ChemNutra's Las Vegas offices.

FDA To Test Food Glutens, Proteins For Melamine

April 24, 200
We believe the safety net is in place.

Forgive me, Mr. Elder, sir, but I believe otherwise. And I think all the evidence falls fairly squarely in the court of Otherwise, too.

Update: California Senate Passes Label Requirement Bill For Cloned Food; FDA Still Accepting Comments

April 24, 200
Did I even need to paste in that last bit--with Democrats supporting the legislation and Republicans opposing it--or have we finally reached a point where it's pretty much assumed that the Dems will usually side with America's citizens while the GOP can always be counted on to stand behind (or rather, bend over in front of) its corporations.

House Begins Hearings On Food Safety; CSPI Calls For Import Ban

April 24, 2007
The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee begins hearings today to determine what can be done to protect the nation's food supply, while FDA officials admit food ingredients (as opposed to whole products) have received very little scrutiny.

Melamine Found In California Pork; FDA Launches Criminal Investigation

April 21, 2007
It was only a matter of time before this happened: melamine has been detected in the feed and body fluids of pigs meant for human consumption, and California authorities have issued both a quarantine and an advisory to not consume pork from at least one farm; others may follow, since the tainted feed was also shipped to New York.

Pet Food Poisoning: Now In Three Protein Ingredients

Thursday, April 19, 2007
Officials have found melamine in not one, not two, but three grain proteins--wheat gluten, corn gluten, and rice protein concentrate--exported by China. What's more, investigators at the FDA now admit the possibility that the spiking was intentional--apparently, the nitrogen content in melamine, used as a fertilizer in Asia, boosts the readings in protein testing. A higher protein content, as you'd imagine, translates to higher per-pound revenue.

Pet Food Poisoning: The Gluten Thickens

Tuesday, April 10, 2007
I learned, via a great Op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate, that buried deep within the FDA site, there is an Import Alert issued on April 4th against a Chinese company called Xuzhou Anying. Read the FDA order. It mandates "Detention Without Physical Examination" of wheat gluten and wheat flour gluten due to the presence of "poisonous or deleterious substance". Further down the page, the alert states the charges:

The article is subject to refusal of admission pursuant to section 801(a)(3)in that it appears to bear or contain a poisonous or deleterious substance, which may render it injurious to health [Adulteration, section 402(a)(1)](Oasis Charge Code; POISONOUS)

Meat Or Its Match: Consumers Want And Deserve Labels
April 02, 2007
If there is nothing untoward here, if the biotech industry is so convinced that several more years of research will confirm that there is really is nothing to see--that there is nothing unusual about the contents of FrankenCow's flesh and cellular biology that would distinguish it from a "conventionally bred cow", then why is the industry afraid of a simple label?


March 13, 2007
You don't have to be a vegan to understand why such mendacity is wrong--people in the West don't eat dogs and cats, we befriend them. I'd be willing to bet most beef-eating Americans at baseball games this summer would not want to learn that the term hot dog had been interpreted literally, and that what they were about to devour was actually a footlong serving of ground Fido.

I don't see that the issue with the animals' fur is any different, ethically. It's not about vegetarianism, about whether or not you support using animals' bodies to make commercial products. It's about truth in labeling.

It is
at least about that.

Monday Morning Drive: Red Hot Chili Peppers; Apache Rose Peacock

So this is what we agreed on for the school run this morning. Something loud to get us moving; something funky, something grooving. Because it's almost as good as a triple espresso and Stravinsky wasn't cutting it with my three--sleepy, intensely grouchy little bears that they are today.

(H/T sitzesaroo)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Heart Michael Vollbracht

Michael Vollbracht and Me, October 11, 2007

Back in the day, meaning the late 1970's and early 1980's, a hot American designer named Michael Vollbracht created eye-popping dresses and outrageous, colorful silk ensembles. The well-heeled customers at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue couldn't get enough of Michael's work, and for good reason: his clothes were fresh and witty, bearing as they did his signature irreverence for the Proper and Correct. In 1980, Michael won the Coty award.

He headed up the Bill Blass empire after that designer passed away, and you can see Michael's wit and sense of color throughout those collections, even as the dresses boast an undeniable Blass pedigree (conservative lines, proper colors--in short, it's finery for ladies of a certain age). He was also kind enough to write a blurb for the back cover of Virtual Vintage, the book Linda and I wrote in 2002.

Michael recently moved on from Blass and is back in town now, throwing himself into his painting and various other projects personal, public, and philanthropic. On Thursday night, also known to a small handful of people as my [age redacted] birthday, I attended a gallery opening, in Bellair Bluffs, that celebrated (and of course offered for sale) a sampling of Michael's artwork (the hanging-on-the-wall kind). I wore a denim skirt with one of his blouses from the early 1980's, procured from a vintage clothing dealer on eBay; I had actually bought the matching printed-silk skirt from a different seller, months later, but wearing the two pieces together, it turns out, just rubbed me the wrong way--blame my English resistance to conformity and matching sets of things, I guess.

Anyway, I'm really happy to know our little Burg has a real, live, honest-to-goodness fashion designer in its midst once more. That he's an old family friend is icing on the birthday cake, so to speak.

"More clothes!" I told Michael, whose original vintage pieces I adore, because they are just so beautifully made and don't seem terribly vintage at all, come to think of it, bearing as they do the hallmark traits of any real classic: time hasn't aged them, worn them down, or rendered them irrelevant.

"Don't abandon fashion--it needs you," I said. And so it does.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore Remembers My Birthday, Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Dear Vice President Gore,

You, sir, are my Nobel hero!

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and lay the foundations for counteracting it.

''I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize,'' Gore said. ''We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity.''

Gore's film ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' a documentary on global warming, won an Academy Award this year and he had been widely expected to win the prize.

He said he would donate his share of the $1.5 million that accompanies the prize to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization devoted to conveying the urgency of solving the climate crisis.

To say that I am thrilled for you and your family is an understatement--indeed, there's only one thing that would make me more ecstatic right now, and you know, it just so happens that I wrote (with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel) a little song about it last year.

Al, won't you please run for President?
People love you more than you will know (whoa, whoa, whoa)
God bless you Al--run for President!
The country needs a leader--one with brains.
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Giving fifteen interviews on Sunday afternoon;
Going to the candidates' debate.
Call them out on anything:
The quagmires that we're in--
Every way you look at it, you win.

Baby needs for there to be a really sweet ending to this particularly awful week, Mr. Vice President. Go on, throw your hat into the ring and make a cynical girl's heart soar.

Imagine the poetry of it.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

What Kind of Fuckery is This?

Oh, how I love this wicked lament. TRex turned me on to Amy Winehouse this summer, so I dedicate this song to him.

Two days to forty-seven. What kind of fuckery, indeed.

(Not exactly work-safe.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bathtub-Government Fun: Toying With Safety While A Lame Duck Leadership Circles the Drain

Six holiday shopping seasons ago, the question on many toy-buyers' minds was whether to go with the God Bless America Barbie or the United We Stand Lego Set.

Given the state of the Consumer Product Safety Commission at this point in time, however, parents will be grateful if they're able to choose (not to mention distinguish) between Regular and Unleaded.

And attempting to get straight answers from its Chairman is proving to be a risibly fruitless exercise. Witness Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) as she grills Consumer Product Safety Committee Chairman Nancy Nord this week:

Senator McCaskill repeatedly asks Ms. Nord why she has not, to date, requested more money for her agency, the underfunded, dilapidated and ineffectual state of which was exposed in a similar senate hearing last month; highlights included the introduction to the culture of a new and unfortunately-named martyr of sorts--Bob, the Small Parts Guy--as well as this picture of the CPSC Toy Testing lab on display:

Ms. Nord repeats her non-answer with robotic consistency and an oddly fixed gaze to match:

"If you gave us more money, we would spend more money."

The bizarre yet telling episode concludes with Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) going all Socratic on Ms. Nord, explaining that she was a political appointee of the White House who answered to the White House budget office and was only allowed to ask for the amount said office approved.

Senator Nelson, pointing to Ms. Nord: "You can't ask for more, even though you say you'll spend more, because you're under orders from the White House not to ask for more. Is that correct?"

Ms. Nord: "I have never had a conversation like that with the White House."

Weboy has more on appointee Nancy Nord.


The lead-befouled toy troubles have recently spread to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand as stores there follow the lead of US companies and remove various items from their shelves. Meanwhile, the total numbers of toys recalled Stateside continue to soar:

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Toys ``R'' Us Asia Ltd., a unit of Hong Kong-based Li & Fung Group, said it removed from its stores Chinese-made toys that contained lead, a day after eight U.S. companies recalled products tainted with the dangerous metal. [...]

At least 15 million items made in China were recalled in the U.S. over the past two months, according to data compiled from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site. The U.S. Congress held hearings in September on lead in children's toys, which may cause brain damage if ingested, and the safety of Chinese imports. China last week said it has made progress in rooting out dangerous goods through better production oversight.

Toys ``R'' Us Inc., Walt Disney Co. products maker Kids II Inc. and six other companies yesterday recalled Chinese-made items ranging from Baby Einstein blocks and Winnie the Pooh bookmarks to aluminum water bottles and toy flashlights.

Kids II recalled 35,000 of Disney's Baby Einstein Discover & Play Color Blocks, and Toys ``R'' Us, the largest U.S. toy chain, called back 15,000 units of Children's Toy Decorating Sets, the Safety Commission said in statements yesterday. No injuries have been linked to any of the recalled items, the agency said.

Other items withdrawn from the market yesterday were books, ``Pirates of the Caribbean'' toy flashlights and wooden pull- along wagons. Dollar General Corp. recalled 192,000 key chains and 63,000 Frankenstein Tumblers.

(H/T the priceless petulant)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mona Lisa Spends a Week in The States



Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?

Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep

They just lie there and they die there

Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?

Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?

-- From Mona Lisa, performed by Nat King Cole

Lyrics & music: Livingston & Evans
First image by Leonardo da Vinci; second by unknown.

(H/T Lisa in Baltimore)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mommy Makeovers, Nip 'n Tuck Style

Behold the female cheetah: athlete supreme, fearless predator, and mother. When out for a run, she's capable of going from 0 to 68 miles per hour in an astonishing three seconds flat, and along with her male counterpart, she is the fastest land animal on the planet.

Just look at that soft, sagging underbelly, though. According to some plastic surgeons, she needs a Mommy Makeover.

DR. DAVID A. STOKER, a plastic surgeon in Marina Del Rey, Calif., has a surgical cure for the ravages of motherhood. He, like many plastic surgeons nationwide, calls it a “mommy makeover.”

Aimed at mothers, it usually involves a trifecta: a breast lift with or without breast implants, a tummy tuck and some liposuction. The procedures are intended to hoist slackened skin as well as reduce stretch marks and pregnancy fat.

“The severe physical trauma of pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding can have profound negative effects that cause women to lose their hourglass figures,” he said. His practice, Marina Plastic Surgery Associates, maintains a Web site,, which describes the surgeries required to overhaul a postpregnancy body.

Without a doubt, having a baby will change your body, and how much of you is affected by the process of carrying around an ever-growing, active fetus--in my case, one aspiring Tae Kwon Do champ after another--is largely determined by your genes. Regardless of your lineage, though, you will gain some weight (not all of which belongs to Baby, either) and your breasts will definitely swell, sometimes to shocking dimensions: at first with general fluid retention, and later, with milk to feed the little one. A Cesarean section will leave you with a horizontal scar above your pubic bone; pushing babies out the hard way, as I did with each of my three, can tear you ten ways 'till Christmas if you're unlucky.

Your bones will soften as your body prepares to separate your pelvis during birth in order to allow the baby's head--as broad as a large grapefruit and as hard and heavy as a cannonball--to pass through it. Sometimes your hips or ribcage--or both--will be prised open a bit, and while they do settle back into their normal positions after a year or so, some women swear their bones remain permanently shifted.

Softer bones mean wider feet for many women, too; most mothers report gaining at least a half-size, which is both a a blessing (new shoes!) and a curse (new $hoes).

These are the main changes; there are countless others, though, most of which are temporary, a few of which, like softer and less perky breasts, are permanent. Softer breasts, and oh yes, a softer tummy featuring skin you can no longer bounce a quarter on. Damn.

Listen, I'm all for self-determination and freedom of choice. If you're bothered by the coffee stains on your teeth, the gray streaks in your hair, the smallness or sleepiness of your breasts, or the size of your thighs--and you've got the time, money, and inclination to do something about it--by all means, do as you will if it helps your confidence. I can't think of a single woman I know who doesn't at least file her nails and color her hair.

What disturbs me, however, is the packaging of motherhood as an illness of sorts, one with aftereffects that must be remedied before sending a woman back into the fray as taut and tempting as she was before tossing the condom box to the wind. The boys are depending on us...

Because really, we've been doing this birthin' baby stuff for quite some time now, we women, and only recently have the normal, natural physical effects of being a walking incubator been recast as damage that must be addressed with invasive surgery.

There is a saying: Nine months up; nine months down. Meaning, if you do nothing drastically different--if you simply carry on your day, eating as you did before the pregnancy and generally doing what new mothers do (how long have you got?), your body will return to its pre-pregnancy weight--give or take a few pounds, depending on whether you're nursing--in about nine months.

And if you've been doing your Kegel exercises with an eye toward having stronger bladder control and better orgasms (my human sexuality professor taught us that, back in the late 70's, undoubtedly inspiring most if not all of the 500 students in the hall to begin the secret workouts right then and there), you'll probably be fine when it comes to the dreaded and little-discussed loss of muscle tone in parts that really count.

Marketing a prix fixe set of exorbitantly expensive plastic surgery procedures to post-partem women, though? That smacks of patriarchal opportunism, at best.

And at worst, proponents of the Mommy Makeover would seem to be seeking a complete negation of the pregnancy and childbirth experience, something which should be celebrated and valued--cheered, even--whether or not you might wish to fix something later, which would of course be your right.

I'd much rather see the phrase Mom Job defined as "where to type in Writer on the standard application for a newborn's universal health coverage".

Via Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Also at Shakesville.