Becoming a Photographer

In 1973 I became a photographer.

I started the year with a Yashica Electro 35 G, a non-interchangeable lens range finder camera that had some automated features but still required me to learn focusing and the use of the aperture.

At first I was taking basically snapshots, a sort of visual notebook.  But then I took my camera to our group session down at Stanford.  When I got the prints back some were better than just snap shots, they showed a point of view and documented something that would otherwise vanish into mythology.  Even today I have only to look at those photographs to know that I was part of a group that was far more diverse than the mythology paints us as being.

In early 1973, Jan and I went to Hollywood. She went because she was getting implants.  I went to accompany her and to see Hollywood. Of course I took my camera.  Being stuck with only one lens meant I couldn’t get what I saw or rather saw in my mind’s eye.  I had serious Nikon envy for Jan’s Nikon F, a big bulky camera with the large boxy metered viewfinder.

On that trip I met some sisters and visited some very seedy drag bars on Cahuenga Avenue.  I made some friends and started coming to LA to hang out with them and photograph them.

That spring I broke up with my boyfriend, Jerry.

Shortly after that I went camera shopping.  First I bought a Nikkormat FTn and a 50mm f1.4 soon after I added an 85mm f1.8,  a 24mm f2.8 and a 135mm f2.8.  I also started carrying a small rangefinder everywhere.

I plunged into documenting an intense scene as a participant/observer.  I was studying the work of Danny Lyon and other “street photographers.”  I was taken by the work of the members of Magnum Agency and the war photographers who had covered the war in Vietnam.  The unforgettable work of Nick Ut, Eddie Adams and Philip Griffiths.  I was looking at the depression era work of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange.

I was too late for Liberation News Service, the protests against the War in Vietnam were mostly over but LGBT and Feminist demonstration were in full swing.  So was shooting rock and roll.

I took photography seriously right from the start.

I shot available light, pushing my Tri-X to the max to squeeze even the highlights on to the film.  Friendships meant I was able to shoot things I couldn’t possibly trust to a straight lab and so I took my film to Harvey Milk’s camera store in the Castro.

From Robert Capa I learned the importance of getting close to my subject.  From Henri Cartier-Bresson I learned about the decisive moment. From Ansel Adams I learned about exposure and the print. From the FSA depression era photographers and the people who shot for Life Magazine I learned the importance of empathy.

From Annie Leibovitz I leaned that you didn’t have to be a man to be a brilliant photographer.

In 1974 I moved to LA.  I had an apartment near Sunset and Fairfax, in the Villa Rosa.

I turned my cameras to the streets of Hollywood, the Pride Day Parades, the gay and lesbian demonstrations.  The feminist demonstrations.

Eventually I became a photographer for the Lesbian Tide.

Somewhere along the line I learned that women who are photographers not only have to be vastly better than male photographers, they have to be extremely fortunate in their timing in order to become the token woman photographer.

While the passion was there I never managed to turn my art into a profession.

The passion for the arts is still there the love of photography the getting people to see what I see is as strong as ever.

Lately I’ve been reading about some of the members of the Magnum Agency.

Recently there were a couple of articles in the Nation.  (I posted teasers for these articles below this piece.)

Thursday evening I saw a documentary titled, Which Way is the Front Line From Here?, about Tim Hetherington, a war photographer who was killed in Libya (2011).

The documentary is on HBO and is available on demand.

On Saturday when Tina and I went to the Earth Day Event I carried one of my film cameras and took pictures in black and white.

My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters

From The Nation:

Deborah Copaken Kogan
April 9, 2013

My latest novel was just long-listed 
for Britain’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly known as the Orange Prize. I cried when I heard. Then I Googled it. Here are a few things I learned: it was founded in response to the 1991 Booker Prize, whose nominees were all men; it is frequently modified by the adjective “prestigious”; and it is controversial. Why do we need a separate prize for women, ask the columnists, year after year, in one form or another, following the announcement of the nominees.

“The Orange Prize is a sexist con-trick” posited a prize-winning male novelist in 2008. “The past is gone,” he wrote. “Get over it.”

The 2012 VIDA statistics have been out for some time now, so I won’t linger over the current and quantifiable inequity—yes, even in this magazine—in the frequency with which male and female writers are reviewed today, five years after the past was deemed “gone.” It’s a proven fact, backed by simple math even my first grader can understand: the number of reviews of books by men is greater than the number of reviews of books by women; the number of male reviewers is greater than the number of female reviewers. Men, in other words, are still the arbiters of taste, the cultural gatekeepers, and the recipients of what little attention still gets paid to books.

What I will do, however, is open my kimono and make it personal, though I’ve been warned not to do this. It’s career suicide, colleagues tell me, to speak out against the literary establishment; they’ll smear you. But never mind. I’m too old and too invisible to said establishment to care. And I still believe, as Carol Hanisch wrote back in 1969—when I was having my then three-year-old feet forced into stiff Mary Janes—that the personal is political.

So. Let’s rewind and take a look at my so-called post-feminist life in arts and letters.

Born in 1966, I came of age at the dawn of a revolution. The past was gone; we would move on and get over it! Except getting over it, as it turns out, takes more than an ashcan full of bras and access to the pill. It takes years—decades even. My whole life, in fact, and still counting. Nixon signed Title IX in 1972, when I was 6, but only the girls born many years after me got to reap its rewards. Who knows? Instead of a novelist, I might have become a really short, nebbishy soccer player.

Fast-forward to 1988: I am raped by an acquaintance the night before my graduation from college. The next morning, before donning cap and gown, I stumble into the University Health Services building to report the crime. I’m advised not to press charges. “They’ll smear you,” I’m told by the female psychologist assigned to my case. I don’t want to be smeared. I’ve got a life to live. Twenty-five years later, while watching CNN lament the effects of the Steubenville rape on two promising lives—the rapists’, not the victim’s—I’ll hold two competing thoughts: nothing has changed; I wish I’d been braver. I decide to Google my rapist’s name, something I’ve never done in the quarter-century since the crime. His promise, I note, has been duly fulfilled. He’s successful. He’s married—to a woman who recently spoke on a “Lean In” panel with Sheryl Sandberg.

Because life’s like that.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters

Recalling a Chronicler of Combat as It Is

From The New York Times:

Published: April 17, 2013

The British-born photojournalist Tim Hetherington starts and stops, groans and grimaces, as he tries to explain why he’s made a career of taking his cameras as close as possible to the places where men are killing each other. He manages to get out, “The important thing for me is to make work that is connected to people,” before shaking his head in disgust: “Blah blah blah blah blah.”

A good portion of the film “Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington,” to be shown Thursday night on HBO, is taken up with the question of what drove him to document war zones in Africa, Afghanistan and finally Libya, where he was killed by a mortar round in 2011 at age 40. Family members, friends and colleagues talk about his need to understand the world, his habit of immersing himself in a subject, his wish to get at the truth about combat.

But is it a question that really needs an answer? The simple truth seems to be on display in the videos here, some shot by Hetherington and others featuring him, in which the complementary desires to witness and to be where the action is result in a giddiness and fellowship that the journalists share with the soldiers they’re documenting.

“Which Way” was made by Sebastian Junger, who with Mr. Hetherington directed the 2010 Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. The new film is a touching tribute, if perhaps a bit more solemn and funereal than necessary, with some unfortunately sentimental choices in music.

It’s consistently animated, though, by Hetherington himself, seen in excerpts from interviews. He’s larger than life, with leading-man good looks and a seriousness that’s earnest without being annoying. And the real revelation is his still photography, a body of work that’s been in the shadow of “Restrepo.” Less interested in chaos and graphic violence than other war photographers, he favored quiet, reflective, classically composed images; among his most celebrated photos was a series of portraits of American soldiers sleeping in their bunks.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Recalling a Chronicler of Combat as It Is

Chim’s Eye: On Photography and Politics

From The Nation:


It’s a strange photograph, something like a class portrait from a school under siege. In it, the pitted walls of an air raid shelter frame a dozen or so children and their caretakers behind them, peering out of the darkness. A naked light bulb casts a dim glow over the students as they stare at the photographer, hands resting at their sides. Their gaze draws the viewer into and down the shelter’s length. Do their faces betray fear, or a wary concern over the disruption of their daily routine?

Even though it doesn’t show maimed bodies or stiffened corpses, the image is a war photograph. Taken on the Mediterranean island of Minorca in December of 1938, it is a strikingly humanizing missive sent from the short-lived Second Spanish Republic’s battle for survival against Generalissimo Francisco Franco and his fascist forces. More generally, it shows what war was like for much of Europe’s peoples in the 1930s and 1940s: random periods of defenseless waiting, sometimes terminated by deaths of varying duration. The photographer was a 27-year-old Polish exile shooting for a large European audience, and the children’s collective stare turns him into a medium for an intense identification between Spain’s afflicted and the world beyond the shelter’s spot-lit darkness. Why did this 
photographer—working in a distinctly heroic partisan aesthetic tradition—focus on civilians rather than soldiers at the front?

Part of the answer has to do with the world he was photographing. In the course of his transformation from Dawid Szymin, the son of a publisher of Yiddish and Hebrew books; to Chim, committed photographer of French Popular Front politics; to David Seymour, citizen of the United States and veteran of its army, two conflicts had played themselves out across the globe, successively more grotesque in their technologies of killing and annihilation and the industrial scale on which they were used. Europe was in ruins at the end of those wars. Chim perceptively adapted his camera eye to the changed circumstances, and his best images offered possibilities for empathy that are distinctly original.

An exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York City, on view through May 5, showcases Chim’s photography and surveys the magazines that were so central to his practice as a photojournalist. Negatives recovered in 2007 from the long-lost “Mexican Suitcase” [see “A Secret Archive,” January 24, 2011], along with never-before-seen color prints, add to the wealth of images culled from the collections of Chim’s extended family and the ICP. (The Minorca image was a gift to the center from Eileen Shneiderman, Chim’s older sister, and her son Ben.) Although Chim’s stylistic approach to his subjects changed over the course of the tumultuous wartime years, the heart of his work, a palpable and singular identification with ordinary people and their experience of violent upheaval, remains hauntingly consistent.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Chim’s Eye: On Photography and Politics

Op-ed: ‘Freaking’ Cis People

From The Advocate:

Riki Wilchins ponders why she would even want to be a cisgender person if they can be so cruel.

BY Riki Wilchins
April 12 2013

One of the pleasures (and occasional pains) of writing a column online is reading the comments complete strangers leave. It wasn’t even in response to something I’d written, but rather to another commenter, that Rufus Rufushy Ulrik wrote the two-word imprecation I can’t get out of my mind: “Fucking cispeople.”

Only that. Nothing more.

To my ear, it’s even more effective than Danah Gaz’s “Die Cis-scum,” which has an over-the-top edge of goth hostility to it, a take-off on a Ross Meyer 1960s trash flick, “Faster, Cis-Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”

But “fucking cispeople” resonates with me in ways I’m still coming to grips with, right down to its note of plaintive resignation. No exclamation point, no caps. More of a sigh than an expletive. It crystallizes something I’ve been feeling for a long time but couldn’t put into words.

You see, I have struggled with my fair share of those twin demons of all despised minorities who have the misfortune to be nomadic, wandering in search of a cultural heritage and a geography of acceptance: shame and self-loathing.

There is, after all, no transgender section of any city. Even in New York City, I can find people like me, but unlike other minorities — Lubavitchers, African-Americans, gays, Italians — we have no place we can call our own, where we are the norm, where we see ourselves constantly reflected in eyes of others. So I wander through other people’s lands as Other. Even my presence within the LGB and sometimes T community is remains highly contested.

And before my status as trannie, there was transition. Practically the first thing my doctors did was make sure I really wanted to be a cisgender woman, because what other kind of woman could I want to be? I couldn’t very well tell them I wanted to be a transgender woman or a genderqueer one. Being a “true transsexual” was defined  by the very act of wanting not to be one.

When I was prompted to explain that I felt “like a woman, trapped in man’s body” (thanks, no, I’m just trapped in the wrong culture) I was explaining that my deepest identification — the one that had driven me to give up family and lover and jobs and, yes, body parts — was with those whom I was not: cisgender people.

Having established that I wanted to be a cisgender woman, my doctors then rushed to assure me that I could not be one.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Op-ed: ‘Freaking’ Cis People

Puberty blockers: my son’s life perserver

From The Times Union:


My son got his period at age 12 and a half, and we both cried. We both had dreaded this day and hoped to avoid it altogether. It’s true my son had the physical parts of a girl and was born my daughter, but I discovered when he came out as transgender he was actually my son. What boy wants to grow breasts and get a period? None that I know wish for this; in fact it was torture for him.

 Him getting his period was a reminder to him that he wasn’t physically a boy,  that he was very different indeed. We had an appointment in the fall to see an endocrinologist in our area but that appointment couldn’t come soon enough as his period began in May. My son became more and more despondent and depressed and, as when he first told me he was transgender, I feared I would loose him. He was drowning, and I had to find a way to save him again.

I often think of being a parent of a transgender child as your child is constantly drowning and you are always trying to find a life preserver. He’s in deep water and sinking. I am there trying to hold his head up, screaming for help. People walk by and see him struggling. They comment on how brave my son is to swim in deep waters and how I am a good mom to try to save him, but they don’t jump in to help. They fear they aren’t a good enough swimmer to help or they simply ignore us and walk on by as if they never saw it. I keep trying to pull him to safety, but he’s weighted down. His legs are being held down by the weights of people’s ignorance, fear, insecurity, and judgment. The weights are heavy, and as hard as I try I can’t free him from the weights. I want to scream as loud as I can to the world, “If you can’t help my son live, please don’t push him under, please allow me to bring him to safety.”

I look for any life preserver I can find along the way and one appears: hormone blockers. Puberty blockers freeze the child’s natal puberty and place them on hold. By giving my son puberty blockers his “female” puberty would cease. It would stop his period and stop his breasts from growing larger. This helps pull his head up out of the water so he can breathe, and in turn so do I.

It’s important to know that children who are transgender do NOT have sex change surgery at a young age. I’ve had more than one person say to me when I say my son is transgender, “Does that mean he now has boy parts and had surgery already?” Please know transgender children are not undergoing sex change surgery; they begin their transition by socially transitioning.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Puberty blockers: my son’s life perserver

Is It Time for Off-the-Shelf Birth-Control Pills?

From The New York Times:

Published: April 20, 2013

WHEN a federal judge recently ordered the Food and Drug Administration to make the morning-after pill available to women of all ages without a prescription, the ruling was a political embarrassment for the Obama administration and unleashed protests from abortion foes and abstinence advocates. But that controversy may look like a tempest in a teapot compared with a broader and no less heated discussion that is roiling the medical community: should birth-control pills of any type require a doctor’s prescription? Or should they be available, like Tylenol, on pharmacy shelves?

Last December the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released an official position paper concluding that the time had come for birth-control pills to be sold over the counter. It was the first time the group had endorsed such sales, concluding that scientific evidence suggested that the practice was safe and calling it “a potential way to improve contraceptive access and use, and possibly decrease the unintended pregnancy rate.”

After all, oral contraceptives have been available in the United States for more than half a century, and few medicines have been so thoroughly vetted. Despite some catchy new brand names, the pills I took 25 years ago are essentially the same as those my daughter takes today. If anything, pills have become safer because they contain lower doses of estrogen.

While oral contraceptives bring with them some tiny risks, especially if used improperly, they arguably pose fewer dangers than many other medicines bought freely at the pharmacy, experts say, including nonsteroidal pain pills like Motrin (which can cause stomach bleeding) and decongestants like Sudafed (which may raise blood pressure). With a simple packaging insert about proper use and precautions, women would be fully capable of using them safely, the gynecologists’ group maintained.

“Nonsteroidal medicines kill far more people than birth-control pills,” said Dr. Eve Espey, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, who was involved in writing the position paper. “For most women, the absolute risk of taking the pill is far less than the risks incurred in pregnancy.”

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Is It Time for Off-the-Shelf Birth-Control Pills?

The Question of Socialism (and Beyond!) Is About to Open Up in These United States

From Gar Alperovitz

By Gar Alperovitz
April 17, 2013

Little noticed by most Americans, Merriam Webster, one of the world’s most important dictionaries, announced a few months ago that the two most looked-up words in 2012 were “socialism” and “capitalism.”

Traffic for the pair on the company’s website roughly doubled from the year before. The choice was a “kind of no-brainer,” observed editor at large, Peter Sokolowski. “They’re words that sort of encapsulate the zeitgeist.”

Leading polling organizations have found converging results among younger Americans. Two recent Rasmussen surveys, for instance, discovered that Americans younger than 30 are almost equally divided as to whether capitalism or socialism is preferable. Another Pew survey found those aged 18 to 29 have a more favorable reaction to the term “socialism” by a margin of 49 to 43 percent.

Note carefully: These are the people who will inevitably be creating the next American politics and the next American system.

As economic failure continues to create massive social and economic pain and a stalemated Washington dickers, search for some alternative to the current “system” is likely to continue to grow. It is clearly time to get serious about a different vision for the future. Critically, we need to be far more sophisticated about what a meaningful “systemic design” that might undergird a new direction (whether called “socialism” or whatever) would entail.

Classically, the central idea undergirding various forms of “socialism” (and there have been many, many forms, some of which use the terminology, some not) is democratic ownership of “the means of production,” or “capital,” or more simply, “productive wealth.” Quite apart from questions of exploitation, systemic dynamics (and “contradictions”), the core idea is simple and straightforward: Those who own wealth – and the corporations that operate it – have far more power to control any system than those who don’t.

In a nation in which a mere 400 people own more wealth than the bottom 180 million together, the point should be obvious. What is new in our time in history is that the traditional compromise position – namely progressive, or social democratic or liberal politics – has lost is capacity to offset such power even in the modest (compared, for instance, to many European states) ways the American welfare state once represented. Indeed, the emerging direction is to cut back previous gains in many areas – not to sustain or enlarge them. Even Social Security is now on the table for cuts.

Perhaps the most important reason for the decline of the traditional reform option is the decline of labor: Union membership has steadily decreased from roughly 35 percent of the labor force in 1954, to 11.3 percent now – a mere 6.6 percent in the private sector.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on The Question of Socialism (and Beyond!) Is About to Open Up in These United States

America’s New Math: 1 Wall Street Hour = 21 Years of Hard Work For the Rest of Us

From Alternet:

It’s perverse: the top 10 hedge funds managers make as much as 196,000 registered nurses. Here’s how we change that.

By Les Leopold
April 18, 2013

The new Rich List is out — yet another example of financial pornography. While nearly 15 million Americans still can’t find jobs due to the 2008 Wall Street-created crash, the top hedge manager, David Tepper, earned $1,057,692 an HOUR in 2012 — that’s as much as the average American family makes in 21 years!

America’s new math: 1 Wall Street hour = 21 years of hard work for the rest of us.

Together the top 10 hedge fund managers waltzed off with $10.1 billion in 2012, which is more than enough to hire 250,000 entry level teachers or 196,000 new registered nurses.

It’s not just that these financial gurus are filthy rich. It’s that they are the richest of the rich and we don’t even know what they do. Overall, hedge fund managers make 50 to 100 times more than our top athletes, movie stars, CEOs, lawyers, writers, doctors and celebrities. Yet, their activities are treated like state secrets.

So what is a hedge fund? No, it has nothing to do with the wholesale garden supply business. Nor does all that money come from hedging against unforeseen negative economic events. Rather, hedge funds are investment vehicles for the super rich — for “sophisticated” investors and institutions who have the resources to gamble for ultra-high returns.

Are you worth what you earn?

In a capitalist society your value is determined by what the market says you’re worth. The market is not supposed to pay you billions unless you’re producing enormous amounts of value for the economy.  Bruce Springsteen makes a good living because people like his songs, buy his records and attend his concerts. We give him money, he gives us entertainment.

But not every market transaction is such an obvious fair exchange of value. Monopolies can jack up prices to make extra profits without increasing the value produced. It is also possible to lie, cheat and steal your way to riches without producing any economic value at all. And as we learned during the Wall Street crash, the creators of toxic assets produced an enormous amount of negative value for society even as the “market” paid them enormous sums.

So do hedge funds produce economic value or are they ripping us off?

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on America’s New Math: 1 Wall Street Hour = 21 Years of Hard Work For the Rest of Us

Small Farms Fight Back: Food and Community Self-Governance

From Common Dreams:

by Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Heather Retberg stood on the steps of the Blue Hill, Maine town hall surrounded by 200 people. “We are farmers,” she told the crowd, “who are supported by our friends and our neighbors who know us and trust us, and want to ensure that they maintain access to their chosen food supply.”

Blue Hill is one of a handful of small Maine towns that have been taking bold steps to protect their local food system. In 2011, they passed an ordinance exempting their local farmers and food producers from federal and state licensure requirements when these farmers sell directly to customers.

The federal government has stiffened national food-safety regulations in order to address the health risks associated with industrial-scale farming. Recent widespread recalls of contaminated ground turkey, cantaloupe, eggs, and a host of other foods illustrate the serious problems at hand. These outbreaks have been linked to industrial farms with overcrowded animals and unbalanced ecosystems. The significant distance between industrial farms and consumers creates a lack of accountability and difficulty tracing problems when they arise.

Small-scale farming, however, doesn’t spark the same safety risks. Small farmers who sell their food locally will tell you that the nature of their business, based on face-to face relationships with the people who eat their food, creates a built-in safety protection. They don’t need inspectors to make sure they are following good practices. Keeping their neighbors, families, and long-time customers in good health is an even better incentive. Customers are also more able to witness the farming practices firsthand.

Still, small farmers are being pushed out of business because they are saddled with the financial and bureaucratic burdens of the same regulations as large industrial farms. Heather and her family’s Quill’s End Farm raise grass-fed cows, lambs, pastured pigs, chickens for eggs and meat, turkeys, dairy cows, and goats. The diverse mix is better both for the land and the economic viability of the farm.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Small Farms Fight Back: Food and Community Self-Governance

Contaminated Nation: Inhuman Radiation Experiments

From Truth Out:

By John LaForge
Sunday, 21 April 2013

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the declassification of top secret studies, done over a period of 60 years, in which the US conducted 2,000 radiation experiments on as many as 20,000 vulnerable US citizens.[1]

Victims included civilians, prison inmates, federal workers, hospital patients, pregnant women, infants, developmentally disabled children and military personnel — most of them powerless, poor, sick, elderly or terminally ill. Eileen Welsome’s 1999 exposé The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War details “the unspeakable scientific trials that reduced thousands of men, women, and even children to nameless specimens.”[2]

The program employed industry and academic scientists who used their hapless patients or wards to see the immediate and short-term effects of radioactive contamination — with everything from plutonium to radioactive arsenic.[3] The human subjects were mostly poisoned without their knowledge or consent.

An April 17, 1947 memo by Col. O.G. Haywood of the Army Corps of Engineers explained why the studies were classified. “It is desired that no document be released which refers to experiments with humans and might have adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal suits.”[4]

In one Vanderbilt U. study, 829 pregnant women were unknowingly fed radioactive iron. In another, 188 children were given radioactive iron-laced lemonade. From 1963 to 1971, 67 inmates in Oregon and 64 prisoners in Washington had their testicles targeted with X-rays to see what doses made them sterile.[5]

At the Fernald State School, mentally retarded boys were fed radioactive iron and calcium but consent forms sent to parents didn’t mention radiation. Elsewhere psychiatric patients and infants were injected with radioactive iodine.[6]

In a rare public condemnation, Clinton Administration Energy Sec. Hazel O’Leary confessed being aghast at the conduct of the scientists. She told Newsweek in 1994: “I said, ‘Who were these people and why did this happen?’ The only thing I could think of was Nazi Germany.”[7] None of the victims were provided follow-on medical care.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Contaminated Nation: Inhuman Radiation Experiments

Atlas Has Shrugged: West, Texas

From Huffington Post:


Like almost anyone who lives in Texas, I have visited the town of West, uncountable times. Nobody drives I-35 through the middle of the state without stopping for the famous kolaches. Hardly anyone else knows much about the little community. But it is about to become an icon of our failures to properly oversee dangerous businesses and manage our governments.

Let’s concede the remote possibility there may have been a criminal act involved. David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound at Mt. Carmel was only 15 miles distant, and, as we already know, the Oklahoma City bombing was a criminal response to the federal government’s actions. This week in April, as has been shown by events like the Boston tragedy and the Ruby Ridge shootout, can deliver us unto evil in America.

But what happened in West is probably more about government inactions.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) acknowledged today that it only inspects plants like West Fertilizer on the basis of complaints. The most basic interpretation of that statement is that a mechanical issue has to be failing so badly that someone outside of the facility is able to notice and then file a complaint to the state agency. A worried employee providing information would be the only other cause to investigate. According to TCEQ records, the plant has not been inspected since 2006 after a nearby resident complained of a “strong ammonia smell.” A fine was issued for a “failure to apply for or obtain a permit.”

The EPA fined the plant that same year, too. According to WFAA-TV in Dallas, the facility paid a $2,300 penalty for “failing to have a risk management plan that met federal standards.” This is nothing more than a basic outline to ensure that chemical accidents don’t happen and there are institutional safeguards that make these types of tragedies preventable.

Why the obvious, even more attendant risks were ignored in West, is a more unsettling question. The state issues the permits for nursing homes and it appears there was one virtually across the street from West Fertilizer, in spite of the known dangers of the manufacture of ammonium nitrate. Not far away, a building permit was granted for a small, two story apartment complex. Is this good judgment by state and federal, and even local agencies? It’s not like ammonium nitrate fertilizer hasn’t been known to detonate in the past. The 1947 explosion in Texas City of a ship carrying the compound killed 500 people and remains the largest industrial disaster in American history. West happened 66 years and one day after Texas City.

Continue reading at:

See also Truth Dig: Texas Plant Had 270 Tons of Explosive Material, Was Not Being Monitored for Safety

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Atlas Has Shrugged: West, Texas

How Monsanto Went From Selling Aspirin to Controlling Our Food Supply

From Alternet:

Monsanto controls our food, poisons our land, and influences all three branches of government.

By Jill Richardson
April 18, 2013

Forty percent of the crops grown in the United States contain their genes. They produce the world’s top selling herbicide. Several of their factories are now toxic Superfund sites. They spend millions lobbying the government each year. It’s time we take a closer look at who’s controlling our food, poisoning our land, and influencing all three branches of government. To do that, the watchdog group Food and Water Watch recently published a corporate profile of Monsanto.

Patty Lovera, Food and Water Watch assistant director, says they decided to focus on Monsanto because they felt a need to “put together a piece where people can see all of the aspects of this company.”

“It really strikes us when we talk about how clear it is that this is a chemical company that wanted to expand its reach,” she says. “A chemical company that started buying up seed companies.” She feels it’s important “for food activists to understand all of the ties between the seeds and the chemicals.”

Monsanto the Chemical Company

Monsanto was founded as a chemical company in 1901, named for the maiden name of its founder’s wife. Its first product was the artificial sweetener saccharin. The company’s own telling of its history emphasizes its agricultural products, skipping forward from its founding to 1945, when it began manufacturing agrochemicals like the herbicide 2,4-D.

Prior to its entry into the agricultural market, Monsanto produced some harmless – even beneficial! – products like aspirin. It also made plastics, synthetic rubber, caffeine, and vanillin, an artificial vanilla flavoring. On the not-so-harmless side, it began producing toxic PCBs in the 1930s.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on How Monsanto Went From Selling Aspirin to Controlling Our Food Supply

Consumers should have the right to know if they are eating GM food

From The Guardian UK:

The consumer right to information about food must over-ride debate about pros and cons of GM food

Friday 19 April 2013

The frontpage of today’s Daily Mail is dominated by the headline, “Let Farms Grow GM Says PM’s Top Scientist“. The paper has long warned its readers about the perceived dangers of GM foods. A decade or so ago, its persistent campaigning on the issue was a key reason why the “frankenfood” moniker gained traction and why shoppers – and hence supermarkets – turned their back on the technology.

So it is noteworthy that one of the country’s most influential newspapers should now choose to return to the topic – which has largely remained on the back burner for a decade – with such prominence. The top line of the story itself is fairly innocuous. After all, we already knew that this government – and the last – were broadly supportive of the technology, as have been this and previous chief scientific advisors.

What’s new and concerning for the Mail, I suspect, is the comment by Sir Mark Walport that GM food is “inexorably rising up the agenda again because as a technology it is showing its value more and more”. The winds are changing, it seems, and the Mail senses its readers won’t like that.

However, the more interesting detail in the story – from my perspective, at least (for what it’s worth, you can read my own views on GM here) – is about mid-way through:

Earlier this month, four major supermarkets ended bans on farm suppliers giving GM feed to animals producing meat, milk and eggs. The vast majority of those foods sold in Britain will now come from animals raised on a GM diet. However, a survey by the Food Standards Agency last year found two in three people believe food from animals given a GM diet should be described as such.

The debate about the safety of GM food will, no doubt, continue for some time yet. There are zealots on both sides of the argument who seem determined to talk past each other. The more nuanced ethical debate about the corporate control and supply of GM food technologies will also persist.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Consumers should have the right to know if they are eating GM food