Sideways review of “In Old Narragansett: Romances and Realities”

Read an interesting book about Narragansett. Through the ugly casual racism you can see some interesting stuff. I looked up a lot of details and learned a little about the history of Black Governors in New England and their elections. Written in 1898 with stories about people who lived 100 or so years before, another Alice Morse Earle book. And now for a random history walk through the interwebs!!!

I did find census records of some of the people mentioned including Cuddymonk, who is described as mixed Narragansett and Black (in the 1790 census as Cuddy Monk with 5 in his household; his wife Rosann is mentioned in the book but the census only lists heads of households). I looked him up since he had a distinctive name.

Anyway, the book has a bunch of stories from what is now Bonnet Shores (then Boston Neck) including a mention of the ridge where the Tower is built (The Tower is named after “Unfortunate Hannah” Robinson). (I know the area from (partly) growing up there, and the Tower was and is a really cool landmark.) In Earle’s story, Hannah is an abandoned, sickly, dying young girl returning home to reconcile with her stern, cruel father after eloping with a French dancing-master. In actual life, she had 9 children with him in Providence before she returned to her parents’ house, which kind of messes up the touching fable of her almost innocent girlhood!

Unfortunate Hannah Robinson’s dad was a rich slave-owning plantation owner in Boston Neck, who bought a woman he called Abigail. The local story as told by Earle (I can’t find any other source) is that she was a queen in Africa, and Robinson freed her so she could go back there and find her son and … bring him back to Rhode Island? OK, seems unlikely! Her son Prince Robinson became one of the Black Governors of the area. The Prince Robinson in the census in the 1800s who was a stonemason may be him or may be his son. I feel sure a bit of real research could tell. There was also a woman named Tuggie Bannock who was said to be Abigail’s daughter and who was a witch. I couldn’t find her in the census. Earle makes her sound ridiculous, which is very annoying.

As I was looking through the census I noticed the Champlins and Hazards were also slave owning plantation owners (You will recognize the names if you are from there). And also on the same page as Cuddymonk: a white governor of Rhode Island listed as Gov. Samuel Potter.

My interest is in adding dimension to the people mocked in racist fables and replacing the caricatures with something more respectful. For example the way that (what’s her name) re-wrote Sojourner Truth’s famous speech in southern plantation dialect when she did not talk that way in her life. Alice Morse Earle does the same thing to her “characters”. I think it is part of undoing white supremacy to make our histories and geography more ‘true’ and more known. Now what I mean by that could fill a book. Moving right along…..

It looked also, in my casual reading, like the Hazards and Robinsons intermarried a bunch and one of that family at least became an abolitionist and did some work to gain freedom for a guy from his town who was detained in the south assumed to be escaped slave and this led to around 100 people there getting out of “detention” ie either jail or slavery. His textile business, not unrelatedly, had to switch from cotton to wool consuming and producing since the Southerners wouldn’t deal with him anymore.

Basically over that 150 years or so, the rich white people intermarried and owned all the land, and the Narragansett and Niantic and Black people intermarried and didn’t. I notice it didn’t seem to occur to Rowland Hazard to give the land back to the still extant Narragansett people as a way of settling up.

Another Hazard that Earle refers to: Caroline Hazard who wrote essays, poetry, and biographies and who was the President of Wellesley College for 10 years. I might look for her books in the Internet Archive. Of course Earle casually mentions her as “Miss Hazard” and her incredibly famous writing. Perhaps they were friends.

It is sad that I am at least happy that Morse Earle includes people of color which leaves some clues and tiny bits of truth along with the garbage racist caricatures. Other books do much worse — for example a multi-volume set “The Early History of Narragansett” has hundreds of pages of detail of every (white) family in the area for a couple of hundred years and all their names including details from their wills but never mentions that they are slave owners leaving human beings to their children in their wills. The Black and Narragansett & Niantic people are just left out of the Early (White Supremacist) history completely. You have to work to do that kind of disappearing.

Another example: In the Narragansett Historical Society’s short description of the area’s overall history, there is no mention of the history of slavery, of black residents over the years, or of the ongoing history of the Narragansett tribe’s people.

Here is another interesting collection of info from 1700s and early 1800s on people of color in Rhode Island mentioned in letters and manuscripts: http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/PeopleofColorweb.htm

In case you were wondering about Bonnet Shores, it was mostly Wesquage Farm and Bonnet Point before the mid 19th century, thought to be called that because the shape of the Point looked a bit like the bonnet of a ship’s jib (a small sail at the bottom of the jib).

bonnet point aerial view

OK…. sometimes this is what I do with my evenings… to relax…..

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Riot Grrrl documentary in the making!

It was super important for me to know about & be part of the riot grrrl movement – just to HAVE something culturally to identify with was amazing. I especially loved how multidimensional and spontaneous it was and is. People would hear the littlest thing about it and then declare they were part of it. It meant that we had context for our creative work that was lacking for us. 70s and 80s feminist work (which never stopped) for me were missing something that would include me as a young person. Here we had our movement that would refuse to devalue the cultural production & voices of young women and girls. Zines, music, discussion groups, all the amazing letters and mail art, taking punk to make it our own. It felt like an explosion of fertility & creativity!

Talking about something as history can feel wistful – like it is over. From my perspective it didn’t stop, there is nothing to have missed out on. The possibilities are endless & still going strong.

There is a new documentary in the making, GRRRL: 25 Years of Riot Grrrl and it needs our support! Please donate towards the making of this documentary!

You can see some of this work already in shorter pieces such as Lost Grrrls: Riot Grrrl in Los Angeles.

With every book on Riot Grrrl I read and every new zine I see popping up, I learn something new about how people see themselves in relation to the movement, to feminism and activism and politics. The more films and books, the better!

riot grrrl sticker

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Happy National Coming Out Day!

It’s that day again! I wrote a coming-out story some years ago, and it’s in a book, Can I Sit With You?.

Here’s a link to the full story online if you’d like to read it. It’s called “The Sex Change of Zyax II“.

True story from my 5th grade life in Houston, Texas in 1980.

Here is a picture of me at around that time, in my big plastic glasses frame, slightly stringy brown hair, and a tshirt with an iron-on patch that says “Friends Are Forever”.

Liz 1981

While the legal and cultural situation for GLBT people has changed somewhat for the better in the U.S. since my coming out experience 35 years ago, I think that we can’t underestimate the damage that hateful bigots still do even with those changes taking place. LGBTQ youth are still at greatly increased risk of being targeted for violence, and at more risk for suicide, than straight kids.

I was pleased recently to see this new of a dude escaping from a bad situation from his family, and that he had good legal support: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/10/06/trans-man-trapped-in-india-by-parents-allowed-to-return-home/.

Anyway, keep speaking up and representing, because this battle isn’t over.

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On a ramble in the city in the sun

Up betimes and to the office, where I had a lively time in various conference rooms and having lunch. Milo brought Minecraft and a book; we hung out talking about role playing games and science fiction with my co-worker Marc and my team’s intern Kate; then had a strangely nice time (for a day when a lot of technical infrastructure broke and we had to flail around to get things to work). I remarked to Ritu and Kate in our free form working-on-things meeting that I was so happy they are both interrupters. If only one of us was, it would be awkward. But with three rapidly thinking juggernaut talkers we jostled ideas and work around them, getting a lot done and building a group understanding of how we’re reading bugs and documentation, looking at metrics, and making decisions. My other team members are also like this. We can listen too — it is a comfortable mosh pit.

As usual I am wildly impressed by the deep knowledge of so many engineers at work. Stuff breaks or we have conflict and yet so much happens. My goal in going after a job at Mozilla was to be in a huge collaboration to make things bigger than I would ever know how to make on my own (after years of mostly lone projects, from zines to book editing to being a lone developer grubbing away in a dark corner). I am still obsessed with what collaboration can be and how it can be structured, and see interesting traces of generations of idealism echoed in our tools. (insert imaginary digression into c2 and meatball wiki history and LambdaMOO…. ) The answer to “why can’t you delete your bugzilla comments?” is actually this giant wild ride into epistemology and communication and truth but you would not necessarily suspect that if you weren’t there. So many things are like this. You look at a bridge, and if you know what ideals inspired the engineers of the time you understand why it is the way it is. Looking at every object, you have to assume that may be the case, just as every person has a deep background from which they have constructed themselves and been constructed. I was feeling this a lot today. This engineering perspective is why I love reading Henry Petroski….

I did promise a ramble! Milo and I went out along the Embarcadero, playing Ingress. I wanted to go down to the end of the pier near the Ferry Building, on this rare warm day when I had the (faked) energy to be out of the house. The sun baked us, we looked at the painted tiles and poetry quotes along the pier, talked to fishermen (who were catching two foot long sharks) and watched a giant cargo ship (in real life and on MarineTraffic.com) go under the Bay Bridge. Oil tanker, Maltese flag, coming from Benicia. Without even trying, we spent an hour loafing around the pier. Pelicans were diving. People asked me about my mobility scooter. Water sparkling, ferries zooming around, someone in a bathing cap swimming around in the freezing ocean! I love waterfronts because they make me feel like I’m in a Richard Scarry Busy Busy World page!

San Francisco waterfront

My plan was then to adventurously take a MUNI train from underground instead of doubling back to get on the F, then transfer to the J to go home Instead, we braved the confusion of underground. The plan: go to the Castro for comic book shopping and dinner. Everything worked out. The train was crowded, but no one was awful. The smellavators, I mean elevators, all worked. We speculated on what it would be like if they just made the lifts into actual toilet stalls. Milo now unfazed by all this chaos while 5 years ago he would have been miserable to be dragged around, needing to check out and daydream or read in order to tolerate it.

I had never been in the Castro underground MUNI station. Weird huh? I knew abstractly that’s what those stairs must be for. But why would I ever go down them? I also have no clue how to get to the underground bit of the Church muni stop. Someday will pop out of it like a gopher and stitch those geographic manifolds.

Everything today was suffused with contentment. I could not stop just quietly enjoying the sunny warmness, the city, thinking on how we were in a place that other people around the world come to on purpose to enjoy.

Pain was terrible today honestly but I was in a state where I could ride it — And enjoy everything.

Liz on a pier in the sun

Cannot do that more than one day in a row. Tomorrow is for working from bed, ice packs on the ankles, and doing nothing more difficult than hobbling out to water the plants on the front porch.

I reminisced a bit to Milo about memories of past SF Pride parades and the Dyke March, and how I feel a little surge of the happiness of coming to SF every time I see the rainbow flags on Market Street. I said how the fact that I roller skated half naked down Market and the next year was in my manual wheelchair hanging onto the back of some strange guy’s motorcycle with my sister pulled along behind me, gives me this weird feeling of strength and history. And how I have been going since 1991, a long time now. We used to take Milo to the playground at Civic Center with my ex Nadine and her family and the kids would just be like, Mom… there is a guy dressed only in balloons. (Yes dear! He’s celebrating! How amusing! Many of the rules of life get broken today!) While I don’t often tell stories about my life to the kids I try to mention at least some of the facts or things that will make them think of their own experiences as existing in a story or history as well and to appreciate everyone around them has experiences as interesting to know as reading a good book. And, I think it would be weird to think of your parent as just your parent, and then 20 years later go, Oh, and by the way surprise she was flouncing around naked in the streets back in the day. Better to know up front so as to get used to the mildly scandalous facts. There is no need to go into details.

So our wandering around today was like my substitute pride weekend. I’ll be out of town this year for work, and anyway, have difficulty keeping up with the crowds. How much nicer to sit in Harvey’s on a mellow day like today — mediocre food but a nice spot to have a drink and gaze out at the rainbow crosswalks – people passing by in their shorts and tank tops. We read the little flyer about Harvey Milk while pondering injustice. Alas, the comic book store was closed on Monday.

Then to avoid the horrors of the 24 at rush hour (always full, passes me up regularly from that direction, rage-inducing) we flaneured down 18th to look out over the park and take the J train. I felt happy thinking of the excellent punk band J Church. Lovely view over Dolores Park. Pointed at our history pet, the Golden Hydrant. (Also, it is a portal, so, hacked it.)

I feel lucky my son can enjoy my quiet pace of wandering around the city and that he is such a good companion for observing and talking, chilling out and reading books in random places. Not for the first or last time I thought of that kind of cheesy sentimental Juana de Ibarbourou prose poem Diary of a Young Mother.

I will be old when my son becomes a man. And when we go out to walk together, I will pretend to be hunchbacked, so that he will seem, at my side, to be more gallant. I will be a little old woman full of crafty tricks. I will learn to stumble once in a while, so that he can support me. I’ll have to feign exhaustion, so that he’ll give me his arm, saying:
          “You’re tired, Mom?”
          And the girls, who surely will all fall in love with him like fools, will say:
          “That crippled old lady on the arm of this handsome elegant man — it’s his mother.”
          And I’ll walk on secretly swelled with pride!

Unlike Juana I don’t have to pretend! And yet am more likely to be the support, open the door, carry his books (since I have this handy sturdy exoskeleton).

Part of a plan! Teen fantasy/sf book and comic book club at Borderlands. I will help Milo make it happen this summer. Isn’t it odd that the libraries, despite having a gazillionty kid/teen events, don’t have just like… a get together for kids who love to read? Not an improving aspirational reading list for the summer or a workshop on origami but … talk with people who love to read for fun, who are your age. Milo remarked how it took him until very recently to realize that most other people don’t read for fun but see it as this special educational activity. It’s good to find your people. It boggles his mind that people would consider one form of culture or art or writing to be somehow elite and high and others, not, when obviously that changes over time anyway and with every new art form! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in this case! But it’s like he gets to avoid my horrible childhood snobbery!

I thought of my nice day yesterday going out with Danny to eat oysters and weird candy cap mushroom creme brulee. We had just a day to catch up between two of his work trips and a ton of ideas to talk about, his talk at PDF, the general odd zeitgeist, what will happen with the elections and disinformation and astroturfing (my code for this is just muttering “venezuela” which if you followed the last 10 years of politics there and online arguments you will know means, you can’t tell what the hell is going on and everything is fucked). (Obviously that political situation is not special to VZ; it’s just that I was paying attention to it at the time.) We talked about writing projects. Gossip — ranging far afield — the psychology of everyone — ourselves — etc.

So, meanwhile, I complain about spending a lot of time just being in bed or on the couch. And sometimes resent that going to the drugstore 3 blocks away is my outside of the house activity for the week. How pathetic that little bit of happiness seems when I feel down or when I’m wishing to travel all over the world. But it isn’t really a bad thing and I think never will be. When I’m 90 I’ll sit on a bench feeling the sun, taking pleasure in that. It will be just fine.

A small but determined ambition: have periodic short writing times, with many different people, including Milo and Danny…. Some sporadic instances of Writing Together but separately time and talking over projects, rather than a regular habit which none of us can stick to because of the structures of our lives. How will I model sustainable feminist activism? This question my therapist posed has been a fine mantra over the past 8 months or so.

This last week I thought a lot about my friends and people in my life, thinking of them with huge affection. I want to write letters to everyone. What if I just write nice letters to people over this next year? But not “just”. The idea I was ticking over at this time last year was to do an anthology that is exactly to my taste of memoir and essay. I want to pull people together to represent this moment as intensely as possible. I am picturing this process and this artifact and will make it happen. I want to get out a lot of my books and stuff about diaries, and memoir, and feminist ethics, and jump from thought to thought to see what gets thrown into the mix before this project coalesces. Last year’s events made it hard for me to settle. Now I think I know what to do here. Think on history and activism. Riot grrrl slips into the realm of the mythical past. Moments flame up like comets. Collisions are bright shining. You know the Combahee River Collective didn’t last forever. But the people carried on their work in different trajectories. What they built still stands. The effort to collaborate that intensely is not failure because it’s ephemeral – Like all relationships.

Anyway, back to the day.

I felt content and good today. The good wishes of hundreds of people casually on Facebook (that exploitable butterfly) made me think fondly of everyone and I felt loved and appreciated for whatever it is I’m doing now, though it isn’t splashy or what I had planned. People are cynical about that “shallow” social interaction but I do love it. What could be wrong about thinking of another person for a moment, even if you don’t have them in mind all the time, or even for years?

Going across town is still a big deal for me that makes me happy. I do miss being able to get in my car and drive around exploring waterfronts and going all the places possible from the map. Instead: this is the time I’m in this city, in this way, and I’m going to enjoy it.

Small ambition!! Friday I am thinking to get a tres leches cake with pineapple whipped cream from Lelenita’s and invite a few people over. Cake time! Maybe… cake and poetry? Salon time; small private spaces. My feeling of not being ready to write a new different (poetry) book solidified oddly while Danny and I talked at our fancy Sunday lunch. I begin to see the problem there. It is our view of the failures of our collectives. Returning to our romantic idea of the End of Greatness. To get there I need to look further somehow.

Obligatory mention of books: Cixin Liu – just read everything of his that you can lay your hands. The novellas and short stories are beautiful. Read many of them in a row! You won’t be sorry.

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Updates from the polar regions

It’s been a while! I went off to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Center of the Study of Women in Society at which a bunch of feminist science fiction writers and critics were nucleating around some of our fabulous luminaries. I hung out and talked with Timmi Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, Margaret McBride, Alexis Lothian, Joan Haran, Hiromi Goto, Larissa Lai, and said hello to Ursula LeGuin and Sally Miller Gearhart. So that was amazing. Day 1 of the conference was feminist activists and academics in general, not just science fiction writers. The University of Oregon has a lot of feminist sf writers’ letters and papers, and Margaret taught a Tiptree Award class for many years, so it’s collected a lot of mojo with the west coast WisCon-going folks. That will probably continue to build!

I live-twittered both days of the conference and then meant to write it all up, but I got ill just after getting home. Here are the (over 200) tweets, with lots of interesting links and people to follow, and occasional humor: http://storify.com/lizhenry/worlds-beyond-world

My mom visited, and bought me a huge amount of wooly underthings from REI. I was frustrated at my lack of physical stamina to go out and do fun things with her, which in retrospect was because I was already getting ill.

For the first two weeks of being sick I took my antibiotics and worked from home, going out very minimally, and after a day in the ER I am on different antibiotics and sicker. It is unclear if this is something antibiotics will help, or if it is related to my autoimmune issues (aka, arthritis with complications). I am in a lot of pain and have to stay lying down in bed, a situation I really don’t like but in which, fortunately, I have the entire Internet and a lot of books to entertain me and nice family and friends to help care for me. So, I’m both fine and not fine. Sitting up is painful. I am dizzy and can’t eat more than broth and a little rice so I’m not feeling strong. I fall asleep a lot. More tedious doctor appointments are to come. I try not to worry, though I am so far behind at work that it’s stressful to contemplate. Parenting and taking care of myself is also hard. I am crying a lot out of sheer exhaustion and also fear of whatever is going on which is uncertain. Oh well. Been there before! I remain cheerful on the whole.

On the up side, lying in bed is relatively good for my ankles. Maybe it will help them heal up better. I can’t prop the laptop on my stomach, so am mostly sideways as I type or read stuff on the computer.

During this, we launched a quick 10-day fundraiser for Double Union’s buildout, hitting our $5K goal in under an hour, and topping out at just over $15K. OMG, I love my feminist hackerspace. Look at our gorgeous little website: http://www.doubleunion.org/ We have 25 members already and aren’t even open yet. This week a lot of people who aren’t me will be ripping out the carpet and moving all our furniture in and out. Then we will be ready to build shelves and buy tools. Then we can open. YAY!!!

In the interstices of that I have listened to a lot of music (currently on a Serenata Guyanesa kick), played some Plants vs. Zombies 2, watched Milo play Myst, poked around on Wikipedia, and read quite a few books. Here is a partial list. Sometimes I can think and sometimes I am just spacing out. If I can focus and read then it’s mercifully distracting from pain.

* When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
* In Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto
* Trophic Cascade (short prose poems by Hiromi Goto)
* The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
* We Are All Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
* Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverse ed. by L. Timmel Duchamp
* Gaia’s Toys by Rebecca Ore
* Great post by Skud, Why is it so difficult and expensive to make your own clothes (or have them made)?
* An entertaining close reading/critique of The Hunger Games
* Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Ada’s book for school)
* Black Boy by Richard Wright (Milo’s book for school)
* the first and second Alanna books by Tamora Pierce (millionth time)
* Diaspora by Greg Egan (reread) (Thanks Taren!)
* Polar Journeys Ed. by Jon E Lewis, which Val brought me in a large stack of awesome books

The Polar Journeys book is 42 short excerpts from various explorations and voyages in the Arctic and Antarctica. I’ve read some of the sources on previous reading binges and am very fond of this sort of book in general (primary sources, misery and suffering, scurvy or starvation a plus) For example I have read and re-read various versions of Hakluyt’s voyages and all those Vilhjalmur Stefanson books and then when my ex went to the South Pole with his experiment I read every single Antarctica book I could find including the one about the International Geophysical Year by the guy who invented the idea of wind chill. Some of the great stories in the Polar Journeys book were ones I’ve never heard of. The story of the Arctic voyage of the dirigible Italia, the sad balloon expedition of Salomon Andrée, and the last days of George W. De Long were pretty great, especially from a warm bed under a down comfortor and a heating pad.

The best story so far has been George E. Tyson’s diary excerpts from the Polaris Expedition. His style is… like a regular person with some common sense, trying to figure out what the hell to do, instead of like a pompous observing scientist or wannabe heroic expedition leader. He and 18 others, including 2 women and their 5 children were adrift on an ice floe for six months. Since yesterday I’ve been obsessed with the details of this expedition and its background and all the people in it getting to the point of non-minor edits to Wikipedia, starting with Tookoolito and her husband Ebierbing. The expedition head, Captain Hall, died, very likely from being poisoned by another crew member. (Someone made a whole other expedition years later to dig up his body and test it for arsenic.) This guy Tyson, who had been a whaling captain, suspected that the remaining leader, Captain Budington, deliberately stranded him and the rest. It backfired on Budington who got stranded anyway with the 14 remaining crew members. ANYWAY. Tyson describes the total screwup that is their life on the ice over the Arctic winter. He blames the German crew for most of the mistakes. They would have died SO fast if the Inuit folks with them had not built them igloos and shot about 50 seals. And probably sewed them clothes too.

I could go on forever but my main two points are:

Tookoolito, Taqulittuq, or “Hannah” was a total badass. Her family had a long history of contact with whalers and voyagers. Her husband Ipiirviq (aka Ebierbing or Joe) and daughter were also pretty great. I will keep working on their articles. And make ones for the others who don’t have articles like Merkut (Suersaq aka Hans’s wife, who seems to have had 4 small children with her through all this!)
– Histories of Hall and Budington and the whole lot of them are often not very well researched. News articles, biographical dictionaries, and yes Wikipedia entries quote each other’s inaccuracies till I want to scream. Hall and Budington had voyaged together a bunch before. They appear to have been somewhat in conflict as to who was the best friend, benefactor, and exploiter of Tookoolito and Ebeierbing (and family). Even after they were dead I think something fishy is going on with many of the claims of who their patron was. It will likely not be possible to find a truth about this, but tracing the claims would be really fun. I have found sources to claim, as a minor example, that either Budington, Hall, or Ebierbing himself bought the Ebierbing family home in Connecticut. One interesting project here, which I invite any of you to take up and work on, is I think finding and digitizing Tookoolito’s letters from Nyack, NY to Mrs. Buddington in Groton. For one thing, the quotes from her letters don’t match with the register or grammar of how she is represented as speaking in English by Hall and other contemporaries. Anyway, most people interested in this seem stuck on the more flashy controversy of whether Charles Francis Hall was murdered or not, and if so, who did it. I am more interested in the story of the Inuit people and their families and the arcs of their lives and whatever they may have to say. I love tracing that “Puney” or Punna = Panik = Sylvia Grinnell Ebierbing = Iseeatpo or Isigaittuq. As always the fluidity of identity in names across language fascinates me. It is one of the little keys of subalternity (as I explored in my Wittig project and my anthology of Spanish American women poets). (Obviously… this interest or ability ties in to my interest in hoaxes and sockpuppets!)

Details of nearly everything about the people and the situation are also just lifted uncritically and unsourced. For instance the name of the guy who brought Tookoolito and Ebierbing as young teenagers (with some other kid) to England is listed in some sources as Thomas Bolby and in others as John Bowlby. That one shouldn’t be all that hard to straighten out from primary sources! Other screwups…. I can’t even count them. People are slobs, and truth is more elusive than you might think. The best writeups on this so far appear to be from Kenn Harper, whose clarity I appreciate. Thank god someone has some sense out there.

Once I finish these three books I’ll have a lot more Wikipedia editing to do. (Thank you Internet Archive!)
* Narrative of the North Polar Expedition, U.S. Ship Polaris, Captain Charles Francis Hall commanding (1876)
* Arctic experiences [microform] : containing Capt. George E. Tyson’s wonderful drift on the ice-floe : a history of the Polaris expedition, the cruise of the Tigress and rescue of the Polaris survivors : to which is added a general arctic chronology (1874) (READ THIS… it is AWESOME)
* Memoirs of Hans Hendrik

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Civic fictions at conferences

Because of the Amina and Paula Brooks controversies and my part in unraveling them, I spent the last few weeks talking with media and giving talks about online hoaxes, identity, sockpuppets, and astroturfing.

I did an impromptu lightning talk at Noisebridge‘s 5 Minutes of Fame, making my slides right there on the spot. That was a lot of fun — because of the informality of that crowd I was very frank and could have a (bitter) sense of humor about the whole thing.

At O’Reilly’s FooCamp, I gave the talk I had planned on How to Suppress Women’s Coding. But as the Amina story unfolded over the weekend of Foo Camp, I was talking with more and more people about what was going on and at some point actually had a bit of a nervous breakdown on Molly Holzschag and Willow Brugh because of the constant stress and uncertainty about how to proceed and what I was choosing to do. I added in a discussion session “Lesbian Sockpuppet Detective Story” to talk about online identities and think that it went fairly well. People had very good stories about how they detected and fought astroturfers and sockpuppets. Anyway, I could write a giant post for every conversation I had at FooCamp! And might do that — I have pages of notes.

P1140280

Three things really stood out for me as themes of Foo Camp: Big (open) Data and Visualization; our collective imaginary picture of Oof Camp (the “bad guys” doing the opposite of Foo Camp, working to do things we would disapprove of or find deeply unethical) alongside an examination of what we do believe is right and “our” geek culture; and women in tech talking with each other in public about sexist patterns and strategies to deal with them, which isn’t new, but which seemed to me to be scaled up and comfortable beyond what I normally see at mixed-gender tech conferences. On the women in tech front I think Foo Camp and O’Reilly might be progressing, a sense I’ve had building slowly over the last few years. It seems glacial to me but still positive. In short, I didn’t feel tokenized, I felt respected and valuable, I made tons of great connections with women and men, there were lots and lots of women there kicking ass, I didn’t know all of them, and as an extra bonus, nothing creepy happened at all, at least to me. Huzzah!

Media Lab

After FooCamp, John Bracken gave me a last minute invite to the Knight Foundation/MIT Future of Civic Media conference. This was an absolutely fantastic conference. I loved the MIT Media Labs spaces and all the projects I heard about. Ethan Zuckerman led a panel called Civic Fictions, with Dan Sinker, me, and Andy Carvin. The audience questions and discussion went off in some fairly deep and interesting directions. Here’s a video of the panel with a link to a bare-bones summary. I’ll try to transcribe the entire thing soon.

Civic Fiction: MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Dan Sinker talked about writing the @MayorEmanuel Twitter story: 40,000 words of satire in 2000 tweets. I later read the entire MayorEmanual saga which was hilarious & compelling. His analysis of identity and online media and history at the end of his talk blew me away which is part of why I want to transcribe the entire panel. Also, Dan absolutely rocks. We had a fun conversation about being unable to describe ourselves neatly or give any sort of elevator pitch to explain why we were interesting to the suits and … well you know.. the actually legitimate people. Dan has a long history of zine making as the founder of Punk Planet and has done countless fabulous things.

Ethan introduced the panel and told his own story of heading up Global Voices & having to determine whether people were “real” or not, including his doubts from years ago about the blogger Sleepless in Sudan and his relief at finally meeting her. I remember him bringing up Sleepless as an example of deep uncertainty in the discussion at my talk on online fictional personas at SXSWi in 2006.

I told some of the Amina/Paula story, my part in it, how I worked with other investigators, bloggers, and journalists to figure out and expose what was going on. In the discussion afterwards I was most happy with my answer to (I think) Waldo Jacquith‘s question about history and truth. I mentioned Songs of Bilitis partly because it’s the first thing that popped into my head. But it’s a good example of a historical literary hoax that was then actually used by lesbians as a name for the first lesbian rights organization in the U.S., the Daughters of Bilitis.

Andy Carvin then talked about his involvement with the Arab Spring and the Amina hoax in that context. When Amina was “kidnapped” by security police and her identity began to be questioned, all his Syrian contacts went silent for over a week. Andy’s thoughts were great to hear and I really enjoyed talking with him and respect his particular skills in Firehose Immersion.

At these sorts of talks we keep discussing ethics. Many people appear to *want* to do such projects, to tell compelling stories for a political purpose to mobilize particular audiences to have empathy & take action for marginalized people. Some people want to try it, or perhaps have already done it and want to hear that they didn’t do something wrong — or maybe just want to believe that something good came of the attention to bloggers in Syria that the Amina hoax brought. There is also a strong thread of “but… what about creativity and post modern identity?” running through the attempt to save something good out of all this.

It was a great conference and there was only one mildly ew-tastic drunk guy who I had to work to escape from (Larry, you gotta hold your liquor better, dude, and not talk about your junk like that to strange feminist ladies well-known for blogging everything.)

I came out of all these talks thinking that many more hoaxes and large-scale astroturfing situations are coming. Elections and political movements are going to be even more confusing. I think there is a field emerging for analysis of online identity, personas, authenticity, and so on — in fact perhaps an academic discipline which might best be part of journalism/new media schools. “Internet Sleuth” will become a profession that needs much better tools than we have now. As better “persona management” tools are built, we need better and easier to use tools to detect those personas — open source tools in the hands of everyone not just government and huge corporations.

I did think of a few great and inevitable ways that civic fictions could exist without being immediately offensive and appropriative. Here are two.

We could have fictional universe reporters intertwined with our own. Basically, crossover fanfic reporting in first person, crossing some media nexus of fiction, preferably a politically complicated one, with breaking news. Harry Potter, for example. If you had freaking Harry Potter, on location, or better yet several Potterverse characters reporting on breaking news, you would attract entirely new audiences to the news. It would provide ways in for young people to talk about politics and to think about politics in a context of stories they’ve thought a lot about. I mention Potterverse because it’s popular, but also because its story *is* politically complex as a story of child soldiers and armed resistance to dictatorship. Well, anyway, that could be horrible and disrespectful if done clumsily, but I think it *will happen* probably with TV show franchises.

We could have civic fictions that consciously and collaboratively explore a real situation. I thought of one for the town I live in, Redwood City. Redwood City has very strong ties with a specific town in southern Mexico, Aguililla. I’m not sure of the real numbers but I’ve read that 40% of the population of Aguillia has at some point lived in Redwood City in a migration, remittance, and return pattern that has lasted for at least 40 years. People could have *many* reasons for not wanting to tell their personal or family stories of migration and return. How interesting it would be to write a collaborative soap opera or epic stretching over time, twittering and blogging it in a network of friends and family (all fictionalized) perhaps bilingually in Spanish and English (or trilingually since not everyone in Michoacan has Spanish as their first language) to show some of the issues and drama in people’s lives — and perhaps to show the relations, friendships, and tensions between Aguillia emigrants and the other residents of Redwood City and Menlo Park. Good idea isn’t it? Maybe someone will take it and run — or do a similar project in their own home town. Keeping in mind firmly the principle of “Nothing about us without us“.

After I got back from Boston I said I’d do an Ignite talk for IgniteSF but then flaked at the last minute out of exhaustion.

Many people have asked me if I’m still investigating hoaxes and if I found more Fake Internet Lesbians. I did find a few including Becky Chandler the sassy libertarian post-modern feminist in short-shorts who wrote a book on how it’s great to spank your children, but other people have already debunked her and exposed her as a creepy porny p*d*phile spanking-fetishist dude, and looking at that whole case made me throw up my hands in complete disgust. Plus, I really had to get back to my real work projects.

I have to mention my employer’s awesomeness in all of this: As soon as the Amina thing started eating my life, I let my boss and co-workers know about it and BlogHer basically gave me permission to do all the media stuff, radio interviews, talk with reporters, go to the MIT conference, and continue the bloggy sleuthing I was doing and delay my Drupal development projects for a couple of weeks. They were very supportive! But now I am back in the saddle and mucking around with code again, which is VERY SOOTHING.

Coming up in August in San Diego at the BlogHer ’11 conference, which is basically 3000+ women who blog and are heavy social media users hanging out with their laptops, I’m going to be speaking on a panel called “Viral Explosion”, giving a Geek Bar workshop talk with Skye Kilaen on what to do if your blog is hacked or if you lose your data — basically on security and disaster recovery — and then one more talk on Internet Sleuthing on You Know What and You Know Who and the tools I used to track all of it (like Maltego, which I recommend you try), a private wiki, and good old index cards. I’ll post again about BlogHer ’11 and these talks and all the kick ass geekiness that happens at BlogHer conferences!

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Holding a vicious iguana by the tail

I just finished reading Galápagos: World’s End by William Beebe, written in 1924 about his expedition as a naturalist to the Galapagos islands. Bits of it were so boring I used the book to fall asleep every night for a week. Then something awesome would crop up. Some chapters of the book was written by “the Historian of the Expedition”, Ruth — and I suspect she had her hand in elsewhere too. She was diving into shark infested lagoons, freaking out over weird moonfish, swimming with sea lion pups, and cutting her feet up over sharp lava as she caught and collected and dissected damn near every animal on the island. When I hit this photo of Ruth Rose I finally had to go look her up, feeling that her story or diaries must be entertaining all the way through. She was the expedition historian so I figure much of the notes and writing is really hers, though the book wasn’t hers. She did a ton of the labor of hunting and collecting. And she fell in love with the cinematographer. I’d like that story!

A Giant Land Iguana Captured by the Historian of the Expedition
A Giant Land Iguana Captured by the Historian of the Expedition

I like her bathing suit too!

Ruth Rose (Jan. 16, 1896 – June 8, 1978) was the daughter of Edward E. Rose. In 1926 she meet (and later married) cinematographer Ernest Schoedsack when they were both working on a New York Geological Society expedition to the Galapagos Islands. Together with partner and fellow producer director, Meriam C. Cooper, and animator Willis O’Brien, they made “King Kong”, released in 1933. Rose shared in many of Schoedsack’s and Cooper’s wildness film productions, and worked as a writer or script doctor on King Kong, Son of Kong, She, The Last Days of Pompeii and Mighty Joe Young.

The people marooned on the Galapagos have the best hardships. Raw seal, blue-footed booby blood, turtle fat and meat and the 2 gallons of water that come out of a turtle’s crop. Sealskin moccasins 6 layers thick that are still cut to ribbons in one day of walking across the lava. And in the story told by the taxi-cab driver near the end of the book, while Beebe has returned to New York, was brilliant – his crew went three months without cooked food, until the assistant cook took off one of his filthy shirts and a squashed box of matches fell out of the undershirt’s pocket.

Front View of Head of One of the Vicious Giant Land Iguanas
Front View of Head of One of the Vicious Giant Land Iguanas

Most of the bits written by Beebe switch ghoulishly from admiring the pretty and rare animals to butchering them. He’ll watch a hawk and her young all day long, romanticizing away and blaming the buccaneers for eating all the giant turtles to extinction, and then 2 minutes later he’s dissecting the nest of hawks and gnawing some roast iguana tail while loading up the cargo hold with 400 lbs of turtles, finishing off the despoiling of the islands in the name of imperialist science.

William Dampier and Raveneau de Lussan both sound interesting to look up later!

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Monday night at Noisebridge

Last night Oblomovka and I showed up at Noisebridge. I’ve been a supporter of Noisebridge since it started, donating at first and then joining as a dues-paying member. I figured even if I only have time to go by there once a month for some happy co-working on the couches, I want the space to exist and am proud to help pay for it. I also lurk on the Noisebridge-discuss mailing list and follow all the fascinating drama, which while not much different than any other community politics, is interesting as I get to know people’s names, what they’re working on, what they care about, and how they think anarchist politics should go down in a hackerspace.

So last night I went to hang out and to take a look at my Adafruit SpokePOV kit, which is half-finished there on my shelf of tools and stuff. These SpokePOV thingies are LED panels that bolt onto bike or wheelchair spokes, like HokeySpokes, but are programmable. When we first started making the kit, we didn’t have the USB connector parts for the controller that lets you program the spoke lights. Anyway, I happily started soldering away. I love soldering irons. They make me think of all the nice times I spent messing around with stuff from Radio Shack with my dad when i was little.

spoke POV project

I didn’t get very far as I got distracted by Oblomovka and Moxie talking about ideas for ways to improve Noisebridge. I think that Noisebridge would benefit from heavier use and an influx of new people. It’s a very new space. It needs more signs on how to do things, even super-obvious things. Laminated instruction signs on the walls, on cabinets, and so on, are crucial. I’m thinking of making some for self-guided tours. Defining jobs that need to be done is crucial. For example, I could make a sign that explains how to take out the trash and put it above (and on) the trash cans.

As I was talking and soldering, people were coming in for the Monday night Python class. I usually love giving tours to new people, but I was on crutches, not in my wheelchair, so didn’t want to walk around that much. It was nice sitting near the entrance though, to hear how people shyly introduced themselves and asked for tours, and then ended up talking about their own projects and getting into long discussions.

Then I ended up hanging around with the people working on the Noise-bot wheelchair. Jake was taking the battery off and attaching some new connectors to it. I don’t remember all the details. The powerchair has a wireless card duct taped inside a clear plastic soda bottle, attached to the seat back handle. Stylish! In the back above the battery, there’s a laptop, which you can log into remotely to drive the chair by communicating with the joystick controls. I think this is the same chair that Jake and the Puzzlebot people used to make the brain-controlled chair. He explained what he was doing and how the chair works to me, a high school sophomore who was there for the first time, some people from Instructables, and anyone else who came by. We all tried driving the chair, which was quite powerful and fast.

Here’s the back of the chair, with the laptop:

wheelchair robot

And here’s Jake driving the chair.

wheelchair robot at Noisebridge

Jake could use someone to work on the software interface to drive the chair. It’s controlled from the laptop, so any language you want to work in is fine. Currently it works with a continuous keypress, so if you are hitting “j” the chair keeps moving forward. I ducked and ran from this project, even though I love it. Must not say yes to ANY more projects!

I then talked a bunch with Zeph who has been helping out with the chair.

Zeph

She showed me her work with The Beehive Collective, making narrative political posters that are extremely amazing. Where people aren’t going to give you the time of day if you spout a lot of information about, say, coal and energy sources and ecology and pollution and globalization and economics, they’ll get into long opinionated conversations if they look at this poster, The True Cost of Coal.

The True Cost of Coal - Thumbnail

I just ordered one of these posters! Since I live on a boat, I don’t have room for it, but hey! I can put it up on the wall somewhere at Noisebridge!

I showed some of my projects, and the Happiness Hat, and Hypatia’s north hat and Lilypad Arduino resources page, to Zeph and she showed me a video of her weird mechanical project called Twitch. It used tattoo machines and a lot of wires and bits of machines to build feedback loops and create creepy organic-feeling random movement.

We must have talked for an hour before I realized that we had known each other in about 1990 from various feminist communities in San Francisco and from zine-making. We were both using different names then. We had each other’s zines and had some friends in common. Neat!

I kind of want to start a Lilypad Arduino group at Noisebridge. But do I have time? I’d like it to be for women, well, for non-100%-male-identified people, and to be exploratory rather than the Lecture of Experts. Anyone want to learn Arduino stuff with me?

As I was leaving I ran into John Benson who is truly fabulous. We met at Maker Faire, where I was giving a talk on DIY for people with disabilities. At that talk he told me all sorts of stuff about his own work in Berkeley, fixing wheelchairs for the last 20 years or so. He worked for Ed Roberts for a while and he had a workshop in Berkeley working with various nonprofits. I was so happy to see him, as we had lost each other’s contact info! So, it sounds like now, rather than move into the Ed Roberts Campus — the rent being quite high — he has gotten funding from the city and has a workshop space where he repairs donated equipment and gets it to people, and makes stuff for people who are part of Through the Looking Glass – stuff like baby bike seats that attach onto the backs of wheelchairs. At some point I got all fired up and started to rant about people not documenting their skills and their accessibility and mobility hacks. I may have pointed at John dramatically and demanded, “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE!? Your knowledge dies with you!” John held up his camera and said “That’s why I have this!” I totally blushed.

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Invisible dishwashers

Still on my hippie history kick, I just read T.C. Boyle’s novel Drop City and with it, Peter Rabbit’s rambling little history also called Drop City, which is in theory “a novel” but which I would instead call “some bullshit”. Tim Miller, a religious studies prof at the University of Kansas, has also written a bunch of stuff about Drop City and other utopian community experiments – web pages, papers, and books.

As I piece together the different histories it looks to me like the early Drop City functioned pretty well at first and was not as half-assed as the fictional Drop City in Boyle’s novel. At least not until they became a waystation and recovery center for dropouts and fuckups. The tyranny of structurelessness gave them a lot of trouble though. Burning Man folks seem to have gone to considerable effort to have learned from all these lessons, with good success.

Rabbit, or Peter Douthit, published Drop City in 1971. In his book, he tells entertaining hippie stories and is clearly a complete asshole. Everything is about his own enlightenment while “fucking chickies” and having total freedom to screw around exploring art or something. But not really, since he also says that he spent 10 hours a day answering mail and talking with journalists. Every story seems to start like this, “Then we woke up and had pancakes and all wandered around in the woods freely and came back and had lunch and smoked a lot of DMT and our minds exploded and we had dinner and felt completely free and were freed some more to become total geniuses!” If you can’t see the flaw in these stories you have a hole in your consciousness the size of a planet and have never washed a dish or cooked three times a day for 20 people. So much for the revolution! I’m sure some of the dudes washed the dishes and didn’t act like jerks, or Drop City never would have lasted as long as it did.

John Curl’s Memories of Drop City: The First Hippie Commune of the 1960’s and the Summer of Love from 2008 frames Peter Rabbit as the villain:

. . . a self-absorbed figure who lived in a small dome and failed to do his part in building the others. Instead, he wrote. He styled himself a leader of the leaderless commune and sent out dispatches from Drop City, soliciting the attention of the underground and mainstream press. Time and Life magazines published photos of the domes in the desert. Curl tells us Drop City’s inhabitants were deeply skeptical of this attention, at least until Drop City could really show some success. Ultimately, the massive pressure that was thus invited upon this one plot of land, rickety domes and nonexistent infrastructure, was what caused Drop City to implode.

One amusing inconsistency between Curl’s and Douthit’s histories is that Douthit talks constantly about chickies and he also insults gay men quite a lot. Curl on the other hand describes Douthit cruising the dives and back alleys of nearby Colorado towns in search of anonymous gay sex. There seem to be no lesbians in any of the histories, which is wildly unlikely!

The best story from Rabbit is of a trip the Drop City hippies took to Washington DC to go to a conference of college newspaper editors at a fancy hotel sponsored by Newsweek and The Washington Post. They were invited by an Englishman who I think might have been John McHale but it’s unclear. Alvin Toffler and Buckminster Fuller, artist and futurist Magda Cordell, Phyllis Yampolsky, and a lot of “chickies” including Gypsy Loo, whose role (as described by Douthit) you can guess; a great scene with Eugene McCarthy freaking out on stage confronted with a coffin full of his own campaign buttons and Jerry Rubin, the Drop City hippies putting up a projector with footage of children dying covered in napalm in Vietnam and audio of screams and bombing and gunfire — NLF propaganda movies brought by Ray Mungo — at which point the cops or the FBI or someone showed up to confiscate the movies and arrest people as the college kids freaked out and cried. Douthit claims a bunch of the editors dropped out of school and the ones who were left organized their newspapers as co-operatives. Anyway, despite my lack of respect for the gender politics of these jerks, I have to admire the splendid disruption of this academic conference, and I spent my teenage and young adult years doing stuff like that; unfortunately not on such an epic scale.

There are also a lot of scenes where the Droppers play Indian. Some of them were Native American, like Nani. But most weren’t. They’re always drumming and chanting stuff they just made up to be at one with the land. Rabbit in particular seems very into singing to the deer and so on. In his own descriptions of this he sounds pretty hilarious. In John Curl’s descriptions it goes even further beyond ridiculous Pretendianism into just sad.

Rabbit would leave for the mountains with great fanfare, headband always tied in place around his forehead. He’d always spout the same story he told when I first met him, claiming to hunt by asking permission of the animal; that is, when the deer was ready to be killed and eaten by Rabbit, it would come out of hiding and let him shoot it. This was his version of a Native American custom.

That entire fall he never came back with a deer. Rabbit bemoaned his string of bad luck. No deer seemed ready to die for him.

One day his luck finally broke. He had gone out hunting alone before dawn. Toward dusk he drove back in, honking, yelling “Cacahuate!” out the window, a large animal draped over his fender. It turned out to be a horse another truck had hit down the road a few minutes before he passed by.

In moments of triumph he always yelled, “Cacahuate,” which he claimed was a warrior’s cry that a Taos pueblo man had taught him. I never had the heart to tell him that it means “Peanut” in Spanish.

The way other sources blame Peter Rabbit for his stepping up their local thing and making it a national news phenomenon made me think of the Riot Grrrl discussions of the media blackout. News media just mentioning “riot grrrl” no matter how badly they framed it or how much they sexed it up meant that young women all over the place were declaring themselves chapters of Riot Grrrl and having meetings & starting zines & doing really difficult conscious-raising work. I then started thinking of some of the bands – say, Tribe 8 – who were living in a more or less communal way as squatters and wondering how to keep telling that history which is mostly told in documentaries & in some novels like Lynnee Breedlove‘s Godspeed. I would love to document & get on the web some of the history of the co-op communities I lived in in Austin in the 80s. I also certainly thought of the radical faeries and what happens when people start to document the Far Out Shit in fringe communities. I’ve turned a documenting eye on WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention, as well. I love to document things and want them documented and I love history; but I also saw how the Far Out gets exploited and packaged up and sold & people’s need to make a living and/or become a counterculture pop star tangles things up. So if you are running around naked in the woods having your own community Experience and some rich dude from L.A. comes in and starts filming it while throwing money around? Bad news! Who am I to say, though? I mean, to say that “my” community is not someone else’s interesting history.

I’m also thinking about the feeling that all the interesting things happened yesterday and what we’re part of is only a pale echo or an imitation. Have you ever been part of something and realized, Oh, this isn’t *just* some goofballs acting like they’re super hip artists because they read some stuff about Paris in 1920 or something, though it partly is, it is *also* the real actual bohemian artists of now and this is what’s happening now. Possibly realizing that, or realizing it and immediately documenting it while you’re doing it, is a sign of being kind of a douche.

I had the impulse this morning to collect the names of the people involved with Drop City from 1965-1971, do a little googling, and draw some connections. Where are they now? I also have trouble keeping it clear who’s who while reading the histories. The 60s communes: Hippies and Beyond was a particularly good source book! I get particularly interested in the ways that the men’s philosophies and names and motivations and actions get recorded, while the women’s stories are elided. One consistent pattern is that women don’t stay in the story unless they’re one of the dudes’ wife or girlfriend. Once they’re not, they kind of shimmer out of the picture. At least out of the dudely picture. Curl did a pretty good job with including the women in Drop City’s history, though. But I’d like to see a memoir from any of the women involved with Drop City! Here’s my cheat sheet of the cast of characters…

* Clark Richert (Clard Svenson ) Painter at K.U.
* Gene Bernofsky (Curley or Curly Benson) Studied psychology at K.U. aka Eugene V. Debs * Betnovskovitch
* Jo Ann Bernofsky (Drop Lady) (Curley’s wife) Artist. (the Bernofskys left in 1967)
* Mary Bernofsky – Curly’s Mom (Mommeleh)
* Richard Kallweit (Larry Lard aka Larry Laird)
* Roberta Started the original farm with Curley
* Poly Ester aka Raggedy aka Bones
* Peter Rabbit aka Peter Douthit (left Drop City in 1968)
* Princess Soft Shoulders (a child?) (Kaitlyn?)
* May (another child – Jo Bernofsky’s)
* The Wop (Alteresio Smith) (Charlie DiJulio )
* Flippen (female)
* Jadal (Lard’s girlfriend)
* Snoopy (Lard and Jadal’s son)
* Reardon
* Fast Eddie
* Ishmael (John Curl)
* Peggy Kagel – Miss Oleo Margarine and her daughter Melissa Margarine aka Frinki (and her two daughters)
* Luke Cool. Taught the droppers how to chop the tops off cars. aka Steve Baer (a dome builder from Albuquerque) aka Luke Bear.
* Burt Wadman
* Susie Spotless (local from Colorado who married Richert)
* Nani
* Crayola (Alteresio’s wife) (plus some children) aka Carol DiJulio
* Patsy Pie (Speed?) Ishmael’s girlfriend.
* Ivan Peacock Rhodes (Orval Teen)
* Albert (The guy from Harvard)
* The President (guy from Chicago)
* Lennie (The President’s horrible rapist cousin)
* Belinda
* Indian Frank
* Bringer of Victory (makes the drugs)
* The 16 year old chick with crabs
* Otis B. Driftwood (The Digger guy from San Francisco)
* Billy B. (the rich guy)
* Maggie
* Jasper
* their kids, Lump and Lori
* The Holy Ghost
* Ed the Fed
* Bipple (folk singer college kid)
* Tom from Kansas
* Karen from New York
* Fran the cripple (aka Star) who magically gets up out of her wheelchair and can walk from taking lots of LSD (I’d like to read her memoir!)

More links as I find them:
Drop Everything (article from 2009)
The Ultimate Painting Brief history with a photo of The Ultimate Painting.

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Warm Water Cove and Pier 70

Today’s random expedition led me to Potrero Point and Warm Water Cove, a tiny, gritty park one step above a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland with a bench! I love this park. Right now it’s full of wild mustard, radish, dock, mallow and other great edible plants. The remains of a creek ooze out of a scary tunnel. It’s all surrounded by warehouses, parking lots surrounded by barbed wire, and off in the distance, rusting ocean-going cargo ships. Apparently there used to be weekly punk concerts there run off generators and lots of campers. While I was there today a woman and a dog in a very DIY camper van were doing some housekeeping and enjoying the late afternoon sun, so the camping, or homeless-person-occupancy, probably continues despite the recent community makeover, graffiti cleanup and daily policing. A few years ago people were still fishing from a pier to take advantage of the warm water coming from the power plant outfall (which attracts fish.) The pier’s gone now.

Sounds like a lot of piers have been closed over the last few years, including San Mateo Pier, the longest fishing pier in California.

From there I could see a very interesting building that looked like a lot of cubes piled up on top of each other.

It’s behind the Pacific Gas & Electric Station A, a huge and beautiful red brick building.

Pier 70

Here’s some links to the history of Potrero Point:

* Station A

A block or two north, little alleys wind around the decaying buildings of Pier 70.

* The Noonan Building
* Map of Pier 70 structures – a great map with notes for each building.
* Irish Hill This hill full of houses and apartments for the iron and steel mill workers and their families was leveled and the rubble used to fill in the Bay. I saw a tiny bit of the hill left – you can tell it’s not just a pile of dirt because it looks like a roadcut through serpentinite.

Underneath these industrial buildings is a tide-washed labyrinth of slag pits, cisterns, waste dumps, and wooden pilings. I can’t even imagine the giant amounts of toxic junk still leaching into the Bay.

Building 104, an office building from 1896:

Pier 70

Building 21, from 1900.

Pier 70

Building 11, The Noonan Building, 1941. People obviously live there.

Pier 70

During wartime this shipyard churned out countless ships. Thousands of people worked there in round-the-clock shifts. As the shipyards closed the area became neglected and used for storage for old cars, MUNI trains and buses. It sounds like then there were decades of concern from people in the Dogpatch, Potrero, and Hunters Point communities, plans for redevelopment, toxic cleanup, reclamation, preservation of the historic buildings, and industrial customers who still might use the land for power plants, and ship building or repair. The largest floating dry dock facility in the world was sold to the City in the 1980s for one dollar — probably because the massively polluted land (and ongoing pollution of the Bay) was clearly a liability and someone was going to have to *clean it up* before it got seriously used again.

As I mulled over What Is To Be Done here’s what I thought up. While it’s not being used for much else and it’s polluting and dangerous, full of crumbling buildings and broken glass and probably more asbestos than anyone can imagine, make it a public Dangerous Park. Just let anyone do whatever the hell they want in there and graffiti it up and have punk rock shows and photograph the roofs of falling-down warehouses. But let them know the dangers to their health and safety — just as you’d put up signs to say that a seaside cliff is dangerous because of erosion and high waves. The conditions of entering the Dangerous Park should be agreement that you’re not going to sue the city for whatever injuries result.

Some of the Historic Buildings would be graffitied and fucked up, but maybe some would be improved, cleaned up, cared for by artists and colonized in interesting ways.

I realize this isn’t going to happen and instead it will end up being a squalid industrial center for a while longer until some asshole buys it and Develops it, because the only way that people are “allowed” to be in or live on a toxic waste dump is if some bunch of developers makes an obscene profit off it while covering up any risks with massive lies. But people using crappy in land in some less centralized and profitable way, with accurate information about the problems of that use, is, weirdly, never okay.

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