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Fungi and Feminism

Fungi and Feminism

H. Bradford

8/12/17

 

Once a month, the Feminist Justice League hosts a feminist frolic.  This month, the goal was to go on a hike to learn more about fungi, edible and otherwise.  We asked Ariel, one of our members, if she would be willing to tell us a little about edible fungi, as she forages for fungi and sells them to a local grocery store.  As for myself, I undertook the task of trying to connect fungi with feminism for a short presentation on that topic.  Connections between these two topics are not commonly made, but almost anything can be connected to feminism.  Indeed, fungi can be connected to feminism through an exploration of women’s roles as foragers and food preparers, the connection between fungi and witchcraft, and the contributions women have made to mycology, the science of fungi.


An Introduction to Fungi:

To begin, it is useful to outline some basic information about fungi.  Fungi are a diverse group of organisms that consist of everything from yeast in bread and beer, infections like athlete’s foot or ringworm, mushrooms and toadstools, and mold on bread.  Most people are probably most familiar with fungi in the form of mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of some fungi.  However, this is just a small portion of the diversity of this kingdom.  Taxonomy is always changing, but fungi are often considered to be one of five or six kingdoms of organisms, including plants, animals, protists, archaebacteria, fungi, and bacteria.  For most of history, fungi was lumped into the plant kingdom and it was not until the 1960s that they were separated into their own category of lifeforms.  It might be easy to confuse fungi with plants, due the fact that both grow in soil and tend to be stationary.  In actuality, fungi was more closely related to animals and 1.1 billion years ago they shared a common evolutionary ancestor with the animal kingdom (Staughton, 2002).  Fungi are similar to animals in that they cannot produce their own food, as plants do through photosynthesis.  Rather, they feed on dead and living organisms, breaking them down by excreting enzymes and absorbing nutrients through their cell wall (Fungi-an introduction, 2009).  This means that they differ from animals in that they do not ingest their food, rather they absorb it.  Another similarity between animals and fungi is that both of them use oxygen in cellular respiration to convert nutrients into energy.  That is, both use oxygen and release carbon dioxide as waste, as opposed to plants which use carbon dioxide and release oxygen (Bone, 2011).  Yet, fungi are similar to plants in that both have cell walls, although the cell wall of plants is made of cellulose and the cell wall of fungi is made of chitin.  Chitin is the same substance that the beaks of squids and the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects is made of.

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Despite the clear differences between plants and fungi, historically, fungi have been lumped together with plants and even today, mycology tends to be lumped within botany departments rather than zoology.  While fungi have had a sort of identity crisis over history, they do indeed have a very close relationship to plants.  Over 90% of all plants have a mycorrhizal fungal partner.  In other words, plants often have fungi that live on or in their roots for the purpose of helping them extract more nutrients from the soil.  In exchange, the fungi obtain sugar, which the plant produces.  This is why a person often sees mushrooms at the base of trees.  Some unusual plants, such as monotropes (more commonly known as Indian Pipe or Ghost Plant), do not produce chlorophyll and depend upon fungi to obtain energy from nearby trees.  Almost every plant has fungi living between their cells.  In addition, 85% of all plant disease are caused by fungi.  In fact, chili peppers evolved their hotness as a defense against fungi (Bone, 2011).  Therefore, it is no wonder that plants and fungi are associated with one another.

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One of the most interesting thing about fungi is how diverse that kingdom is.  While the animal kingdom contains a wide array of organisms including lifeforms as different as horseflies, sea horses,  horseshoe crabs, and horses fungi vary even more greatly.  Fungi include organisms that reproduce sexually, asexually, and both.  This makes them extremely interesting from a sexual standpoint.  Unlike animals, they can be one celled or made up of many cells.  Subsequently, fungi include such diverse phylums as club fungi, which include mushrooms, toadstools, puffballs, and shelf fungi.  This is the phylum that most people are probably familiar with.  These fungi often have club shaped structures with gills containing spores.  Another phylum of fungi are called sac fungi, or fungi which produce spores in tiny sacks.  This group includes yeast, truffles, molds, and morels.  Another phylla is called zygomycota, which feature sexual and asexual reproduction and include black mold.  Finally, there are imperfect fungi, which have unknown methods of reproduction and include penicillium and aspergillus.  There are about 1.5 million species of fungi, but only one tenth of these are known to science.  Interestingly, the mass of the world’s fungi is far greater than the mass of all of the world’s animals, amounting to about ¼ of the world’s entire biomass (Fungi-an introduction, 2009).  Fungi also outnumber plants six to one.  Finally, the largest organism on the planet is actually a honey fungus in Oregon which is over 2,400 years old and larger than 1,666 football fields (Bone, 2011).   Truly, fungi among the most fascinating forms of life on the planet.

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Mushrooms, Women, and Foraging:

 

For most of history, fungi were not given much attention as a unique group of organisms.  Thus, most early humans would have understood fungi mostly through the sexual phase or the fruiting body of a mushroom (Garibay-Orijel, Ramírez-Terrazo, and Ordaz-Velázquez, 2012).  Humanity’s earliest encounters with fungi would have been with mushrooms and shelf fungi.  Humans lived as hunters and gatherers, in small communities that foraged for their food, for 190,000 of our 200,000 years as modern humans.  Some human societies continue to live this way.  For most of human history, humans foraged for fungi, for food, medicine, ritual, dyes, etc.  However, mushroom foraging is confounded by the fact that mushrooms may appear only at certain times of the year or under certain conditions.  They may not appear in the same place each year, making them harder to forage than plants.  Mushroom foraging is also made difficult by the fact that some mushrooms are extremely toxic, which means that misidentification or experimentation could result in illness or death.  Around 2,800 species of mushrooms are used today by humans.  Much of the mushroom foraging in the world is done by women  (Garibay-Orijel, Ramírez-Terrazo, and Ordaz-Velázquez, 2012).   This comes a little surprise, as in a study of 175 modern hunter-gatherer societies, women provided four fifths of the food.   According to Crane’s research (2000) the food that was typically gathered by men was further away and harder to obtain.   Today, in Mexico, Bahrain, Guatemala, Guyana, Nigeria, Zaire, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Russia, mushroom foraging is largely women’s work.  However, in Poland and Switzerland, is is more often done by men.  In some tropical areas, women collect mushrooms closest to their homes whereas men collect mushrooms that are deeper in the forest (Garibay-Orijel, Ramírez-Terrazo, & Ordaz-Velázquez, 2012).  This is not unlike the gender dynamics of collecting honey and may reflect the importance of women in society for their reproductive capacity (Crane, 2000).   In Guyana, men pick up mushrooms that they find incidentally on hunting trips, whereas women engage in active, premeditated mushroom collecting.  Beyond this, there are gendered ways in which mushrooms are collected, with men tending to be solitary foragers who search out more valuable and hard to find mushrooms and women collecting them together and in more energy efficient locations.  Mushrooms that are collected for ritual purposes are often done by both genders.  Mazatec healers in Mexico can be women or men and Maria Sabina was an important informant of mushroom rituals to ethnographers (Garibay-Orijel, Ramírez-Terrazo, and Ordaz-Velázquez (2012).

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While it seems that among many hunting and gathering cultural groups women play an important role in obtaining mushrooms, this is not the experience in industrial United States.  Bone (2011) found that many of the people she encountered while foraging for mushrooms were men.  Professional mushroom foragers, who often travelled the country in search of various mushrooms, were often men.  In particular, men from Mexico and Southeast Asia made a living by foraging and selling mushrooms.  At the same time, even amateur or more casual mushroom foragers were men.  When she sought to learn more about foraging mushrooms, it was always men who shared their expertise.  She also noticed a certain machismo among mushroom foragers, as some took risks by eating mushrooms that were known to be toxic or have negative health effects.  Bone (2011) was focused on developing her knowledge of mycology and experiencing fungi from the perspective of a foodie.  Her book, Mycophilia, does not examine the gender dynamics of mushroom foraging at any length.  However, it does very clearly support the idea that in the United States, mushroom science, foraging, commercial production, and preparation are all largely dominated by men.  This begs the question of why mushrooms exist so differently from the women centered foraging that is prevalent elsewhere in the world and presumably elsewhere in history.


There may be a few explanations for their phenomenon.  For instance, until the 1600s in France, mushroom foraging was women’s work.  However, with the scientific revolution, mushrooming became a men’s activity as men began to monopolize the science of mycology (Dugan, 2008).  The shift from mushroom foraging as women’s work to men’s work represents a shift of the power of behind which knowledge is given privilege in society.  As men took control of institutions of learning, medicine, publishing, science, etc. and systematized scientific knowledge, the folk knowledge of women, but also poor people, indigenous people, criminals, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups was denigrated, ignored, or suppressed.  This might explain why according to Dugan (2008) mushroom collecting was mainly conducted by women in the United States until the 19th century.  In was during the 19th century in the United States that women’s knowledge of childbirth, medicine, and the natural world in general was suppressed by emergent medical and professional institutions.  As this knowledge was professionalized and monopolized, the knowledge of men was empowered and given social value at the expense of women.  Long before the advent of science, many groups of people developed the a body of knowledge about mushrooms that scientists would only later rediscover.  For instance, Russian peasants had a deep knowledge of mushrooms and some of the common names for these mushrooms were associated with the tree that the mushrooms grew near.  Europeans were latecomers to mushroom identification and even Darwin was indifferent to fungi when writing about evolution.  However, the Mayans developed their own system of classifying mushrooms, as did the Chinese.  Chen Jen-yu’s Mycoflora, written in 1245, proposed 12 types of mushrooms (Dugan, 2008).  In all, this should illustrate that humans have had thousands of years of interactions with fungi and through use and observation developed a body of knowledge.  Some of this knowledge was dismissed or overlooked on racist, sexist, and classist grounds.

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Mushroom hunting- a painting by Bernardina Midderigh Bokhorst

The ability of women to forage for mushrooms is also challenged by capitalism.  Capitalism negatively impacts women more than men, because women are oppressed as workers and on account of their gender in capitalism.  The oppression of women include the being paid less than men, doing more unpaid labor in the home, experiencing sexual harassment and sexual assault, having limited reproductive freedom, enjoying less political representation, having less social legitimacy, and a myriad of other expressions of oppression.  Thus, at least on the amateur end of mushroom collecting, women may not be as involved because of the ways in which capitalism and patriarchy shape women’s relationship to nature.  Within the United States, time in nature is usually associated with leisure, which women have less of due to spending more time with care work and household work.  Women are often also economically dependent upon men and make less money than them, which may mean that taking up hobbies and traveling around to pursue them is a greater economic burden.  Within the context of societies which are less developed and women continue to forage for mushrooms, women have a harder time obtaining wage labor, surviving on lower wages, and supporting their families.  In some areas of the world, foraging and selling mushrooms to middle men is an important way that widows and single mothers generate income for themselves.  Historically, women sold vegetables and mushrooms in markets in Europe.  This tradition conditions in Eastern European countries like Latvia, Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic, where women are often the source of mushrooms in markets (Garibay-Orijel, Ramírez-Terrazo, and Ordaz-Velázquez, 2012). Therefore, mushroom foraging is an important source of income to women.  Because it is work that is outside of the formal economy, they are more vulnerable to difficult labor conditions.  And, because of the environmental problems wrought by more developed countries in the context of capitalism, women are vulnerable as the environment they depend upon for livelihood is threatened.  For instance, women in Puebla Mexico must obtain permits to go into the forest and collect mushrooms.  In other places, such as Burundi, logging has diminished the abundance of mushrooms.  Another challenge is other ecological issues, such as acid rain and soil nitrification in Europe.  Mushroom collectors are often independent workers, so they are not afforded health or safety benefits (Garibay-Orijel, Ramírez-Terrazo, and Ordaz-Velázquez, 2012).  Indeed, mushroom yields around the world have decreased over the years, perhaps as a result of climate change.


Women and Food:

Closely related to foraging, women are engaged in cooking and eating fungi.  The preparation of mushrooms, including cooking and storing, is mostly done by women around the world (Garibay-Orijel, Ramírez-Terrazo, and Ordaz-Velázquez,2012).  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in an average day, American women spend about twice as much time as men preparing food and drinks.  In an average day, 70% of women reported preparing food compared to 43% of men.  This means that women not only do more food preparation than men, more women are engaged in this activity than men (Charts by Topic: Household activities, 2016).  This should come as little surprise to feminists, who have long articulated that women do more unpaid household labor than men.   This work is often devalued, taken advantage of, and taken for granted as part of the normal gender roles and relationship between men and women.  Although women do more unpaid cooking, men dominate professional cooking.  Women and men attend culinary school in equal proportions, but most celebrity chefs and paid culinary professionals are men.  Men also outnumber women 7 to 3 at more prestigious culinary schools and when women do go into culinary arts, they are disproportionately represented upon baking and pastry programs (Jones, 2009).  For instance, at B.A program in pastries at the American Culinary Institute is made up of 86% women (Tanner 2010).   Both of these trends represent how “women’s work” is undervalued in society.  At culinary schools, pastry sections are called the “pink ghetto” or “pink section” because they are dominated by women.  Food and work are both gendered in society.  Baking and desserts are associated with femininity (Brones, 2015).    This relationship to cooking also creates a special relationship to fungi, even if this relationship is not immediately obvious.

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The first relationship to fungi is the relationship between women and yeast.  To begin, bread of some kind or another has been eaten by humans for at least 30,000 years.  But, early breads were unleavened flat breads which were made from ingredients other than grains.  The first recorded discovery of yeast is from Ancient Egypt, where yeast was used to leaven bread and make beer 6000 years ago.   No one knows how yeast was discovered.  It may have been floating in the air and landed in some bread, resulting in lighter, fluffier bread.  Or, it is possible that yeast entered bread by adding ale to it instead of water.  In any event, the discovery of yeast necessarily coincided with several other developments in human history.  First of all, it arose out of settled societies which domesticated and grew grains.  Grains were domesticated by ancient farming civilizations about 8000 years ago.  But, for most of human history, people foraged for their food.  Settled agriculture allowed for population growth, the birth of cities, the invention of written languages, private property, and social stratification.  It also is considered to be the beginning of patriarchy, as with the invention of private property, monogamy and the associated control of women was ensured the transmission of property through sons.   Settled agricultural societies were possible because of a surplus of food.  This surplus of food also allowed for the creation of professions, thus, in Egypt, there were professional bakers, herders, teachers, doctors, scribes, etc.  Egyptian art depicts both men and women engaged in bread making.  However, it is more likely that men were involved in the actual profession of bread making or baking, while women made bread in the home or as supporters.  This gendered dynamic continued through time.  For instance, in Medieval Europe, women prepared food for their families or homes, whereas men were professional breadmakers in guilds.  In both examples, the work of women was essential the same, but not given the same social value.  So, although women are more likely to work with yeast or for that matter cook with any other fungi, it is not seen as work that matters in the same way professional culinary work matters.

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While women have a close relationship to food and by extension, fungi as a food, due to their role as a cook for their families, this often goes unnoticed or unheralded.  Despite gender inequalities, women managed to influence society through cuisine.  For instance, countries can roughly be divided into mycophobic and mycophilliac depending upon their relationship to mushrooms.  France is viewed as a mycophiliac culture, with many recipes calling for mushrooms and a history of foraging for mushrooms.  It was largely through women that this French passion for mushrooms spread to other countries.  For instance, Hannah Glasse wrote an  English cookbook in 1747 which drew from French cuisine and included 110 mushroom recipes called the Art of Cookery Made Easy.  Eliza Action’s cookbook Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) and Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) also included dozens of mushroom recipes.  Cookbooks focused on the historical cuisine of the British isles tended to have few mushroom recipes.  The first American cookbook, by Amelia Simmons in 1796, does not feature any mushroom recipes.  But, by the 1800s, various cookbooks featured mushroom dishes.  Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, introduced in 1934, popularized mushrooms as part of American casserole cuisine.  And, one of the most popular American cookbooks of the 20th century, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) included dozens of mushroom recipes.  Irma Rambauer’s book The Joy of Cooking included 30 recipes with mushrooms (Bertelsen, 2013 ). In each of these examples, women were able to influence culture by working within the traditional social space offered to women.  The household has traditionally been viewed as the sphere of influence of women.  Books about cooking, by women for women, is a way that women exerted power within the confines of tradition.  In doing so, in a small way, these cultures were changed.  Today, mushrooms consumption has exploded.  The global export value of mushrooms was almost 1.75 billion dollars in 2010, compared to 250 million dollars in 1990 and negligible in 1970.

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Another way in which women relate to fungi is through the ways that food is gendered in society.  Because mushrooms are a viewed as a vegetable and something healthy, one might assume that women eat more mushrooms than men.  After all, women are told to watch their weight, monitor their food intake, and make healthy food choices.  At the same time, masculinity is connected to meat eating.  Eating mushrooms seems to be something lowly and feminine.  There is even a racial and ethnic component to eating mushrooms, as they are associated with mycophilliac cultures such as India, China, Japan, and Russia.  Surprisingly, men and women in the United States actually eat roughly the same amount of mushrooms each year.  According to the USDA, women consume about 8% more fresh mushrooms then men, but men are more likely to eat processed mushrooms.  As a whole, men ate about 49% of all mushrooms produced in the United States, whereas women ate about 51% (Lucier, Allhouse, and Lin, 2003).  Yet, this isn’t to argue that gender does not shape mushroom consumption.  In Mycophilia, Eugenia Bone, a food writer from New York, expressed disdain when she attended a Midwest mushroom foraging event and the men in attendance planned on battering their mushrooms or putting them on steaks  (Bone, 2011).  In this example, gender, geography, and class intersected to generate a different sense of taste from the Midwestern men with less social capital.  In another example, the white truffle is the most expensive food in the world, at $3000 per pound (Bone, 2011).  However, men with power are more likely to obtain and ingest truffles.  For instance, a 3.3 pound truffle was auctioned for $330,000 to a billionaire named Stanley Ho, a Macau casino owner.  The truffle itself was discovered by an Italian truffle hunter and his father, along with their dog.  Gordon Wu, a property tycoon from Hong Kong purchased two truffles at an auction for 125,000 euros.  An anonymous Chinese writer purchased a truffle for $120,000 at an auction.  Globally, women and children are more likely to be among the world’s poor and less represented among the super wealthy.  The truffle’s value is because it is hard to successfully commercially cultivate, rare, and labor intensive.  At the same time, some its value is more symbolic than material, as truffles are abundant in China, where labor is cheap enough (i.e exploited) that they are raked from the earth by humans rather than trained dogs and pigs.  But, these black truffles are viewed as inferior to European black truffles.  In this sense, when food is associated with power and privilege, women are less likely to partake in this indulgence.  So, while men and women may eat equal amounts of mushrooms, how they are eaten may differ.  I would hypothesize that men eat them more often on pizza, battered, on burgers, or on steaks and women in salads and as a meat substitute.  Class certainly shapes mushroom consumption as well, not only in access to elite foods like truffles, but in consumption of mushrooms in general.  Bone (2011) noted that the biggest consumers of mushrooms were those who were 350% above the poverty line.

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(image stolen from National Geographic…)

Mushrooms, Women, and Witchcraft

Another way in which mushrooms have been associated with women is through medicine and witchcraft.  In Europe, mushrooms have often been associated with mushiness and evil.  French words for mushrooms translate to eggs of the devil, devil’s paintbrush, and toad bread.  Toadstool and toad hat are names derived from Danish mushrooms.  In Estonia, Fulgio septica, a large yellow slime mold is called “Shit of a Witch (Dugan, 2008).”  An edible yellow fungus commonly found on dead branches is called “Witches butter.”  Western Europe and the British Isles in particular associated mushrooms with witchcraft (Bertelsen, 2013).   In Russia, Baba Yaga is associated with magical tree mushrooms.  In one story she spares the life of a hedgehog that is eating a mushroom, under the understanding that the hedgehog will become a boy and serve her.  She is also accompanied by spirits that live under mushrooms.  In Italy, there is a story of a witch who disguised herself as a mushroom to figure out who is stealing her cabbages.   Mushrooms have been associated with fairies and in 1599, the word fairy ring described, which is a ring of mushroom left behind by dancing fairies.  In Germany, fairy rings were known as Hexen rings, where witches would dance in a circle on Walpurgis night or the night before May Day (Dugan, 2008).  Plant diseases caused by fungi were sometimes believed to be caused by witches, as exemplified by a decree by Pope Innocent the VIII who noted that witches cause crop failure.  Witches were also blamed for the poisoning of cattle, which itself was often the cause of grain fungi.   Witches were believed to use fungi in herbalism, and that least Inquisition documents indicate the beliefs that witches used puffballs in potions in Basque country, Amanita Muscaria is known as “Witches mushroom” in Austria, and witches in Portugal used a hallucinogenic mushroom called  Panaeolus papilionaceus.  There is also a Finnish belief that if someone is bothered by a kobald like creature, a certain species of mushroom was fried in tar, salt, and sulfur, then beaten, and the woman who controls the kobald would appear to release the creature.  In the Balkans, dried mushrooms were used to ward of witches by placing them in the windowsill (Dugan, 2008).   It seems that mushrooms have been associated with witches, mischief, powerful women, and misfortune.  Though, there are some exceptions.  For example, in China, the lingzhi mushroom or mushroom of immortality, was associated with Kuan Yin, the goddess of healing and mercy (Bertelsen, 2013).

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(Witches Butter Fungus- Image from Birds and Blooms)


There may be some actual connections between witchcraft and fungi.  For instance, there is a connection between ergotism and witch trials.  Ergotism is caused by the grain fungi, Claviceps purpurea.  The fungus colonizes cereal crops, producing nectar like droplets containing spores.  The disease is called ergot, the French word for spur, due to the rooster spur like shape of the fungus on the infected plant.  In medieval times, up to 30% of the harvested grain was actually fungus, due to wet weather conditions.  When humans or animals ingest the fungus many symptoms can arise.  The infected can feel intense heat over their body and lose blood flow to their extremities, causing the limbs to rot and fall off.  This condition was called St. Anthony’s Fire due to these symptoms.  The alkaloids produced by the fungus can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, the sensation of ants on the body, twitching, hallucinations, seizures, and distortions of the limbs.  Ergotism outbreaks occurred through the 1800s.  Peasants were vulnerable as they had to eat lower quality grain or could not waste the diseased grain.  Children were particularly vulnerable with 56% mortality in some outbreaks.   Historians such as Mary Matossian have hypothesized that witch trials and bewitching may have actually been the result of ergotism.  She argued that most witch trials happened in river valleys in southwest Germany and south east France, where cool and wet conditions would have promoted fungal growth.  Both places grew rye and peasants in the area would have consumed up to three and a half pounds of bread a day.  There was only one witch trials in Ireland, where grain was not grown as much.  Trials for witches often happened in the fall or winter following wet years.  Even the Salem Witch Trial followed this pattern as it occurred after a cool spring.  The symptoms reported in the witch trials were similar to ergotism and the fact that children reported these symptoms is also consistent with the fact that children are more vulnerable to the effects of ergotism.  It is interesting to note that in studying ergot grain fungi, Albert Hofman developed LSD (Hudler, 2000).  In any event, it is possible that outbreaks of ergotism were blamed on witches and a catalyst for witch hunts.

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(A vintage Halloween postcard featuring a costumed witch with fungi)

Beyond this association with witch trials, it is useful to dissect what a witch is.  A witch is symbolic for a women with power and knowledge.  For thousands of years, humans obtained an immense amount of knowledge from the natural world in terms of edible foods, useful medicines, dyes, animal movements, etc.  Because women had an important role in gathering foods, they had special knowledge.  Further, prior to the invention of patriarchy, women likely had important roles as religious or spiritual leaders, healers, and religions with goddesses.  Over time, with changes in social structures and the introduction of Christianity, the role of women was diminished and their knowledge was viewed as threatening and connected to paganism.  In this way, the idea of a witch is a way to diminish and persecute the traditional knowledge and roles of women.  Witches may be associated with mushrooms because of how mushrooms were used in healing and rituals.  Indeed, some fungi have healing properties.   Mushrooms are valued in Chinese cuisine, culture, and medicine.  Chinese medicine includes 100 species of mushrooms, including the wood ear mushroom which was eaten for its perceived improvement to circulation and breathing.  The health effects of mushrooms are only recently being discovered in the West.  Mushrooms contain polysaccharides, which boost the immune system and can be a source of protein, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D, copper, and selenium.  Chanterelle mushrooms are 11 to 24% protein.  In contrast, the average potato contains 3.9% protein.  Mushrooms also secrete antibiotics (Bertelsen, 2013).  The most famous fungal cure is penicllin, but fungi are used in many modern medicines.  Beano is made with the fungi Aspergillis niger, which digests methane and in turn relieves flatulence.  Lovastatin and Pravastatin are both derived from fungi and used to treat high cholesterol.  Cyclosporin comes from a fungus and is used to suppresses the immune system for organ transplants.  Shiitake mushrooms may have cancer fighting properties (Hudler, 2000).  Gypsy mushroom may be effective against herpes, the steroids used in birth control come from fungi, turkey tail mushroom may be a treatment against hepatitis C, and fomitopsis officinalis has been used to treat tuberculosis and e-coli.  Midwives in Germany and Italy used ergot, the deadly grain fungus, to induce labor (Bone, 2011).  Mold was used by Chinese, Ancient Egyptians, and French to treat wounds (Hudler, 2000).  Of course, the benefits of fungi should not be overstated.  They may be hard to digest due to their chitin cell wall.  Some fungi are deadly.  Designating fungi as a superfood is a marketing ploy to sell more mushrooms.  However, the healing properties of many mushrooms may mean that witches were associated with mushrooms because healers traditionally used mushrooms as medicine.   By associating healing with evil and witchcraft, women’s knowledge, experience, and power was de-legitimized.  At the same time, through witch hunts and trial, women themselves were terrorized with violence and the threat of violence as a form of social control.

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Women and Mycology

It should be clear that one of the themes related to women and fungi relates to the value of the knowledge and work of women in society.  It is suiting then that the final point is how women have contributed to the science of mycology.  In this feminist narrative of history, women have probably been closely connected to fungi for most of human history as foragers for food and as healers.  With the end of hunting and gathering societies in many parts of the world, women took on new, but subservient roles in society.  Still, women continued to be connected to fungi through their preparation of food and role as caregivers, even if this labor was not given social importance.  This final segment of history is about women struggling to assert themselves in male dominated science.  Outside of the realm of formal science, women are often responsible for passing down knowledge of mushrooms to their children.  Even the science of mycology depending upon the knowledge of women.   For instance, Carolus Clusius and Franciscus van Sterbeeck, who lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, respectively were two of the the first pioneers in mycology.  These men relied upon the knowledge of wise women, known as herb wives, to obtain information about mushrooms (Garibay-Orijel, Ramírez-Terrazo, and Ordaz-Velázquez, 2012).  It is tragically ironic that when men were developing science based upon the knowledge of women, these very same women were persecuted as witches for their knowledge of nature.


Later in history, Mary Elizabeth Banning was a pioneer in mycology who sought to identify mushrooms in the 1800s (Bertelsen, 2013).  She identified 23 new species of fungi and completed one of the first guides to mushrooms of the New World.  She worked as a teacher to support her mother and sisters after her father died, but found time to pursue mycology, then associated with botany.  Men dominated professional botany, but women were sometimes amateur botanists.  For 20 years, she studied the mushrooms of her home state of Maryland at a time when there was only one book on American fungi.  She never earned money or recognition and was often viewed as a lunatic by those outside of the scientific community.  She did however correspond by mail with various scientists (Pugliosi, 2016).  Her life represents several barriers for women who wish to pursue science.  For one, she was burdened with care work for her family.  Her mushrooming adventures were limited by the constraints of caring for her family.  At the same time, her work was stymied by the fact that she also had to be a wage laborer as a teacher.  Her “hobby” as a scientist was an unpaid third shift.  While she produced useful information, she never published it out of lack of confidence and her outsider status to scientific institutions.

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(An illustration by Mary Elizabeth Banning)

In a similar but less tragic example, Beatrix Potter was interested in mycology and painted hundreds of scientifically accurate portraits of fungi.  She studied fungi under a microscope and presented a paper on fungal spores at the Linnean Society of London.  She began creating watercolor paintings of mushrooms at the age of 20 and sent her paintings to the naturalist, Charles McIntosh.  In turn, McIntosh gave her scientific advice and sent her specimens to paint.  Beatrix Potter also began studying lichens, which she wrongly believed were fungi rather than a symbiotic relationship between fungi, algae, and bacteria.  The mycologist, George Murray, rebuffed her, both for the position on lichen and her earlier work on spore germination, which he said had already been studied in Germany decades earlier.  Her paper was never published and she was told to make revisions.  Female students were not accepted into the society until 1905 and she was unable to present the research herself.   Her biggest contribution to mycology was her illustrations, which were used for fungi identification (Flemming, 2016).  Potter went on to achieve fame as a children’s book author and illustrator, but her scientific endeavors largely went unnoticed in history.  Again, she was shut out of a world controlled by men and men mediated her access and legitimacy within science.

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(Mushroom watercolor painting by Beatrix Potter)


With successes of the early women’s rights movement and other social movements, the social space within science slowly expanded for women.  In 1950, Elizabeth Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown discovered Nystatin while trying to isolate antibiotics from Strepomyces noursei  (Hudler, 2000).  Nystatin was one of the first anti-fungal drugs and is used to treat various Candida infections such as diaper rash, yeast infections, and thrush.  Both scientists worked together for the New York Department of Health  and went on to develop two antibiotics.  Developing anti-fungal drugs is particularly challenging because, as it was noted earlier, fungi are closely related to animals.  This makes fungal infections harder to fight than bacterial infections.  Bacteria are simpler organisms, with a cell wall but not the complex cellular structures of animals and fungi.  This makes it easier to destroy bacteria.  Drugs developed to fight fungal infections may attack healthy human cells, as they are more similar (Staughton, 2002).

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Another contribution to mycology was the discovery of the cause of Dutch Elm Disease, a fungus that destroyed elm trees in Europe and the U.S..  The cause of this disease was discovered by a team of five female Dutch scientists (Hudler, 2000).  The source of the devastating tree disease was uncovered in 1921 by a team, lead by Johanna Westerdjik.  Westerdjik was a plant pathologist and the first female professor in the Netherlands.  She wrote over 70 papers on mycology and plant diseases and supervised over 55 Phd students, half of whom were women.  It was her student, Marie Beatriz Schwartz who isolated the fungus infecting elms and another student, Christine Johanna Buisman who developed Dutch Elm Disease resistant elms.  The project that she started continued until the 1990s.

 


“Moldy Mary” was another contributor to mycology.  Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin after observing mold attacking bacteria in a petri dish.  He hired a woman nicknamed “Moldy Mary” to collect moldy produce so the mold could be studied.  Her real name was Mary Hunt and she was a young lab assistant.  The molds that Hunt found were tested to determine if they were penicillin.  Some of the cantaloupes she collected indeed contained a culture of Penicillium chrysogenum and many modern strains used in modern penicillin come from her moldy melon (Hudler, 2000).  Another contributor to knowledge about fungi was Valentina Wasson.  Unfortunately, her husband, R. Gordon Wasson is more famous than she is for his research into the cultural relationship between people and mushrooms.  However, he was struck by the cultural difference between them when on their honeymoon, Valentina, a Russian, began collecting mushrooms.  He was terrified that they were toxic, a reaction that highlighted a difference between his American upbringing and her Russian upbringing and how that shaped their relationship to mushrooms.  The incident inspired the couple to research these cultural differences together and they authored Mushrooms, Russia and History in 1957.  They went on to travel to Mexico where they studied the relationship to mushrooms among indigenous people and went on to introduce psychoactive mushrooms to a mass American audience through Life magazine (Hudler, 2000).  Unfortunately, this attracted droves of Western visitors to the Mazatec community and especially to Maria Sabina, who was interviewed in their book.  Maria was investigated by the Mexican police for selling drugs to foreigners and had her house burned down.  Thus, while they examined cultural differences in the relationship between cultures and mushrooms, their work had a negative impact on indigenous people of Mexico.  Finally, as one last tidbit of mycological history, all button mushrooms, the mushrooms commonly used in pizza, salads, canned mushrooms, and cream of mushroom soup all come from a spore discovered by the Dutch scientist Gerda Fritsche in 1980 (Bone, 2011).

Mary Robeson aka Moldy Mary

A depiction of “Moldy Mary”

While women have made contributions to mycology over time, gender inequality in mycology persists today.   There are two times as many male members of the American Mycological Society as there are females.  Only 13% of the presidents of the MSA (founded in 1932) have been female, starting with Marie Farr in 1980.  MSA secretaries have been consecutively female since 1991, but treasurers have historically been men.  Various MSA awards have also gone disproportionately to men, although female students have won travel grants in greater proportion to their male counterparts.  The majority of published articles in Mycologia are written by men (Branco and Vellinga, 2015).  Mycology is not unique among the sciences.  The gender inequality within mycology is pretty comparable to similar sciences such as botany, ecology, and lichenology.  It begs the question of why women do not enter the sciences or when they do, they are not as active in leadership roles.


Oddly enough, I wanted to be a botanist when I was a kid.  I even went through a period of time in the 5th grade when I wanted to be a mycologist.  I attended science camp and continued to be interested in science through high school.  However, I think a deterrent for me and science was a lack of confidence and a fear of math.  Low self-esteem is pretty common among girl.  There are varying statistics on the occurrence of low self esteem, but if one believes the statistics put forth by Dove’s Self Esteem fund, as many as seven in ten girls believe they are somehow deficient.  If girls indeed believe they are not smart enough or capable enough, they may be deterred from science.  And, if they do enter the sciences, they still must contend with the social expectations of women, such as having a family, doing research, doing unpaid labor at home, etc.  This cuts into time spent for research or going to conferences and limits the ability to become leaders in their field.  They may also face sexism and sexual harassment in their work environment, like many women do.  Finally, as it has already been outlined, scientific institutions have not been welcoming to women in the past and have suppressed the knowledge of women.  Rationality itself is associated with masculinity, whereas femininity associated with emotions.  But, rather than viewing one as inferior or that reason and feeling are opposed to each other, they are instead, interconnected.  The drive to study the natural world, interest in research, dedication to a subject, and passion for science all come from an emotional place.


Conclusion:  

I am certainly not a scientist, but I hope that the presentation and accompanying hike provided a few insights about fungi.  Personally, I find fungi pretty fascinating and hope to learn more about them in the future.  That is the goal of feminist frolics, to get together, share knowledge, and hopefully open the door to future learning.  For thousands of years, the knowledge and experiences of women have not been valued.  I think that learning together and sharing builds confidence, community, and self-efficacy.  It is also a way to find a place in nature, science, and history.  Hopefully you will join the Feminist Justice League in future feminist frolics.  I think you will find we are a bunch of fun gals and fungi!

Mushroom Mother - feminist art poster hand finished in gold

A feminist poster called “Mother Mushroom”

Sources:

 

Bertelsen, C. D. (2013). Mushroom: a global history. London: Reaktion Books.

 

Bone, E. (2011). Mycophilia: revelations from the weird world of mushrooms. New York: Rodale.

 

Branco, S., & Vellinga, E. (2015). Gender Balance in Mycology (Rep.). Retrieved August 12, 2017, from http://msafungi.org/wp-content/uploads/Inoculum/66(5)%20preprint%20gender.pdf

 

Brones, A. (2015, May 17). Cupcake Feminism: Is What We Bake a Matter of Gender? Retrieved August 12, 2017, from http://www.thekitchn

 

Charts by Topic: Household activities. (2016, December 22). Retrieved August 12, 2017, from https://www.bls.gov/tus/charts/household.htm

 

Crane, E. (2000). The world history of beekeeping and honey hunting. London: Duckworth.

Dugan, F. (2008) Fungi, Folkways and Fairy Tales: Mushrooms & Mildews in Stories, Remedies & Rituals, from Oberon to the Internet. North American Fungi, [S.l.], v. 3, p. 23-72, ISSN 1937-786X. Available at: <http://www.pnwfungi.org/index.php/pnwfungi/article/view/1062>. Date accessed: 11 Aug. 2017. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.2509/naf2008.003.0074.

 

Fleming, N. (2016, February 15). Earth – Beatrix Potter: Pioneering scientist or passionate amateur? Retrieved August 12, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160215-beatrix-potter-pioneering-scientist-or-passionate-amateur

 

Fungi – an introduction. (2009, October 27). Retrieved August 12, 2017, from https://www.biooekonomie-bw.de/en/articles/dossiers/fungi-an-introduction/

 

Garibay-Orijel, R., Ramírez-Terrazo, A., & Ordaz-Velázquez, M. (2012). Women care about local knowledge, experiences from ethnomycology. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 8, 25. http://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4269-8-25

 

Hudler, G. W. (2000). Magical mushrooms, mischievous molds. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

 

Jones, G. (2009, November 19). Male to Female Ratios in Culinary School. Retrieved August 12, 2017, from https://www.reluctantgourmet.com/male-female-ratios-culinary-school/#context/api/listings/prefilter

 

Lucier, G., Allhouse, J., & Lin, B. (2003, March). Factors Affecting U.S. Mushroom Consumption (Rep.). Retrieved August 12, 2017, from USDA website: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/39489/30836_vgs29501_002.pdf?v=41414

 

Puglionesi, A. (2016, November 08). The Lost Mushroom Masterpiece Unearthed in a Dusty Drawer. Retrieved August 12, 2017, from http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-lost-mushroom-masterpiece-unearthed-in-a-dusty-drawer

 

Staughton, J. (2016, November 18). How Are Mushrooms More Similar to Humans than Plants? » Science ABC. Retrieved August 12, 2017, from https://www.scienceabc.com/nature/how-are-mushrooms-more-similar-to-humans-than-plants.html

 

Tanner, P. (2015, February 20). A Debate About The Role Gender Plays in The World of Pastries-www.njmonthly.com. Retrieved August 12, 2017, from https://njmonthly.com/articles/eat-drink/does-dessert-have-a-gender/

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Vangarden Notes: For the Birds

Vangarden Notes: For the Birds

H. Bradford

3.31.17

I feel that I have not had time to pursue hobbies lately.   It seems that activism and work take up the lion’s share of my life.   To some degree, I’ve wanted to make time for more hobbies this month.  To this end, I decided that I was finally going to paint some bird houses.  With the spring migration underway, it seemed like the perfect time to spruce up some of the bird houses that Adam’s brother donated to us.  The bird houses are designed with bluebirds in mind, but according to the National Blue Bird Society the boxes may be used by chickadees, some species of wrens, nuthatches,  tree swallows, and house sparrows.  Last year, one of our boxes was used by a chickadee, which seems like the most likely candidate for nesting in our small, urban yard, which we call “The Vangarden.”


I spent a few evenings painting the boxes.  I am not great at using paint, but it was a fun little hobby project.  What’s more, it looks great to have our yard and house decorated with a half dozen bird houses.   Even if the birds don’t utilize them, I think it adds to the yard décor and communicates our hopes for a wildlife and community friendly yard.  We put the bird houses up in mid March, which I read is the recommended time of year for hanging bird houses in northern states.


Here are a few of the designs:

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This is one of my favorite of the houses that I painted.  I had fun painting some cheerful sunflowers in a vaguely impressionistic style.  Although it looks pretty, I read that birds prefer more naturally colored bird houses.   Interestingly, birds see both the color spectrum that we see and the UV spectrum (well, birds of prey and nocturnal birds less so).  Birds that do not appear to have gender differences in plumage actually appear differently to birds, which can see plumage markings and colors that are invisible to us!  Thus, blue jays, crows, chickadees, and other similar looking birds actually look different (invisible sexual dimorphism) to the birds themselves.

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Another bird house that I painted featured a moon stars, and the Northern Lights.  I actually tried to add some constellations to the box, but it is hard to tell since I added a lot of random dots as well.  I read that bird houses should not be painted dark colors because they can overheat.  But, our yard is very shady….especially the side of the house where this bird house was placed.  I am not too concerned that it will get too hot.

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The above bird house was painted to look like a barn.  The white paint was a little bit drippy so it is not as tidy as I would have liked.

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This birdhouse was made to look like a green colored house with birch trees and a conifer tree on the opposite side.

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Finally, this bird house was made to look like a dark blue house.


Hopefully some birds use these houses this year!   The boxes have been hung on a few sides of the house.  Realistically, they are not spaced far enough apart or covered enough to be ideal nesting sites.  For instance, Black capped chickadees prefer to nest at least 650 feet away from each other.  Nuthatches prefer one box per 6 acres!  Two of the boxes where placed on the front side of the house, where there is a spruce tree and shaggy boxwood bush…but also a busy street.  Our yard is pretty small, so there are not ample choices of where to hang the boxes.  However, perhaps if we obtain others we can consider this an experiment.  Which boxes will get used?  What area of our yard is favored by birds?  Will we attract any other species of nesting birds (other than the chickadee last year)?  Whatever the outcome of our project, it is fun to paint the houses as a hobby and a nice way to decorate our yard.

Bi+ Identities: Past, Present, and Future

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Bi+ Identities: Past, Present, and Future

H. Bradford

2/16/17

Once a month, Pandemonium meets for “Bi with Pie.”  “Bi with Pie” is a discussion group wherein members discuss issues related to bisexuality and bi+ identities.  In the past, we have discussed our experiences as well as topics such as bisexuality and domestic violence, bi phobia, and the importance of bisexual organizing.  Usually, I try to facilitate the discussion by bringing an essay or article to share.  This month, I wanted to explore various bi+ identities.  Originally, I wanted to compare bisexuality and pan-sexuality, but this expanded to include other bi+ identities.  I am not an expert on sexuality, but it is an area of interest.  Certainly, there may be some errors in my definitions and analysis.  But, the point of our group is to grow and connect as a community.  Part of my own growth as an activist is my own growth through learning and sharing information.  With that said, hopefully this essay provides an overview of some of the identities within the Bi+ community.  It is far from comprehensive, but I think it helps to clarify some differences between identities while revealing a trend in LGBTQ identities.

Bisexuality:

Bisexuality was first coined in 1892 by Charles Gilbert Chaddock in his translation of Kraft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis.  It is in the late 1800s and early 1900s that psychologists sought to classify sexuality.  As such, our modern sexual concepts emerge during this time period.  However, these understandings were medical understandings meant to delineate health from deviance.  For instance, Freud believed that humans were innately bisexual, but that normal individuals would become heterosexual unless exposed to trauma.  Unfortunately, many people still seem to believe that being gay, lesbian, bi, or anything but a cisgender heterosexuality stems from poor parenting or some kind of trauma.  Despite the relative newness of labels such as homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual, there has certainly been a wide array of sexual behavior across cultures and time periods.  Men in Ancient Greece entered relationships with older men as youth, but also married women.  In Ancient Japan, young men formed sexual relationships with older men in the context of Buddhist temples and among samurai warrior culture.  While these cultures aren’t precisely bisexual in the modern sense, and even then, this sexual expression was limited to men, it should at least demonstrate that attraction to more than one gender has deep historical roots.


Although the word has been around since the late 1800s, there are many misconceptions of what it means to be bisexual.  For instance, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines bisexuality as a sexual or romantic attraction to both sexes.  It also defines it as something which possesses male and female reproductive structures.  This definition is confusing, since it implies that there are only two sexes and does not mention gender at all.  It is also confusing, since it defines bisexual as synonymous with hermaphrodite.  This use of the word might be appropriate in strictly scientific contexts, but it is potentially confusing and offensive in other contexts.  Finally, the definition implies that bisexuals are not attracted to trans or non-binary individuals.


Because of these limitations and misunderstandings in mainstream definitions of bisexuality, bisexual organizations have sought to create their own definitions.  For instance, BiNet defines bisexual as, “A person whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other people of various sexes and/or gender identities. Individuals may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime.”  This definition is notably inclusive of various sexes and gender identities.  Likewise, the American Institute of Bisexuality defines bisexual as, “A bi person has the capacity for romantic and/or sexual attraction to more than one gender.”  Once again, bisexuality is not limited to attraction to both men or women, but more than one gender, which could include many gender identities.  The Human Rights Campaign defines bisexuality as, “A person emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to more than one sex and/or gender, though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.”  This definition acknowledges that bisexuality does not mean an even proportion of attraction to various gender.  It is clear by these definitions that bisexuals do not define themselves as simply being attracted to men or women, but simply more than one gender.  In fact, there have even been petitions to define bisexuality more accurately on online dictionaries.


While many people believe that the bi in bisexual means attraction to “two” and the two being male and female, according to the American Institute of Bisexuality, it is a scientific word that describes someone who is both heterosexual and homosexual.   Despite the efforts of bisexual activists to define themselves in a way that does not reinforce binary gender identities, the misconception persists that bisexuals are attracted to men and women.   Many bisexual individuals choose to identify as bisexual because it is the most commonly used word for someone who is attracted to more than one gender.  Some use bisexual in combination with other sexual identities.  Some use it because they are indeed only attracted to men or women or their sexuality is not inclusive of all gender identities.  Bisexuality is also used as a generic umbrella term for a variety of sexualities that involve attraction to more than one gender.  Personally, I choose to identify myself as bisexual since it is the most commonly understood word for attraction to more than one gender, it is a word that is associated with social movement organizations and history, and because I believe it is a word that should be reclaimed to be inclusive of all genders.


Although bisexuals have been part of the modern LGBT movement since the 1960s, it is still in many ways very new as a movement.  The bisexual pride flag was not invented until 1998.  BiNET USA, the first nationwide organization for bisexuals, was not founded until 1990.  The first Celebrate Bisexuality Day was on September, 23 1999.  The first books that specifically focused on bisexuality were written in the 1990s.  Thus, bisexuality as a distinct movement and community is only a few decades old.  Although it is new, there are many identities which have arisen since the 1990s.  This can make some bisexuals feel threatened or may raise the question of if bisexuality has become obsolete.  Hopefully, bisexuality is not obsolete as this would cut short its development as an identity and community and undermine its potential in the struggle against heterosexism.  It is my hope that bisexuality will remain relevant by collaborating with and making space for emergent identities.

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Pansexuality:

The 1990s saw a flourishing of bisexual identity with the emergence of national organizations, books, a flag, etc.  It was during this time period that Queer Theory emerged.  In a larger social and historical context, this period also marked the end of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War.  The apparent victory of capitalism, complete with its insidious institutions of globalization and finance, led to a crisis of faith in Marxist or even modernist understandings of society.  This has played a large role in sexuality is presently understood and the emphasis on identities.  Of course, identity politics is important to building movements as it helps individuals develop a sense of self, a sense of unity, and an understanding of their own oppression.  Yet, I think that this also explains the plethora of new sexual identities that have emerged since the 1990s.  We live in a society where politics are very identity driven and individualized.  This is not to discredit anyone’s identity.  It is simply to put these identities into a material and social context.


With that said, while pansexuality may seem like the new kid on the bi+ block, the term has been around since the early 1900s and was coined by Sigmund Freud.  At the time, it was a term that described how sexuality was the basis of all human interactions.  According to an analysis of google data, pansexual began to appear online in about 2007.  The concept arose or at least became more popular with the emergence of genderqueer and non-binary activism.   The word pansexual was invented to specifically include non-binary individuals.  The word pan means “all,” so someone who is pan-sexual could potentially be attracted to all genders or sexes.  There is a slight difference between bisexuality and pansexuality, as bisexuality is often defined as “more than one” and pansexuality as “all.” Thus, pansexuality does come across as more broad and potentially gender blind.  Adopting this label is an attempt to make clear that an individual is attracted to all genders.  Some bisexuals may feel upset with this term, since pansexuality may seem like it is trying to correct a failure of bisexuality to include trans and non-binary genders.  Some bisexuals may feel that this term is not necessary since bisexuality is inclusive or that the label may somehow shame, denigrate, or marginalize bisexuality.  I would hope that pansexuals are not seeking to differentiate themselves in such a manner.  At the same time, everyone should have the autonomy to define themselves how they like.  Pansexuality should be viewed as legitimate and important.


Since bisexuality is misunderstood and pansexuality is not a well-known sexual identity, one benefit of adopting this identity is that it may require an explanation and definition.  This is a way to specifically spotlight the gender component of bisexuality/pansexuality.    Unfortunately, it has added to the misconception that bisexuality is about binary gender and sexes.  Both bisexuals and pansexuals can be attracted to a variety of genders and sexes and both can be allies to these groups.  And, while bisexuals struggle with the rootword “bi” which by default sounds like binary, pansexuals must wrestle with the rootword “all” which to some people implies animals, inanimate objects, children, etc.  Thus, both identities struggle with defining themselves on their own terms.  At the same time, bisexuals have various organizations to advocate for their interests and development as a community.  Pansexuals do not have independent social movement organizations (or at least national or well-known organizations).  As such, they may be dismissed as an internet identity with no presence in the real world.  Pansexuals are lumped together with bisexual organizations.  Because the identity is fairly new, perhaps with time it will grow and separate from the bisexual movement.  For now, both are conjoined.


I am not certain what percentage of the Bi+ community identities as pansexual.  However, in a 2014 Needs Assessment Survey of the Bisexual, Fluid, and Pansexual Community of L.A., 26% of the respondents identified as pansexual.  61.8% identified as bisexual and 36% identified as queer.  Thus, pansexual was the third most prominent identity in the survey, consisting of over a quarter of respondents.  Despite the lack of pansexual specific publications and institutions, some celebrities have come out as pansexual such as the feminist sex educator, Laci Green, rapper Angel Haze, and Miley Cyrus.   The pansexual flag was invented in 2010.  The pink represents women, the blue stripe represents men, and the yellow stripe represents non-binary gender.   In conclusion, pansexuality as a distinct identity is much younger than bisexuality, but is quickly becoming a popular segment of the Bi+ community.   While pansexuality is similar to bisexuality, it emphasizes gender over sexuality.  It remains to be seen if pansexuality will separate from bisexuality and form an autonomous movement with its own organizations.  I suppose this depends upon how well both groups collaborate and identify common needs and demands.  Interestingly, the Bi+ group that I am a part of is called Pandemonium, which puts more emphasis on “pan” than “bi” identity.  An effective Bi+ organization should ensure that pansexuals feel like an equal partner in the struggle against heterosexism. 2000px-pansexuality_flag-svg

Fluid:

Another identity that may fit in the Bi+ umbrella is fluid.  Of course, since fluid is fluid, it may not fit from time to time.  I suppose how it fits in would be up to the individual and how that person wants to relate to the Bi+ umbrella.  A fluid individual is someone who may be attracted to multiple genders or may be attracted to one gender.  Someone who is fluid may reject labels.  Their sexuality may involve attraction to multiple genders at once, or a single gender at one time.   24% of the respondents to the 2014 Needs Assessment Survey of the Bisexual, Fluid, and Pansexual Community of L.A. identified as fluid, which made it the fourth most common response.  To those who identify as fluid, they may feel as though bisexuality or other labels do not adequately describe the variability in their sexuality.  Another word for fluid sexuality is abrosexuality.  Though, abrosexuality may mean rapidly changing, so I am not certain that it is perfectly synonymous with simply being fluid.  Most bisexuals and pansexuals likely recognize that sexuality is to some degree fluid.  It would be rare to find a bisexual person who is always exactly 33.3% attracted to men, 33.3% attracted to women, and 33.3% attracted to non-binary individuals without change or deviation.  However, identifying as fluid makes it very clear that sexuality is always changing and evolving. Abrosexual Pride Flag: Abrosexuality is defined as being fluid in sexuality. This means that a sexuality changes very often. This is different from novosexuality because abrosexuals can usually tell what sexuality they are at that moment.

Queer:

Queer is often used as catchall term for anyone who is not cisgender or heterosexual, so it is a term that is applied both to sexuality and gender.  Thus, it is commonly used to describe any sexual and gender minority or denotes any identity that is not heterosexual.  Importantly, it should not be applied to people who don’t self-identity as queer, as the word has historically been used negatively against sexual or gender minorities.  The word is multifaceted, so some individuals adopt the word to express their identity as someone who is attracted to men, women, trans, or non-binary individuals. The word is also employed to express that an individual is against the status quo or is a radical or revolutionary sexual or gender minority who is looking to challenge oppressive social norms and systems.


Although queer was once a derogatory word used against sexual or gender minorities, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, activists sought to reclaim the word queer.  An early example of the popularization of the word queer is Queer Nation, an organization that was founded in 1990, which used direct action, marches, education campaigns, and protest to challenge homophobia, violence, and promote LGBTQ visibility.  Queer Nation came out of ACT-UP, an group which used similar tactics to draw attention to the AIDS crisis during the 1980s.  The militancy of ACT-UP was in response to government inaction in response to AIDS and the deaths of thousands of people from the disease.  By 2000, almost 450,000 people in the United States had died of AIDS, though the rates of infection and death had decreased since the mid-1990s.  Because of this history, the word queer has been associated with LGBTQ militancy, though today, many mainstream organizations have adopted this word.


 

Polysexual:

There are many other sexuality within the bi+ umbrella.   Another identity is polysexual.  Poly means many.  Thus, a person who identifies as polysexual may be attracted to many genders but not all genders.   This definition implies that there are some genders which a polysexual is not attracted to or potentially attracted to.  A challenge that polysexuals might face is that “poly” may sound like polyamorous.  Thus, they might be mistaken for polyamorous, or non-monogamous.  As you can see, each identity has some challenges on account of the root word.  Finally, polysexual is much more obscure than pansexual and bisexual, so it may require more explanation or confusion.  I am uncertain of the history of exact history of polysexuality, but judging by the historical trend of other identities, I imagine it was first articulated in the late 2000s.  There are few online resources related to this identity, but it seemed worth mentioning as it relates closely to pansexuality. pride-flag-polysexual

Skoliosexual:

In a similar vein to polysexual, there are some people who are only attracted to non-binary identified individuals.  These are skoliosexuals.  Skoliosexuality is not very well known.  I wasn’t even 100% sure which flag represented this sexual identity or if this identity had its own flag.  The prefix “skolio” may refer to the Greek word for bent, such as scoliosis, a curve of the spine.  The challenge of this sexuality is that it is not well known, it sounds like a spinal deformity, and individuals may be accused of fetishizing gender non-conforming people.  The history of this sexuality is unknown, though it may have appeared on the internet after 2010. 31196b3d048861504b6f04638edb70d8

Other Labels:

Omnisexual, Ambisexual, and Trisexual are other varieties of bi+ identities which I found online.  Of these, omnisexual is the most commonly referenced online.  Omnisexual seems to be used as a synonym for pansexual.  Ambisexual and Trisexual appear to be rather obscure labels at this moment of time.  While there may be individuals who identify as these labels, there are few resources regarding what the identity entails.   There are more common labels such as heteroflexible, homoflexible, and bi-curious, but it is beyond the scope of this particular essay to explore all of these labels.  As such, this essay provides an overview of some but not all Bi+ identities.   The big idea is that there are many ways to describe and experience attraction to more than one or multiple genders. Image result for bisexual organizing


Why So Many Labels?

A big question that a person may have after reading this essay is why are there so many labels?  This essay doesn’t even offer a comprehensive list of possible identities within the bi+ community!  I think that there are several reasons why there are so many labels.  First of all, there are some “old school” labels.  These came about in the late 1800s by scientists and medical professionals.  Labels like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual were coined in the late 1800s.  There are many reasons for this.  Firstly, the mid 1800s saw the emergence of powerful medical institutions which replaced folk understandings of human bodies and health.  This time period also saw the emergence of new disciplines of understanding and organizing knowledge, such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology.  The esteemed position of scientific knowledge over religious or folk knowledge was not new, but it was accelerated by the industrial revolution, the subsequent growth of urban centers, and the global expansion of capitalism.  This trifecta of conditions called for new ways of studying human beings and articulating deviance/difference for better control of colonies and workers.  For instance, scientific racism emerged in this time period as a way to classify some humans as lesser.  This justified colonization projects and the exploitation of these people.  The veneer of science was used to define deviant from “normal” sexuality for the purpose of controlling the reproduction of workers, pitting some workers against others, and controlling workers themselves by ensuring the unequal position of some groups within the labor force and household.  Therefore, these original labels for sexuality were meant to control and divide people.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that scientific racism and sexual labels emerged during the same time time period.  There was a fear of demographic crisis.  Population is a resource within capitalism.  Anything that potentially threatens reproduction is automatically suspect.


While different words and labels were adopted and rejected over history, there seems to be a real flourishing of identities since the 1990s.  These labels are not coming from scientific institutions, but individuals and activists who want to define themselves.  The biggest boon in this process seems to have been reclaiming the word queer in the early 1990s.   This came out of militant LGBTQ organizing during the 1980s, which itself stood on the shoulders of the LGBT movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  Queer was adopted by activists themselves, but entered academia through queer theory.   Of course, the academia of the 1990s was somewhat demoralized by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the perceived failure Marxism.  Thus, it seems to me that LGBT theory and analysis has been very centered upon the use of language and the development of identity, as academia has been influenced by post-modernism and post-structuralism.    I find nothing wrong with exploring language, identity, or thought.  I also find nothing wrong with deconstructing gender and sexuality.  These things should be deconstructed.  The status quo should be challenged and social movements must promote new understandings.  But, I also think that larger economic forces should ground this analysis.


With that said, new identities have developed because identity is a focal point of understanding LGBTQ issues.  Identity is important to organizing, but it is a double edged sword because it can be atomizing, dividing, and self-focused.  The emergence of so many new identities since the mid to late 2000s can be attributed to social media and the increased ability of individuals to develop a sense of self through the internet.  It can also be attributed to American hyper individualism.   This is not to say that the emergence of new identities is wrong or bad.  It is simply to argue that we live in a society which values individuality (inasmuch as it can be subverted for consumer interests or as a distraction from class consciousness).  At the same time, these identities are subversive, since they do challenge heterosexism.  This may sound contradictory, but I am simply arguing that a society that allows us to define ourselves through thousands of styles of shoes, clothes, music, and food choices also creates the space for us to define ourselves through thousands of labels for sexuality.  And, to add to this, there truly ARE thousands of ways to express sexuality and gender.  Finally, there are more labels because there is increased social space to explore gender and sexuality.  Victories in the realm of marriage equality and trans bathroom access and trans acceptance (despite recent setbacks) create more space for individuals to think about and express gender and sexual identity.  It is my prediction that many more sexual identities will emerge.  That there will be many more new flags.  I think that this is because people are seeking to define themselves and social media provides a platform for connection and identity creation.  There is nothing wrong with this.  The question isn’t a matter of right or wrong or what identities should exist or should not exist.  It is a matter of organizing to fight heterosexism.  To that end, I believe that uniting towards common goals, articulating common interests, identifying economic and structural forces, mobilizing in real time and physical spaces, and building a collective movement that consists of affirmed individuals will further the cause of bi+ individuals as we move towards the future.

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This essay draws from the following sources:

https://bisexual.org/?qna=what-is-the-difference-between-bisexual-and-terms-like-pansexual-polysexual-omnisexual-ambisexual-and-fluid

http://binetusa.blogspot.com/2016/02/correct-definition-of-bisexuality-on.html

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/bi-vs-pan/

http://www.outsaskatoon.ca/bi_pan_poly

http://genderqueerid.com/post/16339992032/skoliosexual-adj

http://www.labicenter.org/LABTF_2014_Bisexual_Needs_Assessment_of_Greater_LA.pdf

https://www.bustle.com/articles/40282-a-brief-history-of-bisexuality-from-ancient-greece-and-the-kinsey-scale-to-lindsay-lohan

http://everydayfeminism.com/2012/10/fluid-sexuality-lgbtq-spectrum/

http://www.advocate.com/health/love-and-sex/2014/02/11/exploring-umbrella-bisexuality-and-fluidity

http://www.uua.org/lgbtq/identity/queer

My Favorite Birthday Memories

 

My Favorite Birthday Memories

H. Bradford

2/12/17

  As I was in bed today, my mind drifted through some of my favorite birthday memories.  There are so many good times.  I thought about my childhood and the many birthday parties that my parents hosted for me.  I thought about some of the parties that I’ve hosted for myself as an adult.  I really do enjoy my birthday.  Here are some of those memories.


Childhood Roller Skating Party:

I remember when I was in the 4th grade or so, my mother organized a roller skating party for me at the roller rink in McGregor, MN.  I don’t even remember who was there or any of the gifts that I received.  I imagine that Libby was there.  I think I remember Tonya and Kym.  I am sure there was pizza and pitchers of fountain soda.  It is all pretty foggy now.  One thing I do remember was that I wore these hideous turquoise elephant pants.  Even though bell bottom pants had been out of style for a few decades, I somehow thought that they were super cool.  I thought that they looked even cooler swaying side to side while roller skating.   I had a strong and bizarre sense of style as a kid.  In any event, I remember feeling pretty darn cool wearing those pants.  I also owned my own roller skates.  They were white with pink pompoms.  Again…super cool.

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Birthday Dinners with the Wallis:

Each year for my birthday, my grandpa Walli would take the family out for a celebratory dinner.  We would often go to a supper club or “older person” restaurants.  Each year, I ordered a hamburger and French fries.  It was my favorite.  It also became a bit of a joke, since the adults would order walleye or steak, but I wanted just an ordinary burger.  I remember one year had been very hard on my family.  I believe that my father was laid off of work that winter so money was pretty tight.  I remember that we ate potatoes and eggs.  To my childhood brain, it felt like we ate potatoes and eggs for the whole winter.  Perhaps it was only a week.  Maybe it was for a few weeks.  I only remember that we ate a lot of potatoes and eggs that winter.   When my birthday arrived, it was really wonderful to go out for my birthday meal….since it was a relief from potatoes and eggs.  It seems like everything got better after that.  We ate other things or I don’t remember eating so many potatoes and eggs.  Thus, that is how I remember my birthday that winter.  It was when things got better.  Really, I still frame my birthday that way.  By February 12th, it seems that winter is not as dark and harsh.  It has always been the beginning of the end of winter for me.

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“Birthday” in Korea:

I visited South Korea in 2010 through a study abroad program at UWS.  The program did not begin until late February.  As such, I didn’t actually spend my birthday in Korea.  Still, for some reason everyone thought it would be a fun idea if we pretended that it was my birthday.  We did this for others as well.  Thus, we went to a pizza place and pretended that it was my birthday.  We somehow obtained a small cake and everyone sang happy birthday.  Why me?  Why my birthday?  I was the least fun and social person out of the bunch.  I dream about bird identification.  This is all very silly, but that weekend has become a birthday memory.  So, while I didn’t do those activities for my actual birthday, I remember going to Seoul,  eating pizza, eating cake,  wearing animal costumes, going to a photo booth and wearing a red wig, and a group of people singing happy birthday to me.  I am not sure if all of these things actually happened on the same weekend even!  But, it seems suiting that my fake birthday would have a fake memory.

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Birthday in Ireland:

Many eons ago, I also studied abroad in Ireland.  I don’t think that my roommates there cared for me much, but they did find me an ice cream cake for my birthday.  This was a pretty amazing feat since ice cream cakes are not that common and our program was based in a small town in County Mayo.  I remember that everyone went out that night to celebrate my birthday.  They offered to buy me drinks, which consisted of diet coke, since I am a teetotaler.  Thus, everyone got drunk on my behalf, or at least used that as an excuse for drinking.  Still, it was a fun time.  I got free diet cokes and an ice cream cake.


The Epic Birthday of 2011:

I used to host large parties for my birthday.  I think that one of the most epic parties that I hosted was the party of 2011.  That year, I subjected my friends to a long march of birthday celebrating.  The celebrations began with snowshoeing at Jay Cooke State Park.  I remember that unlikely people, such as my mom and Adam, joined me on this trek.  My mom was proud that she kept up with the “youngsters” on her first snowshoe adventure.  Adam still complains that he hates snowshoeing.   Next on the all day intermarry, was a stop at Mexico Lindo in Cloquet.  I love Mexican food.  I had a fun time.  The fun was bolstered by the fact that I got to wear a black sombrero while the staff sang happy birthday to me.  Oh, but the fun didn’t end there.  Nope!  Next on the agenda was a private showing at the planetarium.  The birthday party was treated to a show at the planetarium, though I am not sure what the topic was now.  Finally, the party ended back in Superior with an astronomy lecture from Kris Nelson, a cosmic ice cream cake, trivia, and animal costumes.  Why did my friends subject themselves to dawn to dusk birthday celebrations?  Why the marathon of Mexican food, astronomy, and snowshoeing?  Who knows.  But, this was probably the best birthday ever.  It also marked the last mega birthday party of my adult life.  After that year, I moved to Mankato for grad school.  Mike moved to the cities and is now married with a family.  Carl also moved for grad school.  I think this party marked the end of an era in my life.  Which is fine.  Everything changes.  It is a lot of effort and energy to create such as massive celebration.  Still, it was a fun time.


Other Adult Birthday Parties:

In 2007, I began hosting birthday parties for myself.  I had been depressed for many years.  In fact, I lost a few years of my life to depression.  Well, in 2007, depression was finally losing its grip on me.  As such, I wanted to celebrate and make up for those years I lost to feeling unmotivated and isolated.  2007 marked the debut of my birthday parties.  The first party was a roller skating party followed by trivia and snacks.  I learned that although roller skating was fun as a child, it was terrifying as an adult.  The next year, I hosted a party at Carnival Thrillz, followed by trivia and snacks at my place in Superior.  I learned that most adults are not that into laser tag and mini golf, as the party was not well attended.  The following two years featured hotel pool parties.  These were pretty fun.  I have a fond memory of my birthday party in 2010, since this was also a farewell party.  I was going to leave for Asia for six months.  So, it was a way to say goodbye to my friends for a while.  This was a fun party, but like the party in 2011, it marked the end of an era.   Vanessa moved away later that year.  Rose was in China.  Flappy, my pet squirrel, was left behind, never to be seen again.


Birthday 2016:

This party was unique since it was my only adult birthday party which I didn’t plan myself.  As such, it was pretty low key, which is great.  I liked that I didn’t have to do any food prep, party decorating, inviting, or planning.  Adam and Jenny took care of that.  The birthday was pretty fun.  We played games.  Jenny made a giant cupcake.  We sang a special song to mark the cutting of the cake with a cheese knife (Oh, Holey Knife).  As a general rule, almost all of my birthday celebrations feature a piñata, singing, and trivia.

Childhood Birthday Parties:

My parents always tried to make my birthday special.  When I was in the second grade, they took my friends and I to Bridgeman’s in Floodwood, MN.  Again, I ate a burger and fries.  I also had a hot fudge ice cream sundae.  I was a pretty silly kid, so I invented a song called “Mr. Bubblegum.”   I have a long history of making up songs at my parties (the piñata song and Oh Holey Knife).    I remember a valentine themed party, wherein everyone received gift bags.  The bags included pens with removable heart shaped caps.  I remember we played trivia at this birthday party, but I wanted MORE trivia, so I began quizzing my friends on Greek mythology.  I think my mother even made a scavenger hunt for us outside.  She also made heart decorations which she put on the living room mirror with some streamers.   I can’t remember when I stopped having birthday parties as a child.  I suppose they became less elaborate affairs after my parents divorced.  I had few friends in Cambridge/Isanti, though my mother did take a few of us to the Mall of America one year.  In any event, I always enjoyed my birthday.   I enjoy the Valentine’s Day theme, the cakes that my mother would make (I always wanted angel food), the Valentine candies from my grandparents, the red, pink, and white, the friends, the trivia, the piñatas, etc.


The Present:

I did have a party this year!  I worked this weekend (or took the night off Sunday).  Perhaps I will try to celebrate with my friends next weekend when I am off.  Of course, I don’t have to celebrate.  There are plenty of adults who quietly let their birthday pass by each year.  But, my birthday invigorates and inspires me.  It motivates me to get outdoors,  do more fitness, wear red, indulge in my favorite things, and have fun.  It makes February a special time of year.  With that said, I hope that I have many more happy birthday memories in the years to come!

 

The Gravity of the Center: A Rant about Centrism

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The Gravity of the Center: A Rant About Centrism

H.Bradford

1/30/17

One of my fears with the Trump administration is that it will make George W. Bush look like Che Guevara.  To most people, almost anything looks like liberation in comparison to Trump.  There has been astonishing resistance to his policies and person.  Who could imagine that the National Park Service would rebel and create alternative social media accounts to promote environmentalism, science, and fight climate change?  Who would have thought that thousands people would protest at airports against the Muslim Ban or that taxi drivers would go on strike?  All of this after a women’s march of over four million participants!   There is an enormous outpouring of rebellious sentiments and participation in actions.  Yet, I worry that all this zeal will be funnelled into the same-old pro-capitalist centrism that brought us to this point to begin with.  To many, the pre-Trump status quo will look like a lighthouse of liberation.   This beacon of light is illusion.  It is the light that is suspended in time, just before the black hole at the center devours it.   Here is how one might go about identifying the center, hopefully so its intense gravity can be avoided.


 

Globalization:  

Lately, it seems that there has been a certain amnesia about the negative impacts of globalization.  Many people seem genuinely upset that Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA and has backed out of the TPP.  While it is easy to believe that everything Trump does is terrible, it is important to evaluate each policy in their own right.  NAFTA, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994 was signed and supported by Bill Clinton and 129 Democrats.  Its passage launched the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico.  In a way, it was the Standing Rock of the 1990s, if Standing Rock was on steroids.  The Zapatistas rose up because they believed that NAFTA would hurt indigenous people and widen the gap between rich and poor.  They also sought land reforms and the democratization of Mexico.  NAFTA hurt Mexican farmers because cheap American corn flooded into the country, causing them to lose their livelihood and created further incentive to immigrate to the U.S.  Multilateral free trade agreements have been the way of things since the end of World War II and especially since the 1970s.  While I don’t want to discuss this point at great length, these agreements generally have negative impacts on the environment, workers, and developing countries.  Consider the EU, which is essentially a free trade agreement for Europe.  The integration of markets and currency means that member countries must play along with the rules.  So, when economies like Greece, Spain, and Italy. floundered, the EU solution was austerity.  That is, government spending had to be curtailed  Thus, in Greece, at least as of 2015, ⅔  of youth were out of work and wages were down 50% since before the economic crisis of 2008.  Free trade seeks the free movement of capital, but also labor, which leads to social strain as workers from poorer regions of Europe are blamed for taking jobs.  At the center, there is unquestioned support of globalization.  In fact, it is looked upon positively because it is shrouded in internationalism and multiculturalism.  Well, colonization and imperialism also are forms of internationalism and “multiculturalism.”  The globalization that occurs through free trade agreements and organizations is simply modern colonialism.


 

The Vilification of Enemies to U.S. Hegemony:

Another characteristic of the dark center of politics, is the vilification of enemies to U.S. hegemony.  Both Republicans and Democrats do this.  Basically, the U.S. has enemies.  These enemies tend to be countries that don’t agree that the United States is a beacon of democracy and hope for the world.  These countries might critique U.S. militarism or pose some threat to the U.S.’s military right to have over 600 bases in 148 countries.  Our number one enemy right now is Russia.  Bizarrely, standing against Russia is seen as progressive.  Much is made about Russia’s militarism and conservatism.  Recently, I saw that many progressives were sharing an article about how Russia has legalized domestic abuse.  Yes, that is truly terrible.  But how many of those people know any of the other 19 countries in the world with no laws against domestic violence?  How many are paying attention to the domestic violence laws elsewhere in the world?  Or even in our own country?  This is an example of the vilification of Russia.  Russia is a country of Neanderthals who make war, abuse women, and punish the LGBT community.  Now, I certainly am against war, abuse, and for queer liberation, but it seems suspicious to me that this critique of Russia fits very nicely with our own militant foreign policy.  Considering that the Cold War cost the United States over 5 trillion dollars in nuclear weapons and weapons spending, I am very cautious about the fear mongering over an enemy.  Villains create a wonderful justification for militarism.  Villains sell war.  They also paint us as morally superior and therefore justified in our foreign policies.


Russia has been blamed for spoiling the U.S. election.  The internet is rife with homophobic memes of Trump and Putin.  It is odd that Russia is critiqued for its LGBTQ repression and yet homophobia is used as a vehicle to poke fun at Trump.  What purpose does vilifying Russia serves?  I don’t think it is conducive to building solidarity with Russians.  We all have a shared stake in ending homophobia, sexism, and militarism.  And, at the core of this vilification of Russia is the notion that they are somehow different and incapable of democracy or peace.  Let’s remember that Russia (then the Soviet Union) was the first country to legalize abortion.  They did this over fifty years before abortion was legalized in the United States.  The Soviet Union decriminalized homosexuality in 1917.  In the United States, sodomy laws were not overturned by the Supreme Court until 2003.  Russians are capable of standing up for progressive causes. I am not a Russian apologist, but I certainly can’t stand the vilification of a country.  If we want to change the world, we should first look in the mirror.


War:

 

Closely related to the vilification of certain countries is endless war.  Both parties have stood for war.  War goes unquestioned, as if it is an American right to destroy the world.  The thing that I dislike the most about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was their commitment to war.  President Obama authorized ten times the drone attacks than his predecessor, George W. Bush.   Yet, he is seen as just and the embodiment of hope.  His administration normalized drone attacks and certainly ended the hopes and dreams of the 3,000 + people killed by them.  74% of the U.S.casualties in Afghanistan actually came after 2009, when Obama sent more troops to that country.  If Trump increased the troops in Afghanistan, wouldn’t we be raising a raucous?  Often times, there may be peaceful solutions.  Muammar Gaddafi actually wanted to negotiate to step down from power.  Yet, war and regime change in Libya were sought anyway.  And when it was all over, Hillary Clinton said, “We came, we saw, he died.”  Perhaps Trump won because the alternative is repulsive.  At the very least, I am repulsed by U.S. war mongering, whether it be from Democrats or Republicans.  A person can’t really be pro-environment or pro-women if they are pro-war, or at least quietly ignore that war is occurring.


 

American Exceptionalism:     

An idea that drives our war making, foreign policy, and domestic policy is that the United States is exceptional.  John F. Kennedy said, “More than any other people on Earth, we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, not for ourselves alone but for all who wish to be free.”  Bill Clinton justified the war in Bosnia by saying, ““America remains the indispensable nation” and “there are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression.”  Although Obama was criticized for not actively embracing American exceptionalism, he did say “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being” to graduates of the US Military Academy.  Apparently, everyone has forgotten that American exceptionalism was supposed to be insulting.  After all, the word was coined by Joseph Stalin.  Oh well.  In any event, politicians and many Americans embrace the idea that Americans are special, with a special place in history and the world.  We’re not just another country.   This is dangerous.  It can be used to justify anything from blocking refugees from entering our country to building walls…to endless war.  It means that the people of other countries are somehow less deserving of autonomy or inferior because they are less like us.  It justifies our role as the world’s police officer.  Since most people alive today are accustomed to U.S. hegemony, it is almost impossible to imagine that perhaps the US does not have a higher mission or purpose in this world.  More fearful is the idea that we could be eclipsed by another great power.  This fear keeps us locked to the two capitalist parties.  It limits our imagination that we could perhaps have some shared interest with the people of the world in dismantling capitalistic and militaristic hegemony period.


The Invisibility of Class:

 

Finally, the dark center of politics lacks any concept of social class.  Class is an obscure concept.  Everyone is a part of the mushy, middle class.  What is the middle class?  What is its relationship to other classes?  Its relationship to capital?  Our exceptionally large middle class, whatever that may be, is another thing that makes America exceptional.  After all, look at all those other countries.  All the countries without middle classes.  They just have poor people and a handful of rich people.  If only they had it so good.  We have homes, cars, and college educations.  Nevermind that we also have credit card debt, student loans, bankruptcies, foreclosures, etc. to finance the illusion of the middle class.  Nevermind that we also have trade deals to get all those cheap goods made it sweatshops far away so we can feel wealthy at Walmart.  Or, nevermind that the middle class is nothing more than a social construct.  At best, it is operationalized by ranges of income.  But, if it were operationalized as a household making $42,000 – $125,000 a year, this says little about education, kind of work, and more importantly, role in this economic system.  It also implies that a person who makes $41,000 is working class or poor, but the person who makes $1000 is magically middle class.  This lack of a concept of class or acknowledgement of the working class obfuscates the economic well-being (or lack thereof) of this country and limits the possibility of class consciousness.  People might be encouraged to join unions or fight for higher minimum wage if they saw themselves as workers or part of a large working class with common interests.


Conclusion:

I am not sure what will happen after Trump.  I hope that perhaps this outburst of activism against him can push America further away from our xenophobia, racism, sexism, environmental destruction, and war making.  I hope that the outrage cannot be contained by the two parties.  That perhaps new institutions will arise or old ones will be revitalized.  I hope that mass mobilizations of people make the 1960s look like a 4th of July Parade.   I hope we can make 2017 look like 1917.  But, my fear is that the lure of centrism will draw people back to oppression wearing the shroud of liberation.  I worry that the old way of things…the muted version of all that is happening now, will look positively cheerful.  But, I suppose all of this depends on our ability to build movements that are independent of both parties and revitalize the labor movement.  For now, I hope that people keep on fighting.  I hope they don’t forget how to fight when it seems that things have returned to normal.  Normal is unacceptable.

Glow for Roe: The Importance of Being Seen

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Glow for Roe: The Importance of Being Seen

H. Bradford

1/28/17

    Visibility is important to any social movement.  For instance, Pride Festivals and parades make sexual diversity visible to the general public.  Offices, newspapers, fliers, and tables at events are ways that socialist groups make themselves visible.  The Women’s March on Washington, along with the marches elsewhere in the country, was a way to make the feminist movement visible across America.  It drew attention to demands and anger in the face of this administration, but also in response to the decades of failures and defeats in realizing gender equality in this country.  There are times when movements must strategically choose invisibility, such as when the violent repression of the state is so great that visibility risks death, injury, or imprisonment.  At this moment in time, this is not generally the case.  This is the time to be visible.  That was my reasoning for trying to organize “Glow for Roe.”  I think it is important for people who support reproductive rights to be seen.  The point of the event was to turn out for a “glowing” protest in support of reproductive rights.  It was one of several Roe v. Wade events last weekend, each of which raised the profile of reproductive rights activism in the Twin Ports.  The following is why it is important to stand up and be seen.


We are the Majority:

 

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, seven out of ten Americans want to keep abortion legal.  In a 2015 survey from the Brookings Institute, 59% of women reported that they wanted abortion to be legal in all or most cases.  It is fair to say that most Americans want abortion to remain legal.  So, this is excellent!  By participating in events like Glow for Roe, the 40 days of Choice, Planned Parenthood support pickets, or the Hotdish Militia’s party/counter protest of the Jericho March, pro-choice activists can show other pro-choice individuals that they are not alone.  Those who are engaged in social movements are always a minority of those who actually support them.  As such, activists play a role in affirming the beliefs and identities of those who may not be visibly involved in the movement.   They also play a role in visibly countering the beliefs of those who disagree.

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Abortion is stigmatized:

 

While most people support keeping abortion legal, many people also support restrictions on legal abortions.  These abortions include such things as waiting periods, parental consent, funding barriers, restrictions on how late in a pregnancy abortion can occur, mandatory ultrasounds, hospital admission rights, etc.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, 338 abortion restrictions were introduced between 2010-2016, accounting for 30% of the restrictions passed since 1973.  So, while public opinion generally supports legal abortion, in reality, legal abortion has been eroded by an onslaught of restrictions.  Restrictions make it more difficult and expensive to obtain an abortion.  At the core of these restrictions is the idea that abortion is something other than health care.  While one in three women have had abortions, it is secret and stigmatized.  In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton popularized the idea that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.  By adding “rare” to the discourse, it stigmatized abortion and framed it as a moral rather than medical issue.  There have been 1,142 restrictions on abortion passed since 1973.  According to NARAL-Pro Choice America, states have passed 835 anti-choice measures since 1995.  This means that Over 70% of the restrictions have been passed since the mid 1990s!  Stigmatizing abortion or calling for it to become rare justifies restricting it, thus further limiting access.  Being visible, on the street, protesting for choice is a way to be seen as an unapologetic supporter of abortion and the women who make that choice.  It is a way to destigmatize abortion, bringing abortion as a word, idea, and medical experience into the public sphere.

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The Other Side is Visible

Another important reason to protest in support of reproductive rights is because the pro-life movement is large, well-funded, and enjoys a lot of institutional support from churches, social movement organizations, and even the government (through politicians, tax breaks, and state funded crisis pregnancy centers).  They are visible.  Not only are they visible, they are violent.   In 1994, arson destroyed a Planned Parenthood in Brainerd, MN burned along with several neighboring businesses.  In 2002, five shots were fired into the rebuilt building, breaking a window and damaging a wall and ceiling.  The building finally closed in 2011 due to losing Title X funding.  The location did not provide abortion services.  The Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids, MN was also fired at in 2002.  Since 1993, at least 11 people have died in attacks on abortion clinics.  There are elements of the pro-life movement who seem to believe that they are at war.  Of course, even their peaceful demonstrating constitutes a war against women, but for some, there is a call to violence.  This is terrifying.  This is also a reason why visibly supporting choice is important.  Clinic staff and patrons need defenders who will visibly stand up for their right to life!  At some level, not mobilizing into a visible mass movement is irresponsible when abortion clinic workers life on the line each day they go to work.  Our visibility is the least we can do.

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Our Rights are Threatened:

It is important to be seen because our rights are threatened.  They have been threatened since 1973.  The barrage of restrictions.  The Hyde Amendment.  The Global Gag rule-again.  Here we are, forty four years after Roe v. Wade and it feels like reproductive rights are a fluke.  A set of rights that slipped past the goalie.  No one actually believes that women are human beings.  No one actually believes that women can have autonomy over their body.  No one actually believes that women should not be punished for having sex.  There are people in this society that want to see women go to jail for having an abortion.  Despite having the largest prison population in the world, this warped logic concludes the United States would be better if we imprisoned ⅓ of all women.  The only people who believe that the equality of women hinges upon their ability to control their bodies are feminists.  Like abortion, feminism has been stigmatized.  It is a bad word.  No one wants to admit to having an abortion OR being a feminist. Well, it is important to be visible as a feminist since no one else is going to advocate for women.  No one else believes abortion access is a fundamental and necessary conditions of our liberation.  We are the vanguard of all women.  Our rights are threatened.  They have barely been realized.  No one else will stand up for our rights, but ourselves.

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We Can be Visible:

 

There are places and times in history where women have not been able to be visible.  I imagine communist Romania, wherein women were forced to have pregnancy tests each month at their workplaces.  They were monitored by the state to make sure they did not have abortions.  At the same time, contraceptives were banned by the state.  Thus, women were given no choice.  Well, some chose illegal abortion, resulting in the death of over 9,000 women.  I consider death a choiceless choice.  Until last year, abortion was illegal in all cases in Chile.  This meant that an 11 year old rape victim was denied the right to abortion in a high profile case several years again.  Since many Latin American countries have very restrictive abortion laws, women at risk of Zika virus were told to abstain from sex for two years.  In Saudi Arabia, women can have an abortion only if pregnancy threatens their life, and then with parental or spousal consent.  We are fortunate that we still have some rights and that we are able to assemble and speak our minds without serious threat from the police (in most cases).  The Women’s March was criticized for its coziness with the police, but we can certainly use this to our advantage.  We should speak out while we can and because we can!

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The Squirrel that Got Away

The Squirrel that Got Away:

The Time I Raised a Squirrel

by H. Bradford

1/21/2017

This is going to be one of those…”the time I…” stories.  Perhaps I should do a series of “The time I…” stories.  This is about the time I raised a squirrel.  After all, January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day.  How better to celebrate the holiday than with a story about a beloved squirrel?  This is the story of Flappy, the squirrel that I loved and the squirrel that got away…

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Flappy was discovered on a cool spring stroll through Pine Valley Park in Cloquet. I was out for a walk with Dan, enjoying one of my favorite trails, when I came upon a small, flattened baby squirrel with an injured tail.  The squirrel was naked, blind, and making an ungodly shriek.   We walked past it, but I could hear it behind me as we continued on.  I turned around to revisit the helpless squirrel.  Some crows were menacingly gathered above us.  I didn’t see any sign of a nest or a mother.  So, I took the squirrel.  I knew this was the wrong idea and it would probably die, but I wanted to save it.


When I returned home, I researched how to care for a squirrel.  Of course, every website said that it was better to leave it in nature, even if it perished.  The websites warned that baby squirrels were hard to care for and some warned that wildlife rehabilitators might not bother with squirrels because they are so plentiful.  The life of a squirrel is cheap.  Against all of this advice, I decided to care for the squirrel anyway.  This began with devising some kind of diet and environment for it.  There was some trial and error, but somehow the squirrel survived the first few days of its life with me.  I named the squirrel Flappy, which is short for Flapjack.


Squirrel care was somewhat involved.  At first, I fed the squirrel puppy formula, but I had a hard time finding a syringe that was small enough for a baby squirrel.  Pet syringes were sized for puppies and kittens.  This problem was solved by an awkward middle of the night visit to the Walgreens Pharmacy in search for a single, diabetic time syringe without the needle.  Still, even with the small syringe, Flappy always seemed to inhale his milk.  I worried that the squirrel would get pneumonia.  Eventually, I switched from puppy formula to a concoction of cow milk, yogurt, vitamin e, and sunflower oil.  The solution was thinner and seemed to agree with Flappy’s digestive system much better than the puppy formula.  I had to feed Flappy every few hours, which meant I took the squirrel to work with me.  Every few hours I would wake from my sleep or stop my work to warm up some milk solution for the squirrel, then dutifully feed it.  If I failed to do this, my life was interrupted with a terrible shriek.  In caring for the young squirrel, I also learned that baby squirrels can’t defecate on their own.  Apparently the mother squirrel licks their genitals to stimulate urination and defecation.  Yep, so I had to use a q-tip and warm water to massage the squirrel into peeing and pooping.  This was quite worrisome as Flappy did not “go” during his first few days with me.  I thought it was bound up and would die.  So, I was pretty pleased when he finally let loose a black rice sized turd.  Lovely stories, right?  I also made sure that Flappy was warm by putting a heating pad under his cage.  Finally, I made sure that he didn’t feel lonely by setting a stuffed animal in his cage, along with a watch.  The ticking of the watch was to fool him into thinking that the stuffed animal had a heart beat.  I don’t know if this worked, but he did curl up by the stuffed animal.


The first few weeks of Flappy’s life were pretty intense.  He was a needy little squirrel.  He was blind, naked, and hungry.  But, he slowly changed.  His eyes opened.  He started to grow gray fur.  Each day he looked a little less like Golum from the Hobbit.  Flappy became more active and squirrel like.  In his toddler years, he started to very carefully claw his way up things.  I also felt more confident that he would survive, as he was more robust.  However, I did make the mistake of removing the heating pad to early.  I found him weak and unresponsive in his cage.  I thought for sure he would die, but he survived the night by sleeping on my chest.  A few months into his life, he began eating solid foods.  This was pretty exciting, since it meant less work for me.  I even made him some homemade squirrel food from a recipe found on a rehabilitator website.  He hated it.  But, he loved hazelnuts- one of the more expensive nuts in the store.


Towards the middle of the summer, Flappy was large enough that he had outgrown his cage and really, was pretty squirrely in his confinement.  He would climb the walls of his small prison, making me feel pretty bad for containing him.  As such, I decided to introduce him to the outdoors.  Our first adventures outside were interesting.  Having never seen a bird, Flappy freaked out when he saw a seagull.  He clawed up my naked arms and hid behind my head.  Of course, with more experience outside, Flappy learned not to fear every bird.  At the same time, Flappy showed complete indifference to other squirrels.  He quickly learned that other squirrels can be quite aggressive, so his apathy was shattered by chattering teeth and waving tails.  Thus, being raised by a human meant that he wasn’t perfectly socialized as a squirrel.  Nevertheless, there were plenty of things that were inborn.  For instance, he naturally hid nuts and naturally took to climbing tall objects.  After a few adventures outside, I took Flappy out again.  This time, he bounded down the sidewalk, unafraid of other squirrels or birds.  He kept going until climbing an electric pole to the top.  He stayed there for several hours.  I figured that perhaps it was time for him to go off on his own and that this was the end of our time together.  When I checked on him later, he was gone.


I didn’t hear from Flappy for a few days.  But, days later, the squirrel returned.  It was raining.  The drenched squirrel was on the front steps.  He had lost weight and looked pathetic.  All of this is a very dramatic story.  A story of a lost loved one who returns in the pouring rain.  I was surprised that he found his home or that he knew to wait on the steps.  In any event, I took him back inside.  This meant a return to his prison, but it gave him a few days to fatten up and dry out.  But, once again, his pathetic running up and down his cage prompted me to let him loose again.  However, this time, things went better.  This time, he went outside, but somehow learned how to return to the house through the mail slot.  Thus, he spent his days outside, then snaked through the mail slot to sleep in our porch at night.  This was a great arrangement since he had the benefit of both freedom and security.  Flappy made a squirrel’s nest out of the stuffing of a Ragedy Ann doll in the porch.  This marked the beginning of his adult life in his awesome bachelor pad.  He was still my little squirrel though.  Each morning, after working the night shift, I would wake up him by clicking.  Then, I would feed him some hazelnuts.  He would sit on my shoulder and climb up my leg.  This made for a pretty cool pet.  Even when I was outside, he would run up to me to climb on me.  All the while, he grew fat on all the treats and his life of comfort.  This made him the dominant squirrel of the neighborhood.  He went from the bullied baby squirrel to a tyrannical boss.


 

Now, I remember Flappy fondly, but it is important to note that while he ate the nuts that I gave him and freely climbed on me, he was not so nice to my housemates.  They remember Flappy as a terror who would bite and scratch them.  This is where the story of Flappy becomes less heart warming.  You see, in February 2010, I went to study abroad in South Korea.  I planned on being in Asia for six months.  This meant that I had to leave Flappy in the care of my housemates.  It also meant I had to leave my beloved pet.  While I was away, he grew increasingly aggressive and wild.  This tends to be the case with wild animals and why people are warned not to take them in.  It got to the point where my roommates feared for their safety, since Flappy believed that the porch was his territory.  He attacked anyone who entered the porch.  A downside of raising a squirrel is that they have less fear of humans.  So, while I pined for my squirrel from the other side of the world, my housemates lived in terror.  They continued this life for a while.  But, by the summer they decided to evict Flappy from his home on the porch.  They did this by blocking the mail slot by a giant bag of charcoal.  This did not deter Flappy.  Having grown into a thoroughly demonic squirrel in my absence, he actually ate through an entire bag of coal to each his sweet suite on the porch.  Eating all that charcoal seemed to make him even darker and meaner.  I must admit that I am a little proud of Flappy for his tenacity.  In any event, about a month from my return, my roommates decided to capture the squirrel in a cage and release him somewhere far away.  It was suggested by one of them that they should just kill the squirrel, but I am glad that they did not.  They captured the squirrel, released it miles away, and that was the last anyone heard of Flappy.  Interestingly, the next day, the porch had another squirrel on it, but it was a wild squirrel who had entered Flappy’s lair in search of his stash of hazelnuts.  I returned from Asia and felt pretty upset about the whole thing, especially since they did not consult me.  I felt that they insulted me by going behind my back and keeping it a secret until my return.  It was as if they didn’t trust me with the truth or to make a logical choice.  This was a betrayal more than the release of the squirrel.


All of this transpired about seven years ago.  I assume that Flappy is gone to the world, as the life span of a squirrel is about six years.  In captivity, a gray squirrel can reportedly live up to 20 years, but I think that the challenges of his new environment and his maladjusted nature might have shortened his lifespan.  Although it was a long time ago now, I still have a fondness for squirrels.  It was more pronounced years ago, where every squirrel I saw evoked feelings of joy.  As time as gone on, I am more desensitized to this joy, but I still enjoy them.  This extends to all rodents, more or less.  So, Flappy taught me to take joy in squirrels and to love rodents.  Squirrels will always have a special place in my heart.  Flappy was also special because I am not a caregiver.  I don’t want children.  I don’t find a lot of joy in carework.  Although I like cats, I don’t have any pets because animal care takes too much time and investment.  Flappy might be special because he is the only thing that I really took care of and took care in taking care of.  My friends teased me that I was a squirrel mother.  This annoyed me tremendously because I don’t want to be a mother to anything or anyone.  But, I was a “squirrel sitter.”  Flappy was never really meant to be my squirrel, but I cared for him for a time.

In addition to the experience of caring for something, I think it attests to something strange about humans.  We have the capacity of love very different species.  What evolutionary purpose would our fondness for animals serve?  Is it a badly wired brain that cares for anything cute?  From an anthropological perspective, not all societies have the concept of pets!  Or, there are cultures that keep pets but don’t treat them especially lovingly.  The concept of animal cruelty is fairly modern.  Animal rights activists are dismissed for being too emotional.  They don’t accept the cold, mechanical reality of industrial agriculture.  They don’t just submit to the horrors inflicted upon animal kind like every other hotdog and hamburger loving American.  We can love individual animals.  We can love groups of animals (horses, cats, dogs).  The love of AN animal seems contradictory when paired with indifference to all other animals.  Shrug.  Another lesson from Flappy is seeing myself in the squirrel.  I mean this in the evolutionary sense.  Flappy was a curious, bushy tailed, nut gnawing creature of the treetops.  In a way, he reminded me of a little primate, like a lemur, bushbaby, lori, or tasier.  This similarity is even more pronounced in flying squirrels, which are nocturnal and have large, dark eyes, not unlike a bushbaby.  I imagined that our most ancient human ancestors, or the proto-primate ancestors of primates, were very squirrel like.  Evolutionarily speaking, rodents are more closely related to humans than humans are to dogs and cats.  Primates and glires (rabbits, rodents) are both part of the same clade “Euarchontoglires.”  If you move backwards in history, humans, tree shrews, rabbits, rats, squirrels, beavers, etc. all had a common ancestor.  We are on the same branch of a tree.  Now, closely is pretty relative, and if you go back far enough, everything is related.  But, there is a cosmetic similarity between squirrels and some primates as well as a deep evolutionary connection.  Anyway, we like to think of ourselves as fierce and independent like cats or loyal and fun-loving like dogs, but we are more like those smaller animals in the treetops or those that scurry in the bushes and sewers.  We are more rat than cat.  Or at least we are 80 million years apart.  I am fascinated by our evolutionary connection to the life around us.


Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I saw another baby squirrel.  I think, knowing what I now know, I would pass it by.  It was a lot of work and emotional investment.  I am sure I would be tempted to care for it and might regret if I did not, but maybe some things are better left to nature.  For now, I can find contentment in feeding the squirrels from time to time and appreciating them from afar.

Marxmas: A Commie Candyland

 

 

Marxmas: A Commie Candyland

H. Bradford

1/08/2017

The holiday season is finally over.  To be honest, the holidays were a little depressing.  It has been brutally cold all month.  Also, I experienced a chest cold that lasted from Thanksgiving through Christmas.   I have not been very active because of this.  I have mostly felt like hiding under blankets and sleeping.  I worked on Christmas and New Years at a domestic violence shelter.  So, it was a little grim to have no holiday meal, no time with loved ones, or no celebration.  It was just work and…going home to sleep.  While I don’t believe that my lethargy is seasonal depression, I do think these circumstances put me into a state of semi-hibernation for the past month.   But, perhaps it is alright to slow down and rest from time to time.


Things perked up as I planned Marxmas.  Marxmas is the socialist alternative to Christmas.  Each year, Twin Ports Socialist Action hosts a Marxmas party for our friends.  For the past two weeks or so, I have been frantically planning for the big day.  This year’s theme was “Commie Candyland.”  The theme was chosen because my friends and I dressed up as the characters for Halloween and it was a way to re-use our costumes.  My life for the past two weeks have been related to the preparations for this epic annual party.  The party involved a skit wherein the Candyland characters are trying to overthrow Candy Capitalism.  The skit had four acts.  Each act was punctuated with rounds of Pictionary, trivia, and “hodgepodge” challenges, as three teams competed with each other for the purpose of overthrowing the king/candy capitalism.  The skit/game ended with the victory of the rebels, the singing of The Internationale, and the breaking of a cupcake piñata meant to represent candy capitalism.  All participants received prizes, the house was decorated to look like a version of “commie candyland”, and included a feast of two tables of food.  Oh, and there was also a soundtrack of 36 sweet related songs!  This party was an ambitious undertaking.

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The Menu:


I wanted the menu to be very colorful, but also with a wide variety of sweets to match our theme.  I also wanted the non-desert foods to be as vibrant as candy!  Many of the guests are vegetarian or vegan, so that is also a consideration.

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Desserts: baklava, Turkish delight, revolutionary gingerbread men, cupcakes, cake, dried fruits and nuts, a cringle, a wide variety of candies, fruit fondue, and a giant chocolate chip cookie in the likeness of Karl Marx


Drinks:  Orange Dreamsickle punch, coffee, Cranberry punch


Not Desserts: Pita plate with hummus, falafel, and olives; chips and salsa; vegetarian meatballs; vegetarian orange chicken; phyllo asparagus, Forbidden rice bowl with edamame and mushrooms;  vegetarian sushi-sweet potato, asparagus, and cucumber; shitake; beets and sweet potatoes.


The Decorations:

One enormous time sink was actually decorating the house!  I envisioned that the house should look like a magical candy dystopia.  To this end, I created two large posters that depict scenes from my imagined Candyland universe.  One of the posters represented “Kandygrad” the industrial center of Candyland.  The other represented a battle in “Sweetbearia” the icy frontier of Candyland.  Both are part of the nation state called Chokovia.  The posters introduced new characters.  All of this made me decide that I should really create a graphic novel called “Candywars” (though changing out the Hasbro related things to characters of my own creation).  But, we’ll see if I have time for that..

 


To continue on the topic of decorations, the room was decorated with dozens of balloons and streamers.  I created some candies from tissue paper and cardboard, which were placed in various places around the room.  Admittedly, I did buy some decorations on clearance after X-mas.  I just did not have the time to create elaborate decorations beyond my posters, candies, balloons, and streamers.  Different parts of the room were decorated to represent the regions in the game.  For instance, there was a blue and white color scheme where the team from Sweetberia was meant to sit.  The team from Kandygrad sat in a red and pink area.  The villain team featured a makeshift throne for the king.

 

 


    The Skit/Game:

The party mostly consisted of a skit/game.  The skit began by introducing the characters from Candyland as well as the political situation therein.  I pretended to be Lord Licorice, a villain aligned with King Kandy.  I was also the narrator/game master.  The acts of the skit was broken up by rounds of a game, wherein three teams would compete with each other in trivia, Pictionary, and hodgepodge.  The category was determined by which color block the teams landed on while moving along the Candyland board.  For instance, red and purple were trivia.  There were 19 categories of trivia-each somehow related to candy.  The Pictionary items were all current events from 2016.  Hodgepodge included everything from acting to memory challenges.  One memorable acting challenge involved the marriage of two characters in a Candyland style wedding. The game was integrated into the actions of the skit.  Each act was an event- such as a prison rebellion in Sweetbearia, the abduction of Queen Frostine,  and the ultimate victory of the rebels.  As the game master, I had some discretion over the trivia or Pictionary challenges that I posed.   However, in the end, the rebel teams actually won the game without my intervention!   It was interesting to see the teams become upset when they thought that the game was rigged and how the villain team seemed genuinely disappointed when they lost and genuinely boastful when they were ahead.  While it was only a game, the integration with the skit seemed to up the emotional ante for the players.  This also was likely because everyone was playing “roles” in the game.  I invented a book of non-canon characters so that anyone who attended the party could be a character.

 


The Pinata:

The game ended when we broke the piñata.   The piñata was meant to represent Candy Capitalism.  Personally, I love pinatas.  I try to have them at parties whenever I can.  I even have a piñata song.  However, each party that I host usually ends up with a lot of leftover candy on the floor.  This is a bit of a bummer.  But, the truth of the matter is that adults like the idea of pinatas a lot more than filling themselves with candy.   After a lifetime of candy, there is diminishing returns on the joy that it potentially brings.  Instead, it brings cavities, stomach aches, and weight gain.  Kids love pinatas and candy.  Adults- not so much.  To improve upon the piñata, I filled it with candy- as well as condoms, lube, safety whistles, and carbineer compasses.  I think this improved the outcome of the piñata, as much of the adult centered loot was taken.

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The People:

The people are what makes a party special.  Usually, 20-25 people attend Marxmas.  This year had our lowest turnout in a long while.  But, there was a good quality of people and this made the space less crowded.   I think conflicting schedules and bitter cold kept some attendees away.  Honestly, everyone was a hoot.  My friends dressed up as characters from Candyland and were good sports about the game.  The game ranged from silly to demoralizing.  For instance, when a rebel team was in the lead during a time when the villains were supposed to be in the lead- I gave the rebel team a very difficult Pictionary topic: Muslim genocide in Myanmar.  I would tip my hat to anyone who can successfully draw this in two minutes.   On the silly side of things, I later had Mr. Mint move a gummi bear to this mouth from this belly button-while lying on the floor-without using his hands.   I really love my friends for attending these parties and making my vision a reality.


Aside from attending the parties, I must thank my friends for their help making the party possible.  For instance, Jenny, Angie and I made a chocolate cake.  I have never made a chocolate cake from scratch.  It was the best cake I have eaten in my life.  The frosting tasted as rich as gelato or ice cream.  The cake was epic!  Angie randomly decided to make a giant cookie.  This cookie turned into a Karl Marx cookie.  Wow!  Adam and Lucas helped me decorate and clean.  Adam did all of the cleaning after the party, which is about as fun as cleaning up elephant turds after the circus was in town.   But, he was happy to have the house return to normal, since he was not as fond as I was of the candy wonderland.  He missed seeing the thousands of books we have everywhere.

 


Conclusion:

Each year I exhaust myself to make a great big party.  It costs me a lot for the food, prizes, and decorations in terms of time and money.  But, it brings me joy.  I like to create an experience.  I think of it as my version of a potlatch.  I don’t mean to appropriate a Native American practice, but many cultures hosted big feasts with gift exchanges.  This exhausting event redistributed resources and could build the prestige of a leader.  Now, I don’t think that the event that I host significantly redistributes resources or builds my prestige.  However, I do think it serves the purpose of building social bonds.  My friends always tell me that I spend too much time or money on it.  They want me to scale back the party.  But, I take a lot of joy in creating an experience for my friends and giving them something like this.  I want to create a memorable experience.  I want to create happiness.  This is a gift that I want to give to people on this day- even if it means I have to work non-stop for three days before the event to make the final preparations!  Maybe all of our holidays involve some remnants of a forgotten time (to Europeans)- when we celebrated to give.  This is useful in capitalism as it drives consumerism.  Yet, the urge to give is socialist at its heart, even if it is distorted by free market interests.   Hidden behind the labor, plates of food, and endless trivia is the promise of an economy of plenty.  It seems like an impossible dream, but I think that is the heart of Marxmas.   Celebration is role playing the fantasy of possibility.

Making Socialist Resolutions: An Activist’s New Year

Making Socialist Resolutions:

An Activist’s New Year

by H. Bradford

12/13/16


New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, so I have spent the month doing an audit of my goals and hopes for 2016.  While some socialists are known to make revolutions, I am prone to making resolutions.  This year I tracked my goals in a small journal, which has provided me with a lot of data on how this year went.  I had over 50 New Year’s Resolutions last year and completed around half of them.  The goals I didn’t complete are probably more interesting and revealing than the ones that I did.  One of the goals on the list was to attend 40 political events.  I wrote that goal without any idea of how many events that I actually attend during the year.  As of today, I am at over 75 events!  Of course, life should be about quality over quantity.  However, the number attests to how active I was during this year!  With that said, here are some highlights of a year in activism.


  1. Socialism and a Slice:  This is a once a month current event discussion group which meets at Pizza Luce to discuss news from an anti-capitalist perspective.  There is a fun group of core people who have been attending.  The group tends to focus on local events and the discussions have helped us coordinate and plan things as activists.
  1. Anti-Rape Protest: Take back the Park: This event was organized in response to a pro-rape meetup that was supposed to happen in Duluth.  It is bizarre to think that there are men who actually believe that rape should be legalized and that rape is a legitimate activity within the privacy of their homes.  It is scary!  It is scary that they wanted to meet up!  Dozens of people held a vigil on February 6th, 2016 at Leif Erickson Park to stand against rape and rape culture.  It was awesome!  To my knowledge, no pro-rape activists showed up.
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    1. AFSCME Meetings/Steward Training:  Since June I have been attending monthly AFSCME meetings.  I am proud to be one of the 11% of workers who belong to a union.  It is also great to connect with other people who are labor activists working in the nonprofit sector.  Another highlight was that in November I attended a training to become a steward.

 


  1. Homeless Bill of Rights: I have attended some meetings and events as time permits.  I was proud that I was able to contribute to the group by getting my union local 3558 to endorse the Homeless Bill of Rights.  It is only one of two union locals who endorsed it.  Though, the entire Central Labor body endorsed it.  I also feel glad that I collected a few pages of signatures for the petition in support of the Homeless Bill of Rights.   The City Council may vote on it in February, but the struggle will continue as we try to provide accessible bathrooms for the homeless community.

 

    1. Feminist Frolics:  This is a new activity which is sponsored by the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition.  Once a month we host an outdoor activity combined with an educational presentation.  A highlight was researching a feminist history of Halloween, then going on a spooky night time hike to an abandoned cemetery.  The point of these events is to build community and raise feminist consciousness.

 

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    1. Chalk for Choice:  This was another new event that the TPWRC sponsored/participated in.  This involved creating beautiful art and messages to support the women who work and use services at the Building for Women.  We did a few Chalk for Choice events and look forward to doing more in the future.

 

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    1. 40 Days of Choice:  Each Friday during the 40 days of Life, the TPWRC organized two counter protests of the anti-choice vigil outside the building.  One of the highlights of the 40 Days for Choice was wearing our Candy Land themed Halloween costumes on the final event.  I made protest signs to match our costumes.  Keep Abortion Safe, Legal, and Minty!

 

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    1. Pride: There are some years that I don’t attend the local pride festival at all.  This year I didn’t work so I had the opportunity to run in the Hummingbird 5k, table at the festival with Safe Haven, and walk in the pride parade with Grandmother’s for Peace.  This made for a fun, vibrant, memorable Pride weekend!

 

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  1. Radical Cheerleaders:  Back in 2010, I organized a radical cheerleading group called the Rah Rah Revolutionaries.  The group evaporated when I moved to Mankato for graduate school.   This year, I revived the group on a modest scale.   Hopefully, it can be a spring/summer project.  The Rah Rah Revolutionaries are a modest ad hoc group, but we did contribute to Take Back the Night by welcoming people to the event with our cheers.  We also did some cheers and chants at an anti-war picket on the anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.  Finally, we appeared at one of the 40 Days of Choice events.  It is fun to put on a cheerleading costume and do chants for reproductive rights or against war.

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10.Pandemonium:  Pandemonium was started up in October and meets once a month for “Bi with Pie.”   I have wanted to be a part of a bi+ group for some time, since I think that bisexuality is not a very visible and legitimate sexuality in our society.  One of the catalysts for creating the group was attending a vigil for the victims of the Orlando night club massacre last June.  I was asked to be interviewed but felt shy because I didn’t feel like I was queer enough.  I think that a bi group is important for bisexuals so that they can develop identity and community and better connect with the larger LGBTQ community.


11.Islamophobia Protest:  What better way can a person spend Valentine’s Day than with a picket that shows love and support for the Muslim community.  The event was organized by Break the Bonds (an Israel divestment group) and Kym Young after Superior Mayor, Bruce Hagen made disparaging remarks about Muslims.


  1. Hiroshima/Nagasaki Vigil: This event is organized each August by Veterans for Peace and Grandmothers for Peace.  It was a beautiful event hosted at the Japanese garden at Enger Tower.   This was my first year attending.  Oddly enough, they were short on speakers so I was asked to speak (from a script).  That was neat.  Hiroshima/Nagasaki has always interested/concerned me.  When I was in high school, I went to state for a speech on the topic of the atomic bombings.  As a student in Korea, I went on a weekend adventure with some fellow students to Hiroshima.  It is startling and horrific what our nation did to two civilian populations.  Zombie movies have nothing on the grotesque reality of our militant foreign policy.

 

    1. Letters for Prisoners: I have only attended two meetings of this group, but wrote my first letters to prisoners.  I wrote to Oscar Lopez Rivera and Leonard Peltier, but members of the group can write to any prisoner (famous or not).  I wrote Rivera about a trip to Puerto Rico this spring and my impressions of it as a pseudo-colony.  I wasn’t sure what to write because I am not very knowledgeable about the Puerto Rican independence movement.  I wrote Leonard Peltier about a local picket that Socialist Action hosts on his birthday each year and some local Standing Rock actions that have happened (I have only attended a few Standing Rock events, so I just mentioned my impressions of those events).

 


  1. Social Events: Socialist Action hosts a few social events each year.  This year we did a “commie con” themed Marxmas Party, which was attended by about 25 people.  We also did a Fall of Capitalism Party in October, which included trivia, fall foods, and a visit from Karen Schraufnagel (Socialist Action’s Vice President Candidate).  Our final social event was a Bolshevik Bonfire on Wisconsin Point.

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  1. Speaking to a Class: I was invited to speak informally to a class at UMD about domestic violence and working at a shelter.  It was a wonderful opportunity and made me feel like my experiences matter and that I have knowledge worth sharing.

This is just a sample from my list of 75 events.  Since some of these groups or events happened more than once, it quickly added up to that total.  Based upon the list, I would say that I am weak on my participation in racial justice and environmental issues.  I have started to attend a few SURJ meetings, so perhaps that can help me become a better ally in the area of racial justice.  As for the environment, I attended a documentary last night, but it was focused on marketizing carbon and buying electric cars to solve climate change (which isn’t the anti-capitalist solution I am looking for).  As a whole, I am proud of my engagement.  This stems from being a socialist.  Once a person becomes anti-capitalist, it is hard to see issues in isolation.  A person cannot fight sexism without also fighting racism, ableism, and classism.  A person cannot promote the interests of workers at the expense of the environment or promote environmentalism without looking at how classism, racism, gender, and ability intersect with environmental issues.  War is also an issue of feminism, class, race, and environment. Thus, I am not attending events for the sake of reaching a magical number, but trying to be engaged on many fronts in the war against capitalism.  The numbers encourage me and make me feel proud for trying hard to be a “good” activist.  Since activism is pretty thankless and misunderstood, I think it is okay to give myself a pat on the back for doing my best this year!

A Year of Birding

A Year of Birding

H. Bradford

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One of my many New Year’s resolutions last year was to try a few new hobbies.  One of the hobbies that I tested out this year was birding.  Birding, or the act of observing or listening for birds, is pretty interesting.  The average age of a birder is 53 years old.  According to a report from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (2013), 30% of birders are over the age of 55.  23% are between ages 45 and 54.  Thus, this is a hobby where I am actually on the young side!  About 50% of birders make over $50,000 a year, so it seems to be a hobby for people with more money than the average American, myself included.  About 56% of birders are women, though perhaps this is because there are more older women than men.  88% of birders are backyard observers of birds, whereas 38% are birders who travel at least a mile to view birds (there is overlap between these groups).  As a whole, the average birder is probably an older, white female, with above average income and education, who lives in the urban south.  This is a hobby that is not known for its appeal to people of color, youth, working class people, the LGBTQ community, etc.  Despite the lack of diversity, there are several reasons why I was attracted to birding.  1.) It is an easy going, outdoor hobby.  2.) I like to make lists.  3.) It is an example of citizen science, since birders can play a role in collecting scientific data about birds. 4.) Birds are basically feathered dinosaurs…so, birding is modern day dinosaur tracking.  Finally, despite the fact that it is a hobby for those with more income, I was able to do birding just my eyes and a guidebook.  I did most of my birding on trips that I was already taking (so I did not take the trips with the purpose of birding, but chose to look out for birds while travelling), with some birding done locally.  Next year, I would like to take advantage of more local birding opportunities.


My year of birding began with a birding hike at Jay Cooke State Park.  The hike did not yield many birds, though we did see many chickadees, crows, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.  The next boon for birding was when an ivory billed gull appeared in Duluth.  The bird was usually found in the Arctic, but found itself outside of its range.  When I heard that it had been spotted in Canal Park, I awoke early one morning to see if I could catch it.  Sure enough, I spotted it on the Lakewalk near Grandma’s Restaurant.  I visited it several more times over the next few days.  Getting up early to see the wayward gull made me feel like a “real” birder, since I was joined by people with binoculars and fancy cameras.  After seeking out the gull, my birding mostly consisted of trying to record the birds that I saw in my backyard.  I think that this is one of the most appealing things about birding.  For most of my life, I have been pretty indifferent to birds.  But, once I started paying attention, I noticed that the world was abundant with bird life.  There is a secret world of birds all around us.

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Bird watching enhanced my trip to Africa.  I kept my eyes peeled for birds, which I recorded in a journal throughout the trip.  I would sketch them out or photograph them so that I could compare them to the birds in my guide.  There were so many wonderful birds!  I remember seeing my first flocks of flamingos as well as the large flocks at Walvis Bay, Namibia.  It is strange to see wild birds that you would normally only get to see in zoos.  Other highlights included spotting African spoonbills and Marabou Storks.  Maribou Storks are bald headed storks which scavenge dead flesh.  There were colorful Malachite kingfishers and bright Lilac breasted roller birds.  I saw several species of hornbills, which was very iconically African.   There were herons, ibises, egrets, and a variety of other waterbirds.  In all, I spotted 63 species of birds in Africa.

While Africa was probably the best birding experience I will ever have, I had another fun experience while visiting my brother in Texas.  I went to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  My family spent about two hours here, but it was not enough time for me, so I stayed for several hours longer while they enjoyed lunch and a waterpark.  During my trek along the boardwalk, I spotted Great Blue herons, Roseate spoonbills,  Brown Pelicans, osprey, Tricolor herons, Snowy egrets, etc.  It was amazing how similar the birdlife was to the birds that I spotted in Africa.  While the species were different, many of the birds in Texas either filled similar ecological niches or were local species of the same birds.  For instance, South Padre Island had Roseate spoonbills rather than African spoonbills.  I spotted Anhinga in Texas and African Darters in Namibia and Botswana.  Both are similar looking darters with long, snake like necks and jagged dark feathers that they dry in the sun.  Although unrelated, the caracara that I saw alongside the road reminded me of a Secretary bird in its coloration and eating habits.  Of course, I saw a variety of egrets in Texas as well.  The cattle egrets that I saw in Africa are the very same species that I saw in Texas.  The bird spread with the spread of humans and domesticated animals.  Though, the cattle egret is a relative newcomer to Texas, having only arrived in the 1960s.  The Great egret spotted at the park is almost identical to the Great egret spotted in Africa, though they are different subspecies.  The Caspian tern is also found in both Africa and Texas.

I am still at the very beginning stages of learning about birds.  However, perhaps by the time I am 53, the average age of a birder, I will be well-versed in the world of birds.  One appeal of birding is that it is basically an endless scavenger hunt.  Some birders compete to see how many birds they can identify in the world or in a country in a single year (this is called a Big Year).  I think that this year may be my own “Big Year” as I doubt I will see as many species in a year as I saw this year!  This year also helped to give me a start on my Life List, or the list of birds that a birder has seen in their lifetime.  In all, I probably saw over 130 species of birds this year.  To me this seems like a lot, but it is small compared to the 10,000 species of birds in the world!

With that said, here is the list of birds that I have seen this year.   I will eventually go back and organize the list using scientific names.  Otherwise, the count may go up, as I plan on participating in the Christmas bird count:

 

Texan Birds:

  1. Willet
  2. White Winged dove
  3. Mockingbird
  4. Forester’s tern
  5. Redhead duck
  6. Crested caracra
  7. Great tailed grackle
  8. Common grackle
  9. House sparrow
  10. Harris’ Hawk
  11. Sanderling
  12. Black-bellied Plover
  13. Brown Pelican
  14. American coot
  15. Great Blue heron
  16. Roseate spoonbill
  17. Little blue heron
  18. Northern pintail
  19. White ibis
  20. Great egret
  21. Laughing gull
  22. Common gallinule
  23. Blue wing teal
  24. Osprey
  25. Least tern
  26. Long billed curlew
  27. Black necked stilt
  28. Snowy egret
  29. Tricolor heron
  30. American wigeon
  31. Mottled duck
  32. Spotted sandpiper
  33. Clapper rail
  34. Turkey vulture
  35. Belted kingfisher
  36. Anhinga
  37. American white pelican
  38. Carolina Wren

African birds

  1. Blue waxbill
  2. Southern ground hornbill
  3. Black collared barbet
  4. Hammerkop
  5. Gray lorie (Goaway bird)
  6. Egyptian goose
  7. Secretary bird
  8. Red billed hornbill
  9. Black Winged lapwing
  10. Crimson breasted shrike
  11. Cardinal woodpecker
  12. Pied kingfisher
  13. Bank cormorant
  14. Spur winged goose
  15. Little bee eater
  16. Fish eagle
  17. African jacana
  18. Malachite kingfisher
  19. Red Collared widowbird
  20. Ostrich
  21. Greater flamingo
  22. Cape gannet
  23. Reed cormorant
  24. African darter
  25. Sacred ibis
  26. Helmeted guineafowl
  27. Cape sparrow
  28. Sociable weaver
  29. Cape white eye
  30. Karoo korhaan
  31. Great white pelican
  32. Great white egret
  33. Yellow billed hornbill
  34. African pied wagtail
  35. Red eyed bulbul
  36. Dark canting goshawk
  37. Cape glossy starling
  38. Pied crow
  39. Kori Bustard
  40. Green wood hoopoe
  41. Dark capped bulbul
  42. African Spoonbill
  43. Lilac Breasted roller
  44. Marabou stork
  45. Red billed oxpecker
  46. Squacco heron
  47. Gray heron
  48. Cattle egret
  49. Purple heron
  50. White faced duck
  51. Gray headed gull
  52. African Skimmer
  53. Yellow billed stork
  54. Caspian tern
  55. Laughing dove
  56. Magpie shrike
  57. African crowned eagle
  58. Trumpeter hornbill
  59. Black kite
  60. Hooded vulture
  61. Fork tailed drongo
  62. Black crake
  63. Red winged starling

Local Birds:

1.Black capped chickadee

2.White breasted Nuthatch

  1. American Crow
  2. Northern Flicker
  3. Blue Jay
  4. Dark eyed junco
  5. Downy Woodpecker
  6. Hairy Woodpecker
  7. Ivory Gull
  8. Common loon
  9. Canadian goose
  10. Snow goose
  11. Mallard Duck
  12. Killdeer
  13. Cedar Waxwing
  14. Pileated woodpecker
  15. Ruffed grouse
  16. Ruby throated hummingbird
  17. Red winged blackbird
  18. Ring billed gull
  19. Barred owl

22.American goldfinch

  1. Double crested cormorant

24.Mourning dove

  1. American robin
  2. Northern Cardinal

27.Scarlet Tanager

  1. Common redpoll

29.Tundra swan

  1. Wild turkey
  2. Common merganser

 

 

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