Archive | April 2011

Dearborn: 1, Bigotry: 0

You may remember Terry Jones, the moronic pastor of an insignificant church in Florida whose sole claim to fame is burning Qurans and getting people killed on the other side of the world. Mr. Jones, in an attempt to prove to the world what a moron he really is, staged a six man demonstration against Islam in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan. He refused to post the $100,000 bond requested by the city to cover the costs of police and safety staff. He also refused to hold his demonstration at City Hall, where police support would be easier to maintain.

Earlier in the day, determined to make news, Jones accidentally fired a gun into the floor board of his car. One has to question the intelligence of a gun owner that doesn’t know how to use a safety. Jones should be the poster child for laws that require gun safety certification.

We made it there too late to see his demonstration, but people I talked to said that he attempted to wage his protest with 5 of his racist friends, but was immediately arrested. The turn out of people protesting hate was nothing short of inspiring. It was clear that people came out from all around Dearborn to show solidarity against intolerance and bigotry.

Free speech needs to be protected. Jones has every right to spread his idiotic message. However, his mission was obviously one of provocation. Jones likley hoped for violence, aiming to prove that Islam is, in fact, a “religion of the devil.”

I doubt he would have gotten the fight he wanted from the crowd of mostly young middle eastern men and women, who were mostly laughing hysterically at Jones’ foolishness as we passed them on their way out.

Go Dearborn. You win.

Below, I’ve included a letter that the mayor of Dearborn addressed to Mr. Jones, who likely had trouble with some of the big words:

DEARBORN – Dearborn Mayor John B. O’Reilly, Jr. has written an open letter to Pastor Terry Jones, who is planning a protest in Dearborn. It is as follows:

Dear Pastor Jones:

I watched you on television speaking about the Constitution and Dearborn, and it appears you need more information about both before you come to our city. I can provide insight on the Constitution, and expertise on Dearborn.

First of all, Dearborn supports the Constitution as well as any city in America. Our commitment to the Constitution is unwavering, not merely convenient, which makes your hyperbole about Sharia Law being practiced in the courts or civil law of Dearborn nonsensical. So, you are coming to protest against an imaginary threat that doesn’t exist in our community. Not in our courts, not at our City Hall, not on our streets and not in any of our places of worship.

Still, because we do understand the Constitution here, we are not preventing you from expressing your free speech. In fact, in Dearborn, we’ve even gone one step farther than most communities in support of free speech. We established, by ordinance, “Permit Free Zones” intended for demonstrations and free speech.  

One of those zones is at City Hall, where from my office I have heard many rallies being conducted in response to international, national or regional issues. This is a high visibility spot, seen by thousands of motorists but safe from traffic, with plenty of public space for protestors, supporters and the media. It is where we are asking you to conduct your demonstration. The steps of City Hall even make an impressive platform for speeches.

And, if you are unhappy with what you think is going on in Dearborn, than what better place to protest than with City Hall as the back drop?

Instead you insist on protesting in an area that has no public property to accommodate crowds, spectators, parking or the media. There is just a small public road with limited access which can’t be blocked and an adjacent grassy area for drainage. It is parallel to a major state road, but the small shoulder can accommodate people only when they have auto emergencies.

And, this property you are focusing on, in front of the Islamic Center of America, is also adjacent to four Christian churches, all of which will be hosting Good Friday services, adding to the traffic flow and congestion. It is ironic that the road that you want to protest near is called Altar Road, so named because it was first constructed to provide access to a row of churches constructed in the 1950s reflecting Dearborn’s diverse faith communities.

But I can understand if you don’t know the details of the site, or the particulars about Dearborn. But you should know about the Constitution that you claim to be defending.

The Constitution says that your rights must be balanced with the rights of others under the same document. Your free speech rights do not allow you to trespass on the private property of others or prevent them from the Constitutional right to freely practice their religion. I am not just talking about Muslims but members of all faiths.

The members of the Christian churches on Altar Road asked me last week if they should cancel their Good Friday services because of your planned visit. I assured them that they should not because the Constitution does not allow you to violate their rights. I don’t know why you selected Good Friday but it wasn’t very considerate of the significant Christian services being held at that time. I assure you that you will not make them forfeit their services.

You claim that you are coming to protest the radicalism of Islam. Like all of America, we are concerned about the radicalization of any religion that would rationalize extreme actions. However we have not let this concern turn into a twisted paranoia that promotes fear-mongering and misleading generalizations. You state that you are coming to the Islamic Center of America because it is the largest mosque in America. What does that have to do with the radicalism of Islam? While size may matter to you, we prefer to focus on actual behavior. And according to our Police Department and the anti-terrorism agencies they work with, there has never been evidence of any wrongdoing in any of Dearborn’s mosques.

It appears your choice of the Islamic Center of America is not because it has any relationship to the stated object of your free speech but because it symbolizes the Islamic faith in general. If so, that is not truly in line with the Constitution you say you are defending.

There is no Sharia Law in Dearborn, only Constitutional Law. Sharia Law is church- or faith-based law that is applicable only to the followers of that faith. For me it is Canon Law of Catholicism, in Judaism it is Torah Law, and for Muslims it is Sharia Law. The actual originator of the event you plan to hold in Dearborn, Frank Fiorello of the Fraternal Order of the Dragon, accepted my invitation to learn more about Dearborn, and after seeing the truth, he canceled his protest.

But, if you don’t believe that Dearborn follows the Constitution, here are some realistic facts for you. Businesses in Dearborn lawfully meet the diverse needs of our Greater Detroit area, but if Dearborn practiced Sharia Law, would we have three adult entertainment bars and more alcohol licensed bars and restaurants per capita than most other cities? None of that should be allowed under Sharia Law.

How about this? A business we boast about, the nationally known Dearborn Sausage, opened more than 60 years ago across the street from the first mosque in Dearborn and is famous for its sausages and spiral sliced hams. It is one of many meat packing operations in our City and no one has ever objected.

Dearborn is also famous for The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, where more than 1.5 million visitors come each year from across the country and the world to learn about the foundations of our American way of life.

Dearborn is a diverse, safe and unified City that is addressing its future in a proactive manner. We cherish the American Dream that brought so many people here during the last century to earn a decent wage and enjoy a high quality of life thanks to Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. And for Dearborn, our success and our identity is tied to welcoming people of all backgrounds who have chosen to make America, and our community, their home. We are proud to have welcomed them.

As we work hard to balance your rights with the rights of others in Dearborn, you will be extended every courtesy during your visit – as long as you follow the law based on the Constitution’s protection of everyone’s rights. That should be a familiar statement to you.

You have said over and over that “Muslims are welcome as long as they follow the Constitution.” Surely, then, you wouldn’t ask less of yourself.

Japan Earthquake Reporting April 21, 2011

Numbers of confirmed dead continue to increase. Numbers of reported missing have been decreasing in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures but are steadily increasing in Miyagi. For the first time since the event, the ratio of missing to dead has dropped below one. It is disturbing, however, that reports of missing friends and family continue to pour in even though more than 6 weeks have passed since the first earthquake.

Refugees continue to be concentrated in the three hardest hit prefectures. While overall numbers have dropped significantly, a constant flow of refugees being shuffled from one center to another keep refugee numbers in some areas constant.



Detroit’s Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women is Closing

Continuing a thread of Detroit mainstays that are soon to close, the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women, a small school of 300 which teaches agricultural skills to pregnant girls and young mothers, is set to close due to massive funding cuts to the Detroit Public School system.

The Catherine Ferguson Academy allows young girls with children to finish their high school education while teaching them important skills of growing food, eating well and proper childhood nutrition. The long term benefits of such a school are obvious.

Students and faculty of the school are waging a sit in as we speak. The Detroit Police have already arrested and forcibly removed several people, including women with children. To help out with the mounting legal fees that the girls will face, you can donate here:

“Make a financial donation TODAY. Checks can be made out to BAMN and either brought to the school or mailed to P.O. Box 24834, Detroit, MI 48224.
On-line donations can be made securely at: or via paypal at

I have to thank my friend Mark for alerting me to this on his site. There is some interesting discussion there, as well.

Here is an account from a witness:

“When we heard the police were coming, we ran to the library as fast as we could and barricaded ourselves in there. The police knocked on the window, and before we knew it, they busted open the library door. We all got in a line and held hands. We took a vote because we wanted to be democratic and we decided not to leave. We chose to stick together, we came together and we were staying together. We were chanting, ‘Whose schools? Our schools!’ The whole time I was recording everything on my phone.”

She said the cop who arrested her, a Detroit police officer named R. Brown, saw that she was recording the events and snatched the phone away. She said Detroit Public Schools officers also took part in the attacks.

Huge cops push 100-lb. Ashley toward car

“I had sat down, and he yanked me up and slammed me down on my stomach on the floor,” Matthews said. “All the girls went berserk, telling him to get off me, but he was just wiping up the floor with me. He pressed his thumbs in my neck, and he tightened the handcuffs so hard that I have bruises there. I cried at first but then I made myself stop.”

Matthews said she weighs only 100 lbs. and is often mistaken for being much younger because she is so small.

Supporter is horrified at brutality

“The officer pushed me up against the police car, with my face against it, and put me in it,” Matthews said. “They police didn’t read us our rights even though they told us we were under arrest. Then they were playing ‘good cop, bad cop,’ asking, ‘does your mom know you’re going to jail?’ I told them ‘She knows, I’m fighting for my education, and I want a lawyer.’ I wouldn’t talk to them any more after that.”

But Matthews said the police “verbally assaulted” them the whole way to the Eighth Precinct at Schaefer and Grand River.

Police rousted demonstrators too

“All the officers were so rude to us you would have thought we had killed somebody,” she said. “They asked us, ‘do you have money, because you’re going to be in jail all weekend.’ They told me it was good I’m 17, because I would have to go on the ‘big block’ and I’d better not be talking that ‘education stuff’ there. They were so mad because it was females standing up. But we have the right to fight for our school, and we were non-violent.”

She said the students felt absolutely “degraded” by the treatment they received from the police.

Here is a trailer from a documentary about the school:

Movie of the Week: Reel Injun (2008)

Reel Injun,” from Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, explores the making of the movie Indian, from the very first Edison produced reels to the Native produced films in the present day. It explores how history shaped depictions of Native Americans in film, and the struggle for Native filmmakers to reappropriate themselves in film. Like everything Native, much of the true history of America’s aboriginal peoples in film has happened behind the scenes, with wary a whisper spoken. For example, I never knew that Iron Eyes Cody was Sicilian, not native. Most embarrassingly, I never knew that there was any such thing as a Native cinema today, a cinema which can claim a number of vibrant filmmakers.

Most importantly, I was unaware that Marlon Brando refused his Oscar for “The Godfather.” In his place sent San Francisco Native activist Sacheen Littlefeather to tell the American people about the extent of past and current crimes against America’s Native peoples, the events that were occurring at Wounded Knee as the Oscars were being televised and the insulting manner in which Hollywood portrayed Native Americans up that time. Littlefeather’s agreeing to stand in for Brando was a an act of total bravery.

Brando gave her a speech to present, but a representative of the Oscars threatened to have her arrested if she took too much air time. Worse yet, she was met with boos and derision for her small act of justice.The full text of Brando’s speech is here:

The Unfinished Oscar Speech
March 27, 1973

For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be free: ”Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.”

Sacheen Littlefeather When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties which we never kept. We turned them into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right. We were not lawful nor were we just in what we did. For them, we do not have to restore these people, we do not have to live up to some agreements, because it is given to us by virtue of our power to attack the rights of others, to take their property, to take their lives when they are trying to defend their land and liberty, and to make their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues.

But there is one thing which is beyond the reach of this perversity and that is the tremendous verdict of history. And history will surely judge us. But do we care? What kind of moral schizophrenia is it that allows us to shout at the top of our national voice for all the world to hear that we live up to our commitment when every page of history and when all the thirsty, starving, humiliating days and nights of the last 100 years in the lives of the American Indian contradict that voice?

It would seem that the respect for principle and the love of one’s neighbor have become dysfunctional in this country of ours, and that all we have done, all that we have succeeded in accomplishing with our power is simply annihilating the hopes of the newborn countries in this world, as well as friends and enemies alike, that we’re not humane, and that we do not live up to our agreements.

Perhaps at this moment you are saying to yourself what the hell has all this got to do with the Academy Awards? Why is this woman standing up here, ruining our evening, invading our lives with things that don’t concern us, and that we don’t care about? Wasting our time and money and intruding in our homes.

I think the answer to those unspoken questions is that the motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil. It’s hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children watch television, and they watch films, and when they see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.

Recently there have been a few faltering steps to correct this situation, but too faltering and too few, so I, as a member in this profession, do not feel that I can as a citizen of the United States accept an award here tonight. I think awards in this country at this time are inappropriate to be received or given until the condition of the American Indian is drastically altered. If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.

I would have been here tonight to speak to you directly, but I felt that perhaps I could be of better use if I went to Wounded Knee to help forestall in whatever way I can the establishment of a peace which would be dishonorable as long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow.

I would hope that those who are listening would not look upon this as a rude intrusion, but as an earnest effort to focus attention on an issue that might very well determine whether or not this country has the right to say from this point forward we believe in the inalienable rights of all people to remain free and independent on lands that have supported their life beyond living memory.

Thank you for your kindness and your courtesy to Miss Littlefeather. Thank you and good night.

My Graduate Work: In Wordle

Sitting here in a conference that I only marginally understand, I created this Wordle of my graduate research. It pretty much sums it all up.

Detroit’s Freedom House Might Close: Please Help

Freedom House Dinner

Freedom House, a small former convent located just under the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit has been providing food, shelter, and support for asylum seekers for more than 30 years. Most that walk through its doors do not speak English, have been forcibly separated from their friends and families, have been beaten, tortured and endured just about every type of injustice that one can speak of.

Residents come from Rwanda, Libya, Cameroon, Russia and elsewhere. They arrive dazed, malnourished, often sick, and suffering from post traumatic stress.

To obtain asylum in the United States, a refugee must prove that he or she is truly deserving of asylum, a difficult task. Oppressive political bodies don’t usually provide certificates of torture. Given that asylum seekers cannot legally work during their application period, Freedom House offers a place to stay.

In the past, Freedom House has offered English lessons, employed a staff of approximately 10 and provided legal support for all who seek help. They can boast that they’ve never lost a legal bid for political asylum in the United States.

Now, with the loss of a major grant, it looks like this beacon of the American way will have to close. In a present day climate that continually denigrates immigrants, the poor and those that don’t follow the same religious path as those guys in suits in Washington, it’s doubtful that an institution like Freedom House can drum up much support in the state or federal legislatures. Degorah Drennan, who runs Freedom House, has reported that she has had to lay off nearly her entire staff and is relying on volunteers to maintain daily operations.

Thus, they are appealing for help from private citizens. Even just $25 will go to feed all the people staying at Freedom House for a day. $75 can get a bus bass for a resident. $250 can a refugee a driver training and a license.

They will surely take more, and they will surely take less.

Freedom House is what America is supposed to be about and it’s depressing that our governmental bodies have let them down. Appealing for $10 and $25 donations individuals for a little known but vastly important cause is not a solution. It’s a temporary fix, but any help would be appreciated.

You can donate here.

Freedom House informational video

Movie of the Week: “Gaea Girls” (2000)

If anything, this film should settle any arguments as to whether professional wrestling is mere silly performance or blood wrenching sport. When I lived in Japan, I often saw flyers for women’s professional wrestling matches and usually disregarded them. I wish I hadn’t.

“Gaea Girls” (another excellent Women Make Movies release) documents the daily lives of the women of “Gaea Japan,” a professional wrestling stable based outside of Tokyo. Behind the glitz and glamour of public wrestling bouts, the women train daily in an environment that appears more like a prison camp than a sports training facility.

The women are largely isolated, presumably far away from transportation and having none of their own. They live, train and work in a depressing prefab garage and training facility, with few amenities. Training, daily chores and meals are all taken in the same room, and rudimentary sleeping quarters are made out of converted closets. The ascetic conditions are reminiscent of those of the remnants of Aum Shinrikyo depicted in Tatsuya Mori’s fantastic pair of documentaries, “A” and “A2.” In essence, the two groups are the same.

Violence against of trainees is common. The senior members of group appear to be uninhibited in their daily psychological abuse and constant verbal beratement of their juniors, even in the presence of a foreign film crew. There is no indication that any of the girls are paid for their services. In fact, it is implied that the women’s parents are in fact paying Gaea Japan to violently abuse their daughters.

The elder wrestler Chigusa Nagayo, a former member of the Crash Girls, another wrestling group, does not live at the training facility, but rather arrives by car every morning. She rarely trains with the junior members and never seems to even break a sweat as she intensely hurls insults and physical pain on her trainees.

In a particularly painful scene, we watch as a prospective wrestler, Takeuchi, runs a brutal gauntlet against four of her seniors, spilling blood, sweat and tears profusely in order to achieve the ultimate goal of being allowed to publicly wrestle in a Gaea Japan match. At the end, Chigusa verbally reduces Takeuchi to a crying child, before finally informing her that she has passed her final test.

While the outcomes of the matches may be fixed, there is no doubt that the blood and injuries in women’s wrestling are entirely real. It is never explicitly stated, but one can assume that the girls depicted in “Gaea Girls” do not come from affluent means. The very few interviews in the film reveal that the women want to be “noticed,” indicating that many of prospective recruits have been overlooked and possibly abused for most of their lives.

A telling interview with Chigusa indicates a long history of parental abuse in a military family. Given her entirely masculine speech forms, it is implied that her father raised her as a son rather than a daughter. Clearly, she has serious personal battles to wage despite her smiles and light attitude when not in training. Many indications as to her gender conflicts are given in the multiple references to the forgone parenthood that she uses to justify her incredible abuse of her trainees.

The question though, outside of the obvious gender issues depicted in “Gaea Girls,” is truly a societal one. The violent physical and psychological abuse of juniors in the pursuit of skill and position most certainly is not restricted to wrestling groups. In fact, it pervades throughout Japan in just about every facet of personal and working life. While many of Japan’s successes can certainly be credited to the dedicated work ethic and often masochistic dedication of the Japanese, violence and abuse are not without incredible costs. One wonders exactly when and why Japan became this way, and if there is ever to be a future where it doesn’t exist.

The Witchcraft Case of the Mzembes

Mr. Mzembe - Faces 5 years in prison for witchcraft crimes

Last September Mr. Mzembe and his wife were accused of killing three people by using witchcraft. They now face a sentence of 5 years in one of the worst prisons on the planet.

You can help them by donating to assist Mr. Mzembe and others who have been imprisoned on these baseless claims.

Mr. Mzembe is a 65 year old retired civil servant from Rumphi, in the Northern Region of Malawi. In September, and unknown woman from Blantyre phoned Mr. Mzembe and his wife and accused them of being witches and visited the couple several times while Mrs. Mzembe was in hospitalized. Mr. Mzembe went to report the harassment to the police who, inexplicably, arrested Mr. Mzembe for being a witch.

The Mzembes were released on bond, and have now been to court more than 15 times, hoping that the Magistrate will eventually dismiss the case entirely. The prosecution has brought forth children, who claim that Mr. Mzembe comes to them in the night and takes them to graveyards and uses his “witchcraft plane” to fly them to South Africa.

I personally spoke with Mr. Mzembe and can verify his claims. I shot a video interview of him telling his story as part of a wider project on Malawian secularism that I’m working on and have posted it below.

Mr. Mzembe’s case will likely be thrown out of court. He is educated, speaks English well and has access to at least some financial means. Others who languish in prisons all around Malawi are not so fortunate and need your help.

It is unconscionable that people are imprisoned for supernatural crimes in any context. Mr. Mzembe does not practice any type of witchcraft. However, this case should be of interest not only to those who believe in basic human rights, but also those who believe in religious freedom and respect for all beliefs, and in the necessity for secular democracies in preserving the rights of all.

If you donate, you will be helping the Malawi Association of Secular Humanism in their efforts to assist those navigating the courts, in bringing food and support for those languishing in prison and in preserving the human rights of all in sub-Saharan Africa. I can attest to the veracity of this organization personally. A little bit goes a very long way.

Please email me ( if you have any questions.


Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Reporting April 7, 2011

UPDATE: News just came that a magnitude 7.4 earthquake just hit Miyagi Prefecture at 10:32 EST.

As of today, April 7, 2011, the numbers of confirmed dead continue to gradually rise though the number of people reported missing have begun to flatten. New reports of missing individuals continue to be reported to Japanese police, though the ratio of dead to missing has been decreasing.

In total, as of today, 12,608 people are confirmed dead and 15,073 individuals are still missing.

Reporting of number of refugees by prefecture has become spotty, but the worst appears to be over. As of today, Miyagi Prefecture only reported 58,000 refugees, as opposed to a high of 320,000 just two weeks ago. The numbers of refugees in Iwate and Fukushima have remained unchanged for the past two weeks.


Conservative Intimidation Against Free Thought at the University of Michigan

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy Funding, a well funded conservative think tank based in Midland, Michigan has filed a series of requests for emails from University of Michigan Faculty, which reference contain words such as “Scott Walker,” “Wisconsin,” “Madison” and “Maddow.”

Aside from the obvious right wing slant of the center, a little searching will reveal that their financially endowed staff receives their livelihood from such charitable entities as Exxon, Chase, the Dow Family and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, started by former John Birch Society stalwart Harry Bradley along with the Koch Brothers.

The graphic to the left is from their website, which is absurd when you realize that most of their staff make more than $100K per year, just to run a website that, in the end, is no different from any of the blogs I read, whose writers get absolutely NOTHING. To top it off, I seriously doubt that they really care about anybody in any food bank line anywhere. In fact, I would assume that they would consider the poor an unemployed a drag on society. Whose side are these assholes on?

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation offers that “the overall objective of the Bradley Foundation, however, is to return the U.S. — and the world — to the days before governments began to regulate Big Business, before corporations were forced to make concessions to an organized labor force. In other words, laissez-faire capitalism: capitalism with the gloves off. To further this objective, Bradley supports the organizations and individuals that promote the deregulation of business, the rollback of virtually all social welfare programs, and the privatization of government services. “
I think it should be pretty clear what this group is about.

They claim that their FOIA requests are innocuous, but they obviously are not. Quoted from the Detroit News, “Some of the characterization was that we were attempting to stifle academic freedom, or to stifle the political biases of professors,” Braun said. “The fact that they have political opinions is not a big secret. The fact that they are using public resources to behave more like a political action committee than a teaching and research university (was the reason for the FOIA requests).

Wow, apparently politics are out at Universities now, unless of course academics preach the word of John Birch.

Of course the Mackinac Center is entitled to the FOIA requests, as any citizen is, but the goals of this group are clear. They feel that they are finally on the cusp of realizing their goals of total control over the US economy, dismantling things like child labor laws, occupational safety regulations, and the abolition of slavery. It’s obvious, that these new robber barons are scared shitless that the academic establishment will call them out for what they are and seek to intimidate public workers into silence.

Pol Pot did this. Mao did this. Mugabe did this. Kim Jong Il did this. McCarthy even did this. Intimidation of academics is nothing new. On the surface FOIA requests are fairly innocuous, but is this really the path anyone wants the country to go down? Let them request, let them slander, let them speak their minds, but let’s not hope that the academic establishment, or all free thinking Americans, ever fear of biting back against corporate sponsored intimidation. Let’s not be like NPR, who didn’t stick up for what was right at the time they should have.

When we become afraid, then truly all is lost.

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