Monday, July 17, 2017

Jessica Mitford: An Appreciation

As I write this I hear that Mitford's grandson James Forman Jr. will appear on NPR's Fresh Air today to talk about his book, "Locking Up Our Own," examining the role played by African-American leaders in creating the era of mass incarceration. And the beat goes on. 

I've long called Jessica Mitford, the muckraking journalist and activist, my heroine for her quote, "Objective? I always have an objective."*

Picking up Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford (Knopf, 2006), a 744-page collection of Mitford's letters edited by former SF Chronicle staffer Peter Y. Sussman, I've gained even more respect for her.

Mitford was one of five well-known daughters born to Lord and Lady Redesdale in Oxfordshire, England who took wildly different paths. Two of her sisters became Nazi sympathizers; Jessica ran off at the age of 19 with her second cousin Esmond Romilly, whom she married and joined chronicling the Spanish Civil War. Romilly died in WWII while flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Jessica married labor lawyer Robert Truehaft and lived in Oakland, CA until her death in 1996.

The couple was eavesdropped on by the same FBI agents who later targeted Mario Savio and student activists in Berkeley; Ronald Reagan got reports on her and Mitford later joked when she donated eyeglasses to a museum not to put them near Reagan’s for fear of explosion. She was good friends with Tokin' Woman Maya Angelou, and helped her husband Bob defend “Negroes” falsely accused of murder and rape, explaining to her mother (“Muv" = Lady Redesdale) in a letter what a “frame up” was and how it was applied to Negroes especially.

She also testified at a hearing in front of Sen. Edward Kennedy in DC about drug experiments taking place on California prisoners (“Cheaper than Chimpanzees” was her headline). As well as exposing the funeral industry in her famous book The American Way of Death, she wrote an exposé of the US prison system (Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business (1973).

In Kind and Usual Punishment, Mitford reports on the 1967 President's Crime Commission that abolished public drunkenness as a crime and deemed alcoholism a disease. Mitford asked, "While they were at it, why did not  the commissioners take the further steep of proposing repeal of the laws against such victimless crimes as homosexuality, prostitution, adultery, gambling, narcotics, and a host of other forms of behavior now legally proscribed thanks to the baleful influence of latter-day Puritans?" In answer, she quotes Pater Barton Hutt, consultant to the commission, who wrote, "It is likely that almost every member of the commission consumes alcohol. It is virtually certain that they have friends and relatives who have drinking problems and may even be alcoholics...I think it is fair to assume that something less than a majority of the commission members smoke marijuana...."

Long before it was fashionable to do so, Mitford documented the racial disparity in prison time for crimes between whites and people of color, noting that in drug cases, the average sentence for whites was 61.1 months, and for nonwhites 81.1 months. She also calls out New York's Governor Rockefeller on his absurd "solution" to the drug problem: locking up for life the dealers of all drugs, including hashish but excluding marijuana. She quotes Pennsylvania inmate Samuel Jordan, who wondered, "Could this be because he does not want to see his pot-smoking young relatives behind bars?"

A member of the Communist party from 1943 until she and Treuhaft renounced it due to Stalinism, Mitford was made to sign a loyalty oath in order to teach at San Jose State University, and won a court case against submitting to fingerprinting. In 1953, she wrote a letter to President Harry Truman urging him to refuse to testify before the HUAC committee. "True patriots must challenge the authority of this committee," she wrote. "I pledge to do my part by refusing to cooperate. You have an opportunity to set an example for loyal Americans by defying this committee and doing all in your power to expose its real aim—fascism in America."

On May 4, 1967 Decca wrote to her sister Nancy Mitford from Oakland (in a letter describing having Arnold Toynbee over to dinner and Bob’s “re-torturing” of the CIA over their involvement in the Berkeley Co-op movement) she talks about what her "Muv" called "Marriage Uana":


Hillary Clinton interned with Mitford's husband in the 60s while she was a Yale law student, but here's what Mitford had to say about Bill Clinton in 1992: 


I'm not the only one who admires Mitford: J.K. Rowling named her daughter after Jessica. 

*I can't however find the source of that quote, although she did say, "If to be objective means having no point of view, or giving equal weight to all information that comes one's way, I plead guilty—although accuracy is essential...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Real Wonder Woman: Meryl Streep in "Ricki and the Flash" (and everything)


So bored was I trying to watch Wonder Woman in the theatre that I came home and instead rented Ricki and the Flash (2015) starring a true Wonder Woman: Meryl Streep. Who else could, at the age of 65, play the sh@# out of a raunchy rock-and-roll mama so well. She even learned to play guitar for the role, and did all the singing.

The film teams Streep with Kevin Kline as her ex-husband Pete, in their first screen pairing since Sophie's Choice for which he, too, should have won the Oscar. Her other love interest is the impossibly cute and talented Rick Springfield, who everyone my age (including me) has been in love with since "Jesse's Girl" and Dr. Noah Drake. What inspired casting.

Unlike Wonder Woman, this movie is written by a woman, Diablo Cody (Juno) and it shows. It's got heart, and soul, and yes, a revelatory marijuana scene.

Streep's daughter Julie, played by her spittin' image Mamie Gummer, is undergoing a crisis that calls Ricki back to the family she left in the dust of her dreams. Julie bites her absentee mom's head off when she arrives, and tellingly tells her the next morning, "My therapist has had me on Effexor, and I think we need to titrate down a little bit. It's made me volatile." She also says she has, "Ambien shits from my suicide attempt. I had them on hand because I'm an insomniac."

Similar to Jane Fonda's character Grace in Peace, 
Love and Misunderstanding, Ricki asks about the marijuana she found in the fridge just at the moment when the family is about to turn in at 9 PM rather than face each other. Next thing you know, everyone's chill and listening to music, after which Streep and Kline laugh their faces off, munch out, and actually have a conversation about their troubled children. Meanwhile, insomniac Julie snoozes to an old movie on TV with Judy Holliday saying, "you know, it just smells nice." 

The bummer boom comes down the next morning in the form of the stepmom, who wants Ricki and her marijuana out of the house so that they can go back to prescription-medicating her daughter. "It's a plant," Streep scoffs. In the end, she's there when her daughter needs her, like a true shero.

Springfield, who as Greg the Guitarist is sweetly supportive in the film, wrote about getting stoned and listening to Hendrix, or spending all his money on weed and girls, in his memoir Late, Late at Night (which in 2012 was named No. 23 of "The 25 Great Rock Memoirs of All Time" by Rolling Stone). 

But back to Meryl. With the possible exception of Susan Sarandon, Streep has now played more female stoners on screen than any other actress. She portrayed Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa, passed a joint to Cher in Silkwood, sniffed some exotic plant material in Adaptation (pictured) and "poked smot" with Steve Martin in It's Complicated. Reportedly she smoked medicinal pot as a cancer patient in One True Thing.

Streep has the stones (i.e. ovaries) to stand up to the current administration, causing Tweety D. to single her out as an "overrated actress." Which may be the biggest lie he ever told.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Anita Pallenberg: "She was the catalyst"


Actress, artist and muse Anita Pallenberg has died. Pallenberg had a 12-year relationship and two children with Keith Richards, but first she dated Rolling Stone Brian Jones, after famously bringing him hashish backstage after a concert in Munich.

In her memoir Faithfull, Marianne Faithfull wrote,  "How Anita came to be with Brian is really the story of how the Stones became the Stones. She almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse dorée."

Jones reportedly mistreated her, and she and Richards were drawn to each other. They hooked up while traveling and checked into a hotel as the Count and Countess of Zigenpuss. "By the time we got to Valencia, it was summer," Richards wrote in his autobiography Life. "I still remember the smell of the orange trees in Valencia. When you get laid by Anita Pallenberg for the first time, you remember things." The next stop was Marrakesh, where band members were hanging out with Very Important Pothead Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin, who contributed the hashish fudge recipe to the Alice B. Toklas cookbook.

Faithfull with Pallenberg in London
Anita ended up in prison overnight a drugs charge in Rome while filming Barbarella. While filming Candy based on the Terry Southern novel, co-star Marlon Brando "kidnapped her one night and read her poetry and, when that failed, tried to seduce Anita and me together," Richards wrote, adding "Later, pal."

As so often happens with power couples, forces conspired to pull them apart. When Anita was cast opposite Mick Jagger in Performance, the tongues wagged about a possible affair with a third Rolling Stone. It was during this time that she says she started using heroin. 

In 1972, Anita was arrested for marijuana in Jamaica, and the Rastas took care of her children while she was in jail. In 1977, she and Richards were arrested and charged with hashish and heroin possession in Toronto. After undergoing a painful withdrawal and facing a long sentence, Richards repented and went into rehab, including electroshock therapy, according to The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen.

In his memoir Life, Richards wrote: "Anita came out of an artistic world, and she had quite a bit of talent herself—she was certainly a lover of art and pally with its contemporary practitioners and wrapped up in the pop art world." Her ancestors were painters, and she hung out with "Fellini and all those people" at the age of 16 while on scholarship to a graphic school in Rome. "Anita had a lot of style. She also had an amazing ability to put things together, to connect with people...in New York she'd connected with Warhol, the pop art world and the beat poets....She was the catalyst of so many goings-on in those days."

At one point Anita introduced the band to filmmaker Kennith Anger, who took them down the road to Aleister Crowley and satanic stuff, culminating in "Sympathy for the Devil," and forever attaching the word "witch" to Anita (who did backup vocals on the track). She also inspired the song Angie, among others, and was a fan of Timothy Leary, who visited them in France. 

Apparently Anita left behind no writings of her own. She made a memorable appearance in 2001 on the British series “Absolutely Fabulous,” playing the Devil in a fantasy sequence, alongside Marianne Faithfull, who played God. In her later years, she retired to "an allotment in Chiswick where she grew strawberries, artichokes, leeks, broad beans and enrolled in botanical drawing classes" according to The Telegraph. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What's Wrong with "Wonder Woman"

There can be no doubt that in the very earliest ages of human history the magical force and wonder of the female was no less a marvel than the universe itself; and this gave to woman a prodigious power, which it has been one of the chief concerns of the masculine part of the population to break, control, and employ to its own ends. —Joseph Campbell, 1964

I really wanted to like the new Wonder Woman movie, but I couldn't even sit through half of the 2 1/2 hour epic, driven away by drippy dialogue and lame characterizations.

The film is directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins), but the screenplay is by Allan Heinberg, with a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs (three nonwomen). It shows. Men seldom look earlier than the Greek times, and this is in fact when "history" began. But "herstory" started long before that.

Wonder Woman first appeared in comic form in January 1942. She was said to be sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon Queen Hippolyta, and given life by the Aphrodite, goddess of love. Later comics, and the movie, instead have the male god Zeus giving life to Diana/Wonder Woman and indeed, all of humankind.

This has significance because in the first written story of mankind, The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2500 BCE), it is the goddess Belet-ili (also called Aruru) who sculpts men from clay. The men then team up to chop down the cedar forest and denigrate the goddess Ishtar (who opens my book, Tokin' Women). Flash forward to the Greek play The Eumenides, wherein a man is found not guilty of matricide on the grounds that people are not related to their mothers, who merely carry men’s seed. The goddess Athena, who testifies in the play that she sprung whole from the head of Zeus and was not borne by a mother, seals the move from the old god/goddess pantheon to the new, patriarchal one.

Myth matters. As Joseph Campbell said to Bill Moyers, "If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor."

As revealed in Jill Lepore's book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, the character was created by the American psychologist and writer William Marston, who was inspired by early feminists, especially his psychologist wife Sadie Holloway and the birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Sadie, who attended Mount Hollyoke at a time when women were called Amazons for going to college, once wrote DC comics suggesting instead of "Vulcan's hammer," Wonder Woman should exclaim, "Suffering Sappho!"

In the movie, Wonder Woman sets out to destroy Ares, the god of war, and thereby end WWI. Ending war was a goal of Sanger's as well. She argued in Woman and the New Race that overpopulation is the cause of all human misery, including poverty and war. Birth control, she said, is "the real cure for war" and "love is the greatest force of the universe." Lepore writes, "Women should rule the world, Sanger and Marston and Holloway thought, because love is stronger than force."

After making an appearance as cover girl on the first edition of Ms. Magazine, Wonder Woman was objected to last year when she was named an ambassador to the United Nations. The announcement, which was attended by TV's Wonder Woman Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot of the big screen, came weeks after seven real-life women were rejected as UN Secretary General. Some men objected to a women-only screening of the film, to which New Yorker fact checker Talia Lavin tweeted about the all-male panel that's working to remove birth control options for women in the US healthcare plan.

In the movie, there's a witchy female character who concocts deadly poisons for the modern Ares, who's seen inhaling poppers in much the same way as Hitler took methamphetamine. I'm guessing, after many special effects and pyrotechnics, Wonder Woman kicks his butt (but leaves something open for a sequel).

I will say I had a little more spring in my step as I left the theatre, walking tall like a woman. It was nice that Connie Nielsen got to be a gladiator (Hippolyta) this time, and to see Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) playing a strong character (Diana's warrior woman aunt Antiope) who isn't underhanded like Claire Underwood. I liked some of the lines like, "How do women fight in these clothes?" and "This is what passes for armor in your country?" when Diana is considering corsets and frills. But on the warrior costumes, why the codpieces?

I see on her Twitter feed that Nielsen is founder of Human Needs Project, and Road To Freedom Scholarships. Those are the kinds of battles where we need our warrior women.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Cannabis and Pregnancy During Legalization

A new review of the literature—Cannabis and pregnancy: Maternal child health implications during a period of drug policy liberalization by Katrina Mark, MD of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Maryland and Mishka Terplan, MD MPH from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University—has been published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

The researchers state, "There is a theoretical potential for cannabis to interfere with neurodevelopment, however human data have not identified any long-term or long lasting meaningful differences between children exposed in utero to cannabis and those not....Risks should be neither overstated nor minimized....Above all, care for pregnant women who use cannabis should be non-punitive and grounded in respect for patient autonomy."

The researchers note that "the medicinal use of cannabis for ailments of the female reproductive tract has been recorded as early as 2737 BCE and has been used for treatment of migraines, menstrual cramps, labor pains and even induction of labor."

Despite this long herstory, they cite a 2016 study by Julie Holland which found that of the 52% of healthcare providers that provided any medically related counseling to marijuana-using pregnant women, only 26% of the time was the counseling clear and evidence based, and 70% of the time was spent on punitive content such as legal implications and investigations by child protective services. Notably, African American patients were nearly 10 times more likely to receive punitive counseling.

From: Katrina Mark, Mishka Terplan, Cannabis and pregnancy:
Maternal child health implications during a period of
drug policy liberalization, Preventive Medicine (2016)
"There is ample evidence concerning the health effects of cannabis during pregnancy," the authors state, noting that over 800 human studies have been performed yearly on the topic since 2000. Also, four systematic reviews and meta-analyses (English, 1997; Metz, 2015; Gunn, 2016; Jacques, 2014) and four prospective cohorts evaluating the long term outcomes including into young adulthood (Goldschmidt, 2008; Fried, 2003; Marroun, 2016; Dreher, 1994) have been published.

"Taken together, the literature supports at best subtle and likely confounded effects," they conclude. "The evidence supports slightly lower birth weight (of unclear clinical significance), increase NICU admissions (may be biased by provider knowledge of maternal behavior), and slight effects on executive function (a finding strongly moderated by the caregiving environment)."

"It is possible if not likely that, as with alcohol, there are trimester dependent and dose dependent differences in perinatal outcomes. Additionally, different routes of consumption may have different fetal effects. With legalization of cannabis, these subtle differences may be able to be more accurately defined....it is possible that while liberalization of cannabis policy may lead to an increase in use during pregnancy, pregnant women may also be more forthcoming thereby improving dialogue and the possibility of counseling during prenatal care."

And finally, someone said it: "Many women who continue to use marijuana throughout pregnancy report that they do so because of nausea (Westfall, 2006) and perhaps this potential benefit can be further explored if its illicit status is reversed. Future research should therefore include investigation of potential benefits of cannabinoids and not simply focus on potential harms."

Sadly though, the authors state, "Although the landscape of cannabis law and policy is changing, that of child welfare has not. The Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act directs states to assess substance-exposure at birth and provide a “plan of safe care” for infants identified (DHHS, 2010 & 2011). However states differ greatly in terms of policy."

The article cites a 2016 Guttmacher report that says 18 states define substance use, including cannabis, as child abuse. An update from Guttmacher published May 1, 2017  says that 24 states and the District of Columbia consider substance use during pregnancy to be child abuse under civil child-welfare statutes, and 3 (Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) consider it grounds for civil commitment. Also, 23 states and the District of Columbia require health care professionals to report suspected prenatal drug use, and 7 states (Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota and Rhode Island) require them to test for prenatal drug exposure if they suspect drug use.

On April 28, 2017, a federal court in Wisconsin struck down a state law authorizing the detention, forced treatment, and incarceration of pregnant women as unconstitutional. Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel disagrees with the court’s decision and plans to pursue an appeal.

"Above all, care for pregnant women who use cannabis should be non-punitive and grounded in respect for patient autonomy," Drs. Mark and Terplan correctly conclude.

Also see: NIDA on Pregnancy: The Whole Truth? 
Please Let Princess Kate Smoke Pot
NIDA Kills Pregnancy and Pot Follow Up Study

Monday, April 17, 2017

Four and Twenty Tokin' Women for 4/20

In honor of the upcoming' holiday 4/20—and for all of those blackbirds who got "baked" in a pie—here are four and twenty newly discovered Tokin' Women.

Google "marijuana + women" and you'll get a lot of photos of scantily-clad gals hitting the bong. But our true Herstory is much more interesting.

In literature, we claim the Beat poetesses Anne Waldman and Joanne Kyger. Waldman has written eloquently about the drug experience, and Kyger mentioned it in oblique and amusing ways.

Truman Capote's character Holly Golightly tries pot in the 1958 novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (although this aspect of her character wasn't depicted in the 1971 movie). Joyce Carol Oates's heroine in her short story "High" feels "expansive? elated? excited?" after toking.

From academia, there is Harriet Martineau, the first female sociologist and ancestor to to Princess Kate Middleton, who took to the nargileh during her Middle Eastern travels. French author Simone de Beauvoir tried marijuana in 1947 during a trip to the US, just before she wrote her seminal work "The Second Sex."

"We marched, wrote polemics, started magazines, took over universities. And in between, we smoked a little pot, made a little love, and changed the world forever," wrote Janis Ian about coming of age in the 1970s. Rita Coolidge wrote of her college years, "We always had a lot of weed, which we’d decided was vital to the creative process," and recounted eating pot brownies with Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and his wife before going to Disneyland.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart came out in favor of marijuana legalization. Halsey sang, "We are the new Americana / high on legal marijuana." Jazz singer June Eckstine was smeared over marijuana in 1947, and again in 1954.

Movies and TV take the most mentions, without even getting the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie." Recently uncovered depictions of cannabis-consuming women on film include Harley Wood as Burma in "Marihuana" (1936), a Reefer Madness-style film with a more poetic ending. Leigh French of the Smothers Brothers' "Share a Little Tea with Goldie" segment shows up in the prophetic "WUSA" (1970) as a hippie pot smoker.

Helen Hunt played a woman who learns to surf and smoke pot in "Ride,"  Elizabeth Moss turned on her boyfriend with trippy consequences in "The One I Love," and Jennifer Aniston's character enlightened up in "Life of Crime." Queen Latifah played blues singer and Tokin' Woman Bessie Smith in an HBO biopic, and Kate Winslet's character in  "The Dressmaker" supplied pot brownies to a neighbor in pain. Tina Fey took her turn at the hookah in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" and Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) got baked in "Dough."

And finally, a Viking ship dating back to 820 AD was discovered with the remains of two women, aged 50 and 70. The pair, who may have been priestesses, were carrying a leather pouch containing cannabis seeds.

Read more in Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Joanne Kyger Wakes Up From The Dream

Poet Joanne Kyger, who according to her New York Times obituary, was "one of the few women embraced by the Beat Generation writers’ fraternity," died on March 22 at her home in Bolinas, California.

Her contemporary Anne Waldman wrote to the Times: “She lived within the most interesting alternative communities of our time. She was Buddhist; she was an environmentalist. She lived her ethos daily, modestly, below the radar, and with great attention to the natural world and the magic of the cosmos.” 

Kyger was married to fellow poet Gary Snyder and wrote about traveling with him in Japan and India in Strange Big Moon: Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964. The couple divorced in 1965, "after she had tired of playing wife and hostess to other Beat guests." She taught at Mills College in and the New School in California, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, and in the hippie haven of Bolinas. 

There she met her friend and admirer Steve Heilig, who once asked her during an interview about the women Beats. She told a story about a woman writer  who would burst into tears when criticized. "I wasn't about to let that happen to me," she said. I asked Heilig if Kyger was a "Tokin' Woman," and he replied that although "she certainly wouldn't define herself in that manner," one could find references in her work.

She read this one aloud to the great amusement of the audience:

When I came back from a trip to Europe and New York in the late ‘60s 
I found the Summer of Love 
and the Bay Area awash with psychedelic participants 

I went to visit Albert who was living in Mill Valley…. 

And then I asked him, How can I understand this new hippie culture? 
Albert said, Well, when you wake up in the morning, get stoned. 
And I mean really really stoned. 
If you do this every day 
you can eventually change your consciousness. 

About 15 years later when I saw him next 
I asked, Did you ever say 
when we were supposed to stop?

Yet she published nearly 30 collections of her poetry in her lifetime. Her poem Destruction was another crowd favorite and demonstrates her unique way of breaking a line:

First of all do you remember the way a bear goes through
a cabin when nobody is home? He goes through
the front door. I mean he really goes through it. Then
he takes the cupboard off the wall and eats a can of lard.

He eats all the apples, limes, dates, bottled decaffeinated
coffee, and 35 pounds of granola. The asparagus soup cans
fall to the floor. Yum! He chomps up Norwegian crackers
stashed for the winter. And the bouillon, salt, pepper,
paprika, garlic, onions, potatoes....

He goes down stairs and out the back wall. He keeps on going
for a long way and finds a good cave to sleep it all off.
Luckily he ate the whole medicine cabinet, including stash
of LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, Amanita, Benzedrine, Valium
and aspirin.

“Joanne Kyger was a trailblazer, fearless and full of insight,” City Lights Publisher Elaine Katzenberger told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Her poetry has influenced generations of younger poets, and there are many in the Bay Area and beyond who will be missing her fierce humor and generous mentorship.”

“When you die,” Kyger wrote in the poem “Night Palace,” “you wake up from the dream.”