Welcome to Maoist Orange Cake. Each week one of our Divas posts a thoughtful (but not necessarily serious) essay on whatever calls forth her Voice or strikes her Fancy. We invite you to join us wherever the discussion leads.
Motto of the MOC: Sincere, yes. Serious? Never!

"I would also like to add that ‘Maoist Orange Cake is possibly the best name for a blog ever. Just my twopence." -- The Sixth Carnival of Radical Feminists, 1 October 2007

The Twelfth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at The Burning Times blog and mentions one of our posts, Helen 'Wheels' Keller, for recommendation. Orangeists spreading our zest!

Monday, September 24, 2007


"Here's the unmentionable secret: Racism isn't that big a deal any more. No sensible person supports it. Nobody of importance preaches it. It's rapidly becoming an ugly memory." -- Tony Snow, on an October 2003 edition of Fox News Sunday

(A tree similar to the "Whites Only" tree at Jena High School, Jena, Lousiana -- the original tree has since been removed)

This week as thousands of protesters arrived in Jena, Louisiana to demonstrate against bigotry and support the "Jena Six", The major media was forced to re-consider, that yes, maybe racism is still a major problem in America, and people actually care about the subject. For those who are still unfamiliar with the story of the Jena Six, or would like more information, this is an excellent link: Jena 6 article at While Seated. Be sure to watch the video at the end of the article -- a very moving, and unfortunately, not unusual occurrence in the good ole US of A.

Last week was also when another tragic story came to light: That of a young woman of color held against her will, berated with racial slurs, beaten, tortured and raped by a group of six white people. The district attorney in the case declined to charge these citizens with a "hate crime" because the young woman had once had a personal "relationship" with one of her attackers. For more information, I give you the following article:
Article re Megan Williams at International Herald Tribune

These stories have affected me deeply, as they have many Americans; but I have been following them with a closer eye since just recently I read an article stating what I have long suspected: I live in one of the most racially segregated cities in America. In fact, the de facto "dividing line" can be clearly viewed from my front porch---Troost Avenue.
Map of African-American and White Populations in Kansas City, MO

This park is two blocks from my house. It is not an "official" city park, but an effort on the part of the community to provide a gathering place and a place a beauty, an effort to make Troost a place of unity, rather than a symbol of divisiveness. The mural above depicts the history of the area. Troost began as an Osage Indian trail in the early 1800's. Later in that century, it was an area of expensive homes. Into the twentieth century, as blacks moved from the countryside of the deep south to the cities in the north, the area east of Troost and north of 31st street became known as the "Negro Area". Later in the century, that area grew until it encompassed the entire eastern length of Troost Avenue.

I live in an integrated area, one block west of Troost. I live here because it is my own ghetto in a way; it once was called "Womon Town" and was a mecca for those of us of the lesbian persuasion. Later, as many of the "womons" moved out, gay males moved in, and it became a generic big city gay area. Still, it is one place that despite the crime, lack of police protection and crumbling infrastructure, that I feel I can relax and be myself.

Troost Avenue is trying to revitalize itself. This summer there have been many festivals and celebrations, drawing both black and white to the area.

You might be fooled into thinking it was any other Main Street.

But on most days, you'll see more things on Troost like this:

or this....

It is the last place where TIF money will ever be used, when it should be the first. It is filled with vacant and decaying buildings, vagrants and drug addicts. Even though it is the quickest route home, I no longer use it at night; too many prostitutes blocking traffic, looking for "dates". And why? Because the people in power don't care.

But there ARE people here who care. People who gathered in two (yes two!) area parks, demonstrating for some young people in a little town hundreds of miles away. Many more got on church buses and traveled those many miles to the little town itself.

I went to one of those demonstrations at the J.C. Nichols fountain -- it's on the Plaza, a swank area of town in reality only a few blocks away from Troost, but socially more like a million miles away...

Most of the demonstrators were black, but a few were not, and most of those were young. So I have hope. I still had hope, even when a couple of white guys threw the remains of their lunch at us, and called us those lovely names. I have hope because most of the people that passed us honked their horns in support, smiled and waved.

But if those in power do not see what I see, what we see, those peaceful protests are going to turn angry. Blogging about injustices helps to get the word out. But the only way to get to the powers that be,is to go to the protests, go to the streets, even if you're tired, even if you're too busy, even if you're too old or too crippled -- because the Man in power doesn't read your blog.

Here are some more related articles:
Women in the Civil Rights Movement article by Gail Collins, NY Times
Jena, post by MissLaura at Daily Kos
Megan Williams statement to the police in post at Essential Presence blog
31st and Troost: From Dividing Line to Gathering Place (PDF article)


Monday, September 17, 2007

Death in Tashkent

Mark Weil was murdered a week ago, and no one knows why. I spotted the story on the front page of the Post-Intelligencer, and it seemed to connect, in random fashion, to me and my interests: theatre, Central Asia, and Seattle.

Some thirty years ago, Mark Weil, a Jewish Uzbek, founded the Ilkhom Theatre in Tashkent, in what was then the Uzbek S.S.R. Directing an independent theatre in the old Soviet Union was crazy enough, but doing it in Uzbekistan—just as dictatorial and with Islamic radicals to boot—takes someone insanely courageous. Neither polity has been known for welcoming independent, thought-provoking, Western-style theatre. Yet Ilkhom Theatre has flourished and become internationally known, staging productions around the world.

An article on Eurasianet.org reports:

“The Ilkhom Theater was famous for staging plays that explored controversial social and political topics. Among the company’s most sensitive productions in recent years was one titled White White Black Stork. The play explored homosexuality in a Muslim society, specifically examining the relationship of two students in a madrassa, or religious school. It also featured dialogue that was critical of conservative traditions”

The two men who stabbed Weil and clubbed him with a bottle on the doorstep of his apartment building on September 7 are still uncaptured, and their motives are unknown. Speculation ranges from politics to anti-Semitism to crazed druggies. But there’s no question artists and intellectuals in Uzbekistan are scared.

Mr. Weil’s last words were reportedly “I open new season tomorrow and everything must happen…” The new season at the Ilkhom started on schedule, despite the murder, with the Oresteia of Aeschylus, a trilogy of plays about vengeance, bloodshed, and reconciliation by rule of law in a democracy.

And the Seattle connection? Weil has directed more than one play in Seattle (though I don’t think I ever saw one), and his wife and daughters live here. His older daughter graduated from the University of Washington in 1999, and the younger sings and plays piano with a band. Oh, and Taskent is a sister city of Seattle. Seattle sorrows with her sister.



Sunday, September 16, 2007


This post is a continuation of a conversation about class begun on another blog, not our regularly scheduled programming. Consider it a bonus round. Now, as we were saying...

I assume that every class in our society operates under terror of being swept away. Fear of being deprived of the means to continue existing is what keeps most oppressions in place, and at its base, that’s classism. Economic threat (sometimes coupled with the threat of violence) is the glue that holds together oppression.

For purposes of clarity, let me state my terms: When talking of American classes, I divide us into poor/raised poor, working class, middle class, and owning class. About 80% of people who are working class in America (especially in the South) believe they are middle class; hence, why politicians appeal to “middle class” values, etc. Our actual middle class is very small. The poor category is large and growing.

Owning class refers to not just folks who “own the means of production” but who have inherited meaningful economic advantage in various forms. Forbes (I think) did a study several years ago where they asked the top 500 wealthiest people how they came their money, and almost 90% had been given the key advantages (education, influence, family business opportunities, etc.) that made them rich. Nobody’s earning their own wealth in this country, except for the tiny percentage of entertainment industry individuals (including sports figures) who are held up as examples to keep the rest of us from realizing how stuck we are.

Overwhelmingly, people with serious economic privilege frequent ONLY environments where they mingle with others like them, a bubble world. Children raised owning class have pounded into them the message that the rest of the world hates them and would like to see them taken down (which is mostly true). They are expected to do something meaningful without being given the tools for community connection or leadership. They live in mortal fear of being “found out” and cast aside as adults. They’re extraordinarily poor leaders as a result. We can all see how well this system is working out.

Although — I insist on pointing out — some owning class individuals are raised with a connection to community or acquire it as adults and use their entitlement altruistically. We have at least one such woman reading this list. Honesty about wealth and embracing community values tends to get rich folks ridiculed and ostracized by everybody. They’re not trusted as much as the upper classes who lie about their economic advantages and circumstances.

Poor and raised poor also grow up with the message we are an expendable class. We, too, feel a profound disconnect with the rest of the culture, and live a masquerade.

Working class people understand their survival is linked to community, and maintain community identity ahead of individual success. Middle class folks are the biggest believers in the myth of class mobility, especially the value of education.

But most of us, of course, are the products of mixed class backgrounds; cover-ups and denial abound.

Mary Cheney was raised in a cocoon of wealth she’s never left. Condi was not raised in it, but her parents did hammer relentlessly on her to rise up the class ladder. She “switched classes” without undoing or, likely, even recognizing the conditioning that creates class. A hundred years ago, Americans believed that class was a biologically measurable and inherited identity, like people still believe about race and gender. This essentialism remains in our confusion about the value and mechanism of “class mobility.”

So, Condi’s acquired identity of wealth has bought her entrance to a world where they talk about us as “the other” who despise them. On the day that Katrina destroyed New Orleans, the blackest city in America, Condi went shopping for obscenely expensive Italian shoes in New York. I suspect that was not an accident; the means of maintaining dissonance (and holding fear at bay) are few and predictable.

And, yes, Doctor E, you’re right that Ann Richards’ campaign would never have done the dirty tricks that Rove dreamed up. But — it can’t be stressed enough — they also did not begin to have the kind of money and economic influence W. was given by his Daddy’s friends. The difference is exponential.

The Bushes are extreme Northeastern owning class establishment. W. went to public school in Texas for part of seventh grade; otherwise, he was educated at expensive private schools, mostly in New England. His innate curiosity was crushed early. He was clearly never given an outlet for excellence or proving his value outside rigid owning class routines of playing around and abusing substances. He returned to Texas because he felt less like a failure here — the Texas owning class based on oil money is another example of how people can become rich without working for it, and they’re all equally uncomfortable with reality.

When it was decided by W.’s Daddy’s friends that he could get elected Governor, maybe (if they hid enough of his past), the coffers were bottomless. And I don’t mean just campaign money, but also the means of buying illegalities.


Friday, September 7, 2007


(Painting of Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan, copyright by Bowdoin University)

In the middle 1930s, my mother was a small child spending summers in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Donald MacMillan, the arctic explorer, was in town. His ship, the Bowdoin, had been launched in the Boothbay area. My grandmother sent my mother to the front of the crowd to get his autograph, which she did. It's been lost since then.

My mother's strongest memory of the event was that Captain MacMillan *took her pencil* and didn't give it back! My grandmother consoled her by saying that her pencil had gone to the North Pole with him. It's probably not true, but it's a great story.

Recently my brother-in-law (a Bowdoin University alumnus) and my sister took my mom to spend a week in Maine with them. They visited the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin. Among other things, MacMillan was the first person to photograph musk oxen! She told the staff about the pencil thievery and they said they loved hearing memories anyone had of him. I told her she should have demanded a replacement pencil.

(Photo of Donald B. MacMillan, copyright by Bowdoin University)
Donald Baxter MacMillan, explorer, sailor, teacher, philanthropist, researcher, and lecturer, made over 30 expeditions to the Arctic in his 46-year career. He traveled over 300,000 miles charting new territory, training students, performing scientific research and studying and aiding the native people of Labrador and Greenland. He pioneered the use of radios, airplanes, and electricity in the Arctic, brought back films and thousands of photographs of Arctic scenes, and put together a dictionary of the Inuktikut language. He was considered by young and old "the most interesting of all speakers on Arctic or Antarctic subjects." Through it all, the crushing ice, fierce storms, endless traveling, and novice sailors, Donald MacMillan remained calm, patient, and disciplined, steadied by a life-long love of the sea and the knowledge that he was exactly where he wanted to be.

Donald MacMillan was born in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on November 10, 1874. His father, lost at sea when MacMillan was nine, instilled in the future explorer a lasting affinity for sailing. When his mother died three years later, MacMillan lived with the family of Captain Murdick McDonald in Provincetown for two years before going to live with his sister Letitia and her husband Winthrop C. Fogg in Freeport, Maine. He was a serious student at the high school there, and worked hard to earn the money to attend nearby Bowdoin College. In 1898 he graduated from Bowdoin with a degree in geology, and spent the next ten years teaching Latin, Physical Education, and Mathematics at schools in Maine and Massachusetts.

MacMillan established a summer camp for boys to teach seamanship and navigation. One summer, he saved the lives of nine people from wrecked boats in the course of two nights. This feat caught the attention of explorer Robert E. Peary and later prompted him to ask MacMillan to join his 1905 attempt to reach the North Pole. That year, MacMillan was unwilling to break his teaching commitment, but he was able to accompany Peary on his successful journey to the Pole in 1908. Unfortunately, MacMillan himself had to turn back at 84°29' on March 14 because of frozen heels. Peary reached the Pole 26 days later on April 6, 1909 with Matthew Henson, America's foremost black explorer.

The next few years MacMillan spent traveling in Labrador, carrying out ethnological studies among the Innu and Inuit. He organized and commanded his own expedition to northern Greenland, the Crocker Land Expedition, in 1913, but was stranded until 1917, when Robert A. Bartlett in command of the Neptune finally made it through the dangerous, icy waters. While he was waiting for rescue, MacMillan formulated the idea of a strong, easily maneuverable, ship specifically designed for Arctic travel to handle the dangers of the northern waters. When he returned to the United States, however, the country had entered World War I, and MacMillan joined the Navy. When the war ended, MacMillan thought again of the north, and began raising money to build a ship for further Arctic exploration and research. In 1921 the schooner Bowdoin was launched from the Hodgdon Brother's Shipyard in East Boothbay, Maine. That summer MacMillan sailed her to Baffin Island, where he and his crew over-wintered, the first of many expeditions that would make Bowdoin a familiar name in Arctic communities.

On March 18, 1935, MacMillan married Miriam Norton Look, the daughter of his long-time friends Jerome and Amy Look. Though MacMillan at first refused to let her accompany him north, Miriam soon convinced him of her willingness and ability to parcticipate in his Arctic travels. World War II saw MacMillan again in the Navy, serving in the Hydrographic Office in Washington, D.C. He transferred the Bowdoin to the Navy for the duration of the war, where she continued to work in Greenland waters.

(Photo of Miriam Norton Look, copyright by Bowdoin University)

Miriam Norton Look was born on June 13, 1905 to an engineer father, who came from a long line of sea captains, and a mother who was a classical musician. Miriam had a sister and brother, but she was the only one of the three who was fiercely passionate about the sea. She also had a great fascination with the Arctic, which undoubtedly came from the fact that it was the special interest of her childhood hero, explorer Donald MacMillan. Captain Dan, as he was called, was an old friend of her parents and would always visit when he returned from his voyages. Miriam loved to hear him recount his adventures and would later act them out with her friends--but only if she could play the hero Donald MacMillan.

As a teenager, Miriam had a 25-foot motor boat named the Sea Pup that was her pride and joy. Starting the engine caused her quite a bit of trouble, though, and in her book, Green Seas and White Ice, she fondly recalls the outbursts of "unladylike language" she directed at that engine. After she graduated from school, Miriam worked as a fundraiser for the public relations firm Tamblyn and Brown until she married Donald MacMillan on March 18, 1935.

From 1938 on, Miriam was an important member of the crew of the Bowdoin. She proved her ability to withstand the hardships of the Arctic and demonstrated her competence in organizing all the supplies needed for the expeditions and the MacMillan-Moravian School, founded by MacMillan in 1929. MacMillan had at first refused to let her go along, since no woman had ever done so. But with the support of the crew, she finally convinced him. Miriam was the first woman to steer a ship through heavy ice to within 660 miles of the North Pole. As a parcticipant in nine voyages on the Bowdoin, Miriam recorded traditional Inuit songs and took motion pictures of Inuit and ship life. These records, along with her books, preserve valuable observations about the Arctic. She also helped chart the northern waters and was an "amazing speaker" on MacMillan's lecture tours.

After MacMillan's death in 1970, Miriam devoted herself to arranging and cataloguing the thousands of photographs, slides, and artifacts that she and MacMillan brought back from the Arctic. She served as honorary curator of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, and worked to promote and raise money for the restoration of the schooner Bowdoin in the early 1980s. In 1980, in recognition of her contributions, Miriam MacMillan received the honorary degree of Sc.D. from Bowdoin College. In 1981, she was accepted into the Explorer's Club, one of only a few women accepted at that time.

(Photo of Matthew Henson after his return from the Pole, copyright by Bradley Robinson)

On April 6, 1909, Matthew Henson stood atop the world with Robert Peary as co-discoverer of the North Pole. When Henson descended from the frigid north his reception was distinctly cool, even in contrast to Peary's less than wholesale embrace by the American public. As public opinion eventually accumulated on Peary's behalf, acknowledgement of Henson was still not forthcoming. It took decades for Henson to achieve fame comparable to Peary's. While this popular recognition is largely posthumous, those who labored alongside Henson during his eighteen year Arctic career have never been short of praise for America's foremost black explorer.

As Donald MacMillan remembers in his foreword to Dark Companion, Bradley Robinson's biography of Henson, "Peary knew Matt Henson's real worth [he] was of more real value to our Commander than Bartlett, Marvin, Borup, Goodsell and myself all put together. Matthew Henson went to the Pole with Peary because he was a better man than any one of us." This was an opinion shared by the Inuit, who respected Henson for his immersion in their culture. Of Peary's crew, only Henson was fluent in Inuktitut, and could drive a sledge with native prowess. Matthew Henson was survived by an only son, Anauakaq, whose mother was an Inuit woman named Akatingwah.