Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Russell Means and the Yellow Thunder Camp

Another man that I associate with South Dakota has died--Russell Means, the controversial Indian activist, succumbed to esophageal cancer.  Where to start talking about Russell Means?  Russell was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation that adjoins the Rosebud Reservation where I lived and taught from 1980-1982.  Russell was a legend on the Rosebud Reservation, and I don't mean to imply that his legendary status was necessarily positive.   On the other hand, in my limited experience, there was always in-fighting among Indians so everything you heard about someone else had to be taken with a grain of salt.  (I use the term, Indians, instead of Native Americans because that's what my Indian friends used.  The preference is the tribal name, and most of the folks described here are Sioux.)

Russell's family moved to California when he was a child, and he became another disenfranchised urban Indian, falling victim to every stereotypical vice--drugs, drinking, brawling, arrests, jail time, failed marriages, domestic violence--a pattern that continued off and on throughout his life.  On the other hand, Russell had the ability to identify legitimate Indian issues and bring them to the forefront of the national consciousness, working in conjunction with other Indian activists.  At the same time, he was never adverse to getting publicity for himself in the process.  Russel Means, like many Indians, was a survivor.

Russell Means as young man with AIM
When he and Dennis Banks and other American Indian Movement (AIM) activists occupied Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973, the purpose was to bring to the forefront the injustices of government policy against the Indians while it also showed the complicated relationships and in-fighting on the reservations themselves. You can read more about the seige of Wounded Knee here.

I did meet Russell Means once at the Yellow Thunder encampment in the Black Hills.  The Sioux lay claim to the Paha Sapa, sacred lands and hunting grounds of the Black Hills taken from them.  They have a legitimate complaint.  The encampment was a protest and a demand for a return of the sacred lands of their ancestors.  Click here to read about this on-going land dispute, the trail of broken treaties and the positions of both sides.

I remember there were armed guards on the dirt road entering the camp, but we were expected.  One of our friends had made arrangements for us to visit.  I don't remember if we were searched, but the security looked like they took their jobs seriously.  Most of our group of friends and I were content to explore the camp, peeking into tipis and watching life in the camp. 

My ex-husband, the politico, who at this time was ghost writing speeches for a friend of ours who was tribal chairman of one of the Sioux tribes, sat at a picnic table and talked with Russell Means.  My ex and I were researching a paper on Indian education and the American Indian Movement at the time, but it appeared that the role of the Sioux women at the encampment was to "wait on" the men, so I was not impressed with that scenario.

My big memory of that trip was disappointment.  We were supposed to return to the camp the next day to meet Willie Nelson!  I was so excited.  Willie, of course, is a big supporter of Indian rights (as well as farmers), and we were also in Rapid City to attend a Willie Nelson concert--he did a benefit for the Yellow Thunder Camp that we attended.  The next day Willie was to visit the Yellow Thunder Camp, and we were going back, too.

aerial view of Yellow Thunder encampment in the Black Hills
Now Willie Nelson is someone whom I've always wanted to meet.  Then it snowed and we didn't have vehicles that could make it to the camp in the snow.  Opportunity thwarted!

Postscript: Russell Means' ashes were spread over the Yellow Thunder Camp after his death.  May the struggle to address the injustices perpetrated against Native Americans of all tribes soon be over and let justice prevail for our country's native peoples.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Those were the days, my friend...

We were young, idealistic--my ex-husband ran the campaign headquarters for McGovern in Abingdon, VA near where we attended college.  I was working for the county and was forbidden from campaigning for any political candidate, but I worked in the next county over from the headquarters, so I figured what my bosses didn't know wouldn't hurt them.  I wanted to be part of the excitement, part of the process.  I loved politics back then.  We worked county fairs and other events.  I can remember trying to convince those good old boy farmers to at least consider McGovern.  We had some success.  Back then there were a lot of Democrats in southwestern Virginia.  It was just over the mountain from the coal fields, and the miners traditionally voted Democratic. 

The southwestern portion Virginia is part of the 9th Congressional District and extends from Roanoke, Virginia, all the way to the Tennessee line.  The 9th Congressional District used to be known as the 'Fighting Ninth,' "because of its taste for raucous politics, which by and large were culturally conservative and economically populist." (To read the National Journal Almanac article referenced in this post, click here.)

"As early as 1765 settlements were being carved into the great Valley of Virginia, which bends westward and south toward Tennessee and the Cumberland Gap, " reports the National Journal Almanac.  I know because my ancestors were part of that group of largely Scots-Irish settlers, establishing their homestead in 1782 in what is now Smyth County, Virginia.  The settlers were fiercely independent.  Most were farmers, but many in the more mountainous western portion of the region eventually became coal miners.  This area developed separately from eastern and northern Virginia.

"Politically, this virtually all-white area opposed slavery and was skeptical, if not hostile, to the Confederacy. Out of the crucible of struggle between secessionists and unionists, Southwest Virginia developed a robust two-party politics after the Civil War, with both parties resembling their national counterparts more closely than in the rest of Virginia."  (National Journal Almanac)

This independent thinking at least allowed for dialogue between idealistic recent college graduates and other southwest Virginia voters in 1972.  George McGovern was a World War II hero who now opposed the war in Vietnam--he had earned the right to be anti-war, having experienced war first hand.  WWII was a "just war," and the good people in southwestern Virginia realized that Vietnam didn't make much sense to them, yet too many of their sons had gone off to southeast Asia. Rich men's sons don't fight the wars.

George McGovern was the son of a Methodist minister, and the mountains of Virginia had been the home to circuit riding Methodist preachers who had won many converts. Methodist churches dot the landscape there.  The local college my ex and I attended was a Methodist school.  It's hard to demonize a patriotic war hero who was the son of a Methodist minister, so the people would at least talk to us. 

I can't remember how the district went in 1972.  As I recall, McGovern did better than expected.  In subsequent years, the district has become more Republican in national elections although the long-time Congressman from the 9th District was a Democrat until ousted in 2010 by a Republican who didn't even live in the District!  The 9th district voted narrowly for Democrat Bill Clinton twice, but voted by much wider margins for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. In 2008, the district went 59%-40% for Republican nominee John McCain. (National Journal Almanac)

But during that long ago summer and fall of 1972, we were hopeful that a thoughtful man from South Dakota might become President of the United States.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Scones and Bones, by Laura Childs

I drank my first cup of hot chocolate of the season and have attended at least one night of the Red River Revel--the large fall arts, music, and food festival on the Shreveport river front--so I guess autumn has officially arrived.  As usual, our cool weather has been rather elusive and has retreated a bit, leaving Indian Summer behind.  I'm all for displaying the oranges, yellows and browns of the season as a good faith sign that fall is here, however, and neighbors are following suit as jack-o-lanterns and other Halloween decorations appear on porches and lawns.

Berkley Prime Crime, 2011
295 pages
It seemed like an appropriate time to hunker down with a cozy mystery featuring hot tea and pirates, crossbones and jeering skulls.  Laura Childs' 2011 Scones & Bones, the 12th in her Tea Shop Mystery, focuses on events surrounding a mug allegedly made from the famous pirate Blackbeard's skull and accented with a 10 karat diamond.

While attending the grand opening of the Pirates and Plunder Show at the Charleston Heritage Society where the skull mug and other pirate treasures are displayed, Theodosia and her master tea blender, Drayton, are on the scene when a Heritage Society intern is stabbed to death as a pirate-crazed thief steals the grotesque mug.  The police seem stymied in the search for the murderer so the Director of the Heritage Society, Timothy Neville, begs his friends, Theodosia and Drayton, to poke around to see if they can learn anything about the murder that might help the police. 

There seems to be no lack of people in Charleston who collect pirate artifacts, so Theodosia baits a trap for the killer and almost loses two of her friends in the process.  Truthfully, the action associated with identifying and capturing the murderer isn't that captivating.  Even at the end of the book, mystery continues to shroud the skull mug  as it disappears into the Charleston Heritage Society vaults to be kept hidden for another few decades. 

Reading about the scones and dessert offerings at the Indigo Tea Shop (the tea shop that the main character Theodosia operates with the help of a master tea blender and a chef), as well as the eastern shore treats served at the Charleston parties Theodosia attends, make this a mystery during which I spent as much time resisting the urge to raid the refrigerator as wondering who killed the poor intern.  I want Haley, the Indigo Tea Shop chef, to come live at my house!

One can see the other creative side of Author Laura Childs who is a former CLIO award winning marketing CEO as she includes recipes and ideas for hosting various kinds of tea parties at the end of this book.   See below:

Letter Writing Tea
Aren't you tired of texting and e-mail?  Wouldn't it be fun to compose an old-fashioned letter?  Round up some quill pens, ink and fancy stationery, and invite your friends in to letter-writing tea.  Put on some relaxing music and let everyone jot a letter or a few thoughts while enjoying an afternoon of tea.  Oolong is a thoughtful blend that goes nicely with quiche, citrus salad, and lemon scones.  If you want to give your guests favors, think pretty pens and tiny notebooks in net bags.

Haley's Proprietary Lemon Scones
3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 Tbsp. baking power
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 Tbsp. water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the lemon zest and sugar, using a spoon to firmly grind it all together.  Add the sugar to the flour mixture and mix well.  Cut the butter into the mixture until you get an even, cumbly consistency.  Mix in the nuts, if using.  Pour in the buttermilk and stir thoroughly until the mixture forms a dense dough. Take a good-sized lump of dough and gently form it into a triangular scone shape.  Place the scone on a baking sheet lined with parchment, then continue forming scones until the mixture is used up.  Whisk the egg with the water to form an egg wash, then brush the egg wash on top of each scone.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
 This book counts toward my "Pastry Chef" status in the  Foodies Read 2 Reading Challenge!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Middle East

The Middle East is a powder keg and the situation gets more complicated and confusing by the day.  NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel’s recent article, "The Arab Spring is dead--and Syria is writing its obituary" at least identifies some of the major players in this ever shifting dynamic. (Click here to read Engel’s article in its entirety.)
NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel

Things have changed since “The Arab Spring” saw Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen undergo relatively peaceful revolutions led primarily by students and intellectuals.  These uprisings successfully ousted repressive, corrupt military strongmen who primarily came to power as a result of the Israeli military victories of 1948 and 1967, according to Engel.  The Middle East spring upheavals didn't start out as religious power struggles but they have morphed into such a scenario, Engel says, citing the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood that has taken control of the Egyptian revolution and more moderate Sunni Islamists who have risen to power in Tunisia. 

Struggles between the Islamic factions, the Sunni and Shiites, are occurring in country after country in the Middle East.  The Sunni consider Shiite Muslims infidels who veered from the true path of Mohammad over 1,000 years ago.  This is an epic struggle for power, Engel emphasizes, and that has gone on for centuries between the Sunnis and Shiites for control of the Middle East and the Prophet Muhammad's legacy.  The situation is not new.

This renewed conflict, however, can be traced back in recent history to Iraq and the American invasion in 2003, which pitted Sunnis against their rival Shiites.  As a result of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, Iraq is now controlled by a corrupt Shiite government.  Until the U.S. invasion, Saddam and the Sunni minority controlled Iraq, which was the continuation of a 14-century history of Sunni controlling Mesopotamia despite Shiite being the majority.  Iraqi Sunnis are still angry and sometimes fighting in their stronghold cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.  To say the war in 2003 destabilized the region would be accurate but it is an area long plagued by religious power struggles (Engel, 2012).

A major player in the region now is Iran, a major Shiite controlled country, where 89% of the populace are Shiite. Now Iran is no longer an isolated Shiite country, and because it has wealth, technology and weaponry, Iran has emerged as a key supporter of Shiite initiatives in the Middle East (Engel, 2012).

Just to the northwest of Iraq is Syria and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family actually isn't Shiite but Alawite, a Shiite-linked offshoot that makes up just under 13 percent of the population.  In Syria, 70 percent are Sunni, 3 percent are Shiite and another 12.8 percent are Alawite.  Iran and Syria are allies and have been since Assad's father's regime (Engel, 2012). 

And it is in Syria where a major battle rages between the Shiite and Sunni factions--most of the rebel forces fighting against Assad's government are Sunni.  The radical Sunni group Al-Qaida weighed in heavily in the Iraq war but underestimated the US military. Al Qaida lost in Iraq, but they are trying to make up for lost time in Syria. They are moving into Syria to help their Sunni brethren, the rebels. Engel feels the chaos of Syria could make it a safe base of operation for Al-Qaida.  However, Al-Qaida make bad bedfellows because they have a habit of killing their hosts if they don't adhere to their strict interpretation of religious doctrine.

The previously isolated Shiite regime in Iran is now empowered by a Shiite government in Iraq. The Sunni are concerned about the Shiite interlopers from Iran and Iraq, with their weaponry and wealth of oil resources. The Sunnis are determined not to lose Syria, too.  Most of the fighting is currently in Sunni areas, with over 20,000 people dead.  The Sunni number one billion world-wide, whereas the Shiites comprise about 150-200 million, with about 75% living in just four counties--Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and India (Engel). But right now the Shiite seem to hold the upper hand.

The Syrian government  has helpful allies in Hezbollah and Iran. Iran is technologically advanced and provides markets for Syrian goods. Hezbollah, a radical Shiite militia, essentially controls Lebanon. Syria maintains ties to Lebanon and claims that Lebanon "belonged to" Syria before the region was divided up by France and Great Britain after WW I.  Iran and Hezbollah are starting to exert more influence in Syria as Assad's position weakens.

Lebanon, located west of Syria, is where many people think the next outbreak of sectarian violence will occur. Lebanon is Sunni in the north, Christian in the middle and Shiite in the south, with each making up about one third of the population. This dynamic mixture has resulted in a lively cultural mix and recurrent cycles of civil war.  Emerging on top in Lebanon are the Shiites, shored up by their powerful and well-financed militia, Hezbollah.  Hezbollah is heavily armed and has thousands of rockets pointed at Israel.  The rockets come from Iran and Syria.  Hezbollah is the tail wagging the dog in Lebanese politics (Engel).

Summing up the players, according to Engel: in Syria, we have government forces loyal to Assad (Shiites and Alawites) fighting mostly Sunni rebels who are trying to oust Assad’s regime.  In Iran we have a well-financed and relatively stable Shiite government that is a major sideline participant in the sectarian violence. In Lebanon we have Hezbollah, a well-financed and vehemently anti-Israeli military force that is weighing in on the side of the Shiite government forces in Syria. The Sunni rebels in Syria are now accepting help from foreign fighters who are part of the militant Al-Qaida. The only thing for sure in this turbulent region is the violence won't end soon.

Against this backdrop, I read the most recent Daniel Silva spy novel, The Fallen Angel, set against the volatile Middle East situation and the precarious position of Israel in the area's politics.

The Fallen Angel, by Daniel Silva
HarperCollins Publishers, 2012
405 pages, suspense spy novel

Gabriel Allon is an art restorer, a former Israeli spy and sometimes assassin who now working on a famous art restoration at the Vatican.  He is there because of his old friend, Monsignor Luigi Donati, private secretary to Pope Paul VII and keeper of Vatican secrets. When a Vatican museum curator is found dead in St. Peter's Basilica, the police believe it is suicide but the Pope and Monsignor Donati suspect otherwise. Allon is brought in by the Pope and Donati to do an independent investigation.

Gabriel learns that the dead woman had discovered a grave secret--one that led her to her grave.  She knew the identity of a kingpin in a professional antiquities theft ring with ties to the Vatican.  Gabriel is supposed to quietly investigate her death but soon discovers the curator's death is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Vatican and the Italian police know much more than they were telling Gabriel, but with the help of his old friends in the Israeli services, he soon uncovers another dead body and plots by Hezbollah to fund their militia operations through illegal operations of many kinds--"Gambino's on speed"--or so Hezbollah has been called.

Gabriel and his current wife, Chiara, must scramble to stay alive and ahead of the various deadly intrigues.  Gabriel's investigation eventually leads back to the Middle East powder keg, literally, as efforts are uncovered that will cause a major religious disaster and start an armed conflict to end all others. Gabriel and his friends in the Israeli service must find a way to avert catastrophe.

In all aspects of this complicated plot, with its many subplots, the actual events in the book are much different than the spin story that is released to the public.  You start to realize anew that this happens everyday in our world.  It goes without saying that Silva is an apologist for the Israeli's, and this doesn't take away from his writing at all.

While in some ways the novel's plot is convoluted, Silva manages to bring the reader right along with him. I didn't find Silva difficult to follow, although I have started with book 12 in this series.  Silva is an excellent writer, writing well-plotted and crafted books.  When I attended the recent used book sale, I made sure to purchase several of Silva's Gabriel Allon spy novels.

I read Daniel Silva's The Fallen Angel against the background of the article I summarized above, which made Daniel Silva's novel much more compelling for me.   Silva also provides some background at the end of his book and give sources and the rationale for his perspective.  As former journalist, Silva is also a researcher with credible sources, which lend his stories the ring of truth.  My reading list currently contains more books about the Middle East.