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Adah Menken’s Gay Friends PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Monday, 06 August 2012 07:40
By: Michael & Barbara Foster

On December 18, 2010 the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed by an act of Congress and, finally, gays may serve openly in the U.S. military. In June 2011 New York, at the urging of Governor Andrew Cuomo, became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned California’s Proposition 8, ruling voters couldn’t deprive gay couples of the right to marry. The judges emphasized the inviolable “status and human dignity of gays and lesbians” under the U.S. Constitution. We supposed that the issue of legal equality for gays and lesbians was on its way to being settled once and for all. Are we mistaken?

The Republican presidential hopefuls - or rather, hopeless - are generally opposed to gay marriage, with the worst of them being against gays, period. Bill Burton, senior strategist backing President Obama, has mentioned “a hateful politics of the past that aims to demean the relationships of millions of gay Americans.” But how deeply rooted is this archaic but still powerful prejudice? We can cite a fascinating example from Civil War America, and of a celebrated woman who played a heroic part in defending her gay friends.

In New York of 1860, 150 years ago, when aspiring actress Adah Isaacs Menken met the already notorious poet Walt Whitman, being a gay man was entirely hidden from public view. Because Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (first edition 1855) was considered overtly sexual and obscene in the male/female way, the poet was denounced by press and pulpit as “reckless and indecent.” One reverend, who got the point of the poem “City of Orgies,” did suggest Walt was guilty of "that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians." In contrast, Adah was recently married to America’s first sports hero, John Heenan, the bareknuckle boxing champ, who had sailed for England to fight for the world heavyweight title. Adah, appearing to cheering audiences, hardly expected she was on the edge of a front-page scandal that would replay the criticism of Whitman.

Adah Bertha Theodore was born in 1835 in New Orleans, her mother a kept woman of color. Adah’s father was Jewish, a man of means, whose precise identity remains debated. Subjected to several stepfathers, Adah grew up in Texas: petite, pretty, dark hair luxuriant, eyes blue-grey. She learned to ride and shoot and became a stunt performer in a circus. After an affair with the Cuban poet and revolutionary Juan Zenea, Adah married the musician Alex Menken. Came hard times and they moved to Alex’s hometown of Cincinnati. Here Adah played the dutiful wife, but in the summer, 1859 she fled from her alcoholic husband. She supposed she had obtained a divorce from Rabbi Wise, founder of Reform Judaism. She took with her only Alex’s name.

In New York, Adah’s marriage to John Heenan was held quietly at a roadhouse on upper Broadway. Lower down on the avenue at Bleecker Street, Charlie Pfaff ran a smoky beer cellar frequented by the town’s Bohemian crowd. Writers, actors, bad girls, and gay guys could be found there. Adah, lonely, was accompanied to Pfaff’s by Robert Newell, straight-laced editor of the influential Sunday Mercury, who was in love and published her poetry. There she met Walt, 40, lots of graying hair and beard, eyes sparkling, dressed casually in a velveteen jacket over striped vest and pants. Walt looked out for “the swift flash of eyes offering me love.” He especially liked the young roughs, as he called them, bus drivers like punky Peter Doyle with whom he would have a long, intimate relationship. He and Adah became friends at once.

She was the great admirer of “the American philosopher,” as she termed Walt in a major article in the Mercury. Adah’s provocative “Swimming Against the Current” eulogized Whitman as “far ahead of his contemporaries,” who failed to understand him. Heeding “the Divine voice,” he kept on writing “for the cause of liberty and humanity!” Adah, in her understanding of the poet, had little company. Walt was thrilled by praise from “Mrs. Heenan,” whose own verse became nakedly confessional. Newell, biding his time, loathed “that coarse and uncouth creature, Walt Whitman.” Adah’s defense of Walt set her up for the scandal to come.

In August 1860 John Heenan, after winning the world boxing title, returned to New York, cheered by a vast crowd. He brought along his British mistress, and he denounced Adah as a liar and strumpet, claiming they had never married. According to the champ, Adah was "the most dangerous woman in the world" - inspiring the title of the Fosters' biography. To add insult to injury, Alex Menken publicly claimed he had never divorced Adah, and she was a bigamist! The two-penny newspapers ran with both contradictory stories, elbowing out Abe Lincoln's election as President. Adah, now infamous, was shut out of work in the theater. She felt a humiliation akin to that society forced on gay men. On New Year's Eve she attempted suicide and fortunately failed.

Adah Menken would rise to a peak of stardom hitherto unknown: In the heroic role of Lord Byron's Prince Mazeppa, a freedom fighter, she swept gold rush California. Packed audiences of miners tossed bags of gold dust on stage in appreciation. Cub reporter Sam Clemens (later Mark Twain) wrote up Adah’s dangerous, seemingly nude act strapped to a wild stallion that climbed a four-story stage mountain. Sam compared Adah to a constellation in the heavens, "The Great Bare" (inspiring the Fosters' website of that name). Adah became known as The Naked Lady, the talk of Victorian London and the toast of Napoleon III’s Paris. Aside from going through five husbands, including Newell, and famous lovers such as Alexandre Dumas and possibly fellow cross-dresser George Sand, Adah was courted by the youthful King Charles I of Württemberg, Germany. Charles was not only handsome but bright and interested in the arts. Their purposely public romance was the chatter of all Paris, convinced they were lovers. Except that the king was gay and preferred male lovers, and his counselors, worried about that sort of scandal, used the ballyhooed liaison with Adah as cover. Adah went along with the charade, both to help her friend keep his throne and to fend off the advances of the lecherous Emperor Napoleon.

In summer 1867, toward the end of Adah's brief, brilliant but doomed life, she corresponded from Paris with her California friend Charles Warren Stoddard, the first admittedly gay American writer. Adah, sad because of "the ghosts of wasted hours and of lost loves always tugging at my heart," gladly reached out to the young man, who felt isolated in the raw, he-man West. "I already know your soul," she wrote Charles. "It has met mine somewhere on the starry highway of thought." She knew she was a scandal to the so-called just, the Puritanical hypocrites who infected her world and still blather today. Stoddard, destined to write beautifully of the South Seas, was able to identify with The Lepers of Molokai, his best-known work.

Adah Menken felt she had lived "always in bad odor with people who do not know me," that she had startled the world. "Alas!" she communed with Charles. A year later, while crowds packed a theater demanding to see her perform, the Naked Lady passed on to the world of spirit. Her death defying act had taken its toll.

Adah, hurrah!

About: Michael & Barbara Foster are the authors of A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken - America's Original Superstar ( Michael Foster is a historian, novelist and biographer, acclaimed by the New York Times. He earned his Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Barbara Foster is an associate professor of women’s studies at City University of New York.

News Releases - General Info
Written by Amy Garringer   
Thursday, 02 August 2012 07:29

DES MOINES, Iowa – A Colona, Ill. man said he thought he had won a $50 prize on his “The Black Ticket” instant-scratch game, but then saw more zeros appear as he continued scratching.

Virgil Norton, 75, was traveling through Davenport when he decided to stop at Kwik Shop, 2242 E. 12th St. in Davenport to purchase a ticket. He hadn’t played The Black Ticket for a while, so he bought just one of those. He scratched it in the parking lot.

“I looked at those zeros and at the winning number and I was in shock,” he said.

Norton has told his family and friends about his win and everyone is very excited for him.

“My step daughter said it’s great, that we deserve to win,” he said.

Norton said he’s planning to use some of his winnings to do some work to his vehicle and around his house.

Norton claimed his prize July 23 at the Iowa Lottery’s regional office in Cedar Rapids.

The Black Ticket is a $5 scratch game. Players try to win a prize by matching any of “your numbers” to any “winning numbers” to win the prize shown for that number. If players find the “coin” symbol, they win that prize instantly. Players who find the “bill” symbol win double the prize amount shown for that symbol. The overall odds of winning a prize in the game are 1 in 3.74.

Two top prizes of $50,000 are still up for grabs in The Black Ticket, as well as 18 prizes of $1,000, more than 20 prizes of $200 and more than 45 prizes of $100.

Players can enter eligible nonwinning scratch tickets online to earn “Points For Prizes™” points. The point value will be revealed to the player on the website upon successful submission of each eligible valid ticket. There is a limit of 30 ticket entries per day. To participate in Points For Prizes™, a player must register for a free account at Registration is a one-time process. Merchandise that can be ordered by using points will be listed on the website in the Points For Prizes™ online store. Players can choose from items in categories such as apparel, automotive, jewelry, sporting, tools and more.

Since the lottery’s start in 1985, its players have won more than $2.9 billion in prizes while the lottery has raised more than $1.3 billion for the state programs that benefit all Iowans.

Today, lottery proceeds in Iowa have three main purposes: They provide support for veterans, help for a variety of significant projects through the state General Fund, and backing for the Vision Iowa program, which was implemented to create tourism destinations and community attractions in the state and build and repair schools.


Niabi Zoo Giraffe Baby Named PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Marc Heinzman   
Thursday, 02 August 2012 07:26
Coal Valley, IL – August 1, 2012 - Niabi Zoo has announced the name for their male baby giraffe which was born on June 1st, 2012.

After hosting a naming contest for the month of July, the name Wally emerged as the winner. Wally was originally suggested as a finalist choice by Niabi Zoo zookeeper Carl Mohler, who came up with the name after shortening his first idea of Walter.

Three finalist names were chosen by zoo staff, and then voted on by zoo guests with their pocket change. The name which collected the greatest dollar amount was declared the winner.

Overall, the contest earned a total of $826.72, with the name Wally winning by a close margin, according to Zoo Director Marc Heinzman. “Wally only won by $20,” said Heinzman. “It was an extremely close race this year. Last year’s baby giraffe name, Miya, won over fifty percent of the total vote. This year all three choices were very evenly matched.”

The choice of Wally earned a total of $306.01. The other two finalist name choices and their meanings were Jabali (strong as a rock) and Kofi (born on Friday). Jabali finished in second place with $285.36 and Kofi came in third with $235.35. All the proceeds from the naming contest will go toward the construction of a new elephant exhibit at Niabi Zoo.

Judiciary Committee hearing -- Rising Prison Costs PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Richard Martin   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:58

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.  This is an important subject, and I’m glad the committee is examining it.  I thank the witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to their testimony.


I have, in the past, mentioned my concern about what I call the “Leniency Industrial Complex.”  There are some people in Congress, the public, academia, and the media, who think that sentences that are being imposed on serious criminal offenders are too stringent and that we need to be finding ways to let prisoners out of prison early.


Despite the repeated calls of this growing industry, keeping criminals in prison makes sense.  People should serve the time that the law provides for their crimes.  By keeping convicted criminals in prison, it prevents them from committing future crimes.  The data supports this common sense fact.


It is true that incarceration is up in recent years, but crime is down, significantly so.  Of course, other factors also had a role, like improvements to policing.  The tactics adopted by cities across the country in the 1990s, starting with New York City under Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Bill Bratton, certainly were effective in reducing crime.  But there’s no serious doubt that incarceration is a major reason for the historically low crime rates that the United States now enjoys.


When considering cost effectiveness of incarceration, we need to remember that there are costs to crime, too.  Keeping people in prison reduces costs to society of those people committing more crimes when they are let out.  I have to wonder why the one area of domestic spending that the Obama administration wants to cut is prison funding.


Now, I also believe in being smart about crime.  If there are ways to prevent crime and punish criminals, while also saving money, I’m all in favor.  But, that cost savings shouldn’t be at the expense of public safety.


I have two concerns about moves to release prisoners to reduce costs to the criminal justice system.  First, we have to make sure that any programs to reduce incarceration costs will actually work.  So far, the evidence isn’t promising.


The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) recently found that a pilot program letting elderly prisoner’s serve out the ends of their terms in residential facilities cost more money than keeping them in BOP facilities.  While a Government Accountability Office review of this data questioned the BOP’s data, it raises even more questions about whether this policy is well founded and should even continue, let alone be expanded.


Unfortunately, we have a problem around here continuing to fund programs that don’t meet their intended goals.  And, just like this elderly offender pilot, a lot of the programs that were created under the Second Chance Act have no empirical evidence to prove that they work in reducing recidivism.  So absent this evidence, it’s not cost effective to set up programs that don’t work.


Second, I’m concerned that efforts to save money will come at the expense of public safety.  For example, I often hear about how there are so many “non-violent” offenders in prison who can be let out early.  Well, is someone who sells drugs while carrying a firearm a “non-violent” offender?  He may not have killed someone this time, but he surely was prepared to.


I also hear about “non-violent,” “first time” offenders in the context of white collar crime.  Bernie Madoff was a non-violent, first time offender, too.  And he got what he deserved.   I certainly hope any effort to change incarceration practices doesn’t lead to a get-out-of-jail-free card for white collar criminals.  I think the victims who lost their life’s saving would have something different to say about the cost savings achieved by letting someone like Madoff out early.


This brings up another important element of the debate over what to do about rising costs of incarceration.  Maybe this debate is focusing on the wrong end of the process.  As I said, I think people who have been convicted should serve their sentences.  But if there’s a problem with the federal criminal justice system, perhaps we should focus on who and what gets prosecuted.


For example, I’m very concerned that no major figures responsible for the financial crisis have been prosecuted.  As I understand it, most people being prosecuted for things like mortgage fraud are low-level criminals that feed off the lax oversight.  While they were convicted and should serve time in prison, why aren’t we asking where the prosecutions of the kingpins of the financial crisis are?


There is also an issue of whether the federal government focuses enough on major crimes that fall squarely into federal jurisdiction or is instead federalizing state crimes.  That’s a conversation we can and should have.  It’s also something that we might truly be able to reach a bi-partisan agreement on fixing.


So this issue is more complex than just the dollar cost of building and sustaining prisons.  We need to remember that crime has a cost to society and not just the federal budget.  Shortsighted efforts to cut budgets today could cause long-term damage by reversing the decades of falling crime rates.


The public deserves an honest conversation about the costs of prisons, so I’m glad we’re having this hearing.  I just want to make sure budget costs don’t trump public safety.  Thank you.

Loebsack: Congress Doesn’t Deserve a Summer Vacation PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Joe Hand   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:47

Again Calls for Congress to Skip Vacation and Get to Work

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after the Republican Majority in the House of Representatives voted to go on vacation for five weeks.  Loebsack has called on Congress to stay in session multiple times to get critical work done.

“Time and again, Congress has kicked the can down the road, punted, and taken a pass on actually getting something done.  Now the Republican Majority has voted to go on vacation for the next five weeks while our farmers suffer through the worst drought in 60 years, Iowans struggle to find jobs, and critical issue after critical issue facing our nation goes unaddressed.   It is the height of irresponsibility.

“It’s time for Washington politicians to learn what every kid in Iowa knows - if you don’t do your homework all year, you get summer school, not summer vacation. Congress must stay and get to work, not continue taking votes for politics’ sake and then give themselves 37 days of undeserved vacation.  Iowans are sick and tired of this Washington business as usual, and, frankly, so am I.”


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