Sunday, December 21, 2008

Water for Christmas

All we wanted on Christmas Sunday at Brentwood Presbyterian Church in LA was an uplifting service with good music and a chance to say goodbye to the interim pastor we've had for 2 1/2 yrs., Charles Svendsen, as well as to the youth director, Angela Williams, who will be going to Fuller Theological Seminary full time.

We got that, but we also got an opportunity to give toward the funding of a piped water system (borehole) in Malawi, as our Christmas offering.

Safe water in Malawi was not the first thing on my mind this morning, but I'm glad I was pushed to think beyond my own cozy little Christmas.

We learned that 4,000 childen die each day around the world from unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene habits--a fact that knocks the socks off most of our Christmas consumer customs here in the US.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Let's All Boycott

The Prop. 8 debate continues in California.

Thanks so much, Steve, for informing us in today's LA Times about the boycott on a restaurant in West Hollywood, El Coyote. See his column at,0,5995847.column .

I don't understand why the owner of this restaurant was thinking her $100 could go unnoticed: she is well-known and her restaurant is right in the center of a gay district.

Whether she donated $100 or $100,000, she chose to join the debate over Prop. 8, and she is facing the answer to her political statement.

Use of the boycott is as American as apple pie--an important tool of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the center of the new film about Harvey Milk.

I'm still boycotting the state of Utah for not ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment--I travel around it to get to Colorado.

I also avoid the southern states that refused to ratify when 35 states had approved this "PS, the Constitution applies to women too" amendment and only three more were needed to give women equal rights in this nation.

For the record, those states that did not see fit to approve the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution are:

Utah, Arizona, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia--all of which didn't even come close to ratifying.

Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina--states in which at least one chamber of the state legislature voted to ratify.

And then there are the states that ratified but later rescinded their ratification:

Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota.

Thanks to all these states, women in the US do not have a Constitutional guarantee of equality.

It's hard to boycott them all, but I do my best to stay west of the Mississippi, north of the Mason-Dixon line, and out of the remaining hotbeds of ignorance.

I'm waiting for the day when everyone who supports birth control, legal access to abortion, equal rights for women, and equal rights for GLBT folks will start boycotting the following:
* Catholic hospitals, schools, and colleges
* LDS hospitals, schools, and colleges
* Focus on the Family
* Evangelical churches and para-church organizations that donate or mobilize against women, GLBT, and reproductive choice.

These churches and organizations have mobilized their members and money against women, gays, and choice.

If all of us avoid their hospitals, don't send our children to their schools and colleges, and keep our money out of their offering plates, the changes we seek will come overnight.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vigil for Esha Momeni

With a full moon rising between palm trees, some two hundred students gathered in the twilight near the library's front steps at Cal State Northridge, holding candles and listening to their professors and students speak for Esha Momeni to be freed from all charges against her in Iran.

Wearing t-shirts with the words FREE ESHA, a band played before the gathering crowd.

Then a speaker shouted "Free" as listeners answered "Esha." Her photos cycled on a screen in front of the crowd.

I held a candle with one of my students as Esha's sister, a close friend, her professors, and fellow graduate students in Communications Studies spoke.

"We are not here tonight to offer Esha or any other Iranian woman our pity," said Dr. Melissa Wall. "...we offer our understanding and our solidarity and to share our hope that Esha be allowed to rejoin us soon to continue her academic work."

She explained that Esha had flown to Tehran to film documentaries of the strength of the women's movement in Iran and correct Western stereotypes about Iranian women.

Esha filmed interviews with women in the One Million Signatures Campaign, a grassroots movement inside Iran. The site in English for this group is

Tributes from the blog were read, along with a poem written by Esha.

Dear Eve,

How did the apple taste?

Being a woman is an unforgivable sin...

The Campaign's goals include equal rights in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other areas, as well as "reform of laws that reduce punishment for offenders in cases of honor killings."

An American citizen by birth but raised in Iran, Esha is 28 years old and had just completed two months of filming in Tehran when she was arrested on October 15.

"She is one person trying to give the entire nation a choice," said one speaker.

For one hushed, candlelit moment we all stood in international solidarity for women's equal rights.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Toxic Waste in Guiyu

I'm still reeling from the horror story about cathode ray tubes and toxic waste on 60 Minutes on Sunday evening.

Computer monitors have CRT screens, I learned, and 130,000 computers are discarded every day in the US. Not to mention 100 million cell phones per year.

These things should be recycled here, where their lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, and polyvinyl chlorides can be handled carefully.

But many are illegally exported to places like Guiyu, China, where people ignorant of the dangers injure their hands and lungs heating circuit boards and extracting the valuable metals. Children work and play amidst these chemicals.

60 Minutes called this city "a sort of Chernobyl of electronic waste."

I don't know what to do about this, except educate ourselves and maybe donate to Basel Action Network, which is trying to stop the dumping of toxic waste on poor countries. Go to

Wikipedia says this about CRTs:
CRTs may contain toxic phosphors within the glass envelope. The glass envelopes of modern CRTs may be made from heavily leaded glass, which represent an environmental hazard. Indirectly heated vacuum tubes (including CRTs) use barium compounds and other reactive materials in the construction of the cathode and getter assemblies; normally this material will be converted into oxides upon exposure to the air, but care should be taken to avoid contact with the inside of all broken tubes.

Also there's a danger of implosion followed by explosion. We spend hours in close contact with these computer screens but know so little about their whole life histories and their dangers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Christians Reaching Out to Gays

In the aftermath of last week's election, demonstrations continue against Prop. 8, which adds to Calfornia's constitution a ban on gay marriages.

Churches are reaching out, however. All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, held a public same-sex wedding to express support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in California.

More surprising are the efforts of a Foursquare-related church in Santa Clarita, The Sanctuary.

"Join us this week for 'Crossing the Gay Divide,'" says the church's website, apparently a reference to this Sunday's sermon topic. Services are at 8 am, 9:45 am, and 11:30 am.

This fall the church screened the open-minded documentary Lord Save Us from Your Followers, which a student in one of my classes informed me about. See and this blog for Oct. 29.
Led by Pastor Marty Walker, the church has four other pastors including one woman, Julie Sandeen.

"A safe place to grow" is the church motto.

Esha Released on Bail

Esha Momeni is no longer in Evin Prison--she's in her parents' home, released on bail today.

She must still stand trial on charges of "acting against national security" and she's still at risk of years of imprisonment for making a documentary on the women's rights movement in Tehran.

See the story by LA Times correspondents Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi:,0,2721563.story

Apparently the price of her release, in addition to the deed to her parents' home, was a statement by her father that he disapproved of his daughter's "illegal activities."

Who knows what Esha had to say or do to be released on bail.

A vigil will be held for her on Wednesday at 4:30 pm on the Cal State Northridge campus, in front of the library. She is enrolled in an MA program there, where I teach, and was doing the documentary as part of her research.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Vivian Gornick: Don't Miss Her

With the sharp turns of campaign 2008 no longer churning our stomachs, women need someone to assess where we stand now as a movement.

Vivian Gornick has done just that in an op-ed piece in today's LA Times.,0,7339139.story

She reflects on the last 200-plus years of the women's movement, starting with Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792 and concluding with the female-bashing done to Hillary Clinton while racist remarks against Barack Obama were off limit.

Don't miss it!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Fight Goes On

A local Catholic friend (and incidentally, straight) sent me this notice about work to repeal Prop. 8. The fight goes on.


I just signed a pledge to repeal Prop 8 and I thought you might be interested in joining me and over 100,000 Courage Campaign members across California.

We have to come together right now to say that we refuse to accept a California where discrimination is enshrined in our state constitution.

Please sign the "Repeal Prop 8" pledge now and forward this to your friends as soon as possible:



Voter Turnout

I am still in awe of this week's US election, a bloodless revolution turning out the Republican government of the last eight years. What an amazing event to take part in!

With a Democratic and African-American president, we will have more opportunity for peace, international cooperation, maybe even better healthcare for all US citizens, right?

Not necessarily, say many observers. The economic crisis and huge federal deficit will tie the hands of the president and prevent many of the changes we hope for.

Furthermore, multinational corporations are the real powerbrokers, behind things like NAFTA. Republicans and Democrats both are funded by these corporations; Green Party members and others say that the two major parties differ more in rhetoric than in actual decision-making.

In the afternoon on November 4, I went to Jiffy Lube to get my oil changed. The television screen in the waiting room flashed headlines and minute-by-minute results.

"Pretty exciting day," I said to the Latino mechanic who had just changed my oil .

He admitted that he hadn't voted. "I don't really care who wins. Yeah, Obama's cool but I like McCain too. I just want them to keep the economy going so I can take care of my family."

His perspective touched me and made me think about all those who did not vote.

The US population was over 303 million in 2006, according to the US Census Bureau. A website with a population clock says it's 305,607.287 as of 10 am this morning, November 8.

The voting-eligible population this year is 213,005,467, according to a George Mason University website, They get this figure by taking the voting age population and subtracting the non-citizens and felons.

Out of that number, 122,698,661 voted for either McCain or Obama. That looks to me like 57.6% voted for president, not too different from 2004. What about that 10 million increase in voted registration?

American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate reports that turnout may have been slightly higher, as much as 60-61%, according to a blog by James Joyner,

The report says Republican turnout was down 1%, Democratic turnout up 2.6%. In swing states the turnout was higher, but in states identified as clearly red or blue, there was not much effort to get out the vote.

"If you're a Republican in California or D.C. or a Democrat in Texas or Alabama, your vote simply doesn't count," opines Joyner.

Of course, in California there were many important propositions to vote on. Los Angeles County's voter turnout was nearly 79%, about the same as the high in 2004.

At my polling place, there were long lines in the morning and afternoon, something I've never seen before. We probably had a turnout closer to 90%.

To vote or not to vote? It's an individual choice, but I believe our political landscape changed and I'm grateful for the 122,698,661 Americans who voted in the presidential race.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who funded Prop. 8?

Where would we be without Focus on the Family, the Mormon church, Catholic knights & bishops, and the Concerned Women for America?

We'd be in a nation where the Equal Rights Amendment was a part of the Constitution, and I'd be living in a state where same-sex couples had the opportunity to marry.

Three decades ago, these groups helped to defeat the ERA. This fall they poured money into passing Proposition 8, California's new constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Thanks a bunch, folks.

Here's what the LA Times reported in a voter guide on Oct. 19 summarizing this fall's propositions and their proponents.,0,836059.story?page=1

Chief proponents of Prop. 8: "California Catholic Conference of Bishops, Protect Marriage Coalition, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Concerned Women for America."

Major donors to the Yes side: "Knights of Columbus, Focus on the Family, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

That's why a few hundred people were demonstrating in front of the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Blvd. this afternoon and evening. They're calling attention to the role of Mormons and others in the outcome of voting on this proposition.

They're asking why the groups supporting this proposition still have tax-exempt status; isn't direct advocacy forbidden to tax-exempt organizations?

This year's vote was 52.5% yes to 47.5 no, closer than the vote on a similar proposition in 2000.

What would it have been without those far-right donors?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


At least one same-sex couple who tried to get married today in California was turned down.

Others are in limbo--those who got married earlier this year, between the time the California State Supreme Court overturned Prop. 22 and November 4, when Prop. 8 was passed.

Are their marriages valid or invalid? Do they have inheritance rights and visitation rights?

They are outside the law--transformed overnight into outlaws.

McCain, Viagra, and Silence

Don't miss LA Times reporter Maeve Reston's reflections on her ten months of traveling with the McCain campaign.,0,4928107,print.story

In this article she recalls McCain's frankness and accessibility to reporters earlier in 2008, followed by his remoteness and avoidance after she asked an embarrassing question on camera in July.

The question was whether he felt it was unfair for some health insurance companies to cover Viagra but not birth control.

His aides and McCain himself shut off access after that, and she recounts two occasions on which he was cold and even rude to her, though he had earlier been friendly to the point of advising her where to go on her honeymoon.

In retrospect, the human side of his story seems sad. No longer with arm's length of becoming president, he is an old man on his second marriage with cancer and the Grim Reaper shadowing him.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Disbelief and Hope

At about 3 pm this afternoon, it occurred to me that Obama could really win... that perhaps this time the victory would not be stolen from us.

I realized that I wanted to be with others for this historic evening, not alone at home preparing for tomorrow's class as I had planned.

I called Nathalie Hoffman and Bob Ditchey, who had been my neighbors on the November night in 1992 when Bill Clinton won the presidency. We had yelled and laughed together on that night.

At 8 pm I joined them for a small party in their apartment building, just as networks were making the call: Obama will win 270 electoral votes.

We cheered but still felt fearful: the joy of 2000 had turned to teetering and then defeat... the near-victory of 2004 had been taken from us in Ohio.

By 8:20 pm McCain was making a concession speech; the sadness in his face was hard to watch.

When Obama entered Grant Park in Chicago, the new reality started to feel real.

My friend Bob underlined the contrast: McCain speaking from the luxurious Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Obama speaking in Chicago from a public park.

"Not red states and blue states but United States," he said. That brought tears to my eyes.

A French-American in the room reported the message from his friends in France: "Now we fall in love with America again."

My daughter Marie texted me, "Joy!! Pure joy!! I am finally proud to be an American!!!"

She was just 13 years old when George W. Bush was elected; for half of her conscious life, he has been president. Since 2003 she has travelled and studied several times in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Brazil, all the while feeling shame about US aggression in Iraq.

Seeing the words "President-Elect Obama" on the television screen moved me another inch away from fear, toward belief that Republican reign is finally over.

I was voting against war, against so-called "pre-emptive strikes" and unilateral actions by the US without regard for the UN. Electing the first African-American president didn't really matter to me, though electing the first woman president would have been important.

Maybe tomorrow when I wake up this new world of peace, international cooperation, and interracial action will still be here.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

-- Emily Dickinson

Promise and Prayer

At sunset the western sky was marked with a fan of red streaks like the fingers of a cosmic hand stretching over the Pacific Ocean.
Arriving at the beach ten minutes later, I see a subdued sky still fiery at the base, a blazing omen of brilliant change.
We always seek signs from the heavens; for Noah the rainbow was a promise from God. For Santa Monica, often buried in coastal fog at sunset, today's spectacle speaks divine blessing, a new era.
As of this moment, our nation can stand for peace, not aggression. We can rejoin the community of other nations. We can lift our heads and smile, instead of dropping our eyes in shame.
It's not a time for jubilation and parties, like 1992 when Clinton won and we ran outside to our neighbors, yelling and honking horns.
I feel shaken, on edge, as if I've just walked away from a train wreck. Yes, I survived, but danger is near. Many people died in Iraq and Afghanistan; the economic crash will result in increased death and starvation world-wide.
It's a solemn time.
There will be a time to cheer, but right now I can only whisper a prayer:
May your name be honored.
May your new world come.
May your will be done on earth--as clearly and beautifully as in the heavens.

Passionate at the Polls

Rain at 3:30 am announced the day of washing clean the sins of the last eight years.
We don't get rain often in southern California--this rain had to be a message from the planet, from God, an alignment with karma.
I was at my polling place before 7 am to find a line of over one hundred people--unprecedented. Usually I'm one of two or three with no wait.
The eight years under George Bush have been so long! As I said to a few neighbors and friends I found in line, "At last we can vote the #%@&# out!"
About 100 feet away, I met a volunteer handing me a card explaining why I should vote no on Proposition 8.
"Yes, I plan to vote no," I assured him. I didn't explain that yesterday I spent a few hours with a man from New York who had flown to LA to do exactly what he was doing: working against Prop. 8, including offering information to voters today as they walked toward the lines to vote. (See my other blog, )
It took me 45 minutes to get in the door, 10 minutes to vote with the Inka-Ballot system and get out, but I accidentally marked Prop. 11 (redistricting by a committee) as a no, voting with the Democratic Party recommendation, when I had changed my mind to vote yes with the League of Women Voters.
Warning to others who make a mistake while voting: just take your ballot back and get a new one.
Instead I inked the "yes" circle next to the "no" mistake, thus making my ballot unreadable by machine. It will have to be handcounted, an event I had sought to avoid by not using a mail-in ballot.
The pollworker offered me the chance to start over with a clean ballot, but I decided not to do that. I will just hope that the voting is not that close on any of the propositions so that when my vote it counted does not really matter.
Driving home I noticed a "Yes on 8" sign that had sprouted in some ivy near a curb, not in anyone's yard. I stopped to pull it out.
If a sign stands in someone's yard, that person has a right to free speech and to post a sign. But signs that people just strew around town on public property I feel entitled to remove.
I stuffed it in my recycle bin along with the 6-7 others I pulled down yesterday in Northridge. May the "Yes on 8" anti-gay signs eventually become composted into acceptance of same-sex relationships in our society, including the right to marriage.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Supervandal Strikes

I'm the proud owner of a "Yes on Prop. 8" sign.

The yellow and blue signs sprouted like mushrooms over the weekend on the patch of ice plant I pass as I exit the 405 north at Nordhoff Blvd. on my way to work.

I found myself contemplating them as I sat at the red light waiting to turn left and drive to Cal State Northridge at 8:15 this morning.

Seconds ticked by as I sat there, sure that this would not be a good time to jump out of my car and remove any of the signs. If I delayed the cars behind me, people might vote yes on 8 for revenge.

But finally I lept out of the car, ran toward the nearest sign, plucked it, and raced back in time time to step on the gas and respond to the green light without delaying anyone.

After work, I parked near the on-ramp and exit intersection, then calmly walked to as many "Yes on 8"signs as I could find, slipping the plastic message off each metal frame.

At home, I put the six or seven crushed signs in my recycle bin.

If a sign is in someone's front yard, it's his or her right to free speech, but if someone plants them in public space, I feel entitled to remove them.

I was doing the same thing eight years ago when Proposition 22, a ban on recognizing same sex marriage, was passed. Prop. 8 may pass too, but eventually we will recycle those old attitudes into toleration and acceptance for all.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Vote for Pregnant Women

A woman dies from a pregnancy-related cause somewhere in the world every minute, the television news said.

I went to the World Health Organization website and confirmed it:

"Every year some eight million women suffer pregnancy-related complications and over half a million die. In developing countries, one woman in 16 may die of pregnancy-related complications compared to one in 2800 in developed countries....

Most of these deaths can be averted even where resources are limited but, in order to do so, the right kind of information is needed upon which to base actions....

The probability that a 15-year-old girl will die from a complication related to pregnancy and childbirth during her lifetime is highest in Africa: 1 in 26. In the developed regions it is 1 in 7300. Of all 171 countries and territories for which estimates were made, Niger had the highest estimated lifetime risk of 1 in 7."

Half a million women dying per year is 500,000. There are 1440 minutes per day, or 525,600 per year. Yes, the figure is about the same.

Yet the Bush administration has withheld $34 million designated for the UN Population Fund and made other moves to restrict access to contraception and abortion around the world.

"In a series of regional meetings on population and development, the US has pressed other countries to back down from goals in family planning and women's reproductive rights, targets set in tandem with development plans and adopted with strong US support a decade ago. At the most recent meeting in Santiago, Chile, earlier this month, 40 countries rejected a US move to stress abstinence over contraception in a declaration, and thus bring it more in line with Bush administration priorities," reports a March, 2004, article in the Christian Science Monitor on the Common Dreams website,

Our election will affect the health of women around the world.

Will the US again fund family planning clinics world-wide--or will it fund only those that recommend "abstinence-only" for contraception?

Millennium World Goal #5 is to reduce the the number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth by three-quarters by 2015.

"MDGs 4 and 5, which aim to reduce child and maternal deaths, are considered the most "off-track" among the eight MDGs. This is a result of weak health systems in high-burden countries; the chronic shortage of health workers; underlying hunger and poverty, and a major lack of global political leadership on this issue," according to a July 8, 2008, report on the WHO website.

Vote next Tuesday for the candidate who will be best for the health of women world-wide--not just US women.

Stoning for Rape Victim

Her mistake was reporting that she had been raped by three men.

For that crime she was stoned on Oct. 27 in a stadium with a thousand spectators.

"A 13-year-old girl who said she had been raped was stoned to death in Somalia after being accused of adultery by Islamic militants, a human rights group said."

Details on the CBS News website:

More Whoppers

"The Whoppers of 2008—The Sequel": this article by Viveca Novak on the FactCheck website puts the 2008 presidential campaign in a nutshell.

Why are all those half-truths in the campaign speeches and debates? How dumb do the candidates think we are?

Thank God for these fact checkers.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Scary Halloween

Spectres at my door with ghoulish masks: gashes, scars, crooked teeth.

I drop a few treats in each bag and return to the television, where I am watching CNN report on the polls as reflected in a red and blue electoral map.

Interrupted by the doorbell, I find more scary monsters at the door.

Back to the television, which is much scarier:

"In Ohio, Florida, and Missouri, McCain is closing the gap in the polls; Ohio's now 49 Obama, 46 McCain with a 4% margin of error..."

The ghosts of elections past, 2000 and 2004, dance before my eyes. What will Ohio do this year? What chicanery will take place in Florida?

It's so close in Missouri--does that mean the whole national election hangs on a thread?

I can't remember such a scary Halloween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gay-Friendly Christians

Lord Save Us from Your Followers is a great DVD to watch while deciding how to vote on California's Proposition 8.

Made by born-again Christians, the film is endorsed by Pastor Jack Hayford, president of the Foursquare Gospel denomination, among others.

"Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing America?" asks the subtitle.

This humorous documentary, produced by Dan Merchant, comments on the culture wars and votes for peace.

Listening and tolerance are its themes: Christians should do more listening and less talking. "The sea refuses no river."

One of my students, Sarah Fernandez, saw this film at her church and brought me the DVD.

She attends The Sanctuary, a Four Square-related church in Santa Clarita north of Los Angeles. See its website,

Tony Campolo, Rick Warren, Bill Maher, Al Franken, and Bono are among those interviewed. Footage includes 25,000 teens gathered for a Battlecry rally in San Francisco.

Find out more at

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Post Traumatic Stress

With the election just one week away, I find myself feeling anxious.

The fun and games of SNL spoofs of Sarah Palin are over for me. It's serious now.

Polls that show Obama leading in several battleground states don't ease my mind.

I don't trust the polls. I don't expect the electoral process to be fair. New voter registrations are being challenged; there may be long lines again, discouraging voters.

Whether it's paper ballots with chads or electronic machines, I don't trust Florida, Ohio, and other states to count votes fairly.

The trauma of November 2000 has scarred my mind: will Democrats again have a legitimate victory stolen from us by miscounting and by judicial decisions?

Will the trauma of November 2004 be repeated? Learning about the problems in Ohio was a nightmare: too few polling places in Democratic precincts near colleges, bad weather, too few machines, long lines, polls closing against would-be voters.

Will we wake up on November 5 to face four more years of Republican misleadership of our nation?

This final week feels like a zone of PTSD to me.

We have to steer through it somehow, but I for one will be wearing protective ear muffs, goggles, and a news-proof vest.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hunger & World Recession

One billion people in the world are starving, said the voice on my radio, tuned to KPFA, Pacifica.

The economic recession that causes some of us to lose value in our 401 k accounts will cause more of those in the lowest income groups to starve.

About 16,000 children die daily from hunger-related causes.

Out of 6.6 billion people in the world, 1.4 billion lived below the international poverty line in 2005, according to Bread for the World, They earned less than $1.25 per day.

"Among this group of poor people, many have problems obtaining adequate, nutritious food for themselves and their families. As a result, 820 million people in the developing world are undernourished. They consume less than the minimum amount of calories essential for sound health and growth," reports BFW.

And that was 2005. The current estimate is one billion.

As we cut back our spending or look for a new job, depending on how this recession has hit us, let us remember those at the bottom for whom fluctuations in the price or grain or the price of oil mean less food and even starvation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Esha Momeni in Evin Prison

She's 28 years old, a graduate student at Cal State University, Northridge, where I teach, and since Oct. 15 she has been locked in Evin Prison near Tehran.

Esha Momeni was working on a documentary about the women's movement in Iran.

"She wanted to show her professors and her American friends how powerful Iranian women are, and that the Taleban are not in power in Iran, to show how much progress Iranian women have made," says her mother, quoted on the blog started up to free Esha,

Born in Los Angeles, Esha returned to Tehran as a child with her parents and earned an undergraduate degree at Azad University in Tehran. After a marriage and divorce, she came to Los Angeles to work on a master's degree in mass communications.

Two months ago she flew to Tehran to conduct interviews for her video documentary.

She was within days of returning when she was pulled over for an alleged traffic violation and taken to prison, where she is reportedly being held in solitary confinement. Her videotapes and computer were confiscated.

Life inside Evin Prison was revealed recently in a memoir by Marina Nemat, who was arrested at age 16 in 1982, tortured, and forced into a marriage. She witnessed executions and barely escaped with her life. See Prisoner in Tehran (New York:Free Press, 2007).

Another way to appreciate what Esha is going through is to watch the film Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi or read the graphic novels on which it is based.

Marjane describes being a child during the brutal Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini, then living under the new regime, fleeing to Western Europe, and returning to try to live in a Tehran where playing Western music at a party in one's apartment can be cause for arrest.

The For-Esha blog reports, "Amnesty International has recently launched an appeal for Esha's immediate and unconditional release. The public is invited to send letters of appeal to senior figures in the Islamic Republic of Iran" by going to Amnesty's website:

For more information, see the LA Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, and other news media.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Get Over It

And now Sarah Palin is attacked for spending money on clothes.

Oh my, she spent some $150,000 on clothes for herself and her family since she was nominated for vice president--whereas the average American spends only $1800 per year per person.

So what? She's not the average American. She has to walk on stages and into television cameras, and whether she looks good will affect voters' minds.

Of course the GOP is going to foot the bill. It's a small price per minute of free national exposure the media is giving to Palin.

To expect her to stick to her own budget and her own preferences, Patagonia and North Face, would be crazy.

Just to endure the whirlwind of appearances and attention must be difficult--how can anyone begrudge her the peace of mind of being dressed right for all this?

Attacking her for not being "Joe Six-Pack" in her wardrobe is sexist and mean. A male candidate would not face these issues. Men can just put on a fairly standard suit and face the press, but women candidates are judged on every detail of what they wear or don't wear.

I agree with Vicki Sanchez, a costume designed quoted in today's LA Times: "When you start buying $3,000 suits, boots that cost anywhere from $800 and up, and deisgner shoes, which cost $500 at least, it goes fast. She looks damn good. Get over it."

See the article at,0,2465209.story

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Defense of Palin

Should travel expenses for Sarah Palin's children be held against her?

The Associated Press thinks so, publishing today a detailed investigation of expenses charged to the state of Alaska for airline and hotel expenses of Palin's daughters.

"Alaska law does not specifically address expenses for a governor's children," the report states, only expenses for "anyone conducting official state business."

Male governors probably fly around the country without their kids; after all, they may have a wife at home to raise young children if there are any.

Sarah Palin has pioneered a new approach to governing: taking her family along to some events.

Should she personally have to cover those expenses? No!

Alaska and any critics should understand that when a governor has young children and needs to travel, his or her kids go along. You want a celibate or elderly governor, fine, but if you elect a parent, that parent has the right to spend time with his/her children while traveling. That's part of the package when the governor travels.

It's the old model that children of politicians must vanish except when needed for a photo shoot.

The report complains that Palin and her daughter Bristol spent four nights in a hotel for a five-hour conference in New York City.

Well, if you flew from Alaska to NYC for a conference, would you spend only one night? They shared a room--is that room going to be any cheaper for just one person? No.

Does anybody honestly think Palin's choices should be flying back after one night--or paying for the extra 2-3 nights herself?

It benefits Alaska for its governor to become familiar with a city as important as New York, to visit Ground Zero, meet with Mayor Bloomberg, etc.

To make complaints about the Palin kids' travel expenses is sexism at its worst.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Amy's Legacy

Amy Biehl was killed by a mob in South Africa, August 1993.

A Stanford grad on a Fullbright to study the lives of women in South Africa, she drove through a township just as angry men emerged from a political meeting, not convinced that four decades of white minority rule were really ending.

Today, however, two the four convicted in her death now work for a charity in her name in that same township.

Read this story of forgiveness in today's LA Times, "Working in their victim's name" by Scott Kraft.,0,3982911.story

Monday, October 20, 2008

Restore Marriage?

"Restore marriage--vote yes on Prop. 8," proclaimed a bumper sticker as I drove on the 110 freeway into Pasadena today.

Ah, if only it were that simple. If only a vote against same-sex marriage, like a shot of cortisone, could prop up that worn and battered institution.

If only Prop. 8 could end cheating, wife-swapping, divorce, premarital sex, and oldster romances that can't become legal because Social Security payments would end.

If only it could put new life into 36-year-old marriages like mine.

California's Prop. 8 can't do that, but it can sure raise money and get out the vote.

Yesterday's LA Times has a full-page ad showing the head of Jesus on the cross, sagging under the crown of thorns, with two Bible verses and the message, "Vote YES on Proposition 8."

Matthew 19:4,5 and Leviticus 20:13 are the featured verses.

Never mind that divorce is the issue raised in Matthew when Jesus answers "a man shall be joined to his wife..." Jesus concludes by not permitting divorce "except for unchastity."

Anyone want to sign a proposition outlawing divorce?

Never mind that most of Leviticus is now ignored, like the command three verses earlier in chapter 20: "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death."

To vote yes on Prop. 8, you don't have to be a strict Jew or Christian who really would like to outlaw divorce and execute adulterers.

You just have to have a nostalgic desire to restore marriage to some ancient glory, and maybe to perk up Jesus on that cross: you can save Jesus by voting yes!

Actually, your presidential vote isn't that important because California usually goes blue. (The Democratic areas of San Franciso and Los Angeles counties outvote the red swath of the central valley and the two red patches of Orange and San Diego counties.)

The vote on Prop. 8, however, will influence attempts in other states to prevent same-sex couples from having the benefits of marriage.

California voters rejected same-sex marriage in 2000 with Prop. 22, but the California Supreme Court overturned that proposition earlier this year.

Major donors to Yes on 8 are the Knights of Columbus, Focus on the Family, and the Mormon Church.

If they succeed with Leviticus 20:13, maybe they'll move on to 20:10 and who knows what else.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

LAT Makes a Pick

The Los Angeles Times endorsed Barak Obama for president today, the first presidential endorsement by the Times since 1972.

Obama is the first Democrat ever to receive the Times' support. The newspaper, owned by the Chandler family, usually endorsed Republicans, including Richard Nixon in 1972.

Publisher Otis Chandler was against that endorsement and started a policy of no presidential endorsements that lasted over thirty years.

Continuing to take positions on other candidates and on propositions, editors decided a few years ago to take stands on presidential candidates again. Among Republican candidates in the primary, the Times endorsed McCain.

In a carefully reasoned essay, today's editorial essay reflects on both the McCain and Obama candidacies and takes a position.

Take a break from the hyenas of talk radio and tv commentary, and read this.,0,5198206.story

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Vatican vs. Women

Police have harassed activists who are in Rome to demand women's ordination during the Synod of Bishops on the Bible there this October.

As the small group of demonstrators entered St. Peter's Square on Oct. 15, both Italian and Vatican police stopped them and demanded their passports, though they had entered earlier without incident.

Bearing a banner, "Ordain Catholic Women," and wearing t-shirts with the same message in nine languages, the women were prevented from delivering their petition.

"The Pontifical Biblical Commission determined in 1976 that there is no scriptural reason to prohibit the ordination of women," states a press release from the Women's Ordination Convention.

Read more on the WOC website,

Courage in Journalism

"The chief cause of death of journalists is planned killing," said Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for CNN at the west coast banquet for the 2008 Courage in Journalism Awards given by the International Women's Media Foundation at the Beverly Hills Hotel two days ago.

Cancer or heart disease may be the primary cause of death for many people, but journalists around the world are more likely to be murdered, disappeared, or victims of a mysterious accident or illness.

Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta, received the award in 2002 but in 2006 was killed in the elevator of her apartment building in central Moscow after many death threats. She wrote about the Chechen conflict and did not approve of Putin's handling of it.

Amanpour reported that all the suspects in Politkovskaya's death are members of the Russian Secret Service, but the perpetrators still go unpunished. Instead, the lawyer prosecuting them recently came down with severe mercury poisoning, which she survived.

Lydia Cacho, one of the 2007 winners for her reporting on sex tourism in Cancun, was arrested by police from the state of Puebla and threatened with rape and death. Audio tapes turned up of the governor of the state of Puebla discussing plans for this attack, but last November the Mexico's highest court cleared him of any involvement in Cacho's illegal detention, Amanpour stated.

This year's winners:

FARIDA NEKZAD, 31, managing director of Pajhwok Afghan News, was honored for encouraging women to work as journalists and to fight for their rights in Afghanistan. A warlord told her, "Stop or we will kill you." In the last five years, five women journalists in Afghanistan have been disappeared or brutally killed. During the 2007 funeral of one of these, she received cell phone threats saying, "Daughter of America! We will kill you, just like we killed her."

She explained that the Taliban considers it blasphemous for women to work publicly. Women who work outside the home are targets of violence, discrimination, and prejudice. Warlords and the Afhgan government are the source of threats, along with the Taliban.

Nekzad takes different routes to work each day and sleeps in a different room of her house each night to avoid attack.

"Women are not tolerated even the slightest public role," she said, "but we must continue to inform women of their rights, even if some of us have to lose our lives. We try to decrease the level of violence against women. There have been many attempts to kill me. I have been told to leave my profession and my country."

She asked listeners to bring pressure on her government to investigate the deaths of women journalists. "Please pray for us and for all Afghan women," she concluded.

SEVGUL ULUDAG, 49, is an investigative reporter for Yeniduzen newspaper in Cyprus. Since 2002 she has been investigating thousands of people who disappeared during Greek-Turkish clashes in the 1960s and 1970s. She has brought attention to mass graves and has received death threats for her work, published in books such as Oysters with the Missing Pearls.

Her father refused to join the paramilitary, so the family was branded as traitors and ostracized. Her brother-in-law was killed, and her sister took Turkey to Human Rights Court. For his activism, Uludag's husband was punished by unemployment for eight years.

"Courage is the result of the reaction against repression," she said. "Truth is too important to turn away from. The price journalists are paying around the world is not going without notice."

AYE AYE WIN is one of the few women journalists in Myanmar (Burma), a correspondent for the AP there. She reports on arrests of dissidents, violent demonstrations against the government, and on the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Her husband, also a reporter, has been detained, and her journalist father was imprisoned for three years. Win fears a knock on her door from police at midnight. She decided not to risk appearing in LA to receive her award, lest doing so put her loved ones at risk.

The 2008 lifetime achievement award went to EDITH LEDERER for twenty-five years of work in war zones and hot spots. In 1966 there were only a handful of women covering hard news for the AP and UPI, and no woman was posted overseas.

She repeatedly asked to cover hard news and then became the first woman to report the Vietnam War in 1972. Her work there led to other assignments explaining causes behind conflicts in Darfur, Iraq, Kosovo, Congo, Sierra Leone, and East Timor.

"The battle for women's equality is far from won," she said, in accepting her award.

As an example, she described traveling with a male reporter when a rebel command leader began to negotiate to buy her. The more her colleague said Lederer was not for sale, the higher price the commander offered, ending at "two camels and half a sheep"--the price of purchasing a 13-year-old virgin.

Celebrities present and introducing the winners included Julie Chen of the CBS Morning Show, actress Renee Zellweger, and Maria Shriver, who was jokingly introduced as a woman who "risks her life on a daily basis being married to a Republican in Sacramento."

She attends the West coast IWMF awards every year, and admitted that these stories of danger and courage often drive her to the bar afterward: "They make you wonder what you're doing with your life."

Yes, attending this event makes me re-evaluate my daily priorities.

As Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of the Washington Post said, "And we're nervous about asking impertinent questions in press conferences?"

You can learn more and support the IWMF by visiting and, the site of Reporters Without Boundaries.

Close Encounter with McCain

Ginny Hearn sends a McCain encounter story that, if true, is bad news.

It was allegedly written by Ana Dubey, a Ph.D. in psychology who went on a vacation to Fiji with her husband in 2000 and found the McCains in the same resort. Emailed by May-Kay Gamel, a classics professor at UC Santa Cruz.


It was just before John McCain's last run at the presidential nomination in 2000 that my husband and I vacationed inTurtle Island in Fiji with John McCain, Cindy, and their children, including Bridget (their adopted Bangladeshi child).

It was not our intention, but it was our misfortune to be in close quarters with John McCain for almost a week, since Turtle Island has a small number of bungalows and their focus on communal meals force all vacationers who are there at the same time to get to know each other intimately.

He arrived at our first group meal and started reading quotes from a pile of William Faulkner books with a forest of Post-Its sticking out of them. As an English Literature major myself, my first thought was "if he likes this so much, why hasn't he memorized any of this yet?"

I soon realized that McCain actually thought we had come on vacation to be a volunteer audience for his "readings" which then became a regular part of each meal. Out of politeness, none of the vacationers initially protested this intrusion into their blissful holiday, but people's buttons definitely got pushed as the readings continued day after day.

Unfortunately this was not his only contribution to our mealtime entertainment. He waxed on during one meal about how Indo-Chine women had the best figures and that our American corn-fed women just couldn't meet this standard.

He also made it a point that all of us should stop Cindy from having dessert as her weight was too high and made a few comments to Amy, the 25-year-old wife of the honeymooning couple from Nebraska that she should eat less as she needed to lose weight.

McCain's appreciation of the beauty of Asian women was so great that David the American economist had to move his Thai wife to the other side of the table from McCain as McCain kept aggressively flirting with and touching her.

Needless to say I was irritated at his large ego and his rude behavior towards his wife and other women, but decided he must have some redeeming qualities as he had adopted a handicapped child from Bangladesh.

I asked him about this one day, and his response was shocking: "Oh, that was Cindy's idea - I didn't have anything to do with it. She just went and adopted this thing without even asking me. You can't imagine how people stare when I wheel this ugly black thing around in a shopping cart in Arizona. No, it wasn't my idea at all."

I actively avoided McCain after that, but unfortunately one day he engaged me in a political discussion which soon got us on the topic of the active US bombing of Iraq at that time. I was shocked when he said, "If I was in charge, I would nuke Iraq to teach them a lesson."

Given McCain's personal experience with the horrors of war, I had expected a more balanced point of view.

I commented on the tragic consequences of the nuclear attacks on Japan during WWII -- but no, he was not to be dissuaded. He went on to say that if it was up to him he would have dropped many more nuclear bombs on Japan. I rapidly extricated myself from this conversation as I could tell that his experience being tortured as a POW didn't seem to have mellowed out his perspective, but rather had made him more aggressive and vengeful towards the world.

My final encounter with McCain was on the morning that he was leaving Turtle Island. Amy and I were happily eating pancakes when McCain arrived and told Amy that she shouldn't be having pancakes because she needed to lose weight.

Amy burst into tears at this abusive comment. I felt fiercely protective of Amy and immediately turned to McCain and told him to leave her alone. He became very angry and abusive towards me, and said,"Don't you know who I am."

I looked him in the face and said, "Yes, you are the biggest asshole I have ever met" and headed back to my cabin.

I am happy to say that later that day when I arrived at lunch I was given a standing ovation by all the guests for having stood up to McCain's bullying.

Although I have shared my McCain story informally with friends, this is the first time I am making this public. I almost did so in 2000, when McCain first announced his bid for the Republican nomination, but it soon became apparent that George W. Bush was the shoo-in candidate and so I did not act then.

However, now that there is a very real possibility that McCain could be elected as our next president, I feel it is my duty as an American citizen to share this story.

I can't imagine a more scary outcome for America than that this abusive, aggressive man should lead our nation. I have observed him in intimate surroundings as he really is, not how the media portrays him to be.

If his attitudes toward women and his treatment of his own family are even a small indicator of his real personality, then I shudder to think what will happen to America were he to be elected as our President.
~ ~ ~
Note from Anne: I don't know whether this story is true, but it's plausible. I've heard men monitor women's weight this way, and I've heard the "nuke Iraq" sentiment expressed. I waited ten days before deciding to reprint it. My admiration for him as a prisoner of war survivor fizzled on reading it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe or Sarah?

Breaking news:

The McCain campaign has dropped Sarah Palin and enlisted Joe Plumber as candidate for vice-president.

So writes my brother-in-law Stuart Arthur in an email.

Thanks, Stu, for this bulletin from Republican campaign headquarters.

Debate Fatigue Syndrome

I tried to watch the presidential debate last night. I sat in a chair in front of the television.

But just like last week, I couldn't bear to listen to it. Three men at a table, four if you count Joe Plumber. The Palin/Biden debate held my attention, with Gwen Ifill moderating, but this all-male tv screen for an hour and a half (again) was irritating and boring.

"He's going to raise taxes"--how many times did McCain repeat that?

"Let's go on to a new topic,"said Bob Schieffer every time McCain circled back to taxes.

Obama and McCain made so many contradictory claims, sometimes citing statistics--there was no way to sort out truth from half-truths or lies. Fast-forward to the fact checkers, please.

It was depressing. Both candidates seemed to think Americans don't care about any issues except low taxes. I felt talked down to.

And then there was Joe Plumber, replacing Joe Six-pack. He got a lot of air time.

Hello, what about Jane Teacher? McCain said of soldiers enrolling in the Troops to Teachers program, "We should not make them take these exams." That set off alarms for me. Was he scorning the training, testing, and certification needed to teach?

Yeah, let's not make doctors, nurses, and lawyers take tests either. Who needs tests?

I walked in and out of the room. I turned to NatGeo but then felt guilty and turned back to the debate.

In answering the question on abortion, Obama spoke of "youth;" McCain referred to "those young women."

Yo, debaters! Middle-aged women get abortions too, married women. These women make choices about those difficult third trimester abortions, which occur mostly when the fetus has a severe deformity. That is, they make choices unless the US government has already done it for them.

McCain's sneering tone irritated me. I felt panicky over the possibility that he could be on my tv screen for the next four years, patronizing and dismissive of "liberal" concerns.

Mostly I just want this campaign to be over. Give me a ballot, let me vote.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Women's eNews:Republican Flip-Flop

This cartoon appeared in Women's eNews, Sept. 17, 2008... a commentary on the Republican Party's attitudes toward women before and after the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket as vice-presidential nominee. Subscribe to Women's eNews at

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Thoughts on Palin

Sharon Billings sends two articles, one analyzing the Palin wink and one from Women's eNews trying to understand Palin.

The first one, "Sarah Palin, All-American Cheerleader" by Tim Kingston and Lisa Moore on Oct. 5, has been widely emailed.

Sharon reflects on how Palin "gives voice to all the formerly voiceless women who manage home, family and job minus the opportunity to have developed feminist theories for herself."

"Apparently I am not that far removed from the memories of being one who knew there had to be a 'more and different life,' but I hadn't encountered any life-changing concepts or mentors...." she continues, saying that the second article gave her permission to recognize that kinship the woman-she-once-was feels with Palin.

That article appeared on Women's eNews, written by Jane Marcellus, a professor of journalism at Middle Tennesee State University, who teaches media history, among other things.

After analyzing the sexist treatment of Palin in various media, Marcellus concludes:

"I don't agree with Palin's politics, but I do respect her. After all, she's managed to live the feminist dream, even if she's not one. She's governor of a large state, has a husband who's clearly willing to do more than 'help,' a brother who teaches third grade."

In fact, some feminists are even Palin supporters. Shelley Mandel, president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW, introduced Palin at a rally a week ago and supports her candidacy, though Mandel is a Democrat.

Some of us are so tired of men running business as usual that Palin looks pretty good.

Three weeks until E-Day...

From John at the LA Times, an LAT/Bloomberg poll:

Los Angeles Times
October 14, 2008 2:03 p.m. PDT
Obama widens lead over McCain, thanks to the economy

As election day nears, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found that Sen. Barack Obama leads Sen. John McCain 50% to 41%, a sizable gain largely due to voters’ fears about the economy.

In other results:
-- Nearly 7 in 10 cited the economy as the most important issue for the presidential candidates to solve.
-- Eighty-four percent said the country is on the wrong track.
-- Almost half of voters said Sarah Palin was not qualified to be president while 76% said Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden was qualified.
More soon at:

Feminists for Obama

Feminist Majority, the group founded by Eleanor Smeal and supporters in Los Angeles, has teamed up with You Tube to provide three videos dramatizing reasons why women should not vote for McCain and Palin.

To see it, go to

Thanks to my daughter Marie, co-chair of the Feminist Coalition at Pitzer College, for forwarding this to me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chloe Loves Olivia

"We want to celebrate with ______ and _______, who were married this past week," said the pastor at Brentwood Presbyterian Church today during the sharing time.

I didn't hear the names too clearly but turned to look at the couple and realized they were both women.

That's a first, I thought. Interesting.

In about February of this year a blessing of a same-sex couple had been celebrated at our church. It was a service of an hour or more with both women in tuxedos, enough hymns and prayers and blessings to tie a knot for sure--but it was not officially a marriage.

Neither the state of California nor Presbyterian church law would allow a marriage.

But on June 17, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the same right to marry as heterosexual couples.

About 11,000 same-sex couples have married in California in the last three months, according to the LA Times ("Same-sex marriage total at least 11,000," Oct. 7, 2008).

The couple at our church was part of that number, probably not actually married in the sanctuary but in a civil ceremony that may be blessed in church later.

For the earlier blessing ceremony, our church came under attack from a more conservative neighbor, Bel Air Presbyterian Church, which appealed to church authorities to prevent the blessing ceremony. The tactic was not successful.

I found the couple after the service to tell them, "Congratulations! May God bless you."

I walked out thinking of Virginia Woolf, who wrote in 1929 in A Room of One's Own, "Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature."

The grand dame would have been pleased to learn of this year's advances. Chloe not only liked Olivia; she proposed to her and married her.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hillary Up Close

When Karen Berns emailed me a few days ago about a reception for Hillary Clinton in LA's Hancock Park neighborhood I tried to resist.

After suffering through the VP debate Thursday night, however, I needed a lift. This morning I decided, "You deserve to go."

For a mere $150, an opportunity to shake Hillary's hand and thank her for working so hard to give us the first female president in US history? Yes!

I arrived at a mansion owned by Bruce Raben at 3:45 pm and walked into the back yard, where Karen and her friend Pam Powell waved at me from the front line of a crowd of about 300 people waiting behind a black rope. Pam had driven up from San Diego; she and Karen had arrived an hour earlier to get their premium spot in the crowd. I squeezed in next to them, wearing my button, "Hillary for President '08", wishing it could still happen.

Everyone had cameras handy as well as Hillary's autobiography to be signed.

Talking with strangers around us, we wished Hillary were still in the race.

One woman next to me was talking about "the trailer trash." When I asked what she meant by that, she said, "You know, McBush and the trailer trash." Yes, it was a partisan crowd.

However, it included Republican women who had crossed the aisle in hope of getting a woman president and now weren't too happy with Palin, as well as Democrats who (after Obama pulled ahead for the nomination) had hoped Hillary would be the VP nominee.

From the looks of the crowd, much of Hillary's demographic was my age--sixtyish; there were many men as well as women. We were there both to meet this icon and to help her pay for the cost of her historic drive for the nomination. The big spenders ($1000 or more) were inside the house at a special reception while we waited outside.

Among the notable women present was Ellen Carol DuBois, UCLA feminist historian, author of Through Women's Eyes: An American History with Documents, as well as having written or edited other books including the letters of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She was there to hand Hillary a copy of Through Women's Eyes.

When Hillary came out to speak to the crowd, it was great having her just ten feet away. She spoke and then walked along the black rope to greet us at the front line. Karen and Pam shook her hand; I fumbled between getting an autograph and taking photos, completely forgetting to thank Hillary for blazing the trail for women presidential candidates.

In the second photo above, you see Hillary between the backs of Karen's and Pam's heads, Karen on the left. Both have been leaders in EEWC, my favorite Christian feminist group, starting in 1978 or 1980. (See

Here are some excerpts from Hillary's speech:

"We must continue to make sure Democrats win... I've been to more than forty of these events since the convention. It matters who our president is.... The problems he faces are going to be among the worst any president has inherited."

"The financial crisis is unfortunate, but it has focused attention on the choice we face... We're going to have hard work to do, and we need to elect 60 democratic senators to have a filibuster-proof majority."

"Looking at all the work of the campaign, people often ask me, 'Would I do it again?' In a New York minute, I tell them."

A woman's voice rang out: "Will you do it again?"

"Let's not go there," Hillary laughed. "Ask me in eight years. It will take at least that long to clean up the mess we've got there."

"We need a mandate to govern," she continued. "We want an election that's not a squeaker, and then I promise you, we can turn this country around. Right now in the Senate we have 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 2 independents. It's so difficult to push through legislation."

"Your state and mine are blue, California and New York--"

A voice called out, "I love blue!" Laughter.

"And we're pretty sure about Virginia and New Mexico. We may get Colorado and Alabama, maybe Minnesota and Mississippi. We're closing the gap in Kentucky. We have a good chance in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas...." She urged us to work phone banks calling voters in another state, such as Texas.

"There's so much going on. This can be a great election year. So many people have had a chance to participate and express their deep desire for a better country."

"But I take nothing for granted. I've been in ten elections as an adult, and seven of them we lost, so I don't get carried away."

"The process is more open now. Remember, in 1992 there was no internet (except for 50,000 scientists talking to each other), no cell phones smaller than a brick, no Fox News--"

The crowd groaned.

"The rapid changes of the last 16 years have been both a blessing and a curse. Now campaigns continue 24/7, which is tough, but millions of people can be involved who never thought they could before."

"We must win, and after that the task will be overwhelming. We have only one president at a time, so we have to get behind our next president and work hard."

Then she vanished to be at her next scheduled event. The nostalgia and wishful thinking were over--the political battle continues for thirty days.

Palin Parodies and Posts

Sharon B reports a hilarious parody of Palinspeak by columnist George Saunders in the New Yorker, Sept. 22 issue:

And a sidesplitting "Sarah Palin Debate Flow Chart" by Aden Nak that graphically presents Palin's plan of attack during the debate:

Sharon also recommends "The XX Factor" as a blog on Slate with a great section on the VP debate:

And she reports an entire blog on the Palin wink:

See also the New Yorker's cover for Oct. 6: Palin peering through binoculars at the distant hills of Alaska and Russia.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Confused in California

The red, white, and blue bumper sticker on my car this fall is neither for McCain nor for Obama.

"Mark Twain for President," it says, along with a cynical quote from him: "It's better to be popular than right."

That stance turned out to be one thing Joe Biden and Sarah Palin agreed on last night in their televised debate.

I sat down to watch it fiercely, pen and notepad in hand, as I had done with last week's debate between John McCain and Barak Obama.

But this time, attentive as I was, I kept getting confused.

I'd listen to Gwen Ifill's question, ready to compare the candidates' answers, but start to feel confused, then realize that Palin (often) and Biden (occasionally) had deliberately sidestepped the question and turned to some other point.

The other confusing factor was the two candidates saying "These are the facts" while referring to "facts" that were diametrically opposed. Biden called on facts repeatedly, while Palin said of one of his answers, "That's not straight talk. You supported the war then; now you're against it."

* McCain voted with Obama on some ballot, clamed Biden, but Palin claimed they voted differently.

* Obama voted against money for "our troops in Iraq" said Palin, but Biden argued that McCain voted against funding too when the bill contained a specific date for withdrawing troops. I started to feel that I couldn't trust the facts of either of them.

* Both Palin and Biden accused the other side of planning to raise taxes for the average person and of favoring deregulation of Wall Street. On those issues, I felt pretty sure of which debater was stretching way beyond the truth.

The problem was that these debaters were not trying to clarify; they just wanted to look good and get the advantage in the debate.

As Mark Twain would say, they each wanted to be popular. Facts were as malleable as silly putty in their hands.

Thank God for fact checkers getting to work afterward--the average listener would have no way of untangling that mess of counter claims.

Another factor in my confusion was those two little lines--one green and one orange--going up and down at the bottom of the CNN screen to record the moment-by-moment favorability ratings of a group of Ohio undecided voters, half male, half female.

I was distracted from monitoring my own reaction because of this constant information about how these other voters were feeling.

After a while even the moving Tinkerbell-like drop of light tracing the letters CNN at the bottom left of the screen became a distraction.

The final factor in my confusion was fear. I hung on each word of Sarah Palin, afraid that she would say something so extremely ignorant that I would blush for all womankind.

About halfway through the debate I realized, "Thank God, she's doing okay!" Then I relaxed a bit and my mind cleared a little.

I had to smile at Palin's "barometer of change" that also "trumpets," making barometers something like trombones.

Her words about the environment being (or was it not being?) "the be-all and end-all of our planet" had a kind of Art-Linkletter-Kids-Say-the-Darndest-Things quality.

There was also her great line about "raping the intercontinental shelf." Geology 101: continents have shelves around the edges but don't extend them out to each other.

And what did Biden mean by saying (I think) "McCain is opposed to extending the arms control regime in the world"? Huh?

At least he knew what an Achilles heel was. I got confused when Palin answered that one by talking about her strengths.

Her colloquialisms--"work with yuh...gettin' ...goin' ...gotcha"--didn't sound that genuine to me. Would anyone speak that way on a stage without a deliberate choice to stay folksy? If she becomes VP, we have four more years of George W.'s affected tone--ranch hand at the helm of the country.

Overall, I felt relief at the end of this debate. The effort to make sense of nonsense was over, and the female candidate didn't fall on her face.

At least I had a stake in the debate. At least all four candidates are not men.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Change Happens

I went to the classroom today and taught as if everything in the world were normal.

I did ask for and present news on women & religion before lecturing, but I didn't mention the nation's financial crisis or the bumps in the McCain/Palin campaign--conservative voices increasingly speaking against her as the VP candidate, even saying McCain should drop her and get another running partner. We've spent enough classroom time on issues of women & religion in the Palin nomination.

I did introduce both classes to a new vocabulary word--usury--and pointed out that the Hebrew scriptures forbid taking interest on loans, that usury (in its original meaning of charging interest) was controversial for centuries, and that greed related to earning high interest rates on loans is related to the current financial crisis.

Driving home, however, I learned that the House of Representatives had voted against the proposed economic bailout and that the Dow Jones industrial average had dropped by 777 points.

Furthermore, the House has adjourned for Rosh Hashanah for two days. When I explained this holiday to my classes this morning, I didn't think it would be playing into the financial crisis, but on television tonight I heard people questioning whether the US in this crisis should take two days off for a Jewish holiday.

I can't continue to walk in and out of the classroom as if everything were normal. I'll have to take a few minutes to note the upheaval in our economy and let the students comment or ask questions, and I hope their other professors also offer some leadership in this area.

During the last eight years of my mother's life, my central prayer request for her was that she would "get through each day." It was really a prayer that the status quo would continue without any crises requiring my intervention.

Now the economy, which I prefer to ignore, is not just muddling along but requiring all of us to sit up and take notice.

And even the Palin campaign, which I had planned to enjoy, has taken a bad turn.

Last night CNN repeatedly played excerpts of Katie Couric's interview of Palin two days ago. I missed the interview, but it looks as if I'll have to go online and watch it.

To questions about the proposed economic bailout, Palin's answers showed she didn't understand what the bailout is--her answer included something about health care.

Dismayed, a conservative female columnist cited "the cringe factor" and asked that Palin be dropped from the ticket.

I don't want Palin to fall flat on her face--what an embarrassment to women everywhere. I expected her to campaign well enough, either lose or win, and become a footnote to history.

Instead, she seems to be destabilizing the presidential race, which itself is a threat to the ability of Washington and Wall Street to get our economic house in order.

So this is the shape of the 21st century: it began with a defiant attack on US imperial power, followed by an arrogant US solution to problems in the Middle East, but now US arrogance and economic power are shrinking as we struggle to get our own house in order.

We're like the wife of the alcoholic, who has been investing all her energy into solving his problems as her own health deteriorates. Suddenly we're being forced to focus on our own health.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Blurry and Slurry

I feel irritated after listening to the first presidential debate.

I'm supposed to feel grateful that it even took place. Thanks for showing up, John McCain.

For the first 40 minutes, both candidates evaded specifics on Jim Lehrer's questions about the financial recovery plan.

"Yes or no to the recovery plan?" Lehrer asked twice. Then, "Are there fundamental differences between you?" Then, "What would you cut out?" Then finally, "Can you admit that the financial crisis will affect how you govern?"

Both kept telling what they would not cut out. Finally Obama said he would cut $15 billion in subsidies to private insurers.

McCain threw out words like "liberal spending" and "invasion of Normandy" instead of getting specific. They fenced with the word "earmarks."

I was irritated by McCain's repeated misrepresentation of Obama's words.

When Obama said he'd cut taxes for 95% of Americans, but not the top 5%, McCain kept telling us, "I would cut taxes" and suggesting Obama would raise them.

"For the wealthy, not for the middle class," Obama interjected.

Finally McCain clarified that he meant the US business tax, which he blamed for US businesses going abroad.

Then we were treated to an hour of each candidate trying to be more willing to wage foreign wars than the other.

Lehrer tossed out the bait: Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, another 911?

McCain sneered at Obama repeatedly: "Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy" ..."He's naive; he doesn't understand..."

Obama repeated that going into Iraq was wrong in the first place; we should have kept our focus on Al Quaeda and Afghanistan.

McCain kept raising the spectre of "If we suffer defeat in Iraq..." We'll have wider war, he predicted, quoting a mother, "Make sure my son's death was not in vain."

Wow, he's still in the years 1969, '71, '72, I thought.

"No soldier ever dies in vain carrying out" US policy, Obama declared.

Being "solely focused on Iraq... weakened our capacity to protect our country," he pointed out. Bin Laden is still at large and our spending $10 billion/mo on Iraq has weakened our economy "so we can't provide health care... fund veterans. We must start recognizing that the next president needs a broader strategic vision."

They both agreed that the US should stop torturing prisoners, but no one mentioned holding prisoners of war for years without filing charges or holding a trial.

McCain used frequent emotional appeals: "The veterans... I love them; they know I will take care of them." "When I came home from prison..." "She said, 'Senator McCain, please wear my son's bracelet.""

That bereaved mother was the only woman mentioned in the entire hour and forty minutes--oh, except for Miss Congeniality, whom McCain called on twice.

With Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin out of sight, women voters were also out of mind, as if our interests coincided exactly with the macho one-upsmanship being exhibited.

Only male faces appeared on the screen for that entire time. We didn't even have the relief of a woman showing up in an advertisement.

As a glimpse of our future in 2009 and the years thereafter, it was positively depressing.

If McCain wins, we get four years of military posturing and a VP who falls in line behind him.

If Obama wins, we maybe get a little diplomacy in between chasing down Osama bin Laden, but the Bush bash on the economy will probably prevent any real progress toward universal health care or improved child care or investment in education from preschool through college.

Sheesh--maybe they shouldn't have held this debate after all. I feel verbally waterboarded.

At least the differences between the candidates were visible, along with their huge areas of agreement.

If US voters put McCain in office, we deserve what we get.

I sure hope I don't have four more years of Republican mistakes to live through.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

South Dakota: Choice's Last Stand?

I'm still getting zillions of anti-Palin emails, but in the fuss over her and Alaska, we are forgetting about South Dakota and the attempt to ban abortion there in the upcoming election.

Sharon Billings emails me today about Planned Parenthood's new campaign to donate to PPFA "in honor of Sarah Palin" and have a note sent to McCain headquarters announcing your action in favor of full reproductive choice.

My daughter Marie sends a similar plea by email today: "mom and dad, maybe you could donate to this fund?" The fund turns out to be Feminist Majority's work to defeat Measure 11 in South Dakota. See or www/ or to donate against Measure 11,

FM has 24 paid student organizers and scores of volunteers working to register young voters on South Dakota college campuses in order to defeat the proposed ban.

A similar ban in South Dakota was defeated in 2006, narrowly, but anti-abortion forces are like barking dogs. They don't shut up when they are locked out.

I chose to bypass PPFA and FM, both worthy organizations, in order to send money directly to South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families at

I had first called my friend Marjorie Signer, Director of Communications and Policy at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Washington, DC, to ask whether RCRC is mounting a major campaign in South Dakota this year.

RCRC was a key part of the coalition that defeated the 2006 attempt to ban abortion there, but she said that SD RCRC folks are working through the SD Campaign for Healthy Families this time, so I donated there for maximum impact.

Because RCRC monitors Congress and informs senators and representatives about the many religious groups and leaders who support women's full access to reproductive options, it's a good idea to donate there as well:

Anyway, the point is to fight for our rights, not send emails about Palin to online polls or further clog up your friends' email inboxes.

South Dakota is the frontline (again) this year for keeping abortion legal.

Like General Custer and his 225 men killed by Lakota Indians in 1876 near the Montana/South Dakota border, the pro-choice forces may be defeated in South Dakota this November by anti-choice organizations.

In 1876, Custer's friends came back to crush the Lakota and confine them on reservations.

But pro-choice side will be at a disadvantage for a long time if we lose South Dakota. The issue of whether individual states can ban abortion would go to the Supreme Court--and we all know that Roe v. Wade is imperiled there.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Toast Reconsidered

Seeing the documentary Our Disappeared shook my sense of being able to survive anything our government can dish out.

In Argentina in the years 1976 through 1983, secret military squads rounded up troublemakers of all kinds, tortured them, and killed perhaps 30,000 people. Yes, some of them were staging violent acts against the military junta, but others were working to change their government peacefully.

Could such a thing happen in the USA?

Our military is already rounding up anyone suspicious in Afghanistan and Iraq, torturing them, and holding them without trial in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and elsewhere.

We aren't that far from what happened in Argentina.

In the film I learned that when Juan Peron was trying to return to Argentina and take power, many on the left supported him. He persuaded both socialist and fascist organizations that he would support their goals.

Only after he gained power did his true colors show. Fascist elements in his government took control and systematically killed those who opposed them.

After the extreme anti-liberal, anti-community-organizer rhetoric of the Republican Convention, it's eerie to see McCain now asking for bipartisan support, trying to get the votes of independents and middle-of-the-road Democrats, especially women.

Like Peron, he could use the middle and then turn to the right.

I could live on if my side lost political power and if I lost my comfortable economic status.

But if I were unable to have political views and work for justice without endangering my life... yes, I would be toast.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Nuestros Desaparecidos" /"Our Disappeared"

Yes, the disappeared of Argentina, 1975-83.

This new documentary, appearing in the LA Latino International Film Festival, brings you face to face with parents, children, and friends of a few of those who were kidnapped by secret military squads, tortured, and killed.

In any theater you sit down willing to have your mind and emotions taken on whatever rollercoaster the director of the film has in mind, but this film was a wrenching experience to watch.

Get more information at It will appear on PBS in spring of 2009, perhaps May. To be sure not to miss it, go to and sign up for emails of upcoming shows. See also a review in the LA Times, "A dark chapter in Argentina's history" (9/2/2008).

If you're young or depressed, this is not the film for you, but if you identify as a world citizen responsible to know recent history and work for human rights, this film will help you to understand Argentina.

You will encounter the evil that humans and their goverments have done and are still doing. Director Juan Mandelbaum provides both human stories and political background on Peronismo, the military junta, los Montoneros, etc.

By hearing these people tell their stories, watching footage shot thirty years ago, and seeing the Escuela Mechanica de la Armada where much of the torture took place, I felt myself slipping into the feeling of terror that permeated Buenos Aires at that time.

One of the worst moments, however, was hearing Henry Kissinger say for the camera something like "We support the Argentine government's efforts to get their terrorism under control."

I was relieved to learn that when Jimmy Carter became president, US policy changed. The US Embassy in Buenos Aires began taking reports of disappeared persons and challenging Argentina's ruling junta.

Afterward the director and a young woman interviewed in the film spoke with the audience. Her parents had been killed shortly after her birth; in order to save her daughter's life, her mother had left the baby girl on grass at the Buenos Aires zoo when she saw military officers coming to arrest her.

I was too shaken up to linger and talk with these people. It was surreal to emerge from the theater into the noise of a live band and walk out on the red carpet in front of lights and cameras waiting for celebrities.

I was button-holed, however, as I stumbled out by a man who had also watched the film. He had noticed my bright blue Madres de Plaza de Mayo t-shirt proclaiming "30 anos de vida venciendo a la muerte" and struck up a conversation.

As we got acquainted, I learned that Juan Vicente Risuleo had himself left Argentina in about 1978; he too had been interrogated by police.

Now the owner of a couture bridal and evening salon in Beverly Hills, he was then a student of art history who worked in fashion design.

He described a moment thirty years ago when he had stopped briefly in a small news and snack shop one day. Looking at a fashion magazine, he felt a sudden tap on his shoulder from behind.

"Why are you looking at that magazine? Are you gay?" the apparent government agent asked.

Though he quickly talked his away out of being hauled off, it was a close call.

Today in Los Angeles he's an avid newspaper reader, alert to government deception and "inconvenient" news stories tucked into the back pages.

He recalls his professor of social history, Jose Luis Romero, saying "You need to clean the news like you clean a fish--eat it all away until you see the skeleton underneath."

More cherished advice from this professor: "Preserve your mind like it's a sacred space. Don't let anyone throw trash into your mind."

All in all, a mind-stretching night.

And then off into the chaos of tourist scene at the corner of Hollywood and Highland: two Marilyn Monroes dressed in white standing above air-blowers from under the sidewalk; a bronzed, nearly nude snake handler; noisy street music performers and their audiences.

Dazed, I tried to find my parking garage.