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.