Monday, April 27, 2009

Children at the Festival

Children were everywhere at the LA Times Festival of Books.
These two had entered a costume contest, wearing outfits sent by their grandmother from Guadalajara.
Their mother poses with them.

Jane Smiley & Jack Canning

Jane Smiley, author of many books including A Thousand Acres (Pulitzer prize, 1992) and 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, appeared interviewing S.E. Hinton (author of The Outsiders) and appeared on a panel "About Reading."
Her partner, Jack Canning, accompanied her. He is a cousin of Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, who introduced him and a former wife to A Course in Miracles many years ago.
Jack said that he and Jane both read from A Course in Miracles and ask every day, "What does the Holy Spirit want me to do today?"
As for religion and organized religion, he said that he, like Jane, identifies himself as an "indifferentist."
Jane was brilliant and thought-provoking in her interview of S.E. Hinton, as well as in the panel "About Reading."
She said that after reading some 130 novels and proto-novels from various centuries and cultures, starting with the Japanese Tale of Genji, "As a result I now have no critical standards at all."
"The novel cultivates this inner life among the readers. By the 19th C. writers expected the reader to have this rich inner life," she continued. "But in the 10th C., there was not this same inner life." She cited the comments of readers in Boccaccio's Decameron and Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron (for details, see Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel).
"The novel had transformed our sense of who we were and how we think," she said. "It enters our mind in a complex way and cultivates our thinking."
Others on the panel were
1) Laura Miller, a co-founder of and author of The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia (2008).
2) Lizzie Skurnick, NPR book critic and author of Shelf Discover: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading.
3) Sara Nelson, author of So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading (forth-coming in July).
C-SPAN filmed the panel and aired it; it may be available through C-SPAN.

Tori Spelling

Tori Spelling, actress and author of Mommywood, appeared.
Hundreds of people stood in line to get her autograph on a copy of her book.

Carol Muske-Dukes

Add ImageCarol Muske-Dukes, poet laureate of California, chaired a panel titled "Making Words Matter." She has taught poetry to women in prison and as poet laureate has launched Magic Poetry Bus, a traveling literacy and performance program.
Panelists were
1) Keren Taylor, founder of Write Girl, pairing at-risk girls 13-18 with writers to mentor them. 100% of the girls go on to finish high school and start college.
2) Joel Arquillos, director of 826 LA, an after-school tutoring, reading and writing program helping students to take home a published book within two hours.
3) Diane Luby Lane, founder of Get Lit, a teen literacy program in which students write and perform poetry.

Ray Bradbury at Festival of Books

Ray Bradbury, 89-year-old author of Fahrenheit 451, still holds a room of 1000 people spellbound each year at the Festival of Books, recounting moments in his journey and exhorting his listeners to "Do what you love."
Two memorable anecdotes this year: His brother was a professional football player. He wrote a poem about his love for football and it was published in Pro Football, reprinted twice, including once on the cover... "A poem on the cover of Pro Football" he laughed.
Producer John Huston asked him to write a screen play for Moby Dick. His answer: "I've never been able to read that damn thing." But he read it. "God touched me, Herman Melville touched me," and he wrote the screen play.

LA Times Festival of Books at UCLA

Scenes from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, 2009, at UCLA.

This year's logo designed by Eric Carle, author and illustrator of The Hungry Caterpillar.

Volunteer t-shirts: BOOKS CONQUER ALL.

Jews for Jesus and other groups taking opportunity to leaflet.

Hundreds of people standing in line to hear panel on "Broken Government" with Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges, and others.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not Torture

An impromptu national period of mourning began yesterday as the Obama administration released the secret Justice Department documents on forms of torture allowed by the US government during the Bush era.,0,436936.story?track=rss

Thank you, President Obama, for making public these horrendous practices done in my name and yours.

May those who stretched the "permissible" this far be punished.

We are all shamed and endangered by this treatment of persons held in US prisons.

In fact, common methods of eliciting confessions from suspects arrested in our cities are also extreme. I served on a jury last summer and was shocked by police and detective interrogation methods described in the courtroom.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nancy Pelosi at UCLA

1) Nancy Pelosi talking with Brad Sears, Executive Director of The Williams Institute, UCLA.
2) Russell Johnson of Wyoming with Speaker Pelosi.
3) Pelosi about to hug a young woman admirer.

Since January, 2007, Nancy Pelosi has been second in line to succeed the President of the United States of America--if he died and the Vice President also died.

Thus she is the highest ranking woman in the US government--the first woman to be Speaker of the House.

An email invited me to hear her speak at UCLA, and I showed up tonight, interested to see her in person. She's been travelling to many of the states over the Passover/Easter Congressional break, and her schedule put her on this stage for an hour, then signing her autobiography and shaking hands for 75 minutes, then off in two tan Cherokee-like vehicles surrounded by two police cars.

I hadn't paid that much attention to her before today. After all, in Caliornia we have two women US Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as other political celebrities like Ariana Huffington and Maria Shriver.
Nancy Pelosi was elected to serve as Congresswoman from San Francisco in 1987, shortly after I moved from the SF area to southern California. I took her for granted, being more interested in Feinstein and Boxer, both elected to the US Senate in 1992.

As it turned out, Nancy was great to meet in person.

After being elected Speaker of the House, she was dragooned into writing a brief story of her life, which she shaped as a message to lead other women into achieving goals for themselves and for all women.

Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters is the title (New York: Doubleday, 2008). Buy it. In only 174 pages of sixteen brief chapters, you'll be inspired and gain an understanding of how she got to where she is today.
Give it to someone for Mothers Day or for a birthday.
A few quotes from her tonight, also in her book in slightly different words:
"Nothing has had a more wholesome influence on Congress and politics than the increased participation of women."
"Whatever your choice is, it's the best choice for you" (on the subject of women choosing to be homemakers or work outside the home).
"I wrote the book to convince women of the uniqueness of your gifts, the urgency of your contribution, the need to reach your own personal fulfillment."
A great part of her talk was describing the "old bulls" in Congress twenty years ago and how in a weekly dinner group of 15 men and 3 women (all members of Congress) the men asked each other their opinions on various issues but never asked the women, even when the subject was childbirth.
They spoke about their experiences at the birth of their children but did not ask the three women, who said to each other later, "They don't even know what they don't know... they don't even have a clue that they don't have a clue" (see Ch. 12 of the book).
In regard to issues of gay rights, such as the right to marry, she said, "We need to shorten the distance and time it takes for the inconceivable to become inevitable."
The event was hosted by The Williams Institute, a think tank dedicated to the field of sexual orientation law and public policy at UCLA.
Christine Littleton, chair of the Department of Women's Studies at UCLA (150 majors, 60 minors, 2 Ph.D.s granted so far), welcomed Nancy Pelosi. There is also a Center for the Study of Women associated with the department.
When Nancy wrote "To Marie" on the book I handed her, she said, "Hi, Marie."
"That's my daughter," I said. She smiled at that--she has four daughters and a son, and she's really dedicated to inspiring the next generation.
"She's part of the Feminist Coalition at Pitzer College," I added.
"But what's your name?" she asked and made a point of saying "Hi, Anne" and grasping my hand with a warm squeeze before turning to the next person in line holding a book to be autographed.
What kindness from a busy woman whose main preoccupations are the economic recovery of the US and the intricacies of international relations!

Ten Things I Didn't Know

All I knew about Nancy Pelosi before today was that she has been in Congress a long time and is now Speaker of the House of Representatives.

I also knew she is caricatured as too powerful or as power-hungry in political cartoons and in right-wing emails circulating on the internet. (My Republican uncle sometimes forwards these emails to me.)

Here are the top ten things I learned today about her:

1) Her real name is Annunciata--she's nicknamed Nancy. She was named for her mother, who was born on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation to Mary of her destiny to bear God's child.

2) She's the mother of four daughters and one son, and she's very supportive of women choosing to stay home and raise a family, as she did. She also has seven grandchildren.

3) She didn't run for Congress until she was 47 years old, when her friend Congresswoman Sala Burton was dying of cancer and asked her to run for her seat.

4) She grew up in an Italian neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., was a representative to Congress and later mayor of Baltimore. Her brother Tom was also mayor of Baltimore.

5) She describes herself as a "devout, practicing Catholic" and was raised in a family that was both devout and staunchly Democratic.

6) She sat next to John F. Kennedy in 1957 when she was 16 and he was a guest speaker at a dinner sponsored by the UN Association of Maryland. (Her mother, wife of the mayor of Baltimore, stayed home to allow her daughter to attend in her place.)

7) She left the March on Washington in 1963 just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke--because she needed to go to Baltimore to welcome her in-laws arriving for her wedding a few days later.

8) She's 69 now (born March 26, 1940) --but looks 50 years old (hair coloring, trim weight, probably also facelifts to remove wrinkles).

9) Because she's short, she wears very high-heeled shoes. Tonight they were also spike-heeled with pointy toes--the kind my daughters wear when they go out to clubs. I couldn't even walk in such shoes without falling down, but Nancy Pelosi at 69 walks around in them with speed and grace.

10) She has been described as "probably one of the strongest and most effective Speakers in decades." She expects to get a universal health-care bill passed in the House and Senate this year and signed by President Obama.

She says the biggest issue is where there will be a "public option" in this bill--or whether all the health care providers will be in the private sector. "That's what we're fighting for. It has to happen this year. I think it will."

She thinks it will pass because "Health care reform is entitlement reform." If people had more access to preventive health care, there would be less cost to Medicare and Medicaid.

She says health care reform is needed:
1) for individual people,
2) for businesses, which are burdened with increasing health care cost,
3) for our economy, which is distorted by the existing system--competing with businesses in the rest of the world that do not have the expense of health care, and
4) for reducing the national debt by cutting the cost of entitlement programs.

Tribute to Roz Wyman

Roz Wyman was also at the Nancy Pelosi event last night.

Born in 1930, she was elected to Los Angeles City Council when she was 21 yrs old--the youngest ever elected and only the second woman.

She was instrumental in bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles.

She's a grand dame of the Democratic Party and was a "super delegate" to the 2008 Democratic convention.

Afghan Women of Courage

What a stunning article in today's New York Times about 300 women demonstrating for their rights in Kabul, Afghanistan.


They were asking Parliament to repeal a new law signed by President Karzai that restricts the rights of Shiite women, requiring them to get their husband's permission to work outside of the home or to go to school and requiring them to "dress up" if their husband asks them to. It also makes it illegal to reject a husband's sexual advances.

These women began their march at a school run by a leading Shiite cleric. Hundreds of men ran outside to counterdemonstrate, shouting "Death to the enemies of Islam."

Although most of the women demonstrating were covered head to toe and appeared devout, simply protesting new restrictions makes them "enemies of Islam" and "whores" in the eyes of these men.

An ironic note: at the top left of the same front page was a photo of some twenty Roman Catholic bishops, priests, and cardinals celebrating the installation of a new archbishop in New York.

Everyone in the photo was male--women can hold no ordained office, cannot use birth control or chose to end a pregnancy, or even end a marriage with the approval of the church.

We in the west are only inches ahead of our sisters in the east. Much work and prayer lie ahead of us world-wide.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shari'ah Law in Swat Valley

The demonstration of 1700 girls of the Dawood Public School in Karachi on April 7 didn't matter to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari.

Nor did the protests of women around the world who viewed the cell-phone recorded flogging of a 17-year-old girl by Taliban men in Swat.

Zardari signed a treaty with the Taliban on Monday, allowing them to impose Shari'ah (Islamic law) on this part of Pakistan.

See the Wall Street Journal's report on April 14:

Moderate Muslims interpret Shari'ah in ways that understand its origin in the 7-12th centuries, but the Taliban impose their own conservative interpretation, including:
* women can't leave their homes without a male family member as escort.
* women must be covered head to toe
* men may not shave their beards
* violations can be punished by execution.

Unfortunately, the US presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan makes it harder for Muslims there to work out their differences on interpreting Shari'ah for the 21st century. Right now, anyone who wants a re-evaluation of the 12th C. interpretation is seen by conservatives as supporting American imperialism.

Zardari's goal is peace in his country, giving the Taliban what they want in the north in exchange for less violence. But the WSJ article points out that the Taliban's goal is to "drive out Americans and their lackeys" from both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Sacrificing the well-being of women is not going to create peace.

For a great documentary on the interrelations between American intervention and women's status in Afghanistan, see View from a Grain of Sand, an Ecesis Films production directed by Meena Nanji.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Answers in Swat

Naively, I asked these questions in a previous blog entry:

"Where is the man caught in adultery? Why isn't he being whipped or shot? If something sexual actually occurred, was it a rape?"

According to later news reports, no adultery or rape occurred.

It was simply a case of a young woman leaving her home unescorted by a male member of her family, according to the Wall Street Journal report today.

The situation, according to Shaukat, who filmed the attack on his cell phone, was that the girl had refused a marriage proposal. Her suitor had joined the ranks of the Taliban and taken revenge on her by instigating the flogging. See:

Thank you for the courage of this man to film the brutal beating and then circulate the video.

"...people in Swat are so scared that no one has the courage to stand up and speak out against the Taliban and their verdicts," he says, according to the article in Dawn News.

No one except Shaukat. Let's pray for him as well as the girl that they may not be attacked or injured.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Women's Uprising in Pakistan

Hooray for the women of Pakistan, who have been marching by the thousands over the weekend to protest the flogging of a 17-year-old girl by the Taliban in the Swat district, northern Pakistan.

Here's a report on Pakistan's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (newly restored to his office) responding to the demonstrations and the initial flogging:

This article quotes the Taliban in Swat as saying that if they were fully in control of the government there, "...she would have been shot."

The MGM movement leaders in Karachi respond that the men involved in the beating should be publicly hanged. Apparently both sides play for keeps in Pakistan.

The big issue is whether the Swat district should be allow to institute Shari'ah law as the civil law (as well as religious law) in northern Pakistan. We all need to pray that that will not happen.

The girl, whose name may be Chaand Bibi, was charged with "adultery" and whipped 34 times by one Talibani while she is screaming and being held down by two men.

Someone had the courage to videotape this horrible scene and then to release it to others sympathetic to women's rights.

Women's groups call the girl innocent. In these cases, the alleged crime is often more in the minds of the accusers than a real event.

My questions: where is the man caught in adultery? Why isn't he being whipped or shot? If something sexual actually occurred, was it a rape?

Chaand Bibi was called to testify in legal investigations of her whipping, but she denies being the one in the video. Of course--pursuing her attackers can only result in further suffering for her.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Iowa Leads the Way

Iowa is such a leader--who knew?

A press release from SenatePress via WATER:

This is a joint statement from Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy on today's Supreme Court decision:

"Thanks to today's decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens' equal rights.

"The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.

"When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today's events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency.

"Today, the Iowa Supreme Court has reaffirmed those Iowa values by ruling that gay and lesbian Iowans have all the same rights andresponsibilities of citizenship as any other Iowan.

"Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights.

"In 1839, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected slavery in a decision thatfound that a slave named Ralph became free when he stepped on Iowa soil, 26 years before the end of the Civil War decided the issue.

"In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated 'separate but equal' schools had no place in Iowa, 85 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.

"In 1873, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination in public accommodations, 91 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.

"In 1869, Iowa became the first state in the union to admit women to the practice of law.

"In the case of recognizing loving relationships between two adults, theIowa Supreme Court is once again taking a leadership position on civil rights.

"Today, we congratulate the thousands of Iowans who now can express their love for each other and have it recognized by our laws."

Both Muslim and Christian--A Priest's Story

Thank you to my sister Emily McColl who sent me the link to this story on CNN:

Ann Holmes Redding, an Episcopal priest for nearly 30 years, added Muslim faith to her life three years ago, and now she has been defrocked as a priest.

Since the word "Islam" means "submission to God," one could certainly claim allegiance to Jesus as Messiah while also deciding to live "in Islam."

Most Muslims do not see Jesus as God, but perhaps Redding continues to believe in the Trinity. We need to dialogue with her and find out where she is on some of the differences between the two religions.

Historically in early Christianity and in the Muslim world today, there are varying beliefs related to these faiths but not accepted by the mainstream. For example, there were the Montanist Christians and there is Sevener (Isma'ili) Islam, as well as the Druze in Lebanon.

Redding represents a new kind of ecumenicity--let's see where it goes.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sarah Brady Has a Point

In an email today from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Sarah Brady writes:

Last month, in less than three weeks, we witnessed the deaths of 22 people in mass shootings- in North Carolina, Alabama and California....

If tainted pistachios, peanut butter, or spinach had killed these people, Congress would have jumped in with investigations, re-calls, and insisted that these foods be taken off the shelves in grocery stores.

And yet, Congress has done nothing.