Japan and Whales
The latest reports are the Japan wants the International Whaling Commission to approve limited whaling of certain species by four coastal villages. On the surface, this would seem a reasonable request. Aboriginal populations are often allowed exemptions from rules pertaining to endangered species.
But... among the species Japan would like to start hunting is the humpback whale, which is considered a vulnerable species. Further, Japan already has a quota of 1000 whales a year. Critics contend that most of the meat of these whales, which are designated for scientific study, ends up in Japanese grocery stores and restaurants. And opening the door to larger quotas begs the question of where do you draw the line? If it is ok to take 50 humpback whales each year, what about 100? What about 500?
While I think moderation is the probably the best answer to the situation (allow some whaling of non-threatened species), it does raise questions about the depletion of the ocean's natural resources. Fish populations all over the world are down, particularly in areas that have seen heavy commercial fishing. Some estimates predict that by the middle of the century, wild fish stocks could be nearly non-existent, with catches nearly 90% smaller than the maximum catches seen in the heyday of commercial fishing. Already some 30% of species are showing major declines, including everything from lobsters and clams to tuna and cod.
The implications for the entire ocean food chain cannot be overestimated. Over consumption -- whether because of greed and waste, or because we simply have too many human beings eating fish -- is threatening the stability of the oceanic ecosystem.
My worst fear is that by the time we get the willpower to do something about it, the collapse will already be beyond the point of no return; that is, that we will not be able to reverse the damage we have done.
Of course, that isn't just for the oceans. In every area, our environmental policies are short sighted. I worry that we will really begin to tackle global warming only once the process has gotten beyond redemption. So too our dependence on fossil fuels.
I don't usually think of myself as a doom and gloom person, but these issues make me feel very helpless and hopeless indeed.
Home again, Home again
Fortunately, my drive home was far less eventful than my drive to WisCon.
As usual, WisCon was a tremendous experience. The writers' workshop alone was worth the trip, as my pro, Laurie Marks, sparked an epiphany about what was wrong with the first chapter of my sequel, which I had been struggling with for some time. Her questions were the perfect goad for me to realize that the focus of the opening scene was really off, which, of course, is why it felt so wrong. Funny how I couldn't see that on my own.
I take a bit of pride in being able to spot what other manuscripts need to make them sing; it's humbling when I'm fumbling about with my own manuscript and need others to do the very same thing for me. It is always good to remember that we all can benefit from the eye of an editor or an intelligent critiquer.
Other than that, it was a blessing to sit and talk with friends who I've known long enough that I might dare call them old friends, even though I only see them once a year. It's interesting how a community like that, where most of us only see each other once a year, can come to feel like home.
The panels this year were exceptionally good. WisCon always offers up a banquet table of food for thought, but this time around there was not only tons of stuff to think about, but with very few exceptions the panels were well organized; the speakers stayed on topic; the moderators had interesting questions to pose; very few commentators rambled about with their own (boring) opinions. All in all, you might call it a miraculous set of panels.
I can only hope that the Muslims for Progressive Values conference in a couple weeks goes as well.
Well, Friday on my drive to WisCon, I crossed a feminist milestone -- I had to change my spare tire all by myself. And I did it! Woo-hoo! I know, it seems silly to be proud of having done something like that by myself, after all I do all sorts of "masculine" things, from rewiring the light switches, to installing new faucets, to replacing the ceiling fan when the old one burnt out. But car care has been limited to washing the outside, and replacing the window washing fluid.
Funny how something like changing a tire has this iconic, archetypal feel to it, that it feels like a litmus test for being truly liberated. Sort of like a guy changing diapers.
Four Party System
I was listening to a discussion of Rudi Guilani's candidacy today and how he's more liberal positions on certain social issues make him a tough sell to a lot of the evangelicals who control the Republican party.
Coupled with that was the Democrats total wimping out on Iraq, even though they were swept to power in both the House and Senate on a tide of anti-war sentiment. Even though polls show that the American people want our military out of Iraq. Still they wimped before the threat of a Presidential veto. Send him the bill and let him veto it. Then negotiate, don't wimp out before he even gets the bill.
Anyway, those two events got me to thinking how when people talk about how the two party system isn't working well any more, the solution is usually to have a third party. Of course, the third party is usually carved out of the more progressive arm of the Democrats, which is unpalatable if you want to keep Republicans from gaining absolute majorities.
What we really need is four parties. One of the hyperconservatives, one of the moderately conservative, one of the moderately liberal and one of the progressives. That way the Republicans do not stand to sweep the elections due to a divided Democratic party, and there would be comfortable space for candidates like Guiliani.
A four party system might actually be a viable option for fixing the system which has broken down into partisanship bickering, where toeing the party line is more important than representing the opinions of your constituency.
Going to Wisconsin
It's time for what is becoming an annual pilgrimage -- the trip to Madison Wisconsin for WisCon -- a feminist sff conference. I'm participating in the Writer's workshop again this year, as I'm working on the sequel to the book that DAW has held practically forever.
It's been a real struggle trying to decide how much backstory to put in, how to describe the problem and the relationships that evolved over an entire book in such a way that they seem believable, but which also is not repetitive for the person who has already read book one.
Not an easy task, so I'm going to be getting some comment from a professional writer and two other writers who submitted their work.
On the way, I'm stopping off in Indianapolis to interview a young woman for the Muslim girl magazine.
The long and short of it is, I'll likely be pretty scarce this weekend, although I may post from the conference as the hotel has internet acces and WisCon is always inspirational and thought provoking.
Priorities and Lebanon
Lebanon, or at least one part of it, has plunged into bloody violence, with heavy civilian casualties being reported, and yet the top "news" stories on Yahoo are a billionaire who bought his own 787 jet, commentators who are surprised at which NBA team gets the number one draft pick, a "vote on who should present the MTV Movie Awards" poll, and a story about whether internet gadgets lead to couples sleeping in separate beds.
Is this reflective of our true priorities? We care more about who hosts an entertainment awards night than about people dying? About who is going to get first choice on next years roster? And as for the billionaire story -- are we so focused on the rich and famous we forget the suffering of the poor, and are the rich and famous so focused on fulfilling the most inane of desires that they too have forgotten the sufferings of the poor? I mean, how much must a VIP 787 cost? What if that money had been put into opening schools in Afghanistan, or giving hundreds of thousands of micro loans to families to help them turn their lives around?
These top stories reveal a degree of narcissism that is simply sickening.
Rather we should be asking ourselves some tough questions. How do we eradicate militarism? There is a reason Fatah al-Islam is militant. Do we simply try and wipe it out by killing all the Fatah members, or do we address the root causes? Will a show of strength deter others who might think violence is the only way to get their cause a hearing, or will it simply reinforce the idea that violence works? If we wipe out Fatah or Al-Qaeda, will we be creating a dozen new organizations because 1) the root cause still exists and 2) we have exacerbated the situation with our own violent actions? Or will others give up and realize that terrorism is immoral and inhumane?
Hand in hand with those questions, we need to be asking some hard questions about our own government. There is a reason the US tries to secure the interests of its corporations (and supposedly thus its citizenry) through military might. If the Democrats, coming to power in a tide of public disgust over the Iraq war, can't even send a bill to President Bush that demands troop removal by a certain date, then how accountable is our government to its people? (Answer: not very, or maybe, not at all.) How can we convince our government that militarism only breeds militarism, and that our military activism needs to be reigned in. How can we convince them that diplomacy, negotiation, and a global Marshall plan would do better at securing our interests than all the wars we've fought in the past fifty years?
With news outlets focusing on entertainment, sports, and the excesses of the hyper-rich, one suspects that serious discussions on issues like these are happening on a far too limited basis.
The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics, a book in which I have an essay discussing some of my feelings about wearing hijab, now has a release date: 17 April, 2008. It's coming out from the University Press of California, and already they have contracts for overseas editions in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Guam!
It's been interesting seeing how long it has taken to get this book to print. I was one of the later contributors, and I must have written the essay at least a year and a half ago. They say it takes two years to get a book to print once you have written it; it's just hard to believe when you see some books coming out only weeks after a significant event.
Farewell to Falwell
While it's not nice to speak ill of the dead, I have to say that Jerry Falwell was one of the pivotal figures in what I consider a terrible turn in American politics -- the (most recent) attempt to include religion in legislative matters. His mobilization of the Religious Right changed the landscape of American politics for the worse. It threatened -- and continues to threaten -- the basic civil rights for whole groups of people (women, the glbt community, minorities). It polarized the nation into self-righteous religionists who saw political opponents as devilish and sinful, rather than just as people who disagreed on principles. It claimed that the only way to be devout, the only way to be moral, was to adhere to their principles, and that conscience and morality were no longer matters of individual agency, but issues which had to be legislated by the government.
In short, it advocated a kind of Christian theocracy. It should be obvious that theocracy is a disaster, whether it is Christian theocracy, or Muslim theocracy. Ample evidence of that can be found in 1500s Spain, and modern day Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Unfortunately, although Falwell's personal power and influence waned as he made more and more outrageous statements about disasters being a punishment for homosexuality and women's lib, the ramifications of the Moral Majority's entrance into American politics is ongoing. The religious left, thankfully, has begun organizing to reclaim moral space -- to make public the stance that there are other ways to understand morality, and to reassert that the freedoms of conscience, religion, expression, etc are fundamental, to America and to simple human dignity.
Also unfortunately, Falwell's disastrous legacy does not lie only in American politics. He, like many of his evangelical brethren, took an aggressive and inhospitable view of religions other than Christianity. As a Muslim, I was well aware of his characterizations of Islam, and how they served to divide and set people at odds with one another, rather than to encourage peace and harmonious relationships. His belligerent stance against other religions only facilitates stereotyping and arrogance, both of which enable the kind of ongoing conflict and warfare we see today between America and various Muslim countries.
I can only say that it is sad that someone who had so much influence didn't use his power to bring people together. Think how much he could have accomplished if instead of characterizing Islam as evil, he had said, we don't agree on religious matters, but all of humankind is my brother, and I must love my brother as I love myself. That might mean you wish everyone would follow your beliefs, but it also means you would treat them with the same respect, dignity, compassion and consideration that you would like to be treated with. Think how much he might have accomplished if instead of trying to force people to live the morality he believed in, he had tried instead to inspire them to do so.
Pakistan on the Brink
The news out of Pakistan grows ever more discouraging. It seems like the country is on the verge of falling into out and out civil war between theologues and those who support the semi-secular government.
From the suicide bombing yesterday, to riots in the streets; from threats, intimidation, harassment, even violence against women who do not conform to the most conservative interpretations of Islam to groups such as the Red Mosque students who have taken to patrolling the streets and a non-governmental morality police; from sectarian violence between Sunni, Shii, and Ahmedi Muslims to the repression of non-Muslim minorities -- no where is the news good.
Most troubling of all, is that the government seems either unwilling or unable to to anything about the situation. Rather than shutting down the Red Mosque group, their abduction of women and even police officers is giving a blind eye.
Unfortunately, it looks like the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Wish I could do something more than pray for the safety and sanity of that nation and its citizens. Wish I knew how the world can convince people that no end is worth killing other people. Not political power, not ideology, and most especially not religion, which must be genuine, from the heart to be of any value at all.
By Pamela K. Taylor
Fingers of the world
Reaching up to God
Sit among the branches
And you feel
To hold hands
A new house, and the first thing I'm thinking... I want to plant some more trees. Six to be exact -- two peaches, two cherries, a crab apple, and an elm (or maybe a sugar maple), as well as a lilac bush, and two grape vines, a couple climbing hydrangea, some rhubarb, some lillies, some gladiolus, and a peony.
Life without plants is just not life! One of the things that made me love this house was the fact that the back yard has two willows, a birch, a dogwood, a Bradford pear, and two mature apple trees.
Good News on the Hate Crimes Bill
One of the bills that I was in Washington D.C. lobby for just passed the House of Representatives. The anti-hate crimes bill is a no brainer -- extending the federal protection against hate crimes to the glbt community. Of course, President Bush has threatened to veto it.
Gays, or people perceived to be gay, are one of the most targeted groups for hate crimes. Obviously, no matter what someone may think of someone else's orientation, even if they consider it a grave sin, that in no way gives anyone the right to assault, maim, or kill someone else!
The religious right has been trying to position themselves as the sole arbiter of morality. Various liberal and progressive spiritual movements have been to take up that claim and challenge it heartily. The Clergy Call to Justice was one such effort -- an effort that brought over 225 religious leaders from every major religion and a few smaller ones, and from every state in the union, together to say that as people of faith, we take seriously the commands to want for your brothers and sisters what you want for yourself. We take seriously the notion that all human beings are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among them are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Anyway, the hate crimes legislation is on its way to the Senate. I hope you will call your Senators and tell them to support this bill. It is known as the Matt Shepard Bill in honor of a young college student who was brutally murdered in Wyoming several years ago. (If you haven't heard of Matt, read his wikipedia
entry; it's heart breaking.)
I hope you will also ask them to support anti-workplace discrimination legislation that is due to come to the floor sometime in late summer. Again, this seems to me to be a no brainer. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether a person is a good employee or not. It's only other people's intolerance that make problems.