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Posts Tagged ‘women i love’

I have been doing a lot of reading on ecology and indigenous peoples recently. It is very, very fascinating. How sad to think of all the time wasted in schools when we could have been learning how to grow things, study soil, how to fix and mend our goods, where our goods come from, how all things are connected. Instead we got a lot of computer classes, math quizzes, pep-talks about the new and intense global economy, and read lots of books by white men. What a bummer. Anytime we talked about indigenous peoples it went something like: “How sad they are all gone now. We should try to save the rainforest or something. Now let’s have a bake sale for the newspaper, drive over to the game twenty miles away tonight, and waste lots of resources!!”

Digression aside, I’ve come across all sorts of inspiring actions and movements I knew nothing about, such as the incredible International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. They are wonderful.

Their lives and work are so phenomenal. All the bad news, the repetitive mantras of “economy, free market, deficits, Afghanistan, terrorism, security, unemployment, tea parties, filibusters…” it goes on and on and it doesn’t seem to stop. When I came across these women I felt a breath of relief for a moment. Here is something good happening. Here is something older than all of our fleeting concerns, here is something sustainable, here is something totally inspiring.

Here is the briefest of sketches: these women come from indigenous tribes, and they are the preservers of a wisdom which conflicts with much of our modern culture’s narratives. They apparently are the fulfillment of ancient prophecies among their respective peoples which speaks of the coming together of 13 grandmothers from all over the world. They speak profoundly about the loss of memory, the loss of much wisdom, about serving as guardians of the Earth, about the importance of prayer and connection to the land and our communities.

Here is their Statement of Alliance taken from their website:

WE ARE THIRTEEN INDIGENOUS GRANDMOTHERS who came together for the first time from October 11 through October 17, 2004, in Phoenicia, New York. We gathered from the four directions in the land of the people of the Iroquois Confederacy. We come here from the Amazon rainforest, the Alaskan Tundra of North America, the great forest of the American northwest, the vast plains of North America, the highlands of central America, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the mountains of Oaxaca, the desert of the American southwest, the mountains of Tibet and from the rainforest of Central Africa.

Affirming our relations with traditional medicine peoples and communities throughout the world, we have been brought together by a common vision to form a new global alliance.

We are the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. We have united as one. Ours is an alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children and for the next seven generations to come.

We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth, the contamination of our air, waters and soil, the atrocities of war, the global scourge of poverty, the threat of nuclear weapons and waste, the prevailing culture of materialism, the epidemics which threaten the health of the Earth’s peoples, the exploitation of indigenous medicines, and with the destruction of indigenous ways of life.

We, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, believe that our ancestral ways of prayer, peacemaking and healing are vitally needed today. We come together to nurture, educate and train our children. We come together to uphold the practice of our ceremonies and affirm the right to use our plant medicines free of legal restriction. We come together to protect the lands where our peoples live and upon which our cultures depend, to safeguard the collective heritage of traditional medicines, and to defend the earth Herself. We believe that the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future.

We join with all those who honor the Creator, and to all who work and pray for our children, for world peace, and for the healing of our Mother Earth.

For all our relations.

Margaret Behan-Cheyenne-Arapahoe Rita Pitkta Blumenstein–Yup’ik  Aama Bombo–Tamang,,Nepal Julieta Casimiro-Mazatec  Flordemayo-Mayan  Maria Alice Campos Freire-Brazil Tsering Dolma Gyaltong-Tibetan  Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota  Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota Agnes Pilgrim– Takelma Siletz Mona Polacca-Hopi/ Havasupai  Clara Shinobu Iura-Brazil  Bernadette Rebienot- Omyene”

I just can’t more highly recommend reading up more about what these women are doing, where they are coming from, and what they stand for.

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Okay, to be upfront about this, The Dud Avocado is a title that presents a lot of opportunities for witticism, but I’m not into it. I think it’d be rather a dud (see?).

Now, for my next insight which has little to do with the actual story: every single review I’ve seen includes something along the lines of “…and I had never even heard of Elaine Dundy but I was just enchanted by this book and Elaine Dundy was such a rebel and this book is actually something of a cult classic and I love avocados blah blah blah”.

Well, I guess all of  that is somehow relevant to the whole The Dud Avocado experience. It’s disgusting, but I have to be honest. I had never fucking heard of Elaine Dundy, I have a sickening obsession with avocados, it was really fucking cold while I was on a weekend excursion to New York and ohmygod I was standing in my favorite used book store on the Lower East Side and I saw this thing and bought it even though it was hideously over-priced and I am now a converted Elaine Dundy lover and who the fuck cares if its been said: this is a fantastic, charming novel, and if it’s good enough for Groucho Marx it’s goddamn good enough for me.

Cos honestly The Dud Avocado is enchanting. I’m a kinda overly-serious girl sometimes (this book came between Eichmann in Jerusalem and The Black Jacobins). Serious as in, (this is embarrassing), when I am delighting in the fictional revels of someone being a drunken disaster and drinking fifteen types of wine and being unemployed and wandering around doing nothing in particular, I feel shitty. Like, I’m being a self-hating middle-class brat with abundant disdain for people who actually don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck and rather just wishing I could be unemployed and have nowhere particular to be. But I mean, don’t we all?

And that’s sort of it. Our disastrous, sweetly cheeky and occasionally-flummoxed protagonist  Sally Jay Gorce was kind of bolting away from all that middle-class, go-to-college-and-get-yourself-a-career-in-a-nice-office-and-nice-house and all that. There are some glimpses into the smothering society of the 1950s, and I suspect Gorce/Dundy would be sympathetic to a reader wary and wondering if their delight comes from their own comfortable-middle-class-upright-young-citizen-laughing-at-the-late-night-messy-disasters-of-others. Gorce catches herself judging the mishaps of others,  labeling and categorizing all those brilliant young male artists of post-war Paris and their dowdy, bureaucratic counterparts back home; then she turns around and is hardest on herself. She hangs back after her revelries around the Champs Élysées and worries she might end up a librarian isolated from the passions and feelings of those daring to fail. She’s quite aware of all the middle-class people running from the middle-class, and then you forget all about it because who cares, this is about being young and alive.

So basically Elaine Dundy created a fantastic narrative voice in this novel, and I need to check out everything else she did. 1958, and this woman is describing young, unsupervised gals running amok in strange cities and getting in all sorts of dilemnas and she didn’t need to hear about feminism to simply to do what she wished. I really was astounded more than once, more than ten times, that this book was penned in the 1950s. Are you kidding me? I apparently have gotten the wrong impression of the times. Or at least, maybe some people were living one way… but Elaine Dundy seems to have been up to all sorts of fancy, unpredictable stuff.

And that’s about as interesting as the book. This woman! This woman came out of the 1950s scene, and all the years portraying that decade as a long exercise in dullness and oppressive sexism suddenly might not be quite as bleak as imagined. She wrote a book about Elvis… and his mom!! Her autobiography is entitled Life Itself! and she wrote some other novels after The Dud Avocado, which I now have to read. I’m not going to attempt to describe her or her work anymore though, because it’s so witty and joyful that I couldn’t do it justice, and I want to force everyone to go read her. Elaine Dundy! Gosh, why didn’t they give us this to read in English Lit, rather than Updike-Roth-Conrad-Heller-Hemingway blah blah blah? She was just as insightful, and far better able to have a laugh about it all.

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Myrna, Myrna, Myrna

One of my favorite things to do around the New Year is watch a Thin Man movie. The other night boyfriend and I finished the final one in the series, and I was all bummed/Jesus Christ, I loved Myrna Loy’s dress on the jazz boat.

Seriously, that neckline is sick. Then I thought just about how much I plain old love Myrna Loy. She manages to convey humor, grace, ease, and intelligence in a nearly incomparable way. I mean, I love me some Katharine Hepburn, but she always met her characters with edginess. Myrna Loy takes a character like Nora and is witty and clever with it, while bringing in her own human warmth. You’re watching her laugh and space out a little bit, and you forget how magnificently beautiful she is. I mean, in the picture above, she’s what, in her forties? And what’s incredible is yeah, she looks older. And that’s a beautiful thing. Watching someone like Myrna Loy age is encouraging, it’s a reminder that women shouldn’t be terrified of the years, but rather look forward to all the new sorts of grace which take the place of what’s past.

Plus, Myrna Loy was a terrific, outspoken activist. She spoke out so strongly against Hitler in the 1930s that she got herself on his blacklist. She organized a fight against the House’s Unamerican Activities Committee. In the 40s she was named Co-chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. She campaigned for JFK, and was a fierce opponent of Reagan when he was governor. I love her.

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Iris Murdoch.

I was flipping through the NYT Book Review last week, being grossed out by all the fawning over the neuroses of white male writers. Updike, DeLillo, Roth, Eggers, Franzen, Chabon. Really? We’re still talking about these guys? What have these dudes contributed besides overly self-absorbed attempts to justify their selfishness and bizarre issues with life, women, responsibility, not being a general jackass… (okay, Roth, I still kind of like you. Still!).

Enough of them.

I like to think that the fierce Iris Murdoch was born at the gentle-sounding address 59 Blessington Street in Ireland. That’s absolutely Iris. The under-appreciated genius of 20th century literature; the woman whose most fascinating characters are insane and charismatic men; the post-war British writer in love with talking about England who was born an Irishwoman; the adamantly Plato-loving philosopher with ever-vague and shifting political and religious beliefs; of course all that feisty-ness and all that passion and driven would start life on a street called Blessington. That’s Iris herself, all intensity and contradictions with the idea always lingering in the background that there is a way to goodness if we pay enough attention.

Iris Murdoch wrote twenty-six novels beginning in the 1950s up to the end of the 20th century. They’re not all brilliant, but even the mediocre are worth attention. The frustrating thing for a woman and a reader like myself is in a world where the New York Times is still debating the White Men of Post-1950s Literature, Iris still isn’t a household name. Why is that? Why can’t I read some big pieces on people who wrote about shit besides the penis? And hey, if it means anything, Iris wrote about those too!

Iris Murdoch had ideas, and she wrote about them. At length. Her characters can be off-putting when they’re not downright intolerable. I’ve lent her books to so many people, and seen so many reviews, and many of them will say at some point something like this: “I really didn’t like any of her characters.” Which is fair enough. I mean, I don’t read Updike because I could never lie any of his characters. But Iris doesn’t try to make selfishness beautiful. She doesn’t color over them with pretty words to distract you; her books are intent upon pulling you into human existence and the way people treat people, the way people lie to themselves, the way people seek what is good and how they usually fail to reach it.  Oftentimes finishing one of her books is a disgruntling, disheartening experience. The people you want to do well have flaws as deep as anyone else, and there are no real laws of karma. Hell, I finished The Sacred and Profane Love Machine in tears and nearly stomped all over the book. Not because it was bad. Because it was infuriating, and more than a little accurate.

That’s why I go crazy not seeing Iris Murdoch get the attention she deserves. Sure, a movie was made about her and Kate Winslet played her and was all lovely and brilliant and Oxford-esque.

But the movie was ultimately more about Murdoch suffering from Alzheimer’s, and less about the lady with all the ideas, all the passion, the lady who wrote faster and quicker and more cleverly and with more insight into human beings than almost any other novelist from then till now. She never pulled back from revealing the ugly streaks, the lies we tell ourselves, our good intentions which aren’t really so good but we pretend they are and then are surprised when they don’t work out.

So she had a keen grasp of what people are like, an ability to dissect our motivations, feelings, fears, wants and needs. But Iris Murdoch as a writer was more than just that.

Take The Sea, The Sea.

It is all of the above: a meditation on the illusions of a wealthy man retiring from London’s theatre scene. Charles Arrowby’s inner life is more like a play than reality. He assigns motives and thoughts to people without ever paying attention to them, and his inability to relate to others wrecks havoc all around him.

But the book is great for more than just showing us what an absurd character Arrowby is; the book is sympathetic towards his failures. For what is life, much of the time, but repeated failures to step outside ourselves? Murdoch injects philosophy into all her books (more into others than The Sea, The Sea), and more importantly, she has an empathy towards her characters, failures though they may be. She can write with compassion of old men whose dreams have been destroyed but will create new illusions to keep going; she can write of the mercilessness and despair of youth, show it in all its egoism, and make the reader miss it and ache for it. And as she drags her readers through the lives of her many characters a feeling grows and grows that there is more to human existence than brilliance or wit; that what is most needed is a sense of goodness, an ability to truly love other people as much as ourselves.

Iris, John Bayley, and Books

I love Iris Murdoch. I wish I could give everyone one of her books (it’d at least be a nice change from all the fawning over endless middle-class white American men). When I pick up The Green Knight I never fail to see good, otherworldly Peter Mir, a force as strong as death. I see A Word Child and feel protective of the man walking by the river and cherishing his regrets as decades pass him by. I think of The Black Prince, and I think of Julian and everyone else and it’s like an overflowing. The Bell, and the convent and fairy tales and disaster and summer evenings. A Fairly Honourable Defeat, and I’m sitting at a kitchen table late at night with my tie loose talking to the disheveled and lovable Tallis. The Sea, the Sea, and I can smell summer and salt as if I’m standing in front of the rickety old wooden house myself, and people are swimming in the sea and eating cheese and old mirrors are breaking and what is life? Buddhism, Platonic philosophy, history, politics, Wittgenstein, can any of them help us be better to one another? How are we supposed to live? Is it possible to do good, to not lie to ourselves about it? Or is the best we can hope for a lovely swim in the sea and a peaceful disappearance?

Those are the questions Iris Murdoch tackles in all those novels, as well as her philosophical works. Her answers are noteworthy, but getting there is best of all.

From Iris, herself:

Often we do not achieve for others the good that we intend but achieve something, something that goes on from our effort. Good is an overflow. Where we generously and sincerely intend it, we are engaged in a work of creation which may be mysterious even to ourselves – and because it is mysterious we may be afraid of it. But this should not make us draw back. God can always show us, if we will, a higher and a better war; and we can only learn to love by loving. Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love. Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected but made perfect. The way is always forward, never back.” – The Bell

Time, like the sea, unties all knots. Judgments on people are never final, they emerge from summings up which at once suggest the need of a reconsideration. Human arrangements are nothing but loose ends and hazy reckoning, whatever art may otherwise pretend in order to console us.” – The Sea, The Sea

Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self. To be damned is for one’s ordinary everyday mode of consciousness to be unremitting agonizing preoccupation with self.”

Good, not will, is transcendent.”

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Apparently I am really into talking about vegetarianism today. I can live with that!

Stella

Now, let me begin by talking about The Beatles. I have always loved John Lennon. Then, I read the new biography by Philip Norman.  Not only was it not well-written, but I no longer care much for John Lennon. I didn’t mean to, but it happened. Yoko was right when she said the book is not kind to John. Obviously a brilliant, interesting dude. But as a good, decent person, I now pretty much love only Ringo. And, maybe Paul. This is troubling. The way I look at the world, it is changing. Paul was always, hey, great, but after the Beatles? Hmm.

But now he’s starting to really make some headway in my heart. This morning, feeling grouchy, I saw this profile of Stella McCartney at The Guardian. I didn’t expect to be interested, but since there’s a new void in my life (ha) which is aching for a new Beatle to adore, I had to check it out. And! Paul! Your daughter is kinda super cool!

I mean, we all know she’s a vegetarian and a fashion designer who doesn’t use leather or fur in her clothing collections. Cool enough. But as a person, she is also apparently neat-o. I was first impressed by bits like the following, where she talks about the efforts she makes to live sustainably, but also acknowledges that she is able to do so because of her wealth. I like that. Nothing enrages me like the rich imploring the desperately poor to take up the environment as a cause. Anyway, rants aside:

“We use Ecotricity at the studio and at home. We have biodegradable corn shopping bags. We use a hybrid car company when we need to get taxis. I’m obsessed with not chucking away food. I’m lucky enough to have a gardener, so we grow sweetcorn, tomatoes, beetroots, cabbages, pumpkins, lettuce. I’m trying to get into blanching it and freezing so I don’t have to buy veg over the winter, but then you need loads of freezers, and that’s not ideal . . . I don’t fly nearly as much as I used to, although that’s as much about having kids and not wanting to be away as it is about principle.”

I like how she’s thinking things out. Yes, it’s great to freeze stuff, but then there’s the issue with freezers. She tries not to fly as much, but she acknowledges that it’s not solely out of a desire to be eco-friendly, but it’s also because she has kids. She has a gardener, but knows that’s extremely a-typical. Then she points out her ability to make quality, cruelty-free clothing relied on having an incredible amount of support to fall back on.

“The greatest luxury of having the parents I had was that it has enabled me not to have to compromise. In the back of my mind, I always knew – if this all goes horribly wrong, I’ll be all right. That’s an option that most people just don’t have, financially.”

Then she just sounds out-right adorable.

“At Stella McCartney fashion shows, the show notes given to guests are prefaced with a page of dedications in her handwriting, almost always to “mum and dad”, as well as her husband and children…Later, at a tea party for editors, McCartney arranged a puppet show and low benches so that guests could bring their children; the hostess could be found perched at knee height, discussing the merits of Ben Ten with younger guests.”

I’m just a sucker for this shit. Sweet to kids. Vegetarian. Cruelty-free products. Concerned about the environment. Humble about acknowledging the fact that she’s able to do all this shit because she was born with immense privilege. Though I’m an immense advocate of public schools in pretty much every possible situation, I like that she wrestles with the question at the end of the interview and acknowledges she does her best but isn’t perfect and doesn’t know all the answers.  Best of all, in the most shallow of senses, she gives me lots of new reasons to think about why I should perhaps make Paul my favorite Beatle.

‘The way my parents brought me up to see the world is still absolutely key to what I am about…The beliefs I was raised with – to respect animals and to be aware of nature, to understand that we share this planet with other creatures – have had a huge impact on me. I was brought up to understand that we are all here on planet earth together. The idea of taking responsibility for what we take out of the earth . . . it’s not something we sat down and had lessons in; as a way of thinking it came quite naturally.’  The best piece of advice she was ever given, she tells me, was “do unto others as you would be done unto yourself. My mum and dad always said that and I don’t think you can go far wrong with that.’ From the viewpoint of today’s melting icecaps, the ethos of respect for nature in which the farm was steeped seems more prescient than far-out.

Alright Paul. Totally likable daughter who has completely awesome things to say about the way you raised her. It seems you might be in it to win it (my total utter devotion, I mean). After all, it’s hard to live without being nuts over at least one Beatle.

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Malalai Joya is an advocate for women. She is an antiwar activist. She has strongly denounced corruption in her own government.  These are all excellent things. What makes Malalai Joya’s work stand out is that she is not doing all of this work in a western nation, where we happily let women, you know, talk and walk around. Malalai Joya is working and speaking out in Afghanistan.

malalai2

This is a pretty big accomplishment. I was, from the very very beginning, against the invasion of Afghanistan. It’s not that I’m an utter pacifist. It’s simply that anyone taking a step back and looking at the demographics of the population there would hopefully have come to the sane conclusion that bombing a nation of children is not the best way to promote democracy and end “terrorism.” The vast majority of children, nearly 100%, had witnessed an act of violence. Two-thirds of those acts involved seeing dead bodies. This information is from UNICEF in 1997. I can’t imagine what the statistics are like after the invasion. My personal beliefs tell me that murder is wrong. They also tell me that the murder of innocent civilians and children is especially evil. I am not interested in terms like “collateral damage.” People cannot, and never will be, collateral damage. My own logic also tells me, strangely enough, that to bomb, kill, and destroy usually does not win one too many friends. The people of Afghanistan who are now in their late 30s have been witnessing horrendous violence since they were pretty much in their infancy. I can’t imagine what the long-term effects of this shall be. I’m against sending more troops there. It is not the “good war.” It was a bad, shitty war in the first place that was followed by a war with absolutely no justification in the realm of human decency. The Taliban was (and is) an absolutely atrocious organization. I find some of the mujahedin to be terrifying (from what I understand of them). They also live in a region of the globe which has been subjected to so much violence and so much outside manipulation that no one living outside it can honestly understand what life has been like for them. To not even bother to understand the anger, rage, ignorance, tragedy, oppression is an act of supreme self-involvement. It stuns me that our culture is capable of constant innovation in computers, iPhones, fighter jets… and yet our answer to Afghanistan and Iraq is still to blow things up and drop bombs. On children.

With that in mind, one of the good things to have come out of this is the representative democracy set up in Kabul with a good deal of participation by women. Unfortunately the repression of women’s rights continues, and it will be a long struggle; possibly there will be some major set-backs in the years to come. Malalai Joya is a woman who exemplifies the current situation. She was a delegate to the 2003 Loya Jirga in Afghanistan (the Loya Jirga is a grand assembly used in times of transformation) and was then elected to Afghanistan’s National Assembly. Good! On the other side, though, there have been multiple attempts on her life, and she was suspended from the National Assembly for three years (she has the habit of pointing out the National Assembly includes criminals and warlords).

I’d like to point out some of the things Malalai Joya has said and done in one of the most dangerous political environments on the planet.

She spoke out on how the Northern Alliance, the group the U.S. helped take over things while the Taliban fled, are warlords and also repressive fundamentalists. Anyone reading anything about Afghanistan and not just listening to cable news, by the way, was aware of this:

Respected friends, over five years passed since the US-led attack on Afghanistan. Probably many of you are not well aware of the current conditions of my country and expect me to list the positive outcomes of the past years since the US invasion. But I am sorry to tell you that Afghanistan is still chained in the fetters of the fundamentalist warlords and is like an unconscious body taking its last breath.

The US government removed the ultra-reactionary and brutal regime of Taliban, but instead of relying on Afghan people, pushed us from the frying pan into the fire and selected its friends from among the most dirty and infamous criminals of the “Northern Alliance”, which is made up of the sworn enemies of democracy and human rights, and are as dark-minded, evil, and cruel as the Taliban.”

Being a woman from Afghanistan and daring to verbalize this is one of the reasons Malalai Joya has to fear for her life. The people she is speaking out against are still in power.

According to a UNIFEM survey, 65% of the 50,000 widows in Kabul see suicide as the only option to get rid of their misery. UNIFEM estimates that at least one out of three Afghan women has been beaten, forced into sex or otherwise abused.

The gang-rape of young girls and women by warlords belonging to the “Northern Alliance” still continues especially in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. People have staged mass protests a number of times but no one cares about their sorrow and tears. Only a few of the rape cases find their way into the media. One shocking case was that of 11 year old Sanobar, the only daughter of an unfortunate widow who was abducted, raped and then exchanged for a dog by a warlord. In a land where human dignity has no price, the vicious rapist of a poor girl still acts as district chief.”

Malalai Joya also has addressed some of the attacks she has to live with:

A mafia system is in place in Afghanistan. The US backed president Karzai and his westernized intellectuals have joined hands with fundamentalists of all brands to impose this mafia system on our people. This is the main reason for today’s problems in the deadlocked Afghanistan. Those who speak for justice are threatened with death.

My voice is always being silenced even inside the parliament and once I was physically attacked by pro-warlord and drug-lord MPs in the parliament just for speaking the truth. One of them even shouted “prostitute, take her and rape her!” Despite hating guns, I need to live under the protection of armed bodyguards to survive.”

Ms. Joya has also forcefully condemned the continued occupation and airstrikes. I find the following excerpt a little frustrating, because the people who argue continually for our involvement there are the same people who A) know nearly nothing about the history of Afghanistan or the Middle East in general B) are certain military involvement is the way to change things and are loathe to discuss other options. Those without a grasp on historical knowledge and lacking in ideas constantly seem to be the ones who know the only way to do things. Ugh.

It is a shame that so much of Afghanistan’s reality has been kept veiled by a western media consensus in support of the ‘good war.’ Perhaps if the citizens of North America had been better informed about my country, President Obama would not have dared to send more troops and spend taxpayers’ money on a war that is only adding to the suffering of our people and pushing the region into deeper conflicts.

A troop ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, and continued air strikes, will do nothing to help the liberation of Afghan women. The only thing it will do is increase the number of civilian casualties and increase the resistance to occupation.

To really help Afghan women, citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere must tell their government to stop propping up and covering for a regime of warlords and extremists. If these thugs were finally brought to justice, Afghan women and men would prove quite capable of helping ourselves.”

Malalai Joya’s memoir will be released this October. Obviously she is a woman of great bravery. She has stood up to warlords and criminals, her own government and the most powerful government in the world. She speaks truth to power and lives with the dangers that creates for her. She tirelessly advocates for the rights of Muslim women and refuses to accept rationalizations of oppression on the grounds of religious fundamentalism. To live with the very real threat of death and to remain so outspoken and committed…

The fundamentalists are counting their days to kill me, but I believe in and follow the noble saying of the freedom-loving Iranian writer Samad Behrangi:

‘Death could very easily come now, but I should not be the one to seek it. Of course if I should meet it and that is inevitable, it would not matter. What matters is whether my living or dying has had any effect on the lives of others…’

Thank you.”

*Interesting bit of trivia: Malalai Joya shares a name with one of the female heroes of Afghanistan, Malalai of Maiwand. During the Second Afghan War (yeah, Britain invaded Afghanistan three times), the Afghani troops were falling back in a particular battle. Malalai, who had been tending the wounded, stood up and rallied the troops, charging into frey herself. She died, though the battle was won. I hope Malalai Joya is able to keep raising her voice and inspiring change, and hopefully one day she will live in a more peaceful nation where she won’t require bodyguards.

Also, I thought the pictures of Afghan women protesting the marital rape law, protesting with their faces exposed, should be seen by everyone. The law was supposed to be overturned, then it was supposed to be reviewed, and there is a powerful faction still advocating for the law. I don’t know what the current status of the law is, but the fact that this is even an issue is beyond horrible.

afghanistan

All of Malalai Joya’s speeches can be found at this excellent website, as well as lots of other information on her doings.

Here is also some basic information on the horrific airstrikes in Farah, Afghanistan that took place in May.

I super-duper highly recommend reading Robert Fisk’s monumental epic The Great War for Civilisation. For some off-the-beaten track information on Afghanistan in particular, see Blue is the Colour of Heaven. By the way, is that the best book title in the world? Yes, yes it is.

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At last.

MichelleObama

The media’s coverage of Michelle Obama has been largely a depressing affair. Right when I was starting to be captivated by her intelligent and sharp speeches, the cable news networks had one of those moments they live for. Michelle Obama said something which they deemed unpatriotic and they proceeded to cover her statement with as much stereotyping, negativity, and general bullshit as possible. Far from using her provocative words as an opportunity to gain insight into the minds and hearts of people who are not wealthy old male WASPs, they fell back on their favorite games of demonizing, wilful misunderstanding, and engaging in outright racism while pretending they’ve somehow been victimized (see: Sonia Sotomayor). Her role in her husband’s campaign was drastically altered. I was completely depressed about how this interesting woman was being relegated to weird stories about her arms and the clothes she bought and which designer she was wearing etc etc: ugh argh curses.

So imagine my surprise when I began to read The Washington Post’s front-page article by Lois Romano about Michelle Obama on Thursday. I couldn’t believe it. Here was intelligent insight into the First Lady which was encouraging, refreshing, which was not about clothing! In fact, there were actual signs for optimism!

Although Obama’s job-approval ratings have soared, the first lady — a Harvard-educated lawyer — wasn’t satisfied with coasting. She is hiring a full-time speechwriter and has instructed her staff to think “strategically” so that every event has a purpose and a message.”

This sounds promising.

In the past couple of weeks, Obama has been more vocal about the specifics of the president’s health plan, and she will play a substantive role in promoting it. She will soon announce the creation of an advisory board to help military families. And she will be the face of the administration’s United We Serve, a summer-long national service program, which she launched on Monday. Even her social events have a message: She let congressional families know that before the annual White House barbecue today, the 500 guests are expected to show up at Fort McNair to stuff camp backpacks with goodies for the children of military personnel.”

Really? I am loving this.

…Obama wants to continue to offer opportunities to people like herself. She grew up in working-class South Chicago, in the shadow of one of the most elite private colleges in the country, the University of Chicago. Yet Obama recalls vividly that when she was a high school student hoping to rise above her circumstances, the university seemed far beyond her reach. She was determined this would not happen at the White House on her watch.

“No one there had ever reached out to say, ‘Hey, maybe there’s a place for you here,’ ” Johnston said. Obama has either visited or invited to the White House students from 30 Washington schools, and she was instrumental in developing the first White House summer internship program specifically for D.C. high school students.”

Are you kidding me? I can’t believe it. I’m surprised and angry it’s taken this long to involve DC kids with the White House, but I am beyond thrilled it’s happening.  And why is it? Because Michelle Obama is sensitive to people who aren’t able to go to elite private schools, to the people who live so close to so much wealth but do not share in it. This is getting inspirational.

“She also intentionally served a formal dinner to the nation’s governors on mismatched china — 28 years after Nancy Reagan famously complained because nothing matched and proceeded to spend $200,000 on a new set of Lenox.”

Oh, so you have a sense of humor too. Stop it, I feel dizzy with joy.

Obama tasked Rogers with ensuring that every social event has a populist component, as she did last week when Duke Ellington High School students attended workshops with jazz greats. Rogers said that the Obamas want to convey that coming to the White House is “just a home visit.” That’s why, she said, the first lady hugs so many people who walk through the doors. “You try to take the fear out of just the mere awe of walking through the gates.”

Fine, Michelle. Are you proud of yourself? You just want to live in the White House and do all these wonderful things and make sure “every social event has a populist component” and you don’t care if it makes me tear up? What if I can’t handle this? After years of living next to DC and watching wealthy elite families roll by, well, I just might not be ready for you to come in here and start trying to make the most famous residence in the nation accessible to the people. Have you thought about that? After eight years of people basically spitting in the face of the poor you come to town, and then one day there’s a  garden for DC students and then suddenly all White House events are supposed to include everyone… Where is the gradualism? How are we supposed to process all of your awesomeness? I want you to know, Michelle Obama, that if you keep this kinda shit up I might be all “Eleanor who?” soon, and that would make me feel bad for about two minutes. Then I will look at this picture of you gardening, just like Eleanor, and I will be swooning with adoration for the both of you.

Michelle. Being Awesome. As Usual.

Michelle. Being Awesome. As Usual.

I guess I’ll just try to live with having an incredible woman as our First Lady. A woman who, yes, is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a lawyer, a woman who wears J. Crew and has nice arms and charms old Queens into hugging her. But she is also a seriously great human being who is actually using her power and voice to do good things for the people who need them the most. At last.

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