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I'm a single Mormon Democrat, an NPR & BBC news junkie, a dog lover, opera buff, bookavore, migraineur, knows just enough about technology to be a danger to myself, fan of James Bond and Godzilla. 

Micah 6:8; D&C 11:20 

"do justly, walk humbly, judge righteously."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reading Around the World: Whistle Stop -- Spokane, Washington State, USA!

My second stop on my Reading Around the World Tour is Spokane in eastern Washington State. Spokane is approximately 140 miles northeast of stop #1 (Kennewick, WA).

Some fun facts about Spokane:

- it is named after the Spokane Indian Tribe whose name means "Children of the Sun"
- the first Father's Day celebrations took place here on June 19, 1910
- the city's nickname is the Lilac City and is home to the Lilac Festival

- the city is home to Bloomsday, the largest timed foot race in the world

- also home to Hoopfest, the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world


Spokane is/was home to these famous people:

Authors Sherman Alexie and David Eddings
Convicted serial rapist Kevin Coe and serial killers Robert Lee Yates and Jack Owen Spillman
Singer/film actor Bing Crosby
"Bugs Bunny" animator/director Chuck Jones
"Twin Peaks" co-creator director David Lynch
Actor Darren McGavin of "Kolchak the Night Stalker"
Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank
Ambassador Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq
Former Congressman Tom Foley, former Speaker of the House
Astronaut Michael P. Anderson, killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
Nobel Prize winners Walter Houser Brattain (Physics) and Irwin Rose (Chemistry)
Debbie Rowe, Michael Jackson's ex-wife and mother to his children

In 1974, Spokane was home to Expo '74, the first environmentally themed World's Fair.


Well, that gives a little background to where this book is set. The book is Citizen Vince by Spokane native and Edgar Award winning author, Jess Walter. Set in October-November 1980, the presidential campaign and election features prominently.



It revolves around the character of Vince Camden, a crook from New York City who was put into the Witness Protection Program and sent to Spokane with a new identity. (Talk about culture shock!) His past comes back to haunt him and about a third of the book will take place back in NYC. But most of the book has a Spokane setting. Some of the settings:

The federal courthouse (now known as the Thomas S. Foley United States Courthouse)

The Spokane County Courthouse: It was finished in 1895 and is worth $4 million today. The architect was Willis A. Richey (who was trained by correspondence course!) and he designed it after a French castle.

The Paulsen Building: Consists of 2 buildings and was constructed in the early 1900's by August Paulsen, a native of Denmark. When complete in 1908, it was the tallest and most modern building in Spokane.

The Davenport Hotel: Named after Louis Davenport, its first proprietor, and designed by architect Kirtland Cutter. It was the first hotel with air conditioning, central vacuum system, pipe organ, and dividing doors in the ballroom. The first Crab Louis was created and served at the Davenport.

P.M. Jacoy's: Well-known seller of cigars, sporting-event tickets, magazines, books, and the largest selection of out-of-town newspapers in Spokane and opened in 1897.

Sunset Hill: Located where the Columbia Plateau descends into the Spokane Valley and the Latah Valley

Dick's Drive-In


One of the great lines in the book is that of the harsh winters in Spokane, "a cross between upstate New York and Pluto."


My next whistle-stop will be approximately 280 miles to the west in Seattle!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reading Around the World: Stop 1: My hometown(s) -- the Tri-Cities!

I am starting a new series on my blog called Reading Around The World. I am starting with my hometown - the Tri-Cities - in eastern Washington State

My hometown is actually Kennewick, one of the Tri-Cities. The other two are Richland and Pasco. These three communities are located at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers.  Each of these cities began and grew from a different source. The oldest is Pasco and was a railroad town, Kennewick grew out of agriculture - particularly fruit trees and vineyards, and Richland - the youngest - was created by the federal government as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II.

The first book in this series is River Marked, Book 6 in the Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson series, by Patricia Briggs.


This series is probably best classified as urban fantasy. Mercy is a shapeshifter and works as a VW  mechanic for a fae (fairy). The fae have come out and are placed on a reservation located in Walla Walla County. There is also a werewolf pack (which comes out in the series) that is located in Finley, an unincorporated community just to the east of Kennewick. Finally, there is a vampire seethe (or coven) in Richland. 


River Marked takes place  mainly just outside the Tri-Cities, in the Columbia River Gorge. Mercy gets married, goes on her honeymoon, and has to fight an ancient Native American evil. Mercy is half Native American, she believes she is half Blackfoot (or Blackfeet). There are supporting characters in this novel that are of the Yakama Nation



Many of the sites featured in the book are centered around the Columbia River Gorge. They include Multnomah Falls in Western Oregon. 






They went to Horsethief Lake to view the pictographs and petroglyphs there - in particular, She-Who-Watches




When Mercy and Adam needed to get supplies and stock up, they went on to Hood River, Oregon


Mercy even gets into a fight with an otterkin at the Hood River WalMart. (Clean-up in women's apparel!)


An integral part of the book concerns the Native American mythology character of Coyote


Mercy needs his help to fight the River Devil:


Thanks for visiting the Tri-Cities and the Columbia River Gorge with me. My next stop will be Spokane, WA, in Jess Walter's novel, Citizen Vince. Bon Voyage!

Monday, December 23, 2013

A VERY GOOD SUNDAY

I had a very good Sunday yesterday. It was my first Sunday back to church after 3 weeks off due to a bad patch of bronchitis. I wasn't sure I wanted to go back. I always look forward to and dread going to church in equal measures. That may be because I live in a very red county and my fellow ward members are even redder than most. It is very rare that I go to church and don't hear a political comment in Sunday School or Relief Society. 

It may also be because I was afraid it was one particular sister's turn to give the lesson in Relief Society. I love her dearly, but she is quite puritanical in her beliefs. The last time she taught she was only 5 minutes into her lesson when I just walked out on her. 

So, I was unsure about this Sunday. However, I prayed for comfort, acceptance, and tolerance both for me and my fellow church goers and decided to go. Many people don't understand why I continue to go. Well, quite simply, it's because I love the gospel. I love learning more about the gospel. I also love feeling the love that I do get at Church. Just because some people can be intolerant and judgemental does not mean they speak for God. It does not mean they are not capable of love and being loved. And, love, after all, is the center of this church. It is the center of Christ's message. We may forget that sometimes when we are faced with people that say they are followers of Christ. 

Two good things in particular happened at Church - well, three, if you count the Christmas music and Christmas lessons in Sacrament - but two that I want to focus on here. Firstly, I saw the puritanical sister that I reference earlier - I will call her M. I wished her Merry Christmas and she reciprocated. But, then she mentioned how glad I was back at church and how she was worried after I left her lesson the last time I saw her. This is what I like about M. We both know about how we each feel about certain political matters. However, we are still close friends and love each other dearly. It really cheered me to see that was still the same.

The second thing is even bigger. One of the things I always worry about is how opinionated I can be in Church. Sometimes I ignore some of the political statements that are made. Sometimes I groan. But today I made a statement. It was a little long. I don't really know how clear it was, but afterwards I was proud I made it. What had happened is that we were focusing on The Family: A Proclamation to the World. I cringed when I noticed this was our topic in the bulletin. You would think that family values are a nice easy topic. But not in this Church. Also many people look at it as a prophetic commandment. I look at it as guidance. After all, polygamy and racism were started and stopped by a prophetic statement. 

Well, full props to the instructor. He gave a very non-political lesson. I had been worried. I even asked him before the lesson. I had actually considered just skipping Sunday School. I lasted until halfway through the lesson when someone actually brought up the Church's recent guidance about homosexuality and gay marriage. They commented that some people outside the church think it means we were changing our attitudes. This is when  I spoke up. I really wish that I had recorded what I said. I will try to at least summarize what I said here. 

I raised my hand and told the class that whether or not we changed our attitudes was not the point. The point was what our actions are doing to people. I reminded them that there may actually be gays in our congregation. I asked them to think how they feel every time their brothers and sisters in Christ talk about how they feel and what they do is not only a sin but evil? I then pointed out that the next paragraph in the Proclamation teaches how vital marriage is to our exaltation. I said that this had always been a sore spot with me as a long time single woman. That I did not accept that God was going to ask for my wedding ring as a condition of salvation. I reminded them that there is a reason that the highest anti-depressant use is in the State of Utah. That what we do and say is hurtful to not only our fellow church members but the rest of humanity. 

Additionally, I told them that I believed that Christ's message came down to love. That there is a reason that we are not all different on this earth. We are different sexes, different races, different sexualities. We are born this way for a reason. I believe it is to teach us how to love one another. That if we were all the same it would be easy. 

I then took a deep breath. I had finally done it. 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Wisdom of Prophet Muhammad and Why More Muslims (and Christians) Should Follow Him

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Google+ know that one of the things that upsets me most is the hypocrisy and blindness of so-called religious people. People that claim to be living the lives of higher moral conduct and thought, yet reject and do not follow the teachings of their own faith. 

I mainly pick on those of my own faith - Christianity - and my own particular church - the Mormons. This week, however, I started listening to a series of radio essays on BBC Radio 3 called The Islamic Golden Age. The third essay was by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim member to sit on the British cabinet, on the subject of the Persian scholar Imam Bukhari. She believes Islam is at its best when it encourages scholarly pursuits and education. (I feel the same with the LDS Church.) During this essay she brought up a few quotes by the Prophet Muhammad that were highlighted by Bukhari and a couple teachings by Bukhari himself that I would like to highlight. These teachings and/or quotes seem to me to be universal in value and I wish that so-called "values voters" would follow them. 

Prophet Muhammad:
The one who engages with people and society and faces difficulty as a result of this is better than the person who isolates himself from society and does not endure any hardship.
Isn't that wonderful? So many times I get so fed up with evangelicals and others who insist that their children be home schooled. It seems like their objections are too much whining and too little trust in their own children's ability to judge right and wrong for themselves. It's almost as if they believe that Satan has more influence than Christ and the Holy Spirit. What kind of faith is that?

Fundamentalists of any stripe are guilty of this at most times. They believe their values are the only right ones and everyone should have to abide by them or else. 

The second quote from the Prophet in the program really leapt out at me. It was about the sanctity of humanity and how it exceeds the rules that your faith throws at you:
Shall I tell you of a status better than fasting and praying and charity? It is improving the state of friendship between people.
Incredible, right? How many so-called "values voters" do you know that are all about condemning and persecuting and attacking instead of reaching out in friendship? Pope Francis is a great example of a Christian leader reaching out instead of continually attacking. Look at people like Rush Limbaugh. Instead of showing us why he objects to a certain item, policy, or statement, he goes right out and calls a woman a slut. Pope Francis, on the other hand, when asked about gays - just opened his heart and his hands and said "Who am I to judge?" He praised them for searching for the Lord and didn't attack them for who they love. 

The next two quotes I got from the program were from Imam Bukhari. 
A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbor is hungry.
Anyone who does not have respect for our elders and compassion for our children is not one of us. 
He additionally taught "let not your enmity destroy anyone". Look at these quotes. They should make all so-called "moral" voters who vote Republican or who support the Tea Party or Libertarians blush with shame. Deep shame.

Look at all the so-called values voters who vote Republican because of abortion and gay marriage. Those who claim to "choose life". Yet, they support people who put forth policies that take food and shelter away from children and the elderly. Policies that encourage war and enmity between nations and take money away from the diplomats. 

I don't call myself a "values voter", but I do vote my values. I think I would really have loved to meet Imam Bukhari and think he was a true man of God, a lot more than many "Christian" men of God. I think Baroness Warsi for introducing me to him and hope I can find more about him. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Ethics of Minimum Wage

Conservatives like to talk about how dangerous raising the minimum wage would be. But they also complain about the social safety net. I believe that increasing the minimum wage would help reduce the money spent in social safety programs. Now, I am no economist, I don't know if there is any truth to all the scaremongering. However, I do believe there is an ethical answer to this. 

The federal poverty level for 1 person is $11,490/year. The lowest state minimum wage is $5.15/hour ($10,712/year at 40 hours/week) and the highest is $9.19/hour ($19,115/year at 40 hours/week). It is my belief that if you do not make over the federal poverty level and you work 30-40 hours per week then there is something significantly wrong with the American dream. 

Now, you can say that the minimum wage is not the right way to go. Well, what other answer is there? Perhaps you should increase social services for employed people. In many places, welfare and other social services penalize you for being employed. 

If a person works 30-40 hours per week (full time), they should not have a problem meeting their basic expenses: housing, health care, food and sanitation, phone and heating. In fact, I believe that any employer that pays less than poverty levels is not only behaving unethically, but criminally. 

Or we could go the way of price controls. Certain things that are needed for health and safety must be provided at poverty levels. 

I am not talking about redistribution. I am talking about being ethical. The conservatives like to think of themselves as the values voters. What kind of values supports not only not paying a living wage, but cutting the social safety net needed to provide basic subsistence? Forcing women to not have contraception and to carry babies full term in a world where you cannot even afford to feed and house yourselves is not a value I care to emulate.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Senators McConnell & McCain, I'm Outraged at Your Outrage

All this outrage over Senator Harry Reid going "nuclear" on the filibuster is just pissing me off! McConnell talking about a bad precedent, that how they will regret this. I hear people saying that it can be used against the Democrats when the Republicans take charge, about how things will get worse. It's just disgusting.

Why am I so upset?? Well, let me count some reasons.

1. The Republicans in the House, and, to a lesser degree, the Senate decided as soon as Obama was elected President they were going to obstruct him at every opportunity. Which they did. 

2. Constant obstruction of legislation and presidential nominations. How many nominations were automatically put on hold as soon as they were announced?? How many nominations are still on hold? 

3. Obstruction of nominations were done with no reason given other than it was made by President Obama. 

4. All this objection to a rule change. What about the rule change in the House which restricted the Rules so that Boehner was able to put a bottleneck on all legislation. 

5. Objection to the DC Appeals Court is that the Democrats "are going to pack the court." Well, since the Republicans have "packed" the Supreme Court when their guy was in the big house, I don't see the problem with letting the Democrats nominate some judges once in a while. 

Regardless whether or not I think Obama is doing a good job, what really makes me angry is the obstructionism. It has gone beyond just checks and balances. Obama can't really be judged. He hasn't really had a chance to govern. 

It's alright for the parties to disagree. That makes our system healthy. But, the real problem is this obstructionism. The Founding Fathers provided a system that worked. 

I don't blame Harry Reid for this action. I applaud him for it. It's not that the Democrats are making a power grab. What the problem is having a minority party that is trying to nullify this President. They demonize him, they condemn him, and they disrespect him. Is it just a coincidence this happens with the first black President?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Iran, Turkey, and Strategic and Social Values

Yesterday, while walking my dogs:
Sierra& Misty

I was listening to a podcast I found on my computer. It was an interview from the How We Got Here podcast from PRI's The World. Dated February 25, 2010, Marco Werman interviewed Stephen Kinzer about his book Reset:  Iran, Turkey, and America's Future. There were many intriguing facts and opinions that I'd like to share. Unfortunately, the podcast is no longer available on the internet but I will try to share helpful links. 

As I said, the podcast from PRI is no longer available, but I did find this interview on YouTube at the Harvard Book Store


Stephen Kinzer argues that America needs to work harder on strategic vision that emphasizes good strong relations with two key countries: Turkey and Iran. He believes that there is a potential power triangle in Middle East with a partnership between Turkey, Iran, and the United States. One would think that Iran wouldn't work and that Turkey is too independent to be counted on, but he gives very good arguments. 

He states that a good partner for any country has to fulfill two qualifications:
  1. Long-term strategic goals are the same as your own or roughly comparable
  2. The partner needs to be a  place where the society shares the fundamental values of your own country.
For instance, Saudi Arabia would not measure up because Saudi society has absolutely nothing in common with the United States. 

Turkey and Iran have societies that are democratically oriented and therefore very much in line with our own. This makes them very interesting potential partners with the U.S. in the coming century. Kinzer goes on to say that partners have to treat each other a certain way:
  • it is important to treat a partner on a equal basis
  • a real partner is one you listen to
  • a real partner is one whose advice you follow
The U.S. doesn't always do this. For instance, Kinzer pointed out that in the Cold War, we liked partners who were more subservient and did what we said. 

However, he says that the great obstacle to this construction is that American policymakers have an aversion to original thinking. There are certain paradigms in our policy towards the Middle East and we are frozen in those paradigms. We don't see anybody thinking strategically in the long run about where we want to be in some decades from now in the Middle East. He believes that we have to conceptualize a big picture. 

Getting to the big picture, he shows why Turkey and Iran are such good partners for us. He talks about the history and the society and politics of these countries. 

Turkey


What has contributed to Turkey's success in its 80-year history is that it has managed to evolve with the times. The modern Republic of Turkey was created by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. 


It was founded by the Father of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk


In the beginning, the government was a dictatorship as the countries around it were. Later democracies were becoming popular in the area and so it moved to democracy. When globalization became widespread, Turkey deregulated much of its society and entered the global society. In the modern era, when Islamic fundamentalism and religious society involvement in the government started heating up, now we have a government that is more religious than secular. This is the strength of Turkey. It is able to evolve, able to withstand tensions and confrontations. 

The modern government has one foreign policy: to have zero problems with its neighbors. And they did that. (Please remember that the podcast is dated 2010 before the Syria Crisis.)

One of their strengths and assets is the fact that they are able to talk to groups of people, countries, factions, etc., across a remarkably broad range, broader than the groups the U.S. can talk to: Israel and Hamas, Iran and the U.S., Russian and Georgia. When the Turkish Foreign Minister lands in Pakistan, all factions are eager to talk to him. Turkey can play a role that makes it a valuable partner for the U.S.

Iran (Persia)


When it comes to Iran, we may have to wait for the current regime to change or evolve to work with them; however, it does not change the fact that there would be great value with a partnership with them. The strategic goals of Iran do not change as governments change. 

Iran is eager to see a stable Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to see a stable and nuclear-free Middle East. They do not want to see Russian influence in the Middle East. Additionally, Iran's oil industry needs massive investment and the U.S. is well placed to provide that.

These congruences don't change as the governments change. In the long term, we ought to see a partnership with Iran as a place we want to get to. We have more in common with Iran in terms of strategic values and social values than we do with many of our traditional allies in the Middle East.

Iran is not a natural enemy of Israel. In the past, Iranians have had remarkably good relations with Israel. If you look further back in history, relations between the Persians (Iranians) and the Jews (Israel) have been quite strong for thousands of years. 

It is even described in the Bible. The great King Cyrus of Persia liberated the Jews from their Babylonian overlords, he freed them and sent them back to Israel and Jerusalem, and he even helped them build the Temple. 


Iranians - let's not forget - are not Arabs. They are not necessarily on the same wavelength as Arabs when it comes to dealing with Israel and Kinzer doesn't see any reason for a built-in hostility. 

Democracy in the Middle East

Only one other Muslim country in the Middle East can claim a democrat heart that beats passionately as in Turkey, and that is Iran. Only one other country that might emerge to rival or even surpass Turkey's level of political freedom and that is Iran. In the last hundred years, only two countries in the Muslim Middle East have spent that period working towards democracy and that is Turkey and Iran. 

All past experience shows that democracy only thrives and grows after a long period of acclimation. You cannot impose it as we are trying to do in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Turkey and Iran, it has been developing for over a hundred years. It is seen very much as a domestic product. The people there have decided on their own that it is something they want. 

The Green Revolution in Iran shows just how passionately they feel about democracy.


The Gezi Park protests in Turkey of earlier this year show how the Turks feel.


 People in these communities believe strongly that their governments need to be accountable and responsive to their people. 

Nobody in Egypt (pre-Arab Spring) goes out in the streets to protest a fraudulent election. It's just assumed that elections will be fraudulent. In Saudi Arabia, one of our allies, we don't even expect elections at all. 

Mr. Kinzer states that this shows just how much Iranians are thirsting for democracy. They know what democracy is, they want it, and it's seen as something that's coming from within, not something being supplanted artificially from the outside. He believes that the consciousness of what democracy is and what democracy means is infinitely higher in Iran, than in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran, after all, has had a constitution for a hundred years -- and all during that period they have been having elections. 

Now, these elections haven't always been fair, the institutions haven't always been followed. Nevertheless, over a period of generations, Iranians have deeply assimilated it. What is a political party, what is a parliament, these are things Iranians understand and expect. Democracy is not just elections, democracy is a whole way of dealing with life, the world. Iranians have understood this over a period of a hundred years. 

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this podcast. It got me thinking. We do have a lot in common with these countries. In these countries, the frameworks, the structures of democracy are very similar to ours. Our societies are very similar. We all have similar education structures. Higher education is very important in all three of our societies. All three of our societies encourage women to educate themselves. 

The Turks and the Iranians are not tribal societies like other Muslim countries in the Middle East. They are used to thinking of themselves as countries. Many countries in the Middle East - like Iraq - are hodgepodges, created in the chaos following World War One. After all Britain and France, separated up the spoils after the War. 

It is too bad that we have such bad relations with Iran. We can only blame ourselves for this. If we had not interfered with a democratically elected government in 1953, maybe the Islamic Revolution might never have happened. Maybe Iran would be more like Turkey. Who knows? Those are two big words: what if? 

I also think we need to treat Iran and Turkey as our equals. So many Americans somehow think they are inferior societies. These are societies that have existed for thousands of years. The Turks descend from the Ottoman empire which was founded in the 13th Century; the Iranians come from the Persians who are even older, they were founded in the 5th Century B.C.! We are pikers compared to them.

I hope that one day we can deal with the Muslim world in a more honest and open way. I realize that terrorism makes this hard, but we really have more in common with the Muslims than we could think. We all - Jews, Christians, Muslims - venerate Abraham. We all believe that Moses was a prophet and honor the 12 Commandments. We have only recently come apart. Our problems from lack of respect and knowledge of our neighbors. Better education can only help both of our peoples.