Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Story of Stuff

LibraryThing Review Link:

I picked this book up in a mall. I had not seen the YouTube video that the author had made prior to publishing the book, but I'd heard of it. I leafed through it and was caught up in reading about computer metals and how they are produced, used, and disposed of, when I realized I needed to leave. I bought the book.

I read this book on a plane. The book is about the material possessions that are so important to us Americans in our consumer society. It talks about extraction of resources, production and distribution of goods, marketing of goods, and the disposal of goods. The author had started out as an expert on disposal, particularly. She's originally a Greenpeace activist on garbage issues such as the barge that traveled the world looking for somewhere to put the garbage (I can hear Alice's Restaurant in my head right now). But at some point, she discovered systems thinking and started realizing that the garbage problem is really not easily separable from the other issues that lurk behind our happy consumer attitudes about "stuff".

The fact that I was reading it on the plane, where everything was disposable, made it that much more poignant to me.

I was raised by a very liberal family and my father is an environmental activist who lives in a cabin "off the grid" using hydro and solar power and a self-composting outhouse. I also lived in developing countries much of my adult life and I observed many of the issues about garbage and disposable goods that Ms. Leonard talks about in her book. In other words, I am the choir to whom this book is preaching. It gave me some good ideas about how to reuse things, avoid other things (such as vinyl - I had no idea it was such bad news), and in general try to be a better individual American consumer.

But really, what would be great is if this book became the start of a movement for Americans to get back to being people and not consumers. We are human beings foremost. It is true we need material goods to live. But we should not be living in order to get material goods. The best chapters of this book, for me, were not the ones on the life cycle of "stuff" but on how we can make our lives less consumerist.

I highly recommend this book to all readers, particularly the younger ones. The future can definitely be different and this book is a very good place to start realizing this.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


I just got done reading a great book by the fabulous teller of tales, E.T.A. Hoffman: The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr. Below is my review, which I also posted to Library Thing:

When I was in college, majoring in Spanish literature, I had to read several works and poems that used a style I’d call “fierce satire.” They were, not to put too fine a point on it, mean. There were two Spanish poets who would write insulting sonnets back and forth to each other – Hilarious, but very dense in references, and so unkind that after reading them I had a bad taste in my mouth.

This book is a happy, gentle satire. It was really a flash of brilliance on Hoffman’s part to use a tomcat to parody a self-satisfied person of his time, who follows trends in society and believes he is a setter of them. All cat lovers will tell you that he picked the perfect animal to represent self-satisfaction.

The Kreisler story, or rather the discarded draft of the Kreisler story upon which Murr has written his autobiography, shows a very different character, one who actually has artistic genius and true depths of feeling, but who is paradoxically much less in control of his life than Murr, while being much more self-aware. The funny fake court in which the story takes place is the closest Hoffman comes to being fierce as he mocks all that must have been wrong with German aristocracy at the time.

The book is intensely psychological and in this sense it seems way ahead of its time. Even with its humorous and satirical narration, I had a sense of understanding and empathy for “bad” characters such as Mme. Benzon that I would not have gotten from other books of the period. Mostly, the backstories for these characters are hinted, and not fleshed out, which makes the book really fun. I have found that the more I read the less I want the narrator filling in blanks for me.

This is not to say that I liked the ambivalent ending. I want a sequel. Collette wrote a short story about a cat in which the cat supposedly was about to die, and she resurrected her at the very end, so that could be done again. Hint hint. Where is a modern Hoffman to carry on this tremendously funny fairy tale? A weary nation of book and cat lovers waits for you.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Hello - I'm back!

It's been forever since I have used this blog. I will post a longer story later, but for now I am just glad to be back on Blogger. It took me forever to remember how to sign in!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Petition on Muslim Women's Dress

I am very pleased to report an initiative started by some Muslim women I am acquainted with over the Internet - a petition stating that we would like other people to basically leave us alone to dress how we choose. As the three or four readers of this blog know, this is already my position, so I was happy to sign (I was the third person!) and if anyone happens to hear of it first here, please add your signature (men are welcome as well).

Muslim Women's Freedom of Dress

Thanks to Leila at Sister Scorpion for the information. Please check her blog for other important initiatives and statements on Muslim American activism of various sorts.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is there a quiz on how unserious you are because of the number of quizzes you post?

OK, I promise the next post is going to actually be a piece of writing by me.


I just could not resist this one (via Eerie at Aqoul):

....Loveable, yes, yes, cuddly... Oh, that's me to a T! /Peter Ustinov's Prince John

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I am a Neurotic Reader too....

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

An E-mail from a Muslim Man

Periodically, I get involved in the everlasting discussions about what Muslim women wear or don't wear or should wear or should not wear. My position is very simple. We are adults. Leave us alone. That message is for everyone. Liberals who hate the "veil." Muslims who hate to see women showing their hair. Non-Muslim women who want us to look and act more like them. Non-Muslim men who make us the symbol of why Islam is an evil religion and Mecca should be nuked. Farhat Hashemi and other weird Muslim women who mind each others' business. Everyone else in between. But especially, Muslim men. Leave us alone. What is wrong with you? Go agonize about the contents of your own closets. We are grownups.

Today I received an e-mail from the Canadian pundit Tarek Fatah. I used to be an acquaintance of Mr. Fatah via Muslim e-mail discussion groups. I stay on his article-mailing list mostly because one time out of twenty the article may be something interesting I didn't already see somewhere else. But today he has pushed all of my buttons on the everlasting burning issue of what Muslim women wear.

Here is the article, with my thoughts added in italics.

November 21, 2006

An appeal to Muslim women:
Reject the niqab

The Globe and Mail, Toronto

Recently, there has been controversy around the veil worn by some Muslim women to conceal their faces. Many have viewed this as a conflict between Muslims on one side and the "Islamophobic" west on the other. Not so. The debate is being waged primarily within Muslim society and is part of the battle for the heart and soul of Muslim communities from Tunisia to Turkey, Indonesia to India, and right here in Canada.

This ignores the fact that all the recent news articles that reference this are about Western, non-Muslim countries trying to regulate what Muslim women can wear. Why would a Muslim columnist want us to ignore what is right in front of our faces?

Item: scarf-wearing Muslim woman shot in front of her kids - in the US.

Item - Dutch government bans the burka.

Item - British minister advises British Muslim women to take off the veil.

– who are we going to believe, Tarek Fatah or our lying eyes?

To begin with, the veil is not required by Islam.

None other than Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based Islamic scholar, stated in a Friday sermon that "it is not obligatory for Muslim women to wear the niqab [full face veil]." He added, "The majority of Muslim scholars and I do not support the niqab in which women cover their faces."

Great argument. I, a male Muslim, am quoting another male Muslim on what women should or should not wear. Female Muslims, listen, goddamit!

Yet the practice of covering one's face as an expression of Islamic religiosity is growing.

It is? Says who?

Mohammad Qadeer, professor emeritus at Queen's University, recently cautioned Muslim communities to "reappraise this custom, before a scare about terrorists or a bank holdup raises a public uproar against the niqab."

Indeed, just last week a jewel robbery in Toronto was carried out by a man dressed in a burka.

Wow. I bet you write articles to skiers to stop wearing their ski masks because bank robbers use them too. Why don’t you send these articles to me? This is such an awesome argument. I can’t believe no one ever thought of it before.

Women have the right to dress as they please -- but the rights of the individual have to be balanced with the rights of society.

Wearing veils -- whether as an expression of religious identity, or as a means of political defiance -- is not in the best interest of Canada's Muslim communities.

Exactly who died and made you the arbiter of what Canadian Muslim women’s best interest is? More to the point, why are you assuming that Muslim women cannot decide for themselves what their best interest is?

Why are Muslim women in Canada choosing to wear the Niqab and why is this choice growing (if indeed it is – you have given absolutely no proof other than your assertion that this is so)? Have you actually asked one?

Historically, the Muslim world has seen many women in power -- the Fatimide Queen Sitt al-Mulk in 11th-century Egypt, Razia Sultana in 13th century India, for example -- who governed from their thrones, presided over meetings with their advisers, with their faces uncovered, as shown in paintings from those times.

Huh. Many women are ambitious for other career paths than queen. Many women probably feel that they can do something really useful and good in their lives while wearing the face veil because the line of work they chose is not one that involves communicating with your constituency. Or is your argument that all Muslim women should desire to go into politics?

From the times of the early Arab Umayyads and Abbasids to the Turkish Ottomans, the Indian Moghuls and the Persian Safavids, never have Muslim women been forced by decree to cover their faces as an act of religiosity and piety.

Tying religiosity and piety to face coverings is a 19th- and 20th-century phenomenon started by the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. Due to Saudi Arabia's oil wealth, and the funding of Islamic schools around the world, the Wahhabis are managing to impose their irrational cult on Muslims in the Western world. The Wahhabis want everyone to believe that women should accept a second-class status. And they want women to believe that this segregationist ideology is something they've chosen for themselves.

This is why Egyptian women in the late 19th and early 20th century used to wear a veil over the lower half of their faces? Because of Wahhabi influence?

Have you ever actually asked a Niqabi woman what her rationale for veiling is? Do you think they are incapable of speech or something?

Choices can only be made if the individual is, realistically, in a position to exercise a free choice. But there's pressure within any minority community to conform. And so Canadian Muslim women are told they must not stand up to their organized disenfranchisement.

I only see Canadian women being told, by you, to ditch the Niqab. I will take your word for it that the opposite message is also happening. Why is no one telling Canadian women to do whatever the hell they want, because they are ADULTS?

In the late 1990s, the city of Toronto commissioned Michael Ornstein of York University to study the growing levels of poverty among the city's racial minorities. His report, Ethno-Racial Inequality in the City of Toronto, was a bombshell.

Prof. Ornstein laid bare the simmering poverty among minorities in Toronto. He wrote: "Combining all the non-European groups, the family poverty rate is 34.3 per cent, more than twice the figure for the Europeans and Canadians.

"Non-European families make up 36.9 per cent of all families in Toronto, but account for 58.9 per cent of all poor families."

The statistics for Muslim communities ranged from 40 per cent to 80 per cent living in poverty.

If women in marginalized families are made to cover their faces, Muslim communities facing the poverty trap will find it increasingly difficult to get out of it. A veil over the face will close the doors to employment in professions where face-to-face human interaction is absolutely essential -- a police officer, a physician, a nurse, a school teacher, an airline pilot, a submarine commander, a judge, a lawyer, a bank clerk, an office receptionist or even a store clerk.

Your connection between the fact that the poor are often minorities and the fact that a tiny percentage of Canadian Muslim women wear a face veil is ludicrous. Lots of things contribute to why minority and immigrant communities are poor. You are making this up because you think it must be true. You need to have a study proving this. I know of many women in the Middle East who do various sorts of jobs and cover their faces. I don’t know what the situation is in Canada. I do know that these connections you are making are only in your own mind. They may or may not be true, but you have presented zero proof.

How many of the non-European people mentioned in the study by Ornstein are Muslim? How do you explain the poverty of those other groups who don’t have the face veiling issue and yet are poor?

In short, the veil creates another obstacle to the economic empowerment of a community that already faces discrimination based on skin colour and accent.

But you can solve that too, can’t you? Next: An article by Tarek Fatah telling Muslim women to use “Fair & Lovely” whitening cream so they can get jobs and not have to deal with discrimination. And an article by Tarek Fatah calling mosques to ditch the Quran classes and start offering Berlitz English lessons so that people can lose their accents.

The Islamists who are pushing the veil are not fighting discrimination or solving problems. They're making it more difficult for us to progress.

Which Islamists are actually pushing the FACE veil? I have never ever heard this in any Western Muslim’s speech or khutba. Again I have to take your word for it that this is actually happening, but I still don’t understand why your opposite pushing of women to make choices you want is any better than theirs.

A bright and prosperous future for Muslims in Canada can best be ensured when we are seen as fully integrated into the fabric of Canadian society. That doesn't mean giving up any part of our faith, which is constitutionally guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But it does mean that Islam must not be used as a tool to score political points for the Islamist agenda.

So women who dress a certain way are tools for someone else’s agenda. Do you think women are grownup human beings? Apparently not. We are infants who are manipulated by either your enemies or by you. Remind me why they should prefer to be a tool for your agenda as opposed to the “Islamists/Wahhabis/Extremists” you keep mentioning (who may or may not exist). Because I see no difference.
Tarek Fatah is host of The Muslim Chronicle on CTS-TV and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

And he knows what is best for Canadian Muslim women!

Say "No" to the Burka in Canada!

The Burka and the Niqab are not the same thing. But whatever.

"The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some day, we will look back on this article by Tarek Fatah and laugh hysterically until we weep at the patronizing tone and ask ourselves "how did men back then arrogate to themselves the right to tell women what to do?" Hey, we can dream with Ralph, can't we?