Monday, November 28, 2005

Satrapi blogs at NYT

Marjane Satrapi now has a regular gig at the New York Times website, alas hidden behind the subscription wall. Not enough has leaked about the content or how long this will run to tempt me into using up the 14-day trial (much less subscribing). Some observations and a panel or two can be found at if:book, focusing mainly on the images, not content.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Global Voices Online

Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening? I've added a link to Global Voices Online to the sidebar, a site I encourage my readers to check out and revisit frequently. One thing I've noticed over the years as I've sought out books for Rights Readers to take on is that when I spot a non-North American or European author, the chances shoot way up that the narrative will naturally touch on human rights issues that are our raison d’√™tre. Likewise, investigating global blogs, once you begin looking beyond North America, one does not have to search far to find bloggers writing about the issues we are concerned with. Global Voices Online is an invaluable resource in providing us with great international insights.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"Masters of American Comics" Exhibit

If you've been noticing a sudden blitz in the media coverage of comic books in the L.A. media, it's all inspired by the "Masters of American Comics" joint exhibits opening this week at MOCA and the Hammer. Perfectly timed for Rights Readers' first venture into the comic book world with Persepolis. Anyone up for a field trip?

Los Angeles Times review of "Masters"

Masters of American Comics (MOCA)

Masters of American Comics (Hammer)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Marjane Satrapi Profile in LAT

Following our wonderful discussion of Ken Wiwa's In the Shadow of a Saint last weekend, right on cue, the Los Angeles Times runs a profile of our December author, Marjane Satrapi! So a question for our Readers to contemplate... what would West Point cadets get out of reading this book?

Monday, November 21, 2005

For March: A Death in Brazil

Yesterday we selected A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb for February. Here's the cover description:

Deliciously sensuous and fascinating, Robb renders in vivid detail the intoxicating pleasures of Brazil’s food, music, literature, and landscape as he travels not only cross country but also back in time—from the days of slavery to modern day political intrigue and murder. Spellbinding and revelatory, Peter Robb paints a multi-layered portrait of Brazil as a country of intoxicating and passionate extreme.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Kids with Cameras

Group 22 has a busy weekend with our annual appearance in the Doo-Dah Parade and our Rights Readers discussion Sunday evening. In anticipation of having photos to document some of our activities, I have added a Flickr badge to the website which will from time to time feature Group 22 pix. Right now though, we have a few selections from one of the children featured in the documentary film Born into Brothels-- there's also a book version-- about children in India documenting their own lives with the aid of photographer Zana Briski. Click the badge to see enlarged versions. For more information on the project visit the Kids with Cameras site. If the photos look vaguely familiar to some, they were once also featured in an Amnesty International Wall Calendar. (This year's calendar can be found here or here-- a great gift!)

November 20 is International Children's Day, so this post is our little celebration. Visit the Amnesty site for more ways to commemorate the occasion.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tom Goldstein testifies on Streamlined Procedures Act

The Los Angeles Times reports: Tom Goldstein, one of the speakers at our September Stanley Williams event, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday regarding the Streamlined Procedures Act and the effect it would have on exonerees like himself. Goldstein spent 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. From the LAT article:

Goldstein, 56, now works as a paralegal. He has gone to Washington twice in an effort to defeat the Senate bill — and companion legislation in the House — which he says "would deny review of many death penalty cases by the federal courts…. If this law was in effect when I was going through the system, I would still be in prison."

The Justice Project has more information plus action items.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Niger Delta in the News

The Los Angeles Times reports on the "combustible" situation in the Niger Delta:

Ten years after Nigerian authorities executed Niger Delta writer and community activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, popular anger and unrest continue to grow, while warnings of a calamitous slide into violence abound. Saro-Wiwa campaigned for a greater share of oil wealth for the population and protested environmental damage, but little progress has been made since his death...

"Unless something drastic is done, there will not be peace around here. There's going to be trouble," prominent human rights activist Anyakwee Nsirimovu said.

With the decline in traditional occupations like fishing and farming because of environmental degradation, many young people are easily recruited into militias or crime cartels, which get their funding from oil "bunkering," or theft...

Ledum Mitee, spokesman for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, the group Saro-Wiwa founded, accused the company and its contractors of "divide and rule" tactics, bribing certain people or offering contracts to circumvent community opposition and get its work done in the region, which has half a million people and massive oil reserves. Mitee faced trial with Saro-Wiwa and is often seen as his successor.

One community chief in the Ogoni village of Kegbara Dere, Clement Goni Badom, said people were still so opposed to the company that calling someone an agent of Shell was like using a swear word.

The company said in e-mailed answers to questions from The Times that it would only return to the area if welcomed by the community. Despite the anger, the company argued, communities have turned to Shell to address poverty in the region instead of looking to the government. Shell said it had adopted a new approach across the delta region, abolishing ad hoc payments to communities or individuals to get access to sites.

Activist Nsirimovu said Shell's policies were "beautiful on paper. But those standards don't apply here."

Baakpa Birabil, 60, a farmer in Kegbara Dere, is angry that his small plot of land was destroyed in a spill two years ago. "My anger is toward Shell, who just came to my land and exploited it without leaving anything for me. You can see we are very poor people." He said people had expected good things when the oil companies first arrived, decades ago. "We never expected it would bring bad things," he said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sudan: Salih Mahmoud Osman

Salih Mahmoud Osman, the Sudanese human rights lawyer who spoke in Pasadena was imprisoned for more than seven months in 2004. The campaign for his release included our Summer Postcard Action. As always, it was a thrill to see the subject of one of our actions free and able to continue with his invaluable work. He was profiled in Saturday's Los Angeles Times.

State Department officials in Washington met Osman this week with sympathy, but little else — no promises for action or additional support for AU troops. In fact, Congress last week cut $50 million in support for Darfur peacekeeping troops.

In the absence of hope in Darfur, Osman has tried to provide at least a record of alleged war crimes perpetrated against the region's tribes. At most, he offers a chance for justice.,,

And so, his Sudan Organization Against Torture provides legal help, medical aid and psychological counseling to those who were targeted by the militias.

The organization's small legal team is working to have rape prosecuted as a war crime. Under Sudanese law, prosecution of rape requires proof or witnesses — forcing victims to often settle for lesser charges if the case is heard at all.

"The Sudanese justice system does not work very well," he said in an interview this week at the United Nations. "It is incompetent and unwilling to provide justice. There is impunity for these crimes, and victims have no confidence in the courts ..."

"We are putting crimes on the record," he said. "We're exposing the war criminals who continue to lie about what they're doing. And we're giving some comfort to the victims, who must know that they are not forgotten, that their suffering has been documented."

While Mr. Osman was noting how difficult it was to keep Sudan from fading from the headlines and imploring us to renew our efforts to bring attention to the genocide taking place in his country, the church was actually swarming with reporters due to All Saints' little tiff with the IRS. What a shame they were not there to cover the real story!

The Human Rights Watch video, Darfur Destroyed, shown at the event is available for online viewing at the Witness website.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Memorializing Ken Saro-Wiwa

Today is the tenth anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. How to commemorate this date? Revisit the other posts on this site about the on-going struggle of Nigerian activists to protect their environment in the face of degradation caused by the oil industry and take the recommended actions. Read Ken Wiwa's piece on his father in the Guardian (also linked on this blog), and let's let Saro-Wiwa the writer speak for himself: Sydney PEN Center has a tribute which includes a couple of his poems plus tribute poems by Ben Okri and Jack Mapanje. I used to read "The True Prison" at the end of every talk I gave for Amnesty/Sierra Club's Just Earth Network. A creation of a memorial poetry collection, Dance the Guns to Silence is part of the international effort to recognize this date, but alas the book appears to have no US publisher at this point.

Finally, how about some thoughts from a Nigerian blogger: Nigerian Times reminds us of the other martyrs to the Ogoni cause.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ken Saro-Wiwa for Children

Well, not quite, but Beverly Naidoo has written a book aimed at middle school children which is at least inspired by the Ken Saro-Wiwa story and deals as well with the plight of political refugees. The Other Side of Truth has won numerous awards including a Carnegie Medal (the UK's version of the Newberry). I've read it, and although I was not completely convinced of its prize-worthiness, it did remind me of a series of books I read as a child about children caught up in WWII that I think fed my early sympathies for victims of human rights violations. Naidoo has also written several other children's books about the struggle to end South African apartheid. The idealistic middle schooler in your life, might really enjoy this. I'd be interested to know if there are other books for children or youth about Ken Saro-Wiwa or the Ogoni struggle...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sudan Event this Sunday in Pasadena

Just a little break from what will probably be a lot of Nigeria news this week...

Human Rights Watch and All Saints Church (132 N. Euclid Ave. in Pasadena) are presenting a program on Sudan, Sunday November 13 at 10:15 AM (in the Forum): Hear a first-hand account from an individual who is aiding the victims of this ethnic cleansing. Human Rights Watch monitor Salih Mahmoud Osman is a lawyer and human rights activist from the Darfur region of Sudan, who, for 20 years, has defended and given free legal aid to people who have been arbitrarily detained and tortured by the Sudanese government. For this work, Salih has himself been arrested and arbitrarily detained. Over the past several years, Salih has contributed immeasurably to Human Rights Watch’s investigations of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He will be joined by Georgette Gagnon, an international human rights lawyer and Deputy Director of the African Division of Human Rights Watch.

If you haven't caught this before, check out HRW's moving gallery of children's drawings--
Darfur Drawn: The Conflict in Darfur through Children's Eyes

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ken Wiwa: "In the Name of My Father"

For anyone feeling a little frustrated after clicking on the Toronto Globe and Mail link below and finding that Ken Wiwa's Saturday column was about his father's legacy but hidden behind a subscription wall, the Guardian rides the to rescue: "In the Name of My Father".

Friday, November 04, 2005

Our November Author, Ken Wiwa

Some links featuring Ken Wiwa, the author of In the Shadow of a Saint:

Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation. Note in the Board Members section that it offers a glimpse into what Ken Wiwa is doing now. I know I was impressed enough with the quality of his writing in Shadow that I'd be interested in the book he is now writing. Now if we could just get a US edition published in paperback!

Following up on the lead above, I did indeed find commentaries on the NPR site. Here's one on Belgium's apology for their part in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.

Here's a recent interview from Democracy Now, also featuring Kenyan Nobel winner Wangari Maathai.

His Toronto Globe and Mail page (even is you don't venture past the registration wall) gives you a sense of his current concerns.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Amnesty International Issues New Nigeria Report

Amnesty issued a new report today, Claiming rights and resources: Injustice, oil and violence in Nigeria and accompanying actions targeting the Nigerian, US and UK governments and Shell and Chevron.

Among the abuses in Nigeria, the report details the February 4, 2005 assault on protesters by Nigerian soldiers and Chevron-hired security guards. One person was shot dead, and at least 30 were injured. Neither Chevron nor the hired security forces assisted the medical needs of the injured. Despite video of beatings and independent observers accounts of violence, Chevron has not lived up to its human rights responsibilities. The company denies responsibly, did not investigate the incident, and has not taken essential steps to prevent a recurrence. Check out the link above for more info and to take action.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Follow-up on the "Denounce Torture" Event

For those unable to attend our recent event supporting Amnesty International's Denounce Torture campaign and for those who want to pursue some of the issues presented further, here are some literary connections of note from the event:

One of the speakers, Jennifer Harbury, known in human rights circles for taking on the Guatemalan army and CIA in seeking answers for her husband's death, (documented in Searching for Everardo,) has written a new book, Truth, Torture and the American Way, connecting the dots with regards to torture and United States foreign policy from Vietnam to Central America to Iraq and the War on Terror.

The other non-Amnesty speaker, Maria LaHood, presented the legal actions her organization, The Center for Constitutional Rights, is using to seek justice for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Poking around their website, I found that one of their non-legal projects is to promote public awareness of the plight of Guantanamo prisoners through public readings of a play, Guant√°namo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom. The play is by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo and is derived from spoken evidence and letters from British detainees to their families. More information on staging a reading and the script can be found here. Also very much worth noting is CCR's Wiwa Initiative, a legal action against Royal Dutch Shell for their part in the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pamuk on the Novel in East/West Dialogue

For those just joining us, we read Orhan Pamuk's Snow last month, just prior to the inauguration of this blog, and both the book and the author are showing some staying power in terms of our interest in supplementary material that helps us digest what he's all about. Here's a little more material for the file.

This Guardian article, is essentially a speech he gave recently in accepting a German peace prize. He says of Snow:

I am using this story as a way into the subject that I am coming to understand more clearly with each new day, and which is, in my view, central to the art of the novel: the question of the "other", the "stranger", the "enemy" that resides inside each of our heads, or rather, the question of how to transform it.

A novelist's politics rise from his imagination, from his ability to imagine himself as someone else. This power makes him not just a person who explores the human realities that have never been voiced before - it makes him the spokesman for those who cannot speak for themselves, whose anger is never heard, and whose words are suppressed.


As we all know: wherever there is too much pride, and whenever people act too proudly, there is the shadow of the other's shame and humiliation. Wherever there is someone who feels deeply humiliated, we can expect to see a proud nationalism rising to the surface. My novels are made from these dark materials, from this shame, this pride, this anger and this sense of defeat. Because I come from a nation that is knocking on Europe's door, I am only too aware of how easily these fragile emotions can, from time to time, take flame and rage unchecked. What I am trying to do here is to speak of this shame as a whispered secret, as I first heard it in Dostoevsky's novels. For it is by sharing our secret shames that we bring about our liberation.


These are the times when we feel humility, compassion, tolerance, pity and love stirring in our hearts: for great literature speaks not to our powers of judgment, but to our ability to put ourselves in someone else's place. Modern societies, tribes and nations do their deepest thinking about themselves through reading novels; through reading novels, they are able to argue about who they are; so even if we have picked up a novel hoping only to divert ourselves, and relax, and escape the boredom of everyday life, we begin, without realising, to conjure up the collectivity, the nation, the society to which we belong.


This is also why novels give voice not just to a nation's pride and joy, but also to its anger, its vulnerabilities, and its shame. It is because they remind readers of their shame, their pride, and their tenuous place in the world that novelists still arouse such anger, and what a shame it is that we still see outbursts of intolerance - that we still see books burned, and novelists prosecuted.

This second (older) reflection from the New York Review of Books also emphasizes the shame and humiliation theme in his response to the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

This is the grim, troubled private sphere that neither magical realistic novels that endow poverty and foolishness with charm nor the exoticism of popular travel literature manages to fathom. And it is while living within this private sphere that most people in the world today are afflicted by spiritual misery. The problem facing the West is not only to discover which terrorist is preparing a bomb in which tent, which cave, or which street of which city, but also to understand the poor and scorned and "wrongful" majority that does not belong to the Western world.

I recommend reading the Guardian article in particular in its entirety.
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