Friday, December 22, 2006

Adam Hochschild on Bush

In an LAT opinion piece today, Adam Hochschild (King Leopold's Ghost), explores the Bush-Leopold parallel and offers suggestions for further reading,
For your next assignment, Mr. President, how about a different sort of reading? Ask Laura to stuff your Christmas stocking with books about people who've had the courage to change their minds. One former tenant of the house you live in, Lyndon B. Johnson, entered politics as a traditional segregationist but ended up doing more for civil rights than any American president of his century. Another, Dwight D. Eisenhower, spent half his life in the U.S. military but gave us (a little late) an eloquent warning about the military-industrial complex.

Ha Jin goes to the Met

NPR has a piece on the premiere of Tan Dun's new opera "First Emperor" at the Met with pictures and sound samples. Ha Jin (Rights Readers selection The Crazed) co-wrote the libretto.

Monday, December 18, 2006

For April: Louise Erdrich's Tracks

We have selected Louise Erdrich's Tracks for our April 15 meeting,
Set in North Dakota at a time in this century when Indian tribes were struggling to keep what little remained of their lands, Tracks is a tale of passion and deep unrest. Over the course of ten crucial years, as tribal land and trust between people erode ceaselessly, men and women are pushed to the brink of their endurance--yet their pride and humor prohibit surrender. The reader will experience shock and pleasure in encountering a group of characters that are compelling and rich in their vigor, clarity, and indomitable vitality.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Write-a-thon Continues...

Holdiay Card Action comes to party-goers at the annual COLORS Christmas Party, a church-based anti-racism group and frequent collaborators of Group 22 Pasadena. (Click on pictures for larger versions).

Music inspires the writing! Stir it up!

In the spirit of the evening's celebration of multi-culturalism, a card in Chinese.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Our December Author: Hiner Saleem

Here are a few links for our December author, Hiner Saleem, (My Father’s Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan). Most concern his career as a film director, rather than a the book. You can start with his IMDB page for an overview, then check out articles regarding his most recent film, Kilometer Zero, set in Iraqi Kurdistan during the Iran-Iraq war: Cannes Film Festival summary, Guardian and Christian Science Monitor articles and here's a bit from the New York Times,
In exile since the age of 17, the director, like his hero, is an angry man, with the kind of suppressed rage that comes out in spurts. His previous film, ''Vodka Lemon,'' on the plight of Kurds in Armenia, won the San Marco award at Venice in 2003. ''Of course I'm the same person with the same sensitivity and aesthetics,'' he said, ''but 'Kilometer Zero' is inspired by one of my brothers, who was nabbed off the street and sent to fight for Saddam Hussein.''
and on the difficulty of filming in Iraqi Kurdistan from a CNN interview transcript(scroll down),
SALEEM (through translator): It was impossible to find a single camera in Kurdistan. There are no film crews, no professionals, no film stock. There was nothing, only people and fantastic landscape.

GLASS: It was just as hard to find an image of Saddam Hussein. Once ubiquitous, all of them have been destroyed. The statue that is endlessly transported across the screen was specially made.

SALEEM (through translator): Kurdish sculptors refused to make it. I had to commission an Arab in Mosul. For security reasons, it was build in Kurdistan behind a high wall. But when it rose higher and higher, people spotted Saddam's head peering over the wall. The police came and confiscated the statue and arrested the sculptor. I had to intervene and explain it was for a film.
Finally, here's another profile describing a different film, but perhaps more fun, at the same website there is a collection of Kurdish panoramas.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Happy Human Rights Day!

We did our International Human Rights Day celebrating yesterday at Cafe Culture at our second annual Global Write-a-thon. 205 letters and postcards for the day! That exceeds our pledge of 120. AIUSA's total pledges exceeded 60,000 at more than 900 events and this is not even including events in 40 other countries! Still not to late to download an action and join the party!

Many thanks to all our writers and especially to all the lovely people at Cafe Culture, both staff and customers!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

For March: Putin's Russia

For our March 18 meeting, we have selected the late journalist Anna Politkovskaya's, Putin's Russia. Be sure to participate in the Holiday Card Action offering condolences to her family and friends. (Note: This book will be available in paper on December 26.)
Hailed as “a lone voice crying out in a moral wilderness” (New Statesman), Anna Politkovskaya made her name with her fearless reporting on the war in Chechnya. Now she turns her steely gaze on the multiple threats to Russian stability, among them President Putin himself.

Putin’s Russia depicts a far-reaching state of decay. Politkovskaya describes an army in which soldiers die from malnutrition, parents must pay bribes to recover their dead sons’ bodies, and conscripts are even hired out as slaves. She exposes rampant corruption in business, government, and the judiciary, where everything from store permits to bus routes to court appointments is for sale. And she offers a scathing condemnation of the ongoing war in Chechnya, where kidnappings, extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture are begetting terrorism rather than fighting it.

Sounding an urgent alarm, Putin’s Russia is both a gripping portrayal of a country in crisis and the testament of a great and intrepid reporter.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Caltech Event: International Human Rights Day Film Night

In honor of International Human Rights Day (December 10), Amnesty International Group 22, the Caltech Y's Social Activism Speaker Series, and the Caltech Falun Club will present a screening of Sandstorm, a film by Michael Mahonen.

Sandstorm tells the story of He Tianying, a mid-level Chinese police officer. For twelve days and nights, He and his wife have been trapped in their home during a massive sandstorm covering a large area of China. His wife is running out of life-sustaining medicine, their young daughter is missing in the storm, electricity and phone communication have been cut off, and their food and water are running out. As He Tianying cares for his dying wife, in this isolation and confinement, his conscience starts to emerge. As a policeman, he has been involved in the vicious persecution of common Chinese citizens who follow the spiritual practice of Falun Gong. In a series of flashbacks, he painfully recalls one particular Falun Gong practitioner whom he had been attempting to force to renounce her beliefs. As He Tianying consumes the last of his food and water, he is visited in a dream by an apparition of his daughter who helps guide him toward deeper truths and hope.

Date: Sunday December 10, 2006 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Location: Beckman Institute auditorium - Find on Campus Map

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More on Endangered Languages

Here are some general resources on endangered languages to supplement our reading of Spoken Here: First there are several organizations involved in this issue: Society for Endangered Languages, TerraLingua and the Foundation For Endangered Languages. Chicago Public Radio has an interview with the Foundation's Chairman, Nick Ostler. One thing I'll say is that these groups are very academic and their cause could really use some PR aimed at the layperson. In any case, there are some fun langauge sites to explore: Why not start translations the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? More language samples available at the Language Museum. Numbers in over 5000 languages can be found here. My favorite is a series of essays from openDemocracy on untranslatable words,
Every language has words that trigger personal truths, national histories, or cultural peculiarities; words that resonate in heart and mind as well as on the tongue. Can we translate the untranslatable?
Finally, UNESCO has a recent special issue of their newsletter the Messenger dedicated to endangered languages, and an interactive map of Africa.

Spoken Here: Mohawk

Time to visit Canada on our Spoken Here journey. Start with Omniglot's Mohawk page or links from Native American Langage Net. Here's a cool idea-- Mohawk lessons via podcast. Or visit the Kahnawake Language Center. Recommended features: Photo archive and radio, just to hear what the language sounds like. There's also a bit of Mohawk in this audio documentary about Mohawk ironworkers who worked on the World Trade Center from Lost and Found Sound.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Spoken Here; Provencal

More encounters with the endangered languages of Spoken Here. Probably, if I was capable of searching in French, we'd have better links for Provencal, but here's Omniglot's Occitan page, with orthographic comparison. Otherwise, I get a lot of dead links... not a good sign for an endangered language. I suggest going back to your Manx lessons or planning your own linguistic fieldwork (with sidetrips) in Provence.

Spoken Here; Manx

Next stop on our Spoken Here journey is the Isle of Man and we are full of amusements! For you serious types, you can check out the Manx language Omniglot page. But then its time to visit the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, the Manx language primary school, and check out the pictures of Leslie Quirk. Try this site for some Manx lessons with audio, or play a little vocab game here. If you get more serious you can try the Learning Manx blog. If you just want some good visuals (or to plan your vacation) visit Manx National Heritage Web Site or Isle of Man Guide,

Spoken Here: Yuchi

Continuing with our Spoken Here adventures, our visit to Oklahoma is a little thin on resources, but here's a page of Yuchi links from Native American Language Net and here's the tribe's official site.

Spoken Here: Australia

What's a travel book without pictures? And a travel book about languages without sound? Bear with me for a series of posts related to Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages that will fill in some of the audio-visual gaps. Beginning with Australia, I encourage a visit to the Postcards From Halls Creek website, poke around for pictures and give a listen to the audio program featuring voices of residents talking about their community, including some Jaru speakers. Wadeye Aboriginal Community has a similar friendly site, while the Tiwi Islands site features tempting photographs for tourists but a less personal feel.

If you want to explore some more, Aboriginal Languages of Australia might be a good place to site or the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies (check out this map). For less academic wanderings, try Aboriginal Art Online.

Happy wandering!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Good News! Helen Berhane Released

Coming into the season for giving thanks, we are grateful for the release of Eritrean gospel singer Helen Berhane (see previous post). Official Amnesty press release here. There is still much work to be done, however. Click here for an action urging the government of Libya not to return refugees to Eritrea to be tortured. Libyan authorities rounded up and detained 300 Eritrean refugees in August, including 80 women and five children between the ages of two and six. Refugees need protection, not further persecution.

Our November Author: Mark Abley

Here's a little background on Mark Abley, author of Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. First, a little bit of biographical information, as well as a bit about his other books, is available here. A couple of interviews are available online, one from his publisher and one from the Montreal Review of Books. He drops hints about his next book:
It's kind of a follow-up to Spoken Here. The topic is a huge one - how English and the other major languages of the world are changing, and what the future might hold for the way we speak and write.
Finally, the Foundation for Endangered Languages shares one of his poems.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Save the Date! Write-a-thon December 9!

Just a quick note to encourage our Loyal Readers and Friends to save the date, December 9, for our annual International Human Rights Day letter-writing marathon. Amnesty International activists around the world will be writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, torture victims, and other Amnesty campaigns. They will also be sending holiday postcards to prisoners of conscience, to encourage them and keep their spirits up. We'll be doing our part at Cafe Culture in Pasadena from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM hosting a continuous writing session. Please plan to visit us there for a cup of coffee, conversation, and to write a letter or postcard to defend human rights.

Location: Cafe' Culture
1359 North Altadena Drive
(626) 398-8654
(just north of the intersection of Altadena Drive & Washington Boulevard)

If you can't join us, you can download your very own Write-a-thon by visiting Amnesty's Write-a-thon site. You can download actions for kids too! Drop us a line if you work up a stack and we will include you in our letter count!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Catch A Fire

Last weekend I attended a preview screening of Catch a Fire, the new thriller about real-life South African freedom fighter Patrick Chumasso. Director Phillip Noyce and Patrick Chumasso were present for Q&A after the film and a great dialogue about the past, present and future of South Africa ensued. I was ready to give the film a big thumbs up anyway, but now I find that Amnesty has its own little promo page for everyone to take in, including a curriculum guide, trailer, reports on South Africa and other goodies. And please don't overlook the curriculum guide if you aren't a teacher! World music buff that I am, I especially enjoyed all the links in the lesson plan on protest music. Go see the film!

Prisoner of Conscience Shi Tao

Amnesty International USA's Western Region has recently adopted Chinese prisoner of conscience Shi Tao as its "Special Focus" case, so its a good time to review with a few links. AI provides an online action and additional background on the writer's ten year sentence for "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities" when he emailed a US-based website, sharing the details of an internal government directive barring media reports that could fuel unrest during the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen. Yahoo! provided information to the government for his prosecution. Human Rights in China, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Guardian also have profiles of Shi Tao that include links to the poet and journalist's writings. More on Amnesty's campaign against internet censorhip in China here.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pasadena Event: Eric Reeves on Darfur and the Ghosts of Rwanda

This Sunday, October 29, Eric Reeves, Sudan researcher will be speaking at All Saints Church (132 N. Euclid) in the Forum at 10:15 AM.
Darfur and the Ghosts of Rwanda
with activist professor Eric Reeves,
introduced by Bradley Whitford

What are the consequences of continued inaction and diffidence on the part of the international community before the first great genocide of the 21st century? This Sunday Eric Reeves brings his strong critique of those who argue, in effect, for the status quo in Darfur. Over eight years ago, this professor of literature at Smith College in Massachusetts became so agitated about the brutal war in Sudan that he took a leave from his job to go to work on the issue. Reeves has spent the ensuing years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both nationally and internationally. He has testified a number of times before Congress, has served as a consultant to a number of human rights and humanitarian organizations operating in Sudan, and frequently provides analysis and commentary to a wide range of news organizations, including the BBC, Radio France Internationale, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post.

Don't miss this opportunity! Check out Reeves' informative blog :: Sudan Research, Analysis, and Advocacy

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Naomi Hirahara at Pacific Asia Museum

Naomi Hirahara, author of (Summer of the Big Bachi) will be speaking at Pasadena's Pacific Asia Museum on Thursday, November 2 at 7 PM. She will be joined by Sujata Massey, author of Girl in a Box, in which Japanese American sleuth Rei Shimura must use all her resourcefulness and unorthodox methods to unmask a killer. Naomi Hirahara's newest novel, Snakeskin Shamisen, finds Mas Arai, one of mystery fiction's most unique heroes, caught up in a dark tale that reaches from the islands of Okinawa to the streets of L.A.

Book signing and light refreshments included. Reservations recommended, 626.449.2742, ext. 20. Authors on Asia programs are included in museum admission, $7, $5 and are free for museum members.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Rights Readers Blog Anniversary

Last Tuesday was the one year anniversary of this blog! I decided to defer to World Poverty Day and then some of our local events before making this announcement. But now I've lit a candle to commemorate the occasion. Thanks to all who have encouraged this little experiment throughout the year!

(I borrowed this lovely candle from AIUSA Group 4 - Seattle's site - I recomend a a visit.)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Caltech Event: Maquiladora Workers & Activists

Our friends from Caltech's Social Activism Speaker Series are sponsoring a presentation this Friday. We'll have a table at the event - stop by and say hi!

Witness for Peace Southwest Mexico/Border Speaker Tour
Maquiladora Workers & Activists
Friday, October 20, 2006
7:30pm, Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech
This event is free and open to the public.
More info at Social Activism Speaker Series (SASS) web page.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Shadow Company Screening October 22

Shadow Company Trailer

Amnesty International Group 22 - Pasadena/Caltech is pleased to host a screening of Shadow Company, this Sunday, October 22 at 4:30 PM at the Caltech Y Lounge (1350 San Pasqual Street, Pasadena - map - follow two curving walls forming a gate to a path-- our building is just beyond). The screening is free and there will be refreshments! Discussion and action opportunities will follow film. Please join us!

Film Description:
No one can forget the horrifying images: photos of Iraqis kept at Abu Ghraib prison naked, bleeding, humiliated, and some dead. Since the first reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib became public in 2004, subsequent military investigations have found that contractors and employees of private companies contracted by the U.S. government were involved, along with US soldiers, in the torture and abuse of the detainees.

What you may not know is that the use of these private military contractors (PMCs) in the "war on terror" is expanding, as they fulfill even sensitive military functions, like interrogation and translation services, in addition to logistical support and security services in conflict zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

"Shadow Company," by Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque, is a documentary film that explores the history of mercenaries, the PMC industry and regulation of it - with exclusive interviews with security contractors, journalists, historians and owners of contracting companies. With tens of thousands of armed contractors in Iraq alone, it is clear that the rules of war have changed - and it is up to everyone to learn how these rules have changed and why.
Amnesty action on military contractors here.

Global Campaign to End Poverty

It's World Poverty Day, so we are providing this pointer to Global Campaign to End Poverty. Amnesty is a partner in this campaign-- see this page for a discussion of Poverty and human rights. And here's an action on forced evictions of the impoverished in Zimbabwe. How appropriate the 2006 Nobel Prize feels for today's theme! Here's Amnesty's press release congratulating Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank on receiving the award. Here's a little video introduction to Grameen's work:

More at the Grameen Foundation website.

Monday, October 16, 2006

For February: The Inheritance of Loss

For February we have selected Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss:
Kiran Desai's first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, was published to unanimous acclaim in over twenty-two countries. Now Desai takes us to the northeastern Himalayas where a rising insurgency challenges the old way of life. In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga lives an embittered old judge who wants to retire in peace when his orphaned granddaughter Sai arrives on his doorstep. The judge's chatty cook watches over her, but his thoughts are mostly with his son, Biju, hopscotching from one New York restaurant job to another, trying to stay a step ahead of the INS, forced to consider his country's place in the world. When a Nepalese insurgency in the mountains threatens Sai's new-sprung romance with her handsome Nepali tutor and causes their lives to descend into chaos, they, too, are forced to confront their colliding interests. The nation fights itself. The cook witnesses the hierarchy being overturned and discarded. The judge must revisit his past, his own role in this grasping world of conflicting desires-every moment holding out the possibility for hope or betrayal. A novel of depth and emotion, Desai's second, long-awaited novel fulfills the grand promise established by her first.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Arts and Culture from the Axis of Evil

NPR ran a profile the other day on poetry and prose from Iran, Iraq and North Korea, now in a new collection, Literature from the Axis of Evil. The page features a short story from North Korea and samples from a similarly themed musical collection, Lullabies from the Axis of Evil.
SoundRoots has an Evil sample playlist which might appeal if you find lullabies to tame. If your taste runs more visual, NPR also explores Guy DeLisle's Pyongyang, a graphic novel/memoir of his stay in North Korea. You can download a pdf excerpt of the comic at the site. That one has been on my to-be-considered list for a while. Just waiting for the paperback!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reflecting on Beasts of No Nation

Guest Post!!! I'm going to leave the last word on child soldiers before our non-virtual discussion on Sunday to one of our Esteemed Readers (Stevi). What might happen to Agu after the novel ends? Here's a possible answer:
Reading Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala once again, reminds me of Ibrahim and Garbo. Even though the students where I taught brought more than 60 first languages with them, few of our students came from Africa.

Ibrahim was 19 when he arrived at our school from Sudan. He was tall, light skinned and soft spoken. Many USA students confuse the African continent with a single country and so one day, Ibrahim agreed to talk with our world history class about his country. On the large map tacked to the wall, he showed Sudan on the eastern side of Africa and told about what it looked like and his family there. Then quietly he mentioned war. The simple words slipped through his lips, “I was a soldier for five years.” My gaze traveled from Ibrahim’s face to those of my other students, and I could see the gleam of excitement like Agu had felt after watching war movies but before he experienced war on the ground.

A hand flew up and the question burst forth, “Did you ever kill anyone?” Tension filled our room. Ibrahim’s soft face clouded up, his jaw set and pain filled his eyes. I told him that was not a question he needed to answer. Now I don’t remember how we moved from his story back to our history text.

Shortly after this, I received a withdrawal notice for Ibrahim. When I asked the counselor what had happened, she told me Ibrahim didn’t believe high school was the place for him. He didn’t like being around all of the kids, and he wanted to work for money. He’d had to leave that teeming teenage environment.

Garbo arrived from Liberia during that country’s second civil war. He was 14, still growing, muscular, also soft spoken, and dark as a night without moon or stars. He joined his father who had left Liberia, his wife, two sons and at least one daughter when Garbo was less than a year old. Garbo had not seen him since then. In the States, Garbo’s father had acquired a new woman, an African-American, and had another son. He had come to the USA to go to college.

Because Liberia is an English speaking nation, Garbo was not put in an ESL class despite the reality that listening to him speak English was like listening to a foreign language, and I was never sure how much he understood. As Agu explains what he sees, feels and experiences in the novel, I could see Garbo talking with me. At least twice he stayed after school to talk for 45 minutes to an hour. Fortunately, I had just read an extended article about Liberia and her civil wars. As he recounted what he’d seen, soldiers, violence, cannibalism, his injured finger smashed under a rock, I could put the pieces together and wonder if in fact he had witnessed all of this, or like me, simply knew about it.

The social part of high school was hard for him. His dark skin caused the African-American kids to taunt him and call him “black shit.” When he came to me for help, I went to our African-American dean and asked her to intervene with preventative measures. She didn’t until Garbo finally lashed out and got into a fistfight in the locker room in gym. Another time when the kids would not stop harassing him, he just stopped, looked at them, and quietly said, “In my country, I would just kill you.” He finally made friends with the Latino boys he played soccer with, and it was a Latino family that took him in when his father and the son his father had with the African-American woman moved to Texas and did not want to take him along.

On his final day of high school right before graduation, he came to my room to thank me. As he hugged me, his body shook with sobs and tears of joy washed down his face. I think he was going to the junior college and would play soccer for them. A few years later, he stopped by school to give me a stuffed toy for my granddaughter and a photo of his son, a boy he had with an African-American woman without benefit of marriage. As I looked at the photo, I wondered about what will happen to this child of an African-American and an African. Will he be free of the dangers of war, or will he be lured into gang life and the war of the streets?

When I think of them, I send love and healing to Ibrahim and Garbo wherever they may be.

Child Soldiers Invade Congress!

Apparently, over 700 activists, many of them former child soldiers, held a Lobby Day for Northern Uganda earlier this week. You can listen to an NPR feature here, or read an article about one of the child soldier lobbyists here. I hope there were at least a few Congresspersons not out campaigning who got to listen to these stories.

I'll just take this opportunity to mention that there is a short video to accompany the report on children in the Democratic Republic of Congo which I blogged about previously.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Afrobeat and Beasts of No Nation

Time for your Beasts of No Nation soundtrack! Well, it turns out there really is one. The epigraph for the novel is a quote from Fela Kuti, the founding father of Afrobeat-- "This uprising will bring out the beast in us"-- and the title of the book also corresponds to a 1989 Fela Kuti recording: Beasts of No Nation, so a little exploration is in order. No samples at link above, though there's a bit at the end of this BBC Radio profile of Fela, but you can find lyrics for the song here.

A profile of Fela from National Geographic World Music describes the musician's contributions to African music as well as his political activism,
Singing neither in Yoruba nor the King's English, Fela delivered his musical jeremiads in pidgin English, so as to reach as wide an audience as possible. And he was loved for it by the masses, who made him a star. But his broadsides against the corruption and of General Olusegun Obasanjo's military government made him some enemies in very high places, and he suffered repeated harassment, including a full scale attack on his Lagos compound (which he called "The Kalakuta Republic") in 1977. Over 1,000 soldiers set fire to the premises and beat anyone they could lay their hands on, including Fela's 82-year-old mother, who was thrown from a window and later died from her injuries. Fela himself suffered fractures in his skull, arm and leg. In his lifetime Fela would undergo 356 court appearances and three separate imprisonments, including a 1985-87 sentence on trumped-up currency charges that made him a poster boy for Amnesty International.
To round out our Beasts soundtrack, Fela's son Femi Kuti, also a musician/activist, is a contributor toth Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project. You can view a video promotion for the project here. And you might want to check out Ceasefire from Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier from Sudan, now a spokesperson for the Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Finally there is Uganda musician Samite's Embalasasa-- NPR profile and samples here. This is the one most appealing to me musically, perhaps because the focus of the album is music as a "weapon of healing" for child soldiers.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pamuk wins Nobel

We would have been more excited about this a year ago when we were right in the middle of reading Orhan Pamuk's Snow, but we're happy he won the prize this year.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Report on Child Soldiers in DRC

Just in time for our discussion of Beasts of No Nation, Amnesty has released a report today: Democratic Republic of Congo: Children at war, creating hope for the future. The report contains more child testimony about their experiences as soldiers and their reintegration into society,
John is 15 years’ old. He was demobilised in May 2006 after spending five years with the mayi-mayi.

"One day when I was 10 years old, fighters came to our school, stole everything inside and ordered us to go with them, saying that there would be no more learning for us. Now, I have been demobilised and I am with my family. It is good to be home, but I have nothing to do. I would like to study or work, but I have no money, there is no training and there is no work. I feel sad, because I feel unhelpful to my family. I am at home but I am worthless. During the day, I try not to think of my life as a fighter, because it makes me cry, but sometimes I think maybe I should go back to the armed groups…"
The recommendations in the report are strong on enforcing the right to education.

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Booker Prize

We came close to choosing Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss for January.  Now the book has won the Booker Prize.  I'd say the book will be up for reconsideration soon!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

World Day Against the Death Penalty

Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty. (I always thought that March 1 was Abolition Day, but the more excuses to take action on this issue the better.) Check out the sponsoring groups at the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty website. Then be sure to take action on five cases highlighting different aspects of the death penalty: child offenders, discrimination of foreign nationals, unfair trials, mental illness, and innocence.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Blood Diamond

From the Los Angeles Times comes word of a new film, Blood Diamond (link opens with soundtrack) starring Leo DiCaprio that's making diamond execs mighty uncomfortable. The film is set during Sierra Leone's civil war and depicts both the issue of "conflict diamonds" used to finance the war and the devastation to the country including the exploitation of children as soldiers-- a topic we have been exploring in our reading this month. The film's website already has a link to Amnesty's conflict diamond action page, as well as to Global Witness' campaign site. The entire article is worth a read, but we note that Artists for Amnesty is gearing up for the film's launch,
...Bonnie Abaunza, Los Angeles-based director of Amnesty International's celebrity outreach program, points out, the media is covering so-called "conflict diamonds" more now than when Sierra Leone's bloody civil wars were actually taking place. "It's amazing that all this attention is on conflict diamonds when no one has even seen the film yet," she said. Amnesty International is steadily recruiting celebrities in an effort to use the film to focus attention on human rights questions that still surround the diamond industry. For example, Abaunza said, she recently screened "Blood Diamond" for hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who works with De Beers on his line of diamond jewelry.

As early as last fall, De Beers head Jonathan Oppenheimer expressed concern that the film might hurt Christmas and Valentine's Day sales. He asked the filmmakers to add a disclaimer stating that the events in the film are fictional and in the past and that, thanks to the Kimberley Process, which the industry put in place to document where diamonds come from, conflict diamonds end up on the market only very rarely. The filmmakers declined to add it

In September, the diamond industry began its multimillion-dollar campaign to "educate consumers" about the Kimberley Process. But to some observers, the very scale of the costly campaign has raised suspicion. "The multimillion-dollar PR campaigns, full-page ads in major newspapers, outreaches to consumers and journalists with their new website.... Oddly, none of this is working in their favor. Everyone is asking, 'Why are they doing this? What do they fear?' " Abaunza said.

The Kimberley Process, which the diamond industry insists has reduced blood diamonds to 1% of stones sold, has been criticized by Amnesty International and Global Witness for being ineffective and corrupted. Amy O'Meara of Amnesty International's Business and Human Rights Program described it as fundamentally flawed. "There is no effective way to track the stones from point of origin to point of sale," she said. "They need an auditable tracking system. The diamond industry is asking us to take them at their word. That's not good enough. There is so much money at stake and so many hands in the pot. It's easy for the system to be corrupted."
And a little heads up about events coming our way,
The issues surrounding conflict diamonds will get strong support from the film's stars at the Dec. 12 premiere, which may involve Amnesty International and Global Witness. "We're still in the process of working out details," a company spokesperson said. "But it's safe to say that they will be involved in some way." Amnesty and Global Witness will also co-host an event in Los Angeles on Nov. 14, where they expect representatives from the Diamond Council as well. And AIUSA will be hosting special screenings on 10 campuses around the country to mobilize youthful activists.

The film has no apparent relationship to Greg Campbell's Blood Diamonds, the highly informative Rights Readers nonfiction selection on the same subject, but I think its safe to say that Loyal Readers will be throwing a little support to the box office for this film in the near future.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya

We came close to reading Anna Politkovskaya's account of the war in Chechnya, The Dirty War. And its still not too late for us to read her latest, Putin's Russia. Now comes news of her brutal death, so I'll take this moment to note this article on the Chechen conflict she wrote for Amnesty Magazine and AI's concern for her safety in this report. Would that we could have done more. She was certainly brave and relentless to the very end, reportedly at work Saturday finishing an article for the about torturers in the government of Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin premier of Chechnya.

Update: Amnesty press release here. Second update: Amnesty expresses concern for other Russian journalists here and you can take action on behalf of one of them here.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Child Soldiers / Child Testimony

Beasts of No Nation: A Novel (P.S.)So how about some real life child testimony to compare with the fictional version in Beasts of No Nation?

Here is a short film excerpt produced by WITNESS,
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) children make up the majority of combatants in a war that has claimed over four million lives. Through the voices of child soldiers, A DUTY TO PROTECT explores the complexity of the war, the issues confronted by girl soldiers including rape and sexual exploitation, and the importance of the International Criminal Court to end the rampant impunity reigning in Eastern DRC.

(Sidenote: Witness just launched a partnership with Global Voices, featuring human rights video from around the world, some from people documenting human rights abuses with cellphones-- I'm going to try to remember that next time one rings at the wrong time! A recent post concerned Mohammed Abbou, a Tunisian writer featured in Amnesty's Banned Books Week appeals.)

In this film from Sierra Leone, a 14 year old boy, Sidibay, tells the story of how his family were killed and how he become a child soldier.

More stories, drawings and songs from former Sierra Leone child soldiers can be found Sample excerpt,
I left about 8:00 pm to continue my journey. I walked for about an hour having nothing to eat ro drink then I suddenly saw a stream. I was drinking then I was surrounded by tall huge men and the one yield at me " What are you doing here you small boy you're a spy I'm going to kill you now." With these words Istarted trembling, then he said "Are going to join us or choose to die" then I say whatever you want to do with me I'm willing. I was then taken to their main base in that region and I was tied up for one week eating dry Cassava and drinking filthy water. One man who was living in my village and was one of them pleaded that they should let me go. and since that day I became a full childsoldier. I was injected with cocaine and then given an AK 47 riffle to carry. I started going to front lines killing people raping and do all sorts of bad things.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Child Soldiers: Nonfiction

Now that I've finished Beasts of No Nation, I have many questions, as do other Readers, I'm sure, about child soldiers and am ready to turn to nonfiction for some answers.  Here are some suggestions,

First, Amnesty International has created a curriculum guide to accompany the book Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers go to War by Jimmie Briggs.

Another nonfiction book on the subject is P.W. Singer's Children at War.  You can get a sense of the book from this video presentation (30 minute talk plus 30 minutes of Q&A).  I found this very informative. 

Or, try this half-hour interview with Singer on NPR's Fresh Air.  Some related material is also available at his Brookings page. (Singer will show up as an expert in Shadow Company as well.)

One other note, Amnesty has also collaborated with the creators of Innocent Voices, a film about child soldiers in El Salvador released last fall.  An article about student responses to the film can be found in the current issue of the Fourth R, the newsletter of Amnesty's Human Rights Educators Network (download pdf here). As far as I can tell, the film is not yet available on DVD.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Child Soldiers: Amnesty Resources

Continuing our exploration of Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation, we explore some supplemental information about child soldiers:

Amnesty has a number of resources on this issue, beginning with this rundown of press releases.  Check out these more visual features: A flash animation about Children at war in the DRC, a slideshow (opens with soundtrack) about "Night Commuter" children in northern Uganda who walk from their home villages to sleep in cities or in camps for internally displaced persons because they fear abduction into the Lord’s Resistance Army (accompanying action for children and youth here). And my favorite: The Story in Pictures - Drawings by Child Soldiers.

In addition, Amnesty is a member of the Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers.

More resource links in the next few days...

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Take Action on Eritrea Today!

The 5 year anniversary action for Estifanos Seyoum and the other Eritrean prisoners of conscience we referred to previously is now online,
Amnesty International is concerned about the whereabouts and well-being of eleven former members of Parliament and ten journalists five years after their detention without trial or charge. Call on the Eritrean government to address these "disappearances."
Please visit the AIUSA action center today!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Our October Author: Uzodinma Iweala

This month we offer multimedia introductions to Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation.

First, a short video from WGBH (I couldn't import this to the blog -- Warning!-- It will start playing as soon as you click).  One might hope for a better interviewer, but at least one is impressed with the author's youth.  A more in depth audio interview is available from KCRW's Bookworm.  And finally, a print interview from The Morning News by Robert Birnbaum. Excerpt,
RB: Let’s talk about Beasts of No Nation. Why did you want to write this book?

UI: I guess it was really wanting to understand what the experiences of being a child soldier—which is an odd thing to say because you can’t really understand it unless you have been one. But wanting to have deeper understanding and not just—you read newspaper articles and you hear things on the news and see pictures and [say], “Oh, wow, that’s sad.” And then you move on, you know? Every so often in your life something happens and you say, “I can’t move on from this. This isn’t something I can just put to the side and say, ‘This is happening to people and I have other things to do in my existence.’” It doesn’t work like that sometimes. Those people who really contribute to society are the ones who do that all the time. They say, “This is a problem and we are not going to brush this problem aside.” So I guess, for me it was just a small step in saying, “OK, I have seen this and I can’t brush this aside. So let me take this small step to learn more and more about it.”
The contents of this author essay from Powells paralells that of the essay printed in the back of the paperback edition of the book...only written in the style of the novel, and may be of interest to those who read other editions or enjoy the cleverness of the presentation. 

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Victim-Activated Landmine Act

A question was raised at one of our non-virtual meetings regarding a new piece of legislation we are working on regarding the meaning of "victim-activated" landmine.  We have an answer!
The Victim-Activated Landmine Act of 2006 (S. 3768) would ensure that the U.S. government only procures command activated weapons as opposed to victim activated weapons. Command activated munitions are detonated by human decision through remote-controlled means, requiring a user to identify a target first in order to ensure that they are not a civilian or a friendly force.
More background here.  Multi-media stories of landmine survivors here.  Everything else you need to know at the International Campaign to Ban Landmines site.

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Banned Books Miscellany

Closing out Banned Books Week, a more traditional approach to the subject can be found at the American Library Association's site. All your questions answered about the most notorious books. For fun, you can order a banned books bracelet. (I found myself thinking about which Rights Readers books would look good around my wrist!)

Or here's one I think our Loyal Readers would surely enjoy: donate a banned book for a free empanada and coffee at the Banned Books Cafe.
Not only do we have a number of banned books on hand (the recently discussed banned-in-Belarus Voices from Chernobyl comes to mind), many of us have fond memories of meetings with homemade empanadas, made by a Cherished Former Reader. Too bad this deal can only be had in San Antonio.

Finally, for inspiration, The Nation offers profiles in courageous librarians.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

For January: Bitter Grounds

For January we have selected Sandra Benitez' Bitter Grounds:
Spanning the years between 1932 and 1977, this beautifully told epic is set in the heart of El Salvador, where coffee plantations are the center of life for rich and poor alike. Following three generations of the Prieto clan and the wealthy family they work for, this is the story of mothers and daughters who live, love, and die for their passions.

Epic in scope, richly steeped in history, Bentez's poetic yet unsentimental novel takes you into another time, another place, and into the lives of characters so real they cannot be forgotten.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Banned Books Week

For Rights Readers, Banned Books Week has a little twist-- its more like Banned Writers Week. Please check here for profiles and downloadable actions to take on behalf of jailed journalists, bloggers, poets, editors and publishers. As a bonus, the action for Shi Tao (a case we've touched on before) can also be done electronically. For inspiration, read (or watch on video) journalist and former prisoner of conscience Akbar Ganji's discussion of censorship in Iran.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

For Your Sunday Contemplation

It's been a tough week where I have been stunned to hear pundits opine that lawmakers who take a pro-torture stance will have the political advantage in upcoming elections. Can we put politics aside and talk morality? Here's a group of folks trying to make this point. For your contemplation -- and action-- today, please visit the National Religious Campaign Against Torture website and consider endorsing their statement of conscience Torture is a Moral Issue and either take action on supporting the Geneva Conventions at the NRCAT site and/or through Amnesty. Amnesty International is an Adjunct Member of NRCAT.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

King Leopold Screening

Since our last mention of the documentary film version of King Leopold's Ghost, we have been waiting patiently for more screenings. Now, finally, Artists for Amnesty comes through this Thursday. Unfortunately, most of our Esteemed Readers have a schedule conflict, but can we hope that a theatrical release or DVD is on the horizon? (Variety reviews the film here.) In any case, this bit of news reminds us that we failed to mention that Rights Readers (the group not the blog) is seven years old this month!!! And our inaugural book? King Leopold's Ghost. Hence our eagerness. We look forward to a delayed celebration.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Banned Book Week Warmup

Launching with some good news!

Novelist Elif Shafak (see previous post) has been acquitted of "insulting Turkishness."  Now repeal the law!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

John Le Carre Journeys to Congo

In The Nation, John Le Carre goes to the Congo in search of fictional characters... and one of his guides is Michela Wrong. The NYT reviews Le Carre's latest novel here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Day for Darfur Rallies

An account of the worldwide "Day for Darfur" demonstrations held yesterday can be found here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

9/18 A Sad Anniversary

Today is the fifth anniversary of the detentions without charge or trial of 11 former Eritrean members of parliament, 10 journalists and hundreds of other men and women who were arrested in a crackdown on government critics calling for democratic reforms in September 2001. They remain in detention without trial and Amnesty is concerned about reports that some prisoners may have died in custody. Read the press release detailing Amnesty's human rights concerns here. Amnesty International Group 22 urges you to take action on behalf of Estifanos Seyoum, one of the imprisoned former members of parliment. We hope to add other actions here soon, check back for an update! Update: Online action is available here,

In non-Amnesty news, Eritrean activists and supporters are converging on DC today for a candlelight vigil. We're symbolically raising our own candle in hope for the speedy release of these prisonsers of conscience.

Booker Short List

The short list for the Booker Prize has been released and at least half of them are what I would call "Rights Readers-eligible."  Want to guess which ones?  Look for discussion of one or more of these books on this page in the near future!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Global Day for Darfur

This Sunday is "Day for Darfur" with a New York rally to demonstrate the need to send United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur, Sudan. Visit the Global Day for Darfur page and check out the rallies scheduled for other cities and countries. You can also dress yourself up in a blue peacekeeper beret or sign Amnesty's "add a blue helmet" petition here. If you want to do something a bit more serious, Amnesty International has issued the fourth in its series of actions for its summer campaign for Sudan. If you haven't written these letters, now would be a great time! If you need some inspiration, check out this Amnesty Magazine article or this video about refugees in Chad.

(Oops! I think it's great that Amnesty is uploading campaign videos to the web, but this one is missing some subtitles. This page has a shorter version that fills in some gaps.)

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

He Didn't Do It For Them

A final post on Michela Wrong's I Didn't Do It for You (though not our last Eritrea post by any means). Here's a review article of Wrong's book, entitledHe Didn’t Do It for Them, appearing in Middle East Report, written by Eritrea expert Dan Connell, which adds another layer to her analysis of the human rights situation in Eritrea. Also, if you scroll down this page you can hear audio of Connell presenting at an Eritreans for Human and Democratic Rights-UK organized Human Rights Symposium (moderated by... Michela Wrong!).

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Language Lesson

Language Geek alert!  I know we weren't going to let this take over the blog until November, but just felt the need to provide a few links on language in Eritrea before wrapping up our Michela Wrong-I Didn't Do It for You  thread.  Here's a map of Eritrean languages and Omniglot has more on Ge'ez and Tigrinya, including links to fonts for download (clean up those messy looking - ??? - Eritrean webpages!).  And in the interests of pure geekiness, Omniglot also has an Interlingua page.  No need to apologize if you don't recall where the book references this.  You're normal.  For those that did perk up at this bit of trivia, I know I'll be hearing shortly from you about the formation of a Tigrinya study group. Rock on.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9/11 Miscellany

Some book related 9/11 miscellany:

Last night I watched the rebroadcast of the excellent PBS Frontline special Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero and noted the presence of Kanan Makiya, profiled in the Rights Readers selection, Calamities of Exile by Lawrence Weschler. The website offers an online interview with Makiya and poking around the site I also found this link to reflections by a number of authors on the legacy of 9/11.

And we can't forget another Rights Readers selection, Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights by William Schulz, former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. Turns out a few months back, Schulz gave a speech at the UC-San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice and its available via Google Video! So if you want the short version of the book, need an update, or (for those who are well acquainted) are otherwise feeling nostalgic for those Sufi anecdotes, here you go:

(Yeah! My first video post, just wanted to see if I could do this!)

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering 9/11

The odd things that one remembers. On September 11, 2001, after taking in the news early in the morning I went to work as usual.  I parked my car and walking past Los Angeles Central Juvenile Hall on the way to the office, I encountered a parent and child headed away from the building.  Looking relieved, they told me the courts were closed.  Their judgement day, maybe their own family tragedy, had been postponed by our national tragedy. Mostly what I remember though, is that our Amnesty International chapter had a letter-writing meeting that evening.  Because Caltech closed its campus, regretably, we had to cancel it.  Some of us obeyed the instinct to be in community anyway and gathered at our favorite discussion spot, Vroman's bookstore, to debrief the day's events over coffee, but I think we would have felt even better if we had been writing.  For this reason, I think I will always associate 9/11 with Amnesty letter-writing. 

Sometime later, I observed that even though many felt the world changed on that day, for our then prisoner of conscience case, a Tibetan monk, nothing changed at all.  He was still in prison and the shift in geopolitics wasn't going to affect him.  We still needed to make sure he wasn't a "forgotten prisoner."  Now we have adopted a different prisoner of conscience case, Eritrean Estifanos Seyoum.  In his case, the world did change that week, but not in a way that the rest of us noticed.  He was arrested on September 18, 2001 and although never officially charged or brought to trial and he has been held incommunicado since that time. We still need to make sure he isn't forgotten. I still want to obey that instinct to connect with a wounded world and offer some small token of healing.  I can't think of anything better to do today then take action on Estifanos Seyoum's case and visit Amnesty International's Action Center for more letters to write.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

LA Event: Edward P. Jones

Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World, will be speaking about his latest book All Aunt Hagar’s Children: Stories, at the Los Angeles Public Library on Thursday, September 21 at 7:00 PM, Zipper Hall at the Colburn School, 200 South Grand Avenue --just north of MOCA. Reservations/details here.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Eritrea Virtual Tour

Okay, you've just finished I Didn't Do It for You : How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation and you congratulate yourself on having learned a lot about Eritrea, but now you've got more questions. Where to go? This site is like a virtual tour of the country and provides lots of light browsing, including facts and figures, photograhs, recipes(!) and the like. If you want something with more depth, browse this collection of links provided by Stanford University Libraries.

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