Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fat Tuesday Reflections

Not exactly Mardi Gras, but in honor of Fat Tuesday, here is a photo taken in 1997 at Amnesty's Annual General Meeting in New Orleans. The demonstration/jazz funeral was focused on the theme, "Refugees have Rights." I thought a lot about the musicians in this photo during Katrina and that's why my brothers and I exchanged benefit albums, Higher Ground and Our New Orleans, this past Christmas. Proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity's Musician's Village and now I've got some great tunes to get into the Mardi Gras spirit. Meanwhile, the NYT has an article on the new edginess in New Orleans music and I really enjoyed Andrei Codrescu's recent opinon piece in the LAT (also at Common Dreams), "Another Mardi Gras, after the Deluge," about the subversive, political nature of Mardi Gras:

In Mardi Gras' 400-year history, the societies that ruled the krewes and parades were the same power brokers that ruled New Orleans. The festival itself, imported from medieval Europe, was a mechanism for letting out the true feelings, the frustrations of the populace. On Mardi Gras day, mobs rule the streets, and the rulers are obliged to shower the unleashed masses with gifts...

He goes on to describe the current politicization:

This year, the same krewe put our profound anxiety and distress on display: Hundreds dressed as taped-up refrigerators marched in frigid weather; two enormous nude figures named Katrina and Rita, one black, one white, had explicit sex atop a float; a sea of FEMA blue tarps flapped in the wind from balconies, on floats, as capes on marchers. A sign proclaimed "Take us back, Chirac!" The blue tarp is the new flag of New Orleans, and the desire to return Louisiana to France is heard often, only half-facetiously.

We here at Rights Readers are into the subversive parade thing (see the Flickr Photo sidebar!). I can recall a Louisiana activist at a different Annual General Meeting admiring my display of photos and masks from our Doo-Dah Parade entry (Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People), asking permission to borrow it for Mardi Gras. Permission granted of course! Though I don't know if he ever followed through. Now I look to this year's New Orleans Mardi Gras parades for lessons in the possibilities of street theater as a force for change. For more street level views on how New Orleans is faring these post-Katrina blogs well worth exploring: Library Chronicles (Rights Readers love funky librarians!), Operation Eden (Amazing photo chronicle!), Voices of New Orleans (News, reviews and more!).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Emmett Till Film to be screened in Pasadena

Those of you who attended our recent death penalty vigil, know that in my comments, I delivered a little "Black History Month" lesson about how Governor George Ryan of Illinois was influenced by Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, who gave a speech to Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, just prior to her death which occurred the very week Gov. Ryan made his decision to commute the sentences of all inmates on death row. Here's a chance to learn more about this important civil rights leader: the Huntington Library offers a screening of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,  on March 2 (Thursday)  7 p.m. Also showing “An Interview with Rosa Parks.” $10 at the door.  Seating is first come, first served.  Information: 626-405-2205.  Friends’ Hall.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sudan: Eyewitness to speak in Pasadena

Another local opportunity to get an update on the situation in Sudan. Brian Steidle, an eyewitness to the genocide in Darfur, will speak from 5 to 6:30 p.m., March 1 in the Forum at All Saints Church (132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena). To see an exhibit of Brian's photography from Darfur and his written account to the Washington Post, visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum site -- but be warned, it is grim. Steidle was also featured in an NPR report this morning.

Meanwhile, stop by the Million Voices for Darfur site and add your voice to the list!

Saturday, February 25, 2006


As the Winter Olympics wind down, a reminder that in two short years Beijing will have its Olympics showcase. Human Rights in China has a monitoring site set up, Incorporating Responsibility: 2008, as does Human Rights Watch. Keep an eye on these!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

For May: Finding George Orwell in Burma

We have selected Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin for our May discussion. Please note this book will be released in paperback on March 6.
In one of the most intrepid travelogues in recent memory, Emma Larkin tells of the year she spent traveling through Burma, using as a compass the life and work of George Orwell, whom many of Burma’s underground teahouse intellectuals call simply "the Prophet." In stirring prose, she provides a powerful reckoning with one of the world’s least free countries. Finding George Orwell in Burma is a brave and revelatory reconnaissance of modern Burma, one of the world’s grimmest and most shuttered police states, where the term "Orwellian" aptly describes the life endured by the country’s people.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Do-it-yourself Death Penalty Vigil

UPDATE: Of course we are thrilled with the indefinite delay for this execution. Let's see if we can leverage this into a real moratorium!

Last night we gathered to vigil against the death penalty on the eve of the execution of Michael Morales. Except it didn't happen. It remains to be seen if the warden can find a lethal injection procedure that works by the end of today, but for those who missed our vigil or who feel they need to take a moment out of this evening for some additional reflection, light a candle and follow the links...

(For the religiously inclined, a prayer from Sister Helen Prejean and/or Psalm 25)

Governor George Ryan's speech announcing the commutation of the sentences of 167 Illinois death row inmates:
"I Must Act"

A poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca:
"I am offering this poem"

A President's Day quote to ponder: "There is no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending." -- Abraham Lincoln

Then visit the Amnesty site to take action.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Conference of Birds

This month's Adventures in Literary Allusion brings us Conference of Birds by Farid ud-din Attar. We'll leave discussion of what this has to do with Harbor for our discussion on Sunday. Meanwhile, the title alone just makes me smile with the images it conjures up. I picture the United Nations General Assembly populated with feathered friends. Surely there are illustrated versions. From tidbits here, the tales are wise and amusing at the same time.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Adams: Terrorism and Language

Lorraine Adams discusses the effectiveness of nonfiction books on terrorism in a 2002 Washington Monthly article by, "Terrorism and Language". Here's a taste,

The professor teaching Western Terrorism Literature 1970-2002 might open with the observation that the works of the period have their roots in The Hardy Boys adventure stories--The Sinister Signpost, The Secret Warning, While the Clock Ticked, Mystery of the Desert Giant. A common leitmotif: Only real men are capable of saving an affluent, soft society from foreign predation and apocalypse. The period's overarching theme: Terrorists are bad.

Hiding truth under abstraction was the bad writing of Orwell's day. In our day, Bergen, Emerson, Dershowitz, and Pipes hide truth under entertainment. Their books use hackneyed plotlines, stock characters, and omission of inconvenient facts. They replace the blunt actuality of terrorism with the reassuring thematics of the adventure tale, the spy thriller, the cloak-and-dagger story, even Perry Mason. Their books exhibit the symptoms that Orwell deplored--"staleness of imagery" and "lack of precision.

On the other hand, here's a recent review of a book she likes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Millenium Plot

Our February author, Lorraine Adams, won a Pulitzer back in 1992 for investigative reporting on misconduct by Texas police. If this ever inspires her to write a novel, it sounds like something Rights Readers could get behind. But of more immediate interest is her reporting on the so-called "Millenium Plot," the terrorist plot to plant a bomb at LAX. It was her reporting on this story that inspired Harbor. Unfortunately, that reporting has all gone to archive, but to refresh your memory about the case, try this Wikipedia entry on Ahmed Ressam and for a more thorough backgrounder see the website for a PBS Frontline documentary Trail of a Terrorist. Under Links and Resources be sure to note the info on GIA (Armed Islamic Group).

And as a counterweight to the Frontline's reporting on the potential abuse of the asylum system by terrorists consider this 2003 report from Amnesty International: Asylum-seekers fleeing a continuing human rights crisis.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Denounce Torture Campaign on KPCC

Eric Sears of Amnesty's "Denounce Torture" campaign appeared on KPCC's Airtalk yesterday to comment on the recently released UN report on the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.

Rights Readers visit MOCA exhibit

Alas, I missed the Rights Readers outing to MOCA's Masters of American Comics exhibit due to a bout of flu! I hope to catch it on my own soon, but for a peek at what the other (Hammer) half of the exhibit is like, check out this enthusiastic review.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Saturday, February 04, 2006

King Leopold's Ghost: The Documentary

King Leopold's Ghost has been made into a documentary film. There's some impressive voice talent behind it: James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard and Don Cheadle. Directed by Pippa Scott. It's screening (premiering?) at the Pan-African Film & Arts Festival on Sunday, 2/12, 11:05am; Sunday, 2/19, 1:20pm and Monday, 2/20, 1:20pm. Keep an eye out for reviews...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Happy New Year!

Happy Lunar New Year!

This post is partly an excuse to add a little color to the site (decoration courtesy of my local nail salon), but also a reminder that as we do an annual card action for prisoners for the December holidays, its good to think about those who can't celebrate. With all the buzz about Google's capitulation to Chinese censors, here's an update to Amnesty's continued monitoring of this issue and a plea to take action on behalf of journalist, poet an d prisoner of conscience, Shi Tao (Guardian profile), who is serving a ten year sentence, no thanks to Yahoo.

Closer to home I was interested in the Los Angeles Times coverage of the difficulties of Falun Gong groups (some friends of ours included) who want to participate in Chinese New Year parades here in the San Gabriel Valley and in San Francisco, as well as quite pleased at their subsequent editorial criticizing parade organizers. What the world needs is more parades where freedom of expression is celebrated. (Wait a minute! That sounds familiar!)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Nikki Giovanni coming to Caltech

We are looking forward to "An Evening with Nikki Giovanni" brought to you by our friends who run the Caltech Social Activism Speaker Series. Nikki Giovanni is a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator and the event will be Thursday, February 9, at 7:30 PM at Beckman Auditorium at Caltech (maps). The event is free and open to the public.

Giovanni and illustrator Bryan Collier recently won a Caldecott Honors for her children's book about Rosa Parks, Rosa. The timing of this event seems especially appropriate following on the deaths of Rosa Parks and Corretta Scott King.

A couple of her poems are available online: "Possum Crossing" and "Quilts". The latter poem is part of a unique collaboration, Visual Verse: Poetry Meets Fabric (scroll down to see the quilt that matches the poem).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Holiday Card Action Update: Gerard Jean-Juste

Good News! A note in the LA Times tells us that Gerard Jean-Juste is in Miami receiving treatment for leukemia.
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