Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Torture Awareness Month: State of Emergency

It's not like this blog is going to stop going on about torture once June is over, but I just wanted to use this excuse to highlight another audio archive from the PEN website. Last fall's "State of Emergency Event" features a series of powerful readings against torture, arbitrary detention and extraordinary rendition. Hear Rights Readers authors such as Philip Gourevitch reading Abraham Lincoln or Walter Mosley reading Ariel Dorfman.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Camp Darfur Comes to Pasadena

Group 22 volunteers were pleased to participate once again in Camp Darfur, bringing attention to the plight of refugees from Darfur, Sudan. This time the encampment was hosted by our friends at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

Church-goers added over 150 signatures to our Amnesty petition on Justice for the women of Sudan.

Here are some snapshots to give you a sense of the action. Visitors to the tents learned about the history of genocide, life in refugee camps and had an opportunity to purchase solar cookers for refugee families.

Children joined in the action. There were even comic books for teens.

Group 22 volunteer Lucas Kamp greets a Camp visitor.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Pangrams Anyone?

Just trying to give Readers a break from the usual posts about torture and genocide on this site (before we move on to nuclear disaster, ha!) In honor of one of our favorite books, Ella Minnow Pea, check out this collection of handwriting samples on Flickr and accompanying discussion of pangrams in different languages. Invitation to participate here, Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs, anyone?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bill Moyer's Faith & Reason/Pen World Voices

Pretty much at the same time the Los Angeles Time Festival of Books was all going down, PEN Center in New York was holding its World Voices New York Festival of International Literature. The authors and topics are even more in sync with Rights Readers than the LA Fest. And guess what? Most of it's online for your left coast listening pleasure! Print summaries and reactions to some of the talks are also available at Metaxu Cafe. Or for couch potatos, Bill Moyers has done his own interviews with some of the participants on the conference theme, Faith & Reason, and the series begins airing Friday on PBS.

Authors include Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children) and Orhan Pamuk (Snow) and Moses Isegawa (Abyssinian Chronicles) and Chris Abani (Graceland) offer up reflections here. A few of the participating authors that may be up for future consideration for Rights Readers are Duong Thu Huong, Gioconda Belli, Helen Oyeyemi, Yiyun Li, Russell Banks and I'm sure several more...there's much to explore.

Observant Readers will note that there is a talk by our July author Svetlana Alexievich from last year's festival in the sidebar!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Torture Awareness Month: Air Torture

Air Torture Amnesty has set up a parody site, Air Torture, to promote the very serious "extraordinary rendition" action which I blogged about previously. Amenities on Air Torture:
All Air Torture reservations are booked through government intelligence agencies.

Air Torture takes seatbelts to a whole new level, providing passengers with restrains such as shackling in uncomfortable positions for the duration of their flight, and amenities such as hooding. As an added bonus, we'll forcibly drug you so you can spend the entire trip in a disoriented state!
Air Torture respects your privacy. We won't tell your family or loved ones where you are, what's happened to you, or when you'll be back - ever! It will be just like you disappeared.
Visit the site to book a flight! Print a Boarding Pass! "Ground Air Torture" is certainly a handier catch phrase, for those who can appreciate the dark humor, than "extraordinary rendition", as those of us who have been wrapping our tongues around that phrase can attest. We didn't have any trouble last Sunday with it though, as we collected 110+ signatures opposing the outsourcing of torture to third countries in a little more than an hour. (Thanks Marti, Stevi and All Saints!)

China Activist Weekly

A quick note to highlight a blog, China Activist Weekly, I've added to the sidebar that consolidates human rights news and actions on China from various sources and is maintained by another Amnesty volunteer. I wish we had had such a resource when we were campaigning for prisonsers of conscience in Tibet! I'm counting on a few of my Readers to have developed enough on-going interest in human rights in China to use this resource regularly.

Searching for Heroes: The Noodle Maker and Lei Feng

A little added context for our discussion of Ma Jian's, The Noodle Maker:

The excellent site on the history of the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun, offers some background on the propaganda hero Lei Feng. Check out the video snippets of the film, Lei Feng, which reference some familiar imagery from the book here and here. And here is a series of articles about various efforts to resuscitate the propganda hero, beginning in 1987, so our fictional writer's quest to find the new Lei Feng is well-grounded in fact. (Note also the more recent attempt to use Lei Feng to counter the Falun Gong!) Additional Lei Feng background and memorabilia can be explored at Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages.

Morning Sun also features a complete version of the lovely subversive bestiary, part of which I shared at our recent non-virtual meeting.

Monday, June 19, 2006

For October: Beasts of No Nation

For October, we have selected Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation. (This book will be out in paperback in August.)
In this stunning debut novel, Agu, a young boy in an unnamed West African nation, is recruited into a unit of guerrilla fighters as civil war engulfs his country. Haunted by his father's own death at the hands of militants, which he fled just before witnessing, Agu is vulnerable to the dangerous yet paternal nature of his new commander.

While the war rages on, Agu becomes increasingly divorced from the life he had known before the conflict started — a life of school friends, church services, and time with his family still intact. As he vividly recalls these sunnier times, his daily reality spins further downward into inexplicable brutality, primal fear, and loss of selfhood. His relationship with his commander deepens even as it darkens, and his camaraderie with a fellow soldier lends a deceptive sense of normalcy to his experience.

In a powerful, strikingly original voice that vividly captures Agu's youth and confusion, Uzodinma Iweala has produced a harrowing, deeply affecting novel. Both a searing take on coming-of-age and a vivid document of the dark face of war, Beasts of No Nation announces the arrival of an extaordinary new writer.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Our June Author: Ma Jian

A few links to help us get to know our June author, Ma Jian (The Noodle Maker). Here's a short Guardian profile and a longer reflection from the New Zealand Listener. Beat references come up a lot with this author,
References to the Beat Generation’s favourite roaming forefathers, particularly Walt Whitman, pop up constantly in Red Dust. When Ma read through the first proof of the first Chinese translation of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in the 1980s, with its lengthy Whitmanesque breaths, he sighed then, as he does now: “Howling out loud in anguish? Now that would be heaven.

Here's a CNN piece that contrasts two generations of Chinese authors. Finally, here's a first-person reflection from the homesick exile.

Torture Awareness Month: Getting the Message Out

If the Motion Picture Association won't allow this relatively tame advertisement for a film about Guantanamo, then try to imagine walking down the street and encountering these ads from Amnesty's Swiss section!

I've just hooked us up with another Torture Awareness Month effort: Bloggers Against Torture
Check it out!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Torture Awareness Month: The Road to Guantanamo

Another post to mark Torture Awareness Month ...

Here is Amnesty International's official response to the the Guantanamo suicides and while most of my Loyal Readers signed the petition to close Guantanamo ages ago, this is the kind of action that bears repeating. For more AI perspective, Eric Sears, Director of Amnesty International USA's Denounce Torture Initiative, discussed Guantanamo on KPCC's Airtalk yesterday.

This seems as good a time as any to point out that as part of Torture Awareness Month, Amnesty is partnering with the creators of the film The Road to Guantanamo opening later this month:
The Road to Guantanamo is the terrifying first-hand account of three British citizens who were held for more than two years without charges in the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Known as the “Tipton Three,” in reference to their home town near Birmingham, the three were eventually returned to Britain and released—still having had no formal charges ever made against them at any time during their ordeal. The film has already engendered significant controversy due to its critical stance toward the American and British governments. Additional controversy was generated because of the cast members' detainment by British immigration authorities upon their return from the film's premiere at the Berlin film festival.

Part documentary, part dramatization, the film chronicles the sequence of events that led from the trio setting out from Tipton in the British Midlands for a wedding in Pakistan, to their crossing the Afghanistan border just as the U.S. began its bombing campaign, to their eventual capture by the Northern Alliance and their imprisonment in Camp X-Ray and later at Camp Delta in Guantanamo.
One of the "Tipton Three" was interviewed this week on NPR for his reaction to the suicides, and don't miss the article on the film's website about the censoring of the movie poster (uncensored version above) by the Motion Picture Association of America,
Thus, the MPAA's decision puts it at odds with the U.S. government, which has repeatedly defended techniques, including hooding prisoners, as not legally torture, and not inconsistent with the basic American values the MPAA tries to uphold. In a 2003 Department of Defense report, hooding was given a green light, as not inconsistent with the United States' obligations under international conventions or U.S. law. The report also approve prolonged standing, though stipulated that it "should never make the detainee exhausted to the point of weakness or collapse." And that it not be "enforced by physical restraints."

Which means that the MPAA required a change in the image that removed something not deemed torture (hooding) and focused the image on the bound hands and extended arms that clearly depicts someone forced to stand (or worse, hang) under restraint to the point of collapse, which might well be torture.

Kirby Dick, director of "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," a new film devoted to the MPAA and its ratings system, said that's not the only irony in the MPAA's decision. He compares the MPAA's secrecy to the secrecy that has governed so much of what has happened at the prison in Guantanamo and other U.S. facilities where suspects in the war on terror have been held.

"It's also interesting that the image is of someone whose vision is being blocked -- and that's the image that they're blocking," Dick said. "When you get into censorship, the irony never stops."

Time to open our eyes! The film opens in Pasadena on June 23.

For September: I Didn't Do It for You : How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation

For September we have chosen Michela Wrong's I Didn't Do It for You : How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation. We are looking forward to learning more about Eritrea to better inform us in our campaign on behalf of prisoner of conscience, Estifanos Seyoum.
Scarred by decades of conflict and occupation, the craggy African nation of Eritrea has weathered the world's longest-running guerrilla war. The dogged determination that secured victory against Ethiopia, its giant neighbor, is woven into the national psyche, the product of cynical foreign interventions. Fascist Italy wanted Eritrea as the springboard for a new, racially pure Roman empire; Britain sold off its industry for scrap; the United States needed a base for its state-of-the-art spy station; and the Soviet Union used it as a pawn in a proxy war.

In I Didn't Do It for You, Michela Wrong reveals the breathtaking abuses this tiny nation has suffered and, with a sharp eye for detail and a taste for the incongruous, tells the story of colonialism itself and how international power politics can play havoc with a country's destiny.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Torture Awareness Month: Extraordinary Rendition Action

First post this month in recognition of Torture Awareness Month. Group 22 members are helping to promote legislation pending in Congress to end the practice of “extraordinary renditions” in which the United States is sending individuals for interrogation to countries with a record of torture. While US laws prohibit these types of transfers, the US Government is reported to have sent or been complicit in sending individuals to countries such as Jordan, Morocco, Syria, and Egypt – countries the US has criticized for practicing torture. Help us out! Urge your Representative to cosponsor and pass H.R. 952, the “Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act” and your Senator to cosponsor and pass S. 654, the “Convention Against Torture Implementation Act." Take action now!

Burma: Human Rights Links

More follow-up to our discussion of Finding George Orwell in Burma;
Burma Project -Voices of '88 commemorates the 1988 demonstrations and includes photos, cartoons and poetry.  Burma- Grace Under Pressure is a slick multi-media presentation of photography from contemporary Burma that guides you through the basic human rights issues facing the country. (I quite enjoyed the soundtrack!)

Larkin mentions the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners as her source for information on the experiences of Burmese prisonsers of conscience.  I recommend browsing "Learning Behind Bars" in the Photo Gallery.

Also from Larkin's acknowledgments, here are links to BurmaNet and The Irrawaddy News Magazine Online Edition for more in depth news about Burma.

Last but not least!  Take action:  sign the petition for Ma Khin Khin Leh!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Reading the World

Reading the World is a collaboration of booksellers and publishers to promote international titles, just the kind of books that Rights Readers love to read.  In fact, as part of this promotion, the online journal of literature in translation, Words Without Borders, is sponsoring online discussions of several of the highlighted books, including Rights Readers summer selections, Voices from Chernobyl and The Noodle Maker!  Making a note to check on these discussions once they are underway...

More on Larkin and Orwell

Continuing with the links related to Finding George Orwell in Burma, here is an NPR interview with the author, Emma Larkin.  Larkin was also interviewed for a recent NPR report on the extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest.

Visit this Orwell site  to read the essays, Shooting an Elephant  and A Hanging, mentioned in the book.  Here's a link with some Orwell photo  (try Gallery 2).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Burma: Festivals and Food

I'm very late with this but I am planning a few posts related to last month's book, Finding George Orwell in Burma.  Let's start with the fun links:  Here are pictures of the Water Festival from a few weeks back. (I was intensely envious looking at these last week when it was sweltering here.)  For those curious about Burmese food here are some tempting pictures.  Here's where you can go if you can't resist.

Be Irrepressible!

Just got back from voting in today's primary election and thought my friendly pollworkers were lonely. Too lonely. This post is coming a bit late in the day to boost the turnout, but as I walked back home I thought maybe I should get back to blogging about people who want to vote but can't.

Or how about: want to read the internet and can't. I've added a new feature to the sidebar from Irrespressible.info, a project of Amnesty International - UK which highlights text from web pages that are banned somewhere in the world. Click on the feature to find out more about the excerpt and other action opportunities. These excerpts come from a database of material compiled by the OpenNet Initiative. Check out their cool interactive map on the state of internet censorship worldwide. Too bad the site isn't more explicitly linked to Amnesty-USA's campaign to pressure Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to be responsible corporate citizens regarding censorship in China via shareholder activism and other actions. (So I'm just filling that gap by making the connection for you!)

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