Tuesday, December 18, 2007

For April: The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears

For April, we have selected Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears,
Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution for a new start in the United States. Now he finds himself running a failing grocery store in a poor African-American section of Washington, D.C., his only companions two fellow African immigrants who share his bitter nostalgia and longing for his home continent. Years ago and worlds away Sepha could never have imagined a life of such isolation. As his environment begins to change, hope comes in the form of a friendship with new neighbors Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter. But when a series of racial incidents disturbs the community, Sepha may lose everything all over again.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Award to Imprisoned Eritrean Journalist

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been chosen as “Journalist of the Year 2007” by Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France. The panel of judges sought to highlight not only the case of this brave journalist held in Eritrea’s appalling jails since September 2001 but also the catastrophic state of press freedom in this small Horn of Africa country. At least four journalists have died in prison in Eritrea over the last few years. The blame lies chiefly at the door of Issaias Afeworki, the highly authoritarian and obdurate president of the country since its independence in 1993.
Read the full press release from Reporters Without Borders here.
There's a photo of Seyoum at the AI Group 19 website.

AI Group 22 in Pasadena works in behalf of Estifanos Seyoum, another Eritrea prisoner of conscience held incommunicado since the 2001 crackdown. We hope that the publicity generated by this award might help to persuade the Eritrean authorities to improve their country's human rights situation or at least result in the release of information about these journalists and former government officials detained without trial or charges since 2001.

Our December Authors: Marina Aidova and Anna Horsbrugh-Porter

I wasn't expecting to find much about our author-editors, Marina Aidova and Anna Anna Horsbrugh-Porter, this month for our reading of the collection of letters, From Newbury with Love, but here's a little something...

Here's the Amnesty Magazine version of their story and Marina takes questions from activists here. Amnesty International - UK tells us how Anna came to be involved in the project. And the BBC gives the project a little coverage,

If the book, From Newbury With Love, evokes the lost worlds of the Cold War, it's also a reminder of an era when people wrote each other letters, rather than e-mails and texts.

And Marina says she regrets the lost pleasures of the letter.

"You looked at the stamp, you opened the letter, you smelt it. First, you read it very quickly, and then in the evening, when the children were in bed, my mum would take a glass of wine, light a cigarette and read and re-read and really enjoy the letter. It's physical, you see their handwriting, you keep the letters."

For those who would like a little contextual background and visual stimulus, here's an exhibition of Moscow Samizdat books and another of vintage Soviet propaganda posters.

And a bit more tangential, check out the Wikipedia enry on the Kishinev pogrom
and this memorial site and learn about a little piece of Jewish history.

For March: Unbowed

For March we have chosen Wangari Maathai's memoir, Unbowed,
In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Exploring Iran

Here are some fun supplemental links for our reading of Jason Elliot's Mirrors of the Unseen. Further information about the animated celebration of Isfahan can be found here.
Here's a YouTube demonstration of the mosque's acoustical properties
and here are the shaking minarets. Some YouTube demonstrations of Zurkhaneh (both narrated in French) can be found here and here. You can find a few extra pictures of Louise Firouz and the Caspian Horse here. Last but not least, I discovered that UNESCO has this neat World Heritage Tour site that allows you to visit several of the historic sites explored in the book via 360° panoramic view. You! Are! There!

Our November Author: Jason Elliot

Alas, there is not much available online to help us get to know Jason Elliot, author of Mirrors of the Unseen, only a 2001 Salon interview focusing on Afghanistan and this Guardian article on Islamic art.

For February: The Yacoubian Building

For February we have chosen Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian Building:
This controversial bestselling novel in the Arab world reveals the political corruption, sexual repression, religious extremism, and modern hopes of Egypt today.

All manner of flawed and fragile humanity reside in the Yacoubian Building, a once-elegant temple of Art Deco splendor now slowly decaying in the smog and bustle of downtown Cairo: a fading aristocrat and self-proclaimed "scientist of women"; a sultry, voluptuous siren; a devout young student, feeling the irresistible pull toward fundamentalism; a newspaper editor helplessly in love with a policeman; a corrupt and corpulent politician, twisting the Koran to justify his desires.

These disparate lives careen toward an explosive conclusion in Alaa Al Aswany's remarkable international bestseller. Teeming with frank sexuality and heartfelt compassion, this book is an important window on to the experience of loss and love in the Arab world.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Our October Author: Yasmina Khadra

Here are a few links related to our October selection, Yasmina Khadra's The Attack. For the scoop on how the author went from Mohammed Moulessehoul to Yasmina Khadra check out this Guardian article. There is an official site for the French speakers among us. PEN American Center has a biography and associated links for the author and Critical Mass offers some impressions of Khadra's appearance at the Center's events.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Visit with Senator Boxer's Staffer

On October 15 four of us from AI Group 22 met with Mr. Corey Jackson from Senator Boxer's Los Angeles office. We discussed our group's work on Eritrea prisoners of conscience, the AI special focus case of Shi Tao, and the Darfur crisis. Corey told us that input from constituents would be very helpful, so we're asking all you California folks to go to Senator Boxer's official web site and let her know that you're concerned about one or more of the three topics. For information on Eritrea POCs, see our sample letter to Boxer or visit the AIUSA Eritrea page or learn about imprisoned Eritrean journalists. Here's AIUSA info about Shi Tao, and here's the country page for Sudan/Darfur. We hope to report next month on what progress we've made toward obtaining Senator Boxer's help in these issues.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

For January: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

We have selected Lisa See's Snow Flower and Secret Fan for our January meeting,
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Eritrea: A Sad Anniversary

Today is the sad anniversary of the detention of hundreds of government officials, journalists and other community leaders six years ago in Eritrea. Amnesty International has a press release detailing the lack of progress in the human rights climate to date. An action is available here.

Meanwhile, instead of releasing prisoners of conscience and permitting freedom of speech and association, the Eritrean government is hosting conferences for the Somalian opposition and encouraging further destabilization of the region. The US government has taken note,

[US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi] Frazer said that this was about more than just simply considering Eritrea as a rogue state in the region.

It was quite specifically Eritrea's relationship with recognised terrorists which could lead to its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

This, in turn, she said would bring a change in the nature of its relationship with the US and in the ability of the US and other countries to provide assistance to Eritrea's government.

Hmm. Maybe if the US government had put more pressure on the Eritrean government five or six years ago there would still be a viable opposition to work with?

For December: From Newbury with Love

For December, we have chosen a little piece of Amnesty International history, From Newbury with Love,

In 1971 a retired English bookseller joined an Amnesty International campaign to write letters to children of political prisoners. He chose seven-year-old Marina Aidova because her birthday was one day before his, and he had always loved Russia and its literature. His postcard was signed, "With love from Newbury, Berks, England." Marina, whose father was in one of the harshest Soviet prison camps, wrote back: "I am a first class schoolgirl. I learn ballet and study English. And what are you?"

So began a correspondence that changed their lives. For the next fifteen years they exchanged letters, telegrams, magazines, and books . . . while a profound affection grew. Marina and her mother drew great strength from the exchange-it was a lifeline to another, more hopeful world. Through Harold's encouragement, Marina was inspired to study English at university, and eventually went on to work as an English translator.

Published in association with Amnesty International, the families' correspondence-along with over thirty photos they exchanged-is collected here, making for a moving look at the powerful influence one family can have on another in need, halfway around the world.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Our September Author: Sonia Nazario

This month we are reading Los Angeles Times reporter Sonia Nazario's account of Central American children immigrating to the US to find their mothers, Enrique's Journey. The book has its own website, worth visiting if for no other reason than it includes some bonus photos to give you a fuller picture of the journey. NPR's Fresh Air has a lengthy interview with Nazario and KPBS in San Diego has a multimedia package that includes commentary from Don Bartiletti, the photographer whose striking pictures gave the original newspaper story such immediate impact. Finally, for a little inside scoop, there's a talk on the journalistic ethics of writing this type of piece given to the L.A. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

R.I.P. Matt Reese

We learned recently of the passing of Amnesty International Group 22 - Pasadena member Matt Reese. Matt was especially dedicated to our work to abolish the death penalty and bring reform to the criminal justice system. Matt was involved in an astonishing number of social justice causes and will be missed by many, many activists in the NGO community. We will always remember Matt as he boldly led our 1998 Doo Dah Parade entry dressed as a Tibetan monk. March on, Matt, march on. We will always follow.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Our August Author: Colin Cotterill

Launching our discussion of Colin Cotterill's mystery, The Coroner's Lunch, I want to direct you to the author's website: Colin Cotterill. Not only are the pictures, always a plus, especially in our reading discussion-lite August mode, there are cartoons! Also, for those who just finished reading Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, you'll want to check out the Books for Laos section --more about under-served kids and education.

NPR's Day to Day did a profile on the author a couple years back: Book Bag: Laos as Character in 'The Coroner's Lunch'

Monday, July 30, 2007

For November: Mirrors of the Unseen

For November we have selected Mirrors of the Unseen by Jason Elliot. This book will be out in paperback in early October.
Filling a long-neglected gap in the travel writing of the region, Mirrors of the Unseen is a rare and timely portrait of the nation descended from the world's earliest superpower: Iran. Animated by the same spirit of exploration as its acclaimed predecessor, An Unexpected Light, and drawing on several years of independent travel and research, this thought-provoking work weaves together observations of life in contemporary Iran with history, politics, and a penetrating enquiry into the secrets of Islamic art. Generously illustrated with the author's own sketches and photographs, Mirrors of the Unseen is a rich, sensitive, and vivid account of a country and its culture.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Preventing Wrongful Convictions

The LAT has a couple of excellent editorials today, one drawing attention to the 'Benghazi Six' - a case concerning the death sentences of health professionals who have been convicted of deliberately infecting 426 children with HIV in Libya which we featured previously, and another pointing out the company we keep in maintaining our allegiance the death chamber,
The spectacle of state-ordered death has been on display across the world this week — in the sentencing of a Los Angeles serial killer whose case revealed that another man had been wrongly convicted for several of the crimes; in the dispiriting case of a Georgia man set for execution despite the shaky evidence against him; in the abrupt killing of a Chinese official by a government more interested in image than justice; in the stoning of an Iranian man for violating his nation's moral code; in the sentencing of six almost-certainly innocent foreign medical workers in Libya. Which of these is more barbaric?
These editorials follow on an op-ed, Doing time for no crime, by Arthur Carmona, a young man wrongfully convicted of robbery and sentenced to 17 years in prison, serving three before gaining his release. Carmona is now campaigning for criminal justice reform and recommends legislation that will prevent wrongful convictions,
Senate Bill 756, sponsored by Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), would require the state Department of Justice to develop new guidelines for eyewitness identification procedures. For example, guidelines in other states limit the use of in-field show-ups like the one that led to my wrongful conviction.

Senate Bill 511, sponsored by Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), would require recording of the entire interrogation, including the Miranda warning, in cases of violent felonies. Electronic recording of interrogations would not only help end false confessions but also discourage police detectives from lying during interrogations — as they did in my case by claiming to have videotaped evidence of me.

Senate Bill 609, sponsored by Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), would prevent convictions based on uncorroborated testimony by jailhouse snitches.
These bills were crafted in response to the findings of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice which will issue an opinion on the ultimate fairness of the death penalty in the near future. See our sidebar for information on contacting Gov. Schwarzenegger and your state legislators with your views on these measures to prevent wrongful convictions.

Meanwhile, congrats to Rwanda! They abolished the death penalty this week.

War and Literature

If you missed NPR's War and Literature series last week you catch it online. The series includes an interview with Somalian author Nuruddin Farah, author of Rights Readers selection, Secrets.

Greg Mortenson Round-up

All our Greg Mortenson / Three Cups of Tea discussion posts can be found here.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Moshin Hamid Update

While we are on the subject of Pakistan, in contrast to our journey with Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) Moshin Hamid (Rights Readers selection Moth Smoke) takes us on an urban journey, as interviewed in the Guardian,
"I'm a big city dweller," he explains. "The world has become majority urban and this urban narrative is rapidly becoming the typical human narrative. I would say Moth Smoke was an urban third world novel, much more than a southern Asian novel. A magazine editor in Chile who had read the Spanish translation phoned me up out the blue and said 'This book is about Santiago!' which shows how a city can resonate across the world."
Looking forward to reading his latest in the near future.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

It's All About the Children

When reading Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, especially the "Pennies for Pakistan" story of children at Westside School in River Falls, Wisconsin (blocks from where your Leader Reader grew up!), I couldn't help but be reminded of "A School for Iqbal" and the inspiring story of middle school students in Massachusetts who raised money to build a school for former child laborers in memory of slain Pakistani child activist Iqbal Masih. Here's another kid-friendly presentation of the Iqbal story. I've always said when encountering young people's enthusiasm for causes that are meaningful to them, that I wish that some of that unbridled idealism could be bottled up and sold to cynical adults.

And here's a story from PRI's The World about a former Peace Corps worker who has helped revive folk songs that were banned during Taliban rule for the benefit of today's Afghan children. What a lovely gift!

Aid to Pakistan: School for Scandal?

A little more food for thought for our discussion of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea:

From a 2004 report from the International Crisis Group, Pakistan: Reforming the Education Sector,
Recent attempts at reform have made little headway, and spending as a share of national output has fallen in the past five years. Pakistan is now one of just twelve countries that spend less than 2 per cent of GDP on education. Moreover, an inflexible curriculum and political interference have created schools that have barely lifted very low literacy rates.
From a May 2007 report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,
ICIJ's data show that when all U.S. programs are combined, Pakistan's increase in U.S. military aid in the three years after 9/11 is a stunning 45,000 percent, growing from just $9 million in the three years before the attacks to more than $4 billion in the three years after. In the process, Pakistan has become the No. 3 recipient of U.S. military training and assistance, trailing only longtime leaders Israel and Egypt.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Getting into the Environment of Three Cups of Tea

A couple of somewhat tangential links to Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea:

A sampling of Galen Rowell's photos from Pakistan.

Just for fun, more about snow leopards from the Snow Leopard Trust.

Afghanistan: Attacks on Schools

A timely supplement to our reading of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea:

The New York Times reports on attacks on female students attending schools in Afghanistan.
Shukria, the slain 13-year-old, was considered a polite girl who reverently studied the Koran. Saadia, the other student killed, was remarkable in that she was married and 25. She had refused to let age discourage her from finishing an education interrupted by the Taliban years. She was about to graduate.
The article includes a photo essay.

A recent Amnesty International report Afghanistan: All who are not friends, are enemies: Taleban abuses against civilians offers up some grim statistics:
  • At least 172 violent attacks on schools took place in the first six months of 2006 compared with 60 for the whole of 2005.
  • 75 students, teachers and other school staff were killed in attacks between 2005 to 2006.
  • Between 2005-2006, 359 schools were closed in the provinces of Kandahar, Paktika, Zabul, Ghazni, Khost, Helmand Uruzgan and Daikundi due to security concerns for children and teachers, denying access to education for around 132,800 children.
  • 183 schools were burned in arson attacks across the country between 2005-2006.
  • Six children have died as a result of school attacks in 2006.
See also Afghanistan: Women Still Under Attack.

One reason attacks like these continue is the lack of accountability for past human rights violations. Put pressure on the Afghan government to end impunity here.

Schiff Calls for Guantanamo Closure

Representative Adam Schiff signs letter to Bush urging closure of Guantanamo. Send him a thank you note and urge him to keep up the pressure here!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Taser-Related Death in Pasadena

First, just wanted to update our coverage of Pasadena residents (and friends of our Amnesty chapter) seeking to draw attention to human rights issues in China in view of the up-coming Beijing Olympics with this Pasadena Star-News article.

Meanwhile, we've been drawn to another story playing out in the pages of the Star News, "Police identify Taser victim", "Details on Taser victim emerge," yet another tragic death by Taser.

A review of Amnesty's position on Tasers:
Since June 2001, there have been over 230 TASER-related deaths. According to an Amnesty International study, 61 people alone died in 2005 after being shocked by law-enforcement agency TASERs, over twenty times the number killed in 2001. AI is concerned that TASERs are being used as tools of routine force --rather than as weapons of last resort--and calls on law-enforcement agencies to withhold use pending an independent, unbiased study of their effects.
Amnesty has two reports from 2004 and 2006 offering more details of these Taser-related deaths and the lack of independent verification of the safety of these "non-lethal" weapons or for something more user-friendly, there is the Amnesty magazine article "Aftershocks". There's also a whole page of multimedia resources and news.

Troy Davis and more Human Rights Podcasts

Another in our series of posts on podcasts for human rights activists, I thought I should put a plug in for our friend Sonali Kolhatkar's radio show Uprising which is available via podcast for those who are out of range (or can't remember when to tune in!). This week one of her featured segments is an interview with Laura Moye, Deputy Director of Amnesty's Southern Regional Office regarding the case of Troy Davis which we blogged about earlier and featured in our June newsletter. Give Sonali a listen and take action for Troy!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Interviews with Greg Mortenson

More fuel for our discussion of Three Cups of Tea:

Hey, did anybody catch the KPFK interview on July 5? Not to worry, as you can find it in their audio archive (July 5, Morning Review with Eisha Mason). He was leaving for Pakistan that day. And here's a transcript of a fairly recent interview by Maria Hinojosa on PBS' Now.

Finally, here's a taste of a Beliefnet interview,
I don’t think I’m a hero. My heroes are the children going to school... There’s one thing that makes me feel so incredibly proud and joyous--it’s watching that first girl going down the trail into the school.

That first brave girl, I know what’s it’s taken to get on that path. It’s dealing with the elders, some cultural bias, or the mullahs. But most often she does have the support of the community. Watching that first girl is like watching man taking his first step on the moon--one giant leap for mankind.

Behind that girl comes dozens more girls, eventually hundreds and thousands. And when that girl becomes a mother, her values are instilled in the community. So I don’t think of myself as a hero. I think if this as just--I’m a dedicated person. To me, my real heroes are every child that I can watch reading and writing for the first time. It’s such a joyous thing to watch.

Our July Authors: Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

For all those people hitting this site looking for discussion questions for Three Cups of Tea (and I realize I just invited a ton more), I'm going to disappoint you. However here are links to the more obvious sites and if you hang around here in the next few days, we will have more posts with interesting links to explore, both fun and serious, that provide some more context for your reading of this book, as our own (off-line) discussion of the book approaches this Sunday.

First, here is the website for the book Three Cups of Tea and one for co-author David Oliver Relin. The Central Asia Institute has its own site, one desperately in need of a blog, I might add. Fans/supporters need to know what's goin' down! At least there are a few pictures. Pennies For Peace is the website for teachers and students and includes a downloadable curriculum guide and a list of age-appropriate suggested reading.

Coming up: links to interviews with Greg Mortenson...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Death Penalty Update

Good news/bad news from the Supreme Court on the death penalty this week. A win on the issue of more leniency on the issue of mental incompetency in the Panetti case, see Amnesty's press release,
"The Supreme Court has taken a much-needed step toward a more humane America," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "Perhaps now we can recognize that this country's resources would be much better spent improving the mental health system to help ensure that similarly tragic crimes are not committed in the first place."
And for the insider legal spin, see this post from Capital Defense Weekly. We present below a 27 minute documentary from Texas Defender Service on the case, notable for the portrait it gives of the death penalty's unsung victims, the inmate's family members.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case of Troy Davis (which we featured in our June newsletter). Amnesty has a statement and report (Where is justice for me?) on this case too, and more importantly its time to step up the clemency campaign! For further inspiration and also on the subject of inmate families, Abolish the Death Penalty has more on the Davis case from that perspective, complete with book suggestion (we love book recommendations!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Olympics Come to Pasadena

Update: The Pasadena Weekly covers the Council presentation (‘We need to speak out on that’) including Council reaction in this week's issue.

We are a little late in pointing out the Pasadena Weekly's article (No cause for celebration) on local Falun Gong members disappointment in the Tournament of Roses decision to highlight a float celebrating the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Our own Wen Chen was prominently featured,
“If we want to invite the Chinese government to have a float in Pasadena, we should raise the issue of a family member of a [former] Pasadena resident in a labor camp because of the Olympics,” said Wen Chen, an employee of Caltech and member of its Falun Gong Club.
On Monday night (June 25) Wen and some of her friends took their moving stories of persecution and imprisonment to the Pasadena City Council. You can visit the City of Pasadena - City Council Streaming Video page to hear the presentation (second agenda item - you can try to use the "jump to" feature to get there a little faster).

Pasadenans! We suggest further educating your council members by sharing with them key points from Amnesty's recent report China: The Olympics countdown. The report highlights the case of Bu Dongwei, the husband of one of Wen's colleagues,
Case update - Bu Dongwei: Falun Gong practitioner Bu Dongwei is now known to be held at Tuanhe RTL facility in Beijing, where he is reportedly forced to do packing work. His family only received official confirmation of his whereabouts at the end of August 2006, three months after he was first detained. The authorities have reportedly claimed that he decided not to appeal against his two-and-a-half year term, but his family dispute this. Officials from Tuanhe RTL facility have reportedly asked Bu Dongwei’s family to contribute money towards his living expenses – around 400 Yuan per month (approx. US$52).

Bu Dongwei (also known as David Bu) was assigned to two-and-a-half years’ RTL on 19 June 2006 in Beijing for "resisting the implementation of national law and disturbing social order" after police discovered Falun Gong literature at his home. The authorities initially refused to disclose his place of detention to his family. Bu Dongwei had been working in Beijing for the U.S. aid organization, the Asia Foundation, before he was taken away by police from his home in Haidian district on 19 May 2006. Amnesty International considers Bu Dongwei to be a prisoner of conscience, detained in violation of his fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, association and religion, and continues to call for his immediate and unconditional release
City officials should bear in mind in their dealings with Chinese officials-- for example in activities that support Pasadena's sister city relationship with Xicheng-- that there are Pasadena residents directly affected by China's disregard for the rule of law and the principles of democracy. In the Weekly, Alan Lamson, chair of the China Subcommittee of the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee is quoted,

“Our position is that it's much better to get to know someone, even if you disagree with them... to hear their point of view and to get them to see your point of view. That's been more beneficial than to say, ‘Sorry, we don't want to have a relationship with you.'”

Yes! Relationships are good! We are just afraid that 'our point of view' in these transactions seldom includes expressing concern over cases like Bu Dongwei's or Shi Tao's. City officials and civic representatives such as Mr. Lamson need to become educated about human rights and make that a part of our relationship. Be an educator! City council contacts can be found here. Sister City Committee contact info here.

Final Note: Of course, the treatment of prisoners of conscience is not the only reason for our representatives to be cautious about celebrating China's Olympic spirit. There is also the matter of China's involvement in Darfur, Sudan and the ongoing campaign to get China to use its influence on the Sudanese government to end atrocities in that region. There's a whole project devoted to drawing attention to this concern (including alternative torch relay) via the interest in the 2008 games: Olympic Dream for Darfur. Other resources to use in your project to educate your councilperson about the Olympics and human rights include Human Rights in China's Incorporating Responsibility: 2008 and Human Rights Watch's Beijing Olympics 2008.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Human Rights Podcasts

I've mentioned two sources for human rights-themed podcasts recently, the Irrepressible.info series from Amnesty International and PEN Center's event series. Here are two more: The University of Chicago Human Rights Program podcasts its lecture series and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a weekly program of interviews called Voices on Genocide Prevention. Needless to say, much of the focus is currently on the campaign for Darfur with much useful information-- and inspiration-- for activists.

Riga Pride

As a supplement to our screening of Dangerous Living: Coming out in the developing world, here is an account from an Amnesty organizer attending a Gay Pride event in Latvia.
More at this blog.

Pasadena Screening of Dangerous Living

Please save the date for our June 28, 7:30 PM meeting in Pasadena (See sidebar calendar for location information). We will be screening the one-hour film, Dangerous Living: Coming out in the developing world,

Dangerous Living examines the struggles and triumphs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the Global South. It is the first documentary to deeply explore the lives of GLBT people in non-western cultures. The crew of Dangerous Living traveled to five continents to tell the heartbreaking and triumphant stories of these incredible individuals on film.

The persecution of gay men in Egypt attracted much attention from the western press. However, most occurrences of oppression of LGBT individuals around the world receive no media coverage at all. By sharing the personal stories of LGBT activists from other countries, Dangerous Living sheds light on an emerging global movement striving to end the atrocities against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
A preview of the film is available here. Help us take action on behalf of LGBT people around the world!

Monday, June 18, 2007

For October: The Attack

We have selected Yasmina Khadra's The Attack for October,
From the bestselling author of The Swallows of Kabul comes this timely and haunting novel that powerfully illuminates the devastating human costs of terrorism.

Dr. Amin Jaafari is an Arab-Israeli surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. As an admired and respected member of his community, he has carved a space for himself and his wife, Sihem, at the crossroads of two troubled societies. Jaafari’s world is abruptly shattered when Sihem is killed in a suicide bombing.

As evidence mounts that Sihem could have been responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Jaafari begins a tortured search for answers. Faced with the ultimate betrayal, he must find a way to reconcile his cherished memories of his wife with the growing realization that she may have had another life, one that was entirely removed from the comfortable, modern existence that they shared.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Amnesty UK Blogs

I've recently discovered that the Amnesty - UK website has a feature encouraging activists to blog about their human rights campaigning activities. Sample posts include a description of the recent conference on internet censorship, some reportage on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica, much interest in the plight of Russian journalists, an account of a mission to Chad, and the occasional reference to things literary. It's fun and inspiring to peek into what other AI groups are up to. Get the overview here. And yeah, I was momentarily thrilled to see the words "Amnesty Reading Group" - thinking that perhaps Rights Readers had a British counterpart before I realized this referred to the location, not the activity.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Our June Author: Alan Hollinghurst

Here are some links for our June selection, Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. Readings has an interview and the Guardian offers a couple of profiles here, and here.

"From the start I've tried to write books which began from a presumption of the gayness of the narrative position," says Hollinghurst. "To write about gay life from a gay perspective unapologetically and as naturally as most novels are written from a heterosexual position. When I started writing, that seemed a rather urgent and interesting thing to do. It hadn't really been done."

The BBC has a site for the mini-series based on the book and you can read an interview with Hollinghurst and director Andrew Davies abou the adaptation at Time Out London. A peek at the series is available here.

If you want to bone up on your Henry James to enhance your appreciation of the novel, this site seems to be an exhaustive (exhausting?) set of links

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rights Readers Map of Europe

The Rights Readers map of settings for our European fiction and nonfiction books is now complete! You can visit it here. Featured sites include Chernobyl, Guernica and Terezin. If that sounds grim, you can visit the site of this month's novel, Kensington or zoom in and count tulips outside the International Criminal Court. See the sidebar for links to our previous maps of North and South America.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cathy Henderson - Another Stay!

Texas death row inmate Cathy Henderson's execution, scheduled for June 13, has been stayed! Here is Amnesty USA's statement and Capital Defense Weekly provides the meat of the decision. We have been following this case since Sister Helen Prejean, Cathy's spiritual advisor, came to Pasadena in February. Thanks to all who helped with petitions and letters!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Eyes on Darfur

Amnesty's new Eyes on Darfur site has been launched. This is a special web feature that shows not only before and after satellite pictures of devastated villages in Darfur, Sudan, but also images of "at-risk" villages to be monitored with photos to be updated periodically. There are also actions for all to take to let the Sudanese government know the world is watching. NPR has a report on the project. Your chance to be Big Brother for a good cause!

June 12 marks the release of the big Sudan-fundraiser album Instant Karma, a tribute to John Lennon. I know its June 12 because that just so happens to be the birthday of the Lennon-lover in my life... hmmm, problem solved! Surely some of you can find a similar way to spread the peace!

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

Guantanamo has been much in the news lately (and we'll get back to that topic in a day or too) but let's not forget Abu Ghraib. Just in time for Torture Awareness month, HBO has released Rory Kennedy's documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib on DVD. View a preview here. Remember the "bad apples"? The film features interviews with many of the low level personnel implicated in the torture which occurred at Abu Ghraib and reminds us that no one further up the chain of command has never been held accountable. The film website also has a useful resource list.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Internet Freedom of Expression Webcast

More fuel for my iPod. Yesterday Amnesty-UK sponsored a webcast of a conference on the Irrepressible.info campaign on internet censorship and one can now view the archived version online. Interviews relating to the campaign can also be subscribed to as podcasts via iTunes (and perhaps the webcast will show up there soon as well). Here's a written account of the conference. Of special note as regards our ongoing concern for journalist and Amnesty prisoner of conscience Shi Tao, attorneys representing Shi Tao's wife discuss her lawsuit against Yahoo! for disclosing her husband's identity, leading to a ten year prison sentence. On a related note, check out these maps of internet filtering from the Open Net Initiative.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pen World Voices

I'm on call for jury duty this week and in anticipation of being in a confined space with far too many idle people with cell phones handy, I have armed my iPod with downloads from the recent PEN American Center - PEN World Voices conference and plan to block out the cacophony with readings and discussion from a variety of once and future Rights Readers authors. I'm almost, ALMOST, looking forward to my civic duty. While you are visiting the site to download and listen online, check out this year's winners from the PEN prison writing contest. I like The Fan.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Meditation: Tiananmen Poetry

Last Saturday veterans and supporters of the 1989 Tiananmen protests gathered at Caltech to share poetry and reflections of their experiences. On the eve of the 18th anniversary of the June 4 massacre we present a little poetry here to commemorate the day. OpenDemocracy has a 2004 interview and poems of exiled poet Liu HongBin. And here is a taste of Bei Dao's "June" from Perihelion,
unending plastic flowers
on the dead left bank
the cement square extending
from writing to

An excellent resource on Tiananmen is the website for the Frontline documentary Tiananmen: The Gate of Heavenly Peace and don't forget to leave a bouquet on the square for the Tiananmen Mothers!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

When Kids Get Life

I failed to spread the alert regarding this program when it was on last month, but perhaps there will be reruns or you can view the FRONTLINE documentary "When Kids Get Life" online at the PBS site where you to exploring other resources in conjunction with the campaign to abolish life without parole sentencing for children.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Death Penalty Update

Just a couple of brief updates on our on-going anti-death penalty work: Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox has released a statement regarding proposed changes to California's lethal injection procedures,
These attempts to tinker endlessly with the mechanism of execution are both misguided and futile. The real problems that plague the death penalty system transcend the method by which a person is put to death. No matter how "sanitized" the execution process, the death penalty remains racially biased, carries the very real risk of executing the innocent and is arbitrary and capricious at its very core.
Also, you can take action online on behalf of Texas death row inmate Cathy Henderson here. Her supporters' website reports on new medical evidence in the case and has other action suggestions.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Persepolis at Cannes

So Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis took the jury prize at Cannes. Meanwhile, Iran protests. I can see the Little Marjanes of today visiting Tehran's black market vendors only instead of buying contraband Michael Jackson tapes it will be Persepolis DVDs. Doesn't that make you smile? There's a little more on the film here including a very brief French trailer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Our Visit with Congressman Schiff

Yesterday, several members of our Amnesty chapter made a visit to Congressman Adam Schiff's district office here in Pasadena. While we will be waiting to see what actions Rep. Schiff takes as a result of our discussion, we all felt it was a very productive visit.

We spoke first about our concern for human rights in Eritrea, and urged him to contact Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (as several other Congresspersons have already done) to ask her to inquire into the status and treatment of Eritrean prisoners of conscience, including imprisoned opposition figures, journalists and religious leaders. Rep. Schiff appeared very receptive to this request. We were happy to have informed him of our on-going interest in the human rights crisis in Eritrea as we know it is easy to overlook among the more headline-grabbing international conflict zones.

We had noted Congressman Schiff's interest in press freedom from his website. You can read a recent floor speech he gave on World Press Freedom Day here and it appears that he intends to be a leader on this issue. This is good news for our work on behalf of Eritrean journalists, as well as Russian journalists such as the late Anna Politkovskaya (Rights Readers selection Putin's Russia). But we also thought this was a great opportunity to ask the Congressman's support for the Global Online Freedom Act (H.R. 275) which would help ensure that the Internet remains an open forum for free expression in every part of the world, and help American companies resist pressure from authoritarian governments to compromise their principles. The act may help to prevent cases such as Chinese Journalist and Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience Shi Tao whose identity was revealed to Chinese authorities by Yahoo! and who subsequently received a ten year sentence for exercising his right to free speech. You can help urge the Congressman to support this legislation by taking action here.

Finally, we got ahead of Amnesty's effort to turn activists out to lobby for fair judicial proceedings for Guantanamo detainees in conjunction with the annual International Day for Survivors of Torture in late June and asked for Rep. Schiff's support for H.R. 1416 The Habeas Restoration Act. The right to challenge one’s detention in front of an independent court is one of the most fundamental protections against arbitrary detention and other human rights violations. We're all proud of our judicial tradition and these are the principles we want to export not hide from! Rep. Schiff emphasized that he opposed the revocation of habeas and was very receptive to supporting this bill, commenting that he might look into a broader approach. (Broader is good! How about we close Guantanamo?!) In any case we suggest that you urge Rep. Schiff to become a co-sponsor of the bill here.

You can also take action on H.R. 275 and H.R. 1416 at Congressman Schiff's website.

We'll keep you up to date on these actions when we get more information.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

For September: Enrique's Journey

For September, we have selected Enrique's Journey based on Sonia Nazario's Pulitzer-winning L.A. Times feature,

In this astonishing true story, award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril to reach his mother in the United States.
When Enrique is five years old, his mother, Lourdes, too poor to feed her children, leaves Honduras to work in the United States. The move allows her to send money back home to Enrique so he can eat better and go to school past the third grade.

Lourdes promises Enrique she will return quickly. But she struggles in America. Years pass. He begs for his mother to come back. Without her, he becomes lonely and troubled. When she calls, Lourdes tells him to be patient. Enrique despairs of ever seeing her again. After eleven years apart, he decides he will go find her.

Enrique sets off alone from Tegucigalpa, with little more than a slip of paper bearing his mother’s North Carolina telephone number. Without money, he will make the dangerous and illegal trek up the length of Mexico the only way he can–clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains.

With gritty determination and a deep longing to be by his mother’s side, Enrique travels through hostile, unknown worlds. Each step of the way through Mexico, he and other migrants, many of them children, are hunted like animals. Gangsters control the tops of the trains. Bandits rob and kill migrants up and down the tracks. Corrupt cops all along the route are out to fleece and deport them. To evade Mexican police and immigration authorities, they must jump onto and off the moving boxcars they call El Tren de la Muerte–The Train of Death. Enrique pushes forward using his wit, courage, and hope–and the kindness of strangers. It is an epic journey, one thousands of immigrant children make each year to find their mothers in the United States.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Our May Author: Caroline Elkins

As the author the Pulitzer-winning Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, I expected to find more interviews with Caroline Elkins. For what it's worth here's one from NPR. And here's a profile from the History News Network. This Boston Globe piece has some good quotes,
Elkins said, ``When I was writing, there was a bit of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't. If you wrote a book like this and didn't have an opinion, people would say, `For God's sake, how can you possibly not have an opinion about this?' But if you express anything that hints at partiality, people will say you're not impartial enough."
and from one of her critics,
Kenyan historian Bethwell Ogot questioned Elkins's honesty in quoting anonymous settlers' confessions of tortures: ``How do we know these are not fabricated confessions intended to paint the British in the worst possible light?" he wrote in The Journal of African History. In a review in the Times of London, historian Lawrence James wrote, ``Like other American academics, [Elkins] is an heir of the [American] war of independence and schooled to believe that all empires are intrinsically evil, corrupting and integral to the `old Europe' of current American demonology. . . . The reputation of the British empire can withstand the defamation of holier-than-thou American academics."
Gotta love those Brits! But they aren't all like that... the New Statesman offers a counter view. Plus they offer a bit of psychoanalysis from Michela Wrong (Rights Readers selection, I Didn't Do It for You : How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation). I must say that the piece made me a bit uncomfortable.

NPR, the Guardian and the BBC (here and here) report on the efforts of the Mau Maus to seek restitution. The BBC report contains a tantalizing sidebar of audio/visual offerings (Terence Gavaghan "I feel no guilt") that don't function for me. Best of luck to those with different computer configurations. Finally, for a sense of how the Mau Mau rebellion was presented to the British public at the time it was happening, check out this YouTube video.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Blood Diamond Curriculum Guide

Blood DiamondI've noted that the blog is getting search queries for discussion questions on the film, Blood Diamond, and since I didn't mention in my previous post on the subject I thought I would provide this helpful pointer to the Blood Diamond Curriculum Guide even if you're not planning a discussion on the subject, you might find some interesting information in this package.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy May Day!

It's May Day and as usual people the world over are out on the streets celebrating my bir... er, parading for immigrant rights and other worthy causes.

And hey look, its a present from Senator Feinstein!

Have a great day even if you just celebrate by admiring some tulips or having a bit of fun on a swing.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday Musical Meditation

For your contemplation this Sunday we offer Mistislav Rostropovich playing the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1. What a final crescendo on an exemplary life as a musician and activist. (I don't know if its just me and my overexposure to things cello in childhood -thanks Mom!- but you may need a tissue!)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Haunted Oak

Okay, I still have trees on the brain. I'm thinking of the Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem about a lynching, The Haunted Oak,
My leaves were green as the best, I trow,
And sap ran free in my veins,
But I saw in the moonlight dim and weird
A guiltless victim's pains.
Two major campaigns were launched in the last few days focusing on the issue of innocence and the death penalty. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has a new action and education package focusing on four cases of innocent men who have been executed. These innocence cases came to light as a result of thorough investigative journalism by reporters working for the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. If you missed the original reporting this is a great way to catch up on the best evidence that innocents have been executed.

The Innocence Project also has a campaign up to draw attention to the 200 exoneree milestone that was reached this week.

Meanwhile, we are keeping an eye on the May 8 hearing instigated by State Senator Gloria Romero into the building of the secret death chamber at San Quentin. Time to drop your state senator a line and let them know that you're happy that this wasteful construction has stopped but that the process of finding a new execution method needs to be as public as possible and should engage the notion that its not just the methodology that's flawed, but that the death penalty itself is ineffective as a crime deterrent, arbitrary, racist and holds too much risk of executing the innocent (see above!). At the very least, executions should be put on hold in our state until the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice completes its report on the death penalty.

Click here to look up contact info for your California State Senator.

Child Life Without Parole

At our last non-virtual meeting we discussed California Senate Bill 999, legislation to reform criminal sentencing which can result in life without parole sentences for children. The author of the bill, Senator Leland Yee, explains the legislation in a press release here. The introduction of SB 999 is great news following on Amnesty International's recent report on this issue. The effort to pass the bill has its own website childrenwithoutparole.org where you can learn more and check out a list of organizations supporting this reform including Amnesty International. Then take action!
Write/email your state senator to let him/her know that rehabiliation should be the primary mission of our penal system and that children are the most receptive to our efforts in this regard! See links above for additional arguments and statistics to make your case.
Look up your state senator here or see the sidebar box for contacting your legislators and send them an email.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Arbor Day

It's Arbor Day and we bring you sad news about a special tree,
The chestnut tree that Anne Frank looked out on during the time she was hiding is seriously diseased. The causes of its present poor condition are a moth and a fungus attacking the tree and may eventually kill it.
In addition to the news report linked above there's a bit of tree video here. You can even leave a leaf on a virtual version of the tree (page opens with sound). I must say that while virtual trees are a nice idea, I do recommend getting outside today and hugging a favorite tree in celebration of the day!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Map Mania!

I've been exploring the new Crisis in Darfur collaboration between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Google Earth, which combines photos and testimony with mapping and satellite imagery of the destruction of villages in Darfur, Sudan. Viewing the project does involve downloading a piece of free software which may be too much effort for the less tech-happy among us, but the project is really an exciting taste of new possibilities for documenting human rights violations and presenting the evidence to the public.

Less taxing on the tech-challenged are our new Rights Readers Literary Maps! These are maps marking the settings of books we have read. So far the maps of North America and South America are complete. Be sure to zoom in on LA and NYC as the pins get thick in those spots. We have nice start on a walking tour of Manhattan. In Los Angeles its more like a Gold/Red/Blue Line tour. Also, compare the exercise yards at various penal institutions. (We really get around!) These links have been added to the sidebar and will be updated as we visit more locations.

Finally, I recently discovered a fascinating map blog I think my Esteemed Readers will love: Strange Maps. Check it out!
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