Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Virtual Vigil for Guantanamo

We are all about creative protests here at Rights Readers and here's one that comes to us from Australia: a puppet bearing a likeness to the Australian Prime Minister holds virtual vigil on behalf of Aussie Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks. More info from my favorite craft blog here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sister Helen and Cathy Henderson

Several of our Esteemed Readers had a great time this weekend tabling at several events featuring Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking). I don't know what it is she does to keep her energy up through the mad schedule she keeps (I'd buy a book about that!), but what an inspiration she is!

At our table we were collecting signatures for a petition for Cathy Henderson, an inmate on Texas death row scheduled to be executed on April 18. Sister Helen is her spiritual advisor. We are sad to report that Ms. Henderson lost her last Supreme Court appeal today. We'll keep you all abreast of actions you can take on her behalf, meanwhile you can visit this website to learn more about her case.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Human Rights at the Oscars

Whoohoo! I get to blog the Oscars too! If I had known this earlier I'd have been counting teardrops.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Free Kareem!

Amnesty International has released a statement condemning the four-year sentence handed down by an Egyptian court against blogger Karim Amer.
"This sentence is yet another slap in the face of freedom of expression in Egypt," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. "The Egyptian authorities must protect the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, even if the views expressed might be perceived by some as offensive. Amnesty International considers Amer to be a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression of his views."
Supporters have set up a Free Kareem! website. Global Voices Online tracks reaction among fellow bloggers. For more on Egptian internet activists and the issue of torture, see this recent article in the Nation. Of course we will link to any Amnesty action as it becomes available.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pasadena Event: Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean (Rights Readers selection, Dead Man Walking) will be speaking at a series of events in Pasadena this weekend (February 23-25). Look in the left sidebar for brochure and registration at this site. In addition our friend Hector Aristizabal will be offering a workshop as will Sister Janet Harris. Amnesty Internationl Group 22 will be tabling there, so stop by to say hi and take action!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

For June: The Line of Beauty

For June we have selected another Booker Prize winner, Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty:
In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby — whom Nick had idolized at Oxford — and Catherine, highly critical of her family's assumptions and ambitions.

As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innocent in the world of politics and money, finds his life altered by the rising fortunes of this glamorous family. His two vividly contrasting love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, dramatize the dangers and rewards of his own private pursuit of beauty, a pursuit as compelling to Nick as the desire for power and riches among his friends. Richly textured, emotionally charged, disarmingly comic, this is a major work by one of our finest writers.


Okay, we are keeping an eye on the up-coming Jennifer Lopez film, Bordertown, with a plot centered on the murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Here's what the Los Angeles Times has to say about the film,
"Bordertown" is being endorsed by Amnesty International, which reviewed draft versions of thescreenplay and provided feedback on the movie's factual accuracy, said Bonnie Abaunza, director of Artists for Amnesty, an L.A.-based program of Amnesty International USA that works with artists and entertainers to raise awareness of human rights issues.

In an interview, Abaunza said that although the movie is told in the style of a thriller, it is rooted in hard, disturbing facts. A prologue at the beginning of the film gives context to the story of the murders, and a number of scenes, including one shot inside a Mitsubishi television plant, lend authenticity to the story's socioeconomic setting, she said. Though she believes the movie will be "accessible to the public," Abaunza added, "this is not 'Star Wars,' this is not 'Lord of the Rings.'

"There are some very hard political statements made in this movie, about NAFTA, CAFTA, about corporations," she said, referring to the free trade agreement among Mexico, Canada, Central American countries and the United States.
No US release date yet, but we'll keep you posted!

Monday, February 19, 2007

News from the Niger Delta

Consider this homework in advance of our April Earth Day activities: depressing news from the Niger Delta,

But it was hard to escape the conclusion that it might all be too little too late. There are people of genuine goodwill working for the oil companies, many of whom are determined to find a way to earn that elusive and much talked-about “SLO” (social license to operate) that makes it possible for their employers to work in peace in the Delta. But increasingly, alongside good intentions and innovative approaches to community and media relations, there is also a mood of resignation and gathering despair, a feeling that things may have gone too far, too deep, in a way that no amount of goodwill can turn around. “The Pope himself could not fix things now,” was the way one activist described the situation of the Delta to me. “He would just be corrupted or killed or co-opted by one group or another. Today, every little boy in Nigeria is talking about ‘big money,’ not hard work. People are assassinating one another to become local councillors. How can you turn something like that around?”

The author of this article, John Ghazvinian, has a book coming out which could well be a future Rights Readers selection.

Mike Males and Juvenile Justice

We here at Rights Readers have a soft spot for writer Mike Males, author of Scapegoat Generation. Nearly eight years ago we invited Mike to give a talk about juvenile justice at a local bookstore and while there I picked up a flyer listing book groups that met at the store and the lightbulb went on: why not us? Thus Rights Readers was born. Thanks Mike! He's still on the case, debunking the "predator youth" myth. See this LAT opinon piece for more.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy New Year! Well, Maybe Not...

We here at Rights Readers are most eager to welcome all to the Year of the Pig! Most especially because your Esteemed Reader Leader is a little Porker herself. And here's a tiny bit of good news for the new year: Google founders are having second thoughts about the whole Chinese internet censorship deal. Hey, its a first step. Now take action, guys!

Meanwhile on the grimly serious side, we included an action in this month's newsletter on a group of approximately 70 unarmed Tibetans who were trying to flee China were shot at by the Chinese border control troops. The shooting was witnessed by an international group of mountaineers who videotaped one person, a 17 year old nun Kelsang Namtso, die at the scene and two others fall. At least 25 members of the group, 10 of whom were children, were taken into custody while the rest managed to escape to Nepal. Here's the video:

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Adam Hochschild on Amazing Grace

In advance of the release of the movie Amazing Grace (view trailer here), Adam Hochschild (author of Rights Readers selection, King Leopold's Ghost, and Bury the Chains) offers some perspective on the British anti-slavery movement in an NPR interview.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Kiran Desai Interviews

Continuing with our exploration of Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, here are some links to interviews:

Kiran Desai shares time with her mother, novelist Anita Desai on NPR's Fresh Air.

A short interview at the National Book Critics Circle blog.

A Guardian interview and another report on negative reaction to the book in Kalimpong.

Pamuk in Exile?

The Guardian Reports,
The Turkish author Orhan Pamuk has reportedly left his home country to live in America amid fears for his life. The Nobel laureate is believed to be at risk of assassination in Turkey following the murder of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink last month. Threats appeared to have been made against Pamuk by the man who confessed to orchestrating the murder.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

New Blog Feature-- Tunes!

For those of you who enjoy tunes with your blog, I've added a feature to the side bar at right which allows you to listen to some world music with your daily dose of international activism. Our first selection, from the Montreal-based group Tasa, brings the East meets West vibe with a North Indian flavor to go with Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. Warning! That bluesy ostinato will follow you around for the rest of the day! Hypnotic! The group has a slick website, www.tasamusic.com, for more info and samples.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine's Action

Don't forget to take action on the Clean Diamond Trade Act this Valentine's! More resources including a curriculum guide for the movie here. Back when the movie first came out, Greg Campbell, author of the Rights Readers selection Blood Diamonds appeared on the News Hour to discuss the issue,
One of the other biggest problems is that, from the point of extraction, the first point where the diamond is found and mined, to its first point of export, there are no certificates or guarantees. There are pledges that the diamonds that are being offered for export under the protections of the Kimberley Process are conflict-free.

But, you know, I've been to some of these mines in Sierra Leone. And, you know, we're talking about very unindustrialized mines. You know, the diamonds are extracted by human labor and physically handed hand-to-hand from one person to the next.

And it's very simple, in fact, to move diamonds that are from conflict zones into legitimate parcels that are being offered under the protection of the Kimberley Process certificate.

Visit the
NewsHour website to view or read the whole transcript of the interview.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Journey to North India

The imagery in Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss is vivid enough without visual aids, but just for fun, check out this 'North India and Sikkim' slideshow from photographer Matt Reichel.
... We'd emerge to the tops of monasteries limpet to the sides of the rock, surrounded by chortens and prayer flags, the white facades catching the light of the sunset, all straw gold, the mountains rugged lines of indigo... Buddhism was ancient here, more ancient than it was anywhere else, and we went to a monastery that had been built, they said, when a flying lama had flown from one mountaintop to another, from Menak Hill to Enchey, and another that had been built when a rainbow connected Kanchenjunga to the crest of the hill. Often gompas were deserted because the monks were also farmers; they were away at their fields and gathered only a few times a year for pujas and all you could hear was the wind in the bamboo. Clouds cam through the doors and mingled with the paintings of the clouds. The interiors were dark, smoke-stained, and we'd try to make out the murals by the light of butter lamps... (page 169)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Torture and Television

The Los Angeles Times reports on a meeting between human rights activists, military interrogators and the producers of some primetime television series, looking to make torture on TV more authentic,
By that, they did not mean bloodier or more savage. Instead, they wanted "24" to show torture subjects taking weeks or months to break, spitting out false or unreliable intelligence, and even dying. As they do in the real world.
Apparently, there has been a huge increase in the quantity and quality of scenes depicting torture on television since 9/11,
From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture, according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said. "24" has accounted for 67 such scenes during its first five seasons, making it No. 1 in torture depictions, according to the watchdog group.

The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer's identity was more likely to be an American hero like "24's" Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days. The action-packed show, which drew a hefty 13.6 million viewers last week, was among the first and certainly the most prominent to have its main character choke, stab, or electrocute — among other techniques — information out of villains.

"It's unthinkable that Capt. Kirk would torture someone," said Danzig.
Just as I've followed the treatment of the death penalty in popular entertainment over the years, I had wondered how torture was being treated in television and film and how this affects public perceptions of torture. What the article points out, is that that public includes men and women serving in the military,
Even in Iraq, such series can sometimes substitute for or trump military training, and transmit a dark message to soldiers.

"Everyone wanted to be a Hollywood interrogator," said Tony Lagouranis, a former U.S. Army interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq who spoke to the creative teams from "24" and "Lost." "That's all people did in Iraq was watch DVDs of television shows and movies. What we learned in military schools didn't apply anymore."
Human Rights First is behind this effort and has set up a website, Primetime Torture, for the initiative. The site includes clips from several televsion series, a brief interview with Tony Lagouranis and guidelines for how torture can be depicted more authentically.

For a perspective on recent films that depict torture, check out this opinion piece from A.S. Hamrah for the Los Angeles Times.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Our February Author: Kiran Desai

I'm not far enough along with our February selection, The Inheritance of Loss, yet to be reading interviews, but here is the author giving a short (2 minute) introduction to her own work:

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Human Rights and Global Warming

We here at Rights Readers are always interested in bringing creativity and humor to activism, so today we bring you wooden snowmen protesting global warming in Norway (more background at Boing Boing).

On a more serious note, here are a couple of articles on the intersection of human rights and global warming. First from an article in Amnesty Magazine by Ross Gelbspan,
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the rights to secure shelter, food, health, and the tools for basic sustenance — all of which are endangered by the extreme weather, disease outbreaks, crop failures, and famine caused by global warming. The impact of an increasingly unstable climate falls disproportionately on people in poor countries. They are hit hardest — not because nature discriminates against the poor, but because developing countries cannot afford the kinds of infrastructures, such as back-up food reserves, redundant generating systems, and accessible healthcare facilities, needed to buffer the effects of global warming.
And from openDemocracy:
...there must be a conscious reframing of the climate-change debate in terms of human rights. One group of the world's peoples (namely the poor and vulnerable) have found that their right to live and prosper has been harmed by the actions of another group of people (namely the rich).
Something to keep in mind as we plan our usual run of "Earth Day" events this spring. Hmmm... this has really turned into Science Week here at Rights Readers!

Update: Always alert for a book-related link, we note that Mark Hertsgaard, author of Rights Readers selection, Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future has weighs in at The Nation. Plus another article at openDemocracy observes tensions between the developed and developing world already heating up over global warming at the African Union meeting.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Libyan HIV case

Some of our Loyal Readers may be interested in following the case of the six health professionals who have been sentenced to death for after being convicted of deliberately infecting 426 children with HIV in Libya. Amnesty is calling for their release. An excerpt from one of Amnesty's press statement on the case:
"This is the second time that these six medical professionals have been sentenced to death by Libyan courts. In this trial, as in their earlier one, confessions which they have repeatedly alleged were extracted from them under torture were used as evidence against them, while defence lawyers were not allowed to bring in international expertise and the evidence produced by Libyan medical experts was questioned by international medical experts."
Declan Butler, a reporter for Nature, has a blog which may be of some interest to our Most Loyal Readers who are interested in the intersection of science and public health with human rights. He has tracked this case closely and has a resource page for those who wish to take action.

And finally, while I was roaming the Amnesty site for more information on the case I stumbled on this fascinating report released last summer, Caring for human rights: Challenges and opportunities for nurses and midwives. Check it out!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Kurdistan Update

Flashing back to our December discussion of Hiner Saleem's My Father’s Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan, here's a wonderful multi-media presentation about life in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pasadena Event: Chris Abani at Vroman's

Chris Abani, author of Rights Readers selection Graceland, will be speaking at Vroman's Bookstore on Monday, February 12 at 7:00 PM about his new novel Virgin of Flames,
Abani, the Hemingway/PEN Prize-winning author of Graceland, reveals a side of Los Angeles rarely seen. Black, an East L.A. mural artist, lives above a tattoo parlor/coffee shop that becomes the unexpected setting for several recent sightings of the Virgin Mary. As he grapples with the phenomenon and his own journey of self-discovery, larger social issues of poverty, ethnicity, and religion are raised.
Abani was also interviewed recently on KPCC (scroll down for audio link).

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sunday Meditation: Emmett Till

NPR interviews poet Marilyn Nelson about her book of poetry for young adults, A Wreath for Emmett Till, another in a series of explorations of African American history via poetry by this author including Carver: A Life in Poems and Fortune's Bones. An excerpt from the book and audio of the poet reading are available at the NPR website.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Guatemala Series

Loyal Readers may be interested in the NPR series, Unearthing the Future, completed this week focusing on the intersection of human rights and technology in Guatemala. One of the featured stories focuses on the use of forensic anthropology in human rights investigations, a subject familiar to our Readers who read Clea Koff's Bone Woman, and highlights the work of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala. A few of you may recall taking action on behalf of members of the Foundation who received death threats (see Guatemala: Human rights defenders at risk). The series page has plenty of slideshows and links even if you're not inclined to take in the audio. Then visit here to take action on behalf of an Italian environmentalist working with indigenous peoples in Guatemala who has been the recipient of threats for his work.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Shadow Company Follow-up

Following up on our viewing Shadow Company, a documentary about the use of mercenaries in Iraq, here's an article about new developments in military contractor regulation from P.W. Singer at DefenseTech.org,
Since the start of the Iraq war, tens of thousands of heavily-armed military contractors have been roaming the country -- without any law, or any court to control them. That may be about to change, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow P.W. Singer notes in a Defense Tech exclusive. Five words, slipped into a Pentagon budget bill, could make all the difference. With them, "contractors 'get out of jail free' cards may have been torn to shreds," he writes. They're now subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the same set of laws that governs soldiers. But here's the catch: embedded reporters are now under those regulations, too.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pasadena Event: Edward Humes at Vroman's

Edward Humes, author of Rights Readers selection No Matter How Loud I Shout, will be at Vroman's Bookstore on February 6 at 7:oo PM. His latest may be of interest to our Esteemed Readers interested in the intersection of science and culture:
Humes, a Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author of School of Dreams and Over Here, tackles the controversy over the Dover, PA school board's decision to mandate the teaching of a new blend of science and religion called “intelligent design.” The maelstrom that followed its decision split the town in half and became the subject of a national media fixation. In Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion & the Battle for America's Soul, Humes casts his journalistic eye on characters from both sides of the conflict, making each of them appear sympathetically human. If you've ever wondered what happens when science and religion collide, this is the book for you.
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