Saturday, March 31, 2007

Pasadena Event: Kiran Desai at Vroman's

Following on the heels of our February discussion -- coming to Vroman's Bookstore next month! Friday, April 6, 2007 7:00 PM, Kiran Desai discusses and signs The Inheritance of Loss.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sacco & Vanzetti

A new documentary, Sacco and Vanzetti, gets a one week run here in Pasadena starting April 6. More info on other screenings at the film's website. NYT review,
Less didactic and more piercing is the sense that two human beings were killed despite inconclusive or conflicting evidence, as an example to fellow travelers. The judge in the case, Webster Thayer, told the jury, referring to Vanzetti, "This man, although he may not have actually committed the crime attributed to him, is nevertheless culpable, because he is the enemy of our existing institutions."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Amazing Grace

I went to see the movie Amazing Grace last weekend, in fact on the actual bicentennial of the abolition of slavery and was inspired enough to immediately begin reading Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains which tells the same story, though with different emphases. So although I may be jumping the gun a bit by posting about the book before we've made it an official selection (I feel certain that we will at some point-- Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost was our inaugural selection so just for nostalgia's sake...), I've assembled some links that may be of interest to those who saw the movie or have read the book.

The film has a companion website, The Amazing Change, which aims to make the link between the historic abolition movement and the campaign against modern forms of slavery. Included is an effort to match the number of petition signatures to that Thomas Clarkson gathered.

The BBC has put together a very nice package which includes reports on modern day slavery and trafficking, resources for children, and a even more goodies like an interactive map for history buffs. The gallery of abolitionists feature was put together by Hochschild and the "Tools of Abolitionists" gallery is a must-browse for modern-day activists of any cause interested in understanding the history of the techniques still in use today.

A little more on modern-day slavery: Here is a nice photo-story package from photojournalist Pete Pattison. A little background explanation is available at openDemocracy.

Finally, here is Hochschild commentary on reparations for slavery in the LA Times. and for a bit of African perspective on the same subject, try this sampling from Global Voices Online of the African blogosphere.

Check here for more Rights Readers posts on slavery.

Frontline: Requiem

Opps! I went to tape the PBS Independent Lens broadcast of Race to Execution (which was quite good and I hope becomes available to activists on DVD) and realized that the preceding Frontline/World program offered a segment in which a Filipino journalist paid tribute to slain colleagues around the world such as Anna Politkovskaya and Hrant Dink. Luckily, you can view the segment, Requiem, online. Also checking out the resources at the site I learned that the Phillipines is second only to Iraq this year in journalists killed in the line of duty, so to speak. If the tribute moves you to take action, our newsletter this month featured two actions for journalists: Eritrean journalist, Fessahaye Yohannes who died in custody and whose death should be investigated, and Bangladeshi journalist Sumi Khan who has been attacked and threatened.

Los Angeles Event: Darfur Rally

This week is Amnesty International USA's National Week of Student Action and students around the country are raising awareness about the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Students in Los Angeles will rally outside the Chinese consulate this Friday, part of a series of rallies across the country:
March 30 4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
In Front of The Consulate General of the People's Republic of China
443 Shatto Place
Directions »
Los Angeles, CA 90020

China, as a key trading partner of Sudan, is in a unique position to affect the atrocities in Darfur. We will rally in front of the consulate general of the People's Republic of China in Los Angeles to urge the government to take a stand for human rights in Darfur.

Join them if you can, or try these Darfur Crisis actions in solidarity.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bring David Hicks Home

Amnesty International - Australia has constructed a replica of the cell that Australian citizen David Hicks has been incarcerated in for the past five years at Guantanamo Bay and the cell is travelling on a flatbed truck around the country. Visitors to the cell can leave a video message about the experience which you can view on the Bring David Hicks Home website. You can visit a virtual replica of the cell here.

Hicks is to be arraigned today. You can take action on the David Hicks case via Amnesty International USA's website here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Race to Execution

If you missed the recent LA screening of this film, PBS Independent Lens is airing the documentary Race to Execution on Tuesday, March 27 at 10:00 PM (KCET-Los Angeles). More at the Independent Lens website,

Race discrimination infects America’s capital punishment system. According to a landmark study regarding race and the death penalty, a black defendant who kills a white victim is up to 30 times more likely to be sentenced to death than a white defendant who kills a black victim. RACE TO EXECUTION, a film by Rachel Lyon, traces the fates of two death row inmates, Robert Tarver in Russell County, Alabama and Madison Hobley in Chicago, Illinois. Their compelling personal stories are enlarged and enriched by attorneys who fought for these men’s lives, and by prosecutors, criminal justice scholars and experts in the fields of law and the media.

RACE TO EXECUTION reveals how, beyond DNA and the issue of innocence, the shameful open secret of America's capital punishment system is a matter of race. Once a victim’s body is discovered, his or her race—and the race of the accused—deeply influence the legal process: how a crime scene is investigated and the deployment of police resources, the interrogation and arrest of major suspects, how the media portrays the crime and ultimately, the jury selection and sentencing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Elephants and Landmines

Warning! Adorable baby critter ahead! Last fall some of our Esteemed Readers were fascinated by this New York Times report about the deterioration of elephant society and the parallels and intersections with human rights concerns. So now I bring a more upbeat elephant story about a hospital in Thailand that fits pachyderms for prostheses after the animals are injured by landmines. CNN has video.

And here's a fun bit of street theater: place frisbees that resemble landmines where those picking them up will find an anti-landmine message on the reverse. Considering the number of times I've walked across a college campus and been nearly beaned by a wayward frisbee from a game of frisbee golf, I'd say it would be a great student outreach project. Where can we get some?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Amnesty International Southern California Mini-Conference

Coming up on Saturday, March 31-- its the Amnesty International Southern California Mini-Conference at Calstate Fullerton featuring guest speakers, workshops, networking and more. Details including directions to the venue can be found at this page. The event is free and open to the public.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Happy Spring!/World Water Day

Our first day of spring yesterday included a little rain, not exactly the norm around here, but very welcome after a very dry winter. And today is World Water Day! This is a good heads-up for our April focus on environmental actions that often involve contamination of ground water.

You can learn more about water issues at this UN site
which includes slideshows, videos and animations, and this site gives directions to World Water Day events including a Water Walk in Santa Monica on Saturday. Water Partners International has more information including curriculum ideas.

And just for kicks, I've changed our blog musical accompaniment --see sidebar-- to Aguas de Marcos. (If this version makes you nostalgic for the original, visit here or here.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Politkovskaya Update

Just as we were about to move on to next month's topic, news comes that a new Anna Politkovskaya book will be released in May and the Guardian has published three excerpts:

'Beslan is quietly going out of its mind'

'Fascism is in fashion'

'Inside the dragon's lair'

Monday, March 19, 2007

For July: Three Cups of Tea

For July we have selected Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin,

Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.

Finding Freedom

A brief follow-up to our non-virtual discussion yesterday: The San Francisco Chronicle reports on good news in the case of California death row inmate Jarvis Jay Masters (author of possible future Rights Readers selection Finding Freedom),

The California Supreme Court, in an unusual step, has ordered state prosecutors to respond to defense lawyers' claims that new evidence shows a San Quentin State Prison inmate is innocent of the 1985 murder of a prison guard that sent him to Death Row.

Jarvis Masters' appeal is still a longshot in a court that upholds more than 90 percent of the death sentences it considers. But the circumstances of the Feb. 14 order signed by all seven justices have given Masters' lawyers a glimmer of hope that their 45-year-old client will be vindicated.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Meditation: Women of Juarez

For today's contemplation we suggest an excerpt from Marjorie Agosin's Secrets in the Sand, a poetic tribute to the hundreds of women of Juarez who have been murdered and whose deaths have not been properly investigated so that perptrators are brought to justice. Agosin is well known for her poems about strong women (see Melodious Women). Here's another of her poems.

For further reflection we suggest exploring Amnesty's Bordertown (a forthcoming feature film on the women of Juarez) resources, where among other things you can find mp3 and video downloads and a petition.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Los Angeles Event: Guatemala Femicide Conference

We featured this recommended action for a House resolution condemning the brutal murders of women in girls in Guatemala in a recent issue of our newsletter,
The majority of women killed in the past few years in Guatemala lived in urban areas of the country and were 18-30 years old. Many were abducted in broad daylight in front of witnesses. Despite the lack of detailed forensic information, significant evidence suggest that sexual violence, particularly rape, characterizes many of the killings. The brutality of the killings, with sexual violence and mutilation, bear many of the hallmarks of the terrible atrocities committed during the civil conflict. These atrocities have gone unpunished, and reveal that extreme sexual violence and discrimination remain prevalent in Guatemalan society.
An opportunity to learn more is coming up on March 21 and 22 at Loyola Marymount University with a conference that promises, create a safe space to lecture and debate the femicide, its theories, the culture of violence behind this issue, and the actions to take in order to investigate, prevent and stop the violent murders of women in this country
More info here.

For a little artistic inspiration for your actions, check out this post.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Reporter's Game

The Los Angeles Times brings us an article on activist gaming and among some familiar examples, (Darfur is Dying), we learn that in the virtual world, we too can become Anna Politkovskaya, or more precisely Amira Hass,
In Global Conflicts: Palestine, you control a freelance journalist who roams the streets of Jerusalem armed with nothing but a pencil and a steno pad. Your editor asks you to cover Israeli Defense Forces security raids, border checkpoints, and even martyrdom; you're asked to interview families of the victims and of the bomber alike. As you speak to Arabs and Israelis around town, you carefully pluck their best quotes, the object being to write a balanced, thorough newspaper article at the day's end.

Illustrated Russia

And just to add a bit more humor to the discussion, last month's Words Without Borders was dedicated to comics and graphic novels from around the globe and included the strip The Only True Guide to Russia: Hidden Secrets Revealed. More seriously, and on a Women's History Month note, check out How Much Is a Person Worth? one woman's illustrated memoir of life in the Soviet gulag.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Daily Show on Russian Journalists

Because we are hip enough for a little dark humor... the Daily Show takes on murdered Russian journalists.

Our March Author: Anna Politkovskaya

A final set of links for Anna Politkovskaya's Putin's Russia:

The Guardian has an interview and an article in which she explains what keeps her going,
Why am I going on at such length about this? Only in order to explain that people in Chechnya are afraid for me, and I find that very touching. They fear for me more than I fear for myself, and that is how I survive.
Open Source has an audio interview with some of Politkovskaya's journalist colleagues following her death. (BBC Woman's Hour has an interview from the time of the publication of Putin's Russia, but the BBC's A/V set-up and I don't get along.)

Radio Free Europe has a transcript of Politkovskaya's last interview, two days before her death and this site has her last article.

If you are still curious, check out this list of links.

Putin's Russia: More Background

More background for our discussion of Anna Politkovskaya's Putin's Russia:

NPR obligingly ran a five-part series on Russia last week. Included in the web features is this handy guide to opposition leaders. Their guide doesn't include Garry Kasparov, but as one of our Intrepid Readers points out, the NYT fills the gap. Meanwhile, the Independent runs down the list of Russian journalists who have been assassinated.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Democracy on Deadline

Last year Independent Lens aired the film Democracy on Deadline: The Global Struggle for an Independent Press which followed several brave and determined journalists as they tried to shine some light on dark places. You can still check out the journalist profiles on the website, including Anna Politkovskaya (Putin's Russia) and Israeli reporter Amira Hass (Rights Readers selection Drinking by the Sea at Gaza) as well as Nigerian Chris Anyanwu, a former prisoner of conscience. The site also has a handy list of links to organization supporting freedom of the press.

And while we are on the subject of courage in journalism, Amnesty International USA announced the award of the Ginetta Sagan Human Rights Award to Mexican reporter Lydia Cacho Ribeiro yesterday.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day Action - Chechnya

We have so many actions to call attention to on International Women's Day that we are going to have to spread them out over more than one day. But let's start with one that relates to our selection this month, Anna Politkovskaya's Putin's Russia. Urge Russian President Putin to stop violence against women in Chechnya,
Since 1999, female civilians have particularly suffered due to the armed conflict in Chechnya, as Russian federal forces have committed rape, torture, disappearances, and killings. Chechen armed groups have also indiscriminately attacked civilians, including women and girls. In a climate of impunity, women and girls are routinely denied justice. Act now and urge President Putin to prosecute all allegations of violence against women.

Some examples:

"Madina": Madina (not her real name) is 24 years old. In April 2004 she was detained by Russian Federal forces and taken, blindfolded, to the main Russian military base in Khankala, Chechnya. She was tortured dailiy with electric shocks, the wires connected to her bra. She was stripped, threatened with rape and repeatedly beaten. After two weeks she was told a mistake had been made and was released.

"Aset": Russian federal forces detained Aset (not a her real name) at a checkpoint in June 2003 and accused her of wanting to be a suicide bomber. According to relatives, she was chained to a bed and gang-raped every night, and was unable to stand or walk when released six days later. Aset has four children. Her husband was reportedly killed at their home by Russian forces in April 2003.

And more here. Send a message now!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bombing of Iraqi Book Mart

This wasn't even the worst atrocity to happen in the last couple of days in Iraq, but I dare say its one Loyal Readers can relate to best: the BBC reports on the bombing of the Baghdad book mart. After all, we meet in a bookstore, we linger over the "New Arrivals" table on the way out, we visit the neighboring cafes and theaters in our own book district, looking for a bit of insight or escapism. We can put ourselves there. The BBC offers a little slideshow of Mutanabbi Street in better times and here's an NPR audio report from 2003 focusing on the dangers of selling banned books during the Saddam Hussein era. Then there is this Washington Post article from 2006 detailing the post-war deterioration of the market,
"It is the lungs that I breathe with," said Zaien Ahmad al-Nakshabandi, another bookseller. "I'm choked now."
Orion has pictures and description of the literary hangout, Sh'ah Bander Café, now destroyed according to the New York Times. Still, in all this tragedy, we find an optimist,

“Those terrorists do not represent Islam,” said Wissam Arif, 45, an engineer and eager browser of the book market. “They are fighting science. They hate the light of science and scientists. Haven’t they killed hundreds of prophets and intellectuals?

“Yesterday they killed the prophets and today they are killing the books. But hopefully the just, the science and the light will win. We’ll be patient until we achieve victory.”

For more courage resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, see the story of Alia Muhammad Baker, whose story is related in two children's books: The Librarian of Basra and Alia's Mission.

Prayer Flag Project

Amnesty International has released a Children's Edition Urgent Action for the Tibetan refugee case we highlighted earlier. In addition to writing letters, children are encouraged to express their feelings about the case through artwork. We just wanted to give a pointer to an art activity we designed for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which could easily be adapted for this purpose: The Tibetan Prayer Flag Project.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Novaya Gazeta

Continuing our exploration of Anna Politkovskaya and Putin's Russia:

Some of our more linguistically talented Readers may want to check out the online version of Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper Politkovskaya wrote for. The rest of us can make due with this interview with ther editor,

I know that our newspaper can be found everywhere in Chechnya, it is sold and photocopied. People from Chechnya queue up for Politkovskaya But I tell her: You are not a Chechen Joan of Arc. You can’t save the entire Chechen people.

This year I have sent her on an assignment to Chechnya only twice. That’s all I would let her do. But in my absence she “extorted” a signature from my deputy Sergei Sokolov. Then she calls me from there and says with malicious glee: “I’m in Chechnya”

But that’s Politkovskaya. I once said to her: “That’s not a car you parked just now, it’s a broomstick.”

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sunday Meditation: Hurricane Blues

Observant Readers may have noticed that I've been featuring poetry links on occasional Sundays, in an attempt to broaden our horizons behind our usual fiction/nonfiction rotation. This week I want to call attention to a collection of Katrina/Rita related poetry entitled, Hurricane Blues. From the publisher's description,
Hurricane Blues is a unique artifact of American history: an anthology of original poems about the two most infamous hurricanes of 2005. Many of these poems are eyewitness accounts--written by both distinguished and emerging poets, all of whom were moved by the destruction of a legendary American city and the roughly 300-mile radius within Katrina's wrath.

This collection not only records history but serves in some way as a balm, a relief effort toward the inevitable reconstruction of the region. Accordingly, all proceeds from Hurricane Blues will go toward the relief effort.

Some snippets and reflections on the collection are available on this blog and from the Boston Globe,
Some "Hurricane Blues" poems remind us of the disconnect of being where sun warmed our faces as we listened to news about the rising waters. Virginia Ramus, watching, horrified, "from this New/Jersey beach," wrote of "ocean darkening/beneath fingernail/moon visible from all/over the nation." Likewise, Thomas R. Smith's poem, " In Wisconsin, Hardly a Breeze," asked "How would our/heart beat without the city that birthed Satchmo?"
Okay, so full disclosure: T.R. Smith is an old friend of my brother's. In the absence of a full poem from Hurricane Blues to share, try this excerpt from T.R.'s poem "Peace Vigil." I'm sure many of our Loyal Readers and Veteran Vigilers can find themselves in that circle.

For more Katrina related poetry, check out this Newshour feature from a few months back.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Music Freedom Day

March 3 has been designated "Music Freedom Day" by
Freemuse the independent international organization advocating freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide. Take a few minutes to explore their site. Or browse a selection of articles, interviews and videos on the subject at Mondomix. CBC radio has also produced a series of programs under the heading Censor This! Exploring issues around Censorship including an hour-long program tonight (which I hope will be accessibly archived on their site soon:
This hour long program takes a sonic tour around the world from the street bazaars of Istanbul to the townships of South Africa. From the conflict zones of Beirut and Rwanda to the North American popular music of the 20th century. Using the strength of the music and powerful narratives the documentary exploes the duality which allows music to be at once frightening and seductive to those in power positions.
On another music-related note, I found this post this post from Boing Boing about ethnomusicologists against the use of music for torture to be fascinating.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Our March Author: Anna Politkovskaya

We'll have more links in the next couple of weeks as we read Anna Politkovskaya's Putin's Russia but for starters, here are a couple of tributes to the late journalist: a photo collection from vigils held in Moscow and Finland after her death, and audio from a PEN American Center's tribute offering of readings and interviews (also available in podcast).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pasadena Event: Women's Day Film Screening

Saturday, March 10 11:00 a.m.
Laemmle's One Colorado Theatre
42 Miller Alley
Old Pasadena, CA 91103

Amnesty International USA's Western Region & Stop Violence Against Women Coordinator Sakinah Kahn are pleased to support:

A Screening of "View from a Grain of Sand" Followed by a Q & A with filmmaker Meena Nanji.

Tickets: $10

Combining vérité footage, interviews and archival material, Los Angeles based film maker, Meena Nanji has fashioned a harrowing, thought-provoking, yet intimate portrait of the plight of Afghan women in the last 30 years from the rule of King Mohammed Zahir Shah to the current Hamid Karzai government to the activist work of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Over a period of five years, she spent months in a refugee camp in Pakistan , where she documented the efforts of three women to rebuild their lives and help others in the process: Shapire, a teacher; Roeena, a physician; and Wajeeha, a social activist.

See this Variety review for more about the film. And please visit the Afghan Women's Mission website, a unique Pasadena-based human rights resource!

Seating is limited. Please call 323-632-5558 for tickets.

Crafts from RAWA's Income Generation Project will be on sale at the event. All proceeds will benefit RAWA's vital social programs.

For more information please call (323) 632-5558 or send an email to

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