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 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!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thank You!

Russian Human Rights Defender Oksana Chelysheva thanks you for sending cards of support!

Oksana Chelysheva reports on the Russian government's response to recent demonstrations at
How did mighty Russia, a country of 140 million, with a huge nuclear arsenal and pretensions to superpower status react? First the authorities tried to ban the day outright. It was "illegal" (it wasn't). It was going to trespass onto church-owned holy land (it wasn't). It would be "violent" (it wouldn't). Then the serious harassment and round-ups began...
Also, the Guardian reviews Anna Politkovskaya's Russian Diary.

Maze of Injustice

Before we move on entirely from our discussion of Louise Erdrich's Tracks and things Native American, we were interested to learn of Amnesty International's new report Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA.
From the press release,
Native American and Alaska Native women in the United States suffer disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence, yet the federal government has created substantial barriers to accessing justice, Amnesty International (AI) asserted in a 113-page report released today. Justice Department figures indicate that American Indian and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general; more than one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetimes.
Transcript of discussion with advocate Sarah Deer can be found here and you can take action here. NYT article here. NPR gave the issue some coverage too.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

For August: The Coroner's Lunch

Continuing our tradition of reading a mystery set in an exotic location in August, we've selected Colin Cotterill's The Coroner's Lunch,

Laos, 1975. The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old Paris-trained doctor, is appointed national coroner. Although he has no training for the job, there is no one else; the rest of the educated class has fled.

He is expected to come up with the answers the party wants. But crafty and charming Dr.Siri is immune to bureaucratic pressure. At his age, he reasons, what can they do to him? And he knows he cannot fail the dead who come into his care without risk of incurring their boundless displeasure. Eternity could be a long time to have the spirits mad at you.

We Love Earth Day!

We spent the day at Pasadena's "Greening the Earth" event and gathered scads of signatures for Amnesty's actions to clean up Bhopal and New Orleans. We also had fun for the kids with a coloring activity, making prayer flags to decorate our booth and to draw attention to a Tibetan refugee action. Thanks to all who volunteered at our table (especially organizer-in-chief Joyce Wolf!) and all those who stopped by to chat and take action.

As usual, the people-- and animal-- watching at the fair was terrific. We especially enjoyed our neighbor the donkey, and Eaton Canyon Nature Center's stuffed bobcat poised to leap onto our table. (over Joyce's shoulder in the top picture.)

Remember, you can click on the photos to view larger versions!

On Friday, we managed a bit of tabling at Caltech's Earth Day as well and while a downpour seemed initially a bit discouraging, in fact we found the intimacy of huddling under a small tent with fellow activists and determined students looking for a bit of cheap vegeterian chow and a slice of the traditional Caltech Earthday Cake rather enjoyable. The limited space did keep us from sharing coloring activities with the techheads, though. We promise to come back next year with crayons!

Secret Death Chamber - Update

Earlier this week we posted an action in the sidebar calling attention to the Schwarzenegger administration's attempt to do an end run around the legislature and the public by building a new death chamber at San Quentin by claiming it would cost "only" $399, 000-- under the $400,000 trigger that requires notification of lawmakers. Well, now we are pleased to report that the Guv has called a halt to construction, but not before it has been revealed that the new secret chamber has already cost taxpayers $725,000!

The governor is trying to meet the May 15 deadline set by U.S. District Judge Jeremy D. Fogel for planned "fixes" to the lethal-injection execution system. We agree with the LA Times editors,
The truth is that there is no humane way to carry out the barbaric ritual of state executions no matter how improved the lighting or commodious the space.
The death penalty is too flawed to fix. See the sidebar to send an email to the governor and your state reps to stop the madness now!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bhopal - Twenty (+) Years without Justice

Amnesty International Group 22 will be tabling at Pasadena's Earth Day tomorrow and continuing to plead the case of the survivors of the Bhopal chemical disaster. Here's a video we shared at one of our non-virtual meetings a couple years ago. Nice to see we can give it a wider audience and bring more people up to speed:

And be sure to read about Amnesty International's call for an SEC investigation of Dow Chemical. Learn more and take action here.

Earth Day Inspiration

Reprinting an illustrated version Stevi's inspiring column from our newsletter--

Greetings from Group 22 as Earth Day approaches!

Recently as I thought about writing this column, I found myself in Zion National Park in southern Utah. One of my favorite views in Zion is the panorama behind the museum. My first sighting of it this trip was from the Watchman Trail. To the left of it is West Temple, a broad flat mesa topped by a small caprock, both of which are sprinkled with evergreens. A red rock face shows the iron that leaches through the Navajo Sandstone. Black streaks remind me of the waterfalls that cascade down the face of the cliff during rainstorms. At the far right from West Temple and across the Towers of the Virgin, stands the Altar of Sacrifice, flat topped, white faced with wide streaks of red flowing down to make clear this formation’s name. When my gaze travels left to right from West Temple to the Altar of Sacrifice, I think of Amnesty International and the work its members do to lessen the suffering caused by human rights violations.

In this beautiful natural setting, I think of the individuals around the world who willingly sacrifice their time, their safety and, yes sometimes, their lives, to protect the dignity of the human family and, in some cases, the very environment that sustains life.

This month Group 22 takes part in two Earth Day celebrations. One is Friday, April 20 at Caltech, from 11:30 AM to 1 PM. The other is Saturday, April 21, at Memorial Park in Pasadena, from 10 AM to 4 PM. Please, join us. Stop by for some information, good conversation, an action to support, and an opportunity to get involved with our group.

On April 6, some of us from Group 22 went to Vroman’s Bookstore to hear Kiran Desai speak about her book THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS, our February book. What a delight to hear her, especially as she carefully explained her ideas concerning the first world, and her case the upper class in India, verses the developing world during the Q&A. This month we read the environmentally-themed TRACKS by Native American author Louise Erdrich and move onto a Pulitzer-winning book about the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya next month. Consider joining our book group for interesting reading and lively discussion.

Since I believe everyday is Earth Day and the April event is a simple reminder, let’s all remember Earth Day’s three Rs. Recycle, of course; Reuse, yes; Reduce, let’s work at it because,
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” -Chief Seattle, 1855
Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 09, 2007

White Earth Land Recovery Project

Given that food or the lack of it is one of the themes in Louise Erdrich's Tracks, I encourage a visit to the White Earth Land Recovery Project website where you can learn about various programs from alternative energy and traditional agriculture restoration that aim to create an environment-friendly sustainable community. I found the project to encourage diets of native foods as a part of diabetes prevention particularly interesting. For more on White Earth, here is an NPR report from their "Hidden Kitchens" series, Ricing Time, which includes a gallery of pictures and recipes.

(Yeah, that's me, gathering wild raspberries and blueberries in the rain as part of camp breakfast.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Louise Erdrich: Poet

April is National Poetry Month, so aren't we fortunate in choosing a fiction writer this month who is also a poet. The Poetry Foundation has a selection of Louise Erdrich's poems. For one relating to our discussion of Tracks, try "Windigo."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ojibwe Artists

In Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, Louise Erdrich shares her love of a few contemporary Objibwe artists who are influenced by traditional petroglyphs (see below). I've tracked down some samples of their work online. First, Joe Geschick-- note his book cover art for Erdrich's works. Then there is Blake Debassige. Here is the seasonally appropriate Tree of Life (click on image for a larger version) and another by this artist can be found here. Finally, there is Norval Morriseau. The National Gallery of Canada has a nice selection and Macleod and Kinsman Robinson Galleries have sizable online collections (be sure to hit the arrows to scroll through all). Background on Morrisseau's painting can be found here.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Books and Islands

I assigned myself a little extra credit work for our discussion of Louise Erdrich's Tracks and read her Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, a nonfiction account of her journey through Southern Ontario to visit sacred rock paintings, and other connections between the land and reading and writing. In the book she reflects on her study of Ojibwe language. You can get a taste of this from this New York Times article, Two Languages in Mind, But Just One in the Heart,
How do you go back to a language you never had? Why should a writer who loves her first language find it necessary and essential to complicate her life with another? Simple reasons, personal and impersonal. In the past few years I've found that I can talk to God only in this language, that somehow my grandfather's use of the language penetrated. The sound comforts me.
The language geeks amongst us may wish to explore this Ojibwe Language website. It will remind you of the Mohawk chapters in Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages.

Of further interest to our Loyal Readers, Erdrich takes W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz, with her for pleasure reading on her travels, the novel's theme of the search for identity paralleling her own journey. Here's some of what she says about the book,
Page after page is about how history sinks into the mind, tormentingly sometimes, and what arrests and disturbances truth causes until finally the human heart can accept its sorrows, heal itself by enduring the unendurable and go on beating...

Like Austerlitz, I too feel as though I've seen the vanished people walking, felt their eyes upon me, and that when I stare down into the opaque water, they are somehow calmly looking up from their ordinary tasks, which they have carried on, below us, for thousands of years. (p. 96-7)
The traces of a vanished people evident in the photo at top come from looking up from the water to a cliff face, from a canoe actually, in Ojibwe country very close to the Minnesota/Canadian border.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ojibwe Oral Tradition

Nanabush, Mishipezheu, Windigo... a few of the figures from Ojibwe oral tradition that Lousie Erdrich plays with in Tracks. The Milwaukee Public Museum has a nice overview of this tradition and these pivotal trickster and monster figures with additional stories from the tradition here and here. Enrich your read!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More Background for Tracks

Ojibwe: Waasa-Inaabidaa is the website for a public television series about the Ojibwe people that includes some useful references such as an historical timeline in charting the encroachment of treaty followed on treaty on native rights, maps of historical migrations and present day reservations. Best of all though are the many historic photos charting traditional Ojibwe life, some from the era covered in Lousie Erdrich's Tracks.

Another resource for your questions about Ojibwe culture and history can be found here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Our April Author: Louise Erdrich

A few preliminary links for our discussion of Louise Erdrich's Tracks:

First, here's a brief biography (a more extensive one here) and a Smithsonian interview focusing on the author's upbringing in North Dakota and here are excerpts from a couple of other interviews. Erdrich owns a bookstore in Minneapolis if you're ever in the neighborhood: Birchbark Books. More interesting links to come!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Henderson Execution Stayed!

A piece of good news this afternoon: Texas death row inmate Cathy Henderson's execution has been stayed for 60 days. Group 22 collected signatures on her behalf at a recent event. Now we will have a little more time to do more on her behalf.
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