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...
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