Thursday, January 29, 2009

For May: Dreams and Shadows by Robin Wright

For May we have selected Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright,
A magnificent reckoning with the extraordinary changes engulfing the Middle East, by one of our greatest reporters on the region. Robin Wright first landed in the Middle East on October 6, 1973, the day the fourth Middle East war erupted. She has covered every country and most major crises in the region since then, through to the rise of al Qaeda and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For all the drama of the past, however, the region's most decisive traumas are unfolding today as the Middle East struggles to deal with trends that have already reshaped the rest of the world. And for all the darkness, there is also hope. Some of the emerging trends give cause for greater optimism about the future of the Middle East than at any time since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. Dreams and Shadowsis an extraordinary tour de horizon of the new Middle East, with on-the-ground reportage of the ideas and movements driving change across the region-and the obstacles they confront. Through the powerful storytelling for which the author is famous, Dreams and Shadowsties together the players and events in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, the Gulf states, and the Palestinian territories into a coherent vision of what lies ahead. A marvelous field report from the center of the storm, the book is animated by the characters whose stories give the region's transformation its human immediacy and urgency. It is also rich with the history that brought us to this point. It is a masterpiece of the reporter's art and a work of profound and enduring insight. At the end, Wright offers perspective on the United States' most ambitious and costly foreign policy initiative since the rebuilding of Europe after World War II. The stakes are far greater than winning the war on terrorism, stabilizing Iraq, or achieving a lasting Arab-Israeli peace. Transforming the greater Middle East is the last great political challenge of the modern era. Yet the early burst of activity in a region long stagnant is already becoming one of the first grand surprises of the twenty-first century.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Doo Dah 2009 - Slavery Is Not History ... Yet!

AI Group 22's entry in the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade directed attention to modern-day slavery in the form of human trafficking. In keeping with the traditional raucous nature of Doo Dah, sex slaves were portrayed by guys in drag, while women took the roles of villainous traffickers.

We carried signs and distributed information to the spectators that emphasized the seriousness and magnitude of this human rights issue. To take action on issues concerning human trafficking and women's rights, visit this AIUSA page. More information on human trafficking is located here and here.

Congratulations and thank you to Marie-Helene and Robert and their talented associates for organizing yet another wonderful Doo Dah event for Group 22!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Johnny Cash - San Quentin

A bonus post for our January book Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters: Johnny Cash performs San Quentin at San Quentin:

Worth it for the glimpses of San Quentin in 1969. If you enjoyed that, here's Folsom Prison Blues and I Walk the Line from the same concert.

More Death Penalty Discussion Context

Just discovered that Death Penalty Focus now has a blog. In addition to my previous post, Browsing their site should provide some added context for our discussion of Finding Freedom by Jarvis Jay Masters and the future of the capital punishment in California.

Since we are also on the eve of the inauguration of a new president and a new congress, do check out these links on what we may have in store on the federal side. From WaPo 'Webb Sets His Sights On Prison Reform' and from Capital Defense Weekly 'Eric Holder as Attorney General' and 'Holder on Opt-In.'

Our January Author: Jarvis Jay Masters

The first stop to supplement your reading of Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters, must be his support committee's website: particularly the material they have explaining the current status of his appeal.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provides this site with overview and stats on San Quentin. The department provides a set of pictures of death row, as well. Marin County provides us with a fascinating San Quentin photo album from its historical archives. has full espisodes from the MSNBC series Lockup, including Inside San Quentin. It's very guard-centric and focused on the sensational, but it's one way to get inside and look around.

San Quentin in the news: Don't miss this July 2008 NPR report (with illustrative photography) of the overcrowding at San Quentin. Then there is former warden Jeanne Woodford's LAT editorial from October 2008,
I worked in corrections for 30 years, starting as a correctional officer and working my way up to warden at San Quentin and then on to the top job in the state -- director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. During those years, I came to believe that the death penalty should be replaced with life without the possibility of parole.
The police chief of Newark, CA has also recently expressed concerns that the death penalty hurts public safety and his budget concerns are echoed by at least a couple of California lawmakers.

Under the direction of writer Tobias Wolff, San Quentin has recently revived its prisoner produced newsletter. Copies can be downloaded here. Highly recommended! Of course this reminds me of another favorite book of mine, Life Sentences: Rage and Survival Behind Bars, by Ron Wikberg and Wilbert Rideau, which is sadly out of print, but worth a look in your library. It contains articles from the Angolite, the newspaper of Angola prison in Louisiana. Samples of Rideau's writing can be found here. Other sources for prison writing include PEN American Center's Prison Writing Program and this Canadian site contains links to the writing and art work of more California death row inmates.
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