Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To Catch a Dollar

Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty
This Thursday, March 31, To Catch a Dollar, a documentary about Grameen America, the U.S. arm of the microfinance program founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner and Presidential Medal of Honor winner Muhammad Yunus will have a special one-day nationwide screening. You can learn more about the film and find a screening near you at the To Catch a Dollar website.

Not too long ago, we enjoyed reading Muhammad Yunus' Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty.  Ironically, this new documentary and its promotional boost for his project here in the States comes at a time when Yunus is embattled back home in Bangladesh. The NYT reports on how he has been forced out of Grameen Bank and David Bornstein explains why defending Yunus' leadership is important and defends the microfinance experiment more here. This LAT article outlines some of the growing pains of the microcredit industry including concerns about its efficacy in alleviating poverty and bad lending practices on the part of some banks. This NPR Planet Money podcast features a debate between Yunus and Vikram Akula on non-profit vs. for-profit microfinance.  It's a story we will need to keep an eye on.  Meanwhile, if you see the documentary, let me know what you think!

Monday, March 28, 2011

More on the Triangle Centennial

Triangle: The Fire That Changed AmericaTime for a round-up of some of the coverage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Centennial:

NPR's On the Media interviews David Von Drehle, author of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, about the newspaper coverage of the fire and how he role of journalism in carrying forward the reforms the event spawned:

The New York Times has nice collection of stories related to the anniversary including a feature which will let you browse newspaper coverage from 1911.

You can watch last week's program from the New York Triangle Fire Centennial at the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition site.  The speakers start about 20 minutes in to Part 2.  They include Secretary of Labor (and my former Congresswoman) Hilda Solis, Senator Charles Schumer, Mayor Bloomberg, Danny Glover, assorted union leaders, a descendant of one of the victims of the fire and a firefighter salute.  As a fan of street theater, I loved the "shirtwaist" banners flying over the heads of the attendees.

WNYC also has a report on the memorial program and a number of other stories, many featuring descendants of those who were killed or survived the fire. My favorite is their audio archive collection which features sound clips of a survivor, a WPA dramatization of the fire from 1938, and excerpts from the 50th anniversary in 1961 where Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of Labor and fire eyewitness Frances Perkins spoke.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

From the Fire

Triangle: The Fire That Changed AmericaI can't resist sharing some more of the creative commemorations of Triangle Shirtwaist Fire centennial.  A choral piece called "From the Fire" has been commissioned and is premiering in New York this weekend. The New Yorker has the details and a little insight from the creators,
“In writing the music, I was thinking of crowd noises, the noise of family, the tenements, and the noise of the factory itself—everyone was packed so closely together—and then the sounds of the fire and the panic it caused.” [composter Elizabeth] Swados, who had worn a somewhat spacey expression while listening to her collaborators’ dialogue, became focused now that it was her turn to talk. “The pushing, crushing, and then the fire,” she went on. “How to do that, to convey that terrifying moment when the fire breaks out, vocally. There aren’t English words for it.
Promo video below. More music and photos at this tumblr: From the Fire

FROM THE FIRE - Promo from Jaime Lebrija on Vimeo.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Gao Zhisheng wins Freedom of Expression Award

A China More JustGao Zhisheng, the Chinese dissident whose book, A China More Just, we will be reading in July has won the 2011 Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award, one of several Freedom of Expression Awards made by the Index on Censorship (all of the nominees and awardees look impressive). Gao will not be able to accept this award in person, because, after a brief reemergence from government detention a year ago this month, he has "disappeared" and is most likely back in Chinese police custody. Of course, we here are Rights Readers are very pleased for any recognition that keeps Gao in the news and reminds the Chinese government that he is far from forgotten. Visit this page to take action on his case.  Here is a taped segment of Gao's wife accepting the award on his behalf:

The Chalk Project

Here at Rights Readers, home of Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People, we are always excited about good street theater. I'm sure a few of our Loyal Readers remember the Pasadena Posada tradition of chalking the names of loved ones who had died of AIDS on the steps of Pasadena City Hall.  Here's a similar commemoration of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City which happened 100 years ago today. What a creative way to remind everyone about the real people behind this tragedy! More info here.  See my earlier post about the fire here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rights Readers Authors on Libya

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (P.S.)We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories From Rwanda (Bestselling Backlist)
We've already mentioned that Stephen Kinzer and Wangari Maathai have weighed in on the military action in Libya, but I just wanted to at least note that Obama administration advisor, Samantha Power (A Problem from Hell), has been prominently featured in reports as supporting the push to implement a no-fly zone.  It may be some time before we are able to get her insider account of the debate leading up to this decision, but Loyal Readers may want to check out the kinds of questions another of our authors, Philip Gourevitch, poses in response to these developments.  See also this Amnesty International Q&A. Take action on behalf of refugees fleeing Libya here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Our July Book: A China More Just by Gao Zhisheng

A China More JustFor July we have chosen A China More Just by Gao Zhisheng. As you many readers of this blog already know, our Amnesty International chapter has taken on Gao's case. He was detained in February 2009 in Shaanxi Province, China, and nothing is known of his whereabouts after April 20, 2010. Amnesty International fears he is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.  Before his detention he wrote A China More Just and this discussion will give us the chance to get to know him better.  Here is the jacket copy,
Attorney. Activist. Fearless. Faithful.

The story of one man who has taken on the world's largest authoritarian regime... And, in the eyes of many, won. 

Born and raised in a cave with only the stars to tell time, Gao Zhisheng rose from poverty to become China's most important lawyer. He has courageously sought justice for vulnerable groups such as the poor, the disabled, and the persecuted. Yet Gao's fortitude has drawn the ire of Communist authorities. Today, physical threat and police surveillance are a constant reality for both Gao and his family. Undeterred, he has responded in the nonviolent tradition of Gandhi by launching nationwide hunger strikes to intensify the call for justice and human rights in China. His undaunted resolve and generous spirit have won the hearts of millions. Whispers can be heard in China's streets, Will Gao Zhisheng become the next president? 

Part memoir, part social commentary, part call to action, A China More Just is a penetrating account of contemporary China through the life of one attorney. Its selection of writings takes readers from a village in rural China to urban courtrooms, mountainside torture chambers, and the halls of a reluctant government. A China More Just is at once witty and raw, touching and wrenching, sober and playful.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rights Reel: Taking Root

Unbowed: A Memoir (Vintage)
Independent Lens is airing the documentary about Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Rights Readers author (Unbowed: A Memoir) Wangari Maathai, Taking Root this week (check your local PBS station for show times). PBS has a website for the show with a timeline, a map of tree planting projects around the world, extra features on the effects of deforestation, lesson plans, action guide and more. The video clips have me excited to finally see this. It looks like the film makes the Green Belt Movement come alive in a way Unbowed couldn't quite manage for me.  Here's the trailer:

You might also want to take a look at this editorial by Wangari Maathai in which she argues for a greater voice for the African Union in matters such as the current military action in Libya at the same time she chastises the AU for not pressuring member states to live up to the human rights standards it has pledged to uphold.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

After the Quake

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and PakistanThis month we are reading Greg Mortenson's Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I envisioned our discussion focusing largely on the question of the U.S. role in Afghanistan. But after a week of observing the devastation in Japan, I'm thinking there will be heightened interest in the aspect of the book that deals with rebuilding after the Kashmir earthquake. The New York Times has assembled a collection of opinions on the question of appropriate aid to Japan and Takashi Inoguchi, president of the University of Niigata Prefecture and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, has a response that I think "Dr. Greg" would heartily approve of, urging us to find ways to help the young people of Japan who have lost relatives and friends and face an uncertain future,
Those youngsters will be handicapped financially and psychologically, yet they will also shoulder Japan's reconstruction. The international community can encourage them by setting up opportunities to study abroad and educational programs and scholarships for acquiring foreign language and other important skills. This will help give Japan's young people the hope and courage to move on amid sorrow and despair.
Whether the disaster is war or an earthquake, the sensible solution does always seem to be to look to the future and prioritize the needs of our children, no?  And they will lead the way. Greg Mortenson points us to an account of Hazara children rallying in sympathy for the children of Japan.

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear DisasterThe other book we have read that most closely relates to this catastrophe is Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.  If you need a refresher, n+1 is running an excerpt from Voices.  The twenty-fifth anniversary of the event is next month and news organizations are revisiting the site. Here's NPR's Talk of the Nation talking to reporter Henry Shukman from Outside magazine, or read his article here. News reports emphasize how the Japanese nuclear reactor crisis has not reached Chernobyl levels of catastrophe. See this article from TPM and ProPublica for both the technological and sociopolitical reasons this current accident is different. As human rights activists, we can be happy that, although there are some complaints about lack of information from Japanese authorities in this crisis, the level of transparency far exceeds that of Soviet-era Ukraine.  Worth thinking about as we move forward in thinking about the use of nuclear power around the world, which governments can we trust with a similar level of disclosure?

Also worth noting, Rob Gifford (China Road) is reporting for NPR from the earthquake region, adding just the kind of details (such as finding a woman sort her recycling) that make the monstrous scale of the tsunami and earthquake more human.

Finally, here's a good place to start if you want to help, or maybe one of the best things you can do, especially if you live in a fault zone, is be prepared.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: The Movie

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A NovelThe trailer for the film version of Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is out. The movie is scheduled for release this summer. It looks like it could be a nice break from the standard summer action movie fare.  What do you think? The Playlist has an interview with director Wayne Wang,
But what also attracted Wang to the film was the opportunity to tell a part of Chinese history about women that has never really been seen on screens before. “There’s so much about what women have gone through that has never been on the screen. Whether it’s in China, or here. I just felt very strongly this story has to be told,” the director explained. “Things such as feet-binding, things such as this really contractual, very emotional marriage between women called laotong, and things such as the nu shu which is a women’s language they wrote to each other that they only understood. All these things are [topics] I wanted to talk about. And no one has really done this kind of story.”
Check out our previous post on the book here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Authors on Libya

In the Country of Men
What you see here on the blog is just the tip of the human rights literature iceberg. For each book we read there are three or four we have reluctantly set aside.  As it happens, we have yet to read a book about Libya.  We came close twice with Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men and many years ago with Ibrahim Al-Koni's The Bleeding of the Stone.

Matar's father, Jaballa, was an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience and the author has been quite visible in recent days.  This very moving childhood reminiscence found on Slate renews my desire to have us discuss one of his books.  The New Yorker provides this interview, with a link to a recent short story and a slideshow of Jaballa Matar,
Twenty years ago, your father, Jaballa Matar, was abducted in Cairo and forcibly returned to Libya. Your family received a couple of letters that had been smuggled out of Libya and, once, a tape recording that your father once managed to make in prison, but you don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. Have you learned anything new in recent days? Do you hold out any hope that he may still be alive?

As soon as the revolution is complete, I will return to search for my father. For years after I lost him I wondered if all of his activism and sacrifice was for nothing. It was a terrible thing to carry around, this resentment. These days I can see that he and people like him were carving with their bare hands the first steps to this revolution. The protesters in the streets have not forgotten them. They carry their pictures above their heads.
Matar also wrote in a recent NYT op-ed, What the West Can Do to Help the Libyan Rebels,
Relatives, some as young as 16, who only days ago ran businesses or held jobs, attended high school or college, are now facing a well-equipped army made up mainly of foreign mercenaries. The Qaddafi forces have tanks and airplanes. All that my cousins have are old hunting rifles and captured artillery. Some rebels are using slingshots, knives and sticks.
He further pleads for medical and food supplies to be sent to rebel-held areas. Hisham Matar has a new novel coming out in August (a smart publisher might move that date up).  I'll be looking for the first opportunity to nominate Anatomy of a Disappearance.

The Puppet (Modern Middle East Literatures in Translation)Many years ago I did read Ibrahim Al-Koni's ecological fable, The Bleeding of the Stone and I'm dusting it off for another look.  His novels of desert life are short and not overtly political (although The Puppet looks like it comes close).  If you want a taste, you can read one of his stories in the Words Without Borders Libya issue as well as explore more fiction, nonfiction and poetry by other Libyan writers.The Bleeding of the Stone (Interlink World Fiction)

In addition to these fiction suggestions, Loyal Readers might be interested to know that Stephen Kinzer (Crescent and Star) has  weighed in on Libya: see his argument against a no-fly zone in the Guardian and comment on NPR on the problem of dictators' sons.

Be sure to visit Amnesty International's "Mideast Uprising" page for actions on Libya and updates other crisis regions.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Our March Author: Greg Mortenson

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and PakistanThis month we are reading Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson. We've already discussed Three Cups of Tea, his first bestseller about building schools in Pakistan and we recommend you check out our previous related postsStones, which brings the school-building story forward into Afghanistan was released at almost the same time President Obama announced his plans to increase troop strength in Afghanistan in December 2009 so a discussion of the way forward in Afghanistan dominated interviews with the author, such as this one from On Point or try this Bill Moyer's interview.
 BILL MOYERS: How is your work going to be impacted by the fact that it's going on in a society where the war is being escalated?

Well, our work will go on whether or not the U.S. has military there or not in that we work so closely with the elders. With the deployment of troops there, I, I've got a lot of mixed feelings on it. The first thing is that when President Obama had nine meetings to ascertain or decide whether or not to deploy troops to Afghanistan, those meetings were held in secrecy, behind closed doors. There was no public debate. There was no congressional hearings. There was no media involved.

We can't run democracy in secrecy. And it doesn't matter whether it's George Bush or Obama. That was one of my main concerns is-it's a big decision. The other thing is that there was no consultation with the elders or the shura in Afghanistan. Every province has three to five dozen shura. And these are elders. They're poets. They're warriors. They're businessmen, a few women. And they're not elected, but they've kind of risen up through the ranks. And these to me are the real people with integrity and power in Afghanistan. So when this decision was made to deploy troops, none, there was no consultation with the troo-- with the elders. And they felt very marginalized by it because, you know, want to go into another country, we want to be able to at least have a part and a say in it. And it's not that difficult. You can do it at a district level, or local level, or at a national level. It's, you know, I think half of diplomacy is just showing up. You know, we've got to actually just show up and start to talk and then maybe we could get somewhere. 
NYT columnist Nick Kristof is a big fan. See Dr. Greg and Afghanistan and 1 Solider or 20 Schools? and the NYT's Elizabeth Bumiller explores Mortenson's relationship with the US military: Unlikely Tutor Giving Military Advice.  For a lighter perspective on Dr. Greg there is this interview from travelblog World Hum.
Not all of us are going to come back from a trip and start a foundation to fund education projects.
I hope not.

What do you recommend for the rest of us?
One of the things is to try to continue just one of your relationships that you made on your trip. Whether it’s a hotel worker or a guide, just keep in touch with somebody. I also think there are so many more travel companies that are giving five or 10 percent to local organizations. 
And maybe what you saw was very beautiful, but you probably also saw some things that were not too pleasant. I think we shouldn’t try to bury them. We should talk about those things, whether it’s child labor or slavery or environmental degradation. The power of one is very powerful.
Finally, if you do nothing else, just take in this page from the Central Asia Institute showing a map and growing list of all the schools which have been built in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And then for a glimpse of some of the children, watch this short Christiane Amanpour report from CNN.

Monday, March 07, 2011

March Centennials: Women's Day and the Triangle Fire

Triangle: The Fire That Changed AmericaThis March 8, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.  For more on the history of this day honoring women see this timeline.  I've had labor unions on the brain, and was trying to think if we had read any books about unions and labor rights in the past and of course what immediately came to mind was David Von Drehle's Triangle: The Fire That Changed America which tells the story of the fire that took 146 lives, mostly of young immigrant women workers, and galvanized a movement for social justice.  As it happens, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire also happened in 1911, the same year, in fact just a week after, the first Women's Day. Learning more about the Triangle fire and the labor and women's rights movement associated with it, would be a great way to remember Women's Day this year.

As part of the commemoration of the Triangle tragedy, two documentaries about the fire are worth checking out.  The LAT recommends you watch both.  PBS American Experience offers Triangle Fire which has already aired and can be viewed online (or via Netflix streaming). Author David Von Drehle appears in the film. The PBS website features a map, photo gallery, biographies and other primary resources great for teachers and an excellent list of web resources for more information. (This Cornell site and Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition are especially worthy of exploration).  HBO's documentary is airing later this month. Here's the trailer:

Don't forget to check in with Amnesty's Human Rights Now blog this week for action suggestions to honor International Women's Day and visit the IWD website to learn more about other events celebrating the day.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Haiti and Healing

I know it's hard to take time away from what's happening in the Middle East, but if you can, spare a little time to come and take a look at what's happening in Haiti. Maybe there's something to be learned there about not letting ex-dictators retire with impunity, no? Just before protests started to unfold in Tunisia and Egypt, Baby Doc Duvalier had returned to Haiti. Amnesty International released this video as a reminder of the legacy of human rights violations from the Duvalier era and has called for investigations into those abuses:

Amy Wilentz (Rainy Season: Haiti-Then and Now) was interviewed by NPR regarding his return and offered up some insight in the Nation Haiti: Not for Amateurs,
Rainy Season: Haiti-Then and NowLost in the uproar over the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier to Haiti and his to-ing and fro-ing from hotel to courthouse to hotel to mountain home, is the much more important political crisis. On election day in November, only 22.3 percent of Haiti’s eligible voters cast their ballots in what turned out to be an election plagued with fraud. The reason for the low turnout was apathy, coupled with the catastrophic loss of identity papers in the earthquake of January 2010. Given the miserable conditions of so many Haitians since the earthquake, the anemic turnout provided resounding evidence that Haitians don’t believe their vote matters.

And they are right...
More Haiti commentary from Amy Wilentz at the Los Angeles Times and CNN.

Haiti Noir (Akashic Noir)Edwidge Danticat, as always, has been putting out more books and commentary about Haiti.  See the story collection she has edited, Haiti Noir and her book of essays, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, which you can also listen to as part of Princeton's Toni Morrison Lecture Series.  And if that's not enough there is a childrens book about the earthquake: Eight Days (more on that from NPR).  In the New Yorker, she reflects on the anniversary of the quake, see also the Miami Herald (recovery is a Sisyphean task). And for more of her insights on how art and literature contribute to the healing of a nation see this wide-ranging interview at Guernica,
Guernica: I remember being fascinated as a young girl in Port-au-Prince by what people in the streets would turn into art pieces—using a small stone, a chacha branch, whatever was available to them as canvas. Haitians truly have art in their soul.
Edwidge Danticat: Yes, it shows you that art will not be denied. Think of the daily functions of art in Haiti. The lottery stands. The tap tap camions. It’s all covered with beautiful art. My friend, the painter Ronald Mevs, used to say that Haitians are born surrealists. We are doing collage all the time, in daily life as well as in our art. So old oil drums become metal sculpture and old carnation milk cans become lamps, called tèt gripads, like bald-headed girls. Art is our communal dream.
Guernica: How has Haitian art changed peoples’ perception of Haiti?
Edwidge Danticat: People sometimes think they know Haiti through what they have seen in the news. When they see a piece of art that we’ve produced, listen to a song, or read a piece of literature that we’ve written, we become closer to them. We are now part of them when the art stays with them. They then come closer to meeting us, and closer to the different layers of who and what we are.
And finally see this LAT interview with Paul Farmer, who we read about in Tracy Kidder's Mountains beyond Mountains for more on the health of Haiti,
Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader (California Series in Public Anthropology)
Q: Was all the money donated after the earthquake put to good use?

Farmer: The $2 billion that came in after the earthquake, almost none of it went to the public sector. That was earthquake relief, not reconstruction. The relief monies were used in a pretty good manner. I don’t think people need to feel bad about the relief -- a lot of medical care, a lot of people who lost homes. It’s the reconstruction that’s the problem. It’s rebuilding. That money, a lot of it is tied up, it’s quite literally tied to aid or tied to some conditionality and hasn’t arrived yet. Schools, roads, water, hospital systems. We regard the Mirebalais hospital as reconstruction, not relief.
Dahl: That’s where more of the focus has to go. But I do think people get stuck, almost creating a rut in the ground saying the money hasn’t been well spent so we shouldn’t release any more money. We don’t think the Haitian people deserve this at all. It takes a while to rebuild. If you want to, there are all sorts of ways to do things like monitor how money’s being spent.

Q: Will the return of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier have any impact on the work you do and the reconstruction?
Farmer: I have no idea. It just seems to add more turmoil. I can’t see anything good that would come out of it unless there’s accounting for crimes.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

We've Got Our Eyes on You

If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and StruggleBack last December when we were discussing Pete Seeger, I mentioned that I'd be looking for opportunities to share more of his songs.  You may remember that I am now in Wisconsin, and you may have heard about our little polite disagreement with our Governor over the matter of collective bargaining rights (which, let me just remind you are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Now the rallies and marches I've attended so far haven't featured any singing, possibly influenced somewhat by frigid temps and whipping winds, but I have noted reports of Solidarity Forever, breaking out under the Capitol dome. Surely Pete would have something to say about this? You bet!
"Maybe the Republican governor, he's done us a favor by bringing the problem to national attention," the 91-year-old Seeger said in a telephone interview from his New York home. "It shows the whole country how much we need unions. We may end up thanking him."
It seems he sang a few songs on behalf of the Wisconsin unions, though its not clear which ones, but I've chosen, "We've Got Our Eyes on You" which is less familiar than some of his other union songs, but the lyrics of this song addressed to lawmakers seemed the most appropriate for our situation today. Sing it!

You can find this rarity on the boxed set Songs For Political Action: Folkmusic, Topical Songs And The American Left 1926-1953.  Many of his other union songs are collected on If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope & Struggle.
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