Thursday, November 24, 2011

I am Thankful for...

I am thankful for... good books, the old friends to share them with and the inspiring people and new ideas we meet through them...

Loyal Readers Joyce Wolfe (left) and Veronica Raymond (below) were thrilled to meet up with tireless anti-torture campaigner Palden Gaytso at the Amnesty International Western Regional Conference in October. He is the author of Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk.

He is also the subject of the documentary film Fire Under the Snow.  Take action on behalf of human rights defenders under threat of torture in Chinese prisons here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for Language Diversity

We've explored the issue of endangered languages with a few books, mainly Mark Abley's Spoken Here. Travels Among Endangered Languages and Daniel Everett's Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, recognizing language preservation as an important part of our shared cultural heritage. I recommend taking some time out from turkey and football over the long weekend to watch We Still Live Here (via PBS Independent Lens) about the efforts of a group of Wampanoag in Massachusetts working to revive their language over 100 years after the last native speakers died. The film will add new layers to your understanding of the cultural exchange between this tribe and the Pilgrims that we celebrate at Thanksgiving. Be sure also to explore the recommended Our Mother Tongues interactive website, to learn more about other Native American languages.

Hey, I'm not finished with your Thanksgiving assignment yet! Another excellent documentary available for online viewing from Twin Cities Public Television, First Speakers: Exploring the Ojibwe Language was a recent Upper Midwest Emmy winner. The film is narrated by another author, and language student, we love, Louise Erdrich (Tracks). The Ojibwe have the advantage of native elders who speak their language to guide them as they seek to develop immersion curricula for their schools. Both films are fascinating!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

For March: A Woman Among Warlords by Malalai Joya

For March, we have chosen A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice by Malalai Joya. Mark your calendars (March 18, 6:30 PM at Vroman's in Pasadena) for discussion of this inspiring young woman's life and Afghanistan's future,
Malalai Joya was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2010. An extraordinary young woman raised in the refugee camps of Iran and Pakistan, Joya became a teacher in secret girls’ schools, hiding her books under her burqa so the Taliban couldn’t find them; she helped establish a free medical clinic and orphanage in her impoverished home province of Farah; and at a constitutional assembly in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2003, she stood up and denounced her country’s powerful NATO-backed warlords. She was twenty-five years old. Two years later, she became the youngest person elected to Afghanistan’s new Parliament. In 2007, she was suspended from Parliament for her persistent criticism of the warlords and drug barons and their cronies. She has survived four assassination attempts to date, is accompanied at all times by armed guards, and sleeps only in safe houses. 
Joya takes us inside this massively important and insufficiently understood country, shows us the desperate day-to-day situations its remarkable people face at every turn, and recounts some of the many acts of rebellion that are helping to change it. A controversial political figure in one of the most dangerous places on earth, Malalai Joya is a hero for our times.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More on Honor Killing

As a supplement to our book this month, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah, we have a few bonus links on 'honor killing' and the courageous women who campaign to end the practice:

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has a fresh collection of articles on Pakistani women who have received death threats from family members and who seek protection in shelters while they struggle to obtain justice through the legal system.

PBS Wide Angle has a documentary available, Contestant No. 2, for viewing on line about an Arab Israeli teenager whose life is threatened after she enters a beauty contest.

Hina Jilani and her sister Asma Jahangir, whose work on behalf of Pakistani women was described in the book, were recognized by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights Speak Truth to Power Series. Another human rights defender honored by the RFK center is the very impressive Jordanian journalist/advocate, Rana Husseini.  She speaks about 'honor killing' in the Al Jazeera video below, along with Turkish sociologist, Yakin Erturk.

Part 2 of the interview here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rights Readers Authors on Occupy Wall Street

Before I survey the commentary on the Occupy movement from authors we have read, and in view of the police actions we've seen in the last 24 hours I'd just like to point out to my Esteemed Readers this October 27 press release, Amnesty International Urges Restraint as Police Clamp Down on Occupy Wall Street Protests and with a further nod to PEN, their press release from yesterday, PEN Calls for Press Freedom at Occupy Sites.

Salman Rushdie at Occupy Wall Street NYC, 10/16/11 from cathleen falsani on Vimeo.

To date the website OccupyWriters has collected hundreds of endorsements from authors in support of the Ocuppy movement. In addition to Salman Rushdie (Midnight’s Children), some of the writers our Loyal Readers will recognize are Lawrence Weschler (Calamities of Exile), Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Lorraine Adams (Harbor), Daniel Alarcón (Lost City Radio), Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), Greg Campbell (Blood Diamonds), Adam Hochschild (King Leopold's ghost) and Barbara Ehrenreich.

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, is probably the least surprising name on that list. Her book about living among low-wage earners is ten years old and available in a newly revised edition. She was interviewed at WNYC about it last August. As the Occupy movement took off, she explored the intersection between the protestors and the homeless community,

In Portland, Austin and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.
Sonali Kolhatkar's Uprising radio also features this interview on the topic with Ehrenreich.

Other authors have weighed in around the country and abroad:

Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walkingstopped by Occupy Portland,
The Occupy Portland folk are protesting corporate greed, the concept of corporate citizenship (foisted upon us courtesy of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision) and the lack of accountability of the government to the people. At the same time, they are promoting local, sustainable, diverse economies; the right to privacy and Internet freedoms; free education; clean air and water; meaningful work and fair taxes. 
There’s been a lot of talk in the media about how “incoherent” the Occupy events are, but that seems to me like a pretty coherent program for a people-focused democracy, in place of a congress beholden to corporate interests.
Preach it, Sister!

Mark Abley (Spoken Here. Travels Among Endangered Languageswriting his language column from Montreal, explores the layered meaning of the movement's terminology,
An occupation is a job. But it's also a seizing of control...
Amira Hass (Drinking the sea at Gaza), also reporting from Montreal, discovers another layer of meaning for members of Canada's first nations who,
find the choice of the term "occupy" very disturbing. For them it represents a very real history of the dictatorship of the material profit mentality, to the degree of genocides. Are we part of the 99 percent or outside it, they ask themselves.
Mark Hertsgaard (Earth Odyssey), focuses on the success of the Keystone Pipepline protests at the White House,
Already, the political conversation has changed in the US. Although much of the media coverage of the Occupy movement has been simple-minded or even hostile, there has been a great deal of it, and the effect has been to amplify the movement's message and gain it followers. Now, budget cuts for workers and pensioners are no longer the sole focus of political debate; requiring corporations and the rich to pay their fair share of taxes is also on the agenda.
Arundhati Roy (The Cost of Living), interviewed on Democracy Now, has a different kind of pipeline in mind,
[The] vision has to be the dismantling of this particular model, in which a few people can be allowed to have an unlimited amount of wealth, of power, both political as well as corporate... And that has to be the aim of this movement. And that has to then move down into countries like mine, where people look at the U.S. as some great, aspirational model. And I can tell you that there is such a lot of beauty still in India. There’s such a lot of ferocity there that actually can provide a lot of political understanding, even to the protest on Wall Street. To me, the forests of central India and the protesters in Wall Street are connected by a big pipeline, and I am one of those people in that pipeline.
Last but not least, of course Pete Seeger (The Protest Singer) showed up:

More on the Occupy movement and human rights in another post.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day of the Imprisoned Writer

Today is the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an annual, international day intended to recognize and support writers who resist repression of the right to freedom of expression, sponsored by PEN. Because we are reading Kwame Anthony Appiah's The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen this month, and Appiah is the current President of PEN USA, I wanted to be sure to not let the day pass by unacknowledged.  Here he is talking about PEN's work on behalf of imprisoned Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo:

At the PEN website, be sure to check out the suggested actions on behalf of writers in Ethiopia, China, Mexico, Bahrain and Turkey. Write a letter today or print them out and bring them to Amnesty International's Global Write-a-thon in December.

You can take action for Liu Xiaobo here. Imprisonment won't keep him silent though. The Guardian reports on the first collection of his work in English, No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems, coming out in January.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rights Reel: Catching up with Marjane Satrapi

Checking in with Marjane Satrapi, author of the graphic novel Persepolis, her tale of growing up during the Iranian revolution which we enjoyed a few years back, it seems the animated-film version of the comic was shown in Tunisia recently and not everyone was happy about it. Protestors objected to a scene in which God is depicted teaching Satrapi about forgiveness. The Guardian reports,
Police arrested around 50 Islamists before they could reach the offices of the Nessma private television channel, which broadcast Persepolis on Friday. "Three hundred people attacked our offices and tried to set fire to them," Nessma chairman Nebil Karoui told AFP.
Conservative Muslims have become increasingly vocal in Tunisia since the fall of long-time president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali following an uprising in January. However, the main Islamic party condemned the demonstration. Ennahda, which is expected to do well in elections for a constitutional assembly in a fortnight's time, described the incident as "isolated" and said it should not spark concern.
In happier news for the Satrapi, she has a new film out in Europe (no US release date that I can find yet) based on her book Chicken with Plums.  Variety likes it:
What Satrapi and Paronnaud have really achieved is an evocation of a lost world, much as they did in "Persepolis." They've beautifully re-created the fiercely proud, Western-leaning life of the Persian middle class of the 1950s... 
Check out the trailer:

Meanwhile, there's another Iranian comic, a sort of Persepolis: The Next Generation, called Zahra's Paradise, we may want to read in 2012:
Set in the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections of 2009, Zahra’s Paradise is the fictional story of the search for Mehdi, a young protestor who has vanished into an extrajudicial twilight zone. What’s keeping his memory from being obliterated is not the law. It is the grit and guts of his mother, who refuses to surrender her son to fate, and the tenacity of his brother, a blogger, who fuses tradition and technology to explore and explode the void in which Mehdi has vanished.
Read sample chapters at Reza Aslan's (No god but God) Aslan Media Group is discussing it this month. You can participate via Good Reads or Aslan Media Book Salon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Our November Author: Kwame Anthony Appiah

This month we are reading The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah.  Appiah has his own website that provides a lengthy biography, copious linkage to his print and audio interviews and in the "updates" section some friendly blog posts. You'll even find a friendly plug for Amnesty's Global Ethics Book Series.

Here's a brief personal introduction:

A few recommendations from interviews I sampled: Radio Open Source (great discussion about honor and the Iraq war), Appiah in conversation with Jack Miles in LAPL's ALOUD series, at the Aspen Institute (disappointed in his answer on the death penalty but otherwise interesting observations on our political polarization) or for a free-ranging discussion less tethered to the book, try APM's On Being. If you haven't read the book, these interviews should give you enough background to participate in the discussion, and if you have, the Q&As are good for seeing the variety of social problems one might want to apply these insights to. Check out these Bloomberg ("Princeton's Appiah sees role of honor in finance, gay-bashing") and WaPo ("What will future generations condemn us for?") articles for more potential moral revolutions in progress or in our future.

Finally, in this interview at the Browser he recommends five books related to The Honor Code, I was fascinated by this passage from the interview,
It turns out that one of the biggest things that explain the different murder rates in different parts of the American South is whether you’re in a region that was significantly settled by Scots-Irish. If you are from a region that was significantly settled by Scots-Irish who brought with them the kind of honour code that comes from a rural society that kept cattle, in those regions the rate of honour-related reasons (you flirted with my wife and such) are much higher than in other parts of the United States. 
Is that now? 
These data would be from the 60s, 70s, 80s. 
That’s bizarre. 
In fact, attitudes to honour in the South are very different from attitudes to honour in the North. Someone did a nice survey recently where they sent imaginary CVs applying for jobs, and in these CVs there were people who been in prison. If the CV showed that the reason they were in prison was that they had reacted violently to a threat to their honour, then in the South they could get a job but in the North they couldn’t. The point is that there is plenty of evidence of the pervasiveness of these issues of honour today, including in such things as the murder rates and the rates of assault. You have to face up to that and look for the possibilities for reform – unless you think you can get rid of it, and I don’t think you can. So, as I say, it can be and has been reformed and been moralised. It has changed from motivating people to do what’s bad to motivating them to do what’s good. Hard as it is to imagine when you’re stuck in the middle, we have historical evidence to show that it can be changed.
Hmmm... going back to his weak answer to an audience question about honor and the death penalty in the Aspen interview, let me see if I can help Appiah out. If the states of the former Confederacy accounted for approximately 90 percent of total executions  in the two decades following reinstatement of the death penalty in the late 70s, could attitudes about honor be a factor in some way? Could it explain the disconnect between the audience reaction to Rick Perry's execution record at the recent Republican debate, and that damned Yankee moderator Brian William's surprise at the cheers? Discuss...

What other disconnects between honor and morality occurred to you as you read, or what moral revolutions do you want to see happen?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

For February: A Person of Interest by Susan Choi

For February, we have selected Susan Choi's novel of paranoia in the age of terrorism, A Person of Interest,
With its propulsive drive, vividly realized characters, and profound observations about soul and society, Pulitzer Prize–finalist Susan Choi’s latest novel is as thrilling as it is lyrical, and confirms her place as one of the most important novelists chronicling the American experience. Intricately plotted and psychologically acute, A Person of Interest exposes the fault lines of paranoia and dread that have fractured American life and asks how far one man must go to escape his regrets. Professor Lee, an Asian-born mathematician near retirement age would seem the last person to attract the attention of FBI agents. Yet after a colleague becomes the latest victim of a serial bomber, Lee must endure the undermining power of suspicion and face the ghosts of his past.
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