Friday, July 21, 2006

Camp Darfur - with Rep. Schiff - this Sunday!

Camp Darfur is back in Altadena this Sunday, and this time Congressman Schiff will be there to encourage you to participate in a letter-writing campaign! Here's his press release.

Who: Representative Adam Schiff, Members of Camp Darfur, and constituents of the 29th Congressional District.

What:  Letter writing campaign to elected officials asking them to make the Genocide in Darfur a priority and to raise awareness regarding this crisis

When:  Sunday, July 23, 2006, 12:30 P.M. Pacific Time

Where:    First Presbyterian Church, 2775 Lincoln Ave. Altadena

For the latest talking points/action items from Amnesty (in case you get to chat with the Congressman) check here.

Our previous coverage of Camp Darfur here, if you need a preview!

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For December: My Father's Rifle

For December we have selected My Father’s Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan by Hiner Saleem. As usual, we will not be meeting at Vroman's for this discussion. The location will be determined later this fall.
This beautiful, spare, autobiographical narrative tells of the life of a Kurd named Azad as he grows to manhood in Iraq during the 1960s and 1970s. Azad is born into a vibrant village culture that hopes for a free Kurdish future. He loves his mother's orchard, his cousin's stunt pigeons, his father's old Czech rifle, his brother who is fighting in the mountains. But before he is even of school age, Azad has seen friends and neighbors assassinated, and his own family driven to starvation. After being forced into a refugee camp in Iran for years, his family realizes, on their return, that the Baathist regime is destroying the autonomy it had promised their people. My Father's Rifle ends with Azad's heartbreaking departure from his parents and flight across the Syrian border to freedom. Stunning in its unadorned intensity, My Father's Rifle is a moving portrait of a boy who embraces the land and culture he loves, even as he leaves them.
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Chicago Torture Case Update

Veteran Rights Readers will recall reading about Jon Burge, the Chicago police officer, accused by suspects of using torture to extract confessions in the 1970s and '80s as recounted in John Conroy's Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People. (This excellent exploration of torture in three democracies-- Israel and Ireland are also covered--seems so quaint in this post Abu Ghraib
world, but was well worth the read.) Now we have this update on the investigation into the case, perhaps delivering the closest there will ever be to a verdict in the case,

Prosecutors Robert D. Boyle and Edward Egan said that evidence indicated police abused at least half of the 148 suspects whose cases were reviewed in the $6.1 million investigation, which included 700 people and more than 33,000 documents. Nearly all of the suspects were black.

The investigators were not able to substantiate all of the allegations, but made it clear they believed many of the claims. Boyle and Egan said there was enough evidence to prosecute in only three cases involving a total of five former officers, but the three-year statute of limitations has run out.

Among the five officers involved in the three cases prosecutors mentioned was Jon Burge, a lieutenant who commanded a violent-crimes unit and the so-called ''midnight crew'' that allegedly participated in most of the alleged torture.

Neither Burge nor anyone else has ever been charged, but Burge was fired in 1991 after a police board found that a murder suspect was abused while in custody. Burge's attorney has said Burge never tortured anyone.

The report also goes into graphic detail about the alleged torture of Andrew Wilson, who was convicted in the murder of two Chicago police officers. Wilson said he was beaten and kicked during his interrogation, and that officers put a plastic bag over his head and burned his arm with a cigarette.

Then, he said, an officer pulled from a grocery bag a black box that had a crank on it. He said alligator clips were attached to his left ear and left nostril and he received a shock when an officer cranked the box. Burge, he said, also cranked the box to shock him and then put a gun in Wilson's mouth and clicked it.

The report said no black box was ever recovered. But the report makes it clear that there is ample evidence -- including burn marks on Wilson's nostril and ear -- that such a device was used.

Amnesty's concerns, about the Burge cases and more recent abuses by the Chicago police can be found here.

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For November: Spoken Here

For November, we have selected Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages by Mark Abley. Apologies in advance for all the language geekiness that will no doubt follow in the wake of this decision.
Within the next couple of generations, most of the world’s 6000 languages will vanish, due mainly to the unstoppable tide of English. With an open mind and a well-worn passport, award-winning journalist and poet Mark Abley tells entertaining and vital stories about why languages matter. From Oklahoma to Provence, aboriginal Australia to Baffin Island, the cultures are radically different, but the problems of shrinking linguistic and cultural richness are painfully similar. Abley’s investigation provides a stunning glimpse of the beauty and intricacies of languages like Yiddish and Yuchi, Mohawk and Manx, Inuktitut and Provençal. More importantly, it offers a sympathetic and memorable portrait of the people who still speak languages under threat.
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Friday, July 14, 2006

Chernobyl: What You Can Do...

Just to end our exploration of Voices from Chernobyl on an up note, I want to point to a couple of charity sites Chernobyl - 20 and Chernobyl Children's Project International.
Children from CCPI were featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary short, Chernobyl Heart.  Unfortunately, the film does not appear to be available on DVD at this time.

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Chernobyl: Another Voice

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear DisasterMore Voices from Chernobyl:

Just adding one more first person account from a blogger who served in the military at Chernobyl.  Some of our more linguistically talented Loyal Readers will enjoy the challenge of the original post  (the pictures accompanying the  post are worth a look), while others will want to take a peek at the Global Voices translation.

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Chernobyl Tour

Here are some visuals to accompany our reading of Voices from Chernobyl:

This photo exhibit contains very striking images, but the presentation is almost too dramatic.  I really enjoyed this straightforward account of a visit to the "Zone" in springtime and accompanying photos. It helped me understand why some people choose to live there despite the danger.

Magnum's "Chernobyl Legacy" multimedia package on this page is difficult viewing (but check out the map feature showing radiation distribution).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Background on Chernobyl

Continuing our exploration of Voices from Chernobyl, NPR has archived its coverage of the 20th anniversary of the disaster here, while the Nation's review of the book by Andrew Meier contains a good background summary of the event and some interesting information about the author.  A bit of insight into her other books,
Throughout her work, she has sought to bring to light the hidden stories of the Soviet era. One of her first books, U voiny--ne zhenskoe litso ("War's Unwomanly Face"), an oral history of Soviet soldiers in World War II, which broke with the heroic narratives of official history, was suppressed for two years before Gorbachev allowed it to be published in 1985. That book and its follow-up, Poslednie svideteli (1985), a collection of 100 "children's stories" of war, sold millions of copies in the former Soviet Union and made Alexievich a glasnost celebrity. Her career hit its peak with Zinky Boys (1992), an unflinching look at the Soviet war in Afghanistan ("zinky" alludes to the zinc coffins in which more than 15,000 Soviet soldiers returned home).
Finally for all those unanswered questions, the UN-sponsored Chernobyl - Tschernobyl - Information site is worth exploring.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Our July Author: Svetlana Alexievich

Let's start off our supplemental reading for Voices from Chernobyl with a couple of excellent interviews with author Svetlana Alexievich. Sign and Sight, reprints a Suddeutsche Zeitung interview. On the political fallout,
Two catastrophes have taken place in Belarus: the catastrophe of capitalism and the cosmic catastrophe. People can understand the former - poverty, misery, the new way of life - but they cannot grasp the cosmic catastrophe. Ukraine and Belarus are a sort of laboratory, you could collect the evidence, evaluate it and share it with humanity. But the Belarussian government is committing an assault on its own people and on humanity at large. One scientist who proved that even low doses of radiation can lead to illness was thrown into prison and only released after international protests. Instead there is much talk of optimism. Belarus is a closed-off, abject country. My book has appeared in 21 states but is banned in Belarussian. Otherwise people would ask: Where is the medicine? Where are the church masses? Where are the uncontaminated provisions? A totalitarian regime saves itself first.
Center for Book Culture offers another interview. Here's a bit about the oral history form and the writing process,
It occurred to me that life offers so many versions and interpretations of the same events that neither fiction nor document alone can keep up with its variety; I felt compelled to find a different narrative strategy. I decided to collect the voices from the street, the material lying about around me. Each person offers a text of his or her own. And realized I could make a book out of them. Life moves on much too fast—only collectively can we create a single, many-sided picture...From each person’s 100-page story, not more than five pages are left and sometimes maybe just half a page. I ask many questions, I select episodes, and, thus, I participate in the creation of each book. My role is not just that of an ear eavesdropping in the street, but also that of an observer and thinker. To an outsider it may seem a simple process: people just told me their stories. But it’s not really so simple. It’s important what you ask and how you ask it and what you hear and what you select from the interview. I think you can’t really reflect life’s broad scope without the documentation, without the human evidence. The picture will not be complete.
And because translators never get their due, how about an interview (from Maud Newton) with translator Keith Gessen,
...what I think the book does cumulatively with this randomness is suggest that, well, splitting up with your wife is more important than Chernobyl. These major events organize experience, they form a backdrop to experience, but they do not constitute experience as such. I’m not sure how much leeway I had as the translator, in this regard, but, functionally, the book is framed by these two devastating monologues by women whose husbands received very heavy doses of radiation and then just literally fell apart in front of their eyes, and these are just horrible — but in between there’s a lot of funny stuff, or random stuff is more like it, that fills in the background to those stories.
All three interviews have great insights, check them out!

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mystery Month Preview

Rights Readers discovered some time ago that reading detective fiction can be a fun way to explore serious human rights issues-- after all, mysteries are all about the search for justice.  Today's Los Angeles Times brings us an article on the social consciousness of some local mystery writers.  Rights Reader favorite Walter Mosley (Little Scarlet) and our August author, Naomi Hirahara (Summer of the Big Bachi) get a mention.  Of her father (survivor of Hiroshima and the inspiration for her fictional gardner hero, Mas Arai) she says,
"Some drivers passing my father tending someone's lawn and garden may have thought nothing of him, but in fact he had survived and witnessed one of the horrific events of the 20th century," ... "I wanted to give a voice to people like this."
Mosley observes,
"At this point there are feminist, black, Japanese writers," he said. "And they think, 'Hey, I could tell this story in this genre. Certainly the people who have had critical success have spoken more to the social implications.' "

The protagonist of the new noir is still "the existentialist hero, someone standing up against corruption in society," Mosley said. But now "there's a critique not of bad people in society, but of society itself."

The new noir, Mosley said, is not a break from the past. Mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, who famously refused to testify during the anti-Communist witch hunting of the McCarthy era, "was extraordinarily political," Mosley said. "He was the guy who wouldn't name names. He went to prison."
Taking note of the other authors, --Paula L. Woods, Denise Hamilton, Marcos McPeek Villatoro-- mentioned for future Rights Readers mystery months!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Pasadena Event: Nightwind

Group 22 Members are looking forward to a the up-coming performance of Nightwind, our friend Hector Artistizabal's one-man play,
--a harrowing solo performance, Hector Aristizábal reenacts his arrest and torture by the US-supported military in Colombia and explores possible outcomes. Violent rage? Or a channeling of the impulse and energy into the peace movement? He is accompanied onstage by Enzo Fina, providing a live soundscore.
More about Hector's work in this previous post and at his website. Look for us at the event with Denounce Torture! and Colombia actions.

Saturday, July 8, 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Forum at All Saints Church

Evening opens with an interfaith prayer service and light supper at 5:00 pm. Following the performance of Nightwind, Hector Aristizabal will lead the audience in a creative workshop session. For reservations and for more information, please call Ruby Gallegos at 626.583.2734.

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