Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Culture of Breastfeeding

Within two days of each other, Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times posted, "The Breastmilk Cure," stating the benefits of breast milk as a cure for childhood malnutrition when used exclusively in the first six months of life, while Worldcrunch brought out, "Spanish mother and baby reunited after breastfeeding row," about a woman living in a social welfare facility in Spain whose child was removed because she was sleeping with and breastfeeding her 15 month-old on-demand. Is it true, 'breast is best,' and if so, for how long? The American Academy of Pediatrics states:

Breast milk alone is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months after birth. For these very young infants, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that water, juice, and other foods are generally unnecessary. Even when babies enjoy discovering new tastes and textures, solid foods should not replace breastfeeding, but merely complement breast milk as the infant's main source of nutrients throughout the first year. Beyond one year, as the variety and volume of solid foods gradually increase, breast milk remains an ideal addition to the child's diet. AAP recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.

So, AAP and WHO recommend at a minimum 6 months, but up to two years for breast feeding your child. Unfortunately, with the introduction of baby formula in the 20th century and the medicalization of maternity at the hands of mainly male physicians, coupled with modern cultural patterns (two wage earners in the family), we've largely turned away from breast feeding as the norm in the West. In addition, as breast milk appears 'watery' and 'thin' compared to formula, to many Western women at least, and as few women today can feed their babies on-demand, round-the-clock, as nature intended - to both satisfy hunger and enable milk production - most women give their babies other foods as well within the first year. But what about more traditional societies, how long do mothers breast feed? How about 2 to 4 years? Would you believe 9 years? And for those engorged breasts when baby is not near, how about asking a friend or family member for relief (and I don't mean another baby!)? For answers to these questions and a fascinating cultural overview at breast feeding in Mongolia, read this excellent post from Peaceful Parenting here.

Nutritional anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler has written extensively on breastfeeding, comparing human growth patterns in infancy and length of breast feeding to other primates. Click here for an interesting bio-cultural look at breast feeding by Dettwyler. Would you believe that feeding to the age of 7 or 9 makes perfect sense given human growth patterns, nutrition and health needs? Now, read the article on the woman in Spain who had her breast fed child removed and consider this the next time you turn away in embarrassment or worse at a woman breast feeding her infant in public: they are not only doing what comes naturally, but what is best for baby.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pakistan's Unlikely Hero of Lost Children: the barber of Larkana

I read a quote the other day by Bengali Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. 
I awoke and saw that life was service. 
I acted and behold, service was joy.”

I saw article in the Guardian on a barber from Pakistan who saves lost children. He lives the poem.

Pakistan's unlikely crime fighter

How has a poor, uneducated man gone from cutting hair to rescuing a legion of lost and kidnapped children? Meet the Barber of Larkana…
  • barber of larkana
    'Hope should never be lost': Anwar Khokhar, the Barber of Larkana. Photograph: Charla Jones for the Guardian

    The gravedigger spotted the bundle lying behind broken gravestones in the old Christian cemetery in Larkana. At first he thought it was a pile of sacks, but when he saw the dogs gathering, he decided someone who could not afford burial rights had dumped a body. Then a teenager poked out her head. Taking in her shaking, skeletal frame, the gravedigger worried that if he didn't do something immediately, he'd soon be digging another hole. He lifted the girl into his arms and stared into her face. The scorching sun burnishes everyone's skin in Pakistan's deep south, and this girl was fair. Her pale complexion hinted at a well-bred family from which she'd run or become separated. Holes ran the length of both ears, suggesting that she had once worn elaborate gold jewellery. Those days were clearly gone, but there was no way to find out why, as the girl was mute.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Inupiat of the Arctic

A Warm Feeling for the Arctic

To many Americans, Wasilla, Alaska, seems like a very distant corner of the national map. For the photographer Bill Hess, 60, it is just the starting point. He has spent about half his life traveling from his home in Wasilla to the far more remote realms of the North Slope Borough, where the Inupiat people live. He pilots his own bush plane and, once on the ground, travels by snowmobile or dog sled. He is home. “Alaska speaks to me as no other place I have ever been,” Mr. Hess said. “I love Alaska with every piece of flesh and spirit that is me. It speaks most strongly in the communities and camps of its native people, for they have ties to the land, sea and animals — and knowledge of the same — that is possessed by no one else. I can feel that when I am with them. When I am not with them, I miss that feeling.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Human Trafficking In The Middle East: Manola’s Story
Manola Rajaonarison thought she was going to Lebanon to work as a housekeeper. That’s what the agency said. What she didn’t know was that she would repeatedly be humiliated, beaten and raped.

Widespread poverty in Madagascar makes people particulalry vulnerable to human trafficking
by: admin Widespread poverty in Madagascar makes people particularly vulnerable to human trafficking
 By Christian Putsch
ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar - Standing at the window of the third-story apartment in Beirut, all Manola Rajaonarison could see outside were gigantic apartment blocks. In her hand, she held a piece of paper with her father’s telephone number written on it. This was her lifeline. She tried to stay calm; despite the heat she was trembling uncontrollably. Nervously she kept looking at the kitchen door—she knew that she risked a beating and maybe worse if her employers caught her doing what she was about to do. But they were still sitting at the table, eating lunch. She only had a few minutes. Frantically she sought out a window on the third floor of the building next door and finally spotted Niri, mostly hidden by the curtain. Like Manola, Niri was from Madagascar. She too worked as a housekeeper in Lebanon. Unlike Manola, however, she was never beaten, had not been raped, nor was she isolated. Niri read the telephone number off the piece of paper Manola held up, and wrote it down. She made the call as Manola was tearing the paper into tiny bits.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Aboriginal Australians, 'stolen' again

This file photo taken on October 1, 2010 shows Warrmarn-Kija Aborigines performing in Sydney
 A series of recent reports has painted bleak picture of aboriginal communities
The BBC New posted "Australia in 'national crisis' over Aborigine jailings.

Molly, Daisy, and Grace (two sisters and a cousin who are 14, 10, and 8) who are taken from their home and sent to a boarding school thousands of mile away. The girls run away and over several months, walk back to their families through the outback -  all the while evading their captors. the damage done by the Aborigines Act. Between 1910 and 1970 in Australia, 1 in 3 children were removed from Aboriginal families and placed in institutions and foster homes. These children, in most cases, were never to see their families again.

Kimberley range, Western Australia
The Kimberleys are a vast, remote range where Aboriginal communities are "in crisis

For "Australia in 'national' crisis over Aborigine jailings," click here. 
For "Australia's Aboriginal suicide rate sparks concern," click here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Graffiti: vandalism or art?

Art in the Streets, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Photo by Gregory Bojorquez, Courtesy of MOCA
The Arts Beat section of the New York Times wrote about the cancellation of a graffiti exhibition  at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibit, Art in Streets, is presently on view at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. To the dismay of the LA police and others, the show has caused some impromptu art work to appear on dumpsters and buildings nearby. In LA, the art director Jeffrey Deitch explained that graffiti is "the language of youth culture: the vandalism couldn't be helped," though the museum added security for the neighborhood surrounding their facility and paid for a clean-up.

It is an interesting contrast, this controversy over the cancelled exhibit in New York to the way Brazilian favelas use street art to promote tourism in their slums, create solidarity in the community and keep kids away from crime and drugs (read my posts, Urban Street Art: the Museu de Favela in Brazil and Hello Brazil: favela tourism in the time of the Olympics). Indeed, in Afghanistan, graffiti is a political movement supported by an international artists' group (Urban Art in Kabul). 

In countries of South Asia, it is routine to elaborately paint buses, trucks and cars with social, religious and political imagery. Buildings in Kabul and Brazil are today covered with political posters and advertising slogans. In the US, graffiti in anarchy: it conjures images of gangs and violence, particularly in LA, and spray-painted subway cars in New York.  If graffiti were to be validated with an art show in a major museum in Brooklyn, would new work on city buildings be perceived an act of inspiration or an act of violence (the latter, of course)?  Street art in the cities of the US, Brazil and Afghanistan is criminal, cultural and political, respectively. Different contexts, different realities. That's what we call 'culture.'  

For a look at African American and Chicano street art in LA, check out Wallbangin': graffiti and gangs in LA by anthropologist Susan A. Philips.

The full post of "Brooklyn Museum Cancels Graffiti Show" from Arts Beat is here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Thinking of India: portraits from the bustee

Kolkata on my mind today. These 'portraits' are from our photo-shoot in the bustee a few years ago, part of a project for Empower the Children. Each volunteer with HTA LLC was assigned a student or two (six to 12 years-old, roughly) from Prayrona School. We handed over our digital cameras and off the children went (with the volunteers close behind!), photographing everyday life in the slum. They took pictures of cows, goats, dogs, gardens on rooftops, biscuit factories, rickshaws, motorbikes, pet rats, garbage sifters, playgrounds, trains and people cleaning dishes, cooking lunch and washing laundry - all in the streets. They also took lovely photos of their friends, seen here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The UN, human rights and sexual orientation

The UN is looking into classifying violence and discrimination against people based on their gender and sexual orientation as a human rights violation. In the US, the FBI calls this a 'hate crime.' Will the UN study make it possible, someday, to rightly punish perpetrators of hate crimes against people due to their gender or sexual orientation  - in all countries, in all contexts? And will they not only to make an international human rights law, but find a way to uphold the law as well? Let's hope. For more on hate crimes, check out the story of Matthew Shepard in the Tectonic Theater Project's  docu-drama, The Laramie Project.
Today the UN Human Rights Council took action on a resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, expressing grave concern at discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation. 
As a result, it requested the High Commissioner to commission a study to be finalised by December 2011 to document discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, in all regions of the world, and how international human rights law could be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It also decided to convene a panel discussion during the nineteenth session of the Human Rights Council, informed by the facts contained in the study commissioned by the High Commissioner.
The vote result was 23 in favor, 19 against and there were three abstentions.

Full press release (including voting result broken down by country)
Draft resolution (A/HRC/17/L.9/Rev.1)

Photo credit: United Nations Information Service - Geneva

Today the UN Human Rights Council took action on a resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, expressing grave concern at discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation.  As a result, it requested the High Commissioner to commission a study to be finalised by December 2011 to document discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, in all regions of the world, and how international human rights law could be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also decided to convene a panel discussion during the nineteenth session of the Human Rights Council, informed by the facts contained in the study commissioned by the High Commissioner.

The vote result was 23 in favor, 19 against and there were three abstentions.
Full press release (including voting result broken down by country)
Draft resolution (A/HRC/17/L.9/Rev.1)
Photo credit: United Nations Information Service - Geneva

Saturday, June 18, 2011

UN Recruits Female Police Officers

Female police officers serving in UN peacekeeping operations in Haiti

From the UN News Center. In light of abuses by past abuses towards women by UN Peacekeeping forces (see "The Wistleblower"),  good news.
Global effort leads to increase in female UN police worldwide
16 June 2011 – More and more countries are getting behind a United Nations initiative designed to boost the number of female police serving in peace operations, with women now accounting for just over 10 per cent of the more than 14,000 officers deployed worldwide, a senior official said today. In August 2009 the UN launched the “Global Effort” with the aim of more than doubling the proportion of women comprising UN Police (UNPOL) to 20 per cent by 2014.

The Organization believes that female police greatly increase the effectiveness of UN police components and help build trust with populations and inspire more women to become police officers in the countries where they serve. “Since launching the effort, we have not only increased the overall number of police deployed by more than 3,000 officers but we have also increased the percentage of female officers from less than 7 per cent to just over 10 per cent,” UN Police Adviser Ann-Marie Orler told a news conference at UN Headquarters.

“More and more countries around the world are getting behind this effort,” she added. Currently, the top five contributing countries of female police officers are Nigeria, Bangladesh, Rwanda, India and Ghana. Over the past six months, Ms. Orler has visited some of the most important partners for UN policing, namely Bangladesh, India, Jordan and Pakistan, which together contribute almost 40 per cent of the world body’s force. “I paid a visit to these countries to thank them for their ongoing support and to explain in person the increasingly specialized skills that we seek in police officers and to continue to highlight our need to recruit more female officers,” said Ms. Orler.

UN Police are deployed in 11 peacekeeping operations (led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations) and five special political missions (led by the Department of Political Affairs), including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Somalia and Sudan. They are involved in a range of activities such as training local law enforcement personnel, conducting joint patrols with national police and helping to provide security for local elections. In the special political missions, UN Police are working with national police services to build capacity in law enforcement and to assist with police reform, Ms. Orler noted. “Our aim is to strengthen and make accountable the security sector so that guardians of public order do not exacerbate political tensions.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Malawi: A Lesson in Charity

Malawi stops HIV cash allowance for civil servants

A Malawian woman with HIV/Aids (archive shot)
About 14% of Malawians are HIV-positive
Malawi's government has scrapped extra payments to HIV-infected civil servants, accusing some of them of spending it on prostitutes and beer. The $35 (£21) monthly payment would be replaced with "nutrition food bags", said government official Mary Shaba. This would stop workers from using the money on prostitutes and "further spreading the virus", she added. The scheme was intended to help sick workers improve their diet.

Ms Shaba said the scheme, introduced in 2007, had also been abused by civil servants who falsely claimed that they had HIV so that they could cash in on the allowance. Nearly 40,000 civil servants, out of about 170,000, claimed the allowance. The average monthly salary in Malawi's civil service is $100. Around 14% of the country's population is HIV-positive. The illness has cut life expectancy in the southern African nation to 36. The move comes as the UN hosts a summit to mark the 30th anniversary of the first diagnosis of Aids.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

'The Whistleblower'

Since my post about Lincoln Center's upcoming Human Rights Film Festival, I've seen lots of traffic on this site about the Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz and directed by Larysa Kondracki, set for release on August 5, 2011. The film tells the real-life story of UN peacekeeper Kathryn Bolkovac, Nebraska police office, who uncovered a sex trafficking operation involving members of the international security force in Bosnia in the 1990s.  Here is an article from the Guardian published in 2001 outlining what happened. She was fired by Dyncorps, her employer, on trumped up charges but eventually vindicated. Kathryn Bolkovac co-authored a book with Cari Lynn about the experience entitled, The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors and One Woman's Fight for Justice. Kathryn Bolkovac now lives in the Netherlands.

What's it like to be a sponsored child?

Children who receive sponsorship from the charity Compassion
Sponsoring a child in the developing world is a popular form of charitable giving. But what do the children themselves make of the system?
"I wrote and thanked them for taking care of me up to this day” - Priscilla
When Priscilla was a child, a donor many thousands of miles from her Ghanaian village helped pay for her schooling. For years she exchanged letters with her British benefactor. Now she is 20, the charity has stopped the sponsorship and the relationship. "Last year I wrote to them saying goodbye and thanked them for taking care of me up to this day," says Priscilla, an accountancy student. "When I was writing, I was full of tears. Tears were coming from my eyes." Sponsor-a-child arrangements throw up emotional highs and lows for the children, something many donors are unaware of.
World Vision One Life exhibition
Charities like World Vision and Plan International use sponsor-a-child models to raise funds
Priscilla's sponsorship was arranged through World Vision. The charity has boosted the fortunes of Dangme West, which used to be one of the most deprived areas in greater Accra, the capital of Ghana.
Youngsters such as Priscilla are sponsored for up to 15 years. They often receive letters and gifts, so many feel a close bond with their sponsor. Augustina, 14, who hopes to become a doctor, says her sponsor has sent her many things - shoes, bags, crayons, books. She hopes her sponsor loves her, and wants to visit her in England. Some even want their sponsors' e-mail addresses, so they can carry on their correspondence into adulthood. But charities do not encourage this, for fear of dependency. It's an arrangement that can bring disappointment, as well as money. Abraham tells me he hasn't heard from his sponsor for eight years, and he doesn't know why.

Get the conversation started: sexuality, safety and social class via a "Slutwalk"

This week, the New York Times posted, Ready or Not, New Delhi Gets a Woman's Street Protest and last week The Telegraph wrote a piece, New Delhi to Witness the 'Slutwalk'parade in India. They began in Toronto (see video) and protest the way women are judged on their sexuality. In "Slutwalk" parades, participants are encouraged to dress as they please, without restriction or fear, as, if you will, 'sluts,' wearing thongs, short skirts, fish net stockings and the like. These protesters feel responsibility for violent crimes against women such as rape and assault should be solely on the perpetrators, not on the victim and their clothing. According to the Telegraph article below, the movement went viral, with marches in Amsterdam; São Paulo, Brazil; Seattle, Sydney, Australia; perhaps now even in New Delhi, India.

In India, perpetrators of violence against women are rarely held accountable to the degree, if at all, the law demands. Problems of patriarchy and women's rights in India and other countries of South Asia have been a feature of other blogs here (Unwanted Girls in India, Tradition vs. Justice in Bangladesh, Social Injustice: gender violence in Asia to name a few). Will dressing as sluts and parading through Delhi's streets help or hinder women's call for equal rights in society and under the law?

New Delhi to witness ‘Slutwalk’ parade

Women’s rights campaigners will launch a ‘Slutwalk’ parade in ‘booty shorts’ and other provocative clothes in protest at high levels of sexual harassment in India’s ‘rape capital’ New Delhi.

Women?s rights campaigners will launch a ?Slutwalk? parade in ?booty shorts? and other provocative clothes in protest at high levels of sexual harassment in India?s ?rape capital? New Delhi.
'Slutwalks' have taken place around the world including Galsgow, Scotland Photo: GETTY
Their protest is in response to the growing number of rapes and sexual assaults in the Indian capital, where harassment and physical attacks are often dismissed as ‘eve-teasing.’The organizers said their march of scantily clad women is aimed at provoking a debate in a city where many believe under-dressed women are ‘asking for it.’ Indian commentators have criticised the planned march as a futile drama mounted by wealthy and heavily protected middle-class girls who are unlikely to suffer sexual abuse.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Afghan woman educates thousands

Sensible and realistic, Sakena Yacoobi educates 350,000 Afghan women and children a year.
Pragmatic Afghan woman educates thousands
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Sakena Yacoobi is a builder of schools and clinics who says she hopes that educating women will help bring peace to Afghanistan. But she is no idealist. The 61-year-old Afghan woman first started refugee schools in Pakistan, then underground girls schools in Afghanistan under the Taliban. After that regime's 2001 ouster, she opened scores of women's centers teaching basic reading, math, sewing and health skills. Her programs now serve about 350,000 women and children a year.

While she has lofty goals, she says her success has come from discipline and realism. Yacoobi doesn't run programs in the more dangerous parts of Afghanistan because she won't be able to get teachers to stay. She doesn't work with communities who won't embrace her approach because without their support a school will fail. And she orders all women and girls involved in her programs to wear head-covering scarves to show that they are observant Muslims. As a result, her Afghan Institute of Learning, or AIL, has grown from a few makeshift schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the mid-1990s to an organization running schools, women's learning centers, day care centers and clinics across seven of the 34 Afghan provinces. Yacoobi says it costs her about $1.5 million a year. "I challenge anybody if they can run this same program at $3 million. They could not. Because every penny that I spend, I really watch where it goes, how it goes," Yacoobi says.

Many of her former students are now professional Afghan women working in offices, as teachers and in the government. Afghanistan's only female provincial governor attended one of Yacoobi's schools, and at least one of her graduates works in the president's office. Yacoobi represents a refreshing pragmatism and drive in a region where efforts to build rural schools and increase access to education have been clouded by accusations of mismanagement and fraud against the man best-known for such efforts — Greg Mortenson, the author of "Three Cups of Tea." Mortenson's accusers charge that he lied about how he became involved in building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, that he used money donated to his charity for personal reasons and that he has not built nearly the number of schools he claimed and has left others abandoned without support or teachers. The allegations have prompted discussions throughout the aid community about how to make sure money is well spent and that projects don't languish.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Designer's Choice: Transsexual Models

Recently, the Huffington Post and many other news outlets  made a huge deal of Lea T., a transsexual model, posing in a swim suit for Blue Man Swimwear in Brazil. Lea T. has been interviewed on Oprah and featured in People Magazine's style news. Currently undergoing hormone treatment in advance of her sex reassignment surgery, Lea T. is the 'muse' of Givenchy's creative director, Riccardo Tisci.  Well, Lea T. admirers, what about Serbia/Australian male model Andrej Pejic? He was voted #98 in laddy magazine FHM's top 100 sexist women, that's right behind Bar Rafaeli at #97 and in front of Lady Gaga, #99! The 19 year-old first appeared on the runway in Jean Paul Gaulthier's Spring show in October, 2010 and was a smash this Spring in London. While still 'all boy,' he says he would consider an 'alteration' if Victoria Secret came calling. Then there is Nina Poon, a transsexual featured here in a Kenneth Cole advertisement.

Well, this is fashion, high-end fashion at that. A niche, elite, commercial enterprise. One must have something (or someone) new to keep the brand fresh. My question is, why is this so newsworthy? Is it because a transsexual is seen as beautiful and desirable by straight people? Many communities have accepted, in fact do accept, transgendered people, or individuals in alternative or third gender roles (see my posts, Third Gender Legalized in Pakistan and Third Gender Citizens Recognized in Nepal) but often in very specific social or occupational roles. The hijras in India, xanith's in Oman, kathoey's in Thailand, sworn virgins in the Balkans (you can find information in Serena Nanda's Gender Diversity, cross cultural variations) and many more. In fact, in Thailand there are an estimated 500,000 male transsexuals and the annual Miss Tiffany Beauty Pageant just crowned its 14th 'ladyboy' winner. Is highlighting transsexual models in fashion a real step forward for transsexual people or a media/ratings/sales ploy by corporate brand names? Or does it even matter as long as the conversation is started?

Urban Art in Kabul

Last week, I wrote about the Museu de Favela and urban street art in Brazil. Using dance, painting and music, many artists in the slums of Brazil's major cities are trying to turn kids away from drugs and violence towards a more positive expression of their urban culture. In addition, I wrote how other favela dwellers are capitalizing on the unique cultural aspects of their poor community (including 'street art' painted on the side of their houses) to entice tourists in the wake of the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Now, as you can see here in, Kabul street artists put the writing on the walls, young Afghan artists, encouraged by a group of international 'graffiti guerrillas' known as Combat Communications (you can find them on Facebook), are spreading messages and slogans using spray paint and funky script. Contemporary graffiti artists as painters of 'raw art,' as political activists, anarchists and simply 'others' have been studied by anthropologists and sociologists, covered by art and news journals and commercially mainstreamed by galleries and museums in the art world (see Banksy). Adding to that, via graffiti, we now have Afghan 'outsiders' getting 'in'(to the world scene). Check it out.

Kabul's graffiti guerrillas put the writing on the walls

Subtle spraycan art attack on public spaces in capital is trying to prod Afghans into asking questions
    Kabul grafitti artists
    Afghan artists, encouraged by an anonymous international group, are covertly taking to the streets of the capital. Photograph: Omar Sobhani /Reuters
    Some time this week Qassem will slip through the dark streets of a sleeping city. Well before the morning traffic starts to build up, the 24-year-old office worker will be home. But several street signs will have been subtly altered, roads will have slogans painted across them and a prominent wall will bear in large letters the words – "Why are we here?" Qassem is one of a small band of graffiti artists in the Afghan capital who, encouraged by a group of western "art activists", are set on bringing tagging, wall-painting and graphic stencils to public spaces across the city. "I'm going to edit a few traffic signs. Write slogans in big, funky script. Even paint across whole streets. The idea is to make people ask questions," Qassem said. Previously Qassem's efforts have been limited to spraying the name of a Swedish death metal band on the wall of the British cemetery, where casualties of previous interventions are buried. Many walls in Kabul are already covered in advertising slogans or fly-posting. There are also rare political slogans. "You can see 'troops out' and similar, but nothing creative or artistic. There are also massive public information campaigns, many funded by the government with money from the west. So we wanted to see the reaction to something different," said a member of Combat Communications, an anonymous Kabul-based group of international artists encouraging the movement. Eighteen months ago the group sprayed designs inspired by the British graffiti artist Banksy on walls of ostentatious new houses believed to have been built with the profits of the £3bn a year Afghan drug trade. A video on the internet brought an international response. Then images of an Apache attack helicopter, a Taliban insurgent, a tank, and poppies appeared in the city. Last December, Chu, a British artist, ran a week-long workshop on wall-painting in a disused industrial area on the outskirts of Kabul.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Lincoln Center

Life Above All
Photo from Life, Above Ali
If you are in New York, check out the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Human Rights Watch Film Festival June 16 - 30. The film makers will be in attendance at all screenings. Here is some information about the event and a list of films with descriptions:

The 22nd annual edition of the festival returns with stories of resilience from across the globe about the universal issues that grip our time. Human Rights Watch—one of the world’s leading independent human rights organizations—invites you to engage with these compelling films that are spurring vital dialogue. One of the most striking themes in this year’s selection is the power of media in all its forms to influence the craft of filmmaking and to impact human rights. Many titles are making their exclusive New York or U.S. debuts.
The festival will launch on June 16 with a fundraising Benefit Night for Human Rights Watch, featuring the Bosnia-set political thriller The Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz. More information about the film and the benefit is available on

The main program will begin on June 17, with the Opening Night presentation of Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, the latest documentary from Pamela Yates, here with her sixth film in the festival. Another highlight is the Festival Centerpiece on June 25, Sing Your Song, an inspiring portrait of Harry Belafonte, with the legendary entertainer and activist present to discuss the film. On June 26 the festival will feature a special program, No Boundaries: Tim Hetherington, a tribute to the visionary work of the late photographer, filmmaker and journalist. The Closing Night screening on June 30 will be Life, Above All, a moving coming-of-age drama set in a South African township ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

We Card: Presentation of valid ID required to be served alcoholic beverages at the reception.

Save with a Three-Film Pass!

$18 Film Society & HRW Members ($30 General Public/ $21 Seniors & Students) Buy Now

Films in this Series

12 Angry Lebanese: The Documentary

12 Angry Lebanese: The Documentary

Zeina Daccache, 2009

Buy Tickets: Sat Jun 25: 9:15 pm | Sun Jun 26: 4:00 pm |

This is the extraordinary record of the director’s project in Lebanon’s largest prison to stage a version of the play 12 Angry Men with inmates.

Better This World

Better This World

Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega, 2011

Buy Tickets: Sat Jun 18: 6:30 pm | Sun Jun 19: 4:00 pm | Mon Jun 20: 4:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmakers and film subject Bradley Crowder
Two boyhood friends from Midland, Texas fall under the sway of a charismatic revolutionary ten years their senior at the volatile 2008 Republican Convention.


Mikael Wiström, Alberto Herskovits, 2010

Buy Tickets: Sat Jun 25: 1:00 pm | Mon Jun 27: 6:30 pm | Wed Jun 29: 4:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmaker
This poignant, powerful documentary sensitively observes one matriarch’s decision to work as a hotel maid in Spain and the impact on her extended family in Peru.
Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

Pamela Yates, Peter Kinoy, Paco de Onís, 2011

Buy Tickets: Fri Jun 17: 7:00 pm | Sat Jun 18: 1:00 pm |

Screenings followed by discussion with filmmakers and film subjects Kate Doyle, Alejandra Garcia and Fredy Peccerelli
Part political thriller and part memoir, Yates’s film shows what happened when her 1982 footage of Guatemalan genocide became evidence in an international war crimes case.
If a Tree Falls

If a Tree Falls

Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman, 2011

Buy Tickets: Sun Jun 19: 6:30 pm | Mon Jun 20: 8:45 pm |

Q&A with filmmaker
Posing hard questions about affecting change in the United States, this chronicle of the Earth Liberation Front is a fascinating exploration of a modern revolutionary movement


Juan José Lozano, Hollman Morris, 2010

Buy Tickets: Wed Jun 22: 6:30 pm | Thu Jun 23: 9:00 pm | Fri Jun 24: 4:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmakers
The brutal history of illegal paramilitias and their victims in Colombia is freshly documented through the lens of the country’s controversial Justice and Peace process.
La Toma (The Siege)

La Toma (The Siege)

Angus Gibson, Miguel Salazar, 2011

Buy Tickets: Tue Jun 28: 8:45 pm | Wed Jun 29: 6:30 pm | Thu Jun 30: 4:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmakers
This challenging film recounts the action-packed day of the Siege of the Palace of Justice in Colombia and the dramatic trial of a key colonel 25 years later.
Life, Above All

Life, Above All

Oliver Schmitz, 2010

Buy Tickets: Thu Jun 30: 7:00 pm |

Closing Night Film & Reception
Screening followed by discussion with filmmaker Oliver Schmitz and lead actress Khomotso Manyaka
In this artful reinvention of the “coming-of-age story,” a girl in a South African township struggles when the spread of HIV/AIDS afflicts her own mother.
Lost Angels

Lost Angels

Thomas Napper, 2010

Buy Tickets: Sun Jun 26: 6:30 pm | Mon Jun 27: 9:00 pm | Tue Jun 28: 4:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmaker
Napper’s empathetic but tough-minded documentary invites us into a part of the homeless capital of America—Los Angeles—that many choose to ignore: Skid Row.
Love Crimes of Kabul

Love Crimes of Kabul

Tanaz Eshaghian, 2011

Buy Tickets: Mon Jun 20: 6:30 pm | Tue Jun 21: 8:45 pm | Wed Jun 22: 4:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmaker
Eshaghian’s intimate portrait follows three young Afghan women accused of committing “moral crimes” as they courageously and cannily navigate prison and court.

No Boundaries: Tim Hetherington

No Boundaries: Tim Hetherington

Buy Tickets: Sun Jun 26: 9:00 pm |

Screening of Diary followed by a panel discussion
In Diary, a highly personal and experimental film that expressed the subjective experience of his work, Tim turns the camera inward after more than a decade reporting.No
Sing Your Song

Sing Your Song

Susanne Rostock, 2011

Buy Tickets: Sat Jun 25: 6:00 pm |

Harry Belafonte in person!
With remarkable intimacy, visual style, and musical panache, Rostock’s documentary surveys the life and times of pioneering singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte.
The Green Wave

The Green Wave

Ali Samadi Ahadi, 2010

Buy Tickets: Sat Jun 18: 9:00 pm | Sun Jun 19: 1:30 pm | Tue Jun 21: 4:00 pm |

Samadi’s sharp portrait of modern political rebellion spans the 2009 elections in Iran and the brutal suppression of mass protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election.
The Price of Sex

The Price of Sex

Mimi Chakarova, 2011

Buy Tickets: Fri Jun 24: 9:30 pm | Sat Jun 25: 3:30 pm | Sun Jun 26: 1:30 pm |

Q&A with filmmaker
Photojournalist Mimi Chakarova exposes the shadowy world of sex trafficking from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and Western Europe, filming undercover with extraordinary access.
The Team

The Team

Patrick Reed, 2010

Buy Tickets: Tue Jun 21: 6:30 pm | Wed Jun 22: 9:00 pm | Thu Jun 23: 4:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmaker
A group of Kenyans produce a TV soap opera hoping to bridge deep ethnic divisions in a country struggling to recover from violence after the 2007 elections.

This Is My Land… Hebron

This Is My Land… Hebron

Giulia Amati , Stephen Natanson, 2010

Buy Tickets: Mon Jun 27: 4:00 pm | Tue Jun 28: 6:30 pm | Wed Jun 29: 9:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmakers
Amati and Natanson’s documentary listens to voices from all sides to examine Hebron, home to one of the first Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
When the Mountains Tremble

When the Mountains Tremble

Pamela Yates, 1983

Buy Tickets: Sat Jun 18: 4:00 pm |

Q&A with filmmakers
The striking 1983 film helped bring world attention to the roaming death squads that terrorized Guatemala’s unarmed indigenous population. Featuring Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchú.

You Don’t Like the Truth – 4 Days Inside Guantanamo

You Don’t Like the Truth – 4 Days Inside Guantanamo

Luc Côté, Patricio Henríquez, 2010

Buy Tickets: Fri Jun 24: 6:30 pm |

This stunning documentary is based on security camera footage from an encounter in Guantanamo Bay between Canadian intelligence agents and 16-year-old Canadian detainee Omar Khadr.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

'Immigrant' or 'Invasive Species'?

Are Immigrants Bad For The Environment?

A file photo of a Brussels rally in support of immigrant rights (Guy Leboutte)
A file photo of a Brussels rally in support of immigrant rights (Guy Leboutte)
By Juliet Fall
LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch
Foreigners in Switzerland have already been identified as a primary cause of rising crime, increased housing costs, the growing rate of unemployment, and even urban traffic congestion. Now they are being held collectively responsible for the ecological crisis. Switzerland’s Population and Ecology Association (ECOPOP) has just launched a federal referendum aimed at establishing a link between the environment and immigration. Intent on stabilizing the Swiss population, the association believes that limits on immigration can help reduce environmental degradation.

While environmental policies are increasingly thought of as global issues — most notably within the context of climate negotiations — the ECOPOP initiative considers environment to be a local matter for the State to handle, through both a comprehensive birth-control policy and tougher border controls. ECOPOP calls specifically for Switzerland to limit immigration, disclaim international treaties that impede such measures, and designate 10% of international cooperation funding to support family planning abroad.

The alliance between supporters of tougher immigration control and ecology has actually existed in Switzerland since the 1970s. Far-right political leaders such as Britain’s Nick Griffin or France’s Marine Le Pen are now doing the same. Le Pen stated on her website “that environmental feelings can be perfectly addressed without being a supporter of the complete opening of borders or of the right to vote for foreigners.”

The blending of ecology and immigration exists outside of politics as well. One can recall the brutal debates that threatened to tear apart the Sierra Club, one of the oldest and most respected nature conservation organizations in the United States. In 2004, the organization was the target of a fruitless attempt to change its official position through massive recruitment of new members hailing from anti-immigration political movements. Some years later, the executive director Carl Pope called for its members to reject “the virus of hate.”

Both the Swiss initiative and the American case raise the issue of how easily biological and political terminology can be blurred. Conversations about infections, viruses or saturated ecosystems are often framed in language that blends biology with social phenomena. When appropriated by political actors, terms like “invasion” and “infection” can be devilishly effective in mobilizing public opinion. It can work the other way around as well. The natural sciences often use terms loaded with political connotations. Biologists, for example, talk about “biological invasions” or “foreign species pollution.”

When researchers characterize a plant or animal as “invasive,” they are thinking within the framework of a disciplinary paradigm, that of ecology for example. They are engaging in a metaphorical discussion of otherness. Nevertheless, the language resonates – whether intentionally or not, it reinforces the otherness of that which is foreign. Aware of the linguist pitfalls, some biologists have turned to less emotional, less loaded terms such as neophyte (new plant) and neozoaire (new animal).

The example of “foreign” species is not insignificant. There is an eerie similarity between the Swiss blacklist of invasive animal and plant species — drafted by Switzerland as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity — and the unofficial blacklist of countries whose nationals are automatically denied long-term visas by the Federal Office of Immigration.

The affinity between social metaphors and distrust in that which is foreign plays a role on the level of fear and insecurity. Nostalgia for a lost original purity concerns both humans and non-humans, and plays on the ability of language to transport the meaning beyond the original intention. We must avoid the risks of blurring the line between immigration and the environment. It is worth recalling that in the darkest periods of European history, the classifying of people as “burdensome,” “foreign bodies” or a “threat to society” risked leading to their eventual extermination.
Read the original article in French
photo - Guy Leboutte

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