Archive for December, 2007

“Legal Fictions” Lithwick On the Flimsiest Bush Admin. Assertions of 2007

December 31, 2007

In Slate this week, Dahlia Lithwick covers “The Bush Administration’s Dumbest Legal Arguments of the Year.” The way things have been piling up, 365 days is more than enough time to forget a few whoppers. She covers  Gonzales, Libby, executive privilege, waterboarding, and a few that may have slipped your mind by now…

It’s also worth while to take a peek at her 2006 retrospective “The Bill of Wrongs: The 10 moHuffington3st outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006.” Wiretapping, anyone?

Other handy reminders are available via the Huffington Post:

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Changing Hearts: New Op-Ed Urges Pro-Life Pro-Choice “Partnership”

December 22, 2007

NARAL logo RH Reality Check has an interesting article by Anna Clark called “Changing Hearts, From Pro-Life to Pro-Choice.”

She chronicles her tale from fervid anti-choice to passionate pro-choice. And no, her change of heart does not involve her own (or any particular person’s) abortion.

What I love about this piece is that it humanizes the struggle itself. Clark dislikes the idea of two warring sides and laments that her ideas on reproductive rights would have changed much sooner had pro-choicers bothered to talk to her about their beliefs rather than eying her up as the enemy.

It’s difficult not to become enraged about the issue itself, but do we need to be constantly enraged at each other? Pro-choicers watch religious, political, and largely misogynistic rhetoric take away the right to our own bodies and futures (let alone our own personal and/or religious or spiritual beliefs.) Pro-lifers believe that sex-hungry women defile their bodies and wipe away their sin by conveniently aborting their innocent babies.

It’s emotional. It’s volatile. But is it, essentially, for the everyday women who find themselves on one side of the issue or the other, the truth? Are the assumptions made by each side about the other really what’s going on in the hearts and minds of women?

I would argue that it isn’t. That those at the polar extremes of the abortion issue speak the loudest and get the most media attention. And then I wonder if, when someone tells me she’s pro-life, it’s only my own smallness that causes my knee-jerk dislike, even disrespect for her.

Clark writes:

Enemy caricatures mask the greatest strength of pro-choice philosophy: inclusiveness.

Pro-choice society, like democratic society, is predicated on space for those who disagree. When we play sides, we forget there are no enemies in the vision we pursue. Our inclusiveness of those who choose not to have abortions, and even those who judge abortion to be morally wrong, is our movement’s power. When we approach anti-choicers as friends, not only do we act on the heart of our beliefs, but we create space for anti-choicers to become our allies.

I’m not sure how I feel about my ability to embrace the total inclusiveness thing, but women speaking openly and non-divisively to other women (and men) about this critical issue, can only be a good idea.

Students Active For Ending Rape – Donate Today

December 21, 2007

Safer Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) is a national non-profit based in NY, and in the next 24 hours you have a unique opportunity to help them raise a good chunk of change. If they receive the most unique donors between now and tomorrow (Saturday 12/22) at 3pm, they’ll win an extra $1,000 in Facebook’s Causes Giving Challenge.

Are you reading this too late? Donate anyway and if SAFER amasses the most unique donors in 50 days, they could win $50,000!

The contest is being run by a Facebook charity group called Causes, which was started by a couple of guys from Berkeley who founded Project Agape: “deploying a platform for large-scale political and social activism on the Internet.”

You have to register with Facebook if you don’t already have an account, and the minimum donation is $10. But the contest isn’t about dollar amounts, just the number of donors.

Still reluctant? Here’s what SAFER is all about. Keep in mind it’s run almost entirely by college students.

SAFER is a national nonprofit organization devoted to training grassroots student activists to win improvements in the sexual assault policies at their colleges and universities. Colleges often fail to provide students with basic services to deal with epidemic levels of sexual violence on campus. Survivors of sexual assault are retraumatized with unresponsive and unfair policies that often recreate the oppressions that lead to sexual violence. SAFER seeks to provide student activists with the tools they need to challenge university complacence regarding sexual assault.

SAFER was founded not simply to combat the problem of sexual assault, but to help reorganize the fragmented progressive movement by training a new generation of grassroots organizers. While right-wing organizations have spent millions training and developing their young leaders, progressive organizers lack the skills to combat a growing wave of rightist social control. Young progressives are often overwhelmed by the number of social problems they face, and find themselves unable to commit to one winnable campaign to improve the conditions of their lives.

SAFER believes that by focusing on one deeply felt issue and allowing young organizers to “practice” their skills within the political microcosms of their university communities, we can not only create a less racist, violent and misogynistic environment on college campuses, but also develop effective and experienced direct action organizers who will take their skills into the larger political sphere when they leave college.

In addition to educational resources that individually target students, faculty, and parents, SAFER has two main projects. The Stories Project encourages survivors to tell their stories, not only to break their devastating silences, but also to demonstrate the depth and pervasiveness of sexual violence on college campuses. The Policies Database Project documents sexual assault policies of campuses all over the country for eventual analysis and publication. They’re looking to hire law students to speed the database along (if you know any), and for that and so much more, they need $$$!

“Anti-gay amendments are the Happy Meal toy of Republican politics.” – A Meandering Post on Gay & Women’s Rights

December 14, 2007

F4m_2 “Anti-gay amendments are the Happy Meal toy of Republican politics.” So says Chris Kelly, who has a good piece in Huffington today about Florida introducing a new Marriage Protection Amendment on the 2008 ballot. Forgive the dripping sarcasm, he makes a good point.

So come on down! And while you’re in there, marking the magic X that proves you’re not a homo — and that your life wasn’t a squalid waste of everyone’s time, because at least you got yerself hitched — why not also vote for a Republican president?

Something for you. Something for the GOP. It’s a get-out-the-vote win/win.

The amendment is being pushed by John Stemberger head of Florida4Marriage, which according to Kelly is

a Republican front group, run by a personal injury lawyer, to lure gay-hating boobs into the voting booths next November.

Although the the Federal “Defense” of Marriage Act applies to Florida, this push for a change to the state constitution is a “just in case” measure to firm up wording that clever homosexuals may, at some point in the future, use to challenge the definition of marriage and ultimately subject children to the “vast, untested social experiment” that is same sex marriage.

They get much of their support material from “Focus on the Family” who, when not embroiled against the ignoble war on Christmas, is propagating the gay-is-evil Christian world view with gems like these

  • No society needs homosexual coupling. In fact, too much of it would be harmful to society and that is why natural marriage and same-sex coupling cannot be considered socially equal.
  • It is an affront to African-Americans to say having past generations being prevented from taking a drink from a public water fountain or being sprayed down by fire hoses in a public park was on par to laws preventing a man from marrying another man. The comparison is shameful.
  • Supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) did not just dream up the need for such an amendment. We have been forced into this battle because a very small few want to constitutionally redefine marriage for all of us. Same-sex activists brought this fight to all of us. (Er…”very small few?”)

A little more digging at family.org, and I discovered the predictably misogynistic take on heterosexual marriage. The best bits are “What I Didn’t Know About Men – Seven Revelations“. These include – men need respect, men are providers, men want more sex, and…

Men care about appearance.
What that means in practice: You don’t need to be a size 3, but your man does need to see you making the effort to take care of yourself — and he will take on significant cost or inconvenience in order to support you.

There’s plenty more, of course, including a the follow-up section “You Are Her Prince Charming“, but you can check it out yourself, if you’re so inclined.

Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 3 – The Healing & What You Can Do to Help]

December 13, 2007

Lumo_lumo_stares If you want an intimate glimpse into the lives of victimized women fighting to reclaim their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, start with Lumo – One Woman’s Struggle to Heal in a Country Beset by War.

This documentary details the story of then 20 year-old Lumo Sinai who, like tens or hundreds of thousands of others, was violently gang-raped and left for dead by militants in the DRC.

The Goma Film Project gives the following synopsis:

Lumo is a feature-length documentary about a young Congolese woman on an uncertain path to recovery at a unique hospital for rape survivors.

The agonies of war torn Africa are deeply etched in the bodies of women. In eastern Congo, vying militias, armies and bandits use rape as a weapon of terror.

Recently engaged to a young man from her village, 20 year-old Lumo Sinai couldn’t wait to have children and start a family. But when she crossed paths with marauding soldiers who brutally attacked her, she was left with a fistula — a condition that has rendered her incontinent and threatens her ability to give birth in the future. Rejected by her fiancé and cast aside by her family, Lumo found her way to the one place that may save her: a hospital for rape survivors set on the border with Rwanda.

Buoyed by the love of the hospital staff, and a formidable team of wise women known to all as “the Mamas,” Lumo and her friends keep the hope of one day resuming their former lives, thanks to an operation that can restore them fully to health. A feisty young woman with a red comb perpetually jutting from her hair, Lumo faces the challenge of recovery with remarkable courage and sass. As she and her friends recover from surgery, they pass the days by gossiping and sharing their dreams of one day finding love.

But when it looks like her operation may have failed, Lumo’s faith is thrown entirely into question.

On this uncertain road to recovery, Lumo shows that the solidarity of women can bind the most irreparable of wounds.

American filmmakers Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Nelson Walker III take a unique approach that grants them the unlikely trust and acceptance of these brutalized women. They encourage the women to pick up a camera and participate in the filming (not unlike Ann Jones providing women with a means of self-expression and independence through photography in Cote d’Ivoire).

The filmmakers held nightly screening sessions, which both amazed and inspired the community of healing women. They also gave the women freedom to film whenever they chose and ensured that whenever a woman preferred not to be filmed, anyone with a camera desisted immediately and without question.

The film is shot in an observational style with no additional narration; the women themselves tell the story.

The culmination of these choices produces a striking result. The women pay little attention to the camera and the viewer is left with the astonishing “fly on the wall” privilege of looking into these women’s lives: their horrific tales, their broken bodies, their fight to reclaim a piece of happiness, of purpose, their laughter, their jokes, their support, their jealousies, their triumphs, and their despair.

The film follows the women through their process of healing, both physically and psychologically, but it is careful not to paint a fairytale of recovery. When women heal from successful fistula surgeries, they leave the safety of the hospital and re-enter a climate rife with sexual violence and instability. Many times a woman’s rapists will still have control of her village when she returns. It is not uncommon for a woman to heal and return months later with further injuries.

Few hospitals exist to help these women, and those that do are underfunded, under supplied, and understaffed.

At the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, Dr. Denis Mukwege is the only physician in a facility of 300 beds, most of which are filled with women waiting surgery to repair traumatic fistulas. Ironically, the hospital was founded as an operating room and maternity ward to serve the many women in southern Bukavu who have no assess to obstetric care. It was soon apparent, however, that the greater need was care for the growing number of victims of sexual violence.

Eve Ensler, founder of v-day.org, wrote an extensive piece about her visit to DRC and Panzi, published in (of all places) Glamour Magazine. She begins the article with

I have just returned from hell. I am trying for the life of me to figure out how to communicate what I have seen and heard in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to Erika Beckman, project manager for PMU Interlife, in an email to Susannah at The Reverse Cowgirl

…we receive approx. 200 rape victims a month at the hospital. We have both in-patients (women with more severe wounds) who reside at the hospital, and out-patients (less severe wounds) that stay in our “transit homes” where they are taken care of in-between treatments at the hospital. All women that come here receive the treatment, operations and training for free. Their children they might have with them are also cared for, as well as accompanying relatives or neighbours.

Women stay here on average 30 days for treatment, many women need multiple operations to be rehabilitated, and many need to heal in between the operations too. During their stay here, the women are taught how to read and write, they are taught different handicrafts and how to be self-sustainable. They are also given legal counselling and guided by lawyers if they wish to press charges against their perpetrators. (Currently we have 14 cases pending, but sadly because of the weak judicial system in DR Congo, perpetrators are always let off the hook).

The best evidence of the importance we have on the raped women that we treat is that many have told me that they would not have survived if they did not come to Panzi. Many women are, as you can understand, suicidal after the rape, but here at Panzi, except for medical treatment, they are also given their value back by our excellent staff and fellow victims who support each other, sing together to relieve the pain, work together on handicrafts and laugh together. They are truly amazing at finding small things to be happy about in life and really encourage each other in this way. [Em.mine]

The Panzi hospital, in partnership with V-Day and Unicef, is raising funds for a City of Joy.

City of Joy will be a refuge for healed women, survivors of rape and torture who have been left without family and community. City of Joy will offer a safe haven, providing educational and income-generating opportunities, and support women in becoming the next leaders of the DRC.

Donate through v-day here.

Lumo was filmed in the HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma. HEAL Africa (Health, Education, Community Action, and Leadership Development) started as a part of Doctors on Call to Service (DOCS) and is now run by Dr Jo Lusi and his wife Lyn. They work to train Congolese medical staff, counselors and activists on dealing with issues like gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS.

As seen in the film, they send one of the “Mamas” into the countryside with a truck, rounding up women with traumatic fistulas and transporting them to the hospital. Although women often have had no idea that help was available, they remain terrified and many need to be persuaded to make the journey to the hospital.

To help the women re-integrate into communities that had ostracized them, HEAL Africa sends the women home bearing valuable gifts such as seeds and a gardening hoe, or a pair of ducks or a goat. The women also return with new self-sustainment skills that increase their value to the village. Many become literate during their stay at the hospital.

Donate to HEAL Africa here, and they’ll tell you what each dollar amount will buy. For example, $20 buys a sewing kit for a woman who has learned tailoring skills, $50 pays for tuition and supplies to send one child to primary school for a year, $300 pays for a woman’s fistula surgery.

Donate. Write a letter to Congolese officials (v-day has a template). Link to a blog or article. TALK to people. Tell them what’s going on and what they can do.

Act now. It’s so easy for most of us. Just act.

See also Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo: [Part 1 – History of the Conflict] & [Part 2 – The Savagery]

Gang Rape Isn’t A Crime When…

December 11, 2007

Two disturbing items in the news today.

Contractors in Iraq Answer to No One (again)

ABC News is reporting on Jamie Leigh Jones, then 20, who was drugged and gang-raped by mJonesidale Halliburton/KBR co-workers after working only four days in the Green Zone in Iraq. She had earlier requested to be moved from an almost all-male barracks, and was told to “go to a spa.” (To what? Relax?)

After the rape she was locked in a shipping container and warned that if she sought medical help, or revealed to anyone what had happened, she would lose her job.

Eventually, Jones was able to contact her father via cell phone and tell what happened, which led to the State Department’s involvement to dispatch members of the US Embassy in Baghdad to rescue her from the container.

The rape kit with evidence of the attack had “disappeared” since being shipped from Iraq to Washington through KBR security. Although later recovered, it was missing vital photos and doctors notes.

Two years later, not a single charge has been filed.

Read her story in her own words here.

ABC reports

The Justice Department has brought no criminal charges in the matter. In fact, ABC News could not confirm any federal agency was investigating the case.

Legal experts say Jones’ alleged assailants will likely never face a judge and jury, due to an enormous loophole that has effectively left contractors in Iraq beyond the reach of United States law.

She has recently filed a civil suit against both Halliburton (who says it’s improperly named) and KBR (who says no external investigation is necessary because they’re handling it all themselves…) Her lawyer, Todd Kelley, feels that

KBR and Halliburton created a “boys will be boys” atmosphere at the company barracks which put her and other female employees at great risk.

“I think that men who are there believe that they live without laws,” said Kelly. “The last thing she should have expected was for her own people to turn on her.”

Three other female KBR employees have also come forward.

And…

The 10-Year Old Was Asking For It…

The Guardian reported today on the rape of a ten-year old aboriginal Australian girl by nine males aged 14-26. Queensland District Court judge Sarah Bradley gave suspended sentences and probation for the rapists, one of whom was a repeat sex offender, because – in her own words – the girl

“…probably agreed to have sex with all of you.”

Probably? Agreed? A ten year old child. Nine men.

Wrap deep-seated racism in deep-seated sexism and I suppose you come up with thinking like this.

Australia has been attempting to address the “toxic levels” of sexual abuse against Aboriginal children following the Northern Territories’ June 2007 report “Little Children Are Sacred“, which details the “endemic proportions” of sexual abuse.

Widespread disgust and outrage has ensued since the late October sentencing, and Queensland’s attorney-general, Kerry Shine, plans to appeal Bradley’s decision.

Although the Prime-Minister is “appalled and disgusted”, the town’s Mayor oddly refused to comment on the case, saying only “I think this is all a lot of crap,” and asserting that Aboriginals are really the ones with power. The men are said to have come from affluent families and Mayor Pootchamunka seemed afraid that further comment would imply his involvement in the light sentencing.

Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 2 – The Savagery]

December 7, 2007

Drc

It is difficult to write this section because what I am about to describe is nearly unimaginable. But it is true and it is happening. Not to one woman. Not to ten, or one hundred, or one thousand. Not to ten thousand. It’s happening to hundreds of thousands of women throughout the DRC. It is happening right now, this second, as you read this.

Women, children, babies. Raped, tortured, mutilated. Many times in front of their families. Many times for days on end. They are gang raped. They are raped with objects. Sticks. Rocks. Bayonets. Guns. They are raped with the sheer intent to destroy – body and soul. Women have had firearms discharged into their vaginas, blowing out their female anatomy, yet surviving. Girls under the age of three, women over eighty.

Women are left with wounds, infections, STDs, and traumatic fistulas. A traumatic fistula is a tear in the wall between the vagina and the bladder and/or the rectum, leaving the woman entirely incontinent.

Having been raped these women are frequently and “justifiably” abandoned by their husbands. Bearing the stench of incontinence, they are often ostracized by their villages. Unable to bear children, they lose their primary value as mother or wife.

Individual stories are nearly unbearable to hear. Congolese human rights activist Christine Schuler Deshchyver describes:

Babies. The last baby who was raped, it was in April. She was ten months old, so a very small baby. She was raped. The same gang raped the mother during two weeks. Then they came to Bukavu into my office. I wanted to bring the baby to the hospital, but she was so injured she died in my arms. Ten months—can you imagine that? And these people, these women in Congo, are just begging for life, not begging for money, just the right to live in their country safely.

The New York TimWabulasaes recently reported:

“I still have pain and feel chills,” said Kasindi Wabulasa, who was raped in February by five men. The men held an AK-47 rifle to her husband’s chest and made him watch, telling him that if he closed his eyes, they would shoot him. When they were finished, Ms. Wabulasa said, they shot him anyway.

***

Honorata Barinjibanwa, 18, […] said she was kidnapped from a village […] raided in AprilHonorata Photo from NYTimes and kept as a sex slave until August. Most of that time she was tied to a tree, and she still has rope marks ringing her delicate neck. The men would untie her for a few hours each day to gang-rape her, she said. […] She is also pregnant.

The HRW report cites a Congolese doctor in eastern DRC specialising in the treatment of rape victims:

In peacetime, the demands on Congolese women are limitless; but in this war, the most insane fantasies have found their expression. When seven soldiers rape a women or little girl, and thrust a knife or fire shots into her vagina, for them the woman is no longer a human being, she is an object. And since there are no longer any laws or rules, combatants pour out their anger and their madness on to women and little girls.”

(more…)

“Like Rwanda, but Worse” – Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 1: History of the Conflict]

December 7, 2007

Women in the People’s Democratic of Congo have been enduring barbaric sexual atrocities duringCongo2 the country’s violent civil unrest for more than a decade. Yet the western world seems to hardly have noticed. This is the first in an ongoing series documenting the situation in a country where women and children are inhumanly brutalized, where even the most unimaginable forms of rape have become common weapons of war.

Many are questioning how this level of sexual violence grew to such dramatic proportions. Although atrocities and rape in wartime are common, U.N. leaders consider the intensity and prevalence of horrors in the Congo to be “the worst in the world.”

It’s interesting to note that, according to a recent NY Times article

Many Congolese aid workers denied that the problem was cultural and insisted that the widespread rapes were not the product of something ingrained in the way men treated women in Congolese society. “If that were the case, this would have showed up long ago,” said Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu.

Contrarily, an Amnesty International report asserts that it is precisely women’s lower societal status that allows for this type of targeting in wartime.

“When you lift the stone of sexual violence, you will find another stone of the treatment of women more generally, which is effectively slavery. Women do everything: they walk miles for food or water, they care for the children, they cook, they clean, they cultivate the land and they earn the family income… That is the female condition in the Congo. “

— Expatriate woman psychologist working in DRC, interviewed by AI

In the very least, Congolese law leaves nowhere for these women to turn as crimes of rape, torture, mutilation, kidnapping, and sexual slavery are committed with nearly 100% impunity.

A 2002 HRW report summarizes women’s status in Congolese society.

Even before the war in Congo, women and girls were second class citizens. The law as well as social norms defined the role of women and girls as subordinate to men. Although women are often a major-if not the major-source of support for the family, the Congolese Family Code requires them to obey their husbands who are recognized as the head of the household.

Women and girls are also subordinate by custom and practice. A woman’s status depends on being married and girls tend to marry at a young age. It is generally considered more important to educate boys than girls[…] Literacy statistics for Congo (also) show gender-specific discrimination.

Male household heads often settle violent crimes against women and girls outside the courts. Some have “resolved” rape cases by accepting a money payment from the perpetrator or his family or by arranging to have the perpetrator marry the victim. […]

Women and girls who are raped suffer significant loss of social status[…] In cases of the death of women and girls by murder or negligence, the family of the victim sometimes agrees to accept the equivalent of a woman’s bride price as compensation and does not pursue the case further.

Congolese views about women and the issue of sexual violence were clearly demonstrated in 2005 when UNICEF spearheaded the first march against sexual violence in the boarder city of Goma. Hundreds of brutalized women donned black head scarves and nervously took to the streets. In a PBS interview, American filmmaker Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt describes the event:

…the march ended up being more chaotic than we imagined because every one of the bystanders, male or female, heckled the women marching. Their position was, “Why are you doing this? This is stupid. What is sexual violence?” On an official level, there aren’t any adequate laws against rape, and no one has been convicted of rape in 40 years, other than three or four people who were not soldiers.

Let’s take a quick look at how the climate in the Congo escalated to create an atmosphere conducive to these horrors.

(more…)

Women in War Zones – Ann Jones Blogs “16 Days” from Cote d’Ivoire

December 3, 2007

Check out the fabulous writer/photographer/activist Ann Jones as she blogs for 16-Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (Nov 25 – Dec 10). She’s in the Cote d’Ivoire with the International Rescue Committee in an effort to “give women in war zones the opportunity to speak, loudly and clearly.”

The IRC hopes to encourage national reconciliation by working in three different areas, serving three different populations with different needs. But what all three sites have in common is strong programs in “Violences Basees sur le Genre”—Gender-Based Violence.

Why? The answer is painfully simple. In any war, women and children are the principal victims. Offer any humanitarian program to assist people violated, deprived, damaged, or displaced by war and you find yourself serving women and their children, all of whom, in one way or another, have been victims of the violence of war and of additional violence done to them as women.

She will blog once a day through December 10th. Check it out. And don’t miss the post where she teaches the women how to use digital cameras.Annjones_cotedivoire

Then I send the teams out to take photos. They huddle to consult with each other about the cameras. Is it this button, or that? How hard must I push?

The first team finds a subject. One woman holds the camera firmly, as I’ve taught them, and points it. All heads converge at the viewing screen. What next? A teammate reaches over the camera-holder’s shoulder to depress the shutter button. An icon appears on the screen to indicate whether the subject is in focus. “It’s green! It’s green!” say the team mates. “Push! Push!” The button-pusher’s finger comes down. “Click!” The women scream. They jump up and down. They throw their arms around each other while the camerawoman holds the tiny camera aloft for safekeeping.

Priceless.

*** Further Reading ***
CÔTE D’IVOIRE – Targeting women: The forgotten victims of the conflict

The IRC – How You Can Help

Ann Jones Bio

Exonerated – “What is a Person Worth?”

December 2, 2007

Exonerated

The Times did a short piece on falsely-convicted prisoners who are freed in light of DNA evidence after years, sometimes decades in prison. Twenty-eight states offer these citizens no financial compensation and most offer no programs to help them reclaim their lives.

Although the article cites two men paid over $300,000 and over $1 million, this is the exception. Of the 22 states that do offer financial recompense, the amounts vary from $5,000 per year, max $25,000 (WI) to $100 per day (CA).

The impetus to shell-out to the wrongly-imprisoned is hampered by the inclination to focus on the previous records of some prisoners, or to view the prisoner as a perfectly plausible criminal, innocent of this particular crime, but likely guilty of unknown others.

When pressed, politicians find it hard to deny that the innocent who will never regain the life they would otherwise have known deserve ample compensation. However, state Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone of Pennsylvania, co-chairman of that state’s House Judiciary Committee, asks

“Once you open up those floodgates, where do you get all the money to pay for these falsely charged people? How much money is it going to require? How much is a person worth?”

The NY Times reports on an internal study of 137 exonerated prisoners following their release:

The New York Times found about half of them struggling — drifting from job to job, dependent on others for housing or battling deep emotional scars. More than two dozen ended up back in prison or addicted to drugs or alcohol.

“Some people feel, ‘All right, it’s over now. You’re out, you’re free, so what are you complaining about? What’s the problem?’ ” said Darryl Hunt, exonerated in North Carolina after serving 18 years for murder.

“The problem is that we’re free physically,” he said. “But mentally, we’re still living the nightmare every day.”

*** Further Reading ***

Life After Exoneration

Larry Peterson: Beyond Exoneration

What Do States Owe the Exonerated?

The Innocence Project

Burden of Innocence – Frontline, PBS Online

Sexy Blonde Convinces Your Man to Spend Big & Spend Right This Christmas

December 2, 2007

Slhelper

An article in the Wall Street Journal alerted me to a new service retailers offer women shoppers. (Yes, according to the article it’s all women and it exclusively targets those who buy them gifts – their men and their grandmothers.)

Apparently a woman creates a wish list at the participating boutique of her choice and sales reps from said boutique call the unsuspecting husband, boyfriend, father, or grandmother and inform them what to buy her for the holidays.

Ugh. Okay, whatever. But the site Net-A-Porter takes it one step further. “Santa’s Little Helper” is a customizable video clip to be emailed to your man (sorry grandmas) detailing what you’d like to see under the tree.

You get to pick from cute little sobriquets like “Honey Bunny”, “Captain”, “Stud”, and “Big Boy”, and choose your personality/body type – “Stylish/Curvaceous”, “Devious/Leggy”, “Minxy/Petite”. Next you pick three qualities from a terribly macho list of adjectives (one of which is, actually, “macho”) to describe your man. Is he “rich”? “Accomplished?” “Attentive?” “Housebroken?”

Now you get to choose his ultimate nightmare (good one, no?) — “aesthetic downfall”, “financial ruin”, “global disaster”, and what he would most like to win – “X-factor”, “the Superbowl”, “Scrabble”.

Finally, from a drop-down list of six items, you choose “what you really want.” Your choices? ”

  • A cocktail ring
  • A fabulous tote
  • A pair of Louboutins
  • A slinky party dress
  • Some gilded Jimmy Choos
  • Dangly earrings.

What more would a woman want?

Another click and your blonde 007-ish temptress will use her velvety voice and ego-stroking skills to lure your man to perfect holiday purchases with phrases like “She’s lucky to have a man like you,” and “if she’s happy, you’re happy.”

The email comes attached with your specific requests – complete with links to where he can whip out his American Express Gold Card and go to town.

I suppose I’m not exactly offended by this, after all it’s hitting its demographic square in the wallet, which is its aim. I guess it must be the demographic itself that I find so appalling.

The WSJ article quotes a 24 year old woman explaining the beneficial effect retail sales calls have on her father

“If it’s someone else telling him about it, he won’t respond like, ‘Oh, that’s too expensive…This time, he may be more likely to go in and look at my items without passing judgment.”

Some men loved the idea, admitting themselves clueless to the intricacies of their wives material desires (one NFL player cringes recalling how he once purchased a Luis Vuitton bag for his wife that she – gasp – already owned!) and so corporately busy that this makes life easy.

I guess so. But I can’t help feeling disturbed. Could it be because I don’t know the meaning of phrases like “cocktail ring” and “pair of Louboutins”?

“Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.” World AIDS Day 2007

December 1, 2007

AidsribbinsvgLiving in the United States today, it might seem like the ravages of HIV infection and AIDS are largely contained. After all, it’s treatable, behaviorally preventable, and I don’t know anyone dying from it…

…yet today still 70% of (HIV) infected people don’t have access to life saving therapies. Many still face stigma, economic deprivation and rejection because of their infection. Many still don’t have access to basic information or simple interventions that will reduce risk. This is not the time for complacency nor apathy. It is the time for compassionate leadership that recognises that the voiceless are often those who suffer most- who can they turn to if their leaders do not listen and heed their cries.

–Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M Tutu

The truth is every day 6,000 people die from AIDS. Of the 33 million people infected with HIV, more than 25 million of them are in Africa. 2.3 million are children, not including the number of uninfected children under five years of age who’ve lost a parent to AIDS and now face a lower survival rate due to poverty and abandonment issues.

Maybe you’ve been tested for HIV, but try this AIDS test, and in the very first question you’ll learn that AIDS claims as many lives as American fatalities in the Vietnam War – every single week.

Here’s some perspective – to date AIDS has killed the equivalent of the populations of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin combined. Think of the entire population of your child’s school. The population of your home town. The nearest city. Every single person dead. Now think of five cities. Twenty cities. A state. Three states. Three states. 25 million people.

Now remember that 33 million people are currently infected and nearly two-thirds of these are not receiving treatment.

How many more statefuls of people need to die before we, as individuals, do something to help? Maybe you’re already helping. But if you’re not – why are you waiting?

Donate here, or here, or here. Raise Money. Do eBay. Volunteer. Buy stuff. Walk. Bug a politician.

It may be tempting to view AIDS as less of a threat than it once was. While technically true, it’s still killing at an alarming, and in many areas, growing rate.

2007 marks the first World AIDS Day able to celebrate real progress against the disease. The global total had been holding at about 40 million in the late nineties and since then the rate of new infections has also decreased. Antiretroviral drugs have been largely successful in treating HIV and efforts to bring medicines to developing nations is beginning to pay off.

Nevertheless, despite these advances, experts warn that, though we’ve won some battles, we’re still losing the war. According to an AFP article

“Despite substantial progress against AIDS worldwide, we are still losing ground,” says James Shelton of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in a commentary appearing today in The Lancet, a London medical journal.

Despite progress in the drug rollout, treatment is still only available to about 10 per cent of those in need, notes Shelton.

In developing countries, “the number of new infections continues to dwarf the numbers who start antiretroviral therapy in developing countries”, he says. [Em. mine]

More info – ways to help:

AVERT - AIDS charity
Stop AIDS in Children

Global Health Reporting – Comprehensive list of AIDS organizations.

Avert – US AIDS organizations, by state.