Admirable Women – Good Morning, Conflict Zone

9 03 2011

Real, serious reporting is getting rarer by the day, replaced with sensationalistic garbage passed off as the unbiased and unvarnished truth even though it sometimes requires a suspension of rational thinking in order to accept. Still the are some brave people who are still willing to the story itself, no matter where it is taking place. You turn on the TV, channel surf until you find some real reporting, and there they are. And some are women. It sounds silly, almost diminishing at this point in history, to separate them from their male counterparts, especially considering I have never known it to be any other way. There have always been women reporting and the quality of their work has not varied from that of their male colleagues, however, while the work is of the same caliber and done in the same way, the job can be much different and it has nothing to do with those reporters. Some of the places where news is being made aren’t good places to be a woman, let alone a woman with a job which requires her to interact with men and be seen as an equal. That makes an already dangerous line of work much more perilous. Yet they still go. In many of these same places simply being both a reporter and a female is enough to endanger your life. In addition to the issues that face women specifically, there are also the problems faced by every reporter who is in harm’s way. Pushing the boundaries does make for edgy work, but it doesn’t make very popular with those with power and influence or with government officials. There is also the biggest danger – the danger that they will get on the wrong side of someone who has not qualms about injuring or killing them to keep them quiet. Below are some women who have endured much to deliver the news no matter how challenging or dangerous it was to report, or how unpopular it was with those with power and/or weapons. This post really doesn’t do justice to them or those who I was unable to mention, but I have tried to at least make a decent effort.

 

As and investigative reporter, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya covered stories of human rights abuses the plight of ethnic minorities. She spoke out against the way Chechen citizens were treated by the pro-Kremlin officials and military there. In one case she not only reported on the attack on an old people’s home in Grozny, but was able to help instigate the evacuation of its residents with her reporting and her popularity. She is probably best known in the West for her criticism of the Putin regime. She accused them of limiting civil liberties. As you can imagine, none of this earned her many friends in high places. She received death threats regularly. While in Chechnya in late 2001, she was interrogated, beaten, threatened with rape, and subjected to a mock execution. In 2004 she became very ill and many suspected that she had been poisoned. She recovered and continued reporting. In 2006, she was found dead in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow. Her murder remains unsolved and several others connected with her work were killed shortly after her death. This is an article written two years later about the difficulties of other Russian women in the journalistic field in the wake of her death.

Marie Colvin is a correspondent for the UK Sunday Times and has been one for over twenty years. She has cover conflicts in the Balkans, Chechnya, East Timor, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, and pretty much anywhere else things are blowing up. She was on CNN reporting from Libya last week. Though I can find tons of her work, I can’t find any biographical profiles. This piece, written in 2000 for the American Journalism Review, and this five-year-old article from the New York Daily News are the best I could do. I love her work because she goes places few will and stays after most leave. Such actions make good copy, but some with serious risk to life and limb. In 1999, Ms. Colvin lost her left eye while covering the Sri Lankan civil war in an incident which reads remarkably like a set up. Her work has not gone without recognition. In 2010, Ms. Colvin won the British Press Award for Best Foreign Journalist of the Year.

When many of us think of censorship we think of China. Indeed  it seems like they have quietly turned the systematic suppression of information into an art form. Such is the case with Tibetan writer and blogger Tsering Woeser. Her story is less violent, but no less important. Throughout her career she has been fired from her job as a reporter, interrogated, forced into “self-exile”, placed under house arrest, had her various internet accounts  and blogs hacked or shut down. Her movement within China as well as her ability to leave it are restricted and she is under constant surveillance. She has not stopped writing and has become one of China’s best sources of news about Tibet.

Nepalese reporter Uma Singh paid for her reporting on the turbulent politics of her country with her life in 2009. In her very brief career, she took on the problems of corruption and inequality, sparing no group or faction that bore guilt. A witness who overheard the brutal attack said one of the murders was yelling “This is for writing so much.” As far as I know, the crime remains unsolved. The writer of the article I linked to quotes a piece by Kanak Mani Dixit, editor of Himal magazine and I find this one statement tragically, beautifully, perfect. “Uma Singh died alone and amidst horrific cruelty, a fighter for democracy.”

Chouchou Namegabe never intended to shake the Democratic Republic of the Congo with her radio news broadcasts, but that is what she does. In a nation where rape and other atrocities more sadistic than most horror film scenarios are committed against women and are considered perfectly acceptable weapons of war Ms. Namegabe gives these women as voice by airing their graphic stories and by co-founding the South Kivu Women’s Media Association, an organization which advocates gender equity in all areas of life and women’s involvement in the media.

Claudia Duque, an investigative reporter from Radio Nizkor in Columbia who works on politically and socially taboo subjects, has spent years being hunted by her country’s secret police. She has lived in exile three different times but she always returns to Columbia. In the early 2000’s, she was researching the murder of political humorist Jaime Garzón, she discovered that the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) had tampered with evidence in the case. Since then she has continued to receive death threats relating to that case. A contract hit had been put on her and her daughter has been targeted as well. Last year she disclosed documents that indicate that the Columbian president was aware of the DAS actions taken against her, 15 other journalists, and 300 other people including political opponents.

Jila Baniyaghoob is the editor-in-chief of the website Kanoon Zanan Irani (Iranian Women’s Center) and a freelance journalist reporting on the social and political issue facing her highly restrictive country with a particular focus on women’s issue. She’s been beaten up, arrested, and jailed numerous times and has spent a significant portion of her career getting fired for shedding light on issues that many found taboo. She has spent time in Evin prison in Tehran, including a stay in a wing run by the Intelligence Ministry where she was interrogated and placed in isolation. Most recently, in July of 2009, she was arrested for covering the protests. She was sentenced to a year in jail and was banned from writing for thirty years. She was released on bail after a month.

Iryna Khalip is a reporter and editor at the Minsk office of Novaya Gazeta, the same newspaper that Anna Politkovsaya worked for until her death. She has been beaten, interrogated, and arrested, and is kept under surveillance. Her most recent arrest came after the recent elections in Belarus in which the current president, of whom Ms. Khalip is an outspoken critic, won a fourth term in office with a landslide 80% of the vote which many in Belarus and around the world found questionable. After his victory, Ms. Khalip and her husband who had run against him in the elections were both arrested. The government also questioned whether the grandmother the couple’s son was living with was able to properly care for him, a statement many interpreted as a veiled threat to take the boy from his family. After over a month in prison, she was released at the end of January 2011, but immediately put under house arrest. She still may face a 15 year sentence. Her husband remains in prison.

Sahar al-Haideri was a reporter in Mosul who courageously covered the rise of Islamic extremism in her city. She discussed some of their more absurd beliefs like how certain vegetables, which they saw as representing different genders, had to be served on separate plates – and the their ugly, brutal tactics when it came to the subjugation of women like so-called “honor killings” and the targeting of well-known professional women for assassination by extremist organizations. Not all of her work was focused on women, but much of it was. There are links to some of it here. She had moved her family to Syria, but she herself returned to Mosul to continue her work. In June 2007 she was gunned down as she left her home .

Anges Taile gives a voice to many problems that many in her country of Cameroon find hard to discuss. Her broadcasts on corruption, separatist aspirations among some in the English-speaking community, and issues regarding the army earned her threats on her life. In 2006, she was abducted from her home at knifepoint, beat her severely, nearly strangled her to death, and left her for dead in a ditch. For a time she was unable to speak. Once her voice returned, she was back to reporting. In 2008, she reported on the riots in Chad. She was one of the few journalist from outside the country to cover the riots and her reports were retransmitted for those outside Cameroon.

If you watch the news here in the US with any regularity, you’ve probably seen Christiane Amanpour. She gained notoriety for her work in the first Gulf War and the Bosnian War. During a telephone interview with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader hung up on her in one of her more memorable interview moments. She’s been just about anywhere news has been breaking for about the last twenty years. She has interviewed Tony Blair, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Prevez Musharraf, Hillary Clinton, and Mikhail Gorbachev among many, many others. Two weeks ago she once again got a big assignment – interviewing Muanmar Gaddafi and his sons as the Libyan Revolution raged.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Aye Aye Win does not shy away from danger in order to report on protests and other events not covered by the state media in Burma (which the governing military junta calls Myanmar). She and her husband, also a journalist are constantly monitored by the government. This has led her to become adept at using disguises in order to blend in with large crowds. The government’s harassment of her, she gives a voice to all sides in her pieces. In 2000, she traveled with pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi until she was stopped from doing so. She is also one of only a handful of women involved in Burmese journalism – at the time this article was written there were only five.

Farida Nekzad is the co-founder and managing editor of Pajhwok Afghan News, the leading independent news agency in Afghanistan, and the vice president of the South Asia Media Commission. In whichever role she finds herself in, she keeps a special focus on women’s issues. Her stories of acts of repression and violence against women, including those committed by the warlords known as mujahedeen have led to calls for her death. In 2006 she barely escaped a kidnapper. She was taking a taxi from one job to another when she noticed the car wasn’t going the right way. She jumped from the vehicle, sustaining minor injuries but living to write another day. She now switches cars and changes her schedule often to try to stay safe. She also sleeps in different rooms in her home. She continues to write and publish pieces that highlight the obstacles faced by Afghan women and she supports and encourages women to become journalists.

This is Tal al-Mallouhi. She’s from Syria. She is not a journalist. She was summoned to appear in Damascus for interrogation, presumably for some blog posts. Yes, blog posts. Tal al-Mallouhi is a 20-year-old blogger and also prisoner of conscience in Syria. She was jailed in Damascus and two days later, State Security agents went to her home and confiscated her computer, books, cd’s, and other personal items. She was held for months without charge and was then sentenced to five years in prison for espionage. So what was subversive content was she filling her blog with? Poetry and some thoughts on politics, many of which were about the Israel/Palestine situation. She was doing what I and many others – perhaps even you – do all the time. She is still in prison. The US State Department, among many, many others, has called for her release.

On this women’s day, rather than talk about some politician or starlet. I thought it was more important to highlight women fighting for the right to do what many of us take for granted and fighting to better their world in the process. I realize some of these women are obscure and that’s sort of the point. The South Kivu Women’s Media Association is on Facebook, but there are only 22 people following what they do even though so many people thing that I attacks on women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are beyond appalling.

If what I’ve written here interests you, these group have far more information than I can supply you with. This is the link to Reporters Without Borders a nonprofit, international organization focused on freedom of the press around the world. This is the link to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting and this one for the International Women’s Media Foundation. This isn’t the celebratory Women’s Day post I had thought about putting together but I think it’s more important.

Happy Women’s Day (It’s belated. Sorry!) from me.





And the Dumbass Award Goes to… The Naked WikiLeaker Guy

6 03 2011

I’ll get back to posting about admirable women later today, but I need to indulge my bruised self-esteem for a moment. Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time knows that things don’t tend to go my way. For those of you who are new I’m overweight, unemployed, living at home, and am extremely pessimistic about much of that changing in the foreseeable future. That kind of outlook can make anyone depressed, but occasionally something happens to reminds me that I am, in fact smarter than some people. When it’s on the comic side, I share it. Such was the case today as I, feeling rather nauseous and “blue” (which, as a synesthete, is actually a warm-tone grey for me, but if I say “I feel grey,” no one knows what I’m talking about), I came across this article from Politico. apparently, Bradley Manning, the Marine Pfc. that is facing preliminary charges in the case of that massive load of State Dept. cables which found their way to WikiLeaks several months ago, decided that a military prison was a good place to have an attitude. The article cites a blog post made by Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, as saying that, in response to being told that his being held in isolation stemmed from that possibility that he would harm himself, Pfc. Manning sarcastically stated that, if he wanted to hurt himself, he could do so with the elastic from his underwear or his flip-flops or just about anything. Well, those in charge took him at his word and now he has to seven hours (overnight) naked for his own safety.

Now, I don’t condone any inhumane treatment of anyone. There will be a trial and a verdict because that is how we dispense justice in this country. I’m not bothered by this though, because what he did is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of. Saying “I could kill myself with with my underoos if I wanted to,” while in prison and after having been deemed a risk to your safety is right up there on the Idiot Meter with saying “Pardon me, sir, but could you be more gentle? I have an explosive in my rectum at the moment,” to a TSA screener. You will regret that statement in a big, bad, possibly painful way. Those with a duty to protect people have to take these things seriously no matter how asinine they may seem because that’s their job. If he had meant what he said and had made a suicide attempt or hurt himself in some other way there would be an outcry over why this statement wasn’t dealt with seriously. You just don’t make jokes about that kind of stuff in those places unless you want to cause a problem for yourself. This is self-inflicted indignity. This guy decided he’d show those dumb jailers the supreme intellect with which they are dealing… and he got owned because they did their job and took him at his word. He was literally asking for it.

I confer upon Pfc. Bradley Manning the title of World-Class Dumbass for thinking that sarcasm and a feeling of superiority were the way to improve his time in Quantico. Thank you for making my life seem a little better today and for making me laugh.





Admirable Women – Ahead of Her Time and Misunderstood

5 03 2011

Eva Perón, or Evita, hasn’t really gotten a fair shake, historically speaking. Considering the kind of power and popularity she had in her country and her advocacy of trade unions and her successful campaigning for women’s voting rights, her very public persona, and her power within her husbands’ presidency, she didn’t fit in with America’s Father Knows Best, Wonder Bread, Happy Homemaker view of women and how they should behave. There was also the fact that Argentina still had strong ties with Franco’s Spain. In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, having any sort of friendship with the fascist government was extremely unpopular with most of the rest of the world. Argentina at the time had a large population which was of Spanish descent, so they saw things a little differently. The overthrow of her husband’s government and the incoming government ‘s ban on Perónism also had a lot to do with the way she is seen even now. She was not a saint or without flaws by any means, but I think it’s about time we take another look at her and dispense with the myths and legends and whatnot.

She was an illegitimate child and when her father went back to his wife, her family was thrown into poverty. There was a significant stigma attached to be born illegitimate at the time. When her husband was president, she altered her birth records to make it appear that she had been born to married parents. That’s not good, but her efforts to improve the standing of those who she referred to as “natural children” in Argentina was. As a teen, she left home and moved to Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career. That didn’t really go too far, but she did get a job doing radio shows and eventual she was a co-owner of that company and was making a very good living. Her newly attained socio-economic status allowed her to meet new and more influential people who eventually came to include Juan Perón and the rest, as they say, is history. They married and were extremely devoted to one and other until her death. She toured Europe as Argentina’s first lady and, like all first ladies everywhere, her clothing and hairstyle choices where fodder for columnists who could rarely, if ever, be pleased. Reading her history now as the post Women’s Lib, Millennial, twenty-something that I am, she sounds like the first contemporary first lady – strange blend of Sarah Palin’s fanatical fan base and use of media as a political tool, Nancy Regan’s complete adoration of her husband, and everything bad anyone in the nineties said about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in her husband’s administration, fierce ambition, and solo traveling to other countries. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but a lot has changed since the late 1940’s and being ahead of your time isn’t usually well-received. I find the real story of Evita much more interesting than the movie. It’s hard to believe that she died at 33.





Admirable Women – The Long Walk to Freedom Taken Many Times Over

4 03 2011

The name Harriet Tubman usually only comes up during Black History Month. Children to reports on her and one of the educational programing channels might run a 1-hour biography on her and then she’s pretty much forgotten about for the next eleven months. I think that is very unfortunate because her story is fascinating. I, therefore, waited until March to write about her.

Ms. Tubman is well-known as a ‘conductor” on the Underground Railroad, but she was a spy for the union army for a time and also a suffragist in her later years among other things. As a girl she sustained a head injury at the hands of an overseer. As a result, she suffered from seizures in which she seemed to fall asleep and vivid dreams for the remainder of her life. As a devote Christian, she viewed these as visions from god. In addition to this disability, Harriet Tubman was illiterate. Can you imagine finding your way to a specific location in a hostile environment without being able to understand any road signs or written markers of any kind? She did it over and over again, bringing dozens of people to a life of freedom. The courage remained with her throughout her life. When she passed away at an approximate age of 93, her last words were said to have been, “I go now to prepare a place for you.” I realized that I have barely scratched the surface with this post, but it’s more recognition than is usually accorded Harriet Tubman in March.





Because Glenn Beck Makes Me Think of Impending Doom

1 03 2011

I really don’t like Glenn Beck. That probably comes as no surprise seeing as the things he says are destroying the country – namely secularism, cosmopolitanism, liberalism, not feeling bad – even feeling proud – about being smarter than a jar of mayonnaise, and a healthy wariness of unbridled, unregulated corporate power – are things which I tend to support. My issue is not that he thinks that people who think the way I do hate their country (not true) and desperately what to turn the country communist (I do not), fascist (nope), or simply reduce it to a lawless, fiery hub of despair (Not even close) or the fact that he spouts this stuff on TV every day while simultaneously insisting that all other news sources are in on the plot and are therefore not to be trusted. My issue is that he’s mainstreaming ideas that, five years ago, would have been considered tinfoil-hat-level crazy. It reached its zenith for me when he started insisting that these popular uprisings for democracy and freedom – ideas I thought the US supported – was actually a signal that the end of the world as described in the Bible is near because those asking for freedom and greater say in the government pray facing Mecca. Yes, ready your survival rations, convert all your money to gold, build a bunker, and pray (in an all-American, judeo-christian way, of course) like your afterlife depends on it because the end of the world is coming! That used to get TV people fired, now it’s all good. A little doomsday theory with your dinner, Ma’am?

So I started to think about what I would need to sustain myself in case of a tea-people revolt, or a ninja attack, or the coming of judeo-christian God into my happy secular world with the intention of kicking my heathen hiney. (Because obviously the thing to do when dealing with something this “out there” is to make a list.) It’s sort of the whole “what would you take with you to a deserted island’ thing on steroids. I’m assuming I have to be alone. Stranger still are the answers I came up with:

  • Astronaut ice cream. Remember that? The stuff you used to get at the Science Museum? Seems like good survival food.
  • Cheese curls.
  • Chocolate. Specifically Cadbury Dairy Milk and Flake bars and Ghirardelli dark chocolate – the darker the better.
  • A wide variety of fruits.
  • The ability to get tri-state area, “good” pizza, and other food delivered.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on tap.
  • Peach Ramune.
  • Apple cider.
  • Patrón. 😀 (Olé!)
  • As for non-edibles, I’d need a well equipped iPad 2. That’s my books, video games, music, and just about everything else. I’ll assume there’s internet access wherever I’m hiding – hiding while getting pizza and wings delivered and drinking tequila. Sounds like college.

So, in the event the four horsemen of the apocalypse show up, I’m apparently going to spend that last scraps of my life getting in touch with my geekdom. Yes, it’s completely random and makes little sense. That is how I process this nonsense that is taken as granite hard fact by many in this country. A dozen years ago when people started squawking about the world ending in the year 2000, everyone recognized that as a bit nutty and moved on. This guy says it now and people store food reserves. And if you say “Hmm, I think I smell some bullfunky here, then you’re one of ‘them’ – one of those country-destroyers.” The mainstreaming of fear and ideas that used to be the fringiest of the fringe and making people frightened not only of the future, but of a significant portion of the country’s population day in and day out is why I don’t like Glenn Beck.

And the moral of this story? Don’t over-analyze things which every brain cell you have is telling you are bat shit crazy. You’ll come up with something annoying and asinine.

Oh, come on, this post was begging for a picture of someone in a tinfoil hat.





Admirable Women – The Marble Ceiling

1 03 2011

Yeah, I’ll say it – I admire Nancy Pelosi. Yes, the same Nancy Pelosi about 90% of the county despises. Why? Because she has gotten farther than any other female politician has and that takes skill, discipline, and self-confidence – qualities that are good and that I could use more of. She’s the most accomplished woman in US political history and, hated or not, is one of the most effective House Speakers this country has ever had. Granted, she’s not a very good public speaker and when she freezes up in front of microphones, she says some monumentally silly things, but politics isn’t all poetry and the bottom line is that you don’t get to be House Speaker if you’re an idiot. It’s that simple. She might not be a great orator, but she can get the work done and the votes to get things passed. Truthfully, I hadn’t realized just how good she was at her job until John Boehner took over as Speaker of the House and the well-oiled, resolution-passing machine that had been running like clockwork for the past four years turned into a giant clusterschtup factory turning out one contested, rather random piece of legislation after another while completely ignoring the “all jobs, all the time” platform that swept the Republicans into office.

I’m not going to bash Boehner just yet – he’s still new at this – but he certainly didn’t hit the ground running like his predecessor did. She went ages – without having a bill die on her. Whether or not you like her politics isn’t the issue here. It’s organizational skill, leadership ability, and a bit of shrewd political sense. Case in point  – her not pursuing an impeachment of Dubya once she became Speaker. A lot of liberals thought it was a great idea, but she saw the serious flaws in that plan and took it off the table and once it was off the table, it stayed off.  She can keep her caucus organized and can get the votes out which is important to keep things moving. If you strip away all the layers of demagoguery, you find a strong and skilled politician. It may be my recent mad-dash-to-the-left attitude of recent months, but I find myself being one of the two dozen or so people who don’t hate Nancy Pelosi.