The Death of Marie Colvin

23 02 2012

A little less than a year ago I wrote about a number of women whom I admired over the course of March (Women’s History Month). Two days ago, one of them, Marie Colvin was killed in Syria where she was covering the government-mandated slaughter currently taking place there. This is what I wrote about her in 2011. The whole post is here, if you’re interested.

Marie Colvin is a correspondent for the UK Sunday Times and has been one for over twenty years. She has covered 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 come with 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.

“Serious risk to life and limb” took the form indiscriminate shelling of the area where she was staying and cost her her life. Her death can, and no doubt will, make us all discuss many things like the risks faced by combat reporters, the value of their work, and it will be factored in when discussing the horrible situation in Syria as well. One of Ms. Colvin’s last reports was about watching a child die of shrapnel wounds. I think the best way to pay tribute to what she did is to share the message the she was reporting out of Syria. A warning – the video might be too graphic for some.

Marie Colvin was a very skilled and dedicated journalist who went to some of the most volatile areas of the earth to show the true face of those conflicts. I know I can’t write a fitting commentary, so I found this interview, done in the Republic of Georgia, to close with.

Marie Colvin 1958-2012.





More Rape-Related Word Parsing

7 02 2012

I was going to post something a little more fun today, recommendation of a few good short films – maybe I’ll get to it later – but instead I’m taking on Ron Paul for fiddling around with the definition of rape.

 

Yes, we have been over this before. Not with Representative Paul in particular, but with his party as a whole about a year ago when the House tried (and failed) to pass legislation (H.R. 3) restricting federal funding of abortions for low-income women beyond the exceptions in the Hyde Amendment (rape, incest, and protecting the life of the mother) to cover only forcible rape, incest involving a minor, and protecting the life of the mother.  I wrote three separate posts on the topic and also wrote to my congresswoman. Now we’re on the same topic a year later because once again rape alone is not enough of a reason to allow a woman to decide what goes on within her own body. Here’s the clip.

Ron Paul’s position on abortion itself, as expressed here, is actually more about biological facts – that within a few hours or a few days conception may very well not have taken place and that there is no way to tell that early on – is a very reasonable one for a pro-lifer and something I would expect since he is an obstetrician. So what is this bit about “honest rape” then? Is there such a thing? Rape in general is regarded as pretty dishonest and dishonorable. Frankly, this sounds like bit of pandering to me. There is apparently some theory floating around on the right that merely being raped is not enough to warrant a woman not being mandated by the government to bear the resulting child. First  the rape had to be “forcible”,but that didn’t pass. Now with Rep. Paul the rape has to be “honest”. It’s as if they’d like to parse it out of existence. There is also more than a little implied victim blaming here too. The whole idea of women “asking for it” in any number of ways and thus making a senseless act of violence seem more like a deserved punishment for not being a “good girl” was one of those baseless, archaic notions I though we had finally excised from our cultural thought process. I had hoped it was locked away in the same place our society has exiled beliefs that a woman could not sign a contract without a male co-signer and should be discouraged at every turn from pursuing a career because  her place was to be in the home tending to the needs of her children and the whims of her husband. Oh how silly of me.

The real problem I have with The Congressman’s statement isn’t the fact that he’s talking about limiting a woman’s right to choose. He’s an anti-abortion candidate and I’m pro-choice – we’re going to disagree on that. That’s why we have different political parties. My problem is with the this pattern we are seeing more of now in which someone whose sole dominion over her own body has already been violated once has the personal autonomy violated again by the government telling her that her attack did not meet the criteria necessary for the powers that be to just leave her alone and let her make her medical decisions for herself. If it wasn’t an “honest rape”, whatever that is,  the woman (Would they even call her a victim? I don’t know.) should just accept what has befallen her and begin blissfully preparing for her forced motherhood like a “good girl”. When  the argument can be made that some sexual assaults do not qualify the victim to terminate a very much unwanted pregnancy, would that then have an effect on the sentencing of the rapist? If we can begin to dissect the crime of rape into degrees, what stops someone from insisting that some domestic violence cases should also be treated as less of a crime because the victim or victims somehow had it coming? What about hate crimes? Given some of the statements and incidents on the campaign trail I would wonder if crimes against groups that some find it acceptable, even patriotic, to disparage would be treated the same as those  against other segments of the population which it is more taboo to voice a prejudice against? In short it isn’t Congressman Paul’s views on abortion that compelled me to write about his comment, but this idea that not all rape victims deserve to make decision about their bodies.





The Sense Behind the Buffet Rule

26 01 2012

That grandfatherly guy with ukulele in the video is Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and he is a very wealthy fellow. He’s also never made a secret of who he supported politically, most recently President Barack Obama. Last August he publicly weighed in on matters of policy when he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times which got him a lot of media attention. In it he made the argument for a higher tax rate on the capital gains (currently taxed at 15%) which are the main source of income for many wealthy folks meaning that many of those who would be paying the top rate end up paying a rate that is more on par with those at the lowest end of the taxable income spectrum. The White House took the idea which they had also showed support for and ran with it eventually crafting the Buffett Rule – a proposal which would establish a minimum tax rate of 30% on all those earning over a million dollars no matter how they earn their money. This idea resurfaced at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Like any other proposal made by anyone at any level of government, it’s something to fight over. The argument against the Buffett Rule is broken into two factions. Some feel that increasing the rate on capital gains for wealthy investors from 15% to 30% would discourage investment because people wouldn’t invest if they had to split their profits 70-30 with Uncle Sam. They also suggest that the downturn in investing would hurt the job market because if people aren’t investing in companies, then those companies can’t grow and that means no job creation, no hiring, and a stagnation of unemployment at our current painful level. I’m not an economics wiz, but I think that sounds a little off and I’m in good company. Mr. Buffett addressed this in his op-ed.

<blockquote>Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.</blockquote>

To put into an average American context, nobody refuses a promotion because they looked at their pay stub, saw all of the deductions that are taken out every week, and calculated how much more would be taken out if they took a higher paying position. Certainly each of us has grumbled about those deductions from time to time, but in the end we would rather make more money and so we would take the promotion and the associated increase in salary. Why would someone who makes money through investing be any different. Why pass up a profitable investment opportunity because of a 15% increase in the tax rate on that investment? They will still be making money and that is the draw of investments.

Other opponents of the Buffett Rule are opponents of the capital gains tax in general and these  critics are further subdivided. Some say that it is double taxation arguing that people invest their money after they pay taxes so to tax capital gains is to tax the same money twice and that is grossly unfair. It would indeed be very unfair if that were the case but it’s not because capital gains are just that – gains, profits, new money, income and thus subject to taxes. The principle investment is not a part of the equation so they aren’t being taxed on the same money twice, just on the money their investment brought in.

Others say that because capital gains have already been taxed as part of that company’s income and therefore should not be taxed once it goes to the investor. There is no gentle way for me to say this, that argument is completely illogical. The money that company pays the people who work for them also comes from corporate revenue which is subject to corporate income tax, yet those workers are taxed on that money and nobody (except the Ron Paul supporters who want no taxes, I guess) complains a bit about it. Investors may not “work” for these companies per se, but they do provide a service – they supply capital – so why should the profits they make from their contributions to the running of a particular company not be taxed while the wages earned by the person whose contribution to that same company earn them a paycheck when it’s all paid out of the company’s (taxed) profits? If you extrapolate this theory out further, almost no person or business would ever pay any taxes. In our current system, our money gets taxed when it’s our income whether or not it has been someone else’s income beforehand. Sorry.

I side with Warren Buffett. Taxing the investments of millionaires at the same rate as the income of a person who works 40 hours a week and takes home, at most, $17 in taxable income an hour is ridiculous. It makes the whole “class warfare” argument a farce when some of the very wealthy are simultaneously lamenting the top tax rate and not paying it. They pay, at most, the same rate as an individual making between $8,700 and $35,350 a year according to the IRS. I don’t begrudge them their success, but I’m certainly not feeling their pain. A millionaire making the majority of their annual income from capital gains should pay a tax rate closer to the rate millionaires who collect a paycheck are paying. How is that class warfare and not just common sense?





Gabrielle Giffords Will Resign From Congress

24 01 2012

I’m sure you’ve already heard, Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Congresswoman who was shot by a mentally ill man last January, has announced that she will resign from Congress this week to focus on her recovery. I’m going to join in with everyone else and say that I wish her continued speed in that recovery. In her video, which I have embedded below, she says she will return. That is, of course entirely up to her, but I would love to see it happen.

Good luck, Representative Giffords.




It Isn’t Envy, Mr. Romney, and It Isn’t a War on Capitalism Either

14 01 2012

Mitt Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at his campaign presentation. Rather than pointing out his experience in the actually process of governing, Mr. Romney has chosen to campaign on his career in the private sector as a “conservative businessman” and “job creator”, as he often describes himself at campaign stops and in debates. After winning the New Hampshire primary, he gave a victory speech that bypassed his primary opponents and blasted the President for engaging in “the bitter politics of envy”. On Wednesday morning, NBC’s Today Show host Matt Lauer asked specifically about that choice of phrase.

So, if you dare to raise questions about Mr. Romney’s business decisions, it’s just because you’re so jealous of him. Can you possibly get a more self-absorbed sound byte? It made me think of Gordon Gekko’s “Greed Is Good” speech from the movie Wall Street.

No, Mr. Romney, everyone who whats to see proof of your claims of net job creation and wants to know whether your decisions regarding the leveraging of debt and the mass layoffs were the actions of a shrewd businessman or a corporate profiteer is not envious of you. They are vetting you, sir. That is what happens in a campaign. You make claims that you’ve done fabulous things, people say “Oh yeah, prove it,” and then you either give them the proof they’re asking for or they will go off and find it on their own. Also, the more time it takes you to prove your claims – the more you squirm, and hedge, and try to explain why no proof should be needed because you’re such a nice guy or whatever your excuses are – the more people will start to wonder if you’re trying to hide something from them. Running for president is, after all, a candidate applying to the American public for the job of running the country. Asking for more in-depth information on the business practices of the man running for office under the banner of “the business guy” is not anything I see as questionable. To return to my job application analogy, it can be likened to a potential employer asking for references at a job interview. The more cagey an applicant about supplying the references, the more the employer will no doubt wonder if there is something that this applicant might be misrepresenting. Does the “scheduling conflict ” they listed as their reason for leaving Company X really mean that it clashed with their grad school courses, or could it be that this person’s definition of “lunch break” more closely resembled the rest of the world’s definition of “afternoon off?”, the prospective boss might think and questions like those floating around in potential employer’s mind doesn’t bode well for the bumbling applicant. The best thing Mr. Romney could do for himself right now is open up about his Bane Capitol days. It’s not like Democrats won’t be asking these questions in the general election if he makes it to the next round.

My other issue with Mr. Romney and his supporters is that while they condemn those to there left for using what they deem to be the rhetoric of class warfare, they are waging a pretty good battle on that front themselves by labeling those who would criticize predatory capitalism, what most would consider unethical, “bad” business practices, as trying to destroy capitalism in general. That argument make absolutely no sense at all and yet it is everywhere. This becomes crystal clear if you use this logic outside the realm of election year economic policy. For example, if I say that I don’t like a particular painting, then using, this thought process, I am against painting as an art form and trying to engineer its demise. If I don’t like a particular book, then I am obviously crusading against all of literature. If I eat brussels sprouts and say “yuck,”, then I am really saying “DOWN WITH VEGETABLES!” In every other context this line of pseudo-reasoning is quickly and easily identifiable as a heap of bullfunky, but apparently if you’re talking about how big money people make big money when one of them want to be President, such talk is apparently tantamount to heresy in this country and particularly in this country’s Republican party.

There is nothing wrong with examining our economic system to see if it is working effectively and doing a little routine maintenance when it’s needed to keep the country moving. You can have vibrant and competitive capitalism without allowing it to become predatory. It’s all in how the game is played and what the rules are. Many people have a problem with the practice of outsourcing, for example, and it has been stripping the country of  jobs since the eighties, yet there are tax incentives for companies that outsource and business organizations support this practice and lobby to keep it as an accepted way to do business in America, but not really in America. Until the incentives to send jobs overseas are eliminated and perhaps there are even incentives set up to bring jobs back here, we will continue to be bled of every job it is possible to outsource because that makes these companies the greatest profit. That’s not a criticism or a compliment, it’s math.

That brings me to another point – corporations are not people. The best analogy I can come up with is that corporations are like robots. They have a few things in common with people – they can be sued, etc – but they are basically computers running on a yes/no system (hello, binary) which analyzes whether or not a given circumstance is profitable. If the answer is yes, that options chosen. That’s it. There are no emotions involved. Workers don’t matter beyond their productivity to cost ratio. You can’t be angry about it not having feelings or empathy – it’s just a machine after all – so if you want to change its behavior, you have to alter the program it runs on. We have a minimum wage, so even though it would be more profitable to pay American workers a dollar an hour, the robot of an American business, let’s call it RoboCorp, won’t do that because the program it runs on tell’s it that it can’t.  RoboCorps large and small run off of the same basic program – the rules our economy runs on. We have to engage in a national discussion about the economy to decide if changing laws is necessary and if so, then what needs to be changed.

That is the discussion that is being derided as anti-business by Mitt Romney and his surrogates. In that video Mr. Romney says that talk of the economy should take place in “quiet rooms” and that brings to mind images of the Gilded Age when the titans of industry would meet in private clubs and decide what the rules were among themselves and far away from the little people who worked for them. Those workers could vote, well, as long as they were male citizens over the age of 21 and in some places they kind of had to be white too, but, voters or not, they couldn’t be part of any serious economic dialogue because they didn’t have enough power or money. They didn’t know the right people in the right context, they didn’t belong to the right clubs, etc. That’s not how things are supposed to work now a century later. I’m not naive enough to think that power and money don’t buy influence in this day and age, but everyone should be able, and is able, to discuss economic policy just as they do foreign policy and social issues. No quiet rooms required.

The Rachel Maddow show Thursday night brought up another point last night and I thought it was worth a mention. (The video is long, it wouldn’t embed, and there is a somewhat related story about a dog and his bodily functions. Sorry.)

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

As mentioned in the clip, in 1992, times were tough and George H.W. Bush had an image problem. He was seen as an out of touch rich guy who just couldn’t understand what kind of problems the country was facing and he lost the election at least in part because of that. Somebody needs to knock on the door of the quiet room  Mr. Romney likes to work on economic issues in and remind of that.





She’s In!

15 09 2011

I’ve never had much of a desire to live in Massachusetts. It’s not that I don’t like the place – my cousin used to live there and one of my aunts lives there with her husband – it’s just never had the same appeal that New York or DC have for me. That said, tonight I wish I lived in Massachusetts because then I would be able to cast a vote for Elizabeth Warren. Today Dr. Warren formally announced her candidacy for United States Senator from Massachusetts. Elizabeth Warren has been an advocate for middle and lower-income people and workers for a long time. She was the architect of the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but Republicans made it clear that they would fight her confirmation so President Obama never nominated her to run the agency she put together. Since the end of her service in the administration that wouldn’t bother to defend her in the confirmation process the question of whether or not she would run for the Senate has been out there. Today she gave her answer – she’s in. I wish she were running in the great state of Connecticut so I could not only vote for her but maybe even work for her campaign, but alas, all I can do is put a link to her website  – elizabethwarren.com – up one my blog and wish her the best of luck.





Michelle Obama, You Were Right

14 09 2011

I’ve been trying to watch at least part of the Republican debates in the name of remaining well-informed. Frankly,the fact that one of these people might be president disturbs me, but their audience disturbs me more. Last week, in response to a question about the 234 executions carried out during Rick Perry’s tenure as governor of Texas, the crowd broke into cheers. Cheers?!

My issue is not over the death penalty itself. I have my opinions on the issue and I think responsible people can intelligently debate its pros and cons all day long. What I found so jarring was the raucous applause and whoops from the audience. We’re talking about killing people, not a great football play. Whether or not you believe a criminal deserves to die for their crimes, I think we can all agree that executions aren’t exactly cause for celebration.

Last night I had another of those “what country are these people living in” moments. A hypothetical question was posed to Texas Representative Ron Paul about what should happen to an individual who is uninsured and suddenly needs expensive medical care. Ron Paul tends to get a little long-winded, so the moderator pushed him asking if society should just let the man die which lead to several calls of “Yeah!” from the audience. Not as much glee as the death penalty mention some days before, but still creepy.

It isn’t just the fact that the idea of someone dying really pleases a few of these audience members. The thing that blows my mind is that not one of the candidates stepped up to say one of our strengths as a nation is our compassionate nature and that there would be something out there to keep citizens unable to afford insurance from being forced to go without necessary care. Looking out for one another doesn’t mean the “nanny state” is taking over. It means that we are part of a community – local, state, and national. Remember? “E Pluribus Unum”  – out of many, one. It’s on the national seal. (That was our motto before the 1950’s when “god” was added to our pledge to the flag and our money and the national motto became “In god we trust.”) A conservative can still have a soul, but you’d never know it. Empathy is apparently a facet of godless, socialistic, liberalism which must be abandoned as quickly and completely as possible.

In early 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama’s wife Michelle was taken to task by Republicans (and supporters of Hillary Clinton) for saying that America could be a mean country. Well, Mrs. Obama, I have to say that you were at least partially correct. A country which cheers execution, calls for those can’t afford that which will save their lives to lose their lives, and lacks any feeling for those who don’t plump up some corporation’s bottom line is a mean, mean place. The thing is, that mean place is not where I grew up. I don’t even recognize it. When I was growing up, if someone lost their job due to downsizing, lay-offs, and etc they weren’t the problem, whatever lead to their job going away was. A social security check, and the check and medical benefits of a union pension were the well-earned reward my grandmother and many others of the “greatest generation” received for decades of hard, honest work building our modern society. No one ever said they didn’t deserve it or were stealing from their children and grandchildren. Times have gotten harder, but I don’t think getting meaner as a society will solve anything. I’m hoping that logic will overcome whatever makes seemingly ordinary people cheer death and view compassion as a curse.





The Trickle Downgrade

12 08 2011

I have mentioned that I got a job a couple times now, but I’ve never discussed it too much because it’s sort of difficult to do. I record local government meetings for broadcast on a nearby town’s government access television channel. It isn’t easy to write about what goes on at work because you don’t want to offend people or appear to be imparting a bias. Some issues get people’s blood pressure up and, if their statements are taken out of context, they could seem rather foolish. Actually, a lot of politics and debate is context and that’s why you hear so many people in the public eye complaining that their words are being “taken out of context,” and I can almost guarantee you will hear that phrase a lot more as the presidential election process gets moving. With all that said, this information comes directly from a meeting I covered. The meeting was public and I think this little tidbit of information serves as a reminder of how irresponsible it is for elected officials at the national level to play games with important issue like our nation’s economic stability for the sake of pleasing a small portion of the population. There is no ‘I’ in democracy no matter how many flags you wrap yourself in, how many times you say the word “constitution”, “patriotism”, or “common sense”, or how much you know – or don’t know – about eighteenth century colonial history and historical figures.
The town I work for is small, rather affluent, running a small budget surplus at the moment, and – according to the First Selectman – has the lowest unemployment rate in the state. They use the Moody’s agency to rate their credit. When Moody’s changed its outlook for the US economy from stable to negative because of the ridiculous brinksmanship of some in Congress, they changed this town’s outlook from stable to negative as well because a town, city, or state is really only as reliable as the country it’s in. That makes sense, but it still doesn’t seem fair and that’s not the fault of Moody’s. It’s the fault of those in the House of Representatives who decided to hold their breath until they got what they wanted even if it endangered our nation’s economy. These people have been called a lot of things – and I’m about to say my piece as well – but I will be avoiding a couple popular terms. I’m not going to call any elected official a terrorist. That is a very loaded statement that I’m not going to level at anyone willy -nilly.  I also think that calling these people hostage takers gives them too much power. I’m calling them children because that’s exactly how they behaved – like spoiled, undisciplined children throwing a tantrum until they get something that shuts them up for a little while. Is that how America is led nowadays? Really!? By grandstanding and ranting and putzing around instead of getting things done they are screwing over places that they couldn’t identify on a map if they wanted to. A note to these congress people – think before you act, don’t act before you think!

Then again, they may find the suggestion that they think to be too elitist. Fear not for I have other suggestions for what they can go do.





The Body Un-Naturale

22 05 2011

There’s another wedding in the family and, since I don’t have a bunch of wedding-related baking to provide an excuse this time around and because this one sounds like a much more formal affair, I have had to focus more on what I will look like and what I will wear. This has meant that I’ve been looking at clothes and caring about whether they might do anything to improve the sorry state of affairs that is my physique or at least distract from it. This has led me to look at clothing ads and even the odd fashion magazine for an idea for a wedding appropriate outfit that won’t make me look foolish. Shopping for clothing is never a fun time for me. Shopping for shoes can be enjoyable. So can shopping for jewelry and makeup, but looking for anything that covers any region from my arms to my ankles (with the exception of good, comfy, cotton t-shirts)  is a long, tedious process for which I honestly have little patience.

I’ve often thought that it was because I have so little in common with the fashion industry’s six-foot tall, ninety-two pound idea of beauty and that is mostly true, except that, thanks to Photoshop, the fashion industry – and our culture’s – idea of beauty is no longer simply extremely difficult to attain. It’s now practically impossible, even un-natural. It’s now a seventy-two pound idea of beauty.

This is a rather well-publicized example from a few years ago. If you haven’t picked out what’s wrong, allow me to point out that, in addition to her absurdly stick figure-like limbs, her head is about the same size as her pelvis and is larger than her waist. That does not occur in nature… ever. It just doesn’t. An emaciated adult’s head isn’t larger the their waist. Also, while this particular image did get some media attention, it is by no mean a rarity. Victoria’s Secret ads and all the ones in the magazines are loaded with heavily Photoshopped, skeletal waifs glowering and pouting. Is it just me or do they look hungry? Do people even find these modified images sexy?

I’m a little too old and a little too rational in terms of my understanding of anatomically feasible thinness to be made to feel inadequate by these images, but it does concern me in terms of its effect on younger, more self-conscious individuals. I mean creating a goal that’s impossible to achieve and then foisting it upon girls at an ever decreasing age strikes me as a problem waiting to happen. I remember how desperately I wanted to be skinny and pretty as a fat, plain preteen and that was in the olden days of the nineties when models and other “beautiful people” were just anorexic and on drugs. Now they’re digitally modified, too.

A while back I was working on a post that never made the cut and I found this photo of Sophia Loren from the late sixties. She was a sex symbol in her day, but at the same time she was still very much a flesh and blood human being with the physical flaws that come with being human as opposed to digital. At one point in time not too very long ago, this image and those of other attractive, unaltered women made up the idea of beauty in our culture. If your thighs were a little less than sculpted or your breast weren’t disproportionately large and up by your chin, it was OK. You would be viewed as pretty, desirable, and the like because you were beautiful even though you weren’t flawless.

There are mountains of things that I find wrong with the 50’s and 60’s views on women, but I think that the scale on which female looks were judged was a healthy one. Where we as a society have worked to break down ideas that negatively effected women’s view of themselves in the areas of career, and family, and personal worth, and pretty much everywhere else, we have made it harder and harder for women and girls to view their bodies in a positive light and that, in turn, has an adverse effect on all of the other things we’ve improved on. If a person can’t be confident with the way they look, they won’t be able to radiate the confidence they need to in order to reach the goals they’ve set for themselves whether those goals are personal, professional, or what have you.

That picture of Sophia Loren makes me feel pretty good about myself, not because I in any way resemble that when I’m wearing just my underwear, but because it’s honest. Even the best looking among us has a flaw here and there. Even the ones that are deemed beautiful are never perfect. That’s normal. She might not be perfect, but she’s healthy, confident, and quite pretty.

I tried to keep this photo in mind when I was in the fitting room at Victoria’s Secret.





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.