Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Myint, a pro-democracy activist and former political prisoner of the current Burmese junta, was one of seven voices heard at Friday’s emergency press conference, “Monks, Media and the Military: the Saffron Revolution.” Myint spoke from Mae Sot, Thailand, near the Burma-Thailand border.
The meeting was called in response to reports that Burma’s ruling military junta has killed dozens, possibly hundreds, of students, monks, and other peaceful protesters over the past week. Protests began on August 19 after the government raised fuel prices; they gathered momentum when large numbers of Buddhist monks joined the marches.
The panel also included two Burmese monks, two activists for human rights and democracy in Burma, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinhiero.
Speaking first, Pinhiero seemed out of touch with the purpose and atmosphere of the meeting. He did not comment on that morning’s meeting between the UN special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari—just back from the country—and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. More surprisingly, he barely touched on the current situation in Burma, focusing instead on a statement adopted three days earlier at the UN Human Rights Council session on Myanmar (Burma) in Geneva. Pinhiero called the statement “a powerful message,” citing its strong language and adoption by consensus—including by India and China, backers of the Burmese junta—as a sign of progress on the issue.
According to the statement, the council “strongly deplores the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar, including through beatings, killings, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances,” and “urges the Government of Myanmar to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms….”
The rest of the speakers were quick to describe Burma as a country under fierce military lockdown. Aung Din, a pro-democracy activist and former political prisoner, stated that despite the Burmese government’s claim that only nine people have died so far, in reality “more than 200 protesters have been killed by the military junta in a matter of days.” Over 3,000 monks and other protestors have been detained in the city of Rangoon alone, he said. Despite the bleak situation, Din remained defiant.
“The people in Burma have already proved with their skin and blood that they want democracy,” he said.
Ashin Nayaka, one of the maroon-robed Buddhist monks, stunned the audience by saying that, to his knowledge, at least 138 monks had already been killed. Eighty senior monks were still being kept in government prisons, he said.
All of the speakers stressed the need for international support and reporting on the junta’s crimes. Aside from Mr. Pinhiero, however, the panelists did not seem convinced that the UN’s efforts had been good enough so far. Din argued that previous resolutions had simply been “abandoned and ignored by the regime.”
The evening ended with words of hope.
“The Saffron Revolution will not turn back,” Nayaka said. “The military junta can control the monasteries but it’s difficult to control our hearts, our souls, our determination.”
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Art education: the first thing jettisoned from U.S. public schools in their struggle to stay afloat. Private art classes in the United States can cost as much as $500 a session; an indulgence deemed by many Americans as impractical. For families with parents working two jobs, barely getting by, it’s often not possible. Red Hook, Brooklyn, a town where 8000 out of the 1100 inhabitants live in public housing, has proven otherwise.
The Red Hook Community Photography Project, initiated by the Red Hook Community Justice Center, gives up to 20 kids, between the ages of 15-18, an opportunity to learn digital photography. The project, which began in 2006 thanks to a grant from the Edith Glick Schoolman Children’s Foundation, specifically targets kids who were involved in minor crimes and are finishing their court mandates. James Brodick, director of the Red Hook Community Center, said that a lot the young people that are arrested for minor crimes, have family or mental health issues. “We saw the photography project as a way for them to engage with the community and as a positive way towards reform,” said Brodick. The Community also accepts young individuals who want to learn the art of picture taking.
A professional photographer teaches the students the mechanics of manipulating photographs along with basic photo composition. Kids are given a stipend and a digital camera that they keep at the end of the 8 week course that meets three days a week for six ours a day.
Photographs from the first session are currently on display at the Brooklyn Waterfront Art Coalition. The collection, entitled “Through Our Eyes” showcases images from the kid’s neighborhoods and the stories behind each photo. What is apparent is how the experience changed the kid’s perspective of their own neighborhood. One young man wrote how he intended to show how bad Brooklyn was, but changed his mind after he saw how many beautiful pictures of the neighborhood he had. Another girl made pollution the theme of her photo collection after she noticed that trash was the constant in all of her pictures.
Ronda Vatel titled her project, “Today is a Good Day,” inspired by her mother who is always taught her to live each day to the fullest. Asked if she was still doing photography after the programs completion Ronda said, “I am a photographer.” Of the other kids who finish the program, “A lot of them tell me they’re the official family photographer,” said Brodick.
As Red Hook is swept up in the tide of gentrification, projects such as this one are essential to preserving the voices of those who grew up there.
(Photos from the project: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhcjcphotographyproject/)
Just in case you haven't gotten enough of Brazil from me...
...here is some more.
You can do it. Go naked. Shake your hips. Wax your nether regions. Be “Brazilian.” Whether it is pornography sites, beauty salons, or governmental policy, in the
Asked what types of words were evoked by “Brazilian,” 18 out of 20 people interviewed made reference to sex or sexuality. Similar to the way that “American” evoked words such as “ignorant, fast-food,” and “hypocrite” to Brazilian Fransisco Romano on the phone from northeastern
The reality is that money forges a bond between sex and “Brazilian,” on many levels. “Is prostitution a problem or a solution?” states Fransisco Sampa, head of the Brazilian American United Organization, “there is an economy that functions around this.” In a conversation regarding Brazilian immigrants living in
The issue is extremely complex, and Sampa points to a larger issue of policy and perspective regarding sex and prostitution in
Despite what the government thinks, though, US citizens still buy into the sexuality of Brazil on many levels—and Brazilians are selling. At Maria Bonita, a chic salon & spa in
In a review for the “New Yorker,” Sasha Frere-Jones describes his reaction to a Brazilian rock band: “You don’t sound Brazilian,” he reports thinking. That band, wildly popular both in the
For several years, I have been interested in exploring the relationship between African Americans and immigrants from sub-Saharan
Akon was born Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam in
Akon is proud of his African origin. In two of his videos - for the songs “Bananza” and “Ghetto” - he wears tee shirts and sweaters harboring the Senegalese flag. One of his first songs “
Whether or not he is conscious of it, Akon plays an important role in building a bridge between the two communities. In most of the interviews he has given to African American journalists, they have asked him about his origins. These interviews are an occasion to perceive African Americans’ approach to their “African” identity. When African American music journalist Marielle V. Turner asks him, “Being from
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
It’s not a pretty picture.
In an October 10th article posted on CPJ’s website, Joel Simon, the executive director, denounced “the brutal repression of the Burmese junta.” The article expressed specific concern over the continued detention of three journalists.
Listed by Dietz as the “second most censored society,” following North Korea, the Burmese government does not willingly open itself to the outside world, even in times of relative peace. During times of conflict information becomes even more sporadic and incomplete. The current incident is no exception.
During the initial phase of the conflict reports, photos, and voices emerged in the form of text messages, images captured by cell phone cameras, calls from inside the country, and web postings. Citizen journalism was filling the gaps left by major media coverage. All that was before the military junta pulled the plug. Now information from inside is increasingly scarce.
The difficulty of placing journalists in Burma is evident in the datelines of major U.S. newspapers. The majority read “Bangkok,” an admission that they do not have a reporter inside. Dietz said the information that we do receive “comes from border jumpers, most often the Thai border.”
“It’s gutsy, and you’re a hero if you get out,” he said, but he recognized that the chance for glory comes at great personal risk. The fate of Kenji Nagai, the Japanese photographer killed in the government crackdown, is sufficient proof.
Though the recent violence has the international community rapt, Dietz is realistic about the world’s attention span. “Burma isn’t all that damned important,” he said, speaking from the perspective of the international community. He believes it will most likely fade from the headlines before the conflict is resolved, and obstacles in the journalists’ path will only accelerate the process. Reporters who cannot get at the stories will not write the stories. The public will forget to remember and the atrocities will continue.
Regardless of the amount of attention Burma receives, journalists working inside its borders have a steady ally in Dietz. His focus will remain sharp, no matter how far the public eye strays.
“The same mistake, one right after the other are being made in cultural policies (by the Colombian government), and the worst thing is that these mistakes generate victims who are none other than the hundreds of artists who have bravely gambled on creation, who are almost always immersed in the worst conditions and the most extreme loneliness.” -- Jorge Montoya, The Cultural Aspect.
This is my blog entry for this week.
It is based on personal experience, and while it may sound like opinion, it's not so much intended as criticism than as a testimony to how ironic it felt.
This is written for an Israeli audience, hence the references.
Marsom Cheirut (“Checkpoint
Countless rows of people are waiting here in line, like every day. Bored. Two men speak in Arabic, sounding baffled. The crowd slowly marches through the lines, under the watchful eye of the armed security staff manning the checkpoint. Backpacks and luggage are not allowed in. You’re supposed to store them in biometric lockers after having had your fingerprints registered. Food and drinks are also a no-go.
Everything here was designed to be terror-proof: you can’t get in the checkpoint without the proper access badge; you’ve already been X-rayed and searched once, sometimes asked personal questions if you weren’t lucky. Whatever you’re carrying with you that did not end up in the trash or the locker goes through a second round of X-rays, while you’re ordered to step through a chemical scanner portal puffing air to detect potential molecules of explosive substances.
Then you’re through the checkpoint and its one-way paneled windows.
And finally you’re in – not in
The original torch now stands in the monument’s entrance lobby, enlightening its own sheltered innards rather than the outside world, in a somewhat ironic metaphor. Lady Liberty is under heavy protection these days, and it is actually impossible now to walk up the stairs leading up to the crown and the torch. You can see the way, but a glass ceiling blocks the way – literally.
Park Rangers invoke restrictions imposed by risks of fire – the staircase was still accessible before 9/11 though, but was never reopened. As with other things, maybe once they’ve taken it away they’ll never give it back… After all, even the Democrats seem ready to extend the federal wiretap powers, according to yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, by “fear of appearing soft on terror”.
Looking towards the city from the statue’s pedestal, the
“It’s not climbing it that’s important, it’s what she stands for,” one Park Ranger threw at us, obviously irritated by our insistence. Looking back down at “Marsom Cheirut” where the flow of tourists has started dwindling, one can’t help but wonder if this is what she’s supposed to be standing for today.
Earlier, as she was going through security, my secular friend with strong Middle-Eastern looks removed the scarf protecting her neck from the cold breeze. “If this is religious attire, please keep it on,” an embarrassed security officer had scrambled.
They had me take off my baseball cap, probably in case I was hiding C-4 there. Next time I guess I’ll just demand they respect the fact I’m a devout Yankee fan and Joe Torre’s my name for God… They might call me a loser, but maybe they’ll leave me alone.
Here's my first blog entry. It's rather informal and chock full of commentary, but it illuminates part of my thought process for this upcoming article. Would love to hear comments.
At the end of a 45 minute rally in Washington Square Park in New York City on September 27, Barack Obama, contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, told an anecdote about a specific woman. She was from some small town in some state, far from New York, in the middle of nowhere who chants “Fire it up!” and “Ready to go!” before each town meeting. Obama was preaching to a choir of over 20,000 people and seemed to strike a chord because he had us chanting to the tune of “Fire it up!” with him.
While rallies are all well and good, they don’t matter unless you get that energy converted to results, which for Obama means votes on primary day. New Yorkers (upstaters included), who are registered with a party by October 12, 2007, can cast a vote on February 5, 2008 to determine their party’s candidate for the presidential election.
How in the world does the primary system work in the U.S.? Some states, such as Iowa, have caucuses. For my fellow plebeians, a caucus is “a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction usually to select candidates or to decide on policy” (Merriam-Webster). In the primaries, affiliated voters in each locality are selecting delegates to the national party convention to officially nominate a candidate. Those delegates are tied to the results in their home district. Traditionally, Iowa and New Hampshire go first. New Hampshire state law requires that their primary take place one week before the rest.
So what’s the deal in New York? Obama and other Democratic hopefuls, have to go up against the New York senator, Hillary Clinton. It’s widely assumed that Clinton will come out the winner in her home state. I’m trying to come to grips with the phrase “widely assumed.” It has somehow entered my vernacular, and I’m having a hard time tracing its origins. Did it come from the TV? Perhaps it was the newspaper. Or maybe it was mentioned in a conversation. It doesn’t matter now; it’s so widely used that I don’t have to footnote anymore.
What got me thinking about it was seeing all the Obama volunteers at the rally who don’t seem to agree with the widespread assumers. They are on the ground canvassing, phone banking, and getting people registered to vote in the primary and the general election. I talked to a few people last Saturday at an event at the Brooklyn Museum. They were there at the rally and even before that on the internet trying to convert energy into action. One of the volunteers I talked to, Ann Renda, did comment on the “widely assumed” factor and how it’s affecting the primary race. Referring to media attention around Hillary Clinton, she said, “People want to vote for a winner.”
I have some photos for this blog, but I am having a hard time uploading them-so I'll try again in the morning.
On October 8th, New York Times online had published a sound bite of Cuban children, mouthing a morning mantra "We shall study, grow up and fight like Che! We shall be like Che!" The revolutionary's legacy is everywhere in Cuba: on shirts, on billboards…even underwear (although this latest incarnation of Che's famous image is not sanctioned by Aleida Guevara March, his daughter, who hopes that the Brazilian designer will stop producing the blasphemous under garments). 40years after his death, Che remains an idealized figure in his adoptive country. Despite the controversies he might inspire outside of it, for many activists across the globe, this revolutionary fighter continues to be a symbol of strength and commitment to a cause.
After sugar, Che Guevara is Cuba's greatest export. For Wally Valdez, a friend and a performance poet born in the United States of Bolivian parents, Che is both a hero and a murderer, his legacy ridden with struggle-no pun intended. He is also a commodity, an ironic byproduct of a communist revolution that aimed to eradicate such capitalist concepts. In a poem written for a performance in 2005, Mr.Valdez talks about his dream about meeting Che in Costco. He wonders what would Che think of a gallon-sized ketchup. He approaches him, wanting to shout "THEY ARE EXPLOTING YOU – 'I'M EXPLOITING YOU –You're the inn thing – Since Jay Z wore your face on TV." It is unlikely that Jay Z wanted to start another communist revolution. Rather, Che's legacy is multifacted. His image...well, not so much. It is the image of Che gazing into the distance that graces much of today'smemorabilia. Taken by Alberto Korda in 1960, "this particular photograph has been reproduced more than any other in history ( except for the famous shot of Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grid)"http://www.democracynow.org/. Printed on everything from key chains to hats,the image perpetuates the idealism that continues to be associated with Che but not necessarily with Cuban revolution.
Che did not live long enough to feel the full aftermath of his revolution, the bitter reverberations created by Cubans who fled for the North American shores, majority of them settling in Miami. For those initial exiles, revolution was a disaster. For their successors, however, the young generations born on the North American soil, the reality is not so black and white. A different kind of struggle exists. "We've inherited a mind frame and sentiment of a displaced community" says Rogelio Plasencia, president of Cuban American Student Association at NYU, a legacy he wants to contest or corroborate with a visit to his family who still lives in Cuba. He hopes that this coming summer he'll be able to go.
The immortalized image of Che resonates with many because it has come to represent a different, more personalized revolution. As Mr. Valdez says of Che, "[he] reminds me of a struggle, of being myself a proud Latino." Che Guevara, once a symbol of communal uprising, has been adopted into the globalized and individualistic communities as a representation of "every man's struggles," be they political, economicor personal. It is this universal appeal to the challenges of human existence that has propelled Che Guevara into one of the most referenced archives of history.