The New York Times Reports on Slavery in Afghanistan, Actually Uses the S-Word.

The following is a guest post from Una Moore, who blogs for U.N. Dispatch.  Thanks Una!

Human rights abuses in Afghanistan are too often wrapped in euphemisms and exoticism. Think: “opium brides.” The term conjures images of dark-eyed women sensually smoking from opium pipes while sitting on silk cushions, but it actually refers to little girls who are handed over to drug lords (who subsequently rape, traffic and sometimes kill them) by their indigent families as “repayment” for poppy crop debts. Most international media outlets are guilty of using terms like “opium bride” for people who, were they not South/Central Asian, would simply, bluntly, accurately be called victims of human trafficking. Because that’s what they are.

Given the prevalence of this double standard, I was surprised today when I read the New York Times article ‘For Punishment of Elder’s Misdeeds, Afghan Girl Pays the Price.’ In describing one of the most violent and heinous violations of women’s human rights in Afghanistan today, the NYT calls the practice of “baad” what it actually is: the enslavement of young girls and women for purposes of sexual exploitation and manual labor. It even used the s-word!

Despite being denounced by the United Nations as a “harmful traditional practice,” baad is pervasive in rural southern and eastern Afghanistan, areas that are heavily Pashtun, according to human rights workers, women’s advocates and aid experts. Baad involves giving away a young woman, often a child, into slavery and forced marriage. It is largely hidden because the girls are given to compensate for “shameful” crimes like murder and adultery and acts forbidden by custom, like elopement, say elders and women’s rights advocates.

The article tells the story of Shakila, a 10-year-old girl who was taken, along with her young cousin, by a family of local thugs in her native Kunar as punishment for her uncle running away with the wife of a warlord. Tied up in a dark room, starved, kept filthy, and beaten for months, Shakila finally escaped and made her way back to her parents. Her abusers quickly chased after her, and her family was then left with no choice but to flee from their village to the provincial capital. When interviewed by the NYT, Shakila’s father explains that it wasn’t the fact that his daughter was thrown against walls and fed only water and bread for months on end that bothered him most, it was the fact that he’d already promised Shakila to someone else by the time she was taken.

We did not mind giving girls,” said her father, Gul Zareen. “But she was not mine to give.”

Men like those who abused Shakila continue to operate with impunity in areas where there is little government presence to speak of and where local people rely on tribal dispute resolution mechanisms, the article goes on to explain. If you’ve worked in Afghanistan, as I have, you’ve heard it all before: people don’t trust the government, the courts are corrupt, tribal customs are deeply rooted, and so on. And all of that is true, but the NYT article highlights something else, something that gets at the real reason there’s so little meaningful opposition to baad –the grim fact that many urban, pro-government Afghan men support baad and similar practices that destroy the lives of Afghan women.

Take, for example, these jaw-dropping quotes from a member of parliament from Nangarhar province, another hot spot for the enslavement and trafficking of women and girls.

“Giving baad has good and bad aspects,” said Fraidoon Mohmand, a member of Parliament from Nangarhar Province, who has led a number of jirgas. “The bad aspect is that you punish an innocent human for someone else’s wrongdoings, and the good aspect is that you rescue two families, two clans, from more bloodshed, death and misery.”

[...] “When you give a girl in baad, they are beaten maybe, maybe she will be in trouble for a year or two, but when she brings one or two babies into the world, everything will be forgotten and she will live as a normal member of the family,” he said.

Did you get that? Enslaving women and girls isn’t really so terrible, because the rapes and beatings ease up after a few years and a few forced pregnancies.

Let that sink in for a few minutes.

Sahar Gul Update: NYT Public Editor Responds, Agrees with Us

Today I got the following letter from Art “Truth Vigilante” Brisbane, the NYT’s public editor:

Thanks for your message about Graham Bowley’s coverage of Sahar Gul, the young Afghan girl. I am concerned about the girl’s privacy as well and have raised the question with the Foreign Desk. I do concur that news organizations should be careful to respect the privacy of crime victims. This is a case where, I believe, the benefits of doing a story were outweighed by the potential harm to the girl.
Best,
Art Brisbane
public editor

 So that’s nice.

The Internet Is Full of Amazing People, Jina Edition

In my last post, I asked my journalist readers what should be done about obtaining meaningful consent in situations where there is a language barrier between the reporter and the trauma victim/subject:

Finally, a question for my journalist friends: what do you make of the fact that Mac apparently asked her NGO intermediary for consent from the victim and her mother, and he assured her that they had consented?  Mac doesn’t speak Haitian Creole, and the other women don’t speak English, so it sounds like an intermediary was necessary.  I don’t like the idea that consent rules should be loosened for sources who don’t speak the same language as the reporters who write about them.  But if you must rely on third parties, how can you be sure that consent has been given, and given meaningfully?  

Ask and ye shall receive: Jina Moore has written an incredibly informative and thoughtful response.  I strongly, strongly, strongly urge you to go read the entire, detailed version here, but here is a summary of her rules, from her companion post on the topic:

  • Meaningful consent comes from the survivor. Not a driver, a husband, a social worker, a doctor, a lawyer…
  • Meaningful consent is given for specific use. The story, the audience, and the medium are explained, understood, and agreed to by both parties.
  • Meaningful consent is given at an appropriate time. That time is very rarely in moments of or immediately after crisis.
  • Meaningful consent repeats itself. Long-form or feature journalism has time to go back to survivors and talk through how the story will appear. It also has that obligation.
  • Trauma journalism has different standards. Trauma journalism inverst our usual relationships with sources and makes us the most powerful people in the room. Our professional rules aren’t built for that, so we must adapt them.

 I think that last point is especially important.  I hadn’t ever thought about it before, but I think that issue is at the heart of so many of the stories that I have had a problem with over the years.  As Jina explains:

The rules of traditional journalism are written for a game in which the journalist is the disempowered party. Those rules are designed to get as much information as possible from people who, for reasons of self-interest, probably don’t want to give it to us. That’s why we have things like “on the record” – it’s public, no going back. Or “on background” – you can use the information, but you can’t name the source. Or even, “on deep background,” which is “for your edification only, and you can’t print/broadcast any of this.”

These are rules powerful people know. If you interview a State Department official, the first thing they will do is say, ‘This OTR” or “This is on background” or “How will this be used?” And you negotiate the rules. They know how the game works. Indeed, they know that it’s a game.

So we have to rewrite the rules. Trauma journalism requires that journalists acknowledge a major power shift – one that favors the journalists. We have to rewrite our playbook. The premise is still the same – protect the vulnerable – but now, we’re not the vulnerable. Our sources are.

Like I said, go read the whole thing.

In Which I Wade Further into the McClelland Morass, Demonstrating That I Have No Sense of Self-Preservation

Since Mac McClelland published the article on PTSD that I discussed in my previous post, writer Edwidge Danticat has come forward with troubling allegations that McClelland did not have permission from “Sybille,” the rape victim she mentions in the article, to tell her story.  In an article in Essence, Danticat writes:

In her essay, Ms. McClelland writes that K*’s trauma led in part to her own breakdown. Nevertheless, during Ms. McClelland’s ride along with K*, on a visit to a doctor, Ms. McClelland, as has been reported elsewhere,  live-tweeted K*’s horrific experiences. The tweets put K*’s life in danger because they identified the displacement  camp where K* was living–with details of landmarks added–her specific injury, her real name, and suggest that she is a drug user.

When K* found out about Ms. McClelland’s tweets, even before Ms. McClelland’s original Mother Jones article was published, K* wrote a letter to Ms. McClelland and Mother Jones magazine asking that Ms. McClelland not write about her. Her lawyer emailed the letter to them on November 2, 2010.

The full text of the letter in K*’s own handwriting is attached and is written in Haitian Creole.  It says:

You have no right to speak of my story.
You have no right to publish my story in the press
Because I did not give you authorization.
You have no right.  I did not speak to you.
You have said things you should not have said.
Thank you

Ms. McClelland has stated on this same twitter account that she had K*’s permission and K*’s mother’s permission to ride along with them, but she certainly–according to K*’s lawyer, and the driver on the ride along, and K* herself–did not have K*’s permission to tweet personal and confidential information about her. And even  if Ms. McClelland in some way thought she had K*’s consent, the attached letter should have made it clear that it was withdrawn and that she had, as the letter states, “no right” to write about K* anymore, especially in ways that her previous tweets had made K*’s and her location easily identifiable.

Obviously, if true, this is a serious lapse of journalistic ethics.  Regular readers of this blog know that I have no patience for journalists who treat rape victims unethically in order to obtain a sensationalist narrative, and if Danticat’s allegations are true, then I’m deeply disappointed in Mac.

A few other thoughts:

I have had it up to here with people claiming to be “giving voice to the voiceless,” or that their own writing is allowing someone else to “speak.”   I get that it’s just a cliche, but it seems to me that the by “voiceless”, we mean “this person is too poor/foreign/black/underprivileged to speak for themselves.” And “giving voice” seems suspiciously similar to “graciously filtering the story through my own privilege so that the the elements I think are important will become palatable.”

I can’t help but think that having one’s story told by someone else – by me, Edwidge Danticat, Mac McClelland, or whoever – bears the same relationship to telling it yourself as a $50 Barneys giftcard does to a $50 bill. With the giftcard, you’re limited by the giver’s views on where you should shop.  So it might be better than nothing, but with cash, you can go wherever you want.  Given the confusion over who said what, and what permissions were given, I wish that we were getting “Sybille’s” version of events from her directly.

[Update: in response to to some confusion expressed in the comments, I want to clarify that I’m not accusing Mac of claiming to speak for the victim – it was actually Danticat’s statement that she was “add[ing] another voice to the conversation” by speaking for the victim that prompted me to write this – rather, my frustration is with the way that society generally tends to elide statements made by individuals themselves and statements made by others on their behalf.  I wrote these paragraphs in the first-person plural because I count myself among those who speak for others, (in my case, as their lawyer), and hoped that it would be clear that I was frustrated with the general cultural trope, not casting stones at these specific writers.  That apparently wasn’t clear at all – apologies. /Update.]

(And, on a related note, I think that in general, I might prefer the style of reporting Mac does, which is “voicey” and includes herself and her own experiences in the narrative.  I understand that the convention is for reporters to be “neutral,” and not make themselves the story, but I’m not sure that anyone is ever really neutral.  I find it appealingly honest for reporters to take ownership of their opinions, rather than pretending that they’re objective truth.)

All that being said, if the victim asked Mac not to write about her any more, then I think that Mac should not have discussed her in the PTSD essay, even under a pseudonym.  For me, this is a somewhat closer question than it’s being made out to be, because it’s hard to draw a line between the victim’s experience of being assaulted, and Mac’s experience of riding with her that day in Haiti.  If circumstances were different, then I might feel more comfortable with what Mac wrote in the PTSD article, which was relatively brief and focused on how Mac experienced the day’s events, rather than the specifics of what had happened to the victim.  However, given that the victim apparently did not consent to the story in the first place, felt that the previous reporting had made her unsafe, and had specifically requested that Mac not write about her further, I don’t think Mac should have included the paragraph about “Sybille” in her PTSD essay.

(And this is old news, but for what it’s worth, Jina Moore pretty much sums up my feelings on the live-tweeting itself – at the time, it made me uncomfortable, even though I wasn’t aware of any of these consent problems.)

Finally, a question for my journalist friends: what do you make of the fact that Mac apparently asked her NGO intermediary for consent from the victim and her mother, and he assured her that they had consented?  Mac doesn’t speak Haitian Creole, and the other women don’t speak English, so it sounds like an intermediary was necessary.  I don’t like the idea that consent rules should be loosened for sources who don’t speak the same language as the reporters who write about them.  But if you must rely on third parties, how can you be sure that consent has been given, and given meaningfully?

On Mac McClelland’s Tale of Reporting, Rough Sex, and PTSD

(Posts on Hamdan and DSK will hopefully be coming soon, but first I’m going to discuss what turned out to be the favored write-in candidate for my next post: many of you emailed me asking for my reaction to reporter Mac McClelland’s article about her own struggle with PTSD.)

McClelland, who writes about human rights and foreign affairs for Mother Jones, developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a series of difficult reporting assignments in Haiti, during which she interviewed rape victims and was also herself the object of predatory sexual behavior. She has written a number of pieces about her healing process, including several that chronicled the self-defense classes she took at the behest of her editor. And then, a little over a week ago, she wrote an article for GOOD magazine in which she chronicled her PTSD in more detail, and described how having violent-but-consensual sex with someone she trusted helped her to overcome her trauma:

“And just like that, I’d lost. It’s what I was looking for, of course. But my body—my hard-fighting, adrenaline-drenched body—reacted by exploding into terrible panic. The comforting but debilitating blanket of tension that’d for weeks been wrapped around my chest solidified into a brick. Then the weight of his body, and of the inevitability of my defeat, descended on my ribcage. My worn-out muscles went so taut that they ached. I stopped breathing.

I did not enjoy it in the way a person getting screwed normally would. But as it became clear that I could endure it, I started to take deeper breaths. And my mind stayed there, stayed present even when it became painful, even when he suddenly smothered me with a pillow, not to asphyxiate me but so that he didn’t break my jaw when he drew his elbow back and slammed his fist into my face. Two, three, four times. My body felt devastated but relieved; I’d lost, but survived. After he climbed off me, he gathered me up in his arms. I broke into a thousand pieces on his chest, sobbing so hard that my ribs felt like they were coming loose.”

Her essay has been greeted with derision, vitriol, and worse – especially from her fellow journalists. Marjorie Valbrun, writing for Slate’s XX factor blog, called it “offensive,” “shockingly narcissistic,” and “intellectually dishonest.” Reporter Damian Cave tweeted that she was a “geisha to the NGO republic.” And 36 female reporters and Haiti researchers signed an open letter to GOOD, claiming that “the way she uses Haiti as a backdrop for this narrative is sensationalist and irresponsible,” and that

“[McClelland] paints Haiti as a heart-of-darkness dystopia, which serves only to highlight her own personal bravery for having gone there in the first place. She makes use of stereotypes about Haiti that would be better left in an earlier century: the savage men consumed by their own lust, the omnipresent violence and chaos, the danger encoded in a black republic’s DNA.”

The various critiques fall into three rough categories:

  1. PTSD isn’t real, it’s just San Francisco therapy-speak for “having a bad day,” so McClelland must have been a self-obsessed narcissist to write about it as if it’s something to be taken seriously;
  2. PTSD is real, but McClelland either had no right to develop it or was faking it, because reporting about other people’s trauma doesn’t seem like it should be that hard; or
  3. McClelland was allowed to get PTSD, but isn’t allowed to write about it being triggered by reporting from Haiti, because that might give people the impression that bad things can happen in Haiti, and that is clearly racist and colonialist.

I find these reactions confusing. The piece in question is a personal essay about her own struggle with PTSD. It wasn’t reportage on Haiti, or anything else for that matter. So why all the snarls and slashing claws?

In the interest of lighting candles instead of cursing darkness and all that, I figure I’ll address each of the arguments in turn.

PTSD = Not Really That Real?

In fairness, none of the responses I read came right out and specifically said that they think PTSD is fake. However, I have to believe that many of them think that. Because why else would they call McClelland “narcissistic” for developing it? I assume that when they hear that a person has caught malaria, their response isn’t “That self-obsessed bitch! Doesn’t she know that other people have been bitten by way more mosquitoes, and never had a problem?”

Flashbacks and vivid nightmares might be less obvious than 104-degree fevers, but that doesn’t mean they’re made up. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – it’s totes real, y’all! Not a fake thing that people like to claim they have, just because the stigma of mental illness is so super fun!

Perhaps the easiest way to conceptualize PTSD, if you’ve never experienced or encountered it yourself, is as an emotional allergic reaction. With physical allergies, your immune system becomes over sensitized to a physical substance, and will react so strongly when it encounters, say, a peanut, that the result can be serious injury or even death. PTSD can be thought of as the emotional version of that: the body’s emotional system won’t stop fighting, even when it’s no longer necessary. It’s a severe, involuntary over-reaction of of the brain’s normal responses to trauma, and the results can be devastating – the mental equivalent of anaphylactic shock.

The behavior that results from this “mental allergic reaction” can be bizarre and disturbing. One of the first clients I ever worked with was a middle-aged man who was seeking asylum, who also had a severe case of PTSD. As a result, he would do almost anything to avoid discussing his trauma. Because I needed to know what had happened to him in order to file the claim, this was a big problem for our working relationship. He lied to me repeatedly, and often became explosively angry at seemingly random moments. Working on the case made him crushingly fatigued, no matter how much coffee he drank. On one memorable occasion, he fell asleep while talking to me – literally dozed off in the middle of his own sentence.

Another time, I was interviewing a woman about sexual assaults she had suffered as an adult, and she began to impersonate her six-year-old self, who couldn’t be questioned about the assaults because they didn’t happen until she grew up. I’ve had other clients who were initially too traumatized to tell me what happened to them at all, forcing me to suspend work on their cases until after they received treatment from a therapist. It bears repeating that these were asylum cases – winning them was potentially life-saving, so these people had every incentive to cooperate, but their PTSD was so severe that they literally couldn’t.

The thing to draw from these stories, (other than “become an asylum lawyer! Meet vulnerable people, and make them re-live their past traumas for fun and profit!”) is that the symptoms of PTSD can, in many cases, be almost indistinguishable from the symptoms of being an asshole. But there’s a key difference: assholes act that way because they don’t think you deserve respect, while PTSD sufferers act that way because their brains mistakenly think that something is trying to kill them. I don’t know about you, but I think that a person engaged in the activity of “trying not to die” deserves to be cut a bit more slack than a person engaged in the activity of “trying to annoy you.”

Yeah, But McClelland Didn’t Go Through Anything That Bad, Did She? She Must Be Faking, Right?

Nor do I have much sympathy for all the be-internetted mutterings about how ridiculous it was for McClelland to claim PTSD after “only” interviewing a rape victim and not being actually raped herself, or after “only” one trip to Haiti, or “only” whatever else.

For one thing, that’s an unnecessarily restrictive reading of her story, which mentions a number of traumatic situations, including: two trips to Haiti, during which she reported on a brutal sexual assault and mutilation; being the object of sexually predatory behavior by her driver in Haiti, who “cornered her,” an “upstanding member of the Haitian elite,” who stalked her, and a group of convicted ex-felons in Oklahoma who “got handsy” and suggested that she’d be “pretty fun to pass around for lively intercourse;” and the difficulty of reporting on the Deepwater Horizon spill in New Orleans a few months earlier, which had brought back memories of living in that city during Katrina. That doesn’t sound like “only” anything to me.

But even if it were really true McClelland was traumatized by her reporting on the story of Haitian rape victim “Sybille,” that wouldn’t matter. Because not only is PTSD totes real (see above), it also isn’t something that people can control. It’s not like you get to say “sure, this seems bad, but far worse things are happening to other people elsewhere, so I think I will actually not develop PTSD today.”

Again, that’s a courtesy that we extend automatically to people who suffer physical injuries or diseases. If someone loses a leg in a car accident, we don’t dismiss their pain on the grounds that other people lose their legs fighting in wars.

Although I have never had PTSD myself, my personal experience is still enough for me to know that you never know which events are going to leave you traumatized. In my case, my closest actual brush with death – getting run over by a car at age 17 – left me physically bashed up, but emotionally fine. But sometimes exposure to other people’s trauma, through some of the cases I’ve worked on, has on occasion left me a jangly-nerved wreck. For me, those symptoms have tended to manifest in the form of hackneyed-metaphor nightmares (example: I’m in a school that’s bright and sunny, but then I go downstairs and the basement is full of mangled corpses – I get it, subconscious, I get it), and a complete inability to watch torture scenes in movies. Casino Royale left me shaking in my seat, holding my head between my knees and trying not to pass out or throw up.

Luckily, for me, such problems always went away quickly, on their own. I’ve never needed to go to a trauma therapist, or to have someone punch me in the face during sex. But that’s just good luck. It wasn’t strong moral fiber on my part, any more than it was weakness for me to be affected by my clients’ stories in the first place. Just as it wasn’t any more impressive for me not to develop PTSD after getting hit by a car while walking to class one sunny morning than it was for me not to develop an allergy to peanuts. Just as it wasn’t weakness for McClelland to develop PTSD, or to get over it the way that she did. (As treatment plans go, “have the violent sex you crave with a person you can trust” is quite niche, but I’m glad it worked for her.)

And I’m glad that she wrote about it, partly because her prose is vivid and engaging, but partly because I think there is value in embracing the weirdness that mental illness causes, and the weirdness that can be encountered when overcoming it.

There is also value in writing an article that tells other people that healing is possible, but that the road might be peculiar. I couldn’t put it better than commenter Goodspices, who left this comment on Mac’s article:

“Reading this article is an awakening that the feelings I’ve experienced as a victim of PTSD aren’t wrong, happen to others, and most importantly, can be worked through with help. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for everyone but if it worked together for the good, why should we feel the need for judging her?”


If that’s not a good reason for her to have written and published this article, I don’t know what is.

McClelland Shouldn’t Have Written That Her Trip To Haiti Triggered Her PTSD, Because That Is Clearly Racist And Colonialist

I almost feel like I shouldn’t even address this argument, because I think it is so stupid. Those of you who read this blog know that I have basically zero tolerance for the “land of rape and lions” brand of reporting on developing countries, so I feel pretty comfortable with my ability to tell the difference between that, and a personal essay that includes relevant facts. McClelland’s piece is the latter: she was writing about her own experience of Haiti, and that experience included interviewing rape victims, being stalked and harassed by men who felt entitled to have sex with her, and observing an awful lot of guns. I struggle to see how having those experiences, or writing about them, constitutes racism.

When it comes to the Gang of 36’s arguments, I find myself in agreement with Conor Friedersdorf:

This is what a hit piece reads like when it’s cloaked in liberal arts school vernacular. If you scoffed when Pres. Obama was smeared as having a Kenyan anti-colonial mindset, witness the other side’s answer to Dinesh D’Souza: in their telling, we’re to understand the writer by presuming that she has a colonial mindset. How dare someone travel to refugee camps plagued by an epidemic of gang rape, get cornered by her driver, develop PTSD, and focus an essay about her ailment on “ugly chaos”?


Their tactics are especially galling because McClelland never mentions race in her piece, but that doesn’t stop the signatories from using loaded terms to imply that she is racially unenlightened (a “heart of darkness” dystopia with “savage” men). It’s easy to make a writer look bad when you impute to her ugly sentiments she never actually expresses.

And Una Moore:


That 36 well-respected women working as journalists, aid workers and researchers deemed it necessary to endorse a letter that shames a reporter grappling with PTSD for things she did not even write is evidence of just how widespread support for self-censorship is among a network that, were it to live up to its ideals, would encourage bold self-expression, but instead mobilizes to stamp it out and sow fear of independent thought.

To sum up:

  • I liked the article;
  • PTSD = totally a thing; and
  • People should stop being such jerks about it.

Things That Make Us Say "Gah"

We know we probably shouldn’t read The Washington Times. It is, after all, characterized by barely-edited histrionic nonsense.

But sometimes people send us stuff, and sometimes we read that stuff, and that’s how we find ourselves here, reading an article titled “Congo a country of rape and ruin.” Sigh.

Let’s run down our checklist of must-haves for reportage from the Sucking Vortex, shall we?

  1. Article title referencing rape: check.
  2. Multiple instances of the word “impunity”: check.
  3. Discussion of husbands who repudiate raped wives: check.
  4. Interview with child victim of rape under the age of 10: check.
  5. Inclusion of photograph and full name of aforementioned child rape victim: check and check.

We didn’t think we’d have to go back over this, but seriously, publishing the name and photo of child victims of rape is not cool. Not cool according to journalistic ethics, and not cool according to child protection standards. Seriously, if this article were a person, it would be a dude with a mullet, a neck tattoo of the Confederate flag, and halitosis. Wearing a t-shirt that says “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.” Crying into his Natty Ice. Not cool.

Anyhoodle, if you’re looking for something to read about rape in the Congo that will leave you feeling a little less murdery, we recommend Chuck Sudetic’s write-ups of the work of a mobile court in Kamituga over at the Open Society Foundation’s blog. Nuanced coverage of a complicated issue FTW!

WTF Friday, Detained Journalists Edition

We’ve been anxiously following the story of Clare Morgana Gillis, James Foley, and Manu Brabo, three journalists who were detained in Libya on April 5th, in the hope that they will be released soon.

Our thoughts are with all of them, but it’s Clare who we can’t get out of our heads.

Maybe it’s just that she seems to have an unusual number of friends amongst the people we follow on Twitter. Or that her background is in some ways so familiar – she did her PhD in history before becoming a journalist. Sounds like a lot of people we know. Or maybe like a combination of bits and pieces of a lot of people we know. (And can we just say that we’re a little bit in awe of the sheer academic-ness of her thesis? “Illicit sex, unfaithful translations: Latin, Old High German and the birth of a new sexual morality in the early middle ages.” Wowzers.)

Mostly though, it’s the knowledge that a few months ago, in the wake of Lara Logan’s assault, when we were railing from the safety of our blog against the haters who say that women shouldn’t be foreign correspondents because it’s “just too dangerous,” Clare was not only reporting from Egypt, but packing her bags for Libya. That’s brave, and impressive, and people who do things like that deserve our support.

She appears to be safe for now. (Or at least as safe as one can be in a Libyan prison). We were pleased to hear that she was able to call her family a second time, but that’s obviously not enough. The Libyan government should release her and her fellow journalists immediately.

Here is a Facebook page calling for Clare’s release, and a petition you can sign. And here’s her personal blog.

What if Political Scientists Wrote the News?

In response to this article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Slate’s Christopher Beam imagines what it would be like if academics were in charge of the news cycle:

A powerful thunderstorm forced President Obama to cancel his Memorial Day speech near Chicago on Monday—an arbitrary event that had no affect on the trajectory of American politics.

Obama now faces some of the most difficult challenges of his young presidency: the ongoing oil spill, the Gaza flotilla disaster, and revelations about possibly inappropriate conversations between the White House and candidates for federal office. But while these narratives may affect fleeting public perceptions, Americans will ultimately judge Obama on the crude economic fundamentals of jobs numbers and GDP.

Chief among the criticisms of Obama was his response to the spill. Pundits argued that he needed to show more emotion. Their analysis, however, should be viewed in light of the economic pressures on the journalism industry combined with a 24-hour news environment and a lack of new information about the spill itself.

Republicans, meanwhile, complained that the administration has not been sufficiently involved in the day-to-day cleanup. Their analysis, of course, is colored by their minority status in America’s two-party system, which creates a strong structural incentive to criticize the party in power, whatever the merits.

More over at Slate. It stays funny through the end:

The GOP—a stupid acronym we use only so we don’t have to keep repeating the word Republican—will have to decide between a moderate “establishment” pick and a more conservative Tea Party favorite. In reality, both candidates would embrace similar policies in the general election.

That candidate will then face off against Obama, whose charisma, compelling personal story, and professional political operation will prove formidable. Actually, Obama will probably win because he’s the incumbent. And because voters always go with the guy who’s taller.