Today in Misuses of Legislative Authority

Joining Ugandan lawmakers’ most recent effort to ban mini-skirts in the “asinine interference with our freedoms” legislative initiatives file, local authorities in Kisumu, Kenya are considering a bill that would require women on bicycles and motorcycles to ride sidesaddle.

Apparently, riding astride is “uncultural.” And, like the much maligned mini-skirt, it threatens road safety by distracting male drivers. (See Uganda’s former Ethics & Integrity Minister, Nsaba Buturo’s, 2008 justification for a proposed mini-skirt ban here.) One motorcycle taxi driver interviewed by KTN insisted that having female passengers riding astride behind him compromised his ability to drive.  

Clearly, everyone would be better off if the ladies would just keep their legs together. Except, of course, for the women perched precariously on the backs of boda bodas with no way to keep themselves from flying off in the event of an unexpected stop, turn, or collision. But that’s a small price to pay to protect male drivers from having the knowledge that women have legs forced upon them, right?

WTF Friday, 8/9/2013

You know what worries me? When governments announce the restriction of certain groups’ access to public spaces, and justify it by saying that they’re preventing a scenario in which “[the dangerous minority in question] could meet our schoolchildren.”

In this instance, the dangerous minority is asylum seekers, and the government is Switzerland, which has historically been extremely generous to refugees.

The Swiss town of Bremgarten, which is the site of a new asylum seeker reception center, has designated 32 “exclusion zones” where the center’s residents will be forbidden to enter. Town officials told The Independent that “refugees would not be allowed to ‘loiter’ in school playgrounds and would be banned from visiting public swimming pools, playing fields and a church.” Also on the list: the public library, because god forbid scary refugees get their hands on any book learnin’.

The mayors of two other Swiss towns where additional centers will open have signaled their intentions to follow Bremgarten’s example, and ban asylum seekers from “sensitive areas.” (Again, like the library.)

Local and international human rights groups have denounced the rules as blatantly discriminatory, but the national government is backing Bremgarten. According to the head of the Swiss Federal Office of Migration, Mario Gattiker: ”We need rules to ensure a peaceful and orderly coexistence of residents and asylum-seekers.”

These developments follow a referendum showing that nearly 80% of Swiss voters backed a new law limiting the availability of asylum.

Two thoughts on this:

(1) Bremgarten’s center, where the first asylum seekers moved in on Monday, can hold 150 people, and currently houses a handful of Tibetans and Sudanese, including one child. Not exactly a ravening Mongol horde, you know?

(2) Switzerland is way out in the international law weeds on this one. In addition to being hella racist (and therefore in violation of Switzerland’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)), these measures are likely a violation of the asylum seekers’ freedom of movement, which can only be restricted under a limited set of circumstances, like when necessary to protect national security, public order, or public health. I’m just not sure preventing delicate Swiss schoolchildren from seeing a Sudanese man in the swimming pool counts.

And in case this bums you out as much as it does me, here’s a cat in a shark costume riding a Roomba. There’s also a duckling. You’re welcome.

Time for a Bechdel Test for African Characters? Some Thoughts on the Newsroom’s Very Special Africa Episode

The Newsroom went to Africa. It was not good.

In Sunday’s episode, “Unintended Consequences,” ACN sent a reporter named Maggie and a cameraman named Gary Cooper to Uganda to do a segment on the U.S. army building an orphanage there, because apparently that is news.

When she was done interviewing soldiers, Maggie relaxed with a visit to the orphanage’s classroom, in which children of all ages were having a “geography lesson” that consisted of reciting the names of continents when their teacher pointed to them on a map. Seems like geography to me! Then Gary Cooper came in with the camera and all the children screamed and hid under their desks, because they thought it was a gun. (could this be…FORESHADOWING?) See, cattle raiders were roaming them there hills, and the children were afeared.

A particularly adorable afeared child named Daniel – who, the show takes pains to tell us, has parents but has been sent to the orphanage temporarily to avoid cattle raider attacks, and so wasn’t even supposed to be there that day (IRONY) – bonded with Maggie by demanding that she read him him Lyle, Lyle Crocodile over and over again, and petting her hair. The teacher says that Daniel is fascinated by Maggie’s hair because he’s never seen a blonde person before, and that “blondes are trouble.” (OMG MORE FORESHADOWING.)

Through a series of mishaps that include Maggie not knowing where Djibouti is and not understanding that it is not light during nighttime, the ACN team was forced to spend the night at the orphanage. (Thanks again for those strong female characters, Aaron Sorkin.)

That night, obviously, cattle raiders attacked. At first everyone was like “hey, weird, this is an orphanage so we do not have any cattle.” But then it turned out that they were actually CAMERA raiders who wanted the ACN camera. Maggie didn’t know that because the raiders were yelling in a language that her fixer did not understand, and apparently none of the other people at the orphanage thought to bring it up. (Perhaps they were embarrassed to, because camera raiders are not a thing.)

So then everyone hustled to load the children onto what I assume was an AK-47-proof bus, but Daniel was missing! No one saw that coming at all. Daniel was hiding under a bed, with the Lyle book. OMG. Who will save him? The orphanage staff apparently hadn’t even noticed that they were short a Daniel, but never fear, American people are here! Maggie and Gary heroically tore the bed off the floor and dragged Daniel out from under it, then ran for the bus. Except that the raiders shot Daniel while Maggie was carrying him to the bus on her back, so he died from the bullet that was meant for her. MORE OF WHAT I ASSUME WAS INTENDED TO BE IRONY.

All of this is told through the framing device of a deposition, because, you see, the truly important thing about Daniel’s death was how it affected Maggie, and apparently in Sorkin world a deposition is a thing you use to evaluate someone’s emotional state after a traumatic event. We can tell that Maggie is totes messed up about what happened because she came home and gave herself a terrible haircut and tomato-red dye job. (Remember, blondes are trouble.) But she bravely soldiers on through the deposition with barely a wring of her hands because she is BRAVE (if rather bad at her job).

Africa has changed Maggie – changed her forever. You can tell by her hair.

Over at Slate, Willa Paskin suggests that we introduce the term “Lyle-ing” as an equivalent to “fridging” for storylines in which a black child’s death, instead of a woman’s, is used to instigate anguish and personal growth in a white main character. I think that’s a fine idea, but would suggest another addition: a Bechdel test for African characters.

The Bechdel test is a feminist movie evaluation tool introduced by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. To pass the test, a movie must (1) have two or more female characters, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about a topic other than a man. If a movie doesn’t pass the test, that’s a sign that it’s lacking in female characters, and/or just using them as emotional MacGuffins for the males around them. (Many, many movies do not pass this test.)

I think it’s about time for us to introduce an equivalent test for African characters: if a movie or TV show is set in Africa, then it should (1) have at least two African characters, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about a topic other than poverty, disease, or violent conflict.

“But, Amanda!” you say, “how would that even work? Everyone knows that on TV, Africa exists so that white people can go there thinking they will change things, but end up having Africa change them more than they ever imagined it could. What would Africans even talk about with each other? And where will the white characters get their life-changing epiphanies if they’re no longer allowed to save helpless innocents from some sort of horror or tragedy?”

I agree that it’s a tough challenge. Western audiences, trained on years of Carter-goes-to-Congo storylines, may be surprised to discover that people in “Africa” have problems other than those that ride in with one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. And screenwriters, long trained to think of Africa as a continent-sized arena for the battle of White Person vs. White Person’s Inner Demons, may initially have difficulty finding other uses for it. So, to get everyone started, here are some storylines that are guaranteed entertainment gold:

  1. Any Wedding Reality Show Ever: Nigeria Edition. After seeing Glenna Gordon’s amazing photo essay on Nigerian weddings, I feel legitimately betrayed by the reality TV industry’s failure to bring me any wedding shows involving mommy lace, little brides, or cash “spray.” Seriously, someone has to get on this.
  2. Arrested Development in Addis Ababa. According to NPR, Ethiopia is currently undergoing a construction boom so powerful that women are leaving traditional work as maids and nannies to join construction crews. Perhaps it’s time for the Bluth family to partner with a development firm run by a family of quirky Ethiopians to blow the McMansion market there wide open.
  3. Scandal: The Kigali Initiative. Olivia Pope & Associates get new client: a Rwandan diplomat who has been in secret talks about joining the opposition, and is afraid that the Kagame regime is about to have him killed. The gladiators in suits get to work, but it turns out that the plot runs deeper than anyone could have imagined, so they have to join with a team of Rwandan fixers to get to the bottom of it before it’s too late.
  4. Untitled Liberian Surfing Project. A ragtag group of Liberian surfing entrepreneurs decide that it’s time for Robertsport to host a major international surfing competition. Hijinks ensue.

Come on, entertainment industry: make it happen!

The Senate Should Confirm Nina Pillard Already

I wholeheartedly support Cornelia “Nina” Pillard’s nomination for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, because she is awesome. Professor Pillard taught two of my classes at Georgetown, so I can say from personal experience that she is a smart, diligent, judicious thinker. She is also a triathlete with practically-bionic strength. (That is less relevant to her judicial nomination, but still cool. Her exploits in the law school’s gym were legendary amongst my classmates.) The Senate should confirm her already.

I am not the only one who thinks that Pillard would be an asset to the federal bench. Here is Professor Viet Dinh, former deputy Attorney General under George W. Bush, and probably Georgetown’s most famously conservative faculty member, on Pillard’s qualifications:

“She is a fair-minded thinker with enormous respect for the law and for the limited, and essential, role of the federal appellate judge– qualities that make her well prepared to taken on the work of a D.C. Circuit judge. I am confident that she would approach the judicial task of applying law to facts in a fair and meticulous manner.”

And here is a statement from a group of 40 prominent attorneys who practice before the Supreme Court, including several who served in senior roles in the Reagan and Bush justice departments:

“We believe that Professor Pillard would bring to the D.C. Circuit unquestioned professional integrity and intellect, a breadth of experience, and dedication to fairness and the rule of law. We urge her confirmation.”

And yet, if you listen to the Republican members of the judiciary committee and the denizens of the National Review echo chamber, Pillard is some sort of crazed radical who probably shouldn’t be trusted with young minds, let alone federal cases. Never mind that she has assisted dozens of litigants, from all points on the political spectrum, pro bono as part of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute. Never mind that she collaborated with Dinh and the Bush Administration to litigate (and win) Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs before the Supreme Court. No, apparently Pillard is “out of the mainstream,” and would be “the most left-wing judge in the history of the republic.”

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WTF Friday, 6/28/2013

And you thought Rick “the louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done” Perry was bad on women’s issues…

Sudanese MP Dafa’a Allah Hasab Al-Rasool is currently at odds with his fellow parliamentarians over his motion to ban women’s participation in athletics. When the rest of the subcomittee balked at including the motion in a report on the Youth and Sports Ministry, Dafa’a Allah told them “I made this motion to protect your daughters and wives.”

Because if there’s anything Sudanese women need protection from, it’s the dangers of exercise.

H/T: Stephanie Schwartz

Greetings from Guatemala!

Hola from the Land of Eternal Spring/Land of Eternal Shenanigans in Genocide Trials. That’s right – I’m in Guatemala.

Yesterday morning I went to observe the Rios Montt/Rodriguez Sanchez genocide trial. (Why, what do you do on your vacation?)

The highlights:

  • Rios Montt’s entrance. He shuffled into the room, looked around, and then walked over to the prosecution table and shook hands with each lawyer, one by one, before waving and blowing them a kiss. It was so bizarre that I still can’t quite believe I saw it, but I’m reasonably certain that I did. I was too far away to hear their conversation, but Xeni Jardin was closer, and she said that it was “mostly small talk.”
  • My successful achievement of a nearly 1/1 correlation between “hours spent on an airplane” to “minutes of trial observed.” After Judge Barrios called the hearing to order, she explained that Rios Montt’s attorney, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, had called her this morning to complain that he was suffering from “problemas de salud,” (health problems) and would therefore not be attending the hearing. Without him, it could not proceed. (The judge’s decision to temporarily eject Garcia Gudiel at the beginning of the trial has proven to be a problem for the tribunal. So, unsurprisingly, she seemed unwilling to take any risks, even though the lawyer’s sudden “illness” is highly suspect.) I think the whole thing took about six minutes, from “all rise” to the dismissal for the day.
  • The dress code: jeans and linen for the human rights lawyers. Suits for prosecutors and defense lawyers, and a couple of nervous-looking students in the audience. (I wore my usual NYC work clothes, which led to me being mistaken for one of the aforementioned nervous students. Oh well.) Spectacular traditional dress for the Ixil women, but button-downs and slacks for the Ixil men. And one extremely snappy red skirt suit for Judge Barrios.

WTF Friday, Hashtag Edition

Stay classy, conservatives: the hashtag #LiberalTipsToAvoidRape spent much of this week trending on Twitter.

Some choice excerpts:

And a special WTF for Fox News’s Dana Perino, who apparently couldn’t come up with a better #ff than the creator of the hashtag, @SooperMexican:

(Mother Jones has a good description of the hashtag’s origins here.)

WTF Friday, 2/15/2013

Weird week, huh? In a move unprecedented in the modern era, Pope Benedict XVI decided to call it quits. No word yet on whether God will accept his resignation, but I don’t think we can ignore the uncanny timing of this morning’s meteor strike.

Meanwhile:

  • The 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue came out, doubling down on the idea that nothing shows off white models in expensive apparel like a bunch of “ethnic” folks doing something cultural or labor-intensive nearby.
  • Kenya’s High Court declined to rule on whether pending ICC charges should bar Uhuru Kenyatta from a run at the presidency, saying that it lacked jurisdiction over the question. This is a reasonable position for the court to take, but, as The Guardian points out, it does set up the possibility that “If Kenyatta wins, his first foreign trip as president could be to appear in the dock in the Hague at a hearing scheduled for April.”
  • A Kiwi politician suggested that all Muslim men should be banned from flying on western airlines, and referred to the entire Arab world as “Wogistan” for good measure. Classy.

Somalia Making Play for Lucrative Men’s Rights Activist Tourism Market?

Remember that time Somalia decided to arrest and imprison a woman who accused members of the police force of raping her? Sure you do. And remember when they also arrested the freelance journalist to whom she’d told her story, along with her husband, and the two people who had supposedly introduced her to the journalist?

Well, today she was convicted of the crime of “insulting a government body,” and sentenced to a one-year prison term. Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, the journalist (who, mind you, never actually published any details of their conversation), was given the same sentence. Her husband and the two intermediaries were acquitted.

You might be thinking that Somalia, faced with the daunting requirements of establishing itself as a functional state, has decided to start small by learning to protect itself from rape victims and unpublished freelance journalism before moving on to, say, evicting violent terrorist groups from its territory.

But we figure Somalia is actually pursuing a more sophisticated strategy, and attempting to position itself not only as a for-reals-we-mean-it-this-time-actual-state, but also as the first official destination for men’s rights tourism. We can see the ad copy now:

Stable, prosperous tourism economy, here we come.

(Fake Somalia tourism ad adapted from image by Flickr user nadim2.)

WTF Friday, 1/25/2013

This week’s high(low)lights:

  • Members of the Thai navy and police have been caught selling Rohingya refugees to human traffickers. I have no words. (H/T: Jeffrey Stein.)
  • A unit of German soldiers are reportedly growing breasts. They truly are the master race. (H/T: Erica Borghard, on a roll this week!)
  • A Republican lawmaker in New Mexico “accidentally” proposed legislation that would make rape victims seeking abortion vulnerable to felony evidence tampering charges. A likely story.