WTF Friday, 1/18/2013

A big “WTF” to the many commenters who somehow missed the satire in Amanda’s post on sexual violence and accused her of “hate speech against men.” Hokay.

Also disturbing: Turkey uses anti-terrorism laws to arrest 15 prominent human rights lawyers.

Finally, poop transplants, apparently a thing.

WTF Friday 11/30/2012, Opportunity Costs Edition

Yesterday one Lawrence E. Mitchell, Dean of Case Western Reserve Law School, published an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Law School is Worth the Money.” It’s pretty funny.

Amongst the gems contained therein:

  • People shouldn’t be so upset about the bad job market – in which only 50% of new graduates are able to get jobs in law firms – because it’s only 9% worse than the worst market in recent memory. (Oh, well, when you put it that way, of course it’s an excellent use of hundreds of thousands of dollars!)
  • On the subject of that 50% figure, the “focus on first jobs is misplaced,” because law schools are educating people for “40-50 year careers.”  (HA.  Good luck having a 50 year career in the law if you can’t get a first job in it within a few years of graduation.  Law school teaches you nothing about legal practice, and that J.D. credential becomes stale right quick.)
  • Law school is an awesome investment because “Many graduates will find that their legal educations give them the skills to find rich and rewarding lives in business, politics, government, finance, the nonprofit sector, the arts, education and more.”  (I’m sorry, did he actually say that students should drop off a six figure sum with his law school on their way to careers in the arts?  That is messed up, yo.)
  • That the “thousands of students” who have been discouraged from attending law school will be unable to find fulfilling careers elsewhere, because “[t]hey’re not all going to be doctors or investment bankers.”  (Guess what, dude?  They’re not all going to be lawyers, either, even if they graduate from law school.)

To our vulnerable young readers, who might be considering law school: Put down the Op-Ed, and back away slowly.  Dean Mitchell wants your money.  Do not take his advice.  For more on why, see here, here, and here.

Cambodian Dissident Mam Sonando Sentenced to 20 Years for No Good Reason

Back in July I reported on the arrest of Beehive Radio owner and political activist, Mam Sonando. In an absurd abuse of legal process, Sonando was charged with participating in an insurrection and inciting armed rebellion following his public support of villagers protesting their eviction from land the Cambodian government has awarded to a Russian company, Casotim. In May, the government’s attempt to forcibly remove the villagers led to the fatal shooting of an unarmed 14 year old girl. Rather than investigating the girl’s death or issuing an apology, the government chose to double down on its repressive tactics, characterizing the protests as a secession attempt and accusing critics of the crackdown of instigating a rebellion.

Yesterday, Judge Chaing Sinat of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed down a 20 year sentence in Sonando’s case, prompting outcry from local NGOsinternational organizations, and donor governments, and demonstrating once again the dismaying complicity of Cambodia’s judiciary in the abuses of the Hun Sen regime.

WTF Friday, Except Actually Monday, 9/24/2012

Apparently it’s Opposite Day over at Counterpunch. From an article called “Pol Pot Revisited,” by Israel Shamir:

“The Khmer Rouge experiment lasted only three years, from 1975 to 1978. Surprisingly, Cambodians have no bad memories of that period.

And later:

“As for the mass killings, these are just horror stories, averred my Cambodian interlocutors.”

1.7 million dead Cambodians beg to differ, dude.

H/T: Marginal Revolution

Point/Counterpoint on Samahope: Our Two Cents

As promised, here are our thoughts on Samahope’s use of patient profiles to raise money for fistula repair in Sierra Leone:

Although we’re kind of in love with the idea of a Kickstarter for poor women’s vaginas, we’re concerned about the fact that these women are presented primarily in terms of their injury. The key information provided for potential donors browsing through the photographs of possible recipients is “name, age, nature of fistula.” Some of the profiles list a few of the women’s hobbies or interests (“gardening” is a popular choice), but the bulk of the information is fistula-related.

We’re also troubled by the coercive dynamic implicit in the offer of assistance in exchange for public admission of a stigmatizing injury. Even in the best-case scenario, in which the women have no shame about their injuries and aren’t worried about stigma, Samahope is asking women to publicly reveal private information in exchange for help. Leila points out that she has personally spoken with fourteen of the women, and they were all willing to share their stories, but we suspect we’d also be “willing” to publicize our gynecological issues if it meant we would get otherwise unaffordable much-needed treatment. If ladies who aren’t willing to disclose their condition to the global public aren’t eligible for funded surgeries (as Leila’s comments suggest that they’re aren’t), this whole process starts to seem pretty coercive.

Here in the U.S., we don’t think it’s acceptable to force women to publicly describe their vaginas in exchange for vagina-related assistance: We’d never accept it if, say, Medicaid were to require women to post their names, photos, and description of their gynecological problems on a website in order to visit an OB/GYN.  That policy might find a fan in Rush Limbaugh, who famously said that he should be allowed to view the sex acts of young women who received government-subsidized birth control, but that’s hardly indicative of mainstream morality; his comments were (rightly) greeted with horror by the general public.

Both of these concerns (the reduction of a person to an injury, and the potentially coercive nature of the requirement to reveal private medical info) are heightened in the case of the underage girls on the site. We propose that when the question is: “hey, should i post this photo of a 14 year old girl, along with her name, and a description of her broken vagina?” the answer should always be “no.”

Finally, we worry that the setup of the appeal for help – presenting the women and girls almost as if they’re in competition for funding – sets up a disturbing decision process for the potential donor who must choose the most “worthy” (damaged? youngest? prettiest?) recipient for their funds. This mirrors a broader trend that disturbs us, in which NGOs compete for funding and attention by jostling to show the most pathetic victims possible. (Not just a starving woman, but a starving woman who has been raped.  Not just a starving woman who has been raped, but a starving child who has been raped. Not just a starving child who has been raped, but a starving child who has been trafficked into sexual slavery…)  This not only sets up a weird competition for who is “most deserving” or “most in need,” it also contributes to a culture in which no information is too private, and no depiction too demeaning, to demand of victims.

We are not cool with an NGO culture that focuses more on gratifying the egos of donors than on preserving the dignity of recipients. Campaigns like this one contribute to that culture, regardless of their intentions.

None of this is to say that we don’t think Samahope should raise money for fistula repair in Sierra Leone. We’re fully on board with soliciting wealthy Americans for money for poor African women’s vaginas. And actually, we think this has a lot of potential as the next great hipster cause. Think about it: hipsters LOVE to say the word “vagina.” (Look at us, for instance.) And West Africa Fistula Foundation, which performs the Samahope-funded surgeries, seems like a worthy beneficiary. Their focus on recruiting and training local staff is particularly encouraging.

We think there are some pretty easy fixes for the problems we’ve identified above. Nixing the photos of the underage girls would be a great start. We also challenge Samasource to consider whether they could raise money effectively for fistula repair without running photos of pre-operative patients at all. We understand the urge to present real people in need of immediate help – we’ve all seen the research showing that individuals are much more inclined to give when they have a particular person with whom to associate the need for donations. But we think creatively presented profiles (yes, and photos too) of post-op patients would be a more ethical way to establish this connection. Although it would definitely forego some of the urgency of the appeal, showing women who are able to live full, healthy lives as a result of fistula repair would be a moving testament to the value of Samahope’s work, and would clearly underscore the need to fund help for similarly situated women.

Stay tuned for Samahope founder Leila Janah’s response later on…

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

Our initial reaction when we first saw Samahope was: Man, what brilliant satire. It so perfectly skewers the particular sort of poverty porn-y, competitive victimhood-encouraging NGO that we’re always ranting about. But as we clicked through the site, which posts pictures of Sierra Leonean women and girls suffering from fistula and asks for donations to pay for surgical intervention, we began to get that uncomfortable tingling that accompanies the realization that something you thought was a hilarious send-up of a disturbing phenomenon is actually just one more example of the disturbing phenomenon itself. (What? It’s a real feeling. We get it all the time.)

We didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, though, because Samahope is backed by Leila Janah, the founder of Samasource, which is “an innovative social business that connects women and youth living in poverty to dignified work via the internet” that we’ve been fans of for years. But when we reached out to Leila on Twitter, she told us that Samahope is totally for reals. We mentioned that we were having a lot of uncomfortable, squicked-out feelings about the whole “repair a broken vagina for just $3 a day” approach and that we were going to blog about them (because that’s why people have blogs), and offered Leila the chance to share her perspective as well.

So tomorrow Wednesday we’re going to have an Onion-style Point/Counterpoint in which we’ll explain why this hurts our brains, and Leila will explain why Samahope is doing important and necessary work. Hopefully we’ll all learn and grow.

WTF Friday, 5/18/2012

This week’s winner: Belgian Congo Pale Ale, apparently an actual thing. The brewer describes it as “[a] blend of old world traditions.” Right, a “secret Belgian yeast strain” and delicious old world traditions like forced labor and mass amputations. Yum. (h/t: @texasinafrica)

And the runner-up: More than 50% of the police officers in Greece voted for the neo-Nazi party in the May 6th elections. Always a good sign when most of your security sector is fascists…

WTF Friday, 3/16/2012

This week in first world problems: “‘It’s not cheap like it used to be,’ laments Dale Weathington of Kolcraft, an American firm that uses contract manufacturers to make prams in southern China. Labour costs have surged by 20% a year for the past four years, he grumbles (emphasis mine).” This sounds like the curmudgeonest dude in history. Also I’m pretty sure he makes an imaginary product.

“Sixteen civilians [have] been killed in a shooting spree by a U.S. officer stationed in Afghanistan…The incident is the latest in a series of widely publicized self-inflicted setbacks for U.S. forces in recent months. In February, Qurans were mistakenly burned as garbage at a military base in Afghanistan, which led to deadly riots. In January, a video of U.S. forces urinating on Taliban corpses surfaced on the Internet.” Reaction from Newt Gingrich: “We’re not prepared to be ruthless enough.” Just so everybody has it straight, to Newt Gingrich, massacring civilians and pissing on corpses counts as not ruthless enough.

ICC celebrates its decennial with…a verdict!

WTF Friday 3/9/2012

After years of American rappers doing it or resisting it metaphorically, Swazilanders are literally throwing rocks at the throne.

“The Taylor aide believes that his boss is not on trial for crimes in Liberia but rather in Sierra Leone and, therefore, he deserves his pension benefits as former head of state here.” Honestly I think it’s messed up that he had to export his war crimes just so he could get his pension. The game is rigged.

This is just about the antithesis of Kate and Amanda’s article at The Atlantic (shameless plug). Giving “why not” as a justification? Check. Hyperbole about the power of social media and “awareness?” Check. Totally predictable opinion (from a teenager) about whether Kony is chill or unchill? Check. (Spoiler: hes goes with “terrible”). Baselessly optimistic prediction? I think we have a winner.

 

WTF Friday, 3/2/2012

Thanks to Shelby Grossman for pointing out some highlights of the Viktor Bout interview for those of us who don’t have a New Yorker subscription. “We learn that Bout researched the FARC before the meeting with undercover DEA agents, and arrived in Thailand with a copy of Lonely Planet: Colombia.” I’ll definitely be hitting the newsstand for this asap.

I don’t mean to go all “domestic” on you guys, but this man is too epic of an asshole to ignore (though I really should). Highlights:

  • “Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. ‘I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,’ he told me.”
  • “He banned cigarettes from his jails. Skin magazines. Movies. Coffee. Hot lunches. Salt and pepper—Arpaio estimated that he saved taxpayers thirty thousand dollars a year by removing salt and pepper.”
  • “Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. ‘So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.’”
  • “He got a tank from the Army, had the howitzer muzzle painted with flames, and “Sheriff Arpaio’s War on Drugs” emblazoned on the sides, and rode in it, with Ava, in the Fiesta Bowl Parade.”
  • “A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a “restraint chair.”
  • “He meant a press release. The Sheriff gathered eight or nine aides around a big table in his office. ‘Illegal Immigration Breeds Crime, Disease,’ Arpaio suggested.”
  • “The public-health specialist said gently, ‘Surgical masks do nothing to combat this virus.’ Arpaio erupted. ‘This is my press release! I’m the sheriff! I have some knowledge! I’m not just some little old sheriff!’”
  • “In 2005, he forced nearly seven hundred prisoners, wearing nothing but pink underwear and flip-flops, to shuffle four blocks through the Arizona heat, pink-handcuffed together, to a new jail. When they arrived, one prisoner was made to cut a pink ribbon for the cameras. This elaborate degradation, which is remembered fondly by Sheriff Joe’s fans, was ostensibly in the name of security—the men were strip-searched both before and after the march. But Arpaio also told reporters, ‘I put them on the street so everybody could see them.’”