What Would LM Montgomery Do?

Militant pro-choice Anne of Green Gables, you guys:

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These posters are appearing all over Prince Edward Island, home of the beloved fictional character, and her creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery.

The work of anonymous activists tweeting under the handle @iamkarats, the posters call on Premier Wade MacLauchlan to ensure the reproductive rights of the island’s residents. Currently, PEI women seeking an abortion must travel to one of Canada’s other provinces, an option that is not economically feasible for everyone. A group called Abortion Access Now is seeking a court order to compel the provincial government to make safe and legal (and government-funded!) abortions available to everyone. But in the meantime, Anne Shirley is ON IT.

H/T: Vocativ

WTF Friday, 1/15/2016

OMG, you guys, Zimbabwe’s president-for-life Robert Mugabe is dead, or dying, or maybe just on vacation with his family. (Seriously, that’s the entirety of that story.)

In more actually newsy news, Kampala’s police chief has fired all of his intelligence officers for “failure to prevent crime, alleged connivance with criminal gangs, drunkenness and negligence“. Seems like reasonable grounds, but I can’t help wondering what kind of mischief hundreds of drunk, out-of-work, well-connected-to-the-criminal-element cops are going to get up to.

And meanwhile, why isn’t it a bigger deal that sharks can reproduce asexually?

WTF Friday, 5/17/2013

This just in: Witches in Swaziland can no longer fly their broomsticks at altitudes higher than 150 meters.

This news comes courtesy of a spokesman for the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, explaining the aviation regulations in the aftermath of the arrest of a detective accused of “operating a toy helicopter equipped with a video camera.”

Local media seem unsure whether the prohibition was meant seriously, although one report points out that while Swazi witches are known to employ brooms to “fling potions,” they do not use them for transport.

In any event, witches: you have been warned.

It’s Books! Hooray Books!

After reading Chris Blattman’s post about it a little while back, I grabbed a copy of G. Pascal Zachary’s new book Hotel Africa: The Politics of Escape. It’s a collection of essays and reporting on contemporary Africa by a journalist known for skipping the heart of darkness and poverty porn cliches in favor of a nuanced, compassionate view of his subjects. (But fair warning: the Kindle edition is distractingly full of scanning errors.)

I found food for thought in many of the essays in Hotel Africa, but one called “In Malawi, Charity Is Not Enough” stayed with me. In it, Zachary, interviewing a farming family struggling to survive amidst a drought and an AIDS epidemic, begins to cry, and then just as quickly begins to question the validity of his own emotional response. “What’s wrong with me?” he asks, before launching into a list of his hardened-foreign-correspondent-in-depressing-lands bona fides.

The episode highlights the difficulty of situating one’s own emotions in the context of a narrative (or advocacy) about other people’s pain. This issue is frequently raised in criticism of Western journalism on Africa, and motivated much of the backlash to the Kony 2012 video, which focused on the white filmmakers’ discovery of African suffering. Zachary, clearly both embarrassed and sensitive to the risks of making his reaction the center of the story, nevertheless owns his feelings, but uses the moment to discuss the perverse effects of emotion-driven charity and to call for principled, sustained engagement with sub-Saharan Africa.

Reading Mark Weston’s The Ringtone and the Drum: Travels in the World’s Poorest Countries shortly after Hotel Africa, I was struck by the echoes of this dilemma. Weston and his wife set out on an ambitious journey through West Africa, but somewhere in Burkina Faso, his mental state begins to deterioriate.

For a journalist or a human rights advocate, the consequent loss of objectivity might be disastrous, but the travelogue format gives Weston the leeway to engage his breakdown directly. Instead of minimizing it, or alternately, presenting West Africa as the monolithic “thing that drove him crazy,” he uses it to shrink the distance between himself and his subjects, generating real insight into the emotional lives of the individuals with whom he interacts.

The book is full of rich detail and interesting historical anecdotes (as well as a surprising amount of political economy shout-outs) about a part of the world that most readers will never see, but its real value lies in Weston’s success at communicating exactly what he set out to discover: “a better idea of how the world’s poorest people make it through the day.” Worth a read.


Trolls Against Terror

Via Spencer Ackerman, the US government has an exciting new counterterrorism strategy:

“The program, called Viral Peace, seeks to occupy the virtual space that extremists fill, one thread or Twitter exchange at a time. Shahed Amanullah, a senior technology adviser to the State Department and Viral Peace’s creator, tells Danger Room he wants to use “logic, humor, satire, [and] religious arguments, not just to confront [extremists], but to undermine and demoralize them.” Think of it as strategic trolling, in pursuit of geopolitical pwnage.”

Given that we now live in a world where it seems totally normal for a national army’s spokesman and a major terrorist group to get in a 140-character slap fight on Twitter, this initiative seems timely.

However, as Ackerman reports, the project is still very much in its infancy, and has hit some snags in its efforts to develop a trolling strategy (or strategies) through meetings with young social media users in Muslim countries. Apparently, young, politically-engaged Muslims are more interested in talking about how to remedy societal inequalities and injustices than in plotting how to pwn terrorists on the interwebs. It’s like they don’t even understand how awesome it is to post “FIRST!!1!” to a comment thread.

Quote of the Month

There’s a fascinating BBC News Magazine piece today about young Afghan girls who live as boys.

According to the article, there is a longstanding tradition wherein Afghan parents disguise a daughter as a son, either to avoid the social censure of having no male children, or to enable the child to work outside the home. When the girls reach maturity, they are expected to switch their gender identification and live as women.

Although some of the young women interviewed for the article approvingly cite the benefits of having had the opportunity to enjoy male freedoms, it’s clear that the transition back to gender conformity can be rough. In what has to be the most fascinating sentence I’ve read all month, a 20 year old woman named Elaha makes clear her reluctance to resume a traditional female identity:

“If my parents force me to get married, I will compensate for the sorrows of Afghan women and beat my husband so badly that he will take me to court every day.”

My favorite part is the offhand reference to courts as the appropriate venue for addressing domestic violence, but wow, what a loaded statement.

Today in Political Phenomena I Don’t Really Get…

A couple of days ago my “Death, Destruction, and Unflattering Pants” google alert turned up the news that Sri Lanka has been holding “government-backed protests” against the draft UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for accountability for war crimes committed in the suppression of the Tamil insurgency.

My first thought was “wha…?” followed quickly by “‘government backed protests…’ what are those, exactly?” And then I learned that in addition to the thousands-strong turn out for the protests, Sri Lanka’s Banks Association has released a statement opposing the resolution.

This was all a bit confusing for me, because my understanding of the UN Human Rights Council’s process for consideration of draft resolutions suggests that it is not exactly responsive to protests (popular or bank-based) within violator states. So I put on my incipient-political-scientist hat (it’s green, thanks for asking) and thought, “Well, the Sri Lankan government must know that this isn’t likely to influence the policy of international actors, so they must have some other goal in mind.”

The most plausible explanation is that the protests are aimed at domestic, not international, audiences, but I don’t know enough about Sri Lankan politics to take this analysis any further. So, someone with more country expertise, help a girl out?

I see from the AP article reporting the protests that rising fuel prices have led to civil unrest and clashes between civilians and security forces. Is this an effort to diffuse that tension and convince the public to “rally ’round the flag” against an external threat? I also see that domestic opposition figures have criticized the government for failing to stand up to the US and the UN. The objections to international interference have all been framed in terms of sovereignty incursions. Given that Sri Lanka is a post-colonial state, is this an important enough issue to the electorate that the government feels it needs to bolster its sovereignty credentials through a public display?

Anyone know what gives?

Do Improv, Win Friends, Influence People

The UCB’s Will Hines, on why everyone should do improv:

Improv can make you funnier, will likely make you a better actor, and could maybe even get you work. But one thing it will definitely do is make you better at having conversations.

You listen better, you speak to the heart of the matter more, you lie less, you speak more concisely.

But also, you will be better because most of the human race is so unbelievably bad at conversations. After years in improv, I can barely stand speaking to anyone who either isn’t an improviser or is someone who would just naturally be good at it.

Most people, in conversation, speak solely about themselves, and in a way that matters only to themselves, with no ability to sympathize for the other conversational party may think or feel. They listen to other people only for opportunities to speak about things they want to and once they get going cannot be dissuaded. They speak inefficiently and amazingly redundantly. They rarely laugh at what’s funny and instead only at what makes them nervous or at recognizable references to famous things.

Improvisers do all these things too but less often and they know enough to feel badly about it.

There is lots more here. Other posts are good, too – like this one.

(Oh, and confidential to the dude in Will’s story: Learning To Eat Soup With A Knife.)

So This Sounds Pretty Awesome…

My friend Hallie, with whom I was in a sketch class at UCB a few years ago, has sent along an invite to an event that sounds so awesome that I’m concerned it might be bait for some sort of Amanda-trap.

On Saturday, May 7, the Brooklyn Brainery will be hosting the world premiere screening of a short zombie movie made by kids at African Solutions to African Problems (ASAP), with the help of two volunteers.
Although donations to ASAP are encouraged, the event is free, and is sponsored by Chatham Brewing (“upstate’s favorite beer,” according to Hallie), Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, and Papa Bubble. Yes, that means that in addition to the kids’ DIY zombie movie, there will also be free beer, ice cream, and candy.
I wasn’t familiar with ASAP, but it sounds pretty cool. They support community organizations in South Africa that run daycare and drop-in centers for underprivileged children. You’ll note that I didn’t say “orphanages for orphans,” because they don’t believe in orphanages, and don’t distinguish between children who have parents, and children who don’t. (Both good ideas.) They operate on the belief that local communities already know what is best for their children, and so take a supportive role, and hope to make the programs self-sustaining after 8 years.
As for the film: “The kids had a blast shooting it, and the results are, well…perfect for a Brooklyn screening. Don’t expect festival worthy production values – do expect some laughs and a great time.” Or, in the words of the filmmakers, “At least our films are getting shorter and less frequent.”
When: 7-10 p.m. Saturday, May 7th
Where: The Brooklyn Brainery, at 515 Court Street. (aka Carroll Gardens, mere blocks from the lovely, chlamydia-infested superfund site that is the Gowanus Canal! Yay!)
How to get there: take the F/G to Smith-9th (2 minute walk away), or to Carroll Street (6 minutes). If you need more exotic directions, perhaps involving one of them newfangled “cars,” I suggest using google maps.