The Rights Stuff

Can You Eat Oil-Slick Oysters?

| Wed May 5, 2010 1:34 PM EDT

A researcher from the University of New Orleans happened to tell me the answer yesterday. Find it on MoJo's environmental blog, The Blue Marble.

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Who's Trying to Kill New Orleans?

| Tue May 4, 2010 3:33 PM EDT

Everyone does seem to be feeling a bit besieged around here. The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac thinks it might be because Houston's taken a hit out in a sexy jealous rage.

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The Plessy Next Door

| Tue May 4, 2010 1:50 PM EDT

The wireless networks that pop up when I open my computer in the Northwest Carrolton neighborhood (which I just found out has its own blog) I'm staying in are way more interesting than the names at home in San Francisco. Specifically: plessy. Turns out my temporary next-door neighbors are relatives of, yes, that Plessy, the plaintiff in Plessy vs. Ferguson. Turns out, also, that one day one of these Plessys ran into Phoebe Ferguson (yes! Great-great-granddaughter of that Ferguson!), and they decided to start a foundation and now they give talks about reconciliation together. Bonus Plessy trivia: One of the Plessy descendants was featured as Playmate of the Month in an issue of Playboy several years ago, and if you befriend my neighbors, they'll show you a copy. (For more [and way more important] details about Plessy vs. Ferguson, I recommend Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.)

Take Me Back to New Orleans

| Mon May 3, 2010 12:00 PM EDT

I got a little choked up finally watching the pilot of Treme last night.

It wasn't when the Mardi Gras Indian chief walks into his flood-destroyed house for the first time and his shoulders fall like my best friend collapsed in sobs on the sidewalk after she'd broken down the swollen wooden door to her apartment in late 2005. It wasn't when the restaurant owner tries to take a shower in the morning but can't get water pressure, just like I had to turn my faucet on half an hour before I could splash around in just a few inches of water in my cast iron tub, even in the spring of 2006. It was actually when the fiery professor played by John Goodman says he won't eat lemon ice until Brocato's opens. It's apparently a very emotional subject for me, gelato. Angelo Brocato's was right by where I lived, and if you ever had this gelato, you might almost cry too.

The reason I was catching up on Treme, besides its general awesomeness, is that I'm on my way to New Orleans on assignment today. I don't know that there is an emoticon or number of exclamation points that would adequately express my excitement about posting from the Crescent City. I'll be talking with exploited strippers, heroic and besieged public defenders, the guy who plays the bicycle-rickshaw driver in upcoming episodes of Treme. I'll revisit the restoration situation of the key public university, my alma mater, the University of New Orleans (hint: it's not good). Don't be surprised by a drunken, guiltily post about what a pussy I feel like for frantically moving, in the summer of 2006, right before the first post-Katrina hurricane season started. All while possibly puking up gas fumes! How thrilling! Fingers crossed for a trip to an oyster reef covered in BP's leaking crude. A friend of mine suggested some weekend kayaking, to which I responded that if he could locate some oil-befouled sensitive marsh or wetland area in Plaquemines Parish, that'd be perfect.

"We can't just go to a [clean] swamp and have a nice time?" he asked.

Nope.

So I've packed for most of the rest of May. When I was getting things together, my friend the kayak enthusiast warned me that the sky was completely black, with super dense and dark cloud cover but not a drop of rain. "It's like the end of the world here," he said.

"It's okay," I said. It's a completely empty, throwaway phrase, and I wasn't speaking to the encompassing, capital It, but still he paused, standing there in a house on a street that's still mostly deserted, surrounded again by a flurry of national and international headlines in a city where attention so often fails to lead to necessary action, then said, "Well. It's not okay."

Okay, it isn't. Still. I can't wait to touch down at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International tonight and get to work. I'll try to keep the ice-cream weeping to a minimum. Maybe.

 

The Drug Army That Could Take Out the Taliban

| Mon May 3, 2010 10:01 AM EDT

I've made it two weeks without a Burma post, but I'm going to let myself off my well-deserved Burma leash to talk about this bit of news:

China's army has moved 5,000 troops to its side of the Burma border. Why? Because tensions are running high between the Burmese army and the 25,000-soldier United Wa State Army, one of the world's largest insurgent groups. Scared civilians have been scattering in case a war erupts, which apparently the Chinese government also thinks is a possibility. I know, it's just a civil war between a government and rebels and that happens all the time without impacting our lives and certainly not our media, but it makes me ache a little that the world has never heard of the Wa, because their backstory is sooo good. Allow me to plagiarize myself liberally:

The Wa are former headhunters (official open season was March to April) who claim as their ancestors not, like most peoples, gods or majestic sea creatures or rainbows or whatever, but slimy tadpoles and ogres. In colonial times, one European visitor to this mountain-dwelling collection of tribes said that they were so dirty that the only thing that kept them from getting dirtier was that more dirt couldn’t stick to how much dirt was already on their bodies. They were naked. They were pretty much the closest existing things on earth to actual bogeymen, and the British were terrified of them and left them largely alone, as the Wa couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t kill white people who wandered into their territory, their towheads being quite the catch on the headhunting scene. [...] Now the Wa just have the biggest nonstate army in Burma, which they fund by running probably the biggest drug army in the world, a commander of which is wanted by the US government for druglording. So if you want to collect $2 million from the State Department, find out where Wei Hsueh-kang is.

Sometimes another Burma geek and I like to geek out by speculating about what would happen if the United States paid the Wa to take on the Taliban. They're totally natural adversaries, as Burma and Afghanistan have long vied for the title of World's Top Opium Producer, and these groups have a history of controlling big pieces of those countries' respective drug pies. My friend contends that the fight between these powers would rip the universe apart, and then we laugh, in the way that geeks laugh at jokes no one else would think were funny.

Anyway, the United Wa State Army is my pick for ethnic insurgency to watch this year. It's always had a cease-fire with the Burmese government, but its forming alliances with other local insurgencies and getting bigger than its already-huge britches could force serious military action on the part of the junta. Which could force the involvement of China, which is friendly with both the ruling Burmese and the Wa, and is close enough to Wa territory to bear the brunt of any resulting refugee crisis or even stray fire. So maybe the Wa won't remain unknown to the world after all.

 

Can Women Peacekeepers Stop Haiti's Rape Crisis?

| Mon May 3, 2010 9:01 AM EDT

An all-woman police unit from Bangladesh has been dispatched to UN headquarters in Haiti, to the relief of groups trying to curb the epidemic of rape in post-quake tent cities. "It's a whole world of difference for women who have been victimized to see women police, and we see the reporting of cases of gender-based sexual crimes increase when they are there," a UN worker said. I hope the UN releases some photos of them in the field; I love this picture of the UN's first female peacekeeping force, which was sent to Liberia with similar objectives in 2007.

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Rights Stuff to Read

| Fri Apr. 30, 2010 4:50 PM EDT

It's not all bad news. Some of it even comes with a choreographed dance number:

The Philippines is going to allow a gay political party to participate in elections. Huzzah!

A shocking number of kids are being paddled in American schools, and an equally surprising proportion of them are disabled.

Oklahoma takes away the rights of women, including rape and incest victims, to get an abortion without watching an ultrasound, as well as their rights to information about birth defects from their doctors.

Nearly a year later, the three American hikers arrested in Iran—one of whom is a MoJo contributor who wrote a piece in one of our National Magazine Award-winning issues—are still in jail.

Insurgents are attacking Afghan girls' schools; the Taliban is gunning women down.

Some US troops made what might end up being the greatest thing to come out of the war in Afghanistan. The video is a close contender to the University of Oregon's a capella number in the beefy-dudes-do-Lady-Gaga contest. If I said I didn't start getting goosebumps 1:27 into that latter one, I'd be lying.

Nagaland for Dummies

| Fri Apr. 30, 2010 3:00 PM EDT

A Mother Jones human rights reporter, a Berkeley Journalism School Rotary World Peace Fellow, and an NPR employee walk into a Bay Area coffee shop that offers vegan doughnuts and garnishes the baked goods with sea salt. I'm pretty sure the punch line has something to do with us lamenting American indigenous oppression and widespread South Asian insurgency.

Which, yeah, is exactly what happened. To the former discussion: It turns out Oklahoma is even more messed up than I'd thought—and I'm a person who was just scathingly tweeting about it the other day. The NPR gal, who used to call Oklahoma home, explained the festivities of Land Run Day: In commemoration of the 1889 afternoon that settlers ran around claiming (formerly Indian) property, kids in elementary schools statewide claim plots of a playground, set up cardboard general stores, and pretend to barter for cigarettes with student descendants of the Indians the original holiday displaced.

To the latter discussion: I now know that I need to buy a good book about Nagaland. Or write one. Or make an incredibly violent soap opera about it. This northeastern Indian state is apparently home to 130 armed groups, 2 of which are made up of former headhunters pretty recently reformed by the Baptists, one of which wants autonomy, one of which wants secession, neither of which is going to happen. Culturally distinct from many other parts of India—in Nagaland, they sacrifice and eat cows—Nagaland has long felt isolated and neglected. Some of the militias that formed for political reasons devolved into petty but bloody extortionist groups; the Indian army has reenacted an old British Empire law that allows soldiers to shoot any suspected law-breaker; one protester has been in jail for 10 years, since she saw Indian armed forces gun down 10 people who were waiting for a bus and was arrested for going on hunger strike.

See, you can learn a lot from well-traveled career-driven hippies. Also, sea salt is actually pretty good on chocolate chip cookies. If I get invited to a community-supported-agriculture dinner party anytime soon, I might impress my hosts by arriving with dark-chocolate-chunk cookies with a little salt on top. Pink Himalayan salt, obviously.

Why YouTube's Censorship Seems Dubious

| Thu Apr. 29, 2010 5:50 PM EDT

I don't want to fight with YouTube. My relationship with YouTube has been one of the more fulfilling and reliable ones in my life. Hence my deep disappointment that it not only buried (rather than, as originally reported, deleted) MIA's "Born Free" video—in which American-flag-wearing troops embark on the rounding up, detaining, and killing of redheads—but also couldn't come up with some better excuse for doing so than the video's "gratuitous violence."

The clip reminds the Prospect's Silvana Naguib of Arabs being rounded up and caged in The Siege. It reminds me of the scene in Rambo part four where Burmese soldiers toss Claymores into a rice paddy and force ethnic Karen civilians run through it at gunpoint. Of course, it also evokes images of real US military activities that, as pointed out in MTV's rave review, we'd rather "pretend don't happen." YouTube's PR machine could have at least admitted that the censorship was political rather than hiding behind the pretense of how, though Americans have the right to watch stuff like this, YouTube has an obligation to protect the children. Because while it's true that MIA's video is awfully violent, and children deserve protecting, you can watch lots of stuff like this on YouTube, where, for example, Rambo IV is available in its entirety. Is YouTube's gratuitous-violence policy nullified in the event that the clip doesn't question US aggression, or the bad guys are dark and slanty-eyed rather than corn-fed WASPS?

Uzbekistan Gets Back Into Eugenics

| Thu Apr. 29, 2010 12:37 PM EDT

It's not like I count on Uzbekistan for all my rosy human rights stories or anything, but secret compulsory government sterilization of poor people is pretty bad:

According to human rights groups, tens of thousands of young women...have been sterilised without their consent in the authoritarian former Soviet state of Uzbekistan.

Uzbek sources say the measure was ordered by Islam Karimov, the president, who has ruled with an iron fist for 20 years. The policy is aimed at keeping down the country’s poor population — with 28m people, it is Central Asia’s most densely populated state.

Activists say mass sterilisation began in 2003, but was eased after two years following an outcry. It is said to have restarted in February this year, when the health ministry ordered doctors to recommend sterilisation as an “effective contraceptive”. Critics claim every doctor was told to persuade “at least two women” a month to have the procedure. Doctors who failed faced reprisals and fines.

I think MoJo copy editor Adam Weinstein summed it up pretty well in the email he sent bringing this story to my attention. But I'm not going to reproduce his commentary here, because it was basically just a string of alarmed swear words.