Monday Reads

flowersGood Morning!

I’ve been trying to find some things other than politics to post about since I have to admit to being very depressed about the state of affairs right now.  I really think there is little hope for many of us in the reddish states because the religious right is just going nuts!  I’m hoping more people start taking to the street over the situations in Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas.  That is just the start.  We’re very unhappy with our governor here in Louisiana but that’s not doing much in the way of making him listen to the people.  He is too busy looking out for his political interests.

So, here’s a few things to think about.
There has been a lot of evidence about the benefits of meditation.  I’ve meditated for a very long time and I can attest to the results that I’ve experienced.  Here’s some information from an experiment that finds that meditating is associated with compassion and empathy. These are certainly two very Buddhist outcomes.

We recruited 39 people from the Boston area who were willing to take part in an eight-week course on meditation (and who had never taken any such course before). We then randomly assigned 20 of them to take part in weekly meditation classes, which also required them to practice at home using guided recordings. The remaining 19 were told that they had been placed on a waiting list for a future course.

After the eight-week period of instruction, we invited the participants to the lab for an experiment that purported to examine their memory, attention and related cognitive abilities. But as you might anticipate, what actually interested us was whether those who had been meditating would exhibit greater compassion in the face of suffering. To find out, we staged a situation designed to test the participants’ behavior before they were aware that the experiment had begun.

WHEN a participant entered the waiting area for our lab, he (or she) found three chairs, two of which were already occupied. Naturally, he sat in the remaining chair. As he waited, a fourth person, using crutches and wearing a boot for a broken foot, entered the room and audibly sighed in pain as she leaned uncomfortably against a wall. The other two people in the room — who, like the woman on crutches, secretly worked for us — ignored the woman, thus confronting the participant with a moral quandary. Would he act compassionately, giving up his chair for her, or selfishly ignore her plight?

The results were striking. Although only 16 percent of the nonmeditators gave up their seats — an admittedly disheartening fact — the proportion rose to 50 percent among those who had meditated. This increase is impressive not solely because it occurred after only eight weeks of meditation, but also because it did so within the context of a situation known to inhibit considerate behavior: witnessing others ignoring a person in distress — what psychologists call the bystander effect — reduces the odds that any single individual will help. Nonetheless, the meditation increased the compassionate response threefold.

Although we don’t yet know why meditation has this effect, one of two explanations seems likely. The first rests on meditation’s documented ability to enhance attention, which might in turn increase the odds of noticing someone in pain (as opposed to being lost in one’s own thoughts). My favored explanation, though, derives from a different aspect of meditation: its ability to foster a view that all beings are interconnected. The psychologist Piercarlo Valdesolo and I have found that any marker of affiliation between two people, even something as subtle as tapping their hands together in synchrony, causes them to feel more compassion for each other when distressed. The increased compassion of meditators, then, might stem directly from meditation’s ability to dissolve the artificial social distinctions — ethnicity, religion, ideology and the like — that divide us.

Pull up a cushion!  There is plenty of room beside me!bird

Noam Chomsky says that we need a global movement to save the global commons.  That would be the air we breathe, the oceans, the planet itself and all things that are being subjected to destruction by the profit motive of a few.

The blurring of borders and these challenges to the legitimacy of states bring to the fore serious questions about who owns the Earth. Who owns the global atmosphere being polluted by the heat-trapping gases that have just passed an especially perilous threshold, as we learned in May?

Or to adopt the phrase used by indigenous people throughout much of the world, Who will defend the Earth? Who will uphold the rights of nature? Who will adopt the role of steward of the commons, our collective possession?

That the Earth now desperately needs defense from impending environmental catastrophe is surely obvious to any rational and literate person. The different reactions to the crisis are a most remarkable feature of current history.

At the forefront of the defense of nature are those often called “primitive”: members of indigenous and tribal groups, like the First Nations in Canada or the Aborigines in Australia – the remnants of peoples who have survived the imperial onslaught. At the forefront of the assault on nature are those who call themselves the most advanced and civilized: the richest and most powerful nations.

The struggle to defend the commons takes many forms. In microcosm, it is taking place right now in Turkey’s Taksim Square, where brave men and women are protecting one of the last remnants of the commons of Istanbul from the wrecking ball of commercialization and gentrification and autocratic rule that is destroying this ancient treasure.

We have heard about all kinds of abuse of prisoners in the United States. Most of the egregious examples have come from a few generations ago.  Or have they?  This is another nightmare story about private “contractors” and government.

Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.

From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.

The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison’s infirmary during 2007, said she often overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to agree to be sterilized.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” said Nguyen, 28. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

Read more here:


Here’s a very interesting profile of the Judge that makes the decisions on FISA.

The chief judge of America’s most powerful secret court is a 64-year old man who has said his path toward the law began in part when he was stopped by police in the early 1960s simply for being black, and who once said he became a lawyer to “make an impact on the quality of life for people of color in this country.”

Reggie Walton is the Presiding Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose 11 members are appointed directly by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Revelations of broad spying by the National Security Agency have drawn unusual attention to the Court, which the New York Times reported Sunday “has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data.”

Walton has not spoken publicly about his role, and did not respond to an inquiry from BuzzFeed: People who know him spoke largely on the condition of anonymity. But in little-read interviews and in decisions, footnotes, and statements from the bench, Walton has offered clues at a worldview whose contours mirror the growing public comfort with an expansive role for law enforcement in Americans’ lives. A judge who one former clerk described as “fair but harsh” in his sentences, he has shown a liberal streak on social policy from incarceration to drug crime, but has been dismissive of questions about the limits of executive power.

A 1993 interview with author Linn Washington paints a picture of a man who views the law and government as having a sweeping role in creating “social change.”

As a district court judge in Washington, DC, Walton has been a part of some of the most high profile cases in recent history, including the Roger Clemens steroid case and the leak case against Scooter Libby — an experience that left a mark on the former Democrat.

“I saw how mean-spirited people can be,” he told George Vecsey in 2011, complaining that “the liberal establishment” attacked him “because I am a Bush appointee and a registered Republican.” (Walton hasn’t spoken publicly about his political conversion; he said in the 1993 interview that he was a Republican when President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, a federal seat, in 1981.)

Genetic Evidence and analysis continues to amaze me with findings on links to our distant relatives.  Here’s some of the latest work done on Native Americans.  (Yes, it involves grave yards!!!)

Ancient people who lived in in Northern America about 5,000 years ago have living descendants today, new research suggests.

Researchers reached that conclusion after comparing DNA from both fossil remains found on the northern coast of British Columbia, Canada, and from living people who belong to several First Nations tribes in the area.

The new results, published today (July 3) in the journal PLOS ONE, are consistent with nearby archaeological evidence suggesting a fairly continuous occupation of the region for the last 5,000 years.

So, that is a little this and that for your Monday!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Just When I think I can’t be more shocked …

Ever so often, I run across a story that makes me speechless.  This is one of them.  I’m going to just give you some links and quotes because Ethiopian-Jews-in-Israelfrankly, I just don’t even know if I can verbalize my feelings at the moment.

 Israel has admitted for the first time that it has been giving Ethiopian Jewish immigrants birth-control injections, often without their knowledge or consent.

Compare the above story to this one: “Where Families Are Prized, Help Is Free”.

Israel is the world capital of in vitro fertilization and the hospital, which performs about 7,000 of the procedures each year, is one of the busiest fertilization clinics in the world.

Unlike countries where couples can go broke trying to conceive with the assistance of costly medical technology, Israel provides free, unlimited IVF procedures for up to two “take-home babies” until a woman is 45. The policy has made Israelis the highest per capita users of the procedure in the world.

Again, I have no words.  Just links.

Israel has admitted that it has been giving Ethiopian Jewish immigrants birth control injections, according to a report in Haaretz. An Israeli investigative journalist also found that a majority of the women given these shots say they were administered without their knowledge or consent.

Health Ministry Director General Prof. Ron Gamzu acknowledged the practice — without directly conceding coercion was involved  – in a letter to Israeli health maintenance organizations, instructing gynecologists in the HMOs “not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.”

Depo-Provera is a hormonal form of birth control that is injected every three months.

Gamzu issued the letter in response to a complaint from Sharona Eliahu-Chai of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. Representing several women’s rights and Ethiopian immigrant groups, Eliahu-Chai demanded an immediate end to the injections and that an investigation be launched into the practice.

In addition to Eliahu-Chai, Gal Gabbay, an investigative journalist who had interviewed 35 Ethiopian immigrants, found that while the women were still in transit camps in Ethiopia they were sometimes intimidated or threatened into taking the Depo-Provera shot, often being mislead about why. “They told us they are inoculations,” said one of the women interviewed. “They told us people who frequently give birth suffer. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to.”

Birth rates and demographics in Israel are often political, and Israel has historically focused on promoting Jewish birthrates to retain a Jewish majority, according to a recent New York Times report on fertility and in-vetro fertilization in the country.

But Ethiopian Jews remain a marginalized group, often living in highly segregated communities. Because of this, many women’s and immigrant rights advocates believe that the 50 percent decline over the past 10 years in the birth rate of Israel’s Ethiopian community is the result of the Israeli government’s attempt to limit and restrict Ethiopian women’s fertility through forcible birth control injections.

Hedva Eyal, head of the Women and Technologies Project for Israeli feminist organization Isha L’Isha, had submitted a report six years ago to the Israeli government showing a disproportionate number of birth control shots — 60 percent — were being given to Ethiopian immigrants. She says she was met with silence, until now.

and more links.

Five years after allegations were first levied, and over a month after the issue again attracted mainstream attention through the Israel Educational Television documentary “Vacuum,” the Israeli government has admitted that Ethiopian women were coerced into accepting long-acting birth control shots, likely Depo-Provera. Haaretz writes:

…While the women were still in transit camps in Ethiopia they were sometimes intimidated or threatened into taking the injection. “They told us they are inoculations,” said one of the women interviewed [in “Vacuum”]. “They told us people who frequently give birth suffer. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to.”

The widespread practice is thought to account for the last decade’s near-halving of the Ethiopian birth rate in Israel. That this community would be a target of eugenics is disappointingly unsurprising given recently-voiced anti-Ethiopian and generally anti-African racism. As the Independent recounts, some rabbis have doubted the Jewishness of immigrant Ethiopians—necessary for their entrance under the Law of Return—and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “warned that illegal immigrants from Africa ‘threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.’”

The medical workers’ insistence that “people who frequently give birth suffer” places these coerced procedures in line with the terrifyingly dense global history of eugenics movements, which tend to target women of color, the poor, and the mentally ill. (The practice continues today in the U.S.; California prisons regularly illegally sterilize women without their consent.) Often framed as strategies to combat the “suffering” of mothers or the environmental costs of population growth, these programs conveniently disregard the input of the supposed victims.

I think this about sums it up.

“The ease with which a woman’s testimony is dismissed — certainly that of a black woman and a poor black woman at that — is shocking,” Eyal told the Los Angeles Times.

Also hoping Israel’s health minister will take further action, Eyal added that the bottom line was that “decisions about women’s health and fertility can and must be made by the women alone.” For that, they must have full and fair access to all relevant information “and that did not seem to have been the case,” she said.


Saturday Morning Reads

Good Morning!

NPR is showcasing a number of articles on the Arab Women’s movements that have resulted from the Jasmine Revolution.  These studies include portraits of women that are fighting backlashes as well as seeking more input to their nation’s governance.  Arab women are planning to flex their new found muscles come March 8 and International Women’s day.

Images of women marching alongside men in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Jordan led to predictions that women’s rights would also make huge strides forward.

She had been optimistic initially, when she celebrated President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February. She had spent days sitting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square alongside thousands of others. She said she found the sight of men and women protesting together an inspiration.

“I think the youth that were in Tahrir … people my age or people that were demonstrators or whatever, were OK with the concept of men and women having equal rights,” said Kamel.

“In the months that followed, the feminist honeymoon was lost,” she said.

In the six months since Mubarak was ousted, the only woman who has joined Egypt’s transitional government is a holdover from the old regime. Women are running in the upcoming presidential election, though none is expected to be a serious contender. Most telling, said Kamel, was that the women who took part in the protests in Tahrir have been increasingly painted as vagrant or “loose” women in the Egyptian press.

“They went from being heroes to being vilified,” said Kamel. A few months after the Tahrir Square protests, women hoped to assert their newly found voices in a demonstration on International Women’s Day, March 8.

Though more than 1,000 people joined a Facebook group for the event, only a few hundred ended up marching. They were quickly surrounded and harassed by men led by a sheik from Al Azhar University.

“People just gathered, each woman was standing there — she had like five men around her, and she was trying to argue. It got physically abusive after a while. The protests didn’t last for even an hour,” said Kamel.

Saudi women have been getting mixed signals from a government that is expanding their rights and holding them back at the same time.  This link also comes from the NPR series on Women and the Arab Spring.

The 28-year-old businesswoman and other Saudi women interviewed for this story say they are tired of waiting for rights most other women around the world take for granted.

The mixed signals especially bother them. In a historic speech in September, Abdullah pledged to add women to his all-male advisory council and allow them to take part in the next municipal elections. Two days later, a court in the port city of Jeddah sentenced a young mother to 10 lashes for driving a car.

The king later set the sentence aside. Even so, analysts say it was an unusually harsh punishment for violating a female-driving ban that isn’t enshrined in law.

Ruba, a 21-year-old university student, calls the sentence shameful. She believes it was a backlash against the decision to offer women political rights. Ruba, like several women in this story, asked that only her first name be used to protect her family.

“Of course, it felt like a game of tug-of-war between the liberals and the conservatives,” she says. “When the liberals pulled harder and won, the conservatives pulled even harder.

“So it just felt like women were that rope between the two parties.”

Myanmar is home to one of the most famous Asian woman political leader to have received the Nobel Prize for Peace. An Suu Kyi may be much freer than she has been in previous years but Myanmar’s women continue to suffer.  Forced marriage is up 70%  and the interesting thing is the brides are being shipped off to China.  Rather interesting that a country that has produced a bumper crop of male babies as a result of its population control policies now has to import/kidnap women from other countries.

The women from Myanmar, some arriving as young as 14, went to China with dreams of better-paid jobs that would help lift their families out of poverty.

Instead, upon arrival they are forced to marry. The men, often poor farmers, find Chinese brides hard to come by because cultural preference and a one-child policy enforced since 1978 have led to a higher ratio of men versus women.

The women recount being drugged by traffickers and brokers – distant relatives, friends of friends, neighbours and fellow villagers – and waking up to find they’d been sold as brides. They tell of being paraded in marketplaces, locked up and forced to get pregnant.

“The trafficking of women and girls for forced marriage is quite a serious problem and trends over the last couple of years indicate that it is increasing,” said David Brickey Bloomer, child protection director at Save the Children in Myanmar, adding at least a quarter of victims are under 18.

Forced marriages made up 70 percent of Myanmar’s trafficking cases last year, UNIAP, the United Nations’ inter-agency project on human trafficking, said.

Myanmar authorities recorded 122 cases of forced marriage in 2010, Bloomer told TrustLaw, while UNIAP-supported initiative the Strategic Information Response Network (SIREN) put the 2009 figure at 85.

World Vision, the only other aid agency besides Save the Children which works on anti-trafficking in Myanmar, said 51 women were trafficked this way in the first seven months of 2011 alone. The average price of a Myanmar bride is $5,000, it said.

So, all’s not so well in the US for women as we all know.  Rock Center–the new News Magazine on NBC with Brian Williams–had a compelling story on how North Carolina frequently forcibly sterilized many young girls and women.  Black women were most impacted.  Their stories are heartbreaking.  You can watch the segment at the link.

Elaine Riddick was 13 years old when she got pregnant after being raped by a neighbor in Winfall, N.C., in 1967.  The state ordered that immediately after giving birth, she should be sterilized.  Doctors cut and tied off her fallopian tubes.

“I have to carry these scars with me.  I have to live with this for the rest of my life,” she said.

Riddick was never told what was happening.  “Got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that’s all I remember, that’s all I remember,” she said.  “When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach.”

Riddick’s records reveal that a five-person state eugenics board in Raleigh had approved a recommendation that she be sterilized. The records label Riddick as “feebleminded” and “promiscuous.” They said her schoolwork was poor and that she “does not get along well with others.”

“I was raped by a perpetrator [who was never charged] and then I was raped by the state of North Carolina.  They took something from me both times,” she said.  “The state of North Carolina, they took something so dearly from me, something that was God given.”

It wouldn’t be until Riddick was 19, married and wanting more children, that she’d learn she was incapable of having any more babies. A doctor in New York where she was living at the time told her that she’d been sterilized.

“Butchered.  The doctor used that word…  I didn’t understand what she meant when she said I had been butchered,” Riddick said.

North Carolina was one of 31 states to have a government run eugenics program.  By the 1960s, tens of thousands of Americans were sterilized as a result of these programs.

This is a shameful period in the state’s history.  It’s something that should never happen but did.

Project Social Art has started a series aimed at shaming men who cat call women on streets.

Last Saturday, we were on our way back from a friend’s birthday celebration when a guy began to harass Marie on the street. He was a young, white male who seemed to be somewhat intoxicated or high. We brushed off his proposition to which he responded with, “Oh, come on. Please! I will pay you.” There he was, blatantly offering to purchase Marie’s body in exchange for money.

Later than night, when Anna was on the subway with her sister, she experienced yet more harassment on a sexual level. A group of about eight Hasidic Jews were staring at Anna and Melania through the glass window in between cars. At first, the ladies thought this was quite funny because it was very entertaining to see eight men trying to squeeze their heads into the window to all get a better look. Nevertheless, the situation turned ugly when one of the men started making oral sex gestures and his friend started gesticulating money offers. Soon, Anna realized they were trying to offer her money in return for sexual services. She looked at Melania who was eating a sandwich at the time and said, “Wrap up that sandwich. We are going into that car.” Melania was hesitant, but Anna told her that they had to do this for all the other women out there, “We have to show these men that they cannot do things like this.”

The Riot has developed a Cat Caller form to query the harasser.  Here’s an example of the ‘survey’ to hand your obnoxious unwanted harrasser.

So, maybe we could just need to show up at Republican Presidential Rallies and just start handing them out to the candidates.

I’m turning into a bit of an admirer of Thomas Edsell.  This is a something he just wrote for the Atlantic and it’s pretty humorous.  “Is God Really Telling Rick Perry to Run for President?”  The article argues that maybe “God” really isn’t very fond of Rick Perry whose state is suffering through a drought of Biblical proportions and whose performance at debates is the stuff comics dream of.  Oh, and then there are all those brush fires.

Earlier in the year, at a May fundraiser in Longview, Texas, Perry told a group of businessmen and women, “At 27 years old, I knew that I had been called to the ministry. I’ve just always been really stunned by how big a pulpit I was gonna have. I still am. I truly believe with all my heart that God has put me in this place at this time to do his will.”

If you accept the idea that individuals can interpret God’s views toward their political ambitions, the available evidence suggests that Perry got it all wrong. From the word go, the signals have been of Biblical proportion — but they are nearly all downright negative. Throughout the summer months, as Perry first considered and then decided to run for the White House, Texas turned into a hellhole. For example: this evocative map of the country produced by the U.S. Drought Monitor lends itself to the interpretation that a terrible punishment has been inflicted on the state Perry was brought up in and which he now governs.

I actually think it’s Mother Earth teaming up with Mother Nature to send him a really big message.

Okay, so that’s a little this and that for a Saturday morning.  What’s on your writing and blogging list this morning?