succumbing to peer pressure

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Torture is bad

It's time to stop clasping our hands over our breasts and declaring, "No, surely not my country!" just like the parent of some third grade bully and face reality - sometimes we are the bad guys.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen with a wife and two young children, had his life flipped upside down in the fall of 2002 when John Ashcroft's Justice Department, acting at least in part on bad information supplied by the Canadian government, decided it would be a good idea to abduct Mr. Arar and ship him off to Syria, an outlaw nation that the Justice Department honchos well knew was addicted to torture.

Mr. Arar was not charged with anything, and yet he was deprived not only of his liberty, but of all legal and human rights. He was handed over in shackles to the Syrian government and, to no one's surprise, promptly brutalized. A year later he emerged, and still no charges were lodged against him. His torturers said they were unable to elicit any link between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was sent back to Canada to face the torment of a life in ruins.

And it's old news, but it's worth repeating - oh the sad, sad sureality of a "senior Administration official" referencing 1984:

John F. Dickerson writes in Time: "George Bush knew Vladimir Putin would be defensive when Bush brought up the pace of democratic reform in Russia in their private meeting at the end of Bush's four-day, three-city tour of Europe. But when Bush talked about the Kremlin's crackdown on the media and explained that democracies require a free press, the Russian leader gave a rebuttal that left the President nonplussed. If the press was so free in the U.S., Putin asked, then why had those reporters at CBS lost their jobs? Bush was openmouthed. 'Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather,' says a senior Administration official. 'It was like something out of 1984.' "

This was one of the things that surprised me the most while working the phones at a Red Cross telethon to raise money for tsunami victims:

When a once-in-a-century natural disaster swept away the lives of more than 100,000 poor Asians last December, the developed world opened its hearts and its checkbooks. Yet when it comes to Africa, where hundreds of thousands of poor men, women and children die needlessly each year from preventable diseases, or unnatural disasters like civil wars, much of the developed world seems to have a heart of stone.

In our little prepared speech we had to ask people who called in to donate money whether they wanted to specify that their donation go a) strictly to tsunami victims only b) into a general international relief fund that may be spent in Asia or Africa or anywhere else the Red Cross was working or c) kept locally for Red Cross activities in Atlanta. A lot of people wanted to split their donation between choices (a) and (c) but very, very few went for option (b) even when crises in places like Darfur and the Congo were specifically mentioned. Of course, I don't think people who called in offering hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars were somehow unkind or thoughtless. Nevertheless, I can't figure out why person after person answered my question with oh, I want to make sure all that money goes to those poor people in Asia. Certainly, they need all the help they can get. But are the people of Africa somehow less needy? At the risk of being incredibly crass, is it really easier to identify with "yellow" and "brown" people than "black?"

Speaking of Africa, for those who were wondering, the real Hotel Rwanda still exists.
At the end of the impromptu screening of "Hotel Rwanda," the viewers said that no matter how violent the film portrayals might seem, reality was far worse.

"It is impossible to show what really happened," said Kenyatta Nkusi-Kabera, 30, who like so many others here lost family members in 1994. "Nobody could watch what really happened. Their eyes would be closed."

In somewhat silver-lining-type good news, the sisters of a man killed in a bar fight with alleged members of the IRA are standing up to the thugs.

But the sisters defiantly named names and directly challenged the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, to help bring the alleged killers to justice. The family's campaign has shamed and embarrassed the movement to the point that on Friday, the IRA broke years of tradition by announcing it had court-martialed and expelled three members. In an unprecedented statement, the organization ordered the men "in the strongest terms possible to come forward and to take responsibility for their actions."

Don't get me wrong, Sinn Fein and it's members/supporters have legitimate complaints, and, as the article mentions, used to "do right" by community members (squeezing out drug dealers and pressuring men who slapped around their wives to lay off). But more recently they've been brutalizing and intimidating the very citizens they used to protect.

In other news, apparently if I breast feed my (thus far hypothetical, future) children, I'll be poisoning them with up to 20 times the National Academy of Sciences' recommended "safe dose" of rocket fuel.

And continuing with the women in science rant, check out the stats in this article. The article itself is mostly rubbish (forgive me if I don't do the You've Come a Long Way, Baby! dance). Although math is doing better than, say, physics or engineering, as far as approaching parity, the critical thing to note is the drop as level of education increases - (although the article references these numbers as the percentages of women I'm assuming they actually meant the percentages of degrees earned by women; damn innumeracy!) for 2001-2002 46.7% of bachelors degrees in math went to women, 42.4% of masters degrees, but only 29% of phds. Improvement, yes, but the argument remains - when you encourage women in math and science, they are competitive in math and science. We've seen this trend slowly creep it's way up through primary and secondary schools and finally into colleges. But we're still losing in a major way at the last point in the pipeline. And stats on tenured and tenure-track women in math are pretty dismal too. Yes, to a certain degree this is still the generation gap, but it isn't completely explained away by the notion that we have to wait for more women to earn degrees before more women will be high-ranking professors. A much smaller percentage of female math majors are making it to doctoral programs and on into academia than male math majors, and that's because these niche areas of the math field remain incredibly inhospitable.

Lastly, if you're looking for a small, simple social-political action to take, ask them to hold the tomatoes next time you order a salad or sandwich.
No one disputes that Immokalee farm workers have been subjected to the most extreme injustice. The coalition has uncovered several slavery rings in Immokalee-area farms. In one case, based on two years of undercover work and investigation by the coalition in 2002, three Florida-based farm bosses were convicted in federal court of slavery, extortion and weapons charges and sentenced to nearly 35 years in prison. They were also ordered to forfeit more than $3 million in assets. The bosses had threatened more than 700 farm workers with death if they tried to leave and assaulted passenger van service drivers who gave rides to farm workers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how to feel about the tomato thing. It seems like the company made a few good faith efforts to move in the direction the activists wanted (offered lobbying help, sent them a check for the amount of money they suggested) - but the lobbyists wanted the company to do all the work ("how can we distribute the money?" - well, how can the company do any better from far away). Plus, if you're just in a restaurant and ask for no tomatoes (1) you don't identify why (2) since you're not discriminating based on where the tomatoes come from, the restaurant has no incentive to change its supplier, (3) similarly, since you're hitting all tomato producers, no individual producer has an incentive to switch.


12:57 PM  

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