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The Perfect Movie for Your Earth Day Date Night

Mother Jones

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While Hollywood has been on a roll with climate change films, most of them have concentrated on the planet’s impending doom. The team behind the new French documentary Tomorrow takes a different tactic. “I discovered that showing catastrophes—explaining what is going wrong in the world—is not enough,” co-director Cyril Dion tells Mother Jones. “We also need to have energy and enthusiasm to build another future.”

It was a challenge to convince others’ of this opinion, Dion says: “Nobody believed in a positive documentary about ecology, economy, and democracy.” Instead, the Caésar-award-winning film, originally released in France in 2015, was partly crowd-funded. As French actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) implores in the film, “This movie is about thousands of people changing the world so we would like it to be financed by thousands of people willing to do the same.”

Over a backdrop of twee music, the upbeat Laurent and Dion serve as our tour guides into everyday communities that have taken creative steps to reduce their contribution to climate change: permaculture farming in France, urban farming in Detroit, a new democratic experiment to let Untouchables and high-caste live together in India, and a political revolution and rewritten constitution in Iceland. Despite Laurent and Dion’s earnestness to identify answers, however, viewers may find that the film does not fully address the magnitude and urgency of the situation—which small-scale, local solutions alone cannot fix.

Nonetheless, change is perhaps most powerful when it is community-driven. The most novel innovation proposed is the possibility of “local currencies” that never leave one geographic area, thus encouraging the type of localized production and consumption that the filmmakers believe to be essential to a sustainable future. The Swiss WIR, an alternative currency system that stays in Switzerland, has been a successful model for such a system since the 1930s. In the years following the 2008 recession, interest has risen in alternative currency systems insulated from the volatility of global markets. “Rather than money just pouring out of your local economy as though it were a leaky bucket, a local currency recognizes that getting money to stay in your local economy as long as it can, and be passed around as many times as possible, is of huge benefit,” Rob Hopkins, a British environmental activist featured in the film, tells Mother Jones.

By focusing on experiments already in the works, Tomorrow presents climate change as a challenge with clear remedies rather than an inevitable apocalypse.

The film opened in New York and Los Angeles on April 21.

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The Perfect Movie for Your Earth Day Date Night

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Bill McKibben’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from the prolific author, environmental crusader, and longtime Mother Jones contributor Bill McKibben.

Latest book: Oil and Honey
Also known for: The End of Nature
Reading recommendations: We’re in an age of protest. So people should read Rules for Revolutionaries, by Becky Bond and Zack Exley, who spearheaded Bernie’s distributed organizing team. They understand the tools that work right now for big change. And for a slightly more timeless take, This Is an Uprising, by Paul and Mark Engler, is the best summary of all that the last 75 years has taught us about nonviolent organizing. It’s the book I wish I’d had a decade ago, because it would have saved a lot of trial-and-error experimentation as we got 350.org up and running.
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Bill McKibben, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Bill McKibben’s Resistance Reading

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I Underwent Genital Mutilation as a Child—Right Here in the United States

Mother Jones

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Last week, an Indian American doctor was arrested in Michigan, charged with performing female genital cutting on two seven-year-old girls. As the story hit the local press and then the New York Times, and as it was shared by George Takei and Nicholas Kristof, my phone kept blowing up with breathless messages and links from childhood friends across the country.

“This story isn’t going away,” said one friend over the phone. We both grew up in the same controversial, secretive South Asian Muslim sect as the doctor, a 44-year-old emergency room physician named Jumana Nagarwala who was born in Washington, DC. “This time, the community can’t just pretend it’s not happening.” Just today, two more followers of the sect were arrested in connection with the case.

Our sect is known as the Dawoodi Bohras, a Shiite branch of Islam based in Gujarat, India, with an estimated 1.2 million followers around the world and thriving outposts across America. Some Bohras and others say the sect has veered toward a cult of personality and away from Islamic principles; it’s ruled by a well-heeled clergy of “totalitarian kings” with unusually wide-reaching control over their followers. (The Bohra clergy did not respond to Mother Jones‘ request for comment.)

Federal officials believe Nagarwala may have been clandestinely cutting girls since at least 2005. It’s the first case of its kind in the United States, where female genital cutting is a criminal sexual act and has been illegal since 1996. The practice is widely seen as an attempt to curb women’s sexuality by making sex less enjoyable, even painful.

Nagarwala admits she performed a procedure on the two seven-year-old girls, but says she didn’t cut them—she merely wiped away a mucous membrane and gave the gauze to the parents, who would bury it in keeping with Bohra tradition. She told investigators she’s not aware of anyone in her community who practices cutting.

As little girls, nearly all my female Bohra friends and I underwent khatna, the sect’s term for this practice. None of us remember being “wiped.” We were cut. Some of us bled and ached for days, and some walked away with lifelong physical damage. In interviews with investigators, one of the girls Nagarwala performed on said the procedure hurt so badly that she screamed in pain and “could barely walk afterward.” She drew a picture of the room where it happened, and marked an “X” to show where she bled on an exam table. Medical examinations show that both girls’ genitals have been altered.

While news coverage and the federal case focus on Nagarwala, khatna has been a mandatory religious practice inflicted on Bohra girls all over the world for generations, often in knowing violation of local laws. Bohras are the only Muslims in India who enforce female genital cutting; it’s not a common practice among South Asians or Muslims worldwide, and it’s not mentioned in the Koran. Privately, many Bohras have been praying for the clergy to end this practice for years, even decades. More than one mother I know wept when she learned she was bearing a girl, dreading what she might have to do to her child.

“Maybe this is the case that finally scares them into stopping it,” another friend messaged me. Her khatna happened during a family vacation in India. Mine took place in the bedroom of a family acquaintance in New Jersey in the late ’80s.

I buried the memory until I was 13, when my freshman year social-studies teacher put on a video about female genital mutilation in Africa. As I watched a young girl, dark-skinned like me, being prepared by village elders for her mutilation, I suddenly flashed back to a dim, chilly house my mother took me to when I was about seven. Two Indian aunties I had never seen before held me down on a mattress and pulled down my underwear as I squirmed to get free. One of them held a small pair of silver scissors, like the ones my dad used to keep his beard trimmed. Then, the sudden sensation of a tight, mean little pinch between my legs.

The memory exploded in my head in the dark, quiet classroom, and suddenly, a recurring nightmare I’d had for years made sense. In those dreams, the lower half of my body was made of kid’s construction toys, and pieces kept breaking off as I frantically tried to keep myself together. I began sobbing at my desk. The teacher kindly told me to catch my breath in the hallway; she thought I was upset over the images I was seeing in the video. Later, at lunch, my white girlfriends talked about being relieved that sort of thing doesn’t happen in America.

But it does. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that half a million girls in the United States were affected by or at risk for mutilation in 2012. I know of dozens of Bohra women whose parents had them cut in America over the last 30 years, from New York City to Houston to Chicago. Others were taken out of country to have the procedure done, a practice called “vacation cutting” that’s now also illegal in the United States.

We’re the first generation of Bohras born in America. Our parents began settling here after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which brought a wave of South Asian engineers, doctors, and other professionals to America. In our teens and 20s, my friends and I who underwent khatna assured each other the practice would die out as Bohras assimilated. We’re now in our 30s, and it hasn’t stopped. Some women our age and younger are still arranging or considering khatna for their own daughters.

“Nothing is going to change,” sighed the friend who called me to discuss the Nagarwala case. She spoke with a bitterness I could almost taste in my own mouth. “They’ll use this one doctor as a scapegoat, let her take the heat, and pretend it never happened.”

In 2015, the Australian Supreme Court handed down the first-ever conviction for a Bohra engaged in khatna. Many Bohras opposed to the practice hoped this was finally khatna‘s death knell. The Bohra clergy takes pains to maintain good relations with political leaders around the world; a guilty verdict in an affluent, English-speaking country seemed disastrous, especially in an increasing atmosphere of global Islamophobia.

Instead, the head cleric, Mufaddal Saifuddin, 70, seemed to double down on the practice during a cryptic sermon delivered last year in Mumbai. Congregations in the United States and elsewhere were sent letters instructing them to follow local laws, but some reading between the lines heard different instructions: Go underground, and don’t get caught. The parents in the Michigan case traveled with their daughters from Minnesota in February; community members tell me it’s become harder—but not impossible—to find Bohras willing to perform the procedure.

The task of getting a young girl’s khatna done falls on adult female relatives; men often don’t know it’s happening, or even that the practice exists at all. Girls are told to keep the procedure a secret after it’s performed, and they usually do. “For the longest time, I didn’t even know other people had this done, too,” one friend from the community told me. “I thought it was something my mom only did to me, and I didn’t know why.”

In the vacuum of secrecy, and with very little official guidance from Bohra leadership, there are wide variations in how khatna is performed. The seven-year-old girls in the Michigan case were allegedly cut by a licensed medical professional in an unnamed medical clinic. (Nagarwala’s employer, Henry Ford Hospital, says it did not happen on their grounds.) In other cases, the cutting is performed by laypeople with no medical training in unhygienic conditions.

There’s also little consensus about how the actual procedure is supposed to work; it’s often up to the interpretation of whoever is wielding the blade. In some cases, like mine, a “pinch of skin” from the clitoral hood is cut away, leaving no lasting physical trauma. Sometimes the entire clitoris is removed, or surrounding tissue is also damaged. Last year, writer Mariya Karimjee went on This American Life to tell the story of her cutting, which was performed in Pakistan and left her unable to have sex without unendurable pain.

Bohras even disagree on why khatna is performed. The prevailing view is that it keeps girls and women from becoming sexually promiscuous. Others say it has something to do with “removing bad germs” and liken it to male circumcision, which is widely (though not universally) believed to have hygienic benefits. The World Health Organization says female genital mutilation has no known health benefits and “violates the rights to health, security and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”

Despite the prevalence of khatna among generations of Bohra women around the world, there has been almost no public conversation about it until just a few years ago. Speaking out about any of the numerous issues the clergy has come under scrutiny for—khatna, multiple lawsuits over alleged abuses of power, “big brother”-style surveillance of everyday Bohras—is seen as unacceptable. Dissidents can face excommunication and social boycott. The threat extends to family members, whose businesses often depend on Bohra financing, or who may not be allowed to marry within the community or be buried in a Bohra cemetery unless the rebellious relative is quieted.

I’m already estranged from my family because of disagreements over Bohra customs. Like a few of my friends, I’ve tried to bring up khatna to my parents, mostly my mother, with little progress. As in many rigid orthodoxies, the burden of social policing in the Bohra community falls largely on women, who have the most to lose from rocking the boat and who are often suffering from unacknowledged personal trauma of their own.

That’s why it’s remarkable that so many Bohra women have started speaking up over the last few years, from the explosive This American Life story to a documentary film, interviews with major news outlets in India and the United States, and a Change.org petition calling on the Bohra clergy to end the practice that’s been signed by 150,000 supporters. In 2015, five young women started a Bohra anti-FGM group called Sahiyo (Gujarati for “friends”) and conducted the first large-scale, global research study on the practice of khatna among Dawoodi Bohras. Nearly 400 Bohra women took the online survey, mostly from India and the United States and between the ages of 18 and 45. Eighty percent said they would like the practice of khatna to end.

None of this has moved the clergy to unequivocally end it.

One of the girls in the Nagarwala case in Michigan was temporarily taken away from her parents, an act that’s sure to cause additional trauma. Nagarwala could be sentenced anywhere from five years to life in prison for the assortment of charges she faces, though she’s just one of an untold number of khatna practitioners around the country. Bohras opposed to the practice now find themselves rooting against those who are arguably fellow victims.

“It’s feels sick to be happy about all this punishment,” said one of my friends the other night. “But I just don’t know how else to make them listen.”

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I Underwent Genital Mutilation as a Child—Right Here in the United States

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Quote of the Day: Trump Needs Ivanka Around to Keep Him From Being Too Dickish

Mother Jones

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Sean Spicer put his foot in it today over Syria. You can google the details if you want, but basically he used the words Hitler and gas in the same sentence, and you just know that’s not going to end well.

Instead, let’s turn to the next generation of Trumps:

Eric Trump has said he is “sure” his sister Ivanka used her influence over their father to encourage the US president to launch military action against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

….“A lot of times people will say yes just because you happen to be the boss,” he explained at the Trump Turnberry golf resort in Ayrshire. “I think the beautiful thing about family is you play on a little bit of a different dynamic and once in a while you can pull them aside and say: ‘No disrespect but you might want to think about this or maybe you crossed the line here.’

“I think it gives you a sounding board who is a little bit more unconventional than the 37 people that might happen to be standing round a table at that one time who just want to appease.

I’m sure Trump’s staff will be delighted to hear themselves described this way.

And I’m pretty sure Eric is wrong anyway. First off, my guess is that virtually everyone in and out of the West Wing was in favor of bombing Syria. Hell, even most Democrats were in favor of bombing Syria. I very much doubt that Ivanka’s deep maternal instincts (“Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence”) made her a unique moral influence in this case.

Second, those 37 people Eric talks about aren’t “appeasing” his dad. They’re mostly very clever, very experienced people who are manipulating his dad. They do this because that’s what people in the West Wing always do, and they have an easier time of it than most because Donald Trump is so childishly easy to manipulate. We all saw Hillary Clinton do it in the debates, practically sending up semaphore flags as she baited him, and you could tell that even Trump understood what she was doing. But he responded exactly as she wanted him to anyway. It was pretty astonishing to watch. Too bad about that whole James Comey thing.

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Quote of the Day: Trump Needs Ivanka Around to Keep Him From Being Too Dickish

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Eat Almonds, Drink Almond Milk, Live Free, Make Love, Hold, Touch, Dance, Laugh, Be Happy Always

Mother Jones

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California’s water problems sleep with the fishes, who are thrilled.

Governor Brown did not praise the drought Friday. He buried it. It will spend the rest of eternity entombed in the ground, forced to watch helplessly as its mortal enemy, groundwater, flows resurgently.

Over the years many pages of this august publication have been dedicated to the drought. (It was often noted by the Mother Jones bureaus in DC and NYC that the San Francisco bureau appeared “obsessed” with the drought, which led to this passive-aggressive headline) Though my colleagues in California knew this was coming—the writing was on the wall—they are in shock. And jubilation has erupted in their office. Reports are coming in from Slack that the almond-fueled celebration could continue well into the weekend.

Why are they celebrating with almonds? Because almonds did the drought and if you ate almonds while the drought was going on you are a bad person. But now the drought is over and the almonds, they rain from the sky like kisses from heaven! And the almond milk! My god, the almond milk, once a controversial hipster indulgence, now flows like the roaring rapids of the Colorado river. A new era of cheap broccoli hedonism dawns!

Here is a list of some of the things we said you were not allowed to do because of the drought which you now can in fact do.

1. Eat almonds.

2. Eat nuts in general.

3. Drink almond milk.

4. We felt very strongly about almond milk.

4. Drink mimosas.

5. Eat avocados.

6. Have dairy of any kind, but specifically Greek yogurt.

7. Shower.

8. Do laundry.

9. Not be a total asshole to your neighbor.

10. Eat vegetables during the winter.

11. Ski.

12. Eat romaine lettuce.

13. Enjoy a complimentary glass of water at a restaurant.

14. Drink a drink with really large ridiculous ice cubes.

15. Almonds again.

16. More almonds.

17. Wow, we wrote a lot about almonds.

RIP California’s drought, survived by its loving children, mudslide and fire.

Let me tell you a story. In 2014 in an editorial meeting people were talking about the drought and I asked “where did the water go?” and they all laughed. “Ha ha,” they said. “Ha ha ha.” And I said, “I don’t think you know.” And they said, “everyone knows.” And I said, “where is it? There used to be water, now it’s gone. Where is it?” And they flipped the table over and stormed out, never answering my question. We have published a lot of really great stories about the drought since but none answering the question. I have encountered many theories. There was the theory of the blob and that the water was in the ocean. Maybe it was stuck in a cloud above the ocean. Maybe it was in France. Because here’s the thing, the water didn’t disappear. It’s somewhere. To find the water, you have to think like the water. What place had more water than before? I thought it might have been Seattle, but Seattle actually had a drought too. So, what do you think? You’ve been reading this paragraph and think I’m stupid. You’ve been chuckling along because you know where the water is. So, where is it? I want you to think in your mind where you think the water went. Maybe you think it is an unanswerable question. If that is what you think then I have a surprise for you: Researchers at Stanford, I recently found out, answered the question. I now know where the water went and I’m going to tell you where the water is and none of you will have guessed accurately. Ready? It’s in Alaska.

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Eat Almonds, Drink Almond Milk, Live Free, Make Love, Hold, Touch, Dance, Laugh, Be Happy Always

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