news you should know about

newsmongering 07/19

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> Following their article last week “Send the Hill to Hogwarts,” Foreign Policy has followed up with a piece on the policy lessons one may glean from A Game of Thrones. I’ve neither read the books nor seen the show (I know, I know), but it’s a pretty cool piece anyway.

Much of the diplomacy in the novels is highly secretive — hidden not just from the people of Westeros (who have no free press or citizen’s advocacy groups to root out such meddling), but from the rulers who tacitly permit their spymasters to work in the dark. Varys, a longtime spymaster for Robert and his successor, turns out to be one of the most powerful actors in the entire series, pulling the strings of a web of secret agreements across Westeros and far beyond. As our recent, WikiLeaks-enabled peep into the world of secret diplomacy has shown, such a sturdy community of back-channel leakers and embassy insiders exists in full force today and has no less power, though it may be somewhat less concerned with protecting the hereditary lines of kings, and certainly less encumbered by the nasty tendencies of some parties to execute hostages in the name of revenge.

> The Guardian‘s Will Storr discusses male wartime rape.

One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California’s Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. Twenty-one per cent of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.

…The research by Lara Stemple…doesn’t only show that male sexual violence is a component of wars all over the world, it also suggests that international aid organisations are failing male victims. Her study cites a review of 4,076 NGOs that have addressed wartime sexual violence. Only 3% of them mentioned the experience of men in their literature. “Typically,” Stemple says, “as a passing reference.”

when I contact Stemple by email, she describes a “constant drum beat that women are therape victims” and a milieu in which men are treated as a “monolithic perpetrator class”.

“International human rights law leaves out men in nearly all instruments designed to address sexual violence,” she continues. “The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 treats wartime sexual violence as something that only impacts on women and girls… Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced $44m to implement this resolution. Because of its entirely exclusive focus on female victims, it seems unlikely that any of these new funds will reach the thousands of men and boys who suffer from this kind of abuse. Ignoring male rape not only neglects men, it also harms women by reinforcing a viewpoint that equates ‘female’ with ‘victim’, thus hampering our ability to see women as strong and empowered. In the same way, silence about male victims reinforces unhealthy expectations about men and their supposed invulnerability.”

Considering Dolan’s finding that “female rape is significantly underreported and male rape almost never”, I ask Stemple if, following her research, she believes it might be a hitherto unimagined part of all wars. “No one knows, but I do think it’s safe to say that it’s likely that it’s been a part of many wars throughout history and that taboo has played a part in the silence.”

> An estimated 13 civilians were killed in the Syrian city of Homs last night. Al Jazeera has a discussion on the responsibility of physicians to political dissidents (more accurately, the responsibility of physicians to not be complicit with torture of said dissidents) here.

The medical torture of political dissidents holds a privileged place because it can be perversely justified. The torture of dissidents may be seen as an act of loyalty to the state. Doctors acting on behalf of the state, such as military doctors, have what is called “dual loyalty” – loyalty to both their patient and a third party.

In addressing the issue of dual loyalty, Physicians for Human Rights has proposed guidelines that physicians not be present when torture takes place, and calls on them to report all human rights violations, especially when they interfere with their loyalty to patients. Like the medical professionals from the US recently implicated in the torture and abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and Iraq, some Syrian doctors may have valued their contribution to the security of the state more than their adherence to the norms of their profession.

But, in their pursuit of perceived enemies of the state, have these physicians become enemies of the profession? Doctors involved in torture should be pursued as enemies of medicine: their crimes documented, their professional credentials revoked, and their ability to practice internationally thwarted.

Also, did you know that Syrian president Assad is an ophthalmologist by training? Neither did I.

> The Israeli Defense Force has intercepted the Gaza-bound French ship Dignity.

Navy soldiers did not encounter any resistance during the interception which resulted after the ship’s captain refused to cooperate with the IDF’s demand to divert its course to the Ashdod Port, the IDF Spokesperson said in a statement.

An IDF doctor inspected the passengers and they were transferred to one of the navy ships where they received food and water. The bridge of the Dignity was taken over by navy officers and then headed towards the Ashdod Port. The 15 passengers will be transferred to Interior Ministry officials and immigration authorities in Ashdod. They will likely be deported from Israel.

> Well, this is a headline you want to see: “Missile warheads stolen from Romanian train” (more accurately, sixty-four missile warheads were stolen from a Romanian train). Fortunately, they were “in component form” – that is to say, sans explosive material – but still, that’s a pretty big security breach. The warheads were recovered from a nearby town a few hours later; authorities speculate that they were stolen for scrap metal.

But really, what do you say to that? “Oops”?

> In China, the opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was delayed for the opening of the no doubt riveting nationalist epic Beginning of the Great Revival: The Founding of a Party.

“This practice is long-standing. Unlike the US, films are not treated just as consumer products in China. More importance is given to their role in shaping opinion and educating the public,” said Li Hongyu, a film journalist for the South Weekend newspaper. “But the situation is better than it was 10 years ago. At least the Communist party no longer requires its members to go to the cinema for certain movies.”

> The UN mission chief in Cote d’Ivoire has told the UN that pro-Gbagbo elements are no longer a threat in the region.

Separately, the Ivory Coast ambassador to the UN, Youssoufou Bamba, indicated that the country “is progressively returning to normal.”

Of the estimated 200,000 people displaced by the conflict before the installation of elected President Alassane Ouattara, 60,000 have returned home, while 140,000 are still refugees, many in camps along the Liberian border, according to Bamba.

An estimated 3,000 people died during the standoff after Gbagbo refused to cede power after elections in November won by Ouattara, who was finally inaugurated May 21.

Gbagbo was captured in an underground bunker in Abidjan on April 11 by forces loyal to Ouattara, backed by France and the UN.

> The UN is on the verge of declaring a famine in Somalia.

The scale uses several indicators to declare a famine, including acute malnutrition in more than 30 per cent of children, at least two deaths per 10,000 people every day and access to less than four litres of water a day. Large-scale displacement of people, civil strife and pandemic illness are also taken into consideration.

The last time a major famine was declared in the Horn of Africa was 1984-85, when a catastrophic drought in Ethiopia left more than one million people dead.

> GOP 2012 presidential hopeful and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain says that he will not (“will not,” not “would not” – mull over that one) appoint Muslims to his cabinet. Because there is a “creeping attempt” to shove sharia law into this country. Oddly, he doesn’t cite an instance, possibly because there isn’t one.

> Nick Kristoff reiterates the fact that cutting education is a terrible, terrible thing for any nation.

Granted, budget shortfalls are real, and schools need reforms as well as dollars. Pouring money into a broken system isn’t a solution, and we need more accountability. But it’s also true that blindly slashing budgets is making the problems worse. As Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, once observed, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Still, we nation-build in Afghanistan and scrimp at home. How is it that we can afford to double our military budget since 9/11, can afford the carried-interest tax loophole for billionaires, can afford billions of dollars in givebacks to oil and gas companies, yet can’t afford to invest in our kids’ futures?

Sometimes I hear people endorse education cuts by arguing that “school isn’t for everybody,” which usually means something like “education isn’t for other people’s children” — or that farm kids in places like Yamhill really don’t need schools that double as rocket ships. I can’t think of any view that is more un-American.

> The first openly gay US federal judge has been confirmed by the Senate.

> The US shuttle Atlantis has undocked from the International Space Station. It will return to Earth Thursday morning.

“Farewell ISS, make us proud,” said Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson as his ship slipped away.

> So last week Micah Zenko discovered that there’s a noticeable lack of women in foreign policy circles and wondered about it. It was a decent article, but I didn’t link to it because I didn’t see it as much of anything new; Zenko figured that women aren’t as interested in, say, international security as their male counterparts, that men tend to hire other men, and that the hours (breakfast meetings! Dinner meetings! Meetings over drinks! Red-eye flight to New York!) aren’t conducive to raising a family. His colleague Heather Hurlburt, however, takes his conclusions one step further, and her article is excellent.

Zenko offers two causes — women’s “preference” for “soft” policy issues and women’s greater struggles with the balance between work and family. However, these factors are really manifestations of his third answer: Too many powerful men tend to create work environments that privilege men over women. This is an example of that ingrained, deeply human preference for the familiar that we softly refer to as … sexism.

… It should be mentioned, too, that the situation is not much better for blacks, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and Muslims — to say nothing of gays and lesbians who are out of the closet. The doors of the establishment opened to the Irish, the Jews, the middle class and (some) women in the 1960s and 1970s, and then got stuck halfway.

… It’s easy to write, as Zenko does, that women suffer more from family balance pressures. He’s not wrong, but again, that’s not so much because women want to be doing more housework and less policy work: Household tasks are still not distributed evenly between the genders; neither are expectations. This doesn’t just affect women. An assistant secretary of defense I know has a stay-at-home husband; the comments they still get, in liberal Washington in the 21st century, are shocking.

It’s quite good. Take a look.

> Lastly, Mark Twain wrote a book called “Advice for Little Girls.” It’s pretty excellent, but then, how could it not be?


Written by whackanarwhal

July 19, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. It seems every day I hear a new story about how some republican or another is claiming that someone is trying to push sharia law into our law. And every day I get a little more furious about it.

    Also, I’ll throw in another vote that you need to watch Game of Thrones. It’s only 10 episodes currently, you can find it online (sidereel.com works for us), and it’s fantastic.


    July 19, 2011 at 1:30 pm

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