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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Africa's dismal Human Rights Record

In December 2011, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum instructing federal agencies to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people overseas.
 The memorandum coincided with a speech by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Human Rights Council in Geneva declaring that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." Here are some developments concerning anti-gay legislation in Africa since the memorandum was issued:


UGANDA: A bill originally calling for the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" was re-tabled in February 2012. "Aggravated homosexuality" includes engaging in gay sex three times or while HIV-positive. The bill would also punish Ugandans who fail to turn in homosexuals to the authorities. President Obama called the bill "odious" in 2010. Its author has since said the death penalty provision has been removed.

LIBERIA: Lawmakers introduced two bills in 2012 that would strengthen existing anti-gay provisions in the criminal code. A bill banning same-sex marriage was unanimously passed in the Senate but has yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives. A bill in the House of Representatives is broader, and includes a provision banning the "promotion" of gay sex. The bill has yet to be voted on.

MALAWI: Just days after Clinton's December 2011 speech, Malawi's justice minister said the government would review anti-gay legislation "in view of the sentiments from the general public and in response to public opinion regarding certain laws." Last November, the government said it would suspend implementation of the current law imposing maximum prison terms of 14 years against men engaged in same-sex sexual conduct. Women charged under the law face prison terms of up to five years. However, the government later denied issuing the statement.

NIGERIA: The House of Representatives last month passed a bill imposing 14-year prison terms for gay marriage. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. Anyone taking part in a group advocating for gay rights or anyone caught in a "public show" of affection also would face 10 years in prison if convicted by a criminal court. The Senate passed the same bill in November 2011, one week before Obama's memorandum was signed.

CAMEROON: Officials in Cameroon have continued to pursue prosecutions under a penal code provision that carries prison terms of up to five years for gay sex. Rights groups say Cameroon arrests, prosecutes and convicts more people for homosexuality than any other country in Africa, although they say the evidence in such cases is often weak. Evidence cited in recent cases has included effeminate clothing and text messages.

(Source: Amnesty International)

Friday, May 03, 2013

From Woodstock to Musicwood

Ah, the feel of a genuine Gibson Acoustic Guitar! Don't all of us amateur guitar twangers pay homage to the instrument? Now comes this documentary that's torn this illusion of beauty and its gonna break your heart a little. I'm talking about MUSICWOOD. And my guitar gently weeps....
If the purpose of an environmental documentary is to make you see an otherwise invisible world of problems attached to an item in your hands, Musicwood is a striking success.

This elegant, troubling 2012 feature by director Maxine Trump follows top brass from three of the U.S.’s most revered makers of acoustic guitars—Martin, Gibson, and Taylor—as they grapple with the ecological costs of one of their prime ingredients: old-growth Sitka spruce, the wood of choice for building the light, resonant soundboards of their instruments.

 Nearly all of this wood comes from one place, Tongass National Forest in the Alaskan Panhandle. Tongass contains the largest unbroken stretch of temperate coniferous rainforest in the world.

 But only a few short decades of clear-cutting, to feed not just the relatively tiny guitar market but the booming Asian-based industries in construction materials and veneers, has erased a huge percentage of old spruce stands.

Like most compelling films, Musicwood lays out a story in which heroes and villains are harder to separate than they seem at first. Golly Miss Molly!

For starters, the product under the microscope here isn’t a roll of paper towels. It’s a soul-stirring, centuries-old musical device—and almost everyone, from the most ardent environmentalist to the most profit-obsessed corporate CEO, has a favourite song that’s played on one. The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind...

 Add to this the fact that the clearcuts are being carried out not by some faceless multinational but by a First Nation-run corporation that emerged from years of struggle over land claims.
And then complicate matters with tensions between the well-heeled executives of that corporation and its poor and embittered “shareholders”, many of whom see their traditional resources and way of life being liquidated.

Even the nobly intended Musicwood Coalition—formed by the otherwise competing guitar makers at the behest of Greenpeace—ends up getting compromised.
After gaining a degree of trust and cooperation from the Aboriginal business leaders in Tongass, its mission to conserve old-growth spruce is suspended when the Gibson company gets raided by U.S. officials for importing illegal wood from Madagascar.

With cameo appearances by Yo La Tengo, Steve Earle, Kaki King, and Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, Musicwood is charged with the West Coast landscape and the much-loved musical instruments that rely on it. Viewers, whether guitarists or not, will rightfully worry about the future of both.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Packaging confusion!

The revenue -driven model of 'private' television channels has fashioned 'news  as commodity'. News has to have a glitzy, colourful 'package', and for most of the vernacular 'news' channels, ethics has been thrown out with yesterday's garbage.. News is being peddled in orer to 'improve viewer ratings'.


So, this means that you, the viewer are a passive witness to the shrill and boisterous sparring between panellists, [sound and fury signifying, alas, nothing!]. At the end of the session, the hapless viewer is left confused, bewildered and struggling to make sense of the story and to form a considered opinion.

What the public needs isn't the biased views of the so-called experts, but the drect and balanced reports of journalists on the ground, who have the advantage of first-hand experience.

High decibel TV debates can entertain, but fail to educate or enlighten, which is what news reporting is all about.

We are dependent on the newspapers and the print media like never before... the paradox is that only a fraction of today's so-called literate young adults spend time to read.
Go figure!