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Archive for April, 2009

I am all for girl power, and here in Africa it can take some dynamic forms.

Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is an example of a woman taking the reins and driving forward.

Here in Seychelles it manifests in business and government, where women hold positions of power in the National Assembly and the Cabinet and run the show in many companies. (Not the 50+% represented in the population, but a better than average ratio when compared globally.)

For millions of African women, however, power is rationed out, when at all, in tiny, sweat-laden droplets and overwhelmed by the lack of.

Too many women have no power to protect their children from deprivation, starvation and disease, and hundreds of thousands have lost theirs to war, either as casualties or to soldiering.

They have no power over what is done to their bodies, aren’t allowed to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS or unwanted pregnancies, and often don’t have any voice in defending their own genitals. (For a country-by-country look at FGM in Africa, see this from Amnesty International.)

So, when women step up, we should pay attention no matter what form it takes. That’s why this report, “Kenyan women hit men with sex ban”, catches my eye this morning.

Womens activist groups in Kenya have slapped their partners with a week-long sex ban in protest over the infighting plaguing the national unity government.

The Womens Development Organization coalition said they would also pay prostitutes to join their strike.

The campaigners are asking the wives of the Kenyan president and the prime minister to join in the embargo.

I’m trying to imagine a nation of men not only gettin’ none for a week, but knowing that the none gettin’ has been orchestrated by the women folk. Do they have it in them to take whatever energy they might have expended in the sack to the table? Can they put aside base urges for the greater good? Will appreciation for the value of their women increase through unattainability?

Or will that DSB (Dreaded Semen Backup) clog the works completely and result in nothing more but a giant circle jerk that leaves a sticky blob?

Whatever …

It’s worth a shot, Ladies. And I can only hope that you’re not stuck cleaning up the mess … again.

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If you were in charge, what would you do if you came across a dude who is known to have run camps that kidnapped kids, then trained them to be soldiers? Not just one camp, but seven of them. Keep in mind that this would be in Africa, the guy’s nickname is “the Terminator”, and he is on the UN war crimes list as a wanted man.

According to the BBC, what the UN has done is given him a job.

An indicted war criminal is playing a leading role in the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to documents seen by the BBC.

A Congolese army paper suggests ex-rebel leader Gen Bosco Ntaganda has a major part in the command chain, says a BBC correspondent in the country.

The UN-Congolese force is fighting Hutu rebels in the eastern DR Congo.

Well, that’ll teach him.

On the off chance that you’re not familiar with the plight of children taken for soldiering in the DRC, this report from Amnesty International gives a taste. Here’s just a tiny bit of the intro:

Seven years of almost continuous war in the Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC) have led to the death of over three million people since 1998 alone, most of them civilian men, women and children. Tens of thousands of women have been raped. Countless acts of torture have been reported. Fleeing the conflict, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been driven from their home into neighbouring countries or other parts of the DRC. Many have died from malnutrition and lack of access to humanitarian assistance. Up to two million people have been internally displaced, including 400,000 children displaced from their homes. This is not a war in which civilians have been the unfortunate victims of ‘collateral damage’, but one in which they have been unremittingly and remorselessly targeted. Death and intense suffering have become the daily fabric of Congolese lives. The conflict has also been marked by the widespread use of children as combatants by all parties. The DRC is currently one of the countries of the world with the largest number of child soldiers.

Read the full report if you have the heart.

The UN is denying that the Terminator is on the payroll … they would, wouldn’t they? … but apparently Human Rights Watch isn’t buying it

“We are very worried by this information and it seems to us that the United Nations is acting like an ostrich with its head in the sand,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, the group’s senior researcher on DR Congo, told the BBC.

“It’s time now this is addressed head on. Rather than denying or ignoring the role being played by Bosco Ntaganda, the UN should be actively seeking his arrest and transferring him to The Hague.”

Well, yeah, although ostrich is not what comes to my mind. I doubt very much that this is a case of not knowing, or even of pretending not to know, but rather out-and-out lying when facts are brought from the gloom of shady dealing into the bright light of a world paying attention.

Where the PR machine spins this one is anybody’s guess, but I am hoping the story doesn’t die on the BBC vine, especially when the UN’s public defense so far comes down to a UN spokesman’s sorry comeback:

“Bosco Ntaganda’s name does not appear on that document, so we have from our Congolese counterparts an assurance that he is not part of the command.”

Well, then … job over, hey, Buddy?

If the United Nations designed dildos, they would all be one inch long, as thick as a toothpick, made from Silly Putty and would just lay there, but they would be a pretty baby blue … and would cost $1 million each.

And, yeah, that’s a statement on expensive impotence.

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This story from the BBC about modern-day workers building near the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp … the last step for more than a million people during WWII … finding a message from the past has me contemplating the written word.

It appears that seven young men between the ages of 18 and 20 somehow managed on the 9th of September 1944 to scribble information about themselves on a scrap of paper that they stuffed into a bottle, then embedded in a wall they were reinforcing as part of their slave laboring.

Amazing.

We know enough now to imagine, if we could stand to, the day-to-day inside the barbed wire; the depravation, the fear, the horror. We’re familiar with the fact that dehumanization was the first step, as heads were shaved and prison suits issued to people who had never committed a serious sin in their now-likely-to-be-short lives. Even those with no personal experience of extreme hardships like starvation, beatings, separation from loved ones and such can take a minute to understand how being reduced to a desperate number might impact on any sense of self, or take it down to the most basic point where nothing matters but the crust or the drop. We know that paper wasn’t easy to come by, and that being caught writing and hiding notes would mean death.

Did these men dream that someday German construction workers would unearth their hasty effort, therefore lending some hint of the immortal? Was there a flutter of triumph when the bottle was covered, the words protected, and a hope that something of them just might survive to see the light of day?

I’m sure.

For myself, I know that if given the opportunity I would have done the same thing these young men did.

Although mummies get attention, it’s the hieroglyphs that tell the story of dead Egyptians, and tombstones make good reading.

When mass graves full of almost identical starved corpses appear to be what’s ahead, who wouldn’t do whatever they could to leave a scratch or a scribble with a name and date behind? (Certainly not anyone who keeps a blog going … )

Because of these seven and their stab at immortality, the world once again must remember, and I applaud them now and thank them for their brave move to put something of themselves down that just might resonate so much later.

The value of the written word should never be discounted.

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This is the 300th post here on PP, and having written yesterday about the importance of friends, I thought I’d post a few photos today of me with some of the more recent additions that have come into my life in the last 100 posts.

Evi, me, Marketa

Evi, me, Marketa


Me and Ernesto

Me and Ernesto


Me and Magnar

Me and Magnar


Shrone and me do beach

Shrone and me do beach ...


Kim, me and Calina

Kim, me and Calina


Me & Paris

Me & Paris

Guillaume likes my boa

Guillaume likes my boa


Magnar, me & Jacques

Magnar, me & Jacques


Me with Kimmy

Me with Kimmy


Bart & me

Bart & me


Me and 'Enzo

Me and 'Enzo

Italians! gotta luv 'em!

Italians ... gotta luv 'em!

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Robbie ... a photo of an old friend, by an old friend ...

Robbie ... a photo of an old friend, by an old friend ...

There has never been any doubt that I’m social.

My brother once remarked, perhaps disparagingly, that there is NO ONE I won’t talk to. Although that’s not completely accurate, I do believe that I can learn something through conversations with most people, even if we don’t happen to speak a common language.

So, no surprise that I’ve taken to online social networks like a termite to timber. Not only have platforms like facebook, myspace and Twitter allowed me to reconnect with friends I’d thought I’d lost forever, new people have come into my life … people I don’t want to imagine being without.

I hadn’t spoken to my high school bud, Virginia in 30-some years, but now we’re in touch almost daily. Robbie, my bbff and neighbor in a previous life had all but disappeared from my radar until he joined fb and skype, but we now wet ourselves on a regular basis and give each other stomach cramps from the laughs we share.

My cyber sister, Jo, and I have never met, but our lives intersect sometimes hourly, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks my exact thoughts as often as she does.

Thanks to the Internet, my love life is … well … lovely, or as lovely as long distance relationships can be.

A week or so ago I trimmed my facebook friend list by 100, as I’ve arbitrarily set a max of 500 and had exceeded that limit. I’m already back up to 450, so I may have to up my quota, but even though this can stretch me a bit thin I do have some level of closeness to each and every one of the people who poke and chat and banter and comment on my status as if they cared.

My up-close-and-in-person friend clan is large, too, and even though scattered around the world, we remain close. I’ve not seen Michael in years, nor Magnar in months, but I have a pretty good idea of what’s up with them, and they with me.

Turns out, that all this friend stuff may keep me and my friends alive.

As this article in the NYT reports, that’s just what friends do.

Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends.

And luckily for some of us, the role of friends is even more important than that of a spouse.

Bella DePaulo, a visiting psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose work focuses on single people and friendships, notes that in many studies, friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or family member. In the study of nurses with breast cancer, having a spouse wasn’t associated with survival.

(I think I’ll tattoo that somewhere: … having a spouse isn’t associated with survival. Funny thing is, that’s exactly what all my friends told me when Mark bailed, bless them!)

Anyway …

Friends. I love mine.

Now, if I could only get that damned Rembrandts song out of my head …

Photo credit: Trudy Fisher

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My name is Sandra, and I’m a smoker.

There. That’s out of the way.

I started smoking when I was thirteen, but strongly suspect that had anyone stuck a fag in my gob at the age of, say, three, I would have puffed away quite happily.

Even when I’m not smoking … and I’ve gone as long as 14 years without lighting up habitually … I’m a smoker, and although I’ve attempted to examine the motives behind my infatuation with filthy cancer sticks I have yet to come up with the ultimate attraction.

Until today.

This report from the BBC does strike a chord, I must admit. Apparently, my addiction has something to do with the fact that I’m pissed off a lot, and if I could get over that, ciggies would have less appeal.

Researchers hypothesised smokers were more likely to be people prone to anger and said tackling this could be a vital part of smoking cessation services.

“Anger management” lessons are being considered for inclusion in stop smoking services by the NHS in Britain, and I think that’s a plan and a half.

I’m wondering, however, how well those lessons would take in a world where this story shares the page with the calmy-downy-stub-out-that-butt article.

Plans to promote medical treatment for homosexuality at a religious conference have been criticised by doctors.

The event will hear from prominent American psychologist Dr Joseph Nicolosi who said he had helped many people to become heterosexual.

… Dr Nicolosi said he had been helping people to “increase their heterosexual potential” for 25 years, and put his success rate among men at about two out of three.

He said he was offering a choice for people who were unhappy being gay.

Yeah … I know. I just jumped from fags to fags. Got a problem with that?

Anybody got a light … ?

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Censorship has always been fractious and very often random, with one person’s yikes being another’s yipee.

Any look at lists of banned books will provoke a prolonged head scratch in thinking people … like the 1931 ban of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” for its “…portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on the same level as humans”, that has to prompt questions on just what sort of drugs were popular in China at the time.

Lest anyone think that the world of wars over words has grown brighter lately, this recent offering about the American Library Association’s list for this year’s “Banned Book Week” might spell out that this is not the case.

Have folks not learned that wagging the naughty finger at art has the same effect on the market that a toreador’s cute butt in tight pants has on a bull? Or as Sherman Alexi, author of the oft-challenged “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” put it:

… the amazing thing is these banners never understand they are turning this book into a sacred treasure. We don’t write to try and be banned, but it is widely known in the [young adult] world, we love this shit.

You’ll excuse me, then, for the trill of thrill I sensed yesterday when a facebook friend and PP reader informed me that my post on pret a porte condoms in India got me banned in China.

Yep. Apparently the mention of the word “penis” … or maybe it was “schlong”, or possibly “survey” — who knows? … set up a chain reaction that caused clicking on a link to my blog to be a practice in finger futility.

How cool is THAT?

Here’s the ALA’s Top Ten most frequently challenged books of 2008:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

2. His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, violence

3. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R series by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

4. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, violence

5. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, violence

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group

7. Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

8. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen
Reasons: homosexuality, unsuited to age group

9. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

10. Flashcards of My Life by Charise Mericle Harper
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

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I’ve had about enough of the blah blah on the UN’s Racist on Parade Fiasco. Even though taking that group to task is a favored topic, I do have others.

Penises, for example.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the favorite appendage of males came up here … on the blog, I mean … and, golly gee! here it comes again.

Today’s ejaculatory comment … that would be the “golly gee!” … is inspired by this tasty little tidbit from the BBC titled: Condoms ‘too big’ for Indian men.

Not big as in so-popular-they-just-can’t-get-enough, but rather big as in are-you-happy-to-see-me-or-is-that-a-derringer-in-your-pocket.

A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men.

The study found that more than half of the men measured had penises that were shorter than international standards for condoms.

Hmmmm. Where to begin …

Okay … here’s a thought … I wonder how many of those 1,000 men are admitting to being part of the survey, and can’t help but go down the road of imagining how it was conducted.

Were these guys simply asked, “Hey, Dude, how long is your schlong?”, or was there actual measuring involved … and if so, under what conditions? (I’m guessing there’d be no problem lining up volunteers if it was made clear that the only accurate readings involved some fluffing.)

Now that that’s out of my system, spending a few lines on the very real problems ill-fitting condoms cause sounds like the right thing to do since India has the highest number of new HIV infections in the world at the moment and an incredibly high birth rate. WIth a good part of the reasons being that one in five of the things used in that country either tear or fall off, giving men the latte grande mug instead of the espresso thimble isn’t doing anyone any favors.

There are options, but …

“Smaller condoms are on sale in India. But there is a lack of awareness that different sizes are available. There is anxiety talking about the issue. And normally one feels shy to go to a chemist’s shop and ask for a smaller size condom.”

And that’s about the size of it in a nutshell. Not only does there need to be concern about protection from STDs and unwanted pregnancies, there’s that ever-so-delicate ego that needs covering, too, and it seems that might be the bigger motivation when hitting the johnny shop.

Guys! Guys! I’ve done a study myself and am here to tell you that it really ain’t the meat, but the motion … well, the motion including all the extras. (An, no, I will not be releasing info on those who stepped up to take part in my survey, although I will reveal that they were pretty close to unanimous on the “what it really takes to rock my boat and keep it floating” answers.)

That, guys, is the meat of the matter, not the version given by a dude who used to be an editor for an Indian men’s mag who said …

“It’s not size, it’s what you do with it that matters,” he said. “From our population, the evidence is Indians are doing pretty well.

If “what you do with it” is simply passing along a packet of genetic material, that’s one thing … hey! you can phone that in … but it seems to be missing the point completely, since knocking someone up and curling a girl’s toes are far too often two different things.

And if it’s not the toe-curling bit that men fret about, why the big deal about a little deal?

I know some people are making a fortune off the “add a foot to your dick” ads that spam the world, but for most of us girls, that just doesn’t conjure any image we find stimulating.

It must be a guy thing …

Anyone else wonder how much peeking goes really on in the gents?

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This is just too depressingly easy.

Not that the world needs it, but if the farce on show at the UN’s “Racism Forum” … scheduled and pulled off with all the usual fanfare on, of all days, Holocaust Remembrance Day … isn’t graphic enough an example of that organization’s complete failure to grasp the basics of diplomacy, taste, tact and common sense … well, people need a good hard slap.

Can we hear it for the countries boycotting the event? If nothing else, they saved a bundle by passing on the airfares to Switzerland and expenses for delegations they well knew would show up, glad-hand around, sip fine wines, munch tasty snacks, then walk out.

That this was a setup from the word go is as obvious as a shiny white SUV against a backdrop of starving Africans, and I, for one, am perched and aquiver with anticipation to see what the UN’s highly paid spin machine does with it all.

Not too brilliant from the gate, as always …

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed dismay at the boycotts and the speech, saying Mr Ahmadinejad had used his speech “to accuse, divide and even incite”.

Yo, Dude! Duh …

(Think I wrote the same words when he was “shocked” by the state of affairs he saw when landing in Darfur. What do they pay this guy?)

In case, of course, the whole point of this conference is actually to stir shit, insult history, open wounds afresh, prop up hate-filled pinheads AND spend a whole bunch of money that could have bought about a zillion insecticide-laden mosquito nets, let’s send congratulatory notes and admit it’s been a raging success.

If the United Nations gets a pass on this, the world should hang its collective head, sigh deeply and bend over in prep for the next time, keeping in mind how much that ramming will cost us all.

Anyone like to join me in inviting Cher do to an updated version of an old classic? This time we’ll call it “Ban Ban” and make it a rallying cry to get this git gone, along with the whole shebang.

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Not that I often do, but today let me not mince words here …

The United Nations is a self-perpetuating, money-sucking, basically useless organization that needs to go, for until it does there will never be a chance to replace this monster with something that actually works.

There are very few days that pass without something about the UN appearing in the press to piss me off, whether it be yet another expensively dressed Secretary General espousing shock over a situation that the rest of the world long ceased to find a revelation … Ban Ki-moon’s trip to Darfur was shameful … or successive trottings-out of statistics that spiral ever more rapidly downwards no matter how efficient the highly paid bean counters may be, and it takes only the sight of a convoy of brand spanking new white SUVs to get me spitting dust, much like the thousands lining the paths of said convoys.

The offering today? The “racism forum” set to open in Geneva and reports on the UN reaction to the boycotting of the conference by the US, Australia, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Israel and Germany, amongst others.

In typical fashion …

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said she was “shocked and deeply disappointed” by the boycotts.

Oh, for fuck sake!

There’s that shock thing again. I’m thinking UN big shots should be a bit more clued up, heh?

The only world leader showing up … and speaking … is that wonder of gentle tolerance, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Holocaust denier extraordinaire, who will apparently be welcomed with open arms, handed the podium and encouraged to pour his tiny, rotten little soul out in front of yet another global audience provided so kindly by the UN.

The fact that the Pope has been called in to provide backup for this fiasco adds an element of crap.

The Pope has also spoken out in favour of the conference, saying it was an opportunity to fight discrimination and intolerance.

“We ask for firm and consistent action, at national and international level, to prevent and eliminate any form of discrimination and of intolerance,” he said.

WTF?

Of course, this isn’t too surprising when the Church’s take on Nazi gas chambers at the time they were cranked up and running at full bore is recalled. Pope-led “Firm and consistent action” helped get six million people killed, thankyouverymuch, so he can just shut the fuck up … and why would anyone ask his opinion, anyway?

This conference and the press around it is exactly the sort of UN bullshit that winds me up and gets this monkey drumming like mad, beating out the same bloody tune again in hopes of putting a tiny dent in the image so carefully crafted and maintained by one of the world’s great PR machines.

Of course, I wouldn’t need to make much fuss at all if we could all take a look at the bill for this forum .. that would rather nutshell the whole game and draw a thick, black line under what the UN is really all about.

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