March 17th, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

Even since the 30-minute Kony 2012 video popped up on my Facebook feed, followed immediately by a firestorm of controversy surrounding it, I’ve been following this story with great interest. The rise and fall of Jason Russell, the video’s narrator and spokesman for the organization that produced it, Invisible Children, was just as quick and even more bizarre.

On Friday, TMZ posted a video of Russell having what appeared to be a naked meltdown on a San Diego street corner. Subsequently, it was reported that Russell had been taken into psychiatric care and was being treated for “exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition as a result of a strenuous PR campaign.”

Although I, like many, found the video to be manipulative, oversimplified and misrepresenting of facts, I’m sympathetic towards Russell, someone who appears to have had good intentions and has become the lightning rod for an extremely complex and heated debate. Historically, the West’s role in helping lift African nations out of poverty, war and corruption is just as fraught with good intentions yielding disastrous results. Russell is merely the latest in a long line of well-intentioned Westerners with fundamental misunderstandings about Africa, its people and its frequently bewildering politics.

If you want to get the facts on Uganda and Joseph Kony, here are some good resources to check out:

BBC

The Economist

Foreign Policy

Amnesty International

March 17th, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life is renowned for its quirky reportage of regular folks’ experiences, from the mundane to the extraordinary, as well as in-depth and accessible analysis of current world events. The program’s hour-long concept shows are just as easily devoted to an average New Jersey turnpike rest area as the European debt crisis.

Their most popular show ever was a recent broadcast titled “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”, which was an adaptation of spoken word performer Mike Daisey’s one-man stage show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. The monologue details Daisey’s trip to China, in which he delves into the working conditions at factories producing Apple products and finds all to be far from well. Following the show’s broadcast, Daisey became viewed as something of an expert on the topic, opining in several news sources, including The New York Times, about the working conditions in China and advocating for reform.

This week’s edition of This American Life is a follow-up to that show and a most unfortunate one. As it turns out, Daisey fabricated many key details of his story and lied to the show’s producers and host about them, in an effort to maintain his credibility. As a result, host Ira Glass spent the entire program this week revealing Daisey’s duplicity and the program’s failure to adequately fact-check his story, while attempting to set the record straight on Apple, China and its treatment of workers there.

Glass sounded tense on the program, which was titled simply “Retraction,” even angry at times, particularly when holding Daisey’s feet to the fire in a confrontational interview. Daisey, appropriately, sounded mortified, despite sticking to his story on a few questionable points. The situation calls back to the debacle surrounding James Frey, his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, and his famous appearance on Oprah, in which she took him to task for misleading millions of readers and viewers. Among the ironies of this story, and there are several, is that Daisey himself did a one-man show about Frey, titled Truth.

How Daisey’s career as a monologuist will rebound from this is hard to say. The man is a first-rate storyteller and performer, and it would be a shame to lose his voice in the national cultural conversation. Still, his credibility is seriously damaged, possibly beyond repair–and for good reason. According to this quote from Variety‘s review of Truth, Daisey is no stranger to the pitfalls of telling a good story:

“In assessing the story of Frey and Leroy, Daisey comes to a judgment that is strict but sympathetic; he suggests that if people are often the least reliable narrators of their own lives, they are also sometimes the most engaging.”

A LOOK BACK
March 9th, 2012, by Carla Amurao

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2012 (March 8), The Daily Beast hosted its annual Women in the World Summit, a three-day event that highlights challenges of the modern woman across the globe. With an aim to showcase the fearlessness of women, and to incite action and involvement, the event included a wide panel of speakers—including past guest and peace activist Leymah Gbowee.

On Friday, March 9, Gbowee welcomed cheers as she discussed her views on the current debates on contraception and abortion. “It’s time for women to stop being politely angry.” She added, “Why are these women not angry and beating men left and right?”

Our October 2011 conversation with Gbowee, a columnist for The Daily Beast and one of three recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, details her book, Mighty Be Our Powers, and the struggles faced by women in politics. Her efforts in banding together Liberia’s Muslim and Christian women in peaceful protest paved the way for a democratic election of its first female head of state.

Watch the conversation to hear her personal struggle for women’s rights and share your thoughts.

(View full post to see video)

“Those women who had seen the worst decided we will step out; we will do what we have to do. Even if we die trying, we will do it…Because the one thing I keep saying to the young women and to my colleagues, we’ve left a legacy…but all of those legacies will only be a legacy if we have young women to walk in our shoes when we leave the stage.”

-Leymah Gbowee

 

March 8th, 2012, by Tamika Thompson

Photo by gillyberlin | Wikimedia Commons.

If you live in a dreaded mobile dead zone like I do, then you’ve probably given up hope of getting decent cell phone reception at home. I gave up, too. Then, I discovered the secret to getting four bars without roaming – the femtocell.

Femtocells are small devices that look like routers and tap into your existing high-speed Internet connection to bring outdoor cell phone service indoors where it might not otherwise reach.

The result? A strong, consistent signal that covers about 5,000 square feet, improves call quality, yields faster data speed for Web browsing and picture messages and delivers the capacity for three to six callers to use the femtocell at the same time, depending on the carrier.

Better still, the femtocell won’t slow down your Internet connection. You can take a call and surf the Web on your computer at the same time; and you can designate certain cell phones for femto-use, so your neighbors won’t be able to hitch a ride on your device unless you want them to.

My particular femtocell is called the Verizon Wireless Network Extender. AT&T offers the 3G MicroCell. Sprint has the Airave. And T-Mobile’s Cel-Fi Signal Booster is a self-contained device that doesn’t need an existing Internet connection.

So, you may ask, how can you jump on the femto-bandwagon?

If you’re a Verizon, AT&T or Sprint subscriber, first make sure that you have a high-speed Internet connection. If you’re using dial-up (bless your soul), the femtocell is not for you. Most DSL or broadband connections with speeds around 1.5 Megabits per second or higher will do the trick.

Next, be sure that you’re using a 3G or 4G cell phone.

Check the cost of the device and service. Verizon’s Network Extender, for instance, is a one-shot deal. You buy the femtocell for $250, set it up and you’re done. Sprint’s Airave is slightly cheaper, at $200, but there is a $5 monthly service charge or $10 per month if you want unlimited calling.

Purchase your mobile carrier’s femtocell. Once you have the device in your hands, connect it to your broadband modem following the instructions in the box and place it near a window so that the device’s GPS antenna can transmit a signal.

Finally, plug your femtocell into the power outlet and wait for the magic lights to let you know you’re femto-ing. Voilá! You have yourself a mini cell phone tower!

If you’re a T-Mobile subscriber, the process is even simpler. Buy the Cel-Fi, mount it according to the instructions in the box, plug in the power cord and start dialing with your 3G or 4G phone.

Now, you might be saying, “It seems awfully unfair to ask customers to shell out more money so that a service that they’re already paying for will actually work.” And that’s a fair assessment. Some dead zone customers have successfully gotten around paying for the device or service by pointing out that very fact to their mobile carriers.

Hint. Hint.

March 5th, 2012, by Tamika Thompson

Put down that spoon. Back away from the high chair. Your baby needs to feed herself.

That was the word out of U.K.-based Nottingham University in February, where researchers Ellen Townsend and Nicola J. Pitchford analyzed questionnaires completed by the parents of 155 children between the ages of 20 months and 6 1/2 years. They found that babies weaned from milk through the use of spoon-fed purees had higher rates of obesity.

The weaning approach that leads to babies regulating their own food intake is a rapidly growing trend called baby-led weaning, a practice in which parents put a variety of “adult” fare like pasta, broccoli or croissants in front of their six-month-olds and let them pick up the food and feed themselves. The babies determine what they eat, how much they eat, and parents get out of the way.

In their study, Townsend and Pitchford say that baby-led weaning “promotes healthy food preferences in early childhood,” and leads to a lower body-mass index.

And, according to Gill Rapley, the British public health nurse who coined the term and co-authored Baby-Led Weaning, even before the Nottingham study, the Internet had contributed to baby-led weaning’s recent popularity.

“Parents have been quicker to embrace it than health professionals,” Rapley says. “And, of course, there are lots of parents who were doing it anyway, but without giving it a name.”

Rapley says that the future of weaning includes fewer spoons.

“Spoon-feeding as the normal way to introduce solids will become a thing of the past, probably within the next 10 years,” she says. “There is no research that shows any benefits of or need for it. It’s simply left over from when it was believed babies needed solid foods much earlier than we now know they do.”

She adds that spoon-feeding likely won’t go away completely, with some special needs children still requiring assistance from parents. And some parents, Rapley points out, will prefer to remain in control of the amount their children eat. But they will be in the minority.

“Both parents and professionals are realizing that, at six months, babies are ready to start feeding themselves,” Rapley says.

And with babies feeding themselves, parents can remain focused on the truly enjoyable aspects of mealtime – cleaning up the food-splattered floor and walls.

February 29th, 2012, by Sean Nixon

Louis Ortiz, by most accounts, is just your average guy. That is, until you get a look at him up close. Like most Americans, the Bronx native  is simply trying to make a decent living for himself and his family. But, after a frustrating job loss and strapped for cash, Ortiz embarks upon an unexpected and incredible journey, one of fantasy, exploration and challenge, all for one reason: he looks a lot like President Barack Obama.

The Audacity of Louis Ortiz is a work from filmmakers Ryan Murdock, Dawn Porter and Mitra Bonshahi. The documentary chronicles the life and times of the average guy who happens to look like the leader of the free world.

If you ever wanted to be a film producer, here’s your chance. Aside from the incredible story of Louis Ortiz, individuals have an opportunity to help fund the project. The team is also looking for donors to support this effort. Donors can choose from a range of options, including a film T-shirt and a digital download of the completed project. Your name could even appear in the “special thanks” portion of the film during the ending credits of the film.

Once I heard this story, I knew I had to find out more. Now that you know, I hope you do the same.

February 29th, 2012, by Sean Nixon

The Dept. of Defense confirmed news at the Pentagon regarding remains of 9/11 victims and others. Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

An independent investigation into the practices at a military mortuary headed by the Air Force in Delaware shines a light on a very alarming fact.

The Department of Defense confirmed reports stating that the remains of individuals from the September 11 attacks were cremated and placed in a landfill.

The news comes from an investigation headed by the Air Force, which was in charge of the military’s Dover Port Mortuary in Dover, DE.

- Full Report Conducted

Adding further concern to the report, the Air Force acknowledged that the practice goes back several years. I was heartbroken by the news and felt an unspeakable pain for the families affected. News reports have not indicated whether they have contacted the affected families. MSNBC reports that the Air Force uncovered the information. [The full report is available to read online.]

- Lingering Question

What’s so sad in all of this is that the resources of the American government were used in this morally egregious act. Upon reading the information, a flood of thoughts entered my mind. “Where was the accountability here, and why wasn’t this practice immediately stopped?” “Why were so many people out of touch and out of the loop on this?” And, most importantly, “Why was this allowed to go on for years?” These are all serious questions that need to be addressed in addition to official reprimands, disciplinary actions or demerits given.

- Moving Forward

The actions displayed by the Air Force in this matter are nothing short of dishonorable. The American people’s voice should be heard loud and clear on this. Get on the phone, go online and let the Air Force, Department of Defense and other officials know that this sort of thing is in no way acceptable. I suggest getting on the phone and going online to protest these actions and put the feet of those in charge to the flame. The lives of men and women affected deserve it.

February 29th, 2012, by Sean Nixon

TX residents discuss voter ID Law & implications. Photo DTR Wikimedia Commons

HOUSTON TX – With the newly passed and controversial Voter ID law, many in the state of Texas have raised concern on the disproportionate number of voters who will become ineligible to vote.

Recently, members of the TSU student NAACP chapter, along with the Houston Area Urban League Young Professionals, hosted a forum on the campus of Texas Southern University to discuss the new law, its implications and what steps can be taken to ensure that those impacted by the law will still have access to the polls in upcoming elections.

The distinguished panel of speakers included members from the Texas League of Women Voters, state and federal elected officials, the Texas League of Young Voters and community leaders.

For those who may not know, there are many new stipulations in the Voter ID law. Among them are rules stating that college students can no longer use their school ID as qualifying identification to vote. The new law also says that state workers who have ID’s from a state employer are also prohibited from using that ID for voting purposes. Fortunately, given the apparent litany of stipulations prohibiting individuals from the polls, the law has not been implemented in Texas and is currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.

Should the law gain passage, these organizations and city leaders have worked to ensure their communities are informed on how to move forward. Recently, I spoke with one of the panelists, Claude Foster, Executive Committee Board Member of the NAACP Houston Branch, to get some more insight on the evening’s forum.

THE INTERVIEW

Q: Tell me a bit about this forum and its importance.

A: I think the purpose of this meeting is to help young people understand the law, what the law means, how it impacts their right to vote, and give them strategies to vote with the least restrictions or difficulties possible.

Q: What do you hope people really walked away with as a result of the information presented?

A:  One, that the act that was passed was DIRECTLY targeted at their right to vote. And if they understand that, I think the reality will set in, and they will understand that they have to take all the actions. [Two] don’t wait on the Justice Department. Don’t wait for someone to tell us. Go out there and get whatever documents they need, so when they show up at the polls they can vote.

Q: Did you find it surprising that this  law passed as quickly as it did?

A: No; because, like I said, it was a law targeted towards us. You know the NAACP is non-partisan, but the Republicans, when they got in power–this is about politics too. And, they know people of color tend to vote Democratic, not because of party, but because of policy. And, their whole focus was to stop those folks that they  believe–that they know–would probably vote Democratic, to prevent them from voting.

Q: What type of impact do you think the law will have on the communities should it be cleared in the Department of Justice?

A:  Well, the law has been passed already. It hasn’t been implemented yet because we’re waiting on the Justice Department. But, you can see from the discussions tonight and the number of fact sheets that have been provided from different leaders, different politicians, that the law has already caused mass confusion. Because people don’t know what it is–don’t know what the requirements are. One politician is saying one thing, and another one is saying another. The elections office is waiting [un]til the law’s approved before they even notify you on what you need to do; so I think that there is enough confusion out there already. So, the law has already made an impact, and its not good.

###

The implications of the new Voter ID law are huge. Be sure to stay tuned as further developments arise.

February 29th, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

You hear a lot of talk these days about who the modern American man really is. No doubt this conversation has been going on as long as American men have existed, and a satisfactory answer has never been found. Fair enough. The American man is as he’s always been, that is, he’s as diverse and unpredictable as you’d expect any group of human beings to be.

I particularly enjoy looking back at generations past and idealizing the way they lived. “If only things were as cool now as they were back then,” I like to think, “life would be so much better.” As others have regularly pointed out, however, (and, recently, much more eloquently than I could), nostalgia is mostly an illusion. That said, whenever I stumble upon a goldmine like The Selvedge Yard, I can’t help but lose myself in sepia-tinted reverie.

Here: Steve McQueen being effortlessly cool. Here: Hell’s Angels reminding us that “biker gangs” weren’t always organized crime outfits. Here: awesome man-caves proving that men have always been interested in interior design. Here: Ink to shame LA, Miami and anywhere else.

Were things quantifiably better in eras past? In some regards, yes, I’ll maintain they were. But that’s not the value of photos like these. Nor is it to remind us how much the American man has changed over the years. In many ways, he’s the same as he’s ever been. That is to say, he’s as hard to define as ever.

 

February 28th, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

For someone who takes film pretty seriously, I enjoy a good cheeseball action flick as much as the next guy. Particularly when said cheeseball action flick stars “the thinking man’s badass” Liam Neeson.

You may remember Neeson from such highbrow roles as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, Rob Roy McGregor in the titular Scottish historical drama, or Alfred Kinsey in the American biopic Kinsey. Neeson, who was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for Schindler’s List, is an unusual kind of leading man. He’s tall and angular and handsome in the way that many headlining actors are, but he also has this other quality, a deep, smoldering subtext that comes out through his eyes and lends him to playing deeply conflicted characters like Oskar Schindler and Ethan Frome (if you haven’t seen it, this one’s well worth a watch on a snowy evening). He’s also turned out to be a surprisingly hilarious straight man, thanks to some help from Ricky Gervais.

While Neeson’s resume is peppered with classic films like those mentioned above, as well as a few unfortunate ones like The A-Team, he has in the last few years proven an adept action hero. In films like Taken, Unknown and most recently, The Grey, Neeson kicks ass and takes names, while creating something of a personal action genre. While the Van Dammes, Segals and Stallones of generations past were wise-cracking brawlers with questionable depth of character, Neeson’s style is far more intellectual and precise. Rather than a working class dude with a chip on his shoulder and a black belt in street fighting, he tends towards playing white collar professionals with real emotional depth–and often a black belt in street fighting, too.

In The Grey, Neeson plays a killer for hire, one who’s employed to cull wolves at a remote northern oil-drilling camp. When he and a group of roughnecks are stranded in the arctic wilderness, and stalked by a pack of vicious grey wolves, he is forced to use his wits and brawn to survive. Any Neeson fan will already be sold by that synopsis (if not by the shot of Neeson fending off wolves with a fistful of broken minibar bottles above), but I’ll seal the deal by reporting that the film, while not particularly strong in dialogue, characters or narrative, is compelling, suspenseful and unpredictable to the end. Also, it’s Neeson bad-assery at its finest.

Check out the trailer for proof. And if you’re still not sold, read this. The Grey probably won’t win any major awards, but it’s highly entertaining.

 

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