Wednesday, April 30, 2008

South Africa: Women, Aids, and Violence.

In South Africa in late 2006 a new spirit seemed to have taken hold in public discussions on how to achieve a more concerted, effective response to the country"s epidemic of HIV infection. The ensuing collaborative efforts, which drew in health department officials, civil society organizations and medical specialists, resulted eventually in agreement on a number of issues: notably that the challenges posed by persistent poverty as well as violence and other forms of discrimination against women had to be addressed as part of an effective overall response to the epidemic and the realization of the right to health of those affected and infected by HIV. The consensus on this and other issues was reflected in a new plan adopted by Cabinet in May 2007 to guide the work of the next five years.

This report, which reflects research undertaken by Amnesty International (AI) in 2006 and 2007, provides an analysis of patterns of human rights abuses against women who are exposed to the risk of or are already living with HIV in rural contexts of widespread poverty and unemployment. It draws on the testimonies of 37 women who, to varying extents, had experienced incidents of violence from intimate partners or strangers, were unable to secure a stable income, faced periods of hunger, but were striving to maintain their access to health services and adhere to treatment despite the consequences of poverty, stigma and their low social
status...........


The women involved were interviewed by AI in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal provinces, in collaboration with local service providing organisations with whom AI has worked for some years. The interviews were conducted with the assistance of interpreters in most cases and the support of the organizations" lay-counsellors. The interviewees" identities have been protected throughout this report to ensure their right to privacy and to avoid any possible harmful consequences resulting from their identification. Identifying place names have also been excluded when referring to their testimonies.

While there were singular aspects to each of their stories, some common themes emerged which pointed towards wider, more systemic factors which affected the women"s ability to realize their right to health. In the following chapters some of these factors are examined, including the direct and indirect impact of gender-based violence, discriminatory attitudes and gender stereotypes, and economic marginalisation. In attempting to assess their effects, AI has drawn on information provided to it in meetings and other communications with nongovernmental and government sector service providers, human rights and advocacy organizations, policy development and research institutions, health professionals and government officials.

The report"s analysis has also benefited from some of the extensive published research undertaken by South African and international organizations. Finally, the report"s analysis and conclusions are underpinned by a framework of human rights standards which reflect the consensus of the international community. South Africa since 1994 has participated in the further development of these standards, as well as shown its acceptance of them through its commitments made under key international human rights treaties. This report and associated campaign are intended as contributions towards South African efforts to overcome the legacies of the past and address current human rights abuses.

HIV and AIDS in South Africa

South Africa is continuing to experience a severe HIV epidemic. Five and a half million South Africans are HIV-infected, the highest number of people in any one country in the world. Fifty-five per cent of them are women. UNAIDS estimated that 320,000 people died of AIDS in 2006. The epidemic developed rapidly from the first case recorded in 1982,to a national prevalence rate of at least 16 per cent in 2005.

The epidemic had begun during a period of extreme state violence and political and racial oppression which included government imposed states of emergency from 1985 to 1990, and continued to develop while the country was largely preoccupied with the efforts to negotiate the end of the apartheid system and National Party rule and securing the transition to nonracial democracy in 1994. Initially perceived in South Africa as a disease particularly affecting gay men and people receiving blood transfusions, it became apparent that HIV and AIDS was not confined to particular "at-risk" groups but was becoming a generalised epidemic in
certain communities. From 1991 onwards the majority of transmissions in South Africa were through heterosexual intercourse. In 1993 the national prevalence rate amongst pregnant women attending antenatal clinics was 4.0 per cent; in 1996 it was 14.2 per cent; and by 1999 22.4 per cent of pregnant women attending antenatal clinics were HIV-infected. In 2005 data from a population survey indicated that 16.2 per cent of adults 15 to 49 years were infected, while UNAIDS, using antenatal clinic data, published an estimate of 18.8 per cent prevalence for adults 15 to 49 years of age.

This desperate situation was unfolding while the country from 1994 was engaged in remarkable legal and institutional transformations which began to affect every sphere of life. These changes included the finalisation and adoption in 1996 of a constitution with a legally enforceable bill of rights protecting, among others, the right to equality, to bodily and psychological integrity, to freedom from violence from either public or private sources, and to the realization of the right to health without discrimination on any grounds. Within this framework institutional reforms were initiated, for instance, to improve access to education and to employment for "historically disadvantaged groups", to integrateand reform the health services, as well as the policing and criminal justice systems with the intention to improve service delivery for all South Africans without discrimination.

Despite the relentless upward trend in HIV infection rates, the government"s initial responses to the epidemic were slow and erratic during the Mandela presidency. From late 1999 the government of President Thabo Mbeki took a direction which turned a public health emergency into a matter of political conflict. For
whatever complex reasons, President Mbeki"s decision publicly to question the link between the virus and the onset of AIDS, as well as the efficacy and safety of the then known drug treatments, precipitated a period of confusion and demoralisation within government departments and the public health services and disputes
between national and some provincial governments over responses to the epidemic. Adding to these consequences was a growing bitter conflict with sectors of civil society, including medical practitioners, who were pressing for access to antiretroviral treatment for HIV-infected pregnant women and others with AIDS.
There was a loss of strong unified leadership at a critical juncture in the life of the epidemic and a further delay in access to life-saving medicines for those with AIDS who were dependent on the public sector for health services.

In late 2001 the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)15 obtained an order in the Pretoria High Court requiring the government to supply antiretroviral medication to pregnant women to prevent transmission of the virus to their babies. The High Court ruling was confirmed by the Constitutional Court in July 2002 after the
Department of Health appealed the High Court decision. The Constitutional Court held that "Sections 27(1) and (2) of theConstitution require the government to devise and implement within its available resources a comprehensive and co-ordinated programme to realize progressively the rights of pregnant women and their
newborn children to have access to health services to combat mother-to child transmission of HIV".

In November 2003 the Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, announced the government"s decision to provide antiretroviral treatment in the public health sector within the framework of the National Operational Plan for Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Management, Treatment, Care and Support (NOP). Antiretroviral therapy (ART) finally and slowly began to be provided in public sector hospitals from 2004. The "roll-out" of treatment occurred at a pace below the targets indicated in the NOP and was dogged by an atmosphere of distrust of government intentions. Advocacy groups observed that the Cabinet-approved NOP
had "committed the state in 2003 to placing approximately 645,740 people on ARV treatment in the public sector by the end of 2006/7 financial year," but according to Department of Health information, "approximately 250,000 people had been initiated on ARV treatment in the public health sector by this time."Bymid-2006, 200,000 adults were on treatment while an estimated 511,000 still needed to begin ART.20 The numbers had risen to 303,788 patients on treatment by May 2007, according to the government"s MDGs Mid-Term report, and to 408, 218 by the following November.

The tensions between government and civil society over responses to the HIV epidemic appeared to reach a nadir at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto in August 2006. The promotion by the Minister of Health at the conference of a diet-based treatment for AIDS led to further national and international pressure and criticism of the government. The Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as Chairperson of the
reconstituted South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), began to have an increasingly prominent role in the oversight of the response to the epidemic and the development of the new national strategic plan. As described in the NSP which was adopted by SANAC in April 2007 and the Cabinet in the following month, the
final version of the plan had been developed through an intensive and consultative process over a six month period. SANAC symbolised the changes with its membership and co-chairing role for civil society. The process of developing the new NSP was described to AI as genuinely participatory by civil society
organizations. As summarised by the Joint Civil Society Monitoring Forum, the new plan proposed to expand the access toappropriate treatment, care and support to 80 per cent of all HIV positive individuals by 2011; create a social environment which encouraged HIV testing, and promote, protect and monitor human
rights involved in these interventions.

Some uncertainties still remained, however, when in August 2007 the goodwill developed during this process was put at risk by the dismissal by President Mbeki of the Deputy Minister of Health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, after she participated in an AIDS conference in Spain without his formal approval. The Deputy Minister had been an active participant in the development of the NSP. In a further sign of unresolved issues, public controversy intensified in late 2007 over the delays in producing new guidelines and budget for the provision of dual therapy treatment to pregnant women prior to labour and to their new born babies to
prevent HIV transmission, consistent with revised WHO guidelines and in compliance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court in 2002. Approval of the new guidelines appeared imminent in September, but they had still not been produced by the following February. While the Western Cape Province had implemented since
2004 the dual therapy regime and had reduced infant infection rates reportedly to less than 10 per cent, other provinces continued to use single therapy treatment while awaiting national authorisation. The Southern African HIV Clinicians Society expressed concern that children were continuing to be infected unnecessarily. In KwaZulu Natal Province, a hospital doctor, who in 2007 had raised concerns with the Department of Health about the delays, was charged in February with misconduct for accepting outside funds to implement dual therapy at his hospital. Although the departmental charge was later dropped, the incident and
associated public outcry indicated that the new spirit of collaboration which had helped create the NSP was still fragile.

The female face of the HIV epidemic: the impact of discrimination, violence and poverty.

"The HIV epidemic and AIDS [in South Africa] is clearly feminized,
pointing to gender vulnerability that demands urgent attention as
part of the broader women empowerment and protection. In view of
the high prevalence and incidence of HIV amongst women, it is
critical that their strong involvement in and benefiting from the
HIV and AIDS response becomes a priority." (NSP)36

Women are particularly affected by HIV and AIDS. As noted by the Executive Director of UNAIDS in his opening address at the July 2007 International Women"s Summit, "the most significant development of the AIDS epidemic is its growing feminization. What entered history 25 years ago as a disease of white gay men is now increasingly affecting women all over the world."37 Of the 40 million people living with HIV globally in 2007, almost half are women - reaching 60 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.38 In South Africa, women under 25 are three to four times more likely to be HIV-infected than men in the same age group.39 Significantly, the
level of new HIV infections amongst women in South Africa continues to increase, while overall incidence of the disease has levelled off.40 Data presented to the Third South African AIDS Conference in June 2007 indicated that of the more than 500,000 new infections in 2005, the highest incidence occurred in young women aged 15 to 24 years. Provincial antenatal clinic prevalence rates vary considerably, ranging from 15.7 per cent in the Western Cape to 39.1 per cent in KwaZulu Natal.42

The NSP notes that while the immediate determinants of the spread of HIV relates to behaviours such as unprotected sexual intercourse, multiple sexual partnerships, and some biological factors such as concurrent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), women"s socioeconomic disempowerment and the impact of
gender-based violence contributed to women"s significantly higher infection rates. 43 Women are biologically more vulnerable than men to contracting the virus through unprotected vaginal intercourse.44 Available evidence globally, as well as evidence presented in this report, suggests that women are also put a
greater risk of transmission due to the discriminatory impact of gender roles and stereotypes.

They are frequently unable to insist on condom use to protect themselves against the risk of HIV transmission by a male partner where they are economically, socially or culturally dependent on that partner or his family, or risk being subjected to violence as a result of suggesting condom use. Their exposure to sexual violence and intimate partner violence increases their risk of HIV infection over time.46 Women are less likely to have independent access to economic resources and recent research in South Africa has shown the direct positive correlation between women"s access to economic resources and their ability to protect themselves from
HIV infection and against violence.47 In many countries, women also carry a disproportionate burden as carers once members of a household fall sick - a particular concern in a country like South Africa where AIDS affects a large part of the population.

William Minter for Africafocus.org
...
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Monday, April 28, 2008

FIRE IN THE BELLY: Haitians Eating Dirt to Survive

I refuse to believe that we good people
Would forever turn our hearts and eyes away.
Haiti I'm sorry
We misunderstood you,
But one day we'll turn around
And look inside you.
Haiti I'm sorry
Haiti I'm so sorry...
But one day we'll turn our heads
And restore your glory.
(David Rudder -1988)


“Poor Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt.” I read the article and looked at the photographs months ago but the image of hopelessness and perpetual poverty is still etched on my mind. I have a feeling that it will be there for years to come.

There is no doubt that the mass of impoverished Haitians suffer the most debilitating and demoralizing misery of any people in the world. There is nothing redemptive about not having enough food, clothing, medical attention, water or shelter. Moreso in these days of plenty when developed countries like the US and UK are battling an obesity epidemic and rich capitalists such as Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim Helu have personal fortunes in excess of $62 billion and $60 billion respectively according a recent Forbes listing. Another Forbes- listed billionaire, is building a 26-storied palatial home in England.

Yet in Haiti, the poorest and the blackest country in the Western Hemisphere, people are literally eating dirt to survive.

But how did a country, once known as the world's most prosperous colony in the 18th century, become today's “poorest country in the western hemisphere?” A brief look at its history reveals that by 1780, Haiti, a French colony, was one of the wealthiest regions in the world. The economy was knitted together by a high demand for sugar and tobacco, African slave labour, a deeply entrenched class system predicated on colour, race, fear of voudou (voodoo) and brutality. But in 1791 a protracted slave uprising began and it was led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean Jacque Dessalines and Henri Christophe. The slaves would eventually overcome the best efforts of the French armies, even defeating the great Napoleon Bonarparte to oust French rule.

In 1804 the island became the first black independent nation in the western hemishere. But, the European ruling classes never forgave Haiti and her black slaves for the insubordination and humiliation. The two centuries which followed independence were marked by bloody internal atrocities, class conflicts, black dictators and racially-motivated indifference from the imperialist powers of Europe calculated to destabilize the only republic ever founded by slaves.

Today, slavery is a distant, half-forgotten memory in the past but for the black masses mired in poverty, living conditions have hardly changed. With food prices on the rise, more of Haiti's impoverished are now eating dirt to stave off the prospects of death by starvation because they cannot afford to buy rice, corn or flour. They are eating mud cookies are made from dried yellow dirt, salt and vegetable shortening. One mother from the oceanside slum of Cite Soleil, describes the cookies as having a “buttery, salty taste.” She admits that they cause stomach aches but she has no choice but to serve them as meals for herself and her emaciated 16 month old son.

Another unemployed Haitian Saint Louis Meriska, told reporters that his two children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. Haiti’s ever burning hunger, has become fiercer than ever in recent weeks as global food prices spiral out of reach. According to World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, "In just two months, rice prices have skyrocketed to near historical levels, rising by around 75 percent globally and more in some markets, with more likely to come.”

He also pointed out that the price of wheat has jumped 120 percent in the last year, doubling the bread prices, in places like Haiti where the poor spend as much as 75 percent of their income on food. In recent weeks, Haitians like their starving counterparts in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Bangladesh, Egypt, The Cameroons, Malaysia, Mozambique and India took to the streets in angry protests. The Haitians bashed in the front gate of their presidential palace burning tires and confronting the soldiers and the police.

“It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” said Jeffrey D Sachs, the economist and special adviser to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Prices for all basic food commodities including corn and beans have spiked because of higher oil prices, increasing prices for fertilizer, irrigation, transportation, and the heavy demand for biofuels such as ethanol, which has diverted food into energy production. Jean Ziegler, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, has called using food crops to create ethanol "a crime against humanity."

The World Bank announced a $10 million grant from the United States for Haiti to help the government assist poor families but the question is, how much of this will reach poor families and how far will it go before they are hungry again?

Most impoverished Haitian families have no hope of ever reaching beyond subsistence living.
Many are not certain if there'll be shortening available to make their dirt cookies tomorrow.

Human suffering in the form of physical hunger is something that I never can quite get my arms around. I do not want to rationalize it as part of the natural order of life. It is too unnatural. Maybe the real cause of hunger is really a shortage, no - not a shortage - but famine of fairness and human compassion. Maybe the few with a social conscience are barely surviving ourselves and perhaps like me they are all cried out - to the point of numbness.


-Carol Ann Mohamed READ MORE

The Paradox

When people speak to me on the phone, they think that I have dreadlocks. Don't ask me why; I think that the assumption is a product of our society, which trains us to categorize and stereotype people according to their interests. I love social justice, the Roots, poetry slams, natural hair growth, and run a magazine aimed at the enlightenment of women of color; people assume that I am a vegetarian with locked hair. What I have to explain is how much I also enjoy listening to Coldplay, dancing with friends to music that accompanies senseless lyrics, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and smothered pork chops. Being conscious of my surroundings, my circumstance, the environment, and the state of people of color around the world does not look a certain way. I believe that thinking "consciousness" has a specific look, stifles its possibility of really taking people of color, and more, women of color, to the another social and intellectual level.


I embrace my natural hair, but do not mind seperating it into cornrows and slapping a couple packs of Remi Indian #2 on it in order to avoid morning hair routines during a busy week. We are a diverse people; a people of physical, cultural, and biological variation. I believe that in accepting our differences, in experimenting ways to individually express ourselves is true enlightenment. I know what I want. I know what/who I love. I know from where I have come. And that, to me, is what consciousness is really about.


-Wayetu Moore
Photo Credit: D. Lammie hanson"Issues Natural Hair and the Afro"2005, Painting Acrylic
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Friday, April 25, 2008

Again



Three NYPD detectives have been found not guilty in the shooting death of Sean Bell. The officers fired 50 shots at Bell and his companions who were unarmed.

When I walked into my office this morning, there was a feeling of disappointment and outrage. There were no shocked faces, and no questions. Indeed, it seems, this is the way goes.

-Ashleigh Rae READ MORE

Ranking, American Style

It's sad that I acquire the bulk of my stats these days from the Today Show and the New York Times, especially considering their somewhat questionable journalism (I mean, is the best color for spring shoes more important than continued turmoil in Kenya? hmmm), yet yesterday, they featured NBC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman who relayed some pretty unsettling information about the state of our union. She discussed a study by the University of Washington and Harvard University on life expectancy among Americans, particularly women. Despite the trillions of dollars we spend on health care, we rank 42nd in the world in life expectancy, behind some countries from the former Soviet Union. According to the special guest, the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates among countries of the "developed" world (think G8 countries, European Union). Even Cuba, a country that we have demonized to no end, had a lower infant mortality rate than us. Cuba also happened to far outshine us in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, as they aggressively promoted safe sex practices and their HIV/AIDS treatment programs are free to those in need. The United States government can hardly fathom teaching its young people about their own bodies, God forbid begin to tackle HIV/AIDS seriously, despite the growing infection rate and the fact that we have a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS than most nations in the developed world, with the exception of Spain, whose rate is only slightly higher than ours.

Yikes.

We have some catching up to do, especially if we plan on upholding our image as the best country in the world, so much so that we participate in domination by force to get people to think and act just like we do. But other statistics are alarming as well. As our country scrounges up change to afford rice (they actually have started rationing rice at large wholesale stores like Sam's Club and Costco!) and drives across state lines to find slightly lower gas prices, we also continue to imprison more people than any other country...IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Many activists against what they call the "prison industrial complex" have dubbed America's prison system as a modern, more nuanced version of slavery in which more people of color continue to be its target, despite the level of their crimes or even status of guilt.

It seems as if the United States' ranking "successes" lie in highly negative aspects of our culture, practices on which the rest of the developed world - our competitors, allies, and peers - frowns upon and statistics that demonstrate our inability to do much better than the nations we have set out to "correct" or "save." It's time that we start looking at ourselves in the mirror and recognizing that we must devote serious time and energy to addressing our flaws, starting with the ignorance that allows us to continue touting ourselves as the best there is.

- Wendi Muse READ MORE

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Saudi Arabia's Arab Light


Looking at the list known as the "Opec basket price" for crude oil, I'm reminded of the coffee beans menu at coffee bean roasting proprietor:

Saudi Arabia's Arab Light
The United Arab Emirates's Dubai
Nigeria's Bonny Light
Algeria's Saharan Blend
Indonesia's Minas
Venezuela's Tia Juana Light
Mexico's Isthmus.

The leading story of today's BBC News Business section headline read: "Oil Rises to Yet Another Record". I was curious to learn more as to what drives the cost of petroleum.

I am a conditioned consumer of petroleum products, particularly what I pump into my car. I am accustomed to living my life with the use of a car. Without the supply of gas would be synonymous to my autonomous nervous system shutting down. It is as constant as my heartbeat. I take it for granted that gas will always be available.

But at the cost of $4.39 per gallon (the average cost in San Francisco these days for premium gas) I have opted to take the Metro. Luckily the city is well planned and developed for a far-reaching urban transit system. I recently moved here from Los Angeles, where I think that a car is almost 99.9% necessary, because the there is limited transit service. People speculate it has something to do with the physical geography where LA and outlying areas have stretches of land where ribbons of tar can be laid out. The freeways there are congested with traffic of cars occupied generally by one person during the rush hours.

There's one salient example of what affects the cost of gas prices: supply and demand wrapped with the delicate balance of consumer choice or lack of choice. A brief research about petroleum (aka crude oil) shows that it is the most actively traded commodity in global exchanges (the largest exchange markets in: London, New York, and Singapore.) There are benchmarks used in the industry to determine the quality of the oil based upon 1. specific gravity and 2. sulphur content (which is influenced by where the oil is pumped from.) "Because there are so many different varieties and grades of crude oil, buyers and sellers have found it easier to refer to a limited number of reference, or benchmark crude oils. Other varieties are then priced at a discount or premium according to their quality." (source: BBC news analysis)

Different benchmarks are predominant in certain exchanges. For example, Brent is common in Europe (and in fact is considered a world benchmark where it's used to price two thirds of the world's internationally traded petroleum supplies.) In the US the benchmark is based on West Texas Intermediate (WTI.) "This means that crude oil sales into the US are usually priced in relation to WTI." (source: BBC news analysis)

It was surprising to read one analyst's observation that geopolitical events aren't the strongest influencing factors affecting the cost of oil. For example: Upcoming economies of China and India is expected to raise the demand for oil consumption; the assassination on December 27th, 2007 of Benazi Bhutto brought up the price to $115 per barrel on April 16, 2008.

Apparently, a trader's whim can affect the price of oil when on January 2, 2008," a single trade was made at $100 per barrel in view of the combined effect of violence in Nigeria, Algeria, and Pakistan, the weak US dollar and the threat of cold weather. The trader who paid $100 almost immediately sold the contract for less than $100, and took a loss. Therefore, this one $100 trade for oil remains in question, as some believe this trader might have had other motives for the purchase and subsequent loss." (source: Wikipedia)

Another take on this event by a different analyst was "...financial factors may be at work, such as a hedge fund having to sell a particular oil contract so it does not end up receiving a tanker-load of oil - or a trader deciding it would be fun to be the first to trade oil above $100 a barrel." (source: BBC news analysis)

The future outlook is not rosy for consumers at the gas stations. The chief economist of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, expressed his thoughts in October 2007 that oil prices will remain high for the reason of the booming economies of India and China. In addition the result of a meeting in December 2007 by OPEC members has decided to maintain high "but" stable prices, which would guarantee a high income for oil producing states, but would also prevent a depression of the economies dependent upon oil.

I'm slowly conditioning myself to use my car less and less by taking the Metro, so that when gas prices soar to over $5.00 per gallon I won't be suffering a heart attack.

~*~

Note: Perhaps if the Reagan administration didn't cut down the funding in 1981 of the "Biomass Energy and Alcohol Fuels Act" (1977) from $600 million to $460 which eventually shriveled down to nothing then we would be more advanced in the development of the technology (in cars and fuels) that is not reliant on oil.)

-Analyn Revilla READ MORE

Monday, April 21, 2008

France gets Anti on Eating Disorders


On Tuesday April 15th, the French Parliament’s lower house adopted a controversial bill that basically would make it illegal for individuals, websites or publications to promote extreme thinness. The bill will have to pass senate before it can become a law, and much of the fashion industry in France is firmly against the bill. This is the first bill of its kind and includes jail time and fines of up to $70,000 if a death is found to have been caused by anorexia.

Upon reading about this bill I immediately thought not only about what this means for women and girls of color, but in particular Black women, whom it is believed are “culturally immune” to eating disorders. Even today many medical professionals do not believe Black women have eating disorders and you need only try to find scientific studies (there are few and most are dated) focused on or including Black women to see what I mean. By in large an eating disorder is still considered to be a “white girl disease.” However, according to a recent study done in the Eating Disorders Program in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Medical School, “African-American women more than White women report using laxatives, diuretics and fasting to avoid weight gain.” Once again it seems to come down to race and semantics. Yes, Black women do have eating disorders but they are often dismissed by medical professionals and/or the habits of Black women with eating disorders don’t fit the medical definition.

On March 28, 2008 Farai Chideya moderated a segment on NPR entitled, African Americans and Eating Disorders. One of her guests was Marna Clowney-Robinson, a Black Woman who is an eating disorder survivor and now advocates for survivors of eating disorders. When Clowney-Robinson was struggling with her eating disorder she went to her doctor and was told that they (doctors) didn’t see or recognize eating disorders in minority cultures so he (the doctor) was not going to go down that road, he would test for other things. It took several years before she could find someone who would accept and treat her as a patient with an eating disorder who happened to be Black.

But what’s all this got to do with fashion, fines and food? I look at what the French Parliament is attempting to do as not only a step in the right direction but also as silence breaking. In the United States alone 25 million people suffer from compulsive overeating and at least 10 million women and girls suffer from anorexia and bulimia according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Of the millions of eating disorder sufferers approximately 20% die from this mental illness and funding for research is grossly inadequate. For example in 2005 the National Institute of Health (NIH) gave $647,000,000 to support research into Alzheimer’s disease for an estimated 4.5 million sufferers. Meanwhile, the NIH gave only $12,000,000 to support research on Anorexia Nervosa exclusively while 10 million suffer from other types of eating disorders.

I do not believe that fining media outlets and/or individuals in the fashion industry will put an end to eating disorders. Nor do I believe that the media is exclusively responsible for women’s negative body image. However, the media and the fashion industry do contribute and have a great impact on women and girls, when it comes to shaping our ideals of attractiveness and beauty. What is scarier is that Black, Latina, Native American and Asian American girls and women are at a far greater risk of having an eating disorder because we are furthest away from the dominant culture’s definition of beauty. So the simple and obvious answer seems to be acceptance of self. But that would mean seeing ALL of OURSELVES on the rack in a department store, on TV, in our homes with our families, strutting down the runway, as doctors, world leaders and so on and so on… France, is this the start of something beautiful?

-Adisa Vera Beatty READ MORE

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tavis Smiley: A Victim of Political Opinion?

Earlier this week, author and media personality, Tavis Smiley resigned from The Tom Joyner Morning Show. By all accounts Smiley’s departure was unexpected and it’s widely speculated to have been prompted by the backlash he’s received with regards to his opinions and observations on presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama. In February of this year, Smiley invited Barack Obama to his State of the Black Union symposium; Obama declined due to his campaigning schedule and instead offered his wife, Michelle Obama, to fill in for him. Smiley rejected Michelle as Obama’s stand-in, and that decision coupled with his perceived lack of support for Obama, snowballed over the last few months. Many of Tavis’ listeners felt that he should have allowed Michelle to attend the symposium and that he allowed his ego to affect his decision-making, as well as many of his overall statements regarding Obama.

I personally think it would have been nice to see a former First Lady and a potential First Lady discuss issues that are important to the black community, but at the same time I do respect Tavis’ right to host whoever he chooses at his own event, for the purpose of achieving the event’s mission. However, I think that the rejection of Michelle Obama should have been weighed a little more heavily, if for no other reason than the fact that she could potentially be the First Lady of the United States and would have been able to speak on behalf of her husband.

Although Tavis has not commented on whether the Obama backlash was the reason he resigned, I personally think his resignation shows just how difficult it can be in this election to voice your opinions without becoming demonized or having your opinions being grossly misconstrued. That applies to the candidates as well. I’m not saying that Tavis should have gone unchecked or that he was necessarily right, but you need only to listen to some of the audio recordings from the bi-weekly show, or read Tom Joyner’s own admittance that Tavis’ opinions were viewed by many as not just anti-Obama, but anti-Black. It seems that if you are Black and don’t support Obama or have the nerve to question him or his ability, or if you are a woman and don’t support Hillary, then you are enemy number one in the eyes of some, which is a shame. It seems that the very two issues that were used against us not so long ago, to prohibit our right to political freedom, are the same tools we are using against each other today, race and gender.

-Tremaya Reynolds

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Choice of Fabric or a Choice of Words?

I woke up a bit late on Friday morning, yet despite my tardiness, I decided to humor myself with the usual banter of morning television. While simultaneously slipping on shoes and attempting to do something with my hair without the help of a mirror, I used my free hand to change the channel to NBC for the Today Show with Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira. On the studio stage stood about five women, all glowing, smiley, and decked out in lingerie. The catch? They were mommies-to-be. That's right. Bedroom chic for expectant mothers was the topic of discussion. Considering my complete lack of maternal instinct, I was tempted to turn the tv off when something uttered by the special guest stylist/fashion critic made me pause. While I don't recall the exact quote, I remember the camera zooming in on a black mommy lingerie model as the critic noted the joy and pain of an increased bustline and a larger bottom, respectively, with the onslaught of pregnancy.

Hmmm...

I don't know about you, but I wish my butt were bigger. Though it may seem trivial, the critic's assessment of preferable body type could be easily considered the norm for only a few groups, of which black and Caribbean Latina women would customarily not be a part. As a large backside is generally more accepted, if not a expected aspect of the black and/or Latina beauty ideal, I find it humorous, though predictable, that the white female commentator would disregard this, making her comment as if ALL women want smaller bottoms and bigger boobs. But things went beyond petty and got a little worse (aka I kept the television on for a few more seconds in order to watch the ridiculousness unfold) when the critic turned to the next model: a pregnant blond in leopard print.

The critic guided us, as she noted that the next model was wearing "ETHNIC" print, which is really hot in this season's lingerie lines. Last time I checked, leopard print wasn't an ethnicity, nor were the people where, say, leopards live, covered in spots themselves. Though an innocent and completely unintentionally offensive slip of the tongue, the critic's likening of animal print to ethnicity and, on top of that, the implications of the term "ethnic" (read: non-white; in this case, of African descent considering the type of animal print) indicate privilege and a disregard for the complexities of race. The Irish, for example, are made up of several ethnicities, as are many other groups of Europe, but their whiteness often shields them from receiving this moniker.

"Ethnic" is reserved for people of color. The term, while seen as PC and harmless, nevertheless evokes tons of images, often those relegating people of color to the lowest, most "primitive" of states. Afterall, tartan plaid isn't considered "ethnic," but animal print is? How is one to interpret this other than assuming that the person utilizing this term may have preconceived notions of or underlying biases against certain groups. And if not that, the use of the term in this way, on national morning tv, is an indication that the layers of meaning upon so many of the words we use can be easily ignored if the term is used in a lighter context. Will racist epithets become the racial categories of the future? Will they find their way deeper into our speech, songs, and media in the ways that "Eenie Meenie Mynie Moe" or terms like "Rule of Thumb" and "Gypped" (from "gypsy") have weaseled into the American English vernacular?

- Wendi Muse READ MORE

Urgent Call for Your Action on Orphan Works

I know it's Sunday, and you're not expecting a blog. A friend sent me a link to this article, and I felt it needed immediate attention. Artists and those who just appreciate should read this article all the way through.

Below is the article and sample letter to congress which can be found on the website for the American Society of Magazine Photographers.

Urgent Call for Your Action on Orphan Works

We have been monitoring this proposal for the past year and, suddenly, it has moved onto Congress' front burner. As it stands, it will be a disaster for photographers.

Webmaster's note: This page was published on March 3. Since then, several things have changed. The original text is shown below, but certain lines are crossed out because of new information that appears on our update page.

The fax campaign was effective, and we have been heard. Please do not send faxes now. At some point in the future, it will be time for a second round of pressure politics — but for now, take a well-earned break.

The following is a letter to ASMP members from Victor Perlman, ASMP's legal counsel.

Dear friend,

I am writing this message while on the train to Washington to meet with Congressional staffers on both the Senate and House sides. The subject is the proposed legislation dealing with so-called "Orphan Works." If you write to your congressional representatives only once in your lifetime, I urge you make Orphan Works legislation that "one time" and to take the action outlined below.

Below is a model letter for you to copy and paste onto your letterhead and fax (yes, FAX) to your own Congressional representatives on both the Senate and House sides, and to the members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. A list of names and fax numbers for those committee members follows the draft, along with a link for you to identify and get fax numbers for your own representatives in both houses of Congress.

You will notice that the first sentence in the letter below is blank and that you have to write it in your own words. Why? Because legislators tend to discount letters that are identical, suspecting that they are produced and sent by trade associations in the names of the members with no actual member involvement at all. They want to hear from voters, not pressure groups. The message that should appear in the first sentence or two is that you are a professional photographer and that the proposed Orphan Works legislation would be financially devastating to you if it is enacted in its current form. You can copy and paste the rest, if you wish, but even there it is always best if you use your own words.

The problem

The U.S. Copyright Office issued its report on Orphan Works only a couple of weeks ago. The end of that report contained proposed language for an amendment to the Copyright Act. That proposal is now being fast-tracked in Washington with a good chance of passage before the end of this Session. In my opinion, if that language is enacted in its current form, it will be the worst thing that has happened to independent photographers and other independent visual artists since Work Made for Hire contracts.

Orphan works are basically works whose copyright owners cannot be located. The term "Orphan Works" is really a dangerously misleading phrase. It makes it sound as if it includes only a few works that are not valued enough by their creators to warrant taking care of them. That may be true for owners of many kinds of copyrights. However, the reality is that for independent photographers and illustrators, the majority of your published photographs may well become Orphan Works. The reason for that is that, unlike just about every other category of copyrighted works, photographs and illustrations are typically published without any copyright notice or credit to the photographer or illustrator. The one exception to that has traditionally been editorial uses, but even there the trend seems to be away from providing credit lines. As more and more photographs are published on the Internet, credits become even rarer. Worse, even if you registered your photographs at the Copyright Office, there is no mechanism for identifying you or your photograph or for locating you through those records, if the user does not know your name.

The full text of the Copyright Office proposal is in this PDF document; the rationale and the draft language for a bill is the very last section. (For your convenience, the draft language is reproduced here.) The supporting documents — appendices, public comments, roundtable transcripts — are on the Orphan Works page of the Copyright Office site.

An excellent statement of the problems the proposed law would cause for photographers has been prepared by APA. ASMP is in substantial agreement with the points this document makes.

Contact info for members of the Judiciary Committees is on this page. But as noted above, please do not send faxes or letters now.

Under the proposed legislation, a person or other entity who wants to use a copyrighted work is required to make only a "good faith, reasonably diligent search" to locate the copyright owner. If, after making such a search, the user is unable to locate the copyright owner, he/she/it gets an almost free license to use the work. If the copyright owner never comes forward, the user gets to use the work for free. Even if the copyright owner discovers the use and demands payment, the MOST the copyright owner can get is "reasonable compensation," i.e. a reasonable license fee for the use actually made. There is NO possibility of statutory damages or attorneys' fees, even if the work was registered before the use was made without your permission.

Wait, it gets worse: If the copyright owner discovers the use and demands payment, "where the infringement is performed without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, such as through the sale of copies or phonorecords of the infringed work, and the infringer ceases the infringement expeditiously after receiving notice of the claim for infringement, no award of monetary relief shall be made."

The fact that the potential compensation is so low presents a fatal impediment to collection: if you discover one of your works being used and demand only your reasonable licensing fee, but the person refuses to pay, you cannot afford to sue to collect the minimal amount to which you are entitled. Without the possibility of an award of attorneys' fees or statutory damages, no lawyer would take your case; and if he or she did, you would end up paying far more legal fees than you could possibly collect.

The bottom line is that, even if you have done everything right, including registering your photographs immediately at the Copyright Office, every photograph that you publish may be up for grabs if it doesn't have a published credit. Yes, people have to contact publishers to try to identify and locate you, but if that doesn't produce your name and/or contact information for any reason, they may be entitled to a free, or almost free, pass.

What we are doing

ASMP has formed a coalition of organizations which I am representing in connection with Orphan Works that includes the Graphic Artists Guild, the National Press Photographers Association, the Stock Artists Alliance, Advertising Photographers of America, Editorial Photographers, Professional Photographers of America, the Illustrators Partnership of America (which carries with it approximately 40 other organizations), and the Picture Archive Council of America (with their General Counsel Nancy Wolff). Some of the other photographers organizations that we have approached have not yet responded to us, so that list may grow.

Canadian photographers also have a considerable stake in the matter. The Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communications (CAPIC) is working to educate its members about this threat.

Overseas photographers are also concerned with this issue. In the UK, the Association of Photographers Ltd (AOP), British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA), British Institute of Professional Photography, British Photographers' Liaison Committee, Chartered Institute of Journalists, Design and Artists Copyright Society, National Union of Journalists, and Picture Researchers Association have joined the coalition. On the Continent, Pyramide Europe, Union des Photographers Créateurs (France), Association of Professional Photographers of Spain, Association of Swedish Professional Photographers and Finnfoto (Finland) have joined. Although their political clout is necessarily indirect, their economic interests are definitely at stake. Not only would an Orphan Works law change the nature of the U.S. market, but it could set up pressure for similar laws in other countries.

ASMP is working on the Hill to try to change this proposed legislation. We are also exploring possible non-legislative fixes. However, what we really need is letters from as many ASMP members as possible.

I try not to ask for member help unless it is really necessary because I don't want our members to appear to legislators to be people who simply write on every issue, no matter how important or unimportant it might be. Right now, I am pleading with you to take action. This is a big one, gang, and we really need to work together here.

Thank you for your help,

Vic

Victor S. Perlman
General Counsel and Managing Director
American Society of Media Photographers, Inc. (ASMP)
150 North Second Street Philadelphia, PA 19106-1912
Phone: 215-451-ASMP Ext. 1207
Fax: 215-451-0880
E-mail: perlman@asmp.org
URL: http://www.asmp.org


A draft letter (for you to adapt)

Re: Orphan Works Copyright Legislation

Dear (Senator or Representative) ____________________:

(Fill in first sentence) ____________________________________________________. The amendment to the Copyright Act proposed by the U.S. Copyright Office is a disaster in the making for independent photographers and other independent creators of visual works. We are different from all other copyright owners because, unlike other creators, it is the exception rather than the rule that our images are published with any kind of credit line, copyright notice or other form of attribution. Credits are unusual in print publications, and are virtually non-existent on the Internet. Without names attached to them, most published images are likely to become Orphan Works.

The proposal for dealing with Orphan Works is based on an erroneous assumption on the part of the Copyright Office: See footnote 378 on page 115 of Copyright Office report, ".... The likelihood of statutory damages or attorneys' fees being awarded in an orphan works case is probably low, given that for those remedies to be available, the work must have been registered prior to infringement, see 17 U.S.C. section 412, and if a work is registered it is unlikely that the copyright owner is unlocatable through a diligent search." This simply is not true for published works of visual images. Without credit lines or other attribution, there is no way to know a photographer's name in most cases. Without a name, there is no way to search the Copyright Office records for a photograph.

As written, the proposal might work for copyright owners of other types of works, but for independent creators of visual images, it will end up converting massive numbers of images, and probably the majority of published images, to Orphan Work status.

Making the situation even worse, with recovery for infringements of Orphan Works limited to reasonable compensation with no possibility of receiving attorneys' fees, independent photographers and illustrators are left with no practical way of receiving compensation from a user who refuses to pay. It would simply cost more to sue than the possible compensation at issue.

I implore you to fix the proposed Orphan Works legislation so that it will not deprive photographers of protection under the Copyright Act. At a minimum, I ask you to include either a provision to allow recovery of attorney's fees or to create some form of small claims court to award compensation, especially where a user of an apparent Orphan Work refuses to pay after receiving a demand from the copyright owner. If you do not, this legislation may well put me out of business.

Thank you for your time, attention and, I hope, support.

Respectfully yours,

(your name)


-The Coup Magazine

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Sex and Politics


A nude photograph of France's first lady, Carla Bruni, has been auctioned for $91,000 (£46,098) - more than 20 times the expected price.

That's an amazing sentence. I'll begin with this...there was an expected price? So, before the sale even went down, there were people guessing how much this image would go for. The whole situation, the way it is being handled is interesting to me, at least in respect to my more (selectively) conservative nature; a result of my being raised here in the US. American morality is very wrapped up in image. There's a big fear of being interpreted the wrong way, and strict rules about expected conduct for people who want to be taken seriously (and even more so for women who must command respect).

I'm unsure how the US would respond to having a nude image of First Lady Barbara B. up for auction. Could we, as a country, handle this type of reality as well as the French? Outside of the obvious issues of nudity and how (selectively) uncomfortable we are with it, would we be able to accept the fact that the First Lady had a life before her husband occupied the Oval Office?

Naturally, the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has declined to comment. I mean, what would his response be? "What can I say? I got like that."

Christie's, where the acution took place, said money from the sale of the photograph will go to Swiss charity Sodis, which provides clean drinking water to developing countries. That's respectable.

The auction also included nude photos of models Lauren Hutton, Gisele Bundchen and Kate Moss, and an image of actress Brigitte Bardot by American photographer Richard Avedon which sold for $181,000 (£91,600).

-Ashleigh Rae

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Social Networks

Social networking is changing the the way people communicate in countries outside of the United States and Canada. Since November 2006 through September 2007 there has been a steady growth in social networking sites by about 99.3 millions of users. a In North America the number of users grew by 15 million.

The late 1990s saw the first websites focused on social networks that included MySpace, Hi5 and Cyworld. People connected with friends and made new cyber friends through these sites. Nearly a decade later this trend has spread in Asia and Australia where the growth was measured at 50 percent (up by about 168 million users.)

The Statistics between November 2006 and September 2007 (source: Technology Review issue Jan/Feb 2008)

Europe & Russia:

Nov 2006: 99,673,000

Sept 2007: 131,711,000

Growth: 32,038,000

Central & South America:

Nov 2006: 33,832,000

Sept 2007: 43,457,000

Growth: 9,625,000

Middle East & Africa:

Nov 2006: 14,045,000

Sept 2007: 20,782,000

Growth: 6,737,000

Asia & Australia:

Nov 2006: 115,359,000

Sept 2007: 168,919,000

Growth: 53,560,000

North America:

Nov 2006: 108,668,000

Sept 2007: 123,671,000

Growth: 15,003,000

Though the Middle East and Africa showed a slower growth than N. America, it seems that the war and the turbulence in that part of the world would hinder the most educational and technological advances. Meanwhile

Asia and Australia shows the highest growth at 53.5 million. This area is highly populous and there industrial growth of China and neighboring Pacific Asian countries plus India would account for this large piece of the pie. All three areas are booming in computer systems technologies. Australia has also always had a strong reputation to be on the leading edge.

Meanwhile, Europe and Russia follows as the next highest growth. The reason is probably quite closely related to Asia and Australia where the Eastern European countries and Russia have steadily grew out of a longish economic slump since the collapse of the ruble in July 1993 (which was preceded by the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier.) The communist block countries has been rebuilding its economy since that period, and economic turnaround has also brought up the standards of education and technology amongst the population.

I spent some time in S. America in the early to mid-year of 2005 and was surprised at the high popularity of internet sites in the big cities (Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, the province of Bahia, and Caracas.) Though there was only a mild growth of social networking sites, the whole continent still has some economic challenges before people can afford the laptops and workstations that are accessible, affordable, and prevalent in the the northern hemisphere of the world. It seems to me that the countries in the lower latitude suffer more hardships, because of political upheavals that tie very closely to the economic conditions.

Social networks (including blogging sites) are a great medium for linking minds and souls. Music has been among the strongest medium that bring people together, thus the boom of P2P sites where people started to share music. This brought concerns among the record labels and the producers including the artists over the monies they aren't realizing by loss of sales of CDs. More importantly, they were concerned in arresting the growing trend of how people are collecting music. This is just one aspect of how social networking is revolutionizing behavior in the society and its affect on big business.

On a more recent and local front, Imeem (formerly the Original Napster and San Francisco-based) announced to acquire Snocap, a company which powers the technology used on MySpace for downloading music.

A little bit of trivia: " the company developed the fingerprinting technology that checks media files uploaded to a web site against a registry of copyrighted works in to determine if a song has been cleared for playback in its entirety online. They also track the monies paid to record labels and artists whose music is streamed on sites like Imeem." (Source: TechNewsWorld.)

-Analyn Revilla READ MORE

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'll Call Before I...


A group of postgraduate students at the Tisch School of The Arts at NYU are working on a system that allows your house plants to alert you, by telephone, when they're in need of watering or sunshine. It's called Botanicalls, it equips plants with a sensor to monitor soil moisture and light exposure. If the plant needs something, a wireless signal that connects through the Internet to an open-source phone system, Asterisk, launches a phone call based on the information sent by...the plant.

That's crazy, and really kind of cool. As cool as it is, we can't help but populate a list of other things we wish would call and leave friendly reminders of their needs, existence and required errands.

1. My remote control: It's a cliche. I know. But, when I do have time to watch TV, it would be nice if the remote (which, inevitably, finds its way into the deep dark recesses of my couch cushions/under my bed/behind the TV) would announce its location.

2. My significant other: Yes, they generally have mouths and make calls already. It seems that they never really say anything of any significance.

3. Anything that requires batteries or charging: My iPOD is old. It dies on me constantly. It would be nice to get a heads up before I've entered my morning commute.

4. Your pet: I've had some goldfish incidents...

5. Your body. Haven't you ever gone through a super busy day without eating? Rushed to a meeting without brushing your teeth? Gone to bed without taking off your eye makeup? Forgotten to take your pill or vitamins? It would be nice to have little reminders here and there to foster the basic human need to take good care of yourself!

Yes, those would be nice. But hey, it's new technology. We'll see where it goes.

-The Coup Magazine
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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Corcoran Goes Multicultural

Take a moment to survey the photo above. This is an advertisement for Corcoran Group Real Estate found in the March 31, 2008 issue of New York Magazine. The text in the caption reads as follows:

At Corcoran, we understand that your home is the site of your family's
future history. So we go beyond what matters now. We listen to what will matter
tomorrow - the hopes, the dreams, the visions, the goals, and the thousand
wished-for moments that define you and those you love. Then we help you find a
home that's perfect for the family you are today, and for the family you hope to
be in the future.

Live who you are.

corcoran.com

built to last

When I first saw this ad, I thought to myself, "Wow, they have a biracial couple in a real estate ad!" Next I thought, "Wow, the couple happens to involve a black woman and a white male as the couple. I rarely see that!" To go further, my final thought was "...and she has dark skin, too! Amazing!!!"

All of these thoughts happened in about a 5 second time period, mind you, but I thought they were worth noting in stages. For one thing, it's rare that you see interracial couples in advertisements, period, especially those selling the concept of family. According to today's media, family values and bonding are restricted to solely "monoracial" families and couples. Ironically, in the case of black monoracial families and couples, the matriarch always happens to have light skin and sandy corkscrew curls. You know- that generic, stock photo racially ambiguous black lady with the carbon copy children to match- hence my surprise when I saw the photo above as I flipped the page from celebrity gossip to info on the Bear Stearns debacle.

I was reminded of the recent Old Navy television ad featuring ebony-skinned black model Nina Keita with a white male (quasi-) love interest:



Needless to say, part of me was incredibly excited to see that Corcoran had tried its hand at relationship/family diversity. However, when coupled with the caption, the photograph takes on a slightly different meaning. Were Corcoran's expressed hopes for appealing to the family of the future meant to relate to the interracial pairing in the ad? Was Corcoran attempting to show that this family transcended "what matters now" when it comes to the role of race in relationships? Lastly, is their line "built to last" in any way linked to the assumption that those involved in interracial relationships are doomed to failure? Is the success of such relationships a sign of the future Corcoran speaks of?

Even gender roles in this ad are a bit inverted, with the mother posing casually in the foreground of the photo with the youngest child, while the father, in the background, speaks with and appears to prepare breakfast for his daughter. The mother's appearance is flawless and far from matronly, as her model figure stands out despite her four children!

What is this dream that Corcoran is selling in the ad? Is is one of interracial harmony or one of unrealistic expectations? I could be overthinking this, but I can't help but wonder if the wording and the photo, when paired, were meant to signify something beyond a comfortable home in a competitive real estate market. Their promises of the future most certainly relate to more than just a mortgage. What do you think?

- Wendi Muse READ MORE

Friday, April 4, 2008

Jamaica Abolishes Hospital User Fees

The ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has delivered on another of its election promises. In its campaign, leading up to the September 2007 General Elections, the JLP promised to make healthcare more affordable for the average Jamaican by removing user fees.

On April 1, 2008 this was made a reality. There was much bantering on the streets as to the reason why Tom Fool’s Day (Jamaican for All Fools Day) was chosen for the start of such a major undertaking. However, this was no joke – Jamaicans no longer have to pay the user fees to receive medical services at public hospitals and health centers.

The fees abolished are registration fees, hospital admission, surgeries, medications, doctor’s examination, diagnostic services, blood transfusions and lab works, ambulance service, physiotherapy and maternal care.

The abolishment of fees will cost the Jamaican government an additional J$3.85 billion dollars to meet the expected 30 percent increase in patient load. Minister Spencer noted that for the first year of the abolition of user fees, the cost will be approximately J$1.7 billion.

There are justifiable concerns from many quarters as to how the already overburdened economy will manage to absorb this cost, especially in light of the removal of tuition fees for most educational institutions below the tertiary level. Minister Spencer noted however that in the best of times, most Jamaicans were unable to pay only about 15 percent of fees being collected.

Prior to the official date, Jamaica’s Governor General, Sir Kenneth Hall pointed out that “Measures have been put in place to manage the increased patient flow which is expected to result from unrestricted access. The opening hours of selected health centers will also be extended…”

After talking to persons working at some of the Jamaica’s hospitals and reports in the daily newspapers, it was smooth going at most institutions. However, a few had patients angry because they had to wait for long periods before receiving treatment.

Despite the challenges, this move should ensure healthcare for the average Jamaican who is often forced to forego treatment because they cannot afford it.

-Jessica McCurdy Crooks

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Levert Legacy

It took me a few days to wrap my mind around the fact that within 16 months Eddie and Martha Levert and their family have lost another son. If you don’t know, Eddie Levert is one-third of the soul defining sound that is the O’Jays. His sons, Gerald and Sean, formed their own group, LeVert, in the eighties and each had their own solo careers. Both sons performed with their father; Sean just last year at the Essence Music Festival. If there is anything more palpable than the Levert family’s love of music it would be their love for each other.

To understand what Gerald and Sean meant to their fans and to music you must know the Legacy of Eddie Levert and the O’Jays. Once the O’Jay’s met the dynamic producing duo of Huff & Gamble they sealed their destiny as musical legends and The Sound of Philadelphia. Their songs were center stage and the backdrop for generations of Blacks in America. Always backed by an abundance of lushness, they sang plaintively with a sound akin to gospel, sopped in soul, then coated with Rhythm & Blues. They also sang about real issues and sang in the name of love. The O’Jays are so in the tradition and Eddie Levert passed down that desire to entertain from the heart and create with substance. Gerald Levert remarked in a 1999 Essence interview, “I just can’t sing those worthless songs about doing it all night long, that don’t really mean anything.”

For me the loss of Gerald is still tender, and if you are a true music lover, the absence is two-fold. At just 40 years old when he passed away it was an unexpected and devastating blow. When I heard about his death I was at an artist residency in a small town in New Mexico. There was no Black community to commiserate with, so alone in my cabin, I played every note on every O’Jays and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes albums that I had with me. I thought of Eddie Levert and how demonstrative he and Gerald were in their love for each other. I thought of Gerald’s three children and how he could sing about Chiclets and bring an audience to their feet like church. How he’d get down on his knees and make a song surrender. He gave everything when he performed; still sing after the last notes faded, leave the stage spent and drenched in sweat.

And now 16 months later I think about Sean Levert dead at 39, his three children also left behind and a family not over their other loss. In a statement released by the family this past Monday their grief is overwhelmingly clear, “There are no words that can express what we’re feeling today. There is no song that can capture the loss we have in our hearts…” All I can do, as the family asked, is say a prayer for them, those six children who will be raised in the absence of their fathers, and play every note of every song that I possess, made by a family whose musical legacy will outlast us all.

-Adisa Vera-Beatty
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Marriage..... sigh


For the past couple of days, all I keep hearing and reading about is People Magazine's recent release that Jay-Z and Beyonce officially took out a marriage license in Scarsdale, New York.

As nosiness and skepticism uncovered tattoos of the Roman Numeral IV on each of their ring fingers last year, rumors flew around about the couple's engagement, and maybe even that they had already jumped the broom without anyone knowing. Yesterday while reading, I couldn't help but ask myself whether at this point it matters if they are married at all.

I commend Beyonce for her ability to keep her personal life and business out of media, and think that it has played a major role in the success of her relationship with the rap mogul. Celebrity relationships that are front-and-center, loud, and exposed, are usually the companionships that we see sizzle out the fastest, most dramatically, or surprisingly. They are also the relationships with women that I always thought rushed to the altar too soon. It's as if the couples themselves also buy into the media hype of how in love they supposedly are, don't spend enough time together to prove otherwise, decide to get married, and then call it off shortly after.

Now, it seems that a girl (Beyonce), found someone that she seems to love, has been with him for a healthy six or seven years, has established herself aside from him, and is finally getting married!!!...... but no one seems to care anymore. This goes beyond probable dislike or criticism of her. I believe that it is more the contemporary sentiment towards marriage.

In an article by Eduardo Porter and Michelle O'Donnell for phenomenology.org, it states that "More than 70 percent of women ages 25 to 54 are working today, up from about half of such women 30 years ago." Considering that we still live in a male-dominated, largely conservative country, marriage still translates to the tradition of a woman raising and successfully sustaining a household. Some women, like my mother, choose to do both. Others, however, afraid that one must give way to the other, go after the career, and marry after financial and emotional independence are already established.

In the black female community in America, the dichotomy of work and family is even more complex. In an associated press article by Laura Meckler in 2002, Meckler researched and wrote that:

"Across the board, black women were less likely to marry and more likely to divorce. By age 30, 81 percent of white women have been married, vs. 52 percent of black women.....part of the problem is a lack of men in the "marriageable pool," with disproportionate numbers of black men unemployed or incarcerated."

The "marriageable pool" has also narrowed with the increase of interracial marriages and homosexuality among black men. Therefore, a black woman cannot (or does not want to) wait as long to get her career fully established, or else she may not have a "good black man" or a nice wedding left to choose from.... that is if she still considers herself a heterosexual.

While the religious and moral implications of marriage are still held extremely high to some, the view, practice, and tradition of marriage are quickly changing before our eyes. Once an occasion that was everything from a week long feast of two people that are really planning on spending their lives together, to the celebration of the merge of two families, to the deflowering and consequent "adulthood" of a proper and faithful bride, is now just random and misplaced news, full of skeptical and cheerless responses.

Today we see a couple that has been dating for more than five years (which in most of our minds deems them already married), hear of their supposed engagement, and begin to wonder if this one is real, or if it's just another fire waiting to sizzle.

I wonder where the ideal of marriage will have traveled to in thirty more years.

-Wayetu Moore

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

HARU

Burrard Station, Vancouver, BC

Photography by nick woo

Black buttons peeping

Pink parasols parading

Haru! Swan song wanes

-Analyn Revilla READ MORE

KLS Launches Jr's Line at JC Penny

Just when we thought Kimora Lee Simmons couldn't be any more fabulous, she throws us for a loop. On March 31, 2008, JC Penny announced that they will be releasing a new line of clothing, designed by KLS.

Her position as Head Designer of Baby Phat, and her signature "couture" line KLS, was not enough to hold the 6"0' tall diva. The line is set to hit the shelves in July for the back-to-school rush of pre-teen in America. The line, being true to the essence of Kimora Lee Simmons, is called "Fabulosity".


JC Penny has made serious efforts for the past several years to "liven up" their younger lines. With the advancement of retailers like H&M and Forever 21, JC Penny, founded in 1902, has struggled to keeps its profits among the top tier. They have recently jumped on the band wagon that major retailers like Target have understood for years. A key fact in longevity among consumers is a direct link to emerging trends. A concrete way to achieve this is through the vision of mainstream designers. Target started with Mossimo, which has made the company several million dollars.


JC Penny did not have to search for incentive to make a deal with KLS. Kimora and JC Penny have already been in a partnership, in a sense. The Kellwood Co., which owns JC Penny, also owns the Phat Farm Fashions empire. Kimora is the Creative Director and oversees product development, marketing and advertising for the various brands. The Phat Farm Fashions portfolio includes at least 30 domestic and eight international licensees.


Fabulosity will retail from $29 to $108 and take inspiration from Simmons' own lifestyle as a former couture fashion model, hip-hop fashion designer, fragrance marketer and business and media executive, as well as a high-wattage presence on the glam-party circuit.


This is not the only major deal for Simmons this year. In the footsteps of Halle Berry, KLS has also launched a fragrance with Coty. The "Baby Phat Fabulosity" fragrance is expected to hit about 2,000 department stores by the end of year.


When asked on her comments about the line to WWD this week, Simmons said:

"Fabulosity is all about celebrating who you are and your individual greatness — living your dream and being whatever you want to be."

-Nana-Adwoa Ofori
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