Sunday, November 30, 2008

Terrorism that's personal


In Pakistan there is a cruel form of terrorism that gets almost no attention and thrives as a result: flinging acid on a woman’s face to leave her hideously deformed.

Terrorism in this part of the world usually means bombs exploding or hotels burning, as the latest horrific scenes from Mumbai attest. Yet alongside the brutal public terrorism that fills the television screens, there is an equally cruel form of terrorism that gets almost no attention and thrives as a result: flinging acid on a woman’s face to leave her hideously deformed.

Here in Pakistan, I’ve been investigating such acid attacks, which are commonly used to terrorize and subjugate women and girls in a swath of Asia from Afghanistan through Cambodia (men are almost never attacked with acid). Because women usually don’t matter in this part of the world, their attackers are rarely prosecuted and acid sales are usually not controlled. It’s a kind of terrorism that becomes accepted as part of the background noise in the region.

This month in Afghanistan, men on motorcycles threw acid on a group of girls who dared to attend school. One of the girls, a 17-year-old named Shamsia, told reporters from her hospital bed: “I will go to my school even if they kill me. My message for the enemies is that if they do this 100 times, I am still going to continue my studies.”

When I met Naeema Azar, a Pakistani woman who had once been an attractive, self-confident real estate agent, she was wearing a black cloak that enveloped her head and face. Then she removed the covering, and I flinched.

Acid had burned away her left ear and most of her right ear. It had blinded her and burned away her eyelids and most of her face, leaving just bone.

Six skin grafts with flesh from her leg have helped, but she still cannot close her eyes or her mouth; she will not eat in front of others because it is too humiliating to have food slip out as she chews.

“Look at Naeema, she has lost her eyes,” sighed Shahnaz Bukhari, a Pakistani activist who founded an organization to help such women, and who was beginning to tear up. “She makes me cry every time she comes in front of me.”

Ms. Azar had earned a good income and was supporting her three small children when she decided to divorce her husband, Azar Jamsheed, a fruit seller who rarely brought money home. He agreed to end the (arranged) marriage because he had his eye on another woman.

After the divorce was final, Mr. Jamsheed came to say goodbye to the children, and then pulled out a bottle and poured acid on his wife’s face, according to her account and that of their son.

“I screamed,” Ms. Azar recalled. “The flesh of my cheeks was falling off. The bones on my face were showing, and all of my skin was falling off.”

Neighbors came running, as smoke rose from her burning flesh and she ran about blindly, crashing into walls. Mr. Jamsheed was never arrested, and he has since disappeared. (I couldn’t reach him for his side of the story.)

Ms. Azar has survived on the charity of friends and with support from Ms. Bukhari’s group, the Progressive Women’s Association ( Ms. Bukhari is raising money for a lawyer to push the police to prosecute Mr. Jamsheed, and to pay for eye surgery that — with a skilled surgeon — might be able to restore sight to one eye.

Bangladesh has imposed controls on acid sales to curb such attacks, but otherwise it is fairly easy in Asia to walk into a shop and buy sulfuric or hydrochloric acid suitable for destroying a human face.

Acid attacks and wife burnings are common in parts of Asia because the victims are the most voiceless in these societies: they are poor and female. The first step is simply for the world to take note, to give voice to these women.

Since 1994, Ms. Bukhari has documented 7,800 cases of women who were deliberately burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area. In only 2 percent of those cases was anyone convicted.

For the last two years, Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar have co-sponsored an International Violence Against Women Act, which would adopt a range of measures to spotlight such brutality and nudge foreign governments to pay heed to it. Let’s hope that with Mr. Biden’s new influence the bill will pass in the next Congress.

That might help end the silence and culture of impunity surrounding this kind of terrorism.

The most haunting part of my visit with Ms. Azar, aside from seeing her face, was a remark by her 12-year-old son, Ahsan Shah, who lovingly leads her around everywhere. He told me that in one house where they stayed for a time after the attack, a man upstairs used to beat his wife every day and taunt her, saying: “You see the woman downstairs who was burned by her husband? I’ll burn you just the same way.”

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving thanks to heroes

MEERWALA, Pakistan

This is a column to give thanks to you, the reader. You don’t know it, but some of you are keeping women like Sajida Bibi alive here in this remote Pakistani village. And that is a far grander reason to celebrate Thanksgiving than even the plumpest turkey.

Sajida is a 29-year-old college-educated woman from a Christian family here (and a reminder that oppressive values in Pakistan are not rooted just in Islam). She scandalized her family by marrying a man she chose herself — and then becoming pregnant.

The next step was brutal: Several women held Sajida down as a midwife conducted an abortion, while she struggled and wept.

Then her brothers weighed what to do next. Sajida’s eldest brother wanted to sell her to a trafficker who offered $1,200, presumably intending to imprison her inside a brothel. Two other brothers just wanted to kill her.

The brothers fought for days over this question. So Sajida ground up sleeping tablets and baked the powder into chapati bread that she fed her brothers for dinner — and then sneaked out as they slept.

Sajida made her way to Mukhtar Mai, one of my heroes, and that is why this is a Thanksgiving column. For years, I’ve written about Mukhtar, an illiterate woman who used compensation money after being gang-raped to build a small school in which she herself enrolled.

Readers responded to the columns by flooding Mukhtar, who then used a variant of her name, Mukhtaran Bibi, with more than $290,000 in donations, funneled through Mercy Corps, an international aid group based in the U.S.

With that financial support, Mukhtar now runs four schools with 900 students. She also operates an ambulance service, a school bus, a women’s shelter, a legal clinic, and a telephone hot line and women’s crisis center — all in this remote village in the southern Punjab. (For information about how to help, go to my blog.

Sajida is now safe in Mukhtar’s shelter, while hoping to rescue her 14-year-old sister, Shafaq. Her brothers have forced Shafaq to drop out of school and may now be trying to sell her to a trafficker. When Sajida and I managed to contact Shafaq, she balked at fleeing — fearing that if her brothers caught her, they would kill her.

These women in Mukhtar’s shelter are extraordinary, partly because in a culture where women are supposed to be weak, they are indomitable. These aren’t victims. These are superheroes.

Another of those whom Mukhtar is helping is Shahnaz Bibi (Bibi is a second name used by many young Pakistani women; none of these women are related). Shahnaz is short, frail and wears a traditional full veil on the street — and is as courageous a person as I’ve ever met.

Shahnaz was kidnapped when she was taking her 10th-grade examinations, then gang-raped for two months by her kidnappers (including a policeman and a cousin) and, eventually, sold for $2,500 to be the third wife of a 65-year-old businessman. After being locked up for two years in a windowless room, Shahnaz was finally rescued by her family.

Her father begged her to drop the matter, for otherwise word would spread that she was not a virgin — utterly dishonoring her entire family. Yet Shahnaz insisted on prosecuting her kidnappers.

The police refused to act, so Shahnaz sought out Mukhtar, who paid for a good lawyer. The case is now proceeding. As a result, the kidnapping ring is using its police connections to try to force Shahnaz to withdraw charges, according to Mukhtar and Shahnaz.

The mayor himself has threatened Shahnaz and ordered her to drop the case, she says. The police chief called in Shahnaz and her family, slapped her and threatened to throw the entire family in prison for life unless she signed a paper withdrawing the charges. Then the police tortured Shahnaz’s father and brother in front of her until they gushed blood, demanding that she sign the document, according to her account and her brother’s.

The brother pleaded with her to sign. She refused.

“After what I endured for two years, I refuse to give up,” she said. Shahnaz keeps getting death threats, but she keeps pushing ahead. “I strongly believe in God and the power of truth,” she said.

(Note to President Asif Ali Zardari: The mayor is from your political party, so expel him before he discredits you. And, to the mayor and police chief, a Thanksgiving pledge: If anything happens to Shahnaz, I’m coming after you, armed with my notebook.)

So how about a Thanksgiving toast: Let’s give thanks for the courage of these magnificent women, and to those readers who had the faith to send checks to an illiterate rape victim in a remote Pakistani village.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, and join me on Facebook at

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Daily Mail publishes excerpt of Michelle Obama bio

By Liza Mundy

Last updated at 8:02 AM on 27th November 2008

She's the boss; gotta check with the boss, is Barack Obama's standard comment, reinforcing his wife's image as the coolly impressive power behind the new U.S. President-elect.

Indeed, some say Michelle Obama is even smarter than her husband. Well organised and a formidable list-maker, she can be forceful and at times intimidating. Former colleagues describe her as a better boss than an employee.

Barack and Michelle's united ambition has taken them to the pinnacle of power. But as she oversees the packing for the move to Washington, Michelle surely cannot help but reflect that had her husband been prepared to do as she had once demanded, his career in politics would have been over before it had even begun.

Michelle and Barack Obama

Who's the boss? Michelle is the second child of Fraser and Marian Robinson, a working-class family from Chicago's south side, but went on to study at Princeton and Harvard Universities. Barack Obama and Michelle married in 1992

Less than ten years ago, Michelle was decidedly hostile about her husband's political ambitions.

'She did not like politics. She did not want him to run for office. I know this because Barack told me,' says Newton Minow, a lawyer and one of the couple's oldest and closest friends.

Barack and Michelle have suffered from that problem of many a modern marriage: the clash of two careers with the demands of raising children. They may have started out as a collaborative partnership, but from the moment their daughter Malia was born, in July 1998, the balance tipped.

Michelle Obama

Proud moment: Michelle Obama, wife of US President-elect Barack Obama, at her graduation

Barack was full of good intentions - an adoring father, willing and charmingly clueless - but he was unswervingly determined to pursue his political career.

Michelle recalls them agreeing early in their marriage that their children would have 'the kind of dinner-together-every-night childhood' she had enjoyed. But they would never have that kind of household, not even briefly.

She had married a man who was operating on an accelerated timetable. 'There are times when I want to do everything and be everything,' he once confessed. 'I want to have time to read and swim with the children and not disappoint my voters and do a careful job on each and every thing that I do. And that can sometimes get me into trouble. That's been one of my bigger faults.'

He may have recognised the fault, but he didn't seek to correct it - so it was always going to be Michelle who would find it impossible to have it all. While Barack spent three nights a week in the state legislature or campaigning, it was Michelle who combined work with caring for Malia, getting her up in the mornings and reading to her at night.

By the time Sasha was born in 2001, Michelle had had enough. 'You only think about yourself,' she told her husband. 'I never thought I would have to raise a family alone.'

She urged him to take a job outside politics, but her pleas were futile. 'Her displeasure - or, simply, loneliness - was not something he took lightly, but it didn't keep him from doing what he wanted to do,' says Martha Minow, Barack's professor of law at Harvard.

To understand Michelle's frustrations and early antipathy to politics, you have to understand the world she came from. Now 44, she is the second child of Fraser and Marian Robinson, a working-class family from Chicago's south side.

Chicago was a segregated city in the Sixties and Seventies under Democrat mayor Richard J. Daley. He preserved segregation through a system in which a handful of African Americans were rewarded for helping to keep the others subjugated. Michelle's father was almost certainly part of that system.

Fraser was a caretaker at the city's water department, but he was also a volunteer precinct captain - a powerful neighbourhood leader for the Democratic Party whose job was to get people to the polls on election day.

President-elect Barack Obama

In waiting: President-elect Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in Chicago. Initially, Michelle was hostile about her husband's political ambitions

A city job was particularly valuable to an African American in that it insulated him from the racism of the open job market. Toward the end of his career, Fraser would have been earning more than £24,000 a year. His wages meant that, although black women rarely had the option of being stay-at-home mothers, Marian could, and did.

Michelle talks movingly about how important her father's job was to him. Despite being diagnosed in his 30s with multiple sclerosis, he never stopped working - even when on crutches and in a wheelchair.

But for all the pride Michelle took in her father's professional dedication, she witnessed first hand how the system bought and protected you, but also controlled you.

In 1981, Michelle arrived at Princeton University in New Jersey to read sociology. When the mother of one of her room-mates found out her daughter had been assigned to a room with a black girl, she spent the night calling everyone she knew on campus trying to get her daughter moved.

Barack Obama

Bright: But can Barack Obama turn around the world's fortunes?

'I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I will always be black first and a student second,' Michelle said. After graduating cum laude (with honour), she went on to Harvard and in her second year was hired by the corporate law firm Sidley Austin. Two years later, in 1989, a new member of staff arrived: Barack Obama.

Hearing his name and the fact he had been raised in Hawaii, she assumed he would be 'nerdy, strange, off-putting' and resolved to dislike him.

When the firm appointed her to be adviser and mentor to Obama, she felt self-conscious. She thought it would be 'tacky' if, as 'the only two black people here', they started to date. But her resistance did not last long. During that summer, their colleague Mary Carragher remembers that she would go to Michelle's office to talk about a case and see the two of them chatting. 'I could tell by the body language he was courting her,' she says.

Barack and Michelle married in 1992. By then, she had entered public service, working in economic development for the Chicago city government, and he was working at a civil rights law firm. He had spent his first six months after graduating from Harvard on a voter registration drive targeting low-income African Americans - reminiscent of what Michelle's father had done as precinct captain.

It was so successful that it helped Bill Clinton win Illinois. Three years later, Obama told his wife he wanted to enter politics. 'I was like: "No, don't do it, we're just married, why would you want to do this?"' said Michelle.

Barack argued that you have to start changing the world somewhere, so you may as well start by running for the Illinois state senate, which he won.

'You know, Barack is convincing and passionate,' Michelle told me. 'You have this conversation - we could build a comfortable life for ourselves.

We've gone to the right schools and have all these advantages, [but] look around: most of my family are not in the position I am. It isn't enough for the Obamas to be OK, and for ours kids to be OK, knowing that the chasms are so vast. Eventually, my conscience said: "OK, you're right, we do have an obligation".'

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama

Generous: Barack and Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, distributing Thanksgiving turkeys in Chicago this week

At first, Michelle was happy with her husband's political success.

She still no real understanding of how a political career would affect their marriage or their home life.

'That's the usual arc,' says Abner Mikva, a former U.S. congressman and judge, who became one of Obama's closest advisers. 'The wives are pleased, but then the burdens begin to get more and more. There was the struggle of her trying to maintain a family life and some relationship, not only between them, but especially when the children came along, trying to make sure he was performing some of the roles as father. The higher up he went, the harder it became.'

As well as spending three nights away from home whenever the Illinois legislature was in session, Barack was teaching law part-time and engaging in political networking when back in Chicago.

Life was relentless for both of them and by the end of 1999, following the birth of Malia, Michelle had been functioning largely as a single parent for 18 months.

To all around them, it was evident that cracks in their marriage were beginning to show. That Christmas, the Obamas travelled to visit Barack's beloved grandmother in Hawaii. It was a trip they usually loved, but that year they were barely on speaking terms.

The following spring, Barack lost a bid for a Congressional seat in Washington. 'He would always tell his wife I'm going to give it one shot and if it doesn't work out, I'm going to go to work in the private sector,' says Dan Shomon, Barack's political consultant and confidant.

But Michelle could see a pattern and she'd had enough. Barack had been offered the chairmanship of a foundation, a well-paid job.

'Michelle wanted him to take it,' says Newton Minow.

The job offered much-needed financial security - something that would help redress another growing imbalance in their marriage.'

Barack Obama his wife Michelle

Family union: Barack Obama his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha during a rally at JFK Stadium in Springfield, Missouri

While Barack was pursuing his political goals, Michelle was bringing in the money. But they were struggling.

They both had student loans and Barack was compounding their debt by putting professional expenses on his credit card and neglecting to claim reimbursement.

The foundation job would have given the Obamas the chance of the normal family life Michelle craved. But it was not to be.

Barack turned it down. His decision could have proved a breaking point for their marriage, but fortunately for him Michelle suddenly accepted the things she could not change, such as Barack's nature.

In 2001, she gave birth to their second daughter Sasha and started a new job in public relations for the University of Chicago hospitals. She was breast-feeding, and, with no childcare had no choice but to take the baby to work with her.

Michelle Obama

Forthright: Michelle Obama speaks during a working women's round table discussion in Michigan

She contemplated giving up work, but decided to take control at home in a different way.

'This was the epiphany,' she said. 'I am sitting there with a new baby, angry, tired and out of shape. The baby is up for that 4am feed. And my husband is sleeping.'

If she left, she told herself, Barack would have to cope. So she started going to the gym at 4.30am - in part to get in shape, but also to force Barack to deal with the children.

'I'd get home from the gym, and the girls would be up and fed. That was something I had to do for me.'

She had realised she could not live her life being resentful; it would wreck her and poison their relationship. So she put together a support system, hiring a housekeeper to do the laundry, cooking and cleaning, and got her mother to help with baby-sitting.

Finally, she was acknowledging that it mattered 'less to me that Barack was the one babysitting and giving me the time for myself; it was that I was getting the time.'

It was a good thing Michelle was able to make it work because in mid-2002, her husband announced he was going to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

During this intense period, he would estimate he had taken seven days off in 18 months. That the Obamas survived as a family is a testament to Michelle's flexibility and stamina.

'Are you going to run for President?' Malia, then six, asked her father in 2004 after he was elected to the U.S. senate. It was the question on everyone's mind.

Instead of becoming a senator's wife in Washington, Michelle had chosen to stay in Chicago because her support network - her mother and her friends - were there.

Obama would later write about how much he missed his family. His career was underway, but he had paid for it in terms of domestic ease and routine family happiness.

Their financial problems went away, however, thanks to his autobiography, Dreams From My Father. In 2005, with the royalties from that first book and a $2million advance for future ones, the Obamas were able to buy a $1.6million mansion. For the first time in their lives, they were debt-free.

'That's a new experience for us in our 40s,' Michelle said. She kept a family journal for her husband and bought webcams for him and their daughters, but no longer expected their lives to be less hectic.

Michelle Obama

Warm: Sasha Obama blows a kiss to her dad as he addresses the gathering via satellite at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Michelle Obama and Malia share the stage with her

She was also unfazed by another inevitable aspect of her husband's rising profile - female competition. 'I never worry about things I can't affect, and with fidelity... that is between Barack and me, and if somebody can come between us, we didn't have much to begin with.'

Valerie Jarrett, one of Michelle's oldest friends, puts it a little more vividly. 'He knows that if he messes up, she'll leave him. She'll kill him first - and then she'll leave him. And I think there is a subtle element of fear on his part, which is good.'

Shortly before Christmas 2006, Barack met Newton Minow and Abner Mikva to discuss his potential presidential candidacy. Minow recalls Obama saying: 'Michelle's not keen about this.' Mikva sees it more that Michelle wanted to be sure his campaign would be well run and was winnable. 'It wasn't that she didn't want him to run, but she wanted to make sure that it was well organised,' says Mikva.

'That was her biggest concern - not that she was trying to stop him, but to make sure that if he did it, they had a chance of winning.'

Michelle's most vivid and successful speeches over the past two years have been directed at women, focusing on the work-life balance. She freely says she doesn't believe it is possible to have it all. Certainly, her career is nowon the backburner, but she has never been a career-driven woman in the conventional sense.

Social change is her passion - from race relations to the plight of working women - and Barack is the vehicle for that. She will expect a lot from him and when he takes over as U.S. President in January, Obama Barack will be the most powerful man in the world - but it won't stop him checking everything with the woman he refers to as the Boss.

ADAPTED from Michelle: A Biography by Liza Mundy, published by Simon & Schuster on December 1 at £16.99. © Liza Mundy 2008. To order a copy at £15.30 (p&p free), call 0845 155 0720.

Go to original (with its agony-aunt title) here

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One of my personal heroines: Grace Jones

An audience with Grace Jones


Grace Jones performs new track Williams' Blood on Later with Jools Holland

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Singer, film actress and style icon Grace Jones still cuts a commanding presence more than 30 years after she made her musical debut.

In a smart Italian restaurant close to her home in south-west London, the Jamaican-born star is holding court while sipping on red wine and nibbling some delicately-cut raw beef.

The meeting had been delayed by a fashionable two hours as the singer was relaxing in the spa.

Grace Jones
Grace Jones says she would 'never' work with Timbaland

A luxuriant fur coat is draped over a nearby chair, while her sunglasses - it is dark - and cigarettes are close by.

The remarkable-looking 60-year-old is recording a programme for a gay radio station, making raucous jokes to the small gathering and cackling infectiously.

Jones purrs some safer sex messages into the microphone with her distinctive, molasses-rich voice before dismissing the broadcasters and discussing her first album in 20 years, Hurricane.

"I didn't decide to do an album - I'd decided never to do an album again. It was an accident," she explains, not before offering a forkful of carpaccio.

"It's only because I love the record that I have the motivation," she adds of the rounds of publicity that have come with the new release.

The one-time catwalk model and muse of Andy Warhol has developed a reputation over the years for being a troublesome diva - but hints it is because she is a perfectionist.

"I never do what anyone else is doing. I could walk away from music and become a farmer or do some crochet. The worst thing in life for me is to do something I'm not happy doing."

Eyeing Winehouse

Indeed, she claims to be the only artist to make record producers Sly and Robbie record a song more than once.

"I just say that I'm not coming tomorrow," she says of her method of persuasion.

Jones, who comes to the restaurant with just her make-up artist and a male friend, says her new album was "a love affair with the music".

Grace Jones
Visit Jamaica - the climate and relaxed environment will take years off you
Go swimming - preferably in the sea
See sunrises and sunsets
Enjoy the odd glass of red wine
Maintain your appearance but don't be obsessive
Swap gender roles occasionally

To complement the new release, the singer is going on tour next year, but says her show will be far removed from her legendary spectacles involving caged tigers, whips and scantily-clad male dancers.

"It will be focused on the music, so if a bomb were to drop, my voice can go on and entertain.

"There will be some pizzazz, but not overwhelming. It will be rock 'n' roll - with fashion, of course," says Jones, renowned for her outlandish dress sense.

"I'm going to learn to play some extra instruments, a bit of accordion, cowbell and some percussion," she adds.

Jones, whose 1980s hits Slave To The Rhythm and Pull Up To The Bumper have survived the test of time, admits to being a musical "loner".

But she has her sights set on a collaboration with Amy Winehouse, "the only interesting new voice around".

Jones is unflapped by the troubled star's woes, having suffered her own problems with addiction in the past.

Russell Harty moment

"Darling," she drawls, "We all have our ups and downs. She needs some advice that's for her best interests rather than someone else's.

"I've been there. It's a rollercoaster life," she comments on the potential pitfalls of fame.

"Right now my plate is very full. But she knows that I'm there for her and would love to meet her."

The subject turns to reality television, and for a second there is fear of a Russell Harty moment - Jones famously assaulted the chat show host on his programme in 1981.

"I've turned down millions of dollars to go on reality TV. It's an absolute no-go," she booms.

Grace Jones
I never do what anyone else is doing. I could walk away from music and become a farmer or do some crochet
Grace Jones

"There's nothing artistic or inspiring about any of those shows. How low does the bar go? I have to set my own values and keep them, and I don't care what anybody says."

But the mood soon softens as Jones is asked about the highlights of her extraordinary career, and pays tribute to some of the formative figures in her life.

"It was my vocal coach who said 'your voice is your voice, no-one else has it'. That gave me the clarity not to compete with anyone," she explains.

After the conversation has ended and the singer is planning her appearance at a party, I am called back, so she can tell me that the birth of her son was the true highlight of her life.

When you are summoned by the inimitable Grace Jones, you respond.

Hurricane by Grace Jones is out now. Her UK tour begins on 19 January in Birmingham.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Commentary: Michelle Obama is reinventing the stay-at-home mom

By Jolene Ivey
Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Jolene Ivey, co-founder of the nonprofit Mocha Moms, Inc., is a Maryland state delegate and mother of five boys. She's married to Glenn Ivey, the state's attorney for Prince George's County, Maryland. She's also a regular contributor to "Tell Me More," hosted by Michel Martin on NPR.

Jolene Ivey says Michelle Obama is bucking tradition of African-American women working outside the home.

Jolene Ivey says Michelle Obama is bucking tradition of African-American women working outside the home.

CHEVERLY, Maryland (CNN) -- America's vision of the stereotypical June Cleaver at-home mom is about to get a shake-up.

Michelle Obama is joining the ranks of the Mocha Moms! And she'll be doing it at the most prestigious address on earth -- 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

From the time when Africans were dragged to these shores as slaves, one of the jobs that fell to these women who weren't working in the fields was caring for the children of their owners.

From breast-feeding to bathing to rocking them, the women tended their owners' children, while not being allowed to lavish such attention on their own. Long after slavery was over, little changed in this dynamic.

It was common for black women to leave their own children at home to fend for themselves and go to work for low wages as domestics in the homes of well-off white families. As African-Americans have gotten more opportunities, a college degree has been a ticket to the career ladder. Period. Devoting full time to motherhood is considered a waste of education by many in the black community.

Middle-class white women, on the other hand, were expected to stay home with their children. They fought their way into the workforce in large numbers relatively recently. The feminist and civil rights movements opened the working world to all women, but culturally, black women still were discouraged from being the primary caretakers of their own children.

Michelle Obama is bucking that mind-set in deciding to take time off from her career to focus on getting her children acclimated to life in the White House. Her own mom stayed home with her children, but this was unusual enough that few African-Americans have such a family memory.

Mrs. Robinson can claim credit for having raised two highly successful offspring -- one now a coach of the Oregon State basketball team, and one about to become first lady of the United States of America. What a proud legacy!

Michelle will be following in her mother's footsteps, being available for her children and her husband while forgoing a paycheck of her own. It's not a lifestyle that's right for all families, but it's a template that should get more attention -- and respect -- now that our incoming first lady will model it on the world stage.

When my first son was born 19 years ago, I quit my job as Rep. (now Sen.) Ben Cardin's press secretary. Family and friends disapproved, in a range of volumes.

The new mom friends I made were mostly white, and I'm grateful to them even today for helping me get through those early, confusing, frustrating, thrilling years. But I was lonely for friends who understood my jokes, and what it was like to walk a path unlike any family member before me.

A friend told me to stop my whining and start a newsletter. Call it Mocha Moms, she said, and use it to find other women like me. Another black at-home mom friend helped me launch it nearly 12 years ago! Two more women found us, and we built the framework for the organization that today has more than 100 chapters around the country.

I can't think of a better ambassador for Mocha Moms than Michelle Obama. For all the 16 years I was home with my kids, no one cared what my views were on anything more exciting than toilet training. She'll be in the position to bring light to issues and organizations that are currently working in obscurity, and energize their efforts.

Two issues she's chosen so far are on the work-home life balance and the needs of military families. I hope she'll also take on eliminating domestic violence as an issue. It crosses class and race, and has such long-lasting negative effects on families. We can use some star power on that one.

Programs that teach parenting skills and those that support strengthening marriages would welcome some help. The homeless could certainly use a champion, and it's hard to think of a better one than Michelle Obama. This is her chance to be a trailblazer and a traditional first lady at the same time!

We've got a Mocha Mom heading for the White House -- one who's using her Princeton and Harvard degrees to raise her children and our consciousness. Our attitudes about the choices women -- especially African-American women -- make may never be the same. At least, I hope not.

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Arrests after Afghan acid attack


The damage done to some of the girls who were attacked

Police in southern Afghanistan have arrested 10 men in connection with an acid attack on schoolgirls earlier this month, officials say.

The men are all Taleban insurgents and some have confessed to taking part in the attack, the authorities say.

Several girls received severe burns when acid was thrown in their faces on 12 November in Kandahar city.

The Taleban denied involvement in the attack, which brought condemnation from around the world.

President Hamid Karzai has called for those involved to be arrested and publicly executed.

'Led by the Taleban'

Deputy Interior Minister Gen Mohammad Daud said the men had been arrested in recent days.

"The attack was the work of the Taleban and we have not finalised our investigation," Gen Daud told reporters in Kandahar.

Gen Daud said the men were Afghans who had travelled from Pakistan.

Schoolgirl in hospital after two men on a motorbike threw acid on her in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
Some of the girls were offered some protection by veils

"They were led by the Taleban," he said. "They were taking orders from the other side of the border from those who are leading terrorist attacks in Kandahar."

Kandahar Governor Rahmatullah Raufi said the attackers had been paid up to $2,000 (£1,300) by the Taleban to carry out the attack.

He did not say how many of the men had confessed. The men's names were not disclosed and they were not shown to reporters.

At least 15 schoolgirls and female teachers had acid sprayed at them by two men on a motorcycle near the Mirwais Nika Girls High School in Kandahar.

Officials say the attackers used a toy gun to spray the acid and fled as soon as people came to the assistance of the girls.

Most of the victims suffered severe burns and at least one of them will have to have her face and neck reconstructed by plastic surgery.

Some of the girls were wearing Islamic burkas or veils which provided them with some protection.

The attack shocked ordinary Afghans.

Correspondents say it is likely to have been carried out by those opposed to the education of women.

The former Taleban government, which was ousted in 2001, banned girls from attending school.

A spokesman for the movement denied having anything to do with the attack when it took place two weeks ago.

But the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Kabul says many Afghans blame the Taleban for continued arson attacks on girls' schools.

Only two million girls attend school in Afghanistan, with many conservative families still preferring to keep them at home despite a government push to encourage female education, he says.

Hundreds of schools - and students - have been attacked by insurgents in recent years.

Go to original BBC News article

UN urges end to abuses of women

A 10year old girl who was raped waits for medical treatment in Goma, DRC (24/11/2008)
The UN says one in five women will be subject to actual or attempted rape

The United Nations secretary general has said the world must do more to combat the abuse of women and girls.

Ban Ki-moon spoke as organisations around the world marked the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The UN says at least one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

It has called on leaders and people around the world to address what it said was a "global pandemic" of abuse.

Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are at greater risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, traffic accidents, war and malaria, says the UN.

It says violence against women has been reported in every international or non-international warzone and that half of all women murdered are killed by their current or former partner.

Violence against women is never acceptable
Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary General
Mr Ban said such violations "undermine the development, peace and security of entire societies".

"We need to do more to enforce laws and counter impunity," said Mr Ban, who has his own campaign, UNiTE, to address the issue.

"We need to combat attitudes and behaviours that condone, tolerate, excuse or ignore violence committed against women."


Organisations around the world are using the UN day to comment on the situation facing women where they are based.

The UK-based development organisation Oxfam is launching a campaign in Kenya, where half of women have reported experiencing domestic violence.

Women in Baghdad, Iraq (23/11/2008)
One in three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or abused in her lifetime
One in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape
Women make up more than 80% of trafficked people
Up to 130m women have been subjected to genital mutilation
Source: UN
Campaign director Carol Thiga told the BBC's Network Africa programme that the group hoped to reduce the social acceptability of violence against women.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian government has warned of an increasing risk of rape and sexual assault against girls and women in the country.

It says that around a quarter of the female population faces domestic violence and that long-held prejudices, combined with new forms of anti-social behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse, have put young women and girls at particular risk.

In Iraq, women have seen their rights eroded "in all areas of life," according to the UN's special rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Erturk.

She said the "ongoing conflict, high levels of insecurity, widespread impunity, collapsing economic conditions and rising social conservatism are impacting directly on the daily lives of Iraqi women and placing them under increased vulnerability to all forms of violence within and outside their home".

Ms Erturk said she was also concerned about the rise of so-called "honour killings" of women by family members and the number of women apparently committing suicide to escape abuse.

'Universal truth'

The UN says that the cost of violence against women is "extremely high".

That includes both the direct cost of providing services to abused women and the impact on the economy in lost productivity and in "human pain and suffering".

The UN commended efforts made in some countries to address the issue but says more investment and greater leadership and political will are still needed.

"There is no blanket approach to fighting violence against women," said Mr Ban.

"What works in one country may not lead to desired results in another. Each nation must devise its own strategy."

But he said there was "one universal truth applicable to all countries, cultures and communities; violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable".


There are some tribes in Cameroon where thrashing, beating or whipping your wife is a sign of loving her
Morfaw Rene, Brussels

Go to original BBC News article

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Real Issue Behind the Abortion Debate
Jeanne Flavin, The San Francisco Chronicle: "In the last presidential debate, Sen. Barack Obama, responding to a question about an abortion litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, unequivocally affirmed his support for the right to choose abortion. But then - and here is the part that made my heart flutter, nay, pound - he went on to connect the debate about abortion to the issue of ensuring equal pay for equal work. 'I think that it's important for judges to understand,' he noted, 'that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will.'"

As Taboos Ease, Saudi Girl Group Dares to Rock

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — They cannot perform in public. They cannot pose for album cover photographs. Even their jam sessions are secret, for fear of offending the religious authorities in this ultraconservative kingdom.

But the members of Saudi Arabia’s first all-girl rock band, the Accolade, are clearly not afraid of taboos.

The band’s first single, “Pinocchio,” has become an underground hit here, with hundreds of young Saudis downloading the song from the group’s Web site. Now, the pioneering foursome, all of them college students, want to start playing regular gigs — inside private compounds, of course — and recording an album.

“In Saudi, yes, it’s a challenge,” said the group’s lead singer, Lamia, who has piercings on her left eyebrow and beneath her bottom lip. (Like other band members, she gave only her first name.) “Maybe we’re crazy. But we wanted to do something different.”

In a country where women are not allowed to drive and rarely appear in public without their faces covered, the band is very different. The prospect of female rockers clutching guitars and belting out angry lyrics about a failed relationship — the theme of “Pinocchio” — would once have been unimaginable here.

But this country’s harsh code of public morals has slowly thawed, especially in Jidda, by far the kingdom’s most cosmopolitan city. A decade ago the cane-wielding religious police terrorized women who were not dressed according to their standards. Young men with long hair were sometimes bundled off to police stations to have their heads shaved, or worse.

Today, there is a growing rock scene with dozens of bands, some of them even selling tickets to their performances. Hip-hop is also popular. The religious police — strictly speaking, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — have largely retreated from the streets of Jidda and are somewhat less aggressive even in the kingdom’s desert heartland.

The change has been especially noticeable since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the Saudis confronted the effects of extremism both outside and inside the kingdom. More than 60 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population is under 25, and many of the young are pressing for greater freedoms.

“The upcoming generation is different from the one before,” said Dina, the Accolade’s 21-year-old guitarist and founder. “Everything is changing. Maybe in 10 years it’s going to be O.K. to have a band with live performances.”

Dina said she first dreamed of starting a band three years ago. In September, she and her sister Dareen, 19, who plays bass, teamed up with Lamia and Amjad, the keyboardist.

They were already iconoclasts: Dina and Dareen wear their hair teased into thick manes and have pierced eyebrows. During an interview at a Starbucks here, they wore black abayas — the flowing gown that is standard attire for women — but the gowns were open, showing their jeans and T-shirts, and their hair and faces were uncovered. Women are more apt to go uncovered in Jidda than in most other parts of the country, though it is still uncommon.

“People always stare at us,” Dareen said, giggling. She and her sister are also avid ice skaters, another unusual habit in Saudi Arabia’s desert.

The band gets together to practice every weekend at the sisters’ house, where their younger brother sometimes fills in on drums. In early November, Dina, who studies art at King Abdulaziz University, began writing a song based on one of her favorite paintings, “The Accolade,” by the English pre-Raphaelite painter Edmund Blair Leighton. The painting depicts a long-haired noblewoman knighting a young warrior with a sword.

“I liked the painting because it shows a woman who is satisfied with a man,” Dina said.

She had thought of writing a song based on “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci but decided that doing so would be taking controversy too far. In Saudi Arabia, churches are not allowed, and Muslims who convert to Christianity can be executed.

Dina held out her cellphone to show a video of the band practicing at home. It looked like a garage-band jam session anywhere in the world, with the sisters hunching over their instruments, their brother blasting away at the drums and Lamia clutching a microphone.

“We’re looking for a drummer,” Lamia said. “Five guys have offered, but we really want the band to be all female.”

Although they know they are doing something unusual, in person the band members seem more playful than provocative. Unlike some of the wealthier Saudi youth who have lived abroad and tasted Western life, they are middle class and have never left their country.

“What we’re doing — it’s not something wrong, it’s art, and we’re doing it in a good way,” Dina said. “We respect our traditions.”

All the members are quick to add that they disapprove of smoking, drinking and drugs.

“You destroy yourself with that,” Lamia said.

Yet rock and roll itself is suspect in Saudi Arabia in part because of its association with decadent lifestyles. Most of the bands here play heavy metal, which has only added to the stigma because of the way some Western heavy metal bands use images linked to satanism or witchcraft. In Saudi Arabia, people are sometimes imprisoned and even executed on charges of practicing witchcraft.

The first rock bands appeared here about 20 years ago, according to Hassan Hatrash, 34, a journalist and bass player who was one of the pioneers, and their numbers gradually grew. Then in 1995, the police raided a performance in the basement of a restaurant in Jidda, hauling about 300 young men off to jail, including Mr. Hatrash. They were released a few days later without being charged. There is no actual law against playing rock music or performing publicly.

“After that, the scene kind of died,” he said.

Mr. Hatrash, who has graying shoulder-length hair, recalled how the religious police used to harass young men who advertised their interest in rock and roll. He once had his head was shaved by the police.

In recent years, with the religious police on the defensive, bands have begun to play concerts, and a few have recorded albums. Occasionally young men bring their guitars and play outside the cafes on Tahlia Street in Jidda, where young people tend to congregate in the evenings.

Although the music is mostly familiar to heavy metal fans anywhere — thrashing guitars and howling vocals — some of the lyrics reflect the special challenges of life and love in this puritanical country.

“And I Don’t Know Why,” a song by Mr. Hatrash’s band, Most of Us, has these lyrics:

Why is it always so hard to get to you

When it’s something we both want to do

Every time we have to create an alibi

So that we can meet and love or at least try...

As the Saudi rock scene grew, Dina gathered the courage to start her own band. It plans to move slowly, she said, with “jams for ladies only” at first. The band members’ parents support them, though they have asked them to keep things low-key. Eventually, Dina said, they hope to play real concerts, perhaps in Dubai.

“It’s important for them to see what we’re capable of,” she said.

Go to original NY Times article

Someone to watch (or keep watching)

An Old Hometown Mentor, and Still at Obama’s Side

CHICAGO — On a dark afternoon last week, the road to Jerusalem and Beijing momentarily veered through the office of a real estate company here.

Valerie Jarrett, the company’s chief executive, had signed her resignation letter an hour earlier, and now she was taking phone calls from potential top diplomatic appointees.

“You don’t need to thank me,” she said soothingly to a booming male voice on her cellphone. “I just wanted you to have a chance to make your case.”

If someone were to rank the long list of people who helped Barack and Michelle Obama get where they are today, Ms. Jarrett would be close to the top. Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Jarrett swept the young lawyers under her wing, introduced them to a wealthier and better-connected Chicago than their own, and eventually secured contacts and money essential to Mr. Obama’s long-shot Senate victory.

In the crush of his presidential campaign, Ms. Jarrett could have fallen by the wayside, as old mentors often do. But the opposite happened: Using her intimacy with the Obamas, two BlackBerrys and a cellphone, Ms. Jarrett, a real estate executive and civic leader with no national campaign experience, became an internal mediator and external diplomat who secured the trust of black leaders, forged peace with Clintonites and helped talk Mr. Obama through major decisions.

She “automatically understands your values and your vision,” Michelle Obama said in a telephone interview Friday, and is “somebody never afraid to tell you the truth.” Mrs. Obama added: “She knows the buttons, the soft spots, the history, the context.”

In January, Ms. Jarrett will go to the White House as a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, where she will be “one of the four or five people in the room with him when decisions get made,” as Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist close to Mr. Obama, put it. Ms. Jarrett, who is a co-chairwoman of Mr. Obama’s transition effort, will also serve as the White House contact for local and state officials across the nation and the point person for Mr. Obama’s effort to build a channel between his White House and ordinary Americans.

Less formally, she intends to help Mr. Obama preserve his essential self as he becomes president, even as she becomes the type of person who chats with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, mingles with Warren Buffett and is now sometimes greeted by strangers.

Washingtonians who assess the new White House crew sometimes cast Ms. Jarrett in parochial terms: she is the hometown buddy, they say, or the one who will hear out the concerns of black leaders. They note that presidential friends do not always fare well in the capital, that confidants from Arkansas and Texas have stumbled in the corridors of the West Wing.

Asked what was her biggest worry about the job, which is a major leap from anything she has undertaken before, Ms. Jarrett said she sometimes feared she did not know enough. “I will try to do my homework,” she said.

Ms. Jarrett, 52, has often been underestimated: perhaps because she is often the only black woman at the boardroom tables where she sits, or perhaps because she can seem girlish, with a pixie haircut, singsong voice and suits that earned her a recent profile in Vogue.

A protégée of Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, Ms. Jarrett served as his planning commissioner, ran a real estate company, the Habitat Company — whose management of public housing projects has come under scrutiny with Ms. Jarrett’s rise — and sits on too many boards to count. She is an expert in urban affairs, particularly housing and transportation, in an administration expected to lavish more money and attention on cities than its predecessors.

And she has something no other adviser in the Obama White House ever will: ties to the president-elect and future first lady that go deeper than a political alliance. Ms. Jarrett is only a few years older than the Obamas, but her relationship with them can seem almost maternal. “I can count on someone like Valerie to take my hand and say, You need to think about these three things,” Mrs. Obama said. “Like a mom, a big sister, I trust her implicitly.”

During big speeches, Ms. Jarrett watched Mr. Obama with a gaze of such intensity that he and their other friends laugh about it. “Barack always jokes, You can’t look Valerie in the eye, she’s going to make you cry,” said Martin Nesbitt, the treasurer of the campaign.

Early Lessons on Race

Ms. Jarrett plans to arrive at the White House with her list of “life lessons,” 21 aphorisms she ticks off in speeches and keeps on her computer hard drive. (“All leaders are passionate about their beliefs, even the ones you don’t like.” “Put yourself in the path of lightning.”)

The life lessons started in Shiraz, Iran, where Valerie Bowman Jarrett was born in 1956. Her parents moved there after her father, a physician, was offered less pay in Chicago than his white peers. When the Bowmans tried to teach their young daughter about race, the lessons made no sense to her: Valerie, who has light skin, would protest that the Iranians around her had darker skin, so why was she the black one?

When her family returned to Chicago via England, she showed up in public school speaking Farsi, French and English with a British accent. “It was a rude awakening,” she said. Decades later, at the dinner that started their friendship, Ms. Jarrett and Mr. Obama bonded over their far-flung childhoods and initial confusion about race. “I wasn’t burdened by a personal history of prejudice,” she said. “It’s part of why I thought Barack could win.”

Ms. Jarrett, a lawyer with degrees from Stanford and the University of Michigan, first met Mr. Obama during her successful courtship of his fiancée, Michelle Robinson, for a job at City Hall, and from that night onward, she was someone with whom the young lawyers could discuss their ambitions. “They could talk openly about desires, wishes, dreams,” said Desiree Rogers, a friend.

The Obamas were from modest backgrounds, and Ms. Jarrett represented the sophistication and intellectual polish of Hyde Park, the Chicago neighborhood they shared. Her mother, Barbara Bowman, is a child psychologist, and through the generations her family had consistently broken barriers: her great-grandfather was the first black graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her father the first black tenured professor in his department at the University of Chicago.

The Obamas were not her only protégés — Ms. Jarrett kept a database of them, in case a prospective employer called — but she drew them deep into her world, taking them to Sunday dinners at her parents’ house, where Hyde Park’s leading lights gathered over green beans and tomatoes from the garden. Eventually, she even invited the Obamas to vacation with her in the elite black enclaves of Martha’s Vineyard, introducing them to others in her high-achieving family, including a cousin, Ann Jordan, the wife of the Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan, to whom Ms. Jarrett has frequently turned for advice.

In her years at City Hall, Ms. Jarrett absorbed several Daley leadership precepts: tough negotiation, pragmatism and block-by-block attention to the city’s fabric. She developed a specialty in dealing with extremely angry people. After a flood swept through the basements of downtown offices in 1992, Ms. Jarrett had the unenviable task of talking to the building owners. A few years later, as chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority, Ms. Jarrett had to defend service cuts before irate residents.

Her rule became, Never argue back. “She almost refuses to react,” said MarySue Barrett, a former colleague, adding that Ms. Jarrett often surprises opponents by agreeing with them and then suggesting concrete measures to help.

Ms. Jarrett, who was briefly married to a physician who died a few years after their divorce, is a single mother of a daughter, Laura, a Harvard Law student. She jokes about how hard it is for a successful black woman in her 50s to find a suitable date. For years, she has thrown herself into work, civic commitments and supporting Mr. Obama’s career. She held a book party in 1995 for the publication of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” (Twenty people came, her mother recalled.) From then she never stopped introducing him, eventually signing on as the finance chairwoman of his Senate campaign.

“Her approach would be, I have somebody I think is really fantastic, and he’s a dear friend, and would you take the time to meet him?” said Linda Johnson Rice, the head of the publishing company that owns Ebony and Jet magazines.

A Campaign Ombudsman

In July 2007, Mr. Obama gathered his top campaign advisers around Ms. Jarrett’s dining table, where the group ticked off their problems. Mrs. Clinton, then the front-runner in the Democratic primary, had far more extensive relationships with local officials and ethnic leaders across the country, and David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, did not have the time or chatty temperament to create them. “We had gone though this arid summer in which our national poll numbers were dropping,” said David Axelrod, the chief strategist.

Soon the Obamas visited Ms. Jarrett on Martha’s Vineyard. “I need all hands on deck, and that’s you,” Mr. Obama told Ms. Jarrett as the three sat on a deck, staring at the waves, she recalled.

“She brought a perspective that was slightly removed from the maelstrom,” Mr. Axelrod said. During the campaign’s many tricky discussions about race and strategy, Ms. Jarrett was often the only black person at the table. And while her lack of campaign experience sometimes frustrated political operatives, they dared not protest, because of her relationship with the Obamas.

Ms. Jarrett took on two roles, one internal and the other external. The Obama campaign has often been described as so harmonious that, as one blogger joked, its members e-mailed hug-o-grams to one another all day. In fact, the campaign had the usual share of conflict, but also the ability to resolve the tensions before they became public or disabling. Ms. Jarrett served as a kind of ombudsman.

“People who had an issue could raise it with somebody at the highest level in a safe way,” said Michael Strautmanis, who will be one of Ms. Jarrett’s White House deputies. “They’re able to move on and do their job.”

To the outside world, Ms. Jarrett became an all-purpose ambassador. Before the Iowa caucuses, Ms. Jarrett tried to persuade black leaders that Mr. Obama could prevail; afterwards, she had to deal with their jitters. At one nerve-racking meeting last summer, Ms. Jarrett met in New York with black leaders, including the hip-hop moguls Sean Combs and Russell Simmons; Mr. Simmons grew so anxious that he had to leave the room, Ms. Jarrett said. They were worried that Mr. Obama was failing to fight back against attempts to stereotype him in racial terms.

“She could have told the room, You’re right, I will talk to Senator Obama,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. Instead, Ms. Jarrett was blunt. “There are those who are going to fight the race gap, but that’s not our role,” she said, telling the leaders to channel their energy into concrete tasks like voter registration.

“Miss Reality herself,” Mr. Sharpton now calls Ms. Jarrett. “There are unrealistic expectations of African-Americans about Barack Obama,” he said. “The one person who I think could come to the White House and say to African-Americans, Now get real, is Valerie Jarrett.”

Ms. Jarrett also led the Obama campaign’s diplomatic missions to disappointed supporters of Mrs. Clinton. Like any skillful envoy, she alternated between speaking for the candidate, giving her audience assurances about how he would treat Mrs. Clinton, and refusing to speak for him, declining to make specific promises because she was not the candidate and could make no guarantees.

“What Valerie developed is the art of telling people to go to hell and making them look forward to the trip,” said Mr. Jordan, who advised his wife’s cousin throughout the campaign.

A Transition of Her Own

Ms. Jarrett’s life now is a strange amalgam of Chicago and Washington: she is shutting down business at home, dining with Bush administration officials who quietly offer advice, and wondering where to live and eat and shop in the capital. (Her personal shopper at Nordstrom in Chicago, Ms. Jarrett says, “sends the store” to her.)

In recent weeks, she has been helping Mr. Obama choose his cabinet in long meetings at his transition office, a process she likens to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Some candidates call her before and after they see the president-elect, seeking a sense of what to expect and, afterward, a clue as to how the session went.

She has not yet figured out how to accomplish her new role as emissary in the White House, somehow making sure that state and local officials, interest groups and individual citizens “have a place to go.” “You can’t just leave it to meetings and telephone calls, because the base is so broad,” she said.

Already, she trades calls with leaders across the country: Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, who she befriended on the campaign trail; Mr. Schwarzenegger offered an update on the wildfires and an idea for an energy conference.

“The scale of it will be bracing,” Mr. Axelrod said of the requests and demands Ms. Jarrett will hear.

The potentially precarious thing about Ms. Jarrett’s role, said some Washington veterans, is that it is based on a friendship that will be transformed when Mr. Obama becomes the president and Ms. Jarrett his employee.

“The thing you have to be careful about,” said Steven A. Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist, “is moving from having a friendship with someone to working for them, in a structure where there are other people between you and the president.”

And Ms. Jarrett can no longer talk idly, cautioned Kenneth M. Duberstein, chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, because no one will interpret her words as her own.

When hometown friends accompany the president to the White House, they “know the president, his habits, his likes and dislikes, and when they talk, people hear the president’s voice,” Mr. Duberstein said.

But Ms. Jarrett seems to have little desire or need to stand apart from Mr. Obama. During the campaign, Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, spent hours speaking with her but barely heard her mention herself or her own views. “It was all about Barack and Michelle, Barack and Michelle,” Mr. Clyburn said.

After the election, speculation that Ms. Jarrett might seek Mr. Obama’s Senate seat coursed through Chicago. After a career of helping formidable men, she could finally “be the sun,” as Marilyn Katz, a friend, put it. But the Obamas saw her place in Washington.

“I told her,” Mrs. Obama said, “that I wanted her there, in that position, that it would give me a sense of comfort to know that he had somebody like her there by his side.”

After several long conversations with Mr. Obama, Ms. Jarrett took herself out of the running for the Senate seat. Or, rather, Mr. Obama did: she let him make the call.

“He knows the Senate, he knows me, and he knows what he was looking for in the White House,” she said. “I trusted him to make the decision.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Go to original NY Times article

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The horror

“These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them,” Mr. Zehri said of the practice of burying independent-minded girls alive.
-- Nicholas Kristof


Pakistani women buried alive 'for choosing husbands'

A Pakistani politician has defended a decision to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands.

Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Baluchistan province, told a stunned parliament that northwestern tribesman had done nothing wrong in first shooting the women and then dumping them in a ditch.

"These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them," he said.

"Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid."

The women, three of whom were teenagers and whose "crime" was that they wished to choose who to marry, were still breathing as mud and stones were shovelled over their bodies, according to Human Rights Watch.

The three girls, thought to be aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped by a group of men from their Umrani tribe and murdered in Baba Kot, a remote village in Jafferabad district.

According to some reports, Baluchistan government vehicles were used to abduct the girls, and the killing was overseen by a tribal chief who is the brother of a provincial minister from the ruling Pakistan People's Party.

Some accounts said that two older relatives had tried to intervene, but they too were shot and buried alive with the teenagers.

More than six weeks after the deaths no one has been arrested and human rights groups have accused local authorities of trying to cover up the executions.

Mr Zehri told parliament that a fuss should not be made over the killings, however several politicians stood up in protest, describing the so-called honour killings as "barbaric".

Human Rights Watch described the murders as a "heinous criminal offence".

The Pakistani Daily News condemned the killings and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

"Surely the government should be seeking the murderers, not protect (them) through some dark conspiracy of silence. The fact the act was 'kept quiet' means the government sympathises with such doings," an editorial said.

Go to original article

Thursday, November 20, 2008

First female general gets a "digital facelift"

Compare the images of US Army General Ann Dunwoody

The Pentagon has become embroiled in a row after the US Army released a photo of a general to the media which was found to have been digitally altered.

Ann Dunwoody was shown in front of the US flag but it later emerged that this background had been added.

The Associated Press (AP) news agency subsequently suspended the use of US Department of Defense photos.

A Department of Defense spokeswoman insisted that the photo had not violated army policy.

Ms Dunwoody, the highest ranking US female military officer, was recently promoted to become a four-star general.

In an original photo of her, she appears to be sitting at a desk with a bookshelf behind her.

For us, there's a zero-tolerance policy of adding or subtracting actual content from an image
Santiago Lyon

The altered photo, distributed by the army and initially sent by AP to its clients around the world, shows Gen Dunwoody against a background of the stars and stripes.

When the digital alteration was discovered, AP immediately withdrew the photo and began an investigation.

AP says that adjusting photos and other imagery, even for aesthetic reasons, damages the credibility of the information distributed by the military to news organisations and the public.

"For us, there's a zero-tolerance policy of adding or subtracting actual content from an image," said Santiago Lyon, AP's director of photography.

Mr Lyon said AP was developing procedures to protect against further occurrences and, once those steps were in place, it would consider lifting its ban on the use of US Department of Defense photos. He said AP was also discussing the problem with the military.

Colonel Cathy Abbott, chief of the US Army's media relations division, said the Dunwoody photo did not violate army policy that prohibited the editing of an image to misrepresent the facts or change the circumstances of an event.

She added that she did not know who had changed the photo or which office had released it.

"We're not misrepresenting her," Col Abbott said. "The image is still clearly Gen Dunwoody."

Second case

In September, AP banned use of a photo of Darris Dawson, a soldier who was killed in Iraq, in which his face and shoulders appeared to have been digitally altered.

Ms Abbott said Mr Dawson's unit did not have an official photo of him and wanted one that could be used for a memorial service.

"That photo was released to the public strictly by accident," she said. "We apologised for that."

The Dunwoody incident is the latest example of pictures being apparently doctored before being presented to the world's media.

In July, Iran was accused of altering an image of a missile test.

Correspondents say it was an apparent attempt to cover up the fact that one of the missiles had misfired.