Tuesday, June 28, 2005

No Acting Involved

Oh yeah, remember the character Tom Cruise played in PT Anderson's Magnolia? A brilliant movie, BTW. It seems there wasn't much acting involved. An actor scientologist calling psychiatry a pseudo-science takes the concept of arrogant irony into the realm on hyper-megolomania as redundant as that is.

What does one expect from a notoriously BAD tipper? Couldn't help but toss that in, sorry.

Okay, I've gone from genocide to celebrity gossip in about an hour. Clearly, I'm wasting time on the net.


I try very hard to not engage in public self-pity and find myself not the most tolerant beast in the universe when I judge others to be doing it when they have absolutely nothing to be whining about. I was just sorting through the dep recesses of my inbox looking for a Richard Ford quote that Laura had used as a sig file and I ran across one of the emails from Kigali I mentioned in the last post. For a couple of reasons I'm not going to name the author but I am going to shake my finger, yet again, at American indulgence and commercialism. God our lives are easy compared to so much of the rest of the world. Read on. Please.

I'm in Kigali, and this e-mail will have to be short because I'm writing
from an Internet cafe (one of the few with a sufficient supply of American-style keyboards instead of the laughable French model) whose power may go out at any moment (power does here several times a day), and partly because I just came back from a village where I took part in the interview of a Tutsi woman who'd had her family slaughtered during the genocide and a Hutu neighbor who'd murdered two Tutsi children-- three if you include the fetus in the woman he'd killed.

We (I was with a Dutch journalist and alovely Rwandese translator and professor of languages, the only person I'veseen laugh out loud in the week I've been here) didn't inquire into the wet muck of the crimes. The real concern was how people with so much poison between them could bear to inhabit the same village.

Jeanne D'Arc, our hostess, says that she works in the field with a woman whose husband is in prison for crimes committed during the genocide because otherwise it would just be her and her kids and she feels she needs to stay on sufficiently friendly terms that someone would take her to the hospital in the event anything happened to her. Among the clothing I took with me [to Africa] is a Dixon Place tee shirt with a drawing of a waitress on it and the slogan "SERVES YOU RIGHT," but who can bear to wear such a thing in this country?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Hope is a Virtue"

I recently heard Wendell Berry say. About a year ago when I was in much despair an old friend wrote to me from Rwanda to let me know he had gotten the opportunity to sit next to Mt. Gorillas on the side of a volcano in what I suspect might be VNP. He reminded me the suffering I was experiencing was worth the effort. Things are a little better now. My virtue today is I hope to meet one of these babes face to face in a land populated with people who feel justice has not failed them. I pray it will not take 46 years. Africa, man, I'll get there.

30 New Baby Gorillas Named in Rwanda

By Edward Rwema (from The Independent in SA)
Volcanoes National Park -

Rwandan President Paul Kagame joined villagers and conservation workers on the edges the national park on Saturday to give names to 30 rare mountain gorilla babies - including the only recorded set of twins to survive to the age of one.Conservation workers and researchers traditionally name primates they track after identifying each one based on the patterns formed by wrinkles on their faces.Saturday's naming ceremony, however, is the largest and most public ever held in this small central African nation.

The ceremony - including traditional dances by warriors armed with sticks resembling spears and poems praising development projects financed by revenue from mountain gorilla tracking - will become an annual event intended to pull in more visitors to Rwanda's leading tourist attraction, said Fidelle Ruzigandekwa, head of the Rwanda Wildlife Agency.

Children from villages around the park proposed several names for each of the mountain gorilla infants and an official chose one in a ceremony modeled on Rwanda's tradition."The naming ceremony reflects our culture. We do it in families in Rwanda when we name new babies," Ruzigandekwa said.

There are no mountain gorillas in captivity, and all of them - just 380 at last count - live in central Africa, the adults eating up to 31kg a day of bamboo shoots, wild celery, nettles and ants.The birth of the twins in May 2004 - only the third ever recorded - delighted conservation experts.In 1986, the first recorded pair of twins died after just nine days. Of the second pair, born in 1991, one infant died within a month. The other survived to adulthood, only to be killed by poachers attempting to steal a baby gorilla in 2002.

Gorilla troops are ferociously protective of their young and poachers often have to kill mothers and other adults to steal babies.For Rwanda, conservation of mountain gorillas is more than simply preserving the last of the world's largest primates.It also is an opportunity for the country to heal from the 1994 genocide in which more than half a million Tutsi ethnic minority and politically moderate Hutus were killed in a 100-day slaughter.

Mountain gorillas "play an essential role in contributing to the positive image of Rwanda and act as ambassadors on the international scene by raising the profile of the country", said Chantal Rosette Rugamba, head of the Rwanda Tourism Board."Gorillas act as a fundamental engine for the national economy - tourism ranks at the third position in terms of foreign currency generating, and gorillas are and remain the main attraction that currently brings more than 20 000 visitors to Rwanda every year," Rugamba said.

Rwanda, with an estimated 8,2 million people, earned about $2,5-million (about R17-million) from tourism in 2004, Ruzigandekwa said.Volcanoes National Park, Africa's first, was established by Rwanda's Belgian colonial rulers in 1925 after Carl Akeley of the American Museum of Natural History made a plea to protect the gorillas.It lies on the Rwandan side of a mountain range that straddles the borders of Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. Adjacent parks in Congo and Uganda are both known as Virunga National Park. The three parks are home to the world's entire mountain gorilla population.

A census conducted in late 2003 found that the number was up 17 percent since the last count 15 years earlier.The ceremony to name mountain gorilla babies will be capped by dinner on the shores of Lake Kivu, in the north-western province of Gisenyi, to raise funds for conservation efforts.They include an interactive educational center to help educate local residents and the international community on the mountain gorillas, creation of a buffer zone around the national park to curb illegal encroachment by humans and reduce conflict between people and wildlife and support development initiatives for communities surrounding the park. - Sapa-AP

Friday, June 24, 2005

S & N & S

Wow! The new Goodwill store on the south side of town looks just like a really nice jewelry store when you drive by at dusk. Cool. I love it when everything gets all shiny and new and sparkly.

Ann - what is going on over there? If 25 cent Mondays start to look suspiciously "lite", I'm putting my chimps on this.

BTW, on the S & N & S theme. Teeth-whiteners and users of the word "fabulous" are now banned from the front porch of our apartment house. Joan just bought better patio furniture too. I know this seems harsh but a line has to be drawn somewhere and, damnit, we finally came to an agreement about something. Line drawn. Appeals heard on an individual basis.


Saturday, June 18, 2005

$6000 Shower Curtain - Gotcha!!!

from The New York Times

Ex-Chief and Aide Guilty of Looting Millions at Tyco

By Andrew Ross Sorkin
Published: June 18, 2005

L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive of Tyco International, and his top lieutenant were convicted yesterday on fraud, conspiracy and grand larceny charges, bringing an end to a three-year-long case that came to symbolize an era of corporate greed and scandal.

The verdict, which came after 11 days of deliberations by a New York jury of six men and six women, is the latest in a string of convictions of corporate executives in recent years.

As the verdict was read aloud, Mr. Kozlowski, dressed in a dark suit and a blue tie, stared straight ahead, trying to hold back his emotions as his face flushed. His wife, sitting with one of his daughters, wiped tears from her eyes. His co-defendant, Mark H. Swartz, Tyco's former chief financial officer, tensed up and looked at his wife; she mouthed, "I love you."

Lawyers for the two vowed to appeal.

The verdict is also vindication for the Manhattan district attorney's office, and its chief, Robert M. Morgenthau, after they were criticized for how they handled the first trial of the two executives.

The four-month-long trial was the second time Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Swartz were tried on charges of stealing $150 million from Tyco - a conglomerate whose products range from security systems to health care - and reaping $430 million more by covertly selling company shares while '"artificially inflating" the value of the stock.

The first case against them was declared a mistrial in April 2004, when a juror holding out for an acquittal made what appeared to be an "O.K." signal to the defense and subsequently received a threatening letter from a stranger, upending the trial.

Yesterday, Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Swartz were convicted on all but one of the 23 counts of grand larceny, conspiracy, falsifying business records and securities fraud against each of them.

Even as some have suggested that regulatory scrutiny and prosecutorial zeal have been too harsh on corporate America, the convictions are among a steady march of government victories at trial: Martha Stewart; Bernard J. Ebbers, the former WorldCom chief; and John J. Rigas, who founded the cable company Adelphia Communications.
A federal jury is currently deliberating in the trial of Richard M. Scrushy, the former chief executive of HealthSouth. Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling of Enron will go on trial next year.

"There's been a bit of excess C.E.O. bravado recently," said Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, an associate dean at the Yale School of Management, noting reactions after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen and the acquittal of Theodore C. Sihpol III, a former broker, in a mutual fund trading case.

Yesterday's verdicts, he said, "will help C.E.O.'s take public positions of moral integrity as the judicial system stands behind them"

Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Swartz face sentences of a minimum of 8¾ years to a maximum of 25 years. And unlike executives convicted of federal white-collar crimes, the two would serve their time in a New York State prison like Attica, not a minimum-security federal prison.

The retrial of Mr. Kozlowski, 58, and Mr. Swartz, 44, was markedly different from the first trial. Prosecutors, who had been criticized by jurors from the first trial for presenting an often meandering and disorganized case, refocused their arguments and trimmed their witness list.

Prosecutors also limited much of the most salacious testimony about Mr. Kozlowski's consumption that had made the first trial fodder for the tabloids and entertainment television news programs, but had backfired badly with the jury.

Instead of days of testimony about Mr. Kozlowski's now infamous $6,000 shower curtain or a $2 million birthday party for his wife that was partly paid for by the company, prosecutors spent most of the trial drilling into the accounting issues surrounding the $150 million that Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Swartz were accused of stealing.

The case turned on whether the jury believed that several large payments both men received had been authorized by the board of Tyco as part of a preset bonus formula or had been secretly siphoned by the men and dishonestly classified as bonuses. Several members of Tyco's board and the company's lawyer, David Boies, testified that the payments were never authorized.

"This wasn't about trying two men or corporate America; it was about the evidence," said Devin Richardson, one juror. "We were looking for verification of what the board said versus what Kozlowski and Swartz said."
Mr. Richardson said that the defense presented no documentation to back up the claims of the executives.

Friday, June 17, 2005

18 Hours Later

Oprah Winfrey who tops Forbes magazine's annual list of the most powerful "celebrities" in America snubbed me once at her favorite fried chicken place at Cross Keys Market in Baltimore.

Let me almost preface this post by saying I know this because when I log on to the internet where I am house-sitting it goes directly to MSN and that's the big headline for today. Well, it's a teaser headline. I did take the bait. I clicked on the photo to see if it was Oprah, Tom Cruise or George Lucas (?) who Forbes named its uber-celeb for 2005. Gotta say, black woman, yes, a good thing in a way but this is not what any of us meant by justice, equality, mercy or liberation.

Anyway, back to the big O. She used to host a talk show called "People are Talking" which was shot in Balto. I first saw it in Charlotte (roots theme again?) where it was syndicated. I wasn't a huge fan but my dear friend, Tammy Helms, was adored the show and Oprah. Tammy was quite a girl. She grew up in Matthews (mentioned in the LA Weekly article I referenced in my last post - a tony 'burb, indeed). As for her name, state of birth and possible relatives, I take the fifth. I will tell you that once at a party Tammy crawled under a bunch of boys who started throwing punches at one another over some silly something or other in order to retrieve my cigarettes. Now that's what I call a plucky gal and a really excellent friend.

Oh yeah Winfrey and the snub. She had been a guest at a party that I had catered. I was "out on the floor" checking on things. She stopped me and complimented me on the food, we chatted a moment and I told her about Tammy and how I had called the show once in Tammy's honor with a question when I first moved to Balto. While "on air" my 10 year old sister was being yelled at by a man who our beloved but flesh-happy Llhasa Aspo, Muffin*, had biten in the elevator of a Holiday Inn. I think this was an omen. If I had not begun this post w/ the "snub" theme, this detail could be thought of as foreshadowing, I suppose.

Oprah appeared to be charmed by my story (and me) and I thought we had made quite a connection. I gave her my business card and felt certain I'd be asked to cater the show and Op and I would be hanging out, talking trash about the "B" and "C" grade guests who appeared on PAT. Making fun of her co-host, Richard Sher, a white guy with a short gray afro and the screen presence of olive loaf.

No such luck. A mere 18 hours later, I'm shopping at the little grocery at Cross Keys and stop in the deli to pick up a salad for lunch. Lo and behold, there's my new bud picking up some chicken to go. "Hi Oprah!", I greet her enthusiastically. She looks up and over her sunglasses. I swear I think I remember they were Oliver Peoples (WASP wannabe - a dead give away). All I got was a blank stare for a few seconds and then a perfunctory, "Hi, how are you?", as she turned around and hurried along her way.

There you go, that's the story of how America's most powerful celebrity snubbed me. You think she ever crawled on a beer-drenched floor to retrieve a friend's last pack of smokes? I have no idea but I kinda doubt it.

*Muffin was adopted by our family and 6 months old when we got her. She came with the corny name. None of us cared for it but knew it would have been cruel of us make her adjust to a new name, as well as, a new home and family all at once.

A Fire in the Boy's Bathroom

An essay in today's electronic edition of LA Weekly has me pondering roots this morning. Fittingly, I'm listening to Kevin Gordon's 2000 release Down to the Well (did you make it back, KG?). Anyway, the record is great and about as r o o t s as it gets. BTW, Gordon will be in IC at the Mill on the 23rd or 24th - give 'em a call.

Billy Graham has been making the news for his decision to "retire" at the age of 86. We'll see. Rev. Graham and I graduated from the same elementary school in Charlotte, N.C. -- Sharon School. I had a dream once that the school caught on fire and, sure enough, the next day there was a fire in the boy's bathroom. We all knew Bucky Canady had started it. The custodians had determined that someone had thrown burning paper into the trash can. Bucky was wild. He was the first boy to put a hand on my thigh in class. Not until seventh grade, mind you. We were at Carmel by then. Nothing happened between us after that. We didn't "go with" each other or anything. He just stroked my thigh and gave me a big 'ol Bucky grin. I turned bright pink, looked up at him fast to make certain this was really happening and then pretended it wasn't.

Billy and Bucky are not unsimilar names if you think about it. Carmel wasn't around when Graham would have gone to junior high (maybe he went to AG) but I can't imagine that Billy doesn't have a girl like me out there. We've got southern roots, fond memories of a fire-starting boy's wandering hands, gratitude for not living in the well anymore and great hopes that the Rev. Graham may be serious about this retirement business.

Whew, this must be the shortest essay inspired by an essay ever! I had to really restrain myself from putting in a reference to A Cooper's "Smoking in the Boy's Room" here. Too easy but thinking about it still cracks me up.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Zapping a Frozen Burritto (July Manners)

Sneak Preview & Hey, the Source is online, kids -
http://www.iowasource.com (you can check out my columns under Advice & Manners and one or two of my freelance pieces if you snoop around, ).

Dear Meg,

Do you know that you have the same name as a famous rock star? You look a lot older than her but I wonder if anybody ever gets you mixed up with her? Are there any manners for that if it happens? She's really cool and you seem like you know about some good music and even tattoos and stuff. I have a big crush on her ex-husband and band partner, Jack White, and I think Meg and I could be good friends. What do you think about all this?


Dear Mira,

I do know about my White Stripes namesake. I'm even a fan. I'm afraid I must point out to you, however that as I am “a lot older” than the beat-keeping Meg, technically it is she who has the same name as me, not the other way around. Sorry if I sound a wee bit peckish on this issue. I do adore the former Mrs. Jack but I will admit to a silly, petty resentment toward her. She has made me virtually ungoogleable. It's ridiculous, but I miss the days when I had a bit more virtual cache. Thank Goddess for therapy.> > >

As to whether there is any etiquette involved in the same-name-as-a-real-celebrity twilight zone, I've never come across anything official. I've been asked this question a number of times. My strategy has been to wing it and have fun. I've teased a few people into believing I was rock star Meg and some have just mistaken me for her because of the name. Obviously, these unfortunate teasees, confused fellows and gallows were in desperate need of corrective eyesurgery or a subscription to New Music Express. > >

Thank you for thinking I seem cool for an old gal. Not all of us in the over forty crowd are as unhip as we seem. Email again I'll be happy to get together, share a few stories and maybe play some records. In the brazen arrogance of my own youth, I once told off Iggy Pop who coincidentally appears in Meg and Jack's film debut, Coffee and Cigarettes. In case you were wondering, this was very bad behavior (i.e. manners) on my part and not something I am proud of. Lucky for me he wasn't exactly conscious at the time.> >

On your Jack question, I would issue tremendous caution, especially since he recently got remarried. As a general rule, married men make bad boyfriends and these famous glam-boys can be a kick for a while but> ultimately you stand an above average risk of being hurt or humiliated. I would hate to see that happen. I wouldn't doubt that you and Meg might make great pals although she appears to be rather busy these days. Dare to dream on this, just keep your expectations in check, okay? It looks like the tour for the new record, Get Behind Me Satan, will be bringing them through Chicago, August 29 -31. It's really not that difficult to meet these people if you set your mind to it or have what I call star-karma. Just be careful. Sex, drugs and rock 'n'roll is pretty much exactly what it says it is and it's nothing to romanticize, I promise. Thanks for writing, sweetie.

Dear Meg,

My husband and I are going to Europe this August and we are having a friend of my secretary's housesit for us, take care of our cats and do yard work. I'm going to pay him so I don't think we should leave any food or other living supplies. My husband disagrees. Who's right here. We've got a platter of Sashimi riding on this.

Mary Sue

Dear Mary Sue,

Tell your husband to put his wallet away and his gloat cap on. Good form dictates that you treat the person caring for your home and pets almost as well as you'd treat any other guest. Find out what this guy likes to eat and have plenty on hand. Leave appropriate reading material out for him. Cash for emergencies, etc. Also, leave clear and precise instructions, contact information for when the unavoidable mishaps occur and identifying post-it notes on your remote contol collection. You don' t want to return to your beloved abode only to discover your microwave is somehow downloading audio blog bits and your LS48VideoStage 5 is zapping a frozen burrito. It's been known to happen. Have a good trip.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sexiest Man Alive?

Bill Moyers although Ken Roth still comes in at a close 2nd.

Some of us have been asking the question in the article below for a long time. This is from the CSM and I know they've been asking decent questions themselves for many years.

I came across the link to this after reading a piece about PBS revising its editorial code. Frankly, screw PBS and screw NPR. Is my drill photo starting to make some sense?

BTW - of all the "ahem" quote-unquote celebrities I've ever met/spoken with, Moyers was the most gracious and, subsequently, caused me to be a goofy, shy, verbal ball of blunders. If you don't get the Moyers connection here - google "moyers & tomlinson".

In Congo, 1,000 die per day: Why isn't it a media story?
By Andrew Stroehlein
BRUSSELS – It's a maxim that what people aren't talking about is always a favorite topic of conversation. But it will make your head spin when applied to the media and the most deadly conflict in the world today. Western media generally do not cover the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but a media story is currently developing around the Congo - focusing, paradoxically, on how the conflict is not a media story.

I've lost count of how many journalists in the recent weeks have asked me, "Why aren't the media covering the Congo?"

With an estimated 1,000 people dying there every day as a result of hunger and disease caused by war, it is an appropriate question. But the extent of this coverage of noncoverage is reaching the absurd: print, radio, TV, Internet - they all want to know why they themselves are not writing articles and broadcasting programs about the Congo.

And it is not just me noticing this. In March, Reuters even held a seminar on "forgotten crises," at which the Congo topped the list, and on BBC World Service the other day, I heard a newscaster ask: "Shouldn't this be getting more attention?"

Indeed. What the world media are missing is one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II: 3.8 million people have died in the Congo since 1998, dwarfing not only the biggest of natural catastrophes, such as December's South Asia tsunami, but also other manmade horrors, such as Darfur.

Congo's situation is complicated - any war on such a scale would be - but the outlines of the current stage of the conflict are straightforward enough for any journalist to summarize.

After four years of civil war (a free-for-all in which eight neighboring countries played a part) a transitional government was established in Kinshasa, the capital, in 2003. Since then, the warlords-turned-politicians who dominate the transition, each of whom still maintains his own militia, have vied for political advantage and access to the country's vast economic resources. None is above using violence as a means to stay in power and resist the integration of the country, and that violence looks set to get worse in the run-up to elections, technically slated for this month, though certain now to be postponed - a delay that in itself may cause significant unrest.

The deadly game has one particularly poisonous wild card: the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a key rebel group in the eastern Congo that regularly attacks civilians. Because the FDLR has its origins in the Hutu extremists who slaughtered 800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Rwanda has a pretext to invade its neighbor, which it has done at least twice in recent years and threatened to do again in April - a move that would undermine Congo's fragile transition and could reignite a regional war.

With so many dying and so much at stake, it is simply astounding that Congo isn't in the newspapers and on nightly news regularly. Even a nonlethal car bombing in Iraq or a kidnapping in Afghanistan gets more Western media coverage in a day than Congo gets in a typical month of 30,000 dead. So much for the old TV news editors' saw, "If it bleeds, it leads."

When the question is turned around - or pointed in the proper direction - and I ask the media why they are not covering the Congo, journalists usually respond with a sigh or a shrug. Field-hardened correspondents often tell me they'd like to go but can't convince their editors.

News editors have long assumed "no one is interested in Africa," supposing their audience sees only hopeless African problems eternally defying solution and thus not worth attention.

But solutions do exist for Congo: The linchpin to resolving the conflict is the creation of a unified and effective national army and the disarmament of the remaining ragtag forces that are the source of so much suffering.

Both the Congolese Transitional Government and the Rwandan government are heavily dependent on outside aid, so if the international community would more closely condition its support on such concrete measures, it could bolster the transition process and decisively advance peace in the region. Sadly, such stories of potential solutions are no more reported in the Western media than stories of the country's current despair.

Somewhat encouragingly, however, the old assumption about a lack of interest in Africa seems to be breaking down now. A new Zogby poll, conducted for the International Crisis Group, has revealed that 53 percent of Americans think the US doesn't pay enough attention to the problems of Africa. Darfur has managed to capture strong interest throughout the Western world, even inspiring grass-roots campaigns with extensive participation.

Though the tsunami hit only a small part of Africa, the tsunami story has turned traditional news wisdom on its head in a similar way: surprising as it may seem to some news executives, people actually do care. Readers and viewers actually will be captivated by - and will even engage with - distant humanitarian disasters when they know about them.

This is why the current coverage of Congo's noncoverage actually leaves me optimistic that the country might be the next distant disaster to capture broad media attention.

The fact that so many journalists are now asking why the media aren't covering the Congo suggests we are coming to some kind of tipping point. Once they turn the question on themselves, the buzz will, let's hope, move on from the lack of coverage and start being the story itself.

• Andrew Stroehlein is media director for the International Crisis Group.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Disclaimer, Misnamer, Befamer

criminey..... the opinions and values expressed on this blog are mine. while, it would be way groovy if everyone believed as i do, i have no expectations in that regard.

please don't personalize my blog posts, okay?

BTW - the review of the new record in the new yorker blows. once again, jack is getting credit for everything while i'm just trying to keep things simple and not over complicate the beat. and doesn't loyality stand for nothin' anymore? jeez. never fear, i am not taking it personally (smile).

cheers, mates!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Kenneth Cole Thinks We're Shallow & Greedy...

tell him his ads are offensive to thinking, socially responsible men and women. tell him you are boycotting his products. tell a friend to do the same. or maybe you should just tell him to go fruck himself http://www.kennethcole.com

A recent 3 page spread in Vanity Fair shows women decked up in KC clothing and accessories with the following statements on, above or next to their pictures:




The Curse of Gold

from human rights watch (to send money, subscribe or read the full report - see links between 1st 2 paragraphs below) btw, i don't wear the stuff and i can't recall a time when did. maybe i had a small pair of gold hoops or a pair of those ugly little balls when as a teen?

D.R. Congo: Gold Fuels Massive Human Rights Atrocities
Leading international corporations established links to warlords

(Johannesburg, June 2, 2005) — The lure of gold has fuelled massive human rights atrocities in the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said in a new report published today. Local warlords and international companies are among those benefiting from access to gold rich areas while local people suffer from ethnic slaughter, torture and rape. Corporations should ensure their activities support peace and respect for human rights in volatile areas such as northeastern Congo, not work against them.

[Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher on DRC The Curse of Gold Report, June 2, 2005 Free Email Newsletter Contribute to Human Rights Watch]

The 159-page report, “The Curse of Gold,” documents how local armed groups fighting for the control of gold mines and trading routes have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity using the profits from gold to fund their activities and buy weapons. The report provides details of how a leading gold mining company, AngloGold Ashanti, part of the international mining conglomerate Anglo American, developed links with one murderous armed group, the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI), helping them to access the gold-rich mining site around the town of Mongbwalu in the northeastern Ituri district.

The Human Rights Watch report also illustrates the trail of tainted gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to neighboring Uganda from where it is sent to global gold markets in Europe and elsewhere. The report documents how a leading Swiss gold refining company, Metalor Technologies, previously bought gold from Uganda. After discussions and correspondence with Human Rights Watch beginning in December 2004, and after the report had gone to press, the company announced on May 20 that it would suspend its purchases of gold from Uganda. The Metalor statement was welcomed by Human Rights Watch.

“Corporations should ensure their activities support peace and respect for human rights in volatile areas such as northeastern Congo, not work against them,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher on DRC at Human Rights Watch. “Local warlords use natural resources to support their bloody activities. Any support for such groups, whether direct or indirect, must not continue.”

In contravention of international business standards and the company’s own code of conduct, AngloGold Ashanti provided meaningful financial and logistical support – which in turn resulted in political benefits - to the FNI and its leaders, a group responsible for some of the worst atrocities in this war-torn region.

In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, AngloGold Ashanti stated there was no “working or other relationship with the FNI” but it said that it had made certain payments in the past to the FNI, including one in January 2005 that was made under “protest and duress.” AngloGold Ashanti also said that any contacts with the FNI leadership were “unavoidable.”

Human Rights Watch researchers documented meetings between the company and the armed group leaders. The self-styled president of the FNI, Floribert Njabu, told Human Rights Watch, “The government is never going to come to Mongbwalu. I am the one who gave [AngloGold] Ashanti permission to come. I am the boss of Mongbwalu. If I want to chase them away, I will.”

AngloGold Ashanti started preparations for gold exploration activities in Mongbwalu in late 2003. The company won the mining rights to the vast gold concession in 1996 but, hampered by the ongoing war, postponed activities there until a peace agreement was signed and a transitional government was established in Kinshasa. The central government failed to establish control of Ituri, however, and the areas around Mongbwalu remained in the hands of the FNI armed group.

“As a company committed to corporate social responsibility, AngloGold Ashanti should have waited until it could work in Mongbwalu without having to interact with abusive warlords,” said Van Woudenberg. “Congo desperately needs business investment to help rebuild the country, but such business engagement must not provide any support to armed groups responsible for crimes against humanity.” From 1 – 3 June, Anglo American is co-chairing the Africa Economic Summit in Cape Town, aimed at promoting business investment and engaging business as a catalyst for change in Africa.

The gold concessions of northeastern Congo, some of the richest in Africa, could help to rebuild Congo’s shattered economy. But according to Human Rights Watch researchers, fighting between armed groups for the control of the gold mining town of Mongbwalu cost the lives of at least two thousand civilians between June 2002 and September 2004. One miner told Human Rights Watch: “We are cursed because of our gold. All we do is suffer. There is no benefit to us.”

Throughout the conflict, artisanal mining has continued. Millions of dollars worth of gold are smuggled out of Congo each year some of it destined for Switzerland. The Swiss refining company, Metalor Technologies, bought gold from Uganda. Asked about these purchases by Human Rights Watch on April 21, 2005, Metalor stated it believed “the gold…was of legal origin.” But since Uganda has almost no gold reserves of its own, a significant amount of the gold purchased by the company was almost certainly mined in Congo. In its public statement of May 20, Metalor said it would not accept any further deliveries from Uganda until the company could clarify Uganda’s position and statistics on gold production and export.

“We hope other companies will follow the lead set by Metalor,” said Van Woudenberg. “The problems we have documented are not unique to Congo, nor to one international company. Rules governing corporate behavior must be enforced, otherwise they are meaningless.”

In August 2003, a group of United Nations experts adopted a set of draft human rights business standards, known as the U.N. Norms, which signaled a growing consensus on the need for standards on corporate responsibility, but they have not yet been widely implemented by companies. The international community has also failed to effectively tackle the link between resources exploitation and conflict in Congo, choosing to ignore previous U.N. reports that highlighted the issue.

Northeastern Congo has been one of the worst hit areas during Congo’s devastating five-year war. Competing armed groups carried out ethnic massacres, rape and torture in this mineral-rich corner of Congo. A local conflict between Hema and Lendu ethnic groups allied with national rebel groups and foreign backers, including Uganda and Rwanda, has claimed over 60,000 lives since 1999, according to United Nations estimates. These losses are just one part of an estimated four million civilians dead throughout the Congo, a toll that makes this war more deadly to civilians than any other since World War II.

“Efforts to make peace in Congo risk failure unless the issue of natural resource exploitation and its link to human rights abuses are put at the top of the agenda,” said Van Woudenberg “Congolese citizens deserve to benefit from their gold resources, not be cursed by them.” Quotes from The Curse of Gold Witness of atrocities by the UPC armed group in a village near to Mongbwalu: I saw many people tied up ready to be executed. The UPC said they were going to kill them all. They made the Lendu dig their own graves… [then] they killed the people by hitting them on the head with a sledgehammer.

Witness in Mongbwalu: When the UPC were in Mongbwalu they sent their gold to Bunia and from there it was sent to Rwanda. In exchange they got weapons. A witness to the burning of Hema women accused of being witches by the FNI armed group: The strategy was to close them in the house and burn it. They captured the women from the surrounding countryside. They said it was to bring them to talk about peace. They put ten women in a house, tied their hands, closed the doors, and burned the house. This lasted about two weeks, with killing night and day.

A young gold trader tortured for failure to pay taxes to the FNI armed group: There I spent two days in a hole in the ground covered by sticks. They took me out of the hole to beat me. They tied me over a log and then they took turns hitting me with sticks - on my head, my back, my legs. They said they were going to kill me.

A witness to forced labor: The FNI combatants come every morning door-to-door. They split up to find young people and they take about sixty of them to the river to find the gold… They are forced to work. If the authorities try to intervene they are beaten. A victim of torture by General Jerome: They said the gold was for Commander Jérôme and he needed money to build his house. They said if I didn’t give the money, Jérôme would give the order for me to be killed. On the fifth day Jérôme came with his officers to the prison . . . and pointed his gun at me. He said: “Since the first day, I said I would kill you. I don’t joke. Today it’s the end of your life.” They made me get out of the hole and lie down. Jérôme loaded his revolver and put it to the back of my neck.

Mining engineer in the Durba gold mining region where the Ugandan army had been present: The Ugandan army were responsible for the destruction of Gorumbwa [gold] mine. They started to mine the pillars. It was disorderly and very widespread. People were killed when the mine eventually collapsed. It was not their country so they didn’t care about the destruction. A gold trader asked why he worked in the dangerous mines: “Tell me what choice I have? This is the only way I can make any money. Its about my own survival and that of my family.” A Congolese government official: “We just watch our country’s resources drain away with no benefit to the Congolese people.”

Charles Carter, Vice President at AngloGold Ashanti: The company has made preparations to “commence exploration drilling on the Kimin prospect [OKIMO] in the Ituri region of the DRC…[W]hile this is obviously a tough environment right now, we are looking forward to the opportunity to fully explore the properties we have in the Congo, believing that we now have access to potentially exciting growth prospects in Central Africa." Local observer to events in the mining regions: “Njabu [President of the FNI] now has power due to the gold he controls and [the presence of] AngloGold Ashanti. This is his ace and he will use it to get power in Kinshasa.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Boycott "Charity" Wristbands?

I received an anonymous although very well-meaning email today from someone hawking some org called the The One Campaign which says it "fights global Aids and poverty - one person and one vote at a time". I was asked to sign a declaration and also purchase a bundle of plastic wristbands. I hate these bands (see one reason below). I did sign the declaration.

Anyway, I'm really grateful someone recognized I care about such things but I certainly wish they would have owned up to having sent it. I would have thanked them for thinking of me and that would have been that. Anyway, here's a an interesting take on the little rubber dealies. There is no reason on earth that anyone should know this stuff unless they've been educated about it, BTW. No judgement here, just education.

Anti-poverty wristbands produced in sweatshops
FASHIONABLE wristbands worn by pop stars, actors, top athletes and celebrities to publicise the Make Poverty History campaign are produced in appalling “slave labour” conditions, damning evidence has revealed.
Chinese factory workers producing the white rubber bracelets are forced to toil in conditions that violate Chinese law and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) set up to establish international standards for working conditions.
And what might those conditions be?
According to a report on the Tat Shing Rubber Manufacturing Company in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, dated 12 April 2005, the company uses “forced labour” by accepting “financial deposits” from new workers - against both Chinese law and the ETI.
The report also revealed a category of weaknesses including inadequate health and safety provision, lengthy hours, seven-day weeks, employees cheated of their pay, inadequate insurance, no annual holidays and no right to freedom of association.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

June Manners

Look for the latest issue June 4 - The Iowa Source - now in its 22nd year.

Dear Meg,

My roommate broke up with her fiancé two months ago. He was cheating on her with a woman who looks just like me. Since they split, she's projecting all her jealousy and anger onto me. She gives me freaky looks, storms out of the living room when I come home and is slamming doors all the time. I keep trying to get her talk to me but she won’t. We've been friends a long time, Meg, and I really want to work it out but the stress is killing me. What would you suggest?


Dear Cheryl,

Phew. That does sound like a stressful situation. I'm glad you know your roommate's behavior is about what's going on with her and has nothing to do with you. Being understanding with your friend is a testament to your patience and integrity but this doesn't mean you have to be a victim of someone else's erratic emotions.

Hey, there's this new product on the market called "TV-B-GONE" that turns off televisions by remote control if they are being played too loudly or are constantly substituting for healthy human interaction in social situations. Are you electronically inclined? Perhaps a "ROOMMATE-B-GONE" is in order and this could be your ticket to a life of luxury and living alone.

When I first moved to Iowa, I was sharing an apartment with a woman who was consumed with jealousy and envy. I didn't get it at all. She was competent, beautiful and extremely talented but for some reason I pushed her buttons. After months of passive-aggressive behavior, I finally forced her to sit down and discuss this directly. We decided our dwelling arrangement was not going to work out but I wanted to try and get along until one of us could find another place to live. I asked her if we could, at the bare minimum, be kind to one another during this transition. She stared at me in a "freaky" way for about 2 minutes and then responded that "it was not [her] job to be kind to me." Well, I knew my goose was cooked. She had a few too many sessions of what I consider to be Uber therapy (i.e. her rights and feelings were the only ones that mattered and she had no part in any suffering her own behavior caused others).

I got out of there fast, Cheryl. I have no way of knowing if moving is the best strategy for you, of course. I feel badly for your roommate. Breakups can be devastating but it is hardly your fault that you resemble the woman her fiancé fooled around with. There's a faulty logic to your friend's projection akin to Republican "blame the victim" mentality. It was the fiancé who was disloyal to your roommate, not the other woman and certainly not you. Give her a few more opportunities to discuss the situation with you. If she refuses, you've done all you can, so go pick up a copy of the Clash's Combat Rock and play track 3 ("Should I Stay or Should I Go") loudly and repeatedly. This ought to give her a hint and in the process an answer may present itself to you. Be Peace?


Dear Meg,
All my fraternity brothers got tattoos this year. I think I'm going to do it this summer. Do you know anything about this? I don't want to look dumb when I go.

Dear Steve,

Yep. I know a bit about the world of ink but artists and shops have their own rules and expectations. The main thing to know is that you are going into a business for a service and the person you will be consulting with is an artist, so be subsequently respectful, okay? Just because someone chooses to live or work outside the mainstream does not mean they aren’t serious about what they do or are not productive members of the community.

The first thing you need to do is talk to someone who has body work you admire and ask them where it was done and who did it. This lessens the odds of running into the dreaded "scratcher" - the untalented tattooist who gives all the best artists a bad name and who will leave you with a permanently bad piece of ink.

After finding a shop with a good rep, receiving a consultation and choosing your art -you will be quoted a price and that's the price. Do not try and talk them down. Also, understand that having a needle gun depositing ink under the top layer of your skin isn't generally considered a pleasant experience unless you're the Governor of California. You've decided to do this of your own free will, so don't cry, whine of complain if it's painful. When the gun draws the border, that's called the "ouchline" and is often the worst part, so just grin and bear it. BTW, Disney characters are way uncool.