Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues, gave impassioned testimony last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs about the violent war against women being waged, still, in eastern Congo. Testimony reinforced yesterday by Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, in a column titled, simply, "After Wars, Mass Rapes Persist."
No sane person in the world would argue against the notion that a terrible travesty is being conducted against women in not only the Congo, but Liberia, Sudan, and other African conflict areas. Eastern Congo has the highest rate of violence against women in the world, at the moment. As many as 70% of the women and girls there have been sexually assaulted or mutilated, according to some estimates. The numbers boggle the mind.
We should do something, Ensler says. I agree. Wholeheartedly. Hear one woman's tale of brutal mutilation, and you want to throw up. Realize that behind the eyes of most of the women you encounter lies a similar, horrifying tale, and something inside you twists, screams, and goes strangely numb. There's simply no way to even absorb it. But having spent a little time in conflict areas in Africa, I also agree with Kristof that the problems are so complex that solutions are difficult to see, or even imagine, clearly. Especially by people on the outside.
In 2001, I spent a little time flying relief supplies into Sudan, in the 18th year of civil war there. The airlift into Sudan involved a bizarre mix of missionaries and mercenaries, and both authorized and unauthorized flight missions. The U.N. planes could only fly into areas authorized by the Sudanese government. But seeing as the conflict was a civil war, there were whole areas the government didn't want aid to reach. Hence the unauthorized flights by non-U.N. aid organizations ... like the one I was flying with.
On one flight, we dodged a couple of Northern-occupied towns and did a "quick turn" at a little dirt airstrip in the village of Akot, Southern Sudan, where there was a hospital and a school. We were on the ground less than 10 minutes because that's when we were at our most vulnerable. Not long before that, a Red Cross plane had been bombed by the Northern Sudanese on that very strip. Such are the hazards of war, of course.
Six years later, I went back to Southern Sudan ... in large part because I wanted to see what had changed since the 2005 Peace Accord had been signed. Unquestionably, progress had been made. Villages that had been decimated were being rebuilt, and people were returning home after years in refugee camps. Mine fields had been cleared and turned into outdoor markets.
But all was not idyllic. Southern Sudan's charismatic leader, John Garang, had died in a helicopter accident right after the peace accord had been signed, leaving behind feuding tribal factions and corrupt officials. In village after village, men told me that if the North didn't agree to independence for Southern Sudan, they would simply get their guns and return to their rebel hiding places. In one village, when I asked a group of teenage boys what they wanted, now that the war was over, one wordlessly took my pen, wrote the word "independent" on his hand, and held it out for me to see. There was no smile on his face, or in his eyes.
Two days later, I was flying with the same pilot I'd flown with six years earlier, when we got a radio distress call. There'd been an uprising at a local hospital, and hostages had been taken. The Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had moved in, captured the kidnappers, and freed the hostages. But the conflict involved tribal rivalry, people were armed, and tensions in the area were running high. Could we fly in and take the hostages to safety?
We got security updates every 10 minutes on the way there, stayed high, and did a maximum performance descent to the dirt airstrip, to keep our exposure to any potential ground fire to a minimum. We taxied to the end of the strip, where our human cargo awaited us, and shut down the engine only long enough to load up. Four minutes later, we were airborne again, in a steep climb. As we reached a safe altitude, and my heart rate returned to something closer to normal, I realized with a sad shock that I'd been to that strip before. Six years earlier. And then, too, we'd had to do a quick turn to avoid violence on the ground. Because then, the nation had been at war.
All of that is to say ... the sobering truth of Africa--or, perhaps, anywhere--is that an absence of war does not equate to peace. And violence is a very hard habit to break.
Is there any hope? A little. Kristof points to progress being made in Liberia, where the Carter Center is working to prosecute rapists and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has sent strong signals that rape will not be tolerated. He also quotes a young girl there who, despite being brutally raped and mutilated, has determined that when she grows up, she wants to build shelters for abused girls ... and become President of Liberia.
Farfetched? Well, consider: in 1994 Rwanda suffered one of the most brutal, genocidal civil wars in memory. But in the vacuum that the chaos left, the surviving women had to start taking on roles they never had before. (At one point, 70% of the country's population was female.) In 2003, a country that only nine years earlier had nurtured a highly repressive culture toward women; a culture in which women were not allowed to inherit property or own their own businesses ... elected a parliament in which a full 49% of the representatives were women. Which gave Rwanda a greater percentage of women in its national government than any other country in the world.
How did that happen? In part because of international efforts to help Rwanda draft a new national constitution and electoral process. And in part because of the Rwandan women themselves. Can that happen in Congo? I don't know. But Ensler's right about Congolese women being resilient. In September 2007, as UN tanks rolled down the streets of Goma to try to repel an attack by rebel leader Laurent Nkunda a few kilometers to the southwest, I watched women in town continuing with their standard Saturday morning town clean-up. They were singing as they worked.
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal early on Saturday, centered 10 miles below the surface, less than 50 miles from the capital of Kathmandu. At least 1,100 are already reported to have been killed by the quake and subsequent avalanches triggered in the Himalayas. Historic buildings and temples were destroyed, leaving massive piles of debris in streets as rescue workers and neighbors work to find and help those still trapped beneath rubble. Below are images from the region of the immediate aftermath of one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike Nepal in decades. (Editor's note, some of the images are graphic in nature.)
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
Four hours after learning about Saturday's devastating earthquake in Nepal, I received a Facebook notification I had never seen before: Sonia, a journalist friend based in northern India, was "marked safe." An hour later, the same notification about a different friend popped up. Then another. Soon, several of my friends wrote that they, too, had learned via this strange new notification that their friends in Nepal were okay.
A few hours later, the mystery was solved. On Saturday afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on his timeline that the notifications came from Safety Check, a service the company launched last fall. "When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe," he wrote, "It's moments like this that being able to connect really matters."
Today was the latest installment of the never-ending Clinton scandal saga, but it won’t be the last. Yet in some ways, the specifics are a distraction. The sale of access was designed into the post-2001 Clinton family finances from the start. Probably nobody will ever prove that this quid led to that quo … but there’s about a quarter-billion-dollar of quid heaped in plain sight and an equally impressive pile of quo, and it’s all been visible for years to anyone who cared to notice. As Jonathan Chait, who is no right-wing noise-machine operator, complained: “The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy.”
“All of this amounts to diddly-squat,” pronounced long-time Clinton associate James Carville when news broke that Hillary Clinton had erased huge numbers of emails. That may not be true: If any of the conduct in question proves illegal, destroying relevant records may also have run afoul of the law.
“People skills” are almost always assumed to be a good thing. Search employment ads and you will find them listed as a qualification for a startling array of jobs, including Applebee’s host, weight-loss specialist, CEO, shoe salesperson, and (no joke) animal-care coordinator. The notion that people smarts might help you succeed got a boost a quarter century ago, when the phrase emotional intelligence, or EI, entered the mainstream. Coined in a 1990 study, the term was popularized by Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book . Since then, scores of researchers have shown how being in touch with feelings—both your own and other people’s—gives you an edge: compared with people who have average EI, those with high EI do better at work, have fewer health problems,and report greater life satisfaction.
After more than a year of rumors and speculation, Bruce Jenner publicly came out as transgender with four simple words: “I am a woman.”
“My brain is much more female than male,” he explained to Diane Sawyer, who conducted a prime-time interview with Jenner on ABC Friday night. (Jenner indicated he prefers to be addressed with male pronouns at this time.) During the two-hour program, Jenner discussed his personal struggle with gender dysphoria and personal identity, how they shaped his past and current relationships and marriages, and how he finally told his family about his gender identity.
During the interview, Sawyer made a conspicuous point of discussing broadly unfamiliar ideas about gender and sexuality to its audience. It didn't always go smoothly; her questions occasionally came off as awkward and tone-deaf. But she showed no lack of empathy.
Lots of conservatives talk a good game about how citizens should resist federal control and devolve power to local governments. Few of them are willing to put their convictions into action in quite the same way that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is.
The man who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff" was already in trouble with Uncle Sam, on trial for contempt of court in a U.S. district court. It was only once that was under way that Arpaio and his lawyer apparently had the idea to sic a private investigator on the wife of the federal judge hearing his case. That shows toughness. It shows a willingness to use unorthodox tactics to resist federal interference. It's also not especially bright.
Reporters in the courtroom describe a somewhat shocking scene. Lawyers had completed their questioning when Judge Murray Snow announced he had some questions for Arpaio. After a series of queries, Snow asked: "Are you aware that I've been investigated by anyone?"
CHELSEA, Ma.—The woman Barry Berman saw sitting in the dining room of the nursing home was not his mother.
Or, at least, she was his mother, but didn’t look anything like her. His mother was vivacious, or she had been until she was felled by a massive stroke and then pneumonia, so he’d moved her into a nursing home so she could recuperate. He knew he could trust the nursing home, since he ran it, and knew it was lauded for the efficiency with which it served residents. But when he went to look for his mother a day or two after he moved her in, he barely recognized her.
“I’ll never forget the feeling as long as I live,” he told me. “I said, ‘Oh my God, there’s my mother, this old woman, in a wheelchair, lifeless. Look what my own nursing home did to my own mother in a matter of days.”