Global Notebook 3/99

Haunted by a Shameful Legacy

HOLLYWOOD – Dashiell Hammett. Lillian Hellman. Clifford Odets. Those literary legends were just a few of the left-leaning citizens whose names Elia Kazan, then under scrutiny for his own political affiliations, recited before the vicious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) sniffing out radicals in 1952. A brilliant stage and screen director (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden), Kazan claimed he was proving his patriotism 47 years ago. He has remained unrepentant about those McCarthy Era betrayals ever since.

Now 89, he will be honored on March 21 with a lifetime achievement Oscar – the kind of award that always eluded him when groups such as the American Film Institute and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association declined

to pay homage to someone who saved his own skin by ruining the lives of others on the right-wing blacklist. Those who applaud, forgive, or revile Kazan have been weighing in on the issue with persuasive arguments about either the purity of art or the peril of amnesia. Unfortunately, most of the writers and filmmakers he denounced as communists are no longer around to comment.

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions," Hellman proclaimed when she refused to testify at a HUAC hearing. But the movie industry these days happily cuts consciences to fit the fashions for any year or flavor of the month, so Kazan will have his moment of bitter triumph before exiting this world better dead than red.
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Ship of Fools

OFFSHORE – Ahoy there! It’s likely to be nautical nuttiness this summer for a boatload of self-congratulatory Reaganites. The National Review 1999 Baltic Cruise will set sail in July aboard the Holland America Line’s MS Rotterdam, dropping anchor at 10 ports of call – among them, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Tallin, and Helsinki – in 13 days.

Publisher William Buckley’s passenger list will include such seaworthy cold warriors as Caspar Weinberger, Alexander Haig, Vernon Walters, and Edwin Meese. Tall tales promise to be a key feature of the cruise, with seminars offered by those old salts who "worked together to pull off the greatest feat of modern times: restoring freedom to hundreds of millions of oppressed people," according to a two-page ad in the conservative journal. Meese, the promotion goes on to suggest, might even navigate through "inside-the-Oval Office details of how the Gipper battled the Evil Empire."

Couldn’t they could recruit Oliver North to reminisce about the wonderful, wacky days of the Iran-Contra affair? Or George Bush to recall his intimate chats with good buddy Manuel Noreiga? For that matter, how about inviting Nancy to discuss why Ronnie vetoed – later to be overridden by Congress – the Clean Water Act and sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa?  Despite a ticket price of about $5000, that’s a voyage of the damned even liberal landlubbers might not be able to resist.
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The Harsh Realities

MANILA – A new report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) warns that the Asian economic crisis will force more women and children into prostitution, particularly in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The study estimated that as many as 1.1 million females of all ages in those four countries may be selling their bodies.

The problem is compounded by the fact that so many related businesses – that of pimps, taxi drivers, liquor vendors, etc. – depend on the sex industry for much of their revenues. And, in Thailand alone, prostitutes in urban centers send almost $300 million a year to their families in poor rural areas.

Given the significant dollar impact of the sex trade, the ILO report recommends that prostitution be officially recognized as an economic sector of those societies. Such a decriminalization measure, offering the same rights afforded other workers, theoretically could help protect the girls and women involved from exploitation and health hazards.
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The Fruits of Knowledge

UNITED NATIONS – A Senegalese women’s organization called Tofhan ("Breakthrough") has finally met with success in its long campaign to stop female genital mutilation there. In January, the country’s Parliament banned the practice, a tradition common in many parts of Africa.

While the group did not initially plan to fight female circumcision, awareness of the problem began to surface through Tofhan’s grassroots literacy classes.

Senegal joins the community of nations such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo that have already outlawed the procedure, said to have been performed on an estimated 130 million women across the continent. About 75 percent of the crude, painful operations are still performed, sometimes on girls in their infancy, in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan.
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A Coup of Perceptions

NAIROBI – When naturalist Richard Leakey was reappointed to his former post as director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, he vacated his role as a Member of Parliament (MP). In stepped Josephine Odira Sinyo.

The 43-year-old attorney becomes one of the few women to serve in the governing body since Kenya gained independence in 1963. Moreover, she’s the first visually impaired Kenyan MP ever. Sinyo, a mother of three, has been blind since age four. Her feminist viewpoint – no doubt sharpened when she attended the 1995 international women’s conference in Beijing, China – has given Sinyo hope that she can help change some of her countrymen’s "chauvinist attitudes."
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Power to the Politicians

OAKLAND – "Governor Moonbeam," as he was once called by those who wanted to poke fun at his spiritual inclinations, held the highest office in the State of California from 1975 until 1982. As the progressive new mayor of Oakland, a city with more than 372,000 residents, Edmund "Jerry" Brown, Jr., is attracting some very interesting fellow travelers.

Two former Black Panthers are on the scene: David Hilliard is a candidate for the City Council, with Bobby Seale serving as his campaign manager. Their collective platform, which calls for better schools, health care, and job opportunities, is not such a far cry from the days of the free breakfast programs instituted by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Hilliard, who was chief of staff for the radical organization, lauds Brown as a man "who sounds more like a Black Panther with every speech he makes."

In 1966, Seale and the late Huey P. Newton co-founded the party in Oakland, but he’s probably equally famous for once having been bound and gagged in a courtroom. That was during the trial of the Chicago Eight, when Seale was accused – along with Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, and Dave Dellinger, among others – of conspiring to incite riots during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Unchained and free to speak in Philadelphia, Seale told The New York Times that he’ll be moving back to Oakland (where African Americans comprise about 44 percent of the population) to help "bring about what we all advocated in the 60s."
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Championing Children

STOCKHOLM – IBFAN. Not exactly a household word. But one of the key concepts behind the acronym – which stands for International Baby Food Action Network – is indeed universal: Milk.

IBFAN, which is the umbrella for 150 pro-breastfeeding groups in 90 countries, was recently named one of four organizations to win a substantial cash prize from Sweden’s Right Livelihood Foundation Award. This recognition comes at a time when the issue of breast versus bottle is less visible than it was during the late 1970s and early 80s, when numerous boycotts were launched against multinational companies pushing powdered baby milk products on developing countries.

Milk substitutes that require water, unsafe to drink in many parts of the Third World, are considered to be a major factor in an estimated 1.5 million infant deaths each year; babies unnecessarily deprived of mother’s milk are up to 25 times more likely to succumb to diarrhea. Despite the two-decade struggle, corporations like NestlĂ© are still aggressively marketing their dangerous products around the planet.
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Subway Salvation

MEXICO – Many Mexicans apparently were thrilled with the mid-January visit of Pope John Paul II. But the persistent Virgin of Guadalupe seems to be even more popular, showing up at the most remarkable places: a Cuaulta Morelos palm tree, a Jalapa Veracruz fruit shed and – most celebrated of all – a leak seeping through the floor of the Hidalgo metro station. Believers flock to these instantaneously sacred sites.

This particular virgin, patron saint of Latin America since 1910, was first spotted in 1531 by an indigenous man named Juan Diego who saw the image of an Aztec woman overlooking a hillside. "Tell your people I am the mother of God," she reportedly said. "I will help the Indians."

Almost five centuries later the "Dark Madonna," as she has been dubbed, still has her work cut out for her among Mexico’s impoverished millions. "More virgin sightings are recorded in times of economic and social turmoil," writes John Ross for the Gemini News Service, referring to the plethora of holy visions that took place when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation rebellion began in 1994.

But while miracle-cautious Catholic officials have characterized the Virgin of the Metro as "just a water stain," there is evidence of Mexico’s ancient, more Pagan, paths to enlightenment. "In Chiapas, there is a centuries-old tradition of such sightings, presaging Indian insurrections," Ross points out, adding that the shrine commemorating Juan Diego’s vision of the Guadalupe Lady was constructed on the very hill that represents Tonantzin, the Aztec Earth Mother.