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‘Homesick’ Is A Boundary-Expanding Story Of Devotion And Growing Up

Sep 15, 2019   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on ‘Homesick’ Is A Boundary-Expanding Story Of Devotion And Growing Up


Homesick

Jennifer Croft is among the most accomplished translators working other languages into English today. She translates Polish, Spanish, and Ukrainian — and is perhaps best known for translating the Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, a genre-straining work for which Croft and Tokarczuk won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize.

Croft’s first non-translated work, Homesick, is similarly boundary-pushing, or boundary-expanding. On Homesick‘s website, Croft notes:

“The book was written in Spanish first, as a novel called Serpientes y escaleras, and then as a memoir in English, called Homesick. Neither the Spanish nor the English is a translation.”

Rather, Homesick is a hybrid, mixing photography and impressionistic autobiographical writing to tell the story of Croft’s artistic coming of age.

In Homesick, Croft’s name is Amy, not Jennifer. She’s a brainy elementary-schooler at the book’s start, devoted in equal measure to advanced math, her new camera, and her baby sister, Zoe. Amy is a classically Type A older sister, assuming full responsibility for Zoe in her own mind. At first, she tries to mold Zoe in her own image, but when Zoe develops a brain tumor, Amy — tormented by guilt that she’s healthy while Zoe is sick — throws herself wholly into comforting and shielding her sister. She takes pictures of Zoe’s dog to use as distractions when Zoe gets her blood drawn, though “Amy can’t get the timing exactly right. She is always too early or too late. Zoe still sobs and begs the nurses not to hurt her.” When Zoe undergoes surgery, Amy, as if preparing for anesthesia herself, refuses to eat.

Croft writes much of Homesick in this flat, precocious-child tone, using short, present-tense sentences to great effect. For balance, however, she weaves in her own photographs, each captioned with a brief, distinctly adult musing on the main narrative. Often, these musings revolve around language. During Zoe’s surgery, for instance, the adult Amy notes, “To worry used to mean to strangle.” During her recovery, Croft writes:

“I know that astrocytes are star-shaped cells. I know the word comes from the same source as disaster. What I could never understand, since we were sisters, was how some little tiny stars could misalign in your brain, and not in mine, and just like that instead of being part of me all of a sudden you began to drift away from me.”

The sensation of drifting is crucial to Homesick. The book carries a sense of nausea at the sisters’ separation, though they are, by any sibling standards, uncommonly close. Amy suffers intense guilt over her sister’s illness. After Zoe enters remission, Amy extends that guilt to her own swifter progress through the world — which, because she’s three years older, is unstoppable. Amy dislikes hitting puberty and experiencing sexuality before Zoe does. She’s uncomfortable outstripping her little sister intellectually; verbal though she is, she begins wishing “we could be octopuses, so we would not need words.” Even in adulthood, living on a different continent from Zoe, she thinks longingly of summer-camp Red Rover games, when “we used to be the perfect team and nobody could even dream of tearing us apart.”

Perhaps to assuage her guilt, Amy clings tighter to Zoe in adolescence than in childhood. The two are homeschooled, and she never seeks other friends. She takes countless pictures of Zoe, wanting to “capture and fix forever the presence of her sister, to contain her, to never let her go, or break, or even change.” By Amy’s mid-teens, her desire to “capture and fix” Zoe has begun bleeding dangerously into her desire for Zoe to be “part of me.” She persuades herself that she and Zoe draw from one pool of luck, and that she, Amy, “is so lucky she brings others all the bad luck in the world.” She applies what she calls “the math of sacrifice,” concluding that to protect Zoe, she must harm herself.

Croft moves gently, though not lightly, through this time in Amy’s life. She balances depression and self-harm with growing artistic self-discovery. Amy starts college at 15, discovering translation and re-engaging with photography, and the memoir’s two narrative voices draw closer to each other. As Croft’s prose becomes more descriptive and complex, the photographs she includes move toward childhood, featuring images of her sister post-surgery. The book’s balance tips from sisterhood to art, establishing translation and photography as new beacons in Amy’s life.

This transition gives Homesick its happy ending. Croft’s photos, mixed in with her text, create continuity between memoirist and protagonist, despite their differing names. Her musings on language and occasional inclusion of Cyrillic script serve the same purpose. They make Homesick into a translator’s Bildungsroman, one in which art is first a beacon, then a home. Art launches Amy into “the hard, rewarding work of becoming herself,” which means separating herself from Zoe. That separation is arduous and loving in equal measure. It sets Amy — and perhaps Zoe — free.

Lily Meyer is a writer and translator living in Cincinnati.

UAW Votes For Nationwide Strike To Begin Before Midnight Sunday

Sep 15, 2019   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on UAW Votes For Nationwide Strike To Begin Before Midnight Sunday

The United Auto Workers said on Sunday that a nationwide strike will begin before midnight. The move comes after the union and General Motors failed to agree on a new contract.

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The United Auto Workers said on Sunday that a nationwide strike will begin before midnight. The move comes after the union and General Motors failed to agree on a new contract.

Paul Sancya/AP

The United Auto Workers announced that a nationwide strike will begin just before midnight on Sunday. The move comes after failing to agree to a new contract with General Motors over wages, health care and profit-sharing.

Production across the U.S. is expected to be halted, affecting nearly 50,000 workers, which is anticipated to idle U.S. production until both sides agree to a new contract.

“At midnight tonight, the picket lines will go up,” the UAW’s Brian Rothenberg said at a news conference in Detroit on Sunday. “But basically, when the morning shift would have reported for work, they won’t be there. The picket lines are being set up.”

On Saturday, union officials allowed their contract to lapse just before midnight. GM leadership has sought to slash the company’s health care costs, but union leadership said workers refuse to agree to a contract that makes health care more expensive.

“While we are fighting for better wages, affordable quality health care, and job security, GM refuses to put hard working Americans ahead of their record profits,” UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said in a statement. “We don’t take this lightly.”

Kristin Dziczek, vice president of the Center for Automotive Research, an independent research organization, said both sides are looking at the prospect of a weakening economy.

“The company and the union look at the very same set of economic fundamentals and see the same writing on the wall and have different motivations,” Dziczek said.

“The company looks at that and says, ‘Well, if we hit a downturn, we want to be able to have contingent compensation, so we don’t get locked into paying higher costs if the market softens.’ That same set of economic facts drives the union to want more guaranteed and certain compensation: base wage increases,” she said.

Some of the major sticking points include the cost of health insurance and pay raises demanded by workers. GM made $8.1 billion in profits last year.

The move to strike comes as legal troubles follow the union. A federal corruption scandal has led to guilty pleas by five people in the UAW. The FBI has raided the home of Gary Jones, the union’s current president. Some workers have called on Jones to step down amid the union probe, which has accused some union officials of hiding bribes and embezzling money from the union.

Mugabe’s State Funeral Proceeds, But His Burial Plan Has Been Mired In Controversy

Sep 14, 2019   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Mugabe’s State Funeral Proceeds, But His Burial Plan Has Been Mired In Controversy

Military officers carry the casket of former president Robert Mugabe out of his state funeral at the National Sports Stadium in Harare.

Ben Curtis/AP


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Military officers carry the casket of former president Robert Mugabe out of his state funeral at the National Sports Stadium in Harare.

Ben Curtis/AP

The complex remembrance process for longtime Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe continued on Saturday with a state funeral. Mugabe, who was ousted in a 2017 military coup, led Zimbabwe for 37 years and died last week at a Singapore hospital.

NPR’s Eyder Peralta, speaking with Weekend Edition from the funeral in Harare’s National Sports Stadium, called the scene “disjointed” — in part because Mugabe’s family was in attendance right alongside the president and military who had pressured him out of office. Zimbabwe’s current president Emmerson Mnangagwa had once been Mugabe’s spymaster and mentee, but the two had a consequential falling out.

Still, Peralta said, the government “pulled out all the stops” for the state funeral. There were military and police bands, and world leaders were brought in — including the presidents of Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique.

Robert Mugabe, Veteran President Of Zimbabwe, Dead At 95

Mugabe’s burial will be delayed for at least a month, because the Mugabe family and the government have been negotiating how and when the leader will be laid to rest. According to the Associated Press, the government had planned to bury Mugabe in a “simple plot” next to other Zimbabwean national heroes, but Grace Mugabe, Mugabe’s widow, had wanted a private burial instead. The current plan is to construct a new mausoleum for Mugabe over the next 30 days.

Walter Chidhakwa, who spoke at the funeral on behalf of the Mugabe family, referenced the emotional effect the coup had on Mugabe.

“I must say — and I spent lots of time with him — towards the end of his life, he was a sad man,” Chidhakwa said. “A sad, sad, sad man.”

Zimbabwe was scarred by Mugabe’s decades in power. The stadium, NPR’s Peralta reported, was half-empty — and on the streets outside, Zimbabweans “feel that he had become a tyrant, that he had been cruel to his own people.”

Plus, the country has other pressing concerns: Zimbabwe’s economy is suffering. Inflation has been steadily increasing under Mnangagwa’s tenure — and according to government figures, it reached a staggering rate of 175% by June.

Soldiers line the red carpet at Mugabe’s state funeral Saturday.

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Soldiers line the red carpet at Mugabe’s state funeral Saturday.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

When Mugabe came to power in 1980, his country had high hopes for him and the newly-independent Zimbabwe. He helped lead the insurrection that toppled the racist white-minority government and won the country’s first democratic elections. But Mugabe became an authoritarian. Mass unemployment, chronic food and water shortages, runaway inflation and a collapse of the country’s health care system marked his tenure.

After Mugabe lost the first round of the country’s 2008 elections, his militants and other loyalists enacted a wave of violence that killed approximately 200 people — and then his opponent pulled out of the race.

“It’s not that I don’t respect him,” said Tina, a realtor who would only provide NPR’s Peralta with her first name because she fears government retribution. “I do respect him so much. It is so much to remember independence, remember freedom. But in the end, it didn’t end well.”

Women in the stands at the National Sports Stadium hold posters of former president Robert Mugabe.

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Women in the stands at the National Sports Stadium hold posters of former president Robert Mugabe.

Ben Curtis/AP

“In Shona they say wafa wanaka (speak no ill of the dead), but for Mugabe there just has to be an exception,” wrote journalist Bridget Mananavire in the Zimbabwe Independent. “Some have vowed that the wounds and scars he left are too deep to forget and the atrocities he committed too heinous to forgive.”

Mugabe, the Associated Press reports, is now set to be buried at the Heroes’ Acre monument. Mugabe actually oversaw the monument’s construction: Heroes’ Acre was built as a special burying place for top officials of the ruling ZANU-PF party who helped to end minority white rule. It sits at the top of a hill, where there is a large sculpture of guerrilla fighters.

But according to the agreement announced Friday among the Mugabe family, traditional chiefs and Mnangagwa’s government, Mugabe will not be buried at the spot originally reserved for him next to his first wife, Sally. His special mausoleum will be elevated above all the other graves.

NPR’s Eyder Peralta contributed to this report.

Not My Job: We Quiz WNBA Star Tina Charles, A Former UConn Husky, On Huskies

Sep 14, 2019   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Not My Job: We Quiz WNBA Star Tina Charles, A Former UConn Husky, On Huskies

New York Liberty's Tina Charles plays in a WNBA basketball game on Aug. 12, 2018 in New York.

New York Liberty's Tina Charles plays in a WNBA basketball game on Aug. 12, 2018 in New York.

Tina Charles has won two Olympic golds, the WNBA Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, and now is the starting center for the New York Liberty.

As a University of Connecticut alum, she’s a proud Husky, so we’ll ask her three questions about actual huskies — you know, the dogs that pull sleds through the snow.

Click the audio link above to find out how she does.

Pardon My French

Sep 13, 2019   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Pardon My French

Contestants compete in Ask Me Another‘s final round at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.

Mike Katzif/NPR


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Contestants compete in Ask Me Another‘s final round at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.

Mike Katzif/NPR

Sacré bleu! In this final round, every answer is a commonly-used French phrase.

Heard on Ilfenesh Hadera: Spike Lee Alum And DJ School Dropout.

How A Proposed 3-Digit Suicide Hotline Could Help Prevention Efforts

Sep 13, 2019   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on How A Proposed 3-Digit Suicide Hotline Could Help Prevention Efforts

With suicides on the rise, the government wants to make the national crisis hotline easier to use. A proposed three-digit number — 988 — could replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Jenny Kane/AP

With suicides on the rise, the government wants to make the national crisis hotline easier to use. A proposed three-digit number — 988 — could replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Jenny Kane/AP

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to launch a new three-digit hotline for people who are feeling suicidal or are going through any other mental health crisis. It recommends making 988 the new national number to call for help, replacing the current 10-digit number.

The agency presented the idea to Congress in a report earlier this month and is expected to release more information and seek public comment about the proposal in the coming months.

Mental health advocates are excited about the proposal. They say it will make it easier for people in crisis to seek help, but caution that effective implementation could be costly, as the move could increase the need for staff to answer calls.

“This is a great idea,” says Madelyn Gould, a psychiatrist at Columbia University and an expert on suicide prevention.

The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number — 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255 — can be difficult for people to remember it in the midst of a crisis, she says.

Reach Out: Ways To Help A Loved One At Risk Of Suicide

“People can have a cognitive shutdown or blank, as any of us do, when we can’t remember things during times of extreme stress,” she says.

Having a three digit hotline, she says, will “facilitate people’s access to care at times when they are in dire need.”

Her research shows that the current suicide prevention lifeline can save lives — that when people who are feeling suicidal call and talk to someone, they do tend to feel better.

And the existing number is being used by a large number of people. In 2018, the lifeline answered more than 2 million calls, up from around 46,000 in 2005, according to the report submitted by the FCC. Gould thinks a 3-digit hotline will make it easier for more people to call.

‘A 911 for the brain’

The FCC proposal stems from a Congressional mandate in the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which required the agency to work with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to evaluate the effectiveness of the suicide prevention lifelines and consider the feasibility of having a three-digit dialing code for mental health emergencies.

Americans know to call 911 for all other kinds of emergencies, says David Covington, the CEO of RI International, a non-profit that provides behavioral health care around the country.

“When my father was having chest pains we immediately called 911,” says Covington. “It’s very straightforward what you do in our society in case of fire, or medical or other emergencies.”

But “we don’t have a 911 for the brain,” he adds.

And the stigma around mental illness makes people hesitate to seek help during a mental health crisis, says Covington. Those who do, either call the suicide prevention lifeline, or end up in a hospital emergency department after calling 911, he says.

“The most common experience for individuals who make it through to some kind of hospital emergency department is to wait for hours and days in order to get a referral,” says Covington.

He says he hopes the new hotline will reduce stigma and make it easier for people to seek help.

“Having a three-digit national hotline would go a long way in beginning to normalize that it’s OK to seek help,” he says.

“It’s reinforcing the idea that seeking help is good,” agrees Gould.

Gould hopes that the new hotline will encourage more people to call before they start feeling suicidal. “If we can have people recognize that there’s help in times of extreme depression or anxiety,” she says, then the crisis is less likely to “escalate to the point where they’re so overwhelmed that they may think that suicide is the only solution.”

Challenges of keeping up with call volume

Gould cautions that just launching a new three-digit hotline isn’t enough.

“The only way this is going to work is if additional services are funded,” she says.

Calls to the current Suicide Prevention Lifeline are handled by a patchwork of more than 160 crisis centers around the country. Each center has its own — often local, or regional — source of funding, and some centers are better resourced than others. Calls are usually taken by trained volunteers at these crisis centers, although some centers also employ clinicians.

Allie Franklin, the executive director of Crisis Connections, one of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline centers in Washington, says she expects a surge in calls when the national 988 number becomes available — and that’s a good thing.

“But how do we make sure we always have additional funding to make sure we always have someone answering the line?” she asks.

If individual crisis centers don’t receive additional funding to increase their staff and volunteers, callers might be left waiting, and feeling discouraged and helpless, she adds.

The FCC reports that the current system is challenged by “rising call volume and uneven coverage in many states.” This results in many calls getting routed to back-up centers where wait times are longer.

“We know that it’s really important for people to get live answers very quickly when they call one of these numbers or one of these centers,” says Franklin. “At Crisis Connections, we strive to answer the line within 30 seconds, 95% of the time or more. And so someone doesn’t have to wait for for very long at all before they get a live answer.”

But in 2018, there was a surge in calls to the Suicide Prevention lifeline for a couple of reasons, says Franklin — and call wait times went up. The rapper Logic performed his song about suicidal thoughts at the Grammys, a song titled, “1-800-273-TALK,” the number to the suicide prevention hotline. Then, a couple of celebrities died by suicide last year.

“It was really difficult in Washington when we had a 45% increase in calls statewide,” she says. She said she had to find additional funds to respond to the higher call volume.

145 CEOs Call On Senate To Pass ‘Commonsense, Bipartisan’ Gun Laws

Sep 12, 2019   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on 145 CEOs Call On Senate To Pass ‘Commonsense, Bipartisan’ Gun Laws

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senators received a message from business leaders Thursday, urging them to take action on gun violence in the U.S.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senators received a message from business leaders Thursday, urging them to take action on gun violence in the U.S.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

A new call for gun safety is coming from 145 business leaders, who sent a letter to members of the Senate Thursday stating that it is “simply unacceptable” to do nothing about gun violence and mass shootings in the U.S.

Saying the country is in a public health crisis, the CEOs say new laws that would require background checks on all gun sales “are a common-sense solution with overwhelming public support and are a critical step toward stemming the gun violence epidemic in this country.”

To save lives, the letter states, “The Senate must follow the House’s lead by passing bipartisan legislation that would update the background checks law.”

The CEOs come from a variety of companies, from Amalgamated Bank to the Royal Caribbean Cruise line. The heads of AirBnB, Yelp and Dick’s Sporting Goods also signed the letter.

Along with stronger background checks, the business leaders are calling for a strong Red Flag law, which could prevent shootings in cases where family members or law enforcement report concerns about someone who may be at risk of harming themselves or others.

The letter doesn’t mention the financial losses from violence. Citing recent tragedies in Dayton, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; Gilroy, Calif., and elsewhere, the CEOs say millions of Americans have had their lives changed by gun violence, and that it’s time for lawmakers to respond.

“Every day, 100 Americans are shot and killed and hundreds more are wounded,” the business leaders say.

Several senators’ offices confirmed to NPR that they’ve received the letter — and the topic came up when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talked with reporters Thursday morning.

“What I’ve said consistently is, let’s see if we can actually make a law here,” McConnell said. “And making a law when you have divided government is challenging. We all have different points of view.”

McConnell added that a new law would need President Trump’s approval. The Senate leader’s remarks came two days after he said the White House is working on a proposal to respond to recent deadly shootings. He did not provide details about that proposal.

Earlier this year, the House approved two pieces of gun legislation that would require background checks for all firearm sales.

House Passes Second Gun Background Check Bill In As Many Days

“Under the current laws, a federally licensed dealer must conduct a background check, but private sellers, people who are not licensed dealers, can sell guns without conducting a background check,” as UCLA law professor Adam Winkler told NPR last month. “This law would close that loophole.”

The main difference between the two House bills is the amount of time they allow for a waiting period after a gun purchaser can acquire a firearm: one version calls for 3 days, and the other for 10 days.

In the wake of the recent shootings, President Trump repeatedly urged Republicans and Democrats to work together on background checks, saying on Twitter, “We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain.”

Days after issuing that message, the president said, “Serious discussions are taking place between House and Senate leadership on meaningful Background Checks.”

But the president’s stance on gun issues has also wavered. For instance, he has recently insisted U.S. background checks are already strong. And in early August, Trump said he’s in favor of red flag laws — but that push seems limited to having Congress back states’ attempts to enact their own laws, rather than codifying the approach in federal law.

Those statements came more than a year after Trump made pledges about tighter gun control. After saying he supported comprehensive background checks, Trump said in March of 2018, “Very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by White House.”

The president added, “Legislation moving forward.”

While there’s been little forward progress for background checks, the Trump administration has followed through on one of the president’s other initiatives to curb gun violence, as the Justice Department said last December that it was banning the type of bump stock devices last December that were used in the Las Vegas shooting. Despite legal challenges, that ban remains in effect.

Rape Emergency Declared In Sierra Leone, Then Lifted. Did Anything Change?

Sep 12, 2019   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Rape Emergency Declared In Sierra Leone, Then Lifted. Did Anything Change?

Nicole Xu for NPR

Nicole Xu for NPR

The young girl walks so fast that the sleeves of her sparkly black dress and untucked portions of her blue headscarf billow behind her. As she makes her way to the front of the High Court of Kono, an eastern district of Sierra Leone, she passes the defendant’s stand but is careful not to look at the person in the dock. (Neither person’s name is being used in this story to protect their privacy and the privacy of their families).

The girl takes a seat on a wooden chair in front of the judge. The state prosecutor asks if she is Christian or Muslim.

“Muslim,” she says.

He then asks if her imam has taught her the difference between a truth and a lie. She says he has.

“And what happens if you lie?” he asks, leaning over his table.

“You go to hellfire,” she answers, swinging her feet.

Even though the defendant stands just eight feet away from her, she keeps dodging his eyes. That’s because he’s the man the 7-year-old claims raped her. He’s about 20 years her senior.

The prosecutor stands up, satisfied with her answer. “Okay, my Lord. She’s sworn in.”

The prosecutor had to find a way to swear in a witness this young, since 7-year-olds don’t often testify in court. And just a few months ago, a case like hers may not have been heard, let alone taken seriously by judges or lawyers.

An Emergency Is Declared

That started to change in February, when Sierra Leone’s president, Julius Maada Bio, declared rape and sexual violence a national emergency after a series of high profile rapes of young girls. He promised speedier trials and new arms of the police and judicial system to address sexual offenses.

To emphasize the severity of the crime of sexual assault, he also said that anyone found guilty of having sex with a minor — under 18, the age of consent — would be sentenced to life in prison.

Fatmata Sorie, president of Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice (LAWYERS) thinks the president’s announcement “emboldened people to speak out.”

“It’s brought public attention to these issues,” she says.

But in June, less than six months after his initial announcement, Bio quietly informed activists that he was ending the national emergency. He offered no public statement or explanation. And since no money had been earmarked during the short-lived emergency, substantial promises were left unfulfilled — such as free hospital care for rape survivors and a national phone hotline for survivors to report cases and seek advice.

“This is a really big missed opportunity,” says Chernor Bah, executive director of Purposeful Productions, an advocacy organization focused on adolescent girls. “The last time the country declared a national emergency was for Ebola. It was taken seriously, as it should be. It means you direct resources, time and energy to deal with the problem.”

Daniel Kettor, executive director of the Rainbo Center, the only organization in the country providing free medical care to sexual assault survivors, isn’t quite as pessimistic. Like Sorie from LAWYERS, he believes that there’s been a significant change in the willingness to report cases of sexual assault in Sierra Leone.

“We’ve seen a lot of people come out,” he says. “They’re reporting where they used to just stay quiet.”

The Rainbo Center is considered to have the most reliable data on the number of sexual assault cases in the country. Even the president’s office uses their figures. The number of cases recorded from January through April 2019 was 1,051 — the highest ever for a four-month period and nearly double the 600 reported over the same span in 2018.

What’s Changed?

Kettor also says there have been changes in the way the justice system handles sexual assault. The police and judges are giving priority to cases like the 7-year-old’s. As a result, rape cases are taking just months to process instead of years.

There are plans to make police investigations and trials even faster. A new Sexual Offenses Division of the High Court was established by the judiciary this past spring. It’s meant to hear all sexual assault cases going forward. The goal is to speed up prosecution by bypassing lower courts and offering a more sensitive environment with specially-trained judges. There are also plans for a new sexual assault unit of the police, which will focus on cases involving sex in which adults are suspected of having sex with minors. The aim is to conduct investigations quickly.

But Bah calls these “underwhelming superficial changes.” Even though judges have been informed of the new division, no cases have yet been assigned. And although the police announced the formation of the new unit, the officers assigned to it maintain their old duties and haven’t been retrained for the new post.

With the emergency now lifted and no funds earmarked, activists are now questioning if — and when — promises like government-sponsored psychosocial support and health care will be realized. Within the government, the focus on sexual assault cases has swung from big initiatives to small changes that can be made by parliament. The body is currently considering a new version of the 2011 Sexual Offenses Act, which, if passed, would make Bio’s call for a life sentence for anyone who has sex with someone under 18 a formal part of the country’s law.

That could be a problematic law in a country where, according to U.N. data analyzed by Save the Children, which works in Sierra Leone, 13% of the country’s girls are married by age 15, and 39% by age 18.

Given this context, LAWYERS is not convinced that the president’s suggested life sentence for statutory rape would be effective. “We want the number of incidents to come down, and this could have the opposite effect,” says Sorie. “We don’t want a situation where people are hesitant to report, where both a victim and witnesses would be worried about coming forward because the sentence is too harsh.”

In addition, it’s difficult to determine a defendant’s guilt because, as Kettor notes, there’s currently no way to do DNA testing of semen in the country—something he’s pushed for for years.

Mary Allieu, who oversees the Rainbo Center’s Kono office, says that without DNA testing, it’s possible that some men have been wrongfully charged. But she thinks that wrongful charges are an exception, given what she calls “intense pressure not to talk about rape. To speak out, you have to be very brave.”

These legal reforms also don’t address social and economic realities that may drive sex between younger girls and older men.

“A lot of girls get involved in relationships with older men to fund their education, or their parents will agree to their girls being married off at younger ages because of financial circumstances,” says Nicky Coker, vice president of LAWYERS. “We’ve heard stories of girls who live far away from school, and they have sex with motorbike riders who offer their daily lift to school and maybe Le2,000 ($.20) for lunch, too.”

The National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy highlights that girls in poor, rural areas are much more likely to marry early than those in relatively wealthy urban centers. Across the country, 30% of pregnant girls surveyed for the strategy claimed that their partner was approximately 10 years older than them.

Rainbo’s Allieu says that many of the cases she’s seen involve people who know each other — the alleged rapist may be a neighbor or family member. “With a sentence like that, survivors will be pressured not to tell. Someone will say, ‘do you really want your uncle to go to jail? Your neighbor?’ “

Bah adds that in a country with a reputation for corruption within the judicial system, the law may not be enacted equally. “If you’re a poor person [accused of rape], you’re much more likely to go to court. Those who have lawyers, their cases are almost always thrown out,” he says.

There’s also concern that the president’s brief emergency declaration has left an impression that only rape of very young girls should be taken seriously, neglecting a broader focus on sexual assault and harassment of people of all ages. When Bio declared the national emergency, he focused on the 2018 case of a 5-year-old who was raped by her uncle. That crime had prompted the president’s call for a life sentence.

As a result of the president’s stance, several men accused of having sex with girls under age 10 and tried in the Kono High Court were additionally charged with attempted murder, based on the argument that such an act was tantamount to cutting the victim’s life short and could kill a child.

The conversation about rape in Sierra Leone is “being focused only on the extreme cases,” Bah says. “To talk about the 2-year-old girl who was raped in the anus, that’s important” but he believes there should be a broader discussion of how men often have sex with teenagers who are under the age of consent, which is 18. The Rainbo Center says that every year they see approximately 2,000 rape victims, who mostly fall between the ages of 11 to 15.

During the week-and-a-half I spent in the court in Kono, I observed four rape cases, two involving young girls under age 10 and two involving teenagers. While the Kono judge was deferential to the younger girls, he probed the testimony of older girls.

For example, one 16-year-old was told by the judge that she must give details of her assault. By law, the only physical proof required for a guilty verdict is evidence of penetration. In addition, when the girl told the judge that the perpetrator “moved up and down” on top of her, he himself moved up and down in his seat and laughed. That same girl was later asked by the defense attorney if she had had sex before the alleged assault.

New Attitudes

The public discussions about rape have also brought more attention to the way powerful men behave towards women.

At a U.N.-sponsored conference in June, Alpha Timbo, the education minister, reportedly said, “Sometimes women are to blame. They provoke the men to rape them” — a comment that sparked immediate backlash.

He later went on national television and apologized for the use of the word provoke, noting it angered the “vast majority of people. There is nothing to … justify rape.”

Activists are motivated to push for more sweeping changes. Coker, of LAWYERS, joined a new group, Femme Collective, that “wants to look not just at laws, but also at attitudes,” she says. The group is setting up a series of public events to talk about cultural and social norms towards women and to “bring men into the conversation and then have them go back into their own communities and talk to their peers. These statistics about abuse and assaults against women and girls, those aren’t just for women to care about.” Coker says she wants the government “not just to focus on enforcement aspect but to try to get to the root causes of why this is happening.”

Bah says, “This is not just on this government. This a societal issue. We have to deconstruct the way sex is understood, and who has the power within sex, in the country.”

Some activists remain optimistic. A few weeks after the 7-year-old’s testimony at the High Court in Kono, a guilty verdict was handed down — one of 30 guilty verdicts in rape cases across the country from January to May, compared to 53 in all of 2018.

“Things are starting to change,” says Kettor. There’s a lot of work ahead, he says, as he continues to call for funds to support DNA testing and free government hospital care for rape survivors. But he’s glad that “people now know this should be taken seriously.”

Reporting for this article was supported by UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center Fellowship.

Mara Kardas-Nelson is a freelance journalist based in Berkeley, Calif. She lived in Sierra Leone from 2015-2017 and goes back regularly to report. Her work has been featured in The Nation, Al Jazeera and elsewhere. You can read some of her stories at https://marakardasnelson.com/

How To Swing Like Mary Lou Williams (Featuring Helen Sung)

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Credit: NPR

The eight women we chose to honor in this season of Turning the Tables were skilled singers, writers, instrumental innovators and musical pioneers. But often in the stories of these women’s lives and legacies, their musical skills are obscured by a focus on persona or biography. We also want to highlight their work as musicians and the fundamental musical contributions they made to American popular music.

8 Women Who Invented American Popular Music

Mary Lou Williams was a groundbreaking composer, arranger, performer and mentor. She was also known as “the lady who swings the band,” thanks to her mastery of swing, “jazz’s unique approach to rhythm,” says Helen Sung. Sung is a renowned jazz pianist and award-winning composer who won the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition in 2007. We asked her to explain what “swing” is and what makes it so central the sound of jazz, and to show us how to do it.

‘Audience Of One’ Aims To Show How TV Shaped Donald Trump — And Led To His Rise

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Audience of One

Audience of One

Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America

by James Poniewozik

Hardcover, 325 pages |

purchase

Dwight Eisenhower “became president by winning the war in the European theater,” writes James Poniewozik in his new book Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America. “Donald Trump became president by winning the 9 p.m. time slot on NBC.”

But Trump isn’t just on TV, according to Poniewozik. He is TV. Over the course of his life, Trump “achieved symbiosis with the medium,” he argues. “Its impulses were his impulses; its appetites were his appetites; its mentality was his mentality.”

Poniewozik does not, of course, mean all TV. Trump is not Gilmore Girls. Trump is not the Great British Bake Off or Friday Night Lights or Frasier or Glee, or any kind of TV show grounded in a presumption of empathy for other people. Poniewozik makes the convincing case that the more Darwinian genres of TV — reality, sports, cable news — have legible, internally coherent moral teachings and ideologies, and that these both shaped Trump and helped create the cultural conditions for his rise. Those messages include:

“That life is a constant, zero-sum competition, and if you are not beating someone then someone is beating you. (The lesson of sports and game shows.) That the best response to any controversy or crisis is to heighten the conflict. (The lesson of TV news.) That people perform best when set to fight against one another for survival. (The lesson of The Apprentice.) That there is no history or objective truth beyond your immediate situational interests, and that reality resets with every tweet or click of the remote.”

Poniewozik is a witty, acrobatic guide through recent decades of TV, tracing the cultural forces that led to Trumpism, touching on everything from Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing (“like a concert opening act for Trumpism”), to the glitz of the Reagan years, to Archie Bunker (“Trump’s sitcom John the Baptist”) and the rise of the TV antihero (“in literary terms a protagonist without conventional noble attributes; in layman’s terms an a–hole you find interesting.”). These antiheroes, bigots, pugilists, and narcissists lit the way, Poniewozik argues: To get to Trump, we first needed Tony Soprano, pro wrestling, reality TV, and maybe even Batman.

Poniewozik is especially perceptive about the incentives of cable news, and how CNN in particular built a business model on people not wanting to look away from disasters. “Trump was a plane that crashed every day, a Poop Cruise in perpetuity…He was a one-man solution to the problem of what to do when there was no breaking news.”

Reading Poniewozik is like watching a motorcyclist zip around traffic. (Traffic being the wider history of populism, values voters, demography, etc.). He is abundantly smart, and you get the sense that he’s just tossing out connections and theories the way you might scatter bread crumbs to pigeons. “Someone else can sort that out,” he writes of every other political and cultural consideration in Trump’s rise.

But the book’s largest omission is a serious consideration of Trump’s supporters. You can easily see how Trump’s belligerent, spiteful performances would get him attention. But what happens in that small, crucial distance between attention and support?

Between a TV show and person (or book and person) an alchemy takes place, one that has to do with who the person is and what they care about. People have complicated inner lives, they weigh their priorities, they care about abortion or guns or immigration, and these factors affect how they understand and internalize the messages they receive. It would probably be hard to write a book that accounts for both sides of the equation, but here is where a dusting of modesty would help.

Poniewozik’s book does contain a quick acknowledgement that “[p]olitical coalitions are complicated things” and that people vote for lots of reasons. But when he imagines himself into the minds of Trump voters, the result feels artificial.

Here, for instance, he describes the religious right during the Chick-fil-A controversy: “The president of Chick-fil-A denounced gay marriage; suddenly a chicken sandwich with waffle fries became a religious-right deep-fried Eucharist.” His larger point, about “cultural choices as ideological markers” is clearly true — it’s the simplification, and contempt, that grates.

Over the course of the book, describing Trump’s intended effect, Poniewozik compares Trump to the Pope, to a “voluptuary prince being carried on a palanquin,” to a “golden god,” to the “sun who gave every flower life,” and even, in an extended mapping of the Catholic liturgy onto the structure of The Apprentice, to God himself. (Though to be fair, he also compares Trump to a pimp, a basilisk, and both Gollum and the flaming eye of Sauron.) This is all meant to be droll, but the idea of MAGA hat wearers as thralls to the golden god onscreen both underestimates and excuses them.

It is worth returning to the distinction Poniewozik makes between TV like The Apprentice and TV like Cheers: TV that treats other people as objects and obstacles, and TV that treats people as though they have interiority. This is also a distinction we can make in how we treat and think about other people, something related to what the philosopher Martin Buber calls the I-you interaction, in contrast to the I-it interaction.

To be clear, Audience of One is both brilliant and daring, particularly when it comes to Trump’s image making. It is a tactile pleasure to read. Poniewozik’s sentences zip! His jokes land! His interpretations shimmy!

But I couldn’t get past that gap, the one between image and audience, the place where the thinking, digesting, and responding happens. In Poniewozik’s reading, Trump’s supporters must be stupid, dazzled creatures, absorbing the darkest messages of television and regurgitating them uncritically on the ballot. But people are not mere receptacles of culture. And treating Trump voters as yous rather than its — in other words, as though they have interiority, beliefs, and the ability to weigh options — does not exonerate them. If anything, it acknowledges that they are fully responsible for the choice they made.

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