Ali and Nino

As you may know I’m working towards my goal of reading literature from every country. I’m not going in any particular order – I find that I become fascinated with certain countries/regions almost randomly, or sometimes because of external influences, but certainly not in alphabetical order.

Cover of Ali and NinoMy current focus is Azerbaijan. When I started, I knew nothing about this small former soviet republic. In case you know as much as I did when I started, it is located in the Caucus region and it’s borders include Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and the Caspian Sea.  And, although I’m by no means an expert, I feel like I have learned SO much. All thanks to one book in particular – Ali and Nino.

This fictional love story is set in pre-war (WW1) Azerbaijan and tells the tale of a Muslim man who falls in love with a Christian woman. Through their courting, marriage and continued relationship, the reader gets an intimate look at so many struggles that define what it means to be Azeri –  Islam vs Christianity, (and not just Islam, but Sunni vs Shi’ite) East vs West, old vs new, tradition vs modernity…..

What made this book so wonderful for me was how much I learned about the cultures of the region, without feeling like I was being taught anything. The struggles that the two characters go through in their own relationship are inherently cultural. And through those struggles we get glimpses into real life in pre-war Baku. By getting to know and care about the characters and their daily lives and struggles, you get a better appreciation for the bigger picture. I’ve begun reading my next book, Azerbaijan Diary, by reporter Thomas Goltz, and I can’t imagine reading it without first gaining an emotional sense of the place from Ali and Nino.

Ali and Nino is exactly why I love reading books from around the world. I hope I can find equally fascinating, enlightening and education books from other countries as well!


Say Ah…zerbaijan!

A couple of weeks ago I came across a job posting that caught my eye. It was exactly what I want to do, and I was very well qualified for it – except for one thing: you had to be fluent in Azerbaijani.

Hmm. Don’t think I’ll be able to fake that one!

As I talked myself down from how *perfect* that job would have been, and how *perfect* I was for it,  I realized how much I don’t know about Azerbaijan.

Lanscape of the coastline of Baku, Azerbaijan.So, it became the focus of my World of Books reading list! And, wow, I have not been disappointed! I have had a great time with literature set in the area and have learned so much! And that is exactly why I have this crazy goal!

The first book I didn’t technically read – I listened to it on CD during a drive from Ohio. The book is Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon.

If you’ve never read anything from Chabon, you must. His prose is wonderful – the kind that makes you sit up a little straighter and fall in love with words all over again. And listening to Andre Braugher read it makes it especially delectable!

The story itself is set around 950 AD, and only partially in Azerbaijan. The plot takes the main characters on both sides of the Caspian and Black Seas. I can’t say that I necessarily learned specifics about the culture or lives of Azeris, but I definitely got a solid feel for just how central the region is – at the crossroads between East and West.

The story itself is wild and wildly entertaining. I will surely pick up more work from Michael Chabon. It was a great introduction to the region, if only because it was fun and gave a general sense of things, albeit 1000 years ago…

Here’s an interesting resource for teachers. It comes out of England, but its website makes the resources accessible to anyone with an internet connection. is both a television channel and a website with videos, practical resources and an online community for anyone working in a school.

The videos are excellent quality, shot by the internationally acclaimed documentary production company, Brook Lapping.

There are plenty of sites out there with lesson plans, classroom management techniques, etc. But most of the one’s I’ve seen have a subscription fee for the good stuff. (as far as I can tell) is completely free.They can be viewed on the site, downloaded and are now available on iTunesU.

Note: Some videos that air on the television channel do not have licensing for international streaming, so if you are outside the UK and looking for videos, the TV guide isn’t the best place to start.

Twitter, FB banned for debates

I spend a lot of time looking at ways that nonprofits and activists can use social media to affect change.

Evidently, so does a court in Nigeria.

Map of Sharia states in NigeriaThe Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria was hoping to use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to host debates on the use of amputations as punishments.

But an Islamic court ruled against the use, saying, “An order is hereby given restraining the respondents either by themselves or their agents from opening a chat forum on Facebook, Twitter, or any blog for the purpose of the debate on the amputation of Malam Buba Bello Jangebe.”

Malam Buba Bello Jangebe was the first person in Nigeria to be sentenced to an amputation after stealing a cow in 2000. On the anniversary of his punishment, the Civil Rights Congress had hoped to open up a debate so Nigerians could voice their opinions on Sharia law.

The civil rights group says they plan to appeal the decision.

Source: BBC

A global jam session for development

Next week the US government will host what they are calling a “jam session” for individuals interested in, or working in the field of international development. They are calling it Global Pulse, and it will be held, live and virtual, from March 29-31.

Ideas come from other ideas....lots of light nulbs emerge from one large bulb

Using the IDM “Innovation Jam” platform, they hope to have upwards of 20,000 participants sharing ideas and brainstorming on issues such as empowering women and girls, eual access to quality education, civil rights, global health, equitable trade and environmental protection.

Its a neat idea, and an interesting use of technology. All that is required is IE6 or Firefox 1.5 or above.

Oh, and a high speed internet connection.

While I understand the technical need for the high speed connection, I wonder how many people who should be a part of the conversation will be left out?

I’ll be attending the sessions as much as possible. I’m particularly interested in how the needs of people with disabilities will be addressed in the discussions, and I’m curious to find out how people in the field are using media and communications in their programs and ideas.

Stay tuned……

Digitizing books, one word at a time

(Thanks to Marty Kearns from Green Media Toolshed and Netcentric Campaigns for bringing this to my attention!)

The need to digitize books goes beyond being able to put them on your Kindle. People with various disabilities (not just sight-related) use on screen readers and other audio tools for school, work and pleasure. But the availability of books in digital format can be limited.

In this very interesting video, Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn explains how he is using the brain power of you and me to help digitize books, one word at a time, through a program he calls ReCaptcha.

Glenn Close sets back Disability Rights 50 Years

Glenn Close has won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, a Tony, and has been nominated for an Oscar, but she still can’t seem to get a simple PSA right. She and her sister Jessie, who has bi-polar disorder, have recently launched a new campaign to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness- but are they doing more harm than good?

The main PSA for “Bring Change 2 Mind,” does anything but. It shows a crowded train station with hundreds of people milling through, with a few in white t-shirts. These t-shirts have titles and labels on them – such as from sister, better half, to schizophrenia to bi-polar. The purpose, I’m assuming, is to put a face to the diagnosis…

But, I have a real problem with this set up. You have PEOPLE wearing labels – isn’t that what disability rights activists have been fighting for years to overcome? When these individuals walk through the train station, we don’t see them as people, we see them as diagnoses. I don’t know Glenn Close’s sister’s name, but I know what her mental illness is…

When did we stop trying to put the person first???

And what about the people who are walking with the diagnosed? Their shirts have roles written on them- sister, battle buddy, better half. But the schizophrenics, depressed, and bi-polar  are sisters, brothers, better halves, battle buddies…..are they not?

How does this video show us that people with mental illness are real people too?

It’s doesn’t.

We are not learning anything about them as people, about their lives, their daily struggles… just their diagnosis. And in my opinion, that’s damaging.

Contrast that with a stigma reduction campaign I reviewed just a few days ago from Scotland, whose tagline is “See Me” (as in, not my diagnosis). In this campaign, the PSAs share the commonality of the experiences of the people with mental illness, AND show how the people who care for them helped them out:

At no point is anyone labeled. Instead, their situation is described, concrete things to do are suggested, and in the end mental illness doesn’t seem like something we need to freak out about! It doesn’t need to show famous people donning “I’m With Stupid” t-shirts.

The only redeeming factor of the “Bring Change 2 Mind” video is that at the end of the piece, the t-shirts fade to colors, and they meld into the crowd. This is a nice touch, but only goes to undo the damage that has already been done. We haven’t gained any ground.

The more I think about it, the more I hate this campaign. The tag  line is “Change a mind about mental illness, and you can change a life.”

But how, Glenn? How do we change a mind? By wearing diagnosis t-shirts?

This campaign gives us nothing but a famous person, revealing the “skeletons in her closet,” set to a John Mayer soundtrack.

(The press that the campaign is getting is equally sickening…..but I’ll save that for part deux, tomorrow)

Can social marketing reduce stigma?

This was one of the questions I addressed in my masters thesis this past summer. Specifically, I wanted to explore how different cultural interpretations of disability would affect communication efforts to reduce stigma in developing countries. More on that later.

As I was doing research, I came across a very interesting campaign from Scotland. The tagline is “See Me,” and they have lots of interesting uses of media in their campaign. In addition to tv and radio ads, they have photography contests, polls and downloadable curriculum packs. They also have a great collection of evaluation tools.

Each TV ad has a very clear target audience in mind, whether children or adults, the ads are aimed a people who know someone affected by mental illness. Take a look:

For children-

For adults-

(My favorite line from this one is, “Patterns change, friends don’t”)

(This one has some great brotherly ribbing, showing how their relationship didn’t change as a result of the mental illness)

Its the subtleties that I appreciate most in the ads for the adults. The ones aimed at children are clear and hopefully incite some empathy and understanding….

What do you think? Do you have some examples of stigma reduction social marketing that you found particularly good. Or bad?

What now?

So, I’m all done. I turned in my Master’s thesis a couple of weeks ago, and unless it was WAY off, I’m finished with my MA in International Media!

Lisa Simpson reading a book

Lisa Simpson reading a book

So, I’m finishing up the summer with the kids, hanging out, going to the pool, taking them to museums. But their school starts next week and I’m already getting a little restless. Especially when I hear from others who are starting up classes, buying books, going through syllabi…ah, I really do love school.

Of course, I’m applying or jobs – several applications are out, with more on the way. But I’ve decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time… I’m going to go through some of the courses on MIT’s OpenCourseWare. I’ve been drooling over the course offerings there for years… and honestly, it took me several days to figure out which ones to start with.

In case you don’t know about it, MIT offers almost all of its course syllabi, readings, assignments, and in some cases lecture notes and projects for FREE online! Over 1900 courses are online, and more are added all the time! Now you don’t get credit for doing anything, but it presents an amazing opportunity to explore an area you are interested in with a little more direction than just browsing the library.

So, I’ve decided to try a couple. I’ve found LOTS of courses that I’d like to take “someday,” but two jumped out at me as something I’d like to take NOW. So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking the following two course, both from the Media Arts and Sciences Department:

Seminar on Deep Engagement– (MAS 961) Innovation in expression, as realized in media, tangible objects, performance and more,  generates new questions and new potentials for human engagement. When and how does expression engage us deeply? Many personal stories confirm the hypothesis that once we experience deep engagement, it is a state we long for, remember, and want to repeat. This class will explore what underlying principles and innovative methods can ensure the development of higher-quality “deep engagement” products (artifacts, experiences, environments, performances, etc.) that appeal to a broad audience and that have lasting value over the long term.

Designing Sociable Media– (MAS 961)This course is about social life in the on-line world. Its focus is on how the design of the interface influences people’s interactions with each other and shapes the cultural mores and structures they develop. We will examine the ways social cues are communicated in the real and the virtual world, discuss the limits imposed upon on-line communities by their mediated nature, and explore directions that virtual societies can take that are impossible for physical ones.

Since I won’t have a professor or classmates to answer to, I’ll be posting my reading reflections and assignments here on the blog. Posting related to these courses will be tagged with MAS961-Engage for the Seminar in Deep Engagement and MAS961-Social for the Designing Social Media class, if you’d like to follow along. Of course, I’ll continue my regular postings on media and communications for social change as well!

I’d love to hear feedback on anything I post from these classes – especially if you have taken one of them or a similar course. I’m hoping to maintain the schedule in each syllabus, but I’m not making any promises.

So, without further adieu, I’m off! I’ve got readings to do!

Got Water?

Bottle of Beau Pal water

Bottle of B'eau Pal water

Its summertime in Washington, DC, and although it has been a comparatively mild summer, it is still hot and humid enough to make you want to jump in the pool, or have a tall glass of crisp, cold water.

How about the latest in boutique bottled water, B’eau Pal?

Unlike other high end aqua refreshment, it’s source is not some glacial mountain in the Alps, or natural spring in the Adirondacks. No, this water comes straight to us from India.

Bhopal, India, to be exact. Site of the world’s largest industrial accident.

The B’eau Pal campaign is the latest from The Bhopal Medial Appeal and The Yes Men, in an effort to raise awareness about the incident and put further pressure on Dow Chemical to be held accountable.

The launch of this campaign coincides with the 25th anniversary of the accident, which has killed 20,000, and continues to kill at least one person a day.

The campaign features a beautiful red label and even includes a nutrition label, which indicates the drink has:

The campaign is clever, but not designed for mass distribution. Rather, the Yes Men had hoped to present the bottles to Dow Chemical executives earlier this month. However, word got out, and protesters found the Dow building completely empty. Had there been some kind of confrontation, perhaps there would have been more press, and consequently more awareness.

Unfortunately, all that’s left is a pretty bottle of poisoned water.

While I like the idea for the campaign, I can’t help feel like it is just there to make US feel better. Sure its witty. If the Dow folks had been there, we could really smirk. And hopefully the coverage would have raised some awareness and possible generated some funds.

But was there really hope that the campaign would change Dow’s mind about taking responsibility?

I’d like to know how the campaign measures success in this case? What’s the return on investment here?