Tales from the organ trade

Re-blogged from Crane and Matten blog:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Imagine that you live in poverty. A chance arises for you to earn a year’s salary in one day. All being well, no one will get hurt. In fact, what you’re going to do will save someone’s life. Sounds like quite a deal. Or at least it does until until you realize that what we’re talking about here is selling one of your kidneys. And that it’s illegal almost everywhere.The decision to sell an organ is a stark choice. It speaks so much of all that is wrong with our global inequities. It shouldn’t be happening. But, like it or not, it does happen. For many people looking to get out of poverty, the sale of one of their organs is clearly a desperate choice … but it is also a choice that they are sometimes willing to make.

The illegal organ trade is not for the faint hearted. Sure, it saves lives, but it’s an ugly business. Ric Esther Bienstock, the documentary-maker behind the award winning “Sex Slaves” documentary about global sex trafficking has taken on the subject head first and eyes open with her new film, Tales from the Organ Trade. It’s getting it’s North American premiere tonight here in Toronto at the Hot Docs festival. We sat down with her recently to find out exactly what lay behind her decision to focus on such a moral minefield and to ask what she’s trying to achieve.

“I’m not advocating for incentivised donation. That door is shut. But I’d love the film to spark debate” says Bienstock. Unlike Sex Slaves, Tales from the Organ Trade doesn’t take any sides. As Bienstock says, “sex trafficking is a very black and white issue”. But making Tales from the Organ Trade took Bienstock into a lot of grey areas. “It shook me up,” she admits. “When I started making the film I had a very different view from when I finished making the film. I started off thinking, its purely exploitative, period. And that’s 90% of how it’s characterised in media reports, films, and anything I’ve seen…. but there are thinkers out there, surgeons and ethicists who think that a regulated, incentivised system is the way to go. And there are people who think it is repulsive and exploitative. So I really have a sense of what they all believe, and why they believe that.”

The turnaround for Bienstock was going to countries like the Philippines, Ukraine and Moldova and meeting donors. The fact is, she says, so many of the people she met were not coerced. They actively sought out the brokers who would find them a buyer. “You don’t need to coerce people in the Philippines,” she argues. If they are coerced, she says, they are, as she puts it, “effectively coerced by their own poverty.” And what is more, they are forced into the black market, where there are virtually no protections. “If you think about it,” she says, “it’s a situation where you have extremely desperate people on both sides, crashing together in a black market.” It’s a situation ripe for exploitation.

Bienstock took more than 3 years to make the film, crisscrossing the world to talk to the different people involved in the organ trade, from donors and recipients, to the brokers and surgeons that make it all happen. Although these characters are operating outside the law, and are often portrayed as evil, exploitative crooks, Bienstock had little trouble finding them – and again, saw them as much more complicated than the typical black-and-white narratives. But getting them to give their side of the story to camera was much more difficult.

One doctor wanted by Interpol only agreed to be filmed after his mother had approved of Bienstock following a lunch date in Istanbul. Another only agreed after Bienstock had flown to Israel to meet him for coffee. “The first thing he said to me”, recounts Bienstock, “is I’m not going to be in your film.” He eventually agreed after Bienstock convinced him that she wasn’t out to vilify him; she simply wanted his side of the story.

Tales from the Organ Trade ends up being powerful for resolutely avoiding taking sides. Rare among documentaries tackling such sensationalist subjects, it doesn’t look to reinforce prejudices but invites us to make up our minds. This may make for uncomfortable viewing, but it’s a necessary approach to a subject that often defies conventional ethical logic. As the film’s publicity materials put it: “This is a world where the villains often save lives and the medical establishment, helpless, too often watches people die. Where the victims often walk away content and the buyers of organs – the recipients – return home with a new lease on life ”

African Americans and the Watermelon Stereotype

This is a piece from Ted Weekends in the Huffington Post:

A photo of my expecting mother eating a slice of watermelon is a family favorite. She attributes my lifelong disdain for the fruit to the fact that she ate it every day while pregnant with me. I carry this story in the form of an oval, deep green blemish on my left hand. It’s true — I’m a black man with a watermelon for a birthmark.

In many countries and cultures around the world, this would be unremarkable. But in the United States, where watermelon is associated with historic African-American stereotypes, my birthmark takes on a more complex symbolism. Just as the undesirable leftovers of farm animals, such as pig intestines and feet, are linked to the slave diet, watermelon is the food most associated with the 19th and 20th century depictions of blacks as lazy simpletons.

This phenomenon is more pronounced in the black American experience than in other places around the world. While eating breakfast with colleagues on a recent trip to Brazil, a friend who’d spent several formative years in South Asia casually asked if I’d like to try his watermelon juice. At that moment, the proverbial record scratched. Because he was never exposed to the history of watermelons and American blacks, he was quite puzzled at the awkward silence and darting glances.

The record of watermelon’s role in racism is well-chronicled. As Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute fashioned it, “since the earliest days of plantation slavery, the caricature of the dark-skinned black child, his too-red lips stretched to grotesque extremes as they opened to chomp down on watermelon, was a staple of racism’s diet. Over time, the watermelon became a symbol of the broader denigration of black people.”

As such, though I still dislike the melon, my watermelon birthmark is a badge of pride and a stare of defiance at the stereotype that continues to sprinkle salt in the wound of racism. — Ted Johnson

Some of the more popular items in America during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era were racist postcards, colloquially called “coon cards” — coon being a pejorative term for blacks originating in the mid-1800s. Many of these postcards pictured wide-eyed, impish blacks overcome by a rabid infatuation for the huge slice of watermelon in front of them. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University maintains a collection of board games, cookie jars, ashtrays, and other novelty items that perpetuate the debasing African-American-watermelon love affair stereotype.

Naturally, this expression of racism bled over into other forms of art. Minstrel shows, a once fashionable form of theater with blackface actors behaving mindlessly, also latched onto the watermelon narrative. One minstrel song recorded by Harry C. Browne in 1916, entitled “Nigger Loves A Watermelon, Ha Ha Ha!,” proclaimed there was “nothing like a watermelon for the hungry coon.” The melody is one every American knows — it’s the song that most ice cream trucks have played for decades to attract neighborhood children. How curious that Harry Browne began his song by calling watermelon “the colored man’s ice cream.”

With such deep and persistent iconography, it’s no wonder that disparaging imagery of blacks’ obsession with watermelon can still be found in our society long after slavery and the minstrel period. And much like then, it is used to belittle African-American people and their achievements. When Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier in Major League Baseball, opposing fans often taunted him by throwing watermelon rinds. After Barack Obama became the first black man to be elected president of the United States, manipulated pictures of the White House, showing rows of watermelon crop in the place of its pristine lawns, popped up around the Internet. And when a Google doodle looked suspiciously like a black athlete running along a watermelon, social networks lit up with equal parts outrage and curiosity about the cause of the clamor.

Though statistics aren’t needed to convey the ridiculousness and inaccuracy of the watermelon stereotype, data points out African-Americans actually eat less watermelon than others. The Department of Agriculture reports that whites eat the most, and the largest consumers of watermelon per capita are Asians and Hispanics, the fastest growing segments of the United States population. Ironically, with blacks being disproportionate sufferers of heart disease and hypertension — largely as a result of poor diet — consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables, including watermelon, would be a step in the right direction.

Today, many African-Americans resist eating the fruit in public so as not to be seen as confirming the stereotype. I am glad, however, that was of no concern to my mother decades ago. As she sat in her cream-colored ensemble on a blanket under the Georgia summer sun, the photo captured her nurturing the life inside her with the same fruit co-opted by the racism that took the lives of so many others. As such, though I still dislike the melon, my watermelon birthmark is a badge of pride and a stare of defiance at the stereotype that continues to sprinkle salt in the wound of racism.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today’s most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email tedweekends@huffingtonpost.com to learn about future weekend’s ideas to contribute as a writer.

Fair Food

fair food by Oran B Hesterman

I wrote a previous blog about this book already. But at that point, I was only on page 5, so now, as promised, a bit more about the whole book…

Best part: Hesterman takes a systems approach that not only looks at the environment, health and agricultural issues across the food system, but includes social issues such as access to nutritious food and treatment of workers on farm fields (in the U.S. and around the world) and in restaurants.

Small disappointment: Hesterman does not provide the answer. In its place, he provides hundreds of examples of innovative, mostly small-scale programs that are beginning to tackle pieces of the issues. While I understand that we don’t have an answer as to how to feed 9 billion people with local, sustainable foods, I still wanted more number crunching and gap analysis at the system level. Impossible, I know, but the title of the book led me to believe he might have the answer.

However, his suggestions at the end come close to meeting this expectation – he suggests ways for everyone to be involved in creating a fair food system that ranges from ‘voting with your dollar’ to community initiatives to institutional changes. And it includes ideas and solutions that include those living in poverty.


The premium pries at farmers markets and for organic food in the grocery stores means that it is simply not an option for a huge part of our population. They are not able to shop at their nearby Whole Foods, because Whole Foods doesn’t even exist in their neighbourhood. So Hesterman also looks at large-scale farming solutions and the role of large corporate retailers in ensuring fair practices exist across their supply chain, and community gardens in under-served neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods like the entire city of Detroit, which does not actually have any chain grocery stores left in the city limits because it is not financially beneficial. He talks about programs that double the value of food stamps for purchases made on produce at farmers markets, and the huge increase in spending that occurred because of this offer.

And he argues, quite reasonably, that we need to keep the current principles that guide the current system: efficiency, high crop yields, and convenience. BUT, the book then focuses on adding four other principles to balance these: equity, diversity, ecological integrity, and economic viability.

So, in short. If you are interested in a more holistic picture of the issues in the existing food system and the solutions that might help, read this book. And to Oran Hesterman, thank you for writing a book that did not give me the answer I was looking for.

10 Most Awesome Guerrilla Gardens from Around the World

Reblogged from Good. I love guerilla gardening. Everything about it.

Guerrilla gardening has been used for ages as a means of protest, a way to beautify a neighborhood, cultivate food, and build community. It’s often done illegally, on appropriated land, and while some have equated it vandalism and trespassing, plenty of others argue it affects a locale positively, greening abandoned and forgotten spaces. While Johnny Appleseed could be considered our nation’s first guerrilla gardener, some recent examples of how people are using green interventions to better their unused public areas, show the phenomena growing. Here’s a round up of ten of our favorite guerrilla gardens—in many iterations—from around the world.

1. The dumpster garden

2. The cacti hydrant

3. May Day mohawk, U.K.

4. Poster pocket planters

5. Moss graffitti

6. Camo car

7. Newspaper box planter

8. Plastic bottle planters

9. Sidewalk spillover

10. Pothole gardening by Steve Wheen

Image 1 via (cc) Flickr user Aulagarden; Image 2 via Turnstylenews.com; Images 4 and 9 via Inhabitat; Image 7 via Popupcity.org; image 6 via Destructables.org; Image via Streetartutopia.com

Why we oppose votes for men.

The Blog of Knitted Fog


From the book Are Women People? by Alice Duer Miller, 1915.

Why We Oppose Votes for Men

1. BECAUSE man’s place is the armory.

2. Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.

3. Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.

4. Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms and drums.

5. Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them peculiarly unfit for the task of government.

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