Saturday, July 30, 2011

No Man´s Land

I first found this story at Jezebel. British artist Mishka Henner has compiled 64 photos of women standing along roads in Spain, Italy and Romania and put them in a book. All of the photos were taken by Google Street View, the tool that lets you see very specific addresses at street level when using Google Maps.

There is the implication, put forward by Henner, that the women are probably sex workers.

The book/project is controversial. Some find the images exploitative. The women could not have given consent to be photographed by Google, or to be published and labeled by Henner. And, we cannot know if they really are sex workers or if they are simply women standing along the road - waiting for a ride, taking a walk or waiting for a child to come home from school. Assuming they are sex workers based on their clothing is dangerous to all women. And why do we assume a woman standing along a road is a sex worker - what would we think of a man doing the same thing?

But I will be honest, some of the pictures do seem to be of women selling sex. I base that in my own experiences of meeting sex workers, not on stereotypes from movies.

I do not like the title. If No Man´s Land is meant to convey the emptiness of the scenes, there are other words to use. Because, while there are no men in the selected photos, men are definitely an important aspect of sex work. If the women are actually sex workers, who do you think they are waiting for?

There is also the issue of Henner´s selling the book for profit. He was not the photographer - is it even art?

Google Street view catches random images of people all the time while recording the street view for geographic purposes only. I imagine Henner spent numerous hours looking for the images online, but he has only compiled them, maybe manipulated the composition. And now he is selling them. The anonymous women, their faces blurred, will receive no recognition, except being labeled as sex workers. I wish that he had made this an exhibit of some sort, but not for profit.

To give him credit, the photos are available for viewing online without any cost. And the composition is beautiful. And the images open up a lot of dialogue about sex work, privacy and about the nature of what makes art.

I think the pictures are fascinating and, despite the ethical concerns, I am glad the project was made. Sex work is marginalized and so we tend to think it exists only in the margins. But these daylight scenes are completely mundane, isolated yet not hidden.

The sites are so rural and vast, some without any buildings at all, you can feel the danger of the work, even in the open, under the sun. Anything could happen to them, and they would be far from help. Or at least, that is the sense I get from the photos. We don´t know anything about what lays beyond the border of the picture. As I said before, the composition may have been edited to increase the sense of isolation.

Many of the pictures of are of black women, while all of the locations are in Europe. The women could citizens of the EU, but many could also be immigrants from Africa or Latin America. The issue of human trafficking hovers over many of the photos.

Another factor to consider is the affect of the Google Street View camera on the captured scene. From what I understand, Google gets these images from a car that carries a camera and GPS unit, taking pictures every 100 meters or so. I do not know how visible the camera would be to pedestrians standing along the road. In some of the photos the women have their back to the road and the camera. If the cameras are visible, or the Google car is suspicious looking, you could imagine the women purposefully turning their backs to the road. Or, if they were walking on the road, they may have stepped aside and waited for the car to pass them - making it look like they had been waiting beside the road for some time.

The Google car probably influenced the scenes in some way.

What do you think about this project?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Misinterpretation in the DSK Case

Nafissatou Diallo, the woman accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape, has come public with her story. This quote attributed to her: «Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing» turns out to have been a poor summary, a paraphrasing, of a recorded phone conversation she held with a friend.

The conversation was is Fulani, a language from Guinea. I wonder about how the conversation was originally interpreted. Who was hired to make the interpretation? How many professional English-Fulani interpreters are there in the US? How could the interpretation be so dangerously misconstrued to imply something she never said? I haven´t found any articles with details on the linguistic issues of the case, only this report from the Wall Street Journal, stating that Diallo insisted the prosecutors, who want to drop her case, should listen more carefully. It sounds like the first interpreter of the recording either didn´t speak Fulani that well or purposefully paraphrased Diallo´s words in a way that discredited her.

The above quote is not actually what she said at all. It is several pieces of a much longer conversation, rearranged in a way that implies she was after DSK´s money. During the actual conversation, she describes in detail what happened to her. She references DSK´s power, not his wealth. She says she knows what to do - as in, find a lawyer, because a crime had been committed against her. Somehow, in a different order, this was interpreted as «Because he has a lot of money, I know what to do [pursue his money].»

Read the story for more.

Ugly things we have heard about DSK´s accuser in the press:

She has HIV

She is an illegal immigrant

She is a drug dealer

She is a prostitute

She is a liar

She is out for money

The point about rape that I would like to make is that she could be any and all of these things and it still does not preclude her from having been raped by DSK.

The accusation of prostitution is especially troubling. It seems there are many who do not believe it is possible for a prostitute to be raped. Let´s be clear, even if a prostitute is paid for the sex, if she did not consent to it, it is rape. Diallo has denied that she has ever worked as a prostitute.

Another point, in the Wall Street Journal article, is uses the term «almost raped». Yet, her charge is that DSK forced her to have oral sex. Oral sex is sex, therefore oral sex without consent is rape.

Diallo has lied about being raped in the past , this is true. But DSK has also been accused of rape in the past, and for some reason this doesn´t hold the same weight.

It seems one must be perfect to be raped – and to receive justice. We should think hard about the implications of this. Diallo may not even be allowed to take her case to court because of mistakes she made in the past. We have all made mistakes, all lied about things big or small that might impact our credibility. Does that mean there are limits to our right to justice when we are wronged?

Related Posts:

Wall Street Journal: Strauss-Kahn Maids´s Remarks Misportrayed
Interpretation Files

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Good Intentions

UNICEF´s Mother Baby Pack is a interesting example of a public health campaign gone wrong.

The pack is a well intended, yet poorly designed intervention meant to prevent the vertical (mother to child) transmission of HIV. The pack contains an astounding 5 month supply of anti-retroviral medications for both mother and infant. It was launched in 2010 in Cameroon, Kenya and Lesotho. While this may have seemed the answer to HIV in rural Africa, where access to medical care is often complicated by long distances from health facilities, 5 months is an awfully long time to go without seeing a doctor when you are both pregnant and HIV+, and 5 months worth of anti-retrovirals is quite a cache of very powerful medication.

While the information in the box may encourage return visits to clinics, by giving this much medication at once, the pack is implicitly discouraging pre and post natal visits. You can see from the picture the labeled boxes for medication taken during and after pregnancy as well as for infants. It seems to imply an HIV+ pregnant woman can do it herself, without a doctor.

Having worked in an HIV clinic and witnessing the vast support system some HIV+ patients truly need, I cannot imagine how this pack became a reality. Many HIV+ patients visit their doctor every three months, to have blood drawn for CD4 counts, to discuss issues with medication, to monitor general well-being. HIV treatment is a beast and patients often need guidance and encouragement to take it properly.

Of course, conditions are different in Africa. The pack is clearly attempting to address the fact that many women simply cannot see a doctor as often as they might if they lived in a developed country. But to expect someone with no medical back round to administer potentially poisonous medication to a new-born infant - it´s strange.

The Mother Baby Pack has now been quietly recalled. You can read UNICEF´s statement here, but you have to look for it under «Ensuring Quality and Effectiveness».To me, it´s a sad story and a little chilling. I am unaware of any reports of death or injury due to the pack, although the potential was there. But I can imagine if there had been, how awful that something so well-intended could have gone so wrong.

It is so easy to make mistakes while trying to do the right thing.

Related Posts:

UNICEF Mother Baby Pack Update
POZ Magazine: HIV and Pregnancy

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fake Immunization Campaign Used by the CIA

An Afghan child receives the oral polio vaccine at a refugee camp in Pakistan.
From Getty Images.

Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that the CIA in Pakistan used the cover of an immunization campaign to gather DNA samples in their attempt to find Osama Bin Laden. The operation was unsuccessful in finding any of Bin Laden´s relatives and does not appear to have lead to the assassination of Bin Laden in April. The participating Pakistani doctor has been arrested and news of the fake campaign will surely have negative affects on public health efforts in the future.

An except from the article:

The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. Bypassing the management of the Abbottabad health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers, who took part in the operation without knowing about the connection to Bin Laden. Health visitors in the area were among the few people who had gained access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, administering polio drops to some of the children.

Afridi had posters for the vaccination programme put up around Abbottabad, featuring a vaccine made by Amson, a medicine manufacturer based on the outskirts of Islamabad.

In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived.

It is not known exactly how the doctor hoped to get DNA from the vaccinations, although nurses could have been trained to withdraw some blood in the needle after administrating the drug.

This operation was profoundly unethical in a number of ways.

As the article reports, the full 3 dose course for the hepatitis B vaccine was not given to the patients. No patients benefited from this immunization campaign. Even if the vaccines were real, the campaign was completely fake.

The mistrust this operation will cause in the community could be disastrous for public health efforts in the near future. Pakistan has still been unable to eradicate polio from its borders. While the Taliban have sometimes supported vaccination campaigns, they have also sabotaged them with violence and rumors that the vaccine is a «tool from the West» meant to sterilize Muslim populations. Now it seems true that immunization campaigns really can be a tool of the West.

The CIA has exploited the trust communities hold in medical professionals and may possibly have exacerbated existing suspicions that vaccinations can be used against them.

Related Post:

Polio: Who Knew Eradication was Controversial?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse 101 Brought to You by the CDC

Back in May of this year, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) actually made a web page about how to handle a zombie apocalypse. You don´t even know how excited I was about this. Most people are surprised to find out that I love zombie movies, but I really do. And the reason I like this is because they are really all about public health.

As the zombie genre has moved far beyond it´s mystical origins, it depends more and more on science to appear plausible. Zombieism in its current cinematic form is usually presented as an extremely contagious type of virus. The zombie-virus most closely resembles rabies in that it makes victims extremely aggressive and is transmitted by a bite. Of course, from there it loses any semblance of real science.

At the moment there is no virus that provokes cannibalism in people.

I like zombie movies like Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend and Rec because the zombie epidemic could be substituted for any national disaster. How would the government react? How would the CDC react? Usually, it acts like a heartless dictator, brutally pushing people into quarantine. I think the CDC´s webpage on the subject is hilarious, because government institutions often play the villain is these types of movies. The CDC itself is often the bad guy in a hazmat suit, tearing apart relatives.

These movies show people stocking up on food and water, barricading their doors and windows, carrying flashlights. All things you should do to prepare for a hurricane.

I also like movies about the zombie apocalypse because I am convinced I would survive one.

Vector Control

I am re-launching my first blog. It no longer made sense to keep the title A Minha Vida, when most of the posts aren´t really about my life anymore. I have another blog for that, one that I have had to make private for work reasons. But I will keep this blog public. I have decided to shift the focus of this blog away from my life and focus on public health in general. In the upper right corner you see 12 tags that categorize most of the posts into public health topics as well as a few others I find interesting. I used the six departments of public health at my alma mater, Tulane, to divide up the «public health» category.

I named the blog Vector Control after my interest in malaria. Hence, the picture of the engorged mosquito. I hope you enjoy the new focus and layout. It´s still a work in progress.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Historic Columbia River Highway

In May, Tyree, my Mom and I went to Portland for my cousin Laura´s wedding. After the wedding, we took a trip along the Historic Columbia River Highway and saw several beautiful waterfalls. I also found these great postcards. I really love the stylized scenes. The back doesn´t say who the artist is, but the were produced by Lantern Press.

Tyree and I at Bridal Veil Falls, along the Historic Columbia River Highway. My mom took the picture. It was a great trip!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beyoncé and Mozambique: Run the World (Girls)

Here is Beyoncé´s video for her new song, «Run the World (Girls)». Some friends alerted me to the fact that the two men dancing with her in the first routine are Mozambican. The video below shows their group Tofo Tofo dancing a similar choreography. Apparently Beyoncé had them come to L.A. to teach her the steps and to film with her. That´s really exciting! It´s great to see Mozambique being represented on the world stage. The video below is really fun and definitely worth a look.

As for Beyoncé´s video, I wasn´t so impressed. There is subtle African imagery, but it´s very hard to say where she thinks this dance off is taking place. The dancing and the hyenas hint that it is somewhere in Africa, but no specific country. The hyenas remind me of photographs of the Hyena Men in Nigeria by Pieter Hugo, which I had seen online a few years ago. Except, Beyoncé, as she is holding the hyenas in chains, also looks like she is in a fashion shoot. More about that later.

At some point she is standing in front of a street sign with the names Tbilisi and Tschinvali, and some other words in another alphabet. A quick google search shows these are not places in Africa but in Russia and Georgia. Maybe the sign is meaningless, maybe the video is supposed to be in nowhere land.

I like Beyoncé, I really do. I think she´s an amazing singer, a profoundly talented dancer. But she has this habit of making her songs seems deeper than they really are. I noticed this with «Upgrade U». It has a great beat, is fun to dance to, and the message seems like it could be a good one - a great woman can make a man a better man. She sings:

«I could do for you what Martin did for the people,
Ran by the man but the women keep the tempo...»

But she follows that with a list of fashion labels that will actually upgrade the man. Audemars Piguet, Hermès, Cartier. Please. Why call on the image of Martin Luther King Jr. if you are only going dig that kind of shallow grave for your song?

The same with «Girls». She sings:

«Smart enough to bear children then get back to business...»

But then why is there no imagery of motherhood or even of professionalism? There is only the imagery of militant strippers. Not that strippers aren´t powerful, not that sexuality isn´t power. But is that really what she wants to say when she says Girls run the World? We run it with our sexuality? We run it with our minds, our hearts, our fertility, our intelligence too.

There are scenes of women, completely still in their poses. This makes the whole video seem like one big photo shoot for Vogue. But fashion is not female empowerment. It is also not empowerment for most Africans. The fashion industry has been scaling up the amount of appropriation of African prints and styles, without increasing the number black models allowed to walk down the catwalks. If Beyoncé really wants to do something for women (and for Africans), she should demand that the fashion labels that pay her for endorsement start hiring more models of color.

I just don´t buy it that Beyoncé is a feminist. This is not a feminist song, or video. And that´s shame.

Update: And to prove my point, here is a quote from Beyoncé´s interview with Harper´s Bazaar:

Although many women today steer away from the word 'feminist', the Texan insists she's always been one, although she believes the movement needs a new name. She explained: 'I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel’s, like, what I live for.

'I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.'