Archive for the 'news' Category


Pink hats

Last week I made ten pink Pussyhats. (The tenth is not pictured because my kid claimed it as soon as it came off the needles.)


I am not usually a big fan of “craftivism” and see it mostly as an inefficient use of time and resources. Rather than spend time and money to knit a sweater to send to refugees halfway across the world, for example, I think it’s far more helpful to send money to charity and activist groups (such as Doctors without Borders) that are already on the ground in those areas and doing something there.

But the Pussyhat Project appealed to me because of its ability to send a clear statement about the importance of justice and equality for all. Because of an all-day (and unmovable) commitment on our calendar, my family wasn’t able to participate in the Women’s March on Washington last week. So I sent these hats with friends marched for themselves and on behalf of people (like me) who wanted to be there but can’t.

When people marched in Washington, DC, and other cities (and countries! and continents!) on January 21, the world took notice. (Even Trump, I’m sure—though he’s still trying to convince everyone that his inauguration crowds were way, way bigger.) Nearly every photo and video of that day’s events featured a sea of pink hats. It was amazing to see this sign of solidarity.

What next? I hope that the many lawmakers and media who have been tepid in their rejection of Trump’s message of misogyny, racism, and hatred will finally find the courage to call out his lies and bullying and  stand up for what’s right. And I hope that these pink hats (and all of the other resistance modes at play last weekend) inspire everyone to realize that the world is a better place when we work together to benefit us all.

And because I’m certain there will be plenty of future opportunities to demonstrate against the current administration and its policies, I plan to keep knitting pink hats.


Water, water everywhere…

…and, for about a billion people in the world, not a drop to drink–that is, not a clean, healthy drop.


Today is Blog Action Day 2010. Every year on October 15, bloggers throughout the world participate in this event by posting about that year’s topic. This year, the topic is water.


Think about this:

  • Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions.
  • African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink.
  • Many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa. (And it’s already causing problems in the Middle East.)
  • While the developing world faces a water crisis, those in industrialized countries consume far more than their fair share. (Twenty-four liters of water to produce a hamburger. Half a liter of water to charge an iPhone. The production of a cotton t-shirt takes 1,514 liters of water.)
  • People in the USA drinking an average of 200 bottles of water per person each year. (And over 17 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture those water bottles, 86 percent of which will never be recycled.)
  • Every day, two million tons of human waste are disposed of in water sources
  • Death and disease caused by polluted coastal waters cost the global economy $12.8 billion a year.
  • Today, 40% of America’s rivers and 46% of America’s lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life.

In July 2010 the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a universal human right. A declaration without action is meaningless, and obviously there’s a long way to go before everyone has clean water. Getting to that point is going to take a lot of work, but there are things you can do to help:

  • Stop contributing to pollution runoff to help keep our rivers and streams clean.
  • Calculate your own water footprint.
  • Take a look at how much water is needed to produce some of your favorite foods and products…and maybe reexamine your consumption patterns.
  • Support organizations such as and Charity:Water in their efforts to bring fresh water to communities in the developing world.
  • Stop using bottled water. Most of the water sold in bottles is municipal water repackaged for dupes; the few products that are truly “mineral” water are transported long distances, at great cost to the environment. The manufacture of bottles (most of which aren’t recycled) uses a lot of resources, and of course the money people spend on this stuff could be much better used elsewhere. Get a reusable SIGG/Kleen Kanteen/whatever (seriously–there are a gazillion inexpensive choices out there for BPA-free reusable bottles) and fill it up with water from your tap. (Don’t like the taste of your tap water? Filter it! But for goodness sakes stop killing the planet with bottled water!)

Most importantly, SPREAD THE WORD. Most people with reliable access to clean water take it for granted. Reminders about its scarcity can make us all more mindful about how we use it–and how to help others get it.



Tune in tomorrow…

…for my post for Blog Action Day 2010! (And it’s not too late to sign up and contribute your own post tomorrow, too!)


I’m still here

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve neglected my own blogging and engaged only in cursory blog reading and other Internet activities. The reason: Sylvia’s impending 4th birthday (which was yesterday).

There were lots of preparations, of the let’s-get-ready-for-her-party variety as well as of the oh-crap-my-parents-are-coming-to-stay-with-us-for-a-week-and-we-need-to-clean-up-this-dump variety.

The party was great fun (in spite of rain), the actual birthday was a blast, and we had a great visit with my parents. So now I’m starting to catch up.


The view at JKF this afternoon



Happy news indeed!

Jan’s brother, Andy, was released from detention today. He boarded a plane out of Abuja, Nigeria, earlier this evening and is currently en route to Frankfurt. He should be home in New York tomorrow afternoon.

Jan and I are both very grateful for all of your efforts on Andy’s behalf. Thanks so much for your communications with senators (ten of whom issued a public letter to the Nigerian president today calling for Andy’s release), congressional representatives, people in the media, and the U.S. State Department. Every e-mail and phone call helped, I’m sure.


Some good news about Andy

We are cautiously optimistic that Monday’s scheduled “routine final processing” will be just that. Please continue contacting your legislators, encouraging them to monitor the situation and take any appropriate action until we know for sure that Andy is safely out of Nigeria. Ask that they not forget to mention his translator, Samuel George, who has also been provisionally released in Port Harcourt.


*****************CONTAINS UPDATES***********************

CONTACT Aaron Soffin, Storyteller Productions Phone: 917.887.4063
/ 212.712.2781 Email:

American filmmaker provisionally released from Nigerian custody to US embassy personnel

NEW YORK, September 5, 2008 – American filmmaker Andrew Berends is being provisionally released to US embassy personnel late Friday night, but is required to return to the State Security Services on Monday for what is expected to be routine final processing. Berends was moved Friday from the SSS offices in Port Harcourt to the Nigerian capital of Abuja. His translator, Samuel George and a Port Harcourt businessman have apparently also been provisionally released in Port Harcourt and must return to the SSS there on Monday.

“Andrew’s family, friends and colleagues are relieved and happy to hear of this progress and appreciate the hard work on many fronts to get to this point,” said Aaron Soffin, Berends’ colleague and coordinator of the release efforts. “We trust that his final processing on Monday will be expedient and routine. We are anxious for confirmation that he is safely on his way out of the country.”

When she heard the news Polly Berends, his mother, said, “Nothing will make me happier than to hear his voice, except to hug him.”

Hearing of Berends’ arrest Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York and Senator Hillary Clinton, D-New York, each responded with a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling for Berends’ immediate release. Several other US lawmakers, including Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, have also been actively engaged in advocating for Berends.

Berends was arrested at approximately 6 pm on Sunday, August 31st, by the Nigerian military along with his translator, Samuel George. Andrew entered Nigeria legally in April 2008 to complete a documentary film.


Latest update on Andy

He’s still being detained in Nigeria. He has just been moved from Port Harcourt (where he’s been all week) to Abuja, the capitol. This is good news, as he will be closer to U.S. consular officials. It’s been six days since his arrest, and no one from the U.S. consulate has visited him yet, which is highly irregular in a situation such as this.

Senator Clinton and Senator Schumer have both issued statements urging the U.S. State Department to press the Nigerian government for Andy’s release. Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent and a board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists, has also issued a statement calling for Andy and his translator, Samuel George, to be released.

Updates are posted here as we have them.

Here’s the latest:


Day 6, and still no action

Day 6 of Andrew’s illegal detention by the State Security Services of Nigeria. The U.S. State Department has been aware of Andrew’s detainment since Day 1, and he has still NOT been visited by a US consular official. This is highly irregular, and not the treatment we expect for a US journalist held in Nigeria — a country the US affords full diplomatic relations.

It’s time to take strong action NOW to advocate on Andrew’s behalf. With the weekend approaching, our ability to reach the State Dept. is diminishing.

Please take a few minutes out of your day to call the State Dept. and demand action for Andy:

We need him to be visited by a US consular official immediately. No more delays.

Please pick up the phone and make this call NOW.

What to say:

* As a constituent and a concerned citizen, I wanted to bring your attention to the news that it is the SIXTH DAY that American journalist Andrew Berends has been detained by the Nigerian government while working on a documentary.

* Nigeria enjoys the highest level of diplomatic relations with the United States, and for an American journalist to be detained without representation for such a prolonged time and continually subjected to coercive questioning is both highly inappropriate and illegal.

* We ask you to work to ensure the good treatment and speedy release of Andrew Berends, his interpreter Samuel George and Joe Bussio from Nigerian custody. Someone from the State Department in Nigeria needs to see him immediately.

Washington DC

Andrew Silski is at the Nigeria desk: 202-647-0252
Stuart Denyer is in charge of the case in DC: 202-736-9163


Call the main consular line in Abuja 011 234 9461 4262
Call the main consular lines in Lagos: Telephone: 011 234 1261 0050 or 011 234 1261 0078

We know that many of you have been in contact with your elected official, both your Congressional Representative or your Senator. We encourage you to continue to contact them towards Andrew’s release. If you have not contacted your Congressional Representative or your Senator, please do so today.

To get your Representative or Senator’s contact information, click here.

Senators from New York:

In addition to calling your local representative, we would like everyone to call the two Senators from New York State, Andrew’s home state. When talking with the New York representatives, please make sure you mention that Andrew is a New Yorker.

You can reach them here:
* Senator Charles Schumer (D- NY) 212-486-4430
* Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- NY) 212-688-6262
Please forward this call to action to anyone you think could help by making a call to their representatives and the NY senators.

This just in from Andy’s editor, who is coordinating the effort to get him released:

We’ve engaged the help of Senators Schumer and Clinton, and we suggest you contact them to urge their continued involvement toward a speedy end. We also suggest you get in touch with your local congressperson and your U.S. senators to inform them of the situation and of the New York senators’ role. You can also call the state department and the embassies directly to voice your concern. I urge you to include Samuel George in your inquiries. He is Andrew’s translator and was arrested with him but has not seen the privileged treatment afforded to Andrew as a U.S. citizen.  We must make sure that our efforts work toward his safety and release as well.


*****************CONTAINS UPDATES***********************

CONTACT Aaron Soffin, Storyteller Productions Phone: 917.887.4063
/ 212.712.2781 Email:

Senator Charles Schumer calls American filmmaker’s detainment by the Nigerian government “untenable”

NEW YORK, September 4, 2008 – Hearing of the arrest of Andrew Berends, an established, award-winning American filmmaker and journalist, Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York, responded with a letter on Wednesday to Secretary of State Condelezza Rice calling for Berends’ immediate release.

“This situation is untenable,” said Schumer. “Mr. Berends, an award-winning journalist, was making a film about the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil-producing area, where government forces and armed separatists have been fighting for years. Unfortunately, it seems that the Nigerian government thinks that it can conceal the economic and ecological disaster in the region by harassing and intimidating foreign journalists. This is unacceptable.”

Berends was arrested at approximately 6 pm on Sunday, August 31st by the Nigerian military along with his translator, Samuel George. Andrew entered Nigeria legally in April 2008 to complete a documentary film.

At the time of his arrest Andrew Berends was filming women going to market at the Nembe waterside in Port Harcourt, a public place. Andrew received verbal permission to film in the area from the Sargeant in charge at the waterfront that day.

After Andrew’s initial arrest by the Nigerian military, he was transferred first to the police and then to the State Security Services. He was interrogated by all three groups for 36 hours without access to legal representation, and without being allowed to eat or sleep. Andrew stated that the interrogation was coercive, and that all of his statements to the SSS were involuntary.

There has been no news of his translator, Samuel George, since Monday, and there is concern that he may be undergoing poor treatment at the hands of the Nigerian Government.

The State Security Services confiscated Andrew’s personal belongings, including his passport, notebooks, camera, hard drives and laptop computer. Andrew remains under the custody of the Nigerian State Security Services.
Two-time Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker James Longley, who has known Andrew Berends for the last 16 years and worked side by side with him on documentary films in Iraq, added: “Now that more information is available to the highest levels of the Nigerian government about Andrew’s situation and the circumstances of his arrest, I am optimistic that this unfortunate matter will be resolved immediately.”

The US State Department continues to work on the situation, as does a private lawyer retained on Andrew’s behalf. Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have issued statements condemning Andrew’s arrest. We, Andrew’s friends, family, and colleagues, are deeply concerned that he has been held without cause and are calling for the safe treatment and immediate release of Andrew Berends and Samuel George.

“Of course I am devastated by what my son is going through,” Polly Berends, Andrew’s mother said. “I’m terribly worried about him, and want him home as soon as possible. Throughout childhood and adolescence in Hastings-on-Hudson, Andy was always passionate about fairness. His work as a filmmaker reflects the same dedication. His films reveal untold stories of injustice objectively, letting facts speak vividly for themselves. I am hugely proud of him. I am also profoundly grateful for all the people working to get him released, and for the efforts of Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton’s and Senator Schumer’s offices on his behalf.”



Update on Andy

Thanks so much, everyone, for your kindness. It really means a lot to us.

News of Andy’s situation has been picked up by a variety of news outlets. Here are a few:

New York Times
Le Monde
Gulf News

A blog has been set up, but it looks like for now at least most updates are going through e-mail and forum channels.

He was temporarily released again last night (with orders to report back to the police this morning). Last night he spoke directly with his editor in New York (the person listed in the press release as the contact; he’s coordinating all communication and efforts among family, friends, and the documentary/journalism community), who sent out word to everyone about this communication and said Andy was doing all right.

An action alert was just issued a few moments ago. I’ve attached it below. Please take a look at it and take whatever action you can to help Andy. Thank you!


*************ACTION ALERT!**************

We would like everyone to contact their congressional representatives to raise political pressure on this issue.

Phone Script for Elected Officials:

* As a constituent and a concerned citizen, I wanted to bring your attention to the news that American journalist Andrew Berends has been arrested by the Nigerian government while working on a documentary.

* Nigeria enjoys the highest level of diplomatic relations with the United States, and for an American journalist to be detained without representation and subjected to coercive questioning is both highly inappropriate and illegal.

* We ask you to make known your awareness and concern about this matter, contact your colleagues, and work to ensure the good treatment and speedy release of Andrew Berends and his interpreter from Nigerian custody.

We would like everyone to call both their own local representatives and also the two Senators from New York State. When talking with New York reps, please add that Andrew is a New Yorker.

The contact information for NY senators Clinton and Schumer is:

* Senator Charles Schumer (D- NY) 202-224-6542
* Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- NY) 202-224-4451

Your local representatives contacts may be found here.

Please forward this call to action to anyone you think could help by making a call to their representatives and the NY senators.

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