Tag Archives: interview

Federal officials accidentally emailed a reporter their plans to spin Puerto Rico.

In a memo leaked last week, Department of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert recommended White House staff pivot to a “theme of stabilizing” with regard to messaging around the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump, however, appears to have missed that particular update. On Thursday morning, he threatened to pull federal relief workers from the devastated island just three weeks after Maria made landfall.

Meanwhile, most of Puerto Rico is still without power, hospitals are running out of medical supplies, and clean water remains scarce.

Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis. In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused host Chris Cuomo of fabricating reports of the severity of the disaster.

“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up,” Perry said. “If half the country didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying, and they’re not.”

45 Puerto Rican deaths have been officially confirmed so far, and reports from the ground indicate the unofficial number of deaths due to the storm is higher.

Link – 

Federal officials accidentally emailed a reporter their plans to spin Puerto Rico.

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Donald Trump is threatening to end federal relief to Puerto Rico — on Twitter, of course.

In a memo leaked last week, Department of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert recommended White House staff pivot to a “theme of stabilizing” with regard to messaging around the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump, however, appears to have missed that particular update. On Thursday morning, he threatened to pull federal relief workers from the devastated island just three weeks after Maria made landfall.

Meanwhile, most of Puerto Rico is still without power, hospitals are running out of medical supplies, and clean water remains scarce.

Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis. In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused host Chris Cuomo of fabricating reports of the severity of the disaster.

“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up,” Perry said. “If half the country didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying, and they’re not.”

45 Puerto Rican deaths have been officially confirmed so far, and reports from the ground indicate the unofficial number of deaths due to the storm is higher.


Donald Trump is threatening to end federal relief to Puerto Rico — on Twitter, of course.

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Puerto Ricans might be drinking Superfund-polluted water, the EPA says.

In a memo leaked last week, Department of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert recommended White House staff pivot to a “theme of stabilizing” with regard to messaging around the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump, however, appears to have missed that particular update. On Thursday morning, he threatened to pull federal relief workers from the devastated island just three weeks after Maria made landfall.

Meanwhile, most of Puerto Rico is still without power, hospitals are running out of medical supplies, and clean water remains scarce.

Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis. In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused host Chris Cuomo of fabricating reports of the severity of the disaster.

“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up,” Perry said. “If half the country didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying, and they’re not.”

45 Puerto Rican deaths have been officially confirmed so far, and reports from the ground indicate the unofficial number of deaths due to the storm is higher.

Original link – 

Puerto Ricans might be drinking Superfund-polluted water, the EPA says.

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Facebook’s Not Designed to Create a “Global Community”

Mother Jones

In the early 1960’s, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village.” He predicted that electronic technologies would come to connect citizens around the world, forming one huge community. Mark Zuckerberg, whose company Facebook has 1.8 billion users worldwide, continues to echo the idea in his public talks, including in February when he apologized about the spread of fake news on his platform and restated his mission to “build a global community that works for all of us.” But was McLuhan right? Have the internet’s inventions brought us closer together?

Ramesh Srinivasan, a professor at UCLA, raises this question in his debut book Whose Global Village? Rethinking How Technology Impacts Our World. As a researcher focused on the relationship between technology, politics, and society, Srinivasan proposes a deconstruction of Western tech company narratives. He points out that today’s most popular technological tools were developed by just a few men in Silicon Valley. And while their social media platforms may be wildly popular, these founders tend to get too much credit for influencing events around the globe. For instance, Srinivasan points out that there is a belief that the Egyptian revolution during the Arab Spring in 2011 was only possible thanks to Twitter and Facebook—actually, less than 10 percent of Egyptians had access to those platforms in their homes at the time.

Srinivasan also shares his own experiences about community empowerment through technology with Native Americans in California and New Mexico, and with locals in Egypt and in rural India. In addition to greater transparency in contracts established on the Internet, the author urges for the creation of more tech tools that respect cultural values ​​and the voices of local communities.

Mother Jones: Why did you write this book?

Ramesh Srinivasan: The book really comes out of my own personal experience. I am a former engineer and I was really excited about the possibility of building better technology to serve humanity. A lot of us as engineers have this belief that if you build a tool you somehow can empower humans economically or socially. The idea of building a better technology often means more efficiency. When I was in graduate school at MIT I was trying to think about how to develop software and systems for farmers and villagers in India. In the process of doing that, I realized that my reference point was internal to the laboratory, rather than in the communities that I was wanting to serve. So in a sense I was not necessarily thinking about the values, belief systems, and the realities that are being experiencing by the communities that I was supposed to be working with. I realized that I could no longer assume what a good technology looks like from inside the laboratory; instead, I had to be in the world with people. Not just designing for them but with them.

MJ: What is the real meaning of technology to you?

RS: Technology is nothing but an expression of human values. It’s not neutral, it’s not about efficiency, it’s about people’s values and their knowledge. If you share information widely, but you present that information in ways that fits your own view, you’re actually still misrepresenting. So instead what you should do is figure out ways to build systems that allow people to experience and classify their information in ways that are meaningful for them.

MJ: What is the “global village,” and why is it a myth?

RS: It was a term that was stated by Marshall McLuhan; his prediction was some kind of electronic communication technology would emerge to instantaneously connect the world so much so that the whole globe would be like a village. The question isn’t about global village but whose global village. The point I’m trying to make is if these networks of communication technologies are owned, monetized, surveilled, and classified by those with power—very few people, mainly white men in Silicon Valley—then it is a global village build upon the ideas, visions, words, and protocols of the few. So it’s not global—it’s like Epcot center. It’s like Disneyland: a small worldview of the larger world.

MJ: As you said, Twitter and Facebook were accessed in fewer than 10 percent of Egyptian homes in 2011. Why do people believe the revolution was led by this kind of technology?

RS: Some of the activists of course were using social media. But overall in the country, including in Cairo, a very small percentage were using it. They were using these tools to influence journalism, to influence the international coverage. The Egyptians used every form of organizing they could think of and they built coalitions. A lot of the people that were involved in this had been organizing for 30 or 40 years.

MJ: Why do you say that inequality today is a major part of the story of the internet?

RS: In its early days the Internet seem to be a counter cultural space and an anti corporate space, now is the place for corporate economic production. What the internet is now isn’t what it used to be and it doesn’t have to be what it turns into. Instagram was sold to Facebook for $1 billion with 13 employees in the Bay Area. In the same year, Kodak, which had employed more than 40,000 people, was bankrupt. What is happening in a digital economy where 40,000 people lose their jobs and 13 people become super millionaires? Those systems are created in such way that support the capturing of data, keeping of data, buying and selling the data to support what we call corporate surveillance. These are things that are happening right now and they’re really bad.

MJ: What are the main conceptual changes that the World Wide Web has faced since the 1990’s? It was a more decentralized structure before, right?

RS: Absolutely, it was horizontal, decentralized. It was like being in Wild West, the frontier. There is a reason why Electronic Frontier Foundation is called that way. It was supposed to be this open place where all sorts of crazy stuff could happen, like unpredictable, uncontrolled space, that really supported autonomy and privacy, but still worked because people had an idea of social contract. You could kind of be free and expressive but you already knew when you joined the internet, you knew that you should not be a troll. So what happened? Part of it is the internet scaled to such a degree so the kind of idea of a social contract or a community became increasingly difficult to maintain. Part of it is that platforms took over the open internet. You began to experience the internet through platforms that were themselves controlled by specific companies, technical instruments of those companies, like search and retrieval and ordering and classification.

MJ: Isn’t it also a problem of scale?

RS: Scale doesn’t need to mean the absence of decentralization. If you create networks that allow people in their own local systems to have power and agency and sovereignty in their own systems. The idea that people could just know what’s happening with their data. You could work with the platform, in communication with it, more than “I’m just like experiencing as a blind person in a black box”.

MJ: Do you think we should have more legislation about privacy?

RS: Not just about privacy, but also about community sovereignty. Communities that are using the internet should be aware of what the terms of their contract are with these platforms and they don’t even know. Google and Facebook extend internet access across the world, but the access is generally speaking to an internet that is focused on the advertisers to those sites. So I’m really interested not just in privacy for the individual but respect for the local communities. And I think we have a problem with both and whenever industries kind of become almost monopolistic they have to be challenged to be more responsible. We can challenge them in the press, in the courts and in regulation.

MJ: I’m afraid that government ruling the internet might not be a good thing either.

RS: I think the governments need to encourage these companies and convince them that they can be extremely profitable without necessarily spiraling out of control. Without becoming monopolist. But we are getting close to the point where as every platform of tech that has any level of scale gets bought by either Google or Facebook or sometimes Microsoft. We are getting to the point where we see some oligopoly in terms of behavior online, and that it’s really problematic because the oligopolies are completely non transparent, they are terrible in terms of labor and economic equality and they support systems of surveillance. It can create a world where we are all placed in bubbles, where the systems themselves can be manipulated by people who don’t have our best interests in mind. The fake news thing came out that system. Fake news is a product of the internet that is not transparent. Fake news can spread online because as users we have no idea where any of the content we see comes from.

MJ: What do you see happening with the big tech companies right now?

RS: We are at a moment that some of the Silicon Valley companies are feeling the pressure. These days the founder of Twitter apologized that his company promoted some of the things that elected Trump. You don’t see that much of these apologizing from Google. From Zuckerberg you are hearing a little bit more of it, but he is a little more “Oh, well, this is what happens because the internet scaled up and everybody has fake news; oh, we are gonna build a better technology”. This is what engineers in Silicon Valley typically do. “Ok, well, of course there are some problems of our technology because it is so excellent and is so global so we are just gonna build a better one.” What do you mean by better? They are not understating that they are so politically and socially and culturally central in the world. They would probably never have thought that they would become like this. But now that they are, what are they gonna do about it? I have a lots of friends who work in these companies: it’s about taking responsibility.

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Facebook’s Not Designed to Create a “Global Community”

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Stop Being Shocked That Teen Girls Give a Shit About Politics

Mother Jones

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Over the last few months, Teen Vogue‘s clear-eyed, accessible coverage of the Trump administration has caught the collective attention of the internet. A major force behind Teen Vogue‘s recent work is Lauren Duca, the magazine’s weekend editor. Her piece on Donald Trump’s gaslighting of the American people went viral back in December, as did her powerful response to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, after he suggested on air that instead of writing about politics, she should “stick to the thigh-high boots.” Cringe.

But Carlson’s comment was actually less annoying to Duca than the fawning masses who seem so surprised that a magazine for teenagers can also produce great news commentary. I talked to Duca, whose new column launched last week, about her role in shaping Teen Vogue‘s work—and why the magazine’s political coverage reaches far beyond its target demographic.

Lauren Duca

Mother Jones: How did you start writing politically opinionated pieces for Teen Vogue?

Lauren Duca: Their mode of coverage has been really rigorous and committed to informing their audience since I started in January 2016, and also earlier. I was on the weekend that the Pulse shooting happened. It was really a high level of support editorially for taking these things on in a way that was unflinching and honest. So it was honestly kind of an organic segue into becoming more political as things took on more urgency. My job on the weekends was just to be deciding what the coverage was for the weekend. So that meant everything from Selena Gomez has a new Pantene ad to Donald Trump is lying to the American public. That was the scope of possibilities.

I think the reason they hired me, too—it wasn’t just a random thing. I had a culture column called Middlebrow at HuffPost and a reporting background. But weekend editor is typically a more starting-level position, and they took someone who they knew did a lot of cultural analysis. And when I say “they,” I mean specifically Phil Picardi, the editorial director. So hiring me was a very deliberate choice. It was kind of like, these are the ethically driven people with skills that are already in place. And this was kind of the work that Teen Vogue was already doing. So people being shocked is a little annoying.

MJ: It seems like just since Trump was elected, Teen Vogue has really ratcheted up the coverage. Was there a particular moment that you felt a real shift at the magazine?

LD: When I came on, it was already the kind of place that was doing that kind of thing. The wellness stuff, for example, is political in a nontraditional way. LGBTQ work and mental health work and being frank about sexuality—all those kinds of areas where they’ve been “woke” for a long time. It’s just taking on that mode of informing young women, and just a natural segue into traditional politics.

MJ: So it’s annoying that everyone is kind of fawning and surprised that Teen Vogue is showing up with political coverage.

LD: Yeah, there’s a spectrum of those responses. There’s definitely a mode of stealthy condescension sometimes, where I’m almost relieved by the Tucker Carlson comment in a way. Because the sort of “stick to the thigh-high boots” denial of access to a political conversation is such an explicit version of what I was already kind of itching over with the response. Other versions of the Tucker Carlson comment: “Her last post was about Selena Gomez’s makeup.” And it’s like, yes, it’s possible to do both those things, especially because I was on weekends. That’s part of why I didn’t have a specific beat. But the moment we’re living in right now, a politically active voice is required of everyone, and they’re still allowed to have nonserious interests. And I don’t see why that’s not true for young women.

MJ: Right, it’s just sort of baffling, the idea that teens aren’t political.

LD: It’s so frustrating. Especially because there’s so much political potential for young people. Millennials are now as big of a segment of the population as baby boomers. If we can actually can get everyone to show up and vote and be active, there’s a potential to shape elections for the next 35 years based on those statistics. I think young people absolutely care. They care in different ways. That generational divide, how it shows up in political discussions is especially ugly. It’s all, “Ugh, millennials and selfishness and narcissism, and oh my god, they’re taking selfies.” It’s like, “No, this is how we’re interacting with our world, and it’s different from the way you interact with your world, and by the way, thanks for the mountains of debt.”

MJ: So when you write, are you writing for millennials or teenagers?

LD: The audience for Teen Vogue is young women specifically. I think the reason the Trump gaslighting article did so well was that it wasn’t like, “Hey, teen girls.” It was like, “hey everybody.” I think the idea of political coverage that’s accessible to young women, the reason it took off so much is because so much of political coverage—people feel alienated from it, they don’t necessarily have the news literacy to make sense of everything. Everything is legitimately confusing. I think that things that are accessible to more people are just going to empower more people with information. And I think there are more people reading Teen Vogue now. I certainly get a lot of letters like, “I’m a 64-year-old man, and I certainly never would have read Teen Vogue before.” It’s like, relax. In the column I’m starting, I’m hoping it can be breaking things down and providing resources on what to read and what to prioritize in thinking about all the drain clogging and disinformation from this administration. I would love if that went beyond the typical readership.

MJ: What are you hearing from the actual teen readers of Teen Vogue?

LD: I’m hearing some really cool stuff. I have people doing school projects on me, which is insanely amazing. Yesterday I got an email from a high school junior who was doing a speech on me and my work, and do I have a message for her audience. I was like, this is insane, this is incredible. So yes, it’s reaching the people it’s meant to reach, too.

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Stop Being Shocked That Teen Girls Give a Shit About Politics

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Love in the Time of Mass Migration

Mother Jones

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You can get through Mohsin Hamid’s latest in an afternoon. Not to suggest that Exit West, Hamid’s fourth novel, is frivolous reading. In just over 200 pages, he spans the globe as he tells the story of Nadia and Saeed, a young Muslim couple forced to flee an unnamed homeland—first to Greece and then to California. Falling in love as their city descends into conflict and chaos, the two eventually escape through magical portals, landing in refugee camps and squatters dens where they are confronted by nativist mobs. The crisis and the characters are fictional, but the circumstances feel almost journalistic. “It’s a love story,” Hamid assures me.

Exit West is, in fact, a classic boy-meets-girl tale, but like much of Hamid’s previous work it also tells a larger story of globalization and its discontents. With great compassion, he portrays the profound ruptures in a rapidly changing world. His characters are average people with average ambitions who bear the burdens of mobility—westward, upward, or forced. Given the anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the United States, it feels both urgent and much needed.

Hamid knows a thing or two about culture shock. He was born in the Pakistani city of Lahore, where he now lives with his wife and two children, a short drive from the Indian border. But he spent some formative childhood years playing on the manicured lawns of Palo Alto. Since releasing his first novel, Moth Smoke, in 2000, Hamid has won a Man Booker Prize, has had his work adapted for film and translated into 35 languages, and has been named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s “Leading Global Thinkers.” His novels, which also include The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, enjoy international acclaim and bestseller status. But Exit West may be his most prescient to date—an antidote of sorts (one can only hope) in this moment of xenophobic fear and mistrust.

Mother Jones: What was it like growing up between Pakistan and the United States?

Mohsin Hamid: When I was three, my dad went to do his Ph.D. at Stanford, so my mom and I moved with him and we lived in California for six years. I moved back to Lahore when I was nine, in 1980, and went back to the US for college and law school. I worked in New York for a while, then London for the better part of a decade. I have been back in Lahore for about seven years now.

MJ: Was there a sense of culture shock moving back and forth?

MH: There was pretty huge culture shock when I was nine! I had no memories of Pakistan. We hadn’t been back to visit in the six and a half years we’d been in California, and phone calls were expensive so I never really spoke to anyone. There was no internet. I’d never seen Pakistani movies or television, and I’d forgotten how to speak Urdu. So basically I was a Californian kid. I arrived in Pakistan completely unfamiliar with where I was going—and then utterly lost connection with where I’d just been. When I moved back, in 2009, with my wife and our daughter, it was still very strange. Maybe at a certain point, if you’ve moved around enough, everywhere feels a little bit foreign.

MJ: Do you consider Urdu your first language?

MH: This is the weird thing. My second language has become my first, and Urdu has become my second or third language. I started speaking at a very young age, a lot, but in Urdu. So in America, I go play outside in front of the townhouse by the Stanford campus where we live. All those townhouses look identical and I start crying. Outside the townhouse next to ours, the neighbor looks down at this befuddled Pakistani kid, and I’m looking at him like, “This is not my house! These are not my parents!” I’m surrounded by a bunch of kids and they ask my mother, “What’s wrong with him? Why can’t he speak?” She says, “He speaks fine.” And they say, “Is he retarded?”

For a month after that I didn’t speak a word. They were quite worried. I just watched cartoons. A month later, when I next spoke, I spoke in English with an American accent. I guess I spent a month somehow transitioning. It must have been quite traumatic to have made me silent for so long. Perhaps it’s shaped who I am, and my nomadic and multinational, multicultural view of life.

MJ: Were you drawn to books as a kid?

MH: Very early on. I was really into fantasy worlds and I loved stories—comic books in particular. My dad had this outlook: It doesn’t matter what I want to read—reading was a good thing. So whatever I was curious about they’d get for me from the library. Books were a kind of a resistance to reality. I liked to imagine worlds that were different. I still do.

MJ: Were there books or shows you couldn’t get in Pakistan because they were too salacious?

MH: Books, nobody bothered to censor them. You could find everything from full-on porn to soft porn in the guise of fantasy and sci-fi, and books like Lolita that had controversial sexual themes. There was much more censorship of images, though in the ’80s the VCR became quite popular, and you could get all the films you get in the US on pirated videocassettes.

MJ: What are the biggest misunderstandings between American and Pakistani cultures?

MH: The monolithic view that many Americans have of Pakistani culture is as inaccurate as the monolithic view that many Pakistanis have of American culture. In America there are people advocating for trans rights and people like Vice President Pence, who is vehemently opposed. In Pakistan, too, you have all kinds of folks—from flamboyant gay fashion designers and female Air Force pilots to the Taliban. A cross-dressed man used to be the top TV talk show host. It was actually quite radical. So the diversity of these societies is often lost on people. If an American teenager were to come to Lahore, they’d have wildly different experiences depending on whom they met. They could party and get drunk and smoke hashish with some, while others would say, “Let’s get some religious instruction.”

MJ: There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the migrant crisis, but we seldom really get to know the refugees themselves. Did that factor into your reasons for writing Exit West?

MH: I’m not sufficient to act as their voice. But I thought it was important to imagine a narrative where a migrant was the hero, the protagonist, and enjoyed all of the narrative sympathies that come with that role. Because all over the world, the nativist perspective is being privileged over those who are more recent arrivals.

I also think massive migration is inevitable. As sea levels rise, as climate change happens, as fertile fields become arid, as wars are fought, people are going to move. They always have. I think we should be prepared, given environmental and political change for large-scale migration. If sea levels rise and 200 million people in Bangladesh and 300 million people in Indonesia need to move, and the entire Chinese seaboard, New York City—that’s going to be huge. So I thought it was important to imagine a future of immense migration and compress that into just a couple of years. And to imagine this future not as just a dystopian horror, but as something more complicated—that might even have elements of hope.

Partly, it’s our failure to imagine how change can be hopeful that empowers nostalgic narratives that try to take us back to the past in ways that are very dangerous.

MJ: People will inevitably call this a refugee story, but it almost seems like a love story first and foremost.

MH: In a way, all of my novels have been love stories. This one’s about young love, which two people as they grow and develop potentially leave behind. But also for the possibility of friendship to outlast the love. We’re not condemned to this titanic struggle of possession. This is about a different kind of relationship. I think all human stories are migration stories because everyone is a refugee from their own childhood. Even if you don’t move localities, time moves. The California of your childhood is over. So to say it’s a refugee story is true—and it’s also a love story. The notion of love as a potentially destructive and potentially redemptive human force is something that comes across in all my books.

MJ: So we should call you a romantic novelist?

MH: Laughs. In a weird way, yes! I’m not uncomfortable with the term. We think of the romance novel as a lesser form of literature, but I don’t think that’s true. Love is a very important aspect of human life and worth exploring. In Italian, the word for novel is romanzo, “the romance.” The English is “novel”—something new. Both of those elements, experimentation and love, are fundamental to the form.

MJ: Do you have any favorite love stories?

MH: I don’t have a single archetypal one, but for example, Charlotte’s Web is this beautiful story about love and death. Charlotte becomes kind of like a best friend for Wilbur, but also like a mother for him. That’s a novel about how love endures and how it makes weathering the experience of mortality more possible.

MJ: The discussion about migration right now seems to be dominated by fear. Is love the antidote?

MH: Also the need to empathize with, and insert oneself inside, experiences that are different than one has had. Literature and art and movies all play a very important role. They can help disarm this feeling. When we aren’t collectively imagining hopeful futures, then the way things are going almost invariably seems negative and frightening.

MJ: I understand you take walks to catalyze your writing. Your pace of publication has improved. Is walking to thank?

MH: It might be that I’m getting older. This novel felt quick to me—it took four years. But walking is very good for writers. There’s something fundamentally useful about not talking to anybody, not looking at a screen, and being in nature—even if that nature is an urban environment. It’s definitely helped me, especially when I’m completely stuck.

In that sense, the mobile phone is very dangerous. If you’re walking and looking at your phone, you’re not walking—you’re surfing the internet. If you keep your eyes open, walking is a meditative act. It’s so rare that we allow ourselves just to be. It’s a space in a day that we almost never carve out for ourselves. I think it’s very useful, like sleeping and dreaming, as something that’s important to my ability to write.

MJ: So you leave your phone at home?

MH: I keep it in my pocket. But I believe in digital detox. We’re all so terrified in the world right now partly because of the digital—that’s TV, radio, reading your favorite conspiracy theory blog. That stuff activates a sort of fight-or-flight response, and that’s not a state human beings feel good inhabiting. When I’m really plugged in I find it difficult to write. It’s like digging a well. If you make a void, something moves in to fill it. Writing books is like that. It’s mostly about freeing up time, doing nothing, and in that time some writing starts to happen. We need to figure out how to maintain those voids.

MJ: What’s it like to be in Pakistan living so close to India?

MH: Lahore is a very weird place in that sense. I can drive to the border in 30 minutes, walk across a line painted in the cement, and I’m in India. It’s bizarre. India to someone who lives in Lahore is like Queens to someone who lives in Lower Manhattan—it’s not far away, and yet it doesn’t exist. Lahore really is on a fault line. The animosity between India and Pakistan is deeply unfortunate and dangerous, and it’s something I’ve long campaigned to reduce. But right now, when there’s artillery being exchanged in Kashmir—which is not for from here, either—and there are 100-ish nuclear weapons on each side of the border, there’s never really been a case like this where two nuclear armed countries are happily shelling each other.

MJ: Was your family growing up very religious?

MH: There were differing degrees: Some people never did anything you would describe as outwardly religious, like praying or fasting. Others prayed five times a day. My mother has been to Mecca to perform her hajj; my dad hasn’t. I come from a very liberal family, so even the people who are outwardly religious tend to subscribe to gender equality, the importance of open-mindedness, all that stuff. My family is generally nonprescriptive.

MJ: Are you religious yourself?

MJ: It’s not something I like to talk about publicly. One reason is the politics, but also I think spirituality is deeply personal. My aunt used to say, “It’s between me and my god; it’s got nothing to do with you.” It was a good enough answer for me as a snot-nosed college kid angling for a religious debate, and I still think it’s a good way of putting it.

MJ: How do you feel about mandates on religious clothing?

MH: I’m not a fan. We should be very skeptical of people who want to place limits on how we express ourselves. If my daughter wanted to wear a headscarf and dress in a religiously conservative way, I would be heartbroken. But if she were to decide to do that and she were to live in a place where people said she couldn’t do that, I would be entirely committed to her right to do so. The ban on the burkini, which is basically a wetsuit, seems particularly ridiculous. We know nuns will wear something like that, and we know the bikini was only invented 50 or 60 years ago—people wore more clothing until recently. The ethnocultural connotations of the burkini ban are very strong. It’s as absurd as mandating that women have to go topless on the beach. If I were a woman, I definitely would not want to wear a burkini or a headscarf. But it’s not about what I want.

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Love in the Time of Mass Migration

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"Get Out" Is the Horror Flick America Needs Right Now

Mother Jones

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“Do they know I’m black?”

That’s the question photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) asks his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) before they venture off to meet her parents for the first time. She assures him everything will be fine. But Chris is rattled. Whether that assurance is enough in this faux-postracial America underpins the social commentary behind comedian Jordan Peele’s subversive horror film, Get Out, which opens Friday. The color of one’s skin—and how others respond to it—matters, whether or not the love itself is colorblind.

In his directorial debut, Peele, known for his previous foray in the sketch comedy show Key & Peele, carries us through the uncomfortable situation of the first encounter with the significant other’s parents. Except that in this case, Chris encounters Rose’s warm yet overly polite parents in a secluded, rural estate. Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon by trade, explains at one point how he would’ve voted for Obama for a third term and felt the need to let Chris know his father ran alongside Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. Missy, a hypnotherapist, welcomes Chris with open arms. At a social gathering of the Armitages’ rich, predominantly white friends (with the exception of one Asian man and a dapper, strange “brother” named Andrew, played by Lakeith Stanfield), Chris must smile and nod. Equally as unsettling are the zombielike behaviors of the Armitages’ help, a black groundskeeper and q maid plucked from a time long past.

What begins as a comedy guided by paranoia and discomfort takes a sinister turn, morphing into a psychological thriller about what Peele calls “the universal monster that is racism.” I spoke with the director about his social satire and why there aren’t not enough horror flicks for black and Latino audiences.

Mother Jones: At Sundance, you talked about how the idea for Get Out arose out during the 2008 presidential primaries. What was it about that moment that sparked the idea?

Jordan Peele: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were competing for the Democratic nomination, so there was this sort of understanding of gender civil rights and racial civil rights, and we were looking at the two in terms of one another. It got me thinking about my favorite movies—Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives—which are these thrillers that pulled off amazing commentary about gender. It got me wondering why there’s not a quintessential racial horror film since Night of the Living Dead. That set me off on the path.

MJ: Do you think this film will resonate differently now that Donald Trump is our president?

JP: I do. The conversation about race is inevitable. It’s one that people know that we have to have and continue to have. It’s very uncomfortable to talk about race. It often devolves before it begins. I think Get Out is resonating now because people are facing this problem, but want to do it in a fun way, if possible.

MJ: So much of the movie is grounded in discomfort and paranoia around social situations, from Chris’ first meeting with the Armitages to the huge gathering with friends. How much of that is grounded in your own experience?

JP: That’s something every black person I’ve talked to certainly recognizes. Most minority groups would see some version of this. I would also imagine women feel this way. Race is a universal flaw in humanity. So yes, I’ve been in many situations where I’ve felt like the outsider because of the color of my skin.

MJ: What do you mean when you say race is a universal flaw in humanity?

JP: It’s in our DNA. Back when we were Neanderthals or whatever, we evolved to think along tribal lines. Survival was based on this idea of who are we and who are the others who will come and take our resources. I think it’s an animal and a human thing that we all see in terms of us vs. them, and race is a very easy way to separate who is us and who is them. I just think racism is within each and every one of us. It’s everyone’s responsibility to figure out how they deal with this kind of obsolete instinct.

MJ: Watching this movie reminded me of the first time I went to my girlfriend’s megachurch in rural Michigan. You get that sense of “Are they staring at me?”

JP: Laughs. Yeah, sure. Which side of the interracial relationship are you?

MJ: I’m Puerto Rican. She’s white.

JP: Oh yeah, see, this is why I need to do a Latino Get Out next! It’s the same experience, this feeling of being the other. I’m sure you’ve been in situations as a Puerto Rican man where people are approaching you and the first thing they say is, I don’t know, using their limited knowledge of Spanish or their favorite food or somehow talking about Mexicans or something. It comes from a nice place. People are putting out their olive branches and trying to connect and trying to tell you, “Yeah, it’s okay. We can talk. We can find common ground.” What they don’t understand is that those conversations add up for us. They add up to a greater truth that I think we are faced with on a day-to-day basis as minorities, which is: We are the color of skin first and people second—even in these more pleasant conversations.

MJ: How did you decide to take that paranoia and transition it into something more sinister?

JP: I modeled this after some of my favorite movies. With a horror movie, you’re making a metaphor. You’re making a personalized nightmare for the protagonist. That’s what this is. It’s meant to get crazy to relay what the inner state and inner fears are representing.

MJ: Bradley Whitford, who plays Rose’s father, Dean Armitage, recently said that Get Out was a look at “unconscious, white liberal racism.” Do you agree with that?

JP: It’s a look at racism. The villains happen to be white liberals. Well, they don’t just happen to be—it explores a type of racism that I’ve seen in that group. But the movie is about the universal monster that is racism and the fact that it does take different forms. On the one hand, at its worst, it’s violence, it’s incarceration, it’s some form of true oppression. It also has sides of it that are, on the surface, harmless. For me, that doesn’t mean it’s not part of the same human demon.

MJ: What role did comedy play in shaping Get Out?

JP: I used my skill set in comedy to plan the scares in this movie. The entire premise has satirical overtones, like Stepford Wives. It makes an ironic commentary on the way we are. The last is the comedic-relief element; I bring in the Rod character (Lil Rel Howery) not only to release the tension, but also to satisfy this urge for somebody to say what we’re all thinking.

MJ: What is that ironic commentary on the way we are, in your view?

JP: It’s the fact that this is a horror movie about race, the notion that there might be some sinister modern form of slavery going on. Which is obviously ironic when you pair it with the notions of there are live-in servants in the house. There’s also satire and irony in some of the cultural choices within the movie. It’s a movie that has lacrosse sticks and bocce ball and bingo, all kinds of specifics that are stereotypically alien to an African American. And we find a subversive, darker take on those. That’s like the darkly funny stuff.

MJ: Okay, so why aren’t there more horror movies for black and Latino audiences?

JP: We haven’t done enough work to encourage minorities to strive to make movies. Hollywood is a place full of white male directors—there are many good ones. We just haven’t nurtured our voices. Since Straight Outta Compton, we’ve seen a big renaissance where untapped voices are getting their platforms to try some elevated work. I’m thinking of Donald Glover with Atlanta, Issa Rae, Ava Duvernay, F. Gary Gray, Ryan Coogler. It’s a relatively new realization in Hollywood that films with that sort of minority perspective can make money if you give us a shot.

MJ: When asked by the New York Times what scared you the most, you said, “Society is the scariest monster.” Why is that?

JP: When people get to together, we’re capable of the most beautiful, amazing things. But we are also capable of genocide. We can convince ourselves to do things in conjunction with one another that we wouldn’t have been able to do as an individual. You think of things like scapegoating or neglect of people’s suffering based on how close to us they are. How we act with each other really reveals our most animal instincts.

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"Get Out" Is the Horror Flick America Needs Right Now

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James Baldwin Was Never Your Negro

Mother Jones

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In the eyes of filmmaker Raoul Peck, the voice of author James Baldwin has been largely forgotten in the 30 years since his death. Yet Baldwin’s words remain uniquely relevant today.

I Am Not Your Negro, Peck’s Oscar-nominated documentary, which hits selected theaters this week, recounts Baldwin’s incisive examination of the systemic racism that underpins the black American experience. The film—based on letters, published work, and notes from Remember This House, Baldwin’s unpublished manuscript about his contemporaries Medger Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.—also serves as a critique on how Hollywood has clouded the bitter reality that African Americans faced in their struggle for civil rights.

Peck, a Haitian-born director whose previous work includes Lumumba (a biopic of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba) and Fatal Assistance (a film about Haiti’s efforts to rebuild after its devastating 2010 earthquake), spent a decade working on I Am Not Your Negro. He wrote Baldwin’s estate asking for permission to the intellectual’s archives. One day, during the course of his team’s research, Baldwin’s sister Gloria Karefa-Smart handed him pages of notes from Remember This House. “For a filmmaker, it was like almost a mystery book. I knew I could build on that,” Peck told me.

What unfolds in the film, over the course of 90 minutes, is a revival of Baldwin’s decades-old meditation on race in America, whose fraught history—given the rise of white nationalism in parallel with the Black Lives Matter movement—is no less poignant today. I caught up with Peck to discuss Baldwin’s legacy, the absurdity of Twitter, and how Hollywood has twisted our view of race.

Mother Jones: What drew you to this project?

Raoul Peck: I decided to go back to Baldwin because of the role he played in my whole life and because we have forgotten about him. I felt that the world, and in particular this country, were going in circles. What had happened 40 or 50 years ago was happening again, but even in a worse form—that we were sinking into a lot of ignorance and a lot of superficial change.

It was really always about bringing back Baldwin’s words in all their rawness, in all their impact—in the way he analyzes not only this country but also the history of this country, the images that this country is fabricating through Hollywood, and what consequence that has in our imagination.

MJ: How did Baldwin influence your life?

RP: Don’t forget: In the ’70s, when I was a young man, there were not many authors as a black young man where you felt at home, where you felt he’s really speaking about my life and my story. Baldwin was a revelation for me, the kind of revelation that follows you all your life because you can go back to it. It’s not just about stories. It’s about philosophy. It’s about criticizing the world. It’s about deconstructing the world around you. Baldwin explained that you have your own history, and that you cannot be responsible, for example, for slavery. You cannot be responsible for Jim Crow. You can not be responsible for racism. This is much more a problem for the person exercising racism.

You are confronted with the reality of racism when you go in the streets, when the eyes of others come upon you. Baldwin goes back with you to all the experiences you went through and gives a name to them, and explains why it is like this. It’s not because of you—it’s because of them. This is a powerful thing for a young mind. Which brings us to today. Can you imagine in 2016 there is a discussion about #OscarsSoWhite? Is it a novelty we’ve just discovered that the whole production machine is dominated by only one type of human being, excluding women, excluding gays, excluding minorities? This is not new. So why would anything change that has not been changed since the existence of cinema? Baldwin somehow wakes you up to reality. It takes you out of the dream—or out of the nightmare.

MJ: What influence would you say Hollywood has had in shaping how we think about race?

RP: Baldwin basically shows you how! From a young age, he’s watching all those different films. He’s watching John Wayne killing off the Indians. He came to the point that the Indians were him. You had to educate yourself because the movies were not educating you. The movies were giving you a reflection of you that was not the truth. That’s the trick. The movie was also giving a reflection of what the country is. Basically, a country that wanted itself to be innocent. That’s the ambivalence of Hollywood. It thinks of itself of selling one thing but it doesn’t see that, by doing that, it is also selling something else.

Your job as a critic is to question that. Otherwise, you’re just part of the machine. Baldwin looks you in the eyes and says, “You are part of the problem. What do you choose to do?”

We are in it together whether you like it or not. It’s the same history. You can choose to not see the whole of it, or to see one particular aspect of it, but it’s your own delusion. You can’t erase the reality of this country.

MJ: What was Baldwin’s role during the civil rights movement?

RP: Baldwin was a celebrity. A TV show like Kenneth Clark could put him aside of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. He was, at least, one of the three most important spokesmen of the movement and of the black community. He was one of greatest intellectuals of his time. He was an important voice, period, not an important black voice. Over the years, he disappeared—like a lot of our leaders disappear. He was not assassinated, but somehow he went through those assassinations as if it was himself. I think that broke him as well. You could see that in the way he carried himself in the film. He doesn’t take anything lightly.

Today, I don’t even think that people like him are possible. He would not have that much room. The system gives you two minutes to phrase a whole history. Take the example of the current president. He tells you something in two or three sentences. Then you have maybe 30 seconds to respond. You already lost because every single word of what he said is either false or not correctly accurate. You would spend the next hour to deconstruct what he just said before you can even start telling your own opinion on that. It’s the rhetorical battle that you can not win.

Baldwin would have been extremely complicated today because he would not have 40 minutes like he had at the Dick Cavett Show. It says something about our current situation where we are so bombarded with items, with data, with pseudo-information that you don’t even have the time to seek through it to see what is important, what is not, what is fake, what is real. You need to react. That’s the absurdity of Twitter. You can react without thinking now. Your tweet is as important as if you would have written a Ph.D. dissertation on the subject.

MJ: What do you see as Baldwin’s significance as we transition from Barack Obama to Donald Trump?

RP: It means almost nothing. Baldwin said the real question is not when there will be the first Negro president in this country. The important question is what country he’s going to be the president of. This is his response. We just experienced that it is true. It’s not having elected Obama. It’s about what country he was the president of. We just got the response.

It’s never about one individual capable of changing everything. It’s about us, every one of us—whether white or black or Latino or women or men. It’s about how you get together and have a sufficiently wide spectrum of citizens who are ready, who have the same diagnostic, or at least who agree on the minimum of the diagnostic and decide to change it.

We have to change it on the basis of reality, not on the basis of what you think is reality—which is based on your ignorance. It’s incredible because we actually have a president who is denying the existence of science, who relies on hearsay. Anybody who has zero credibility and tells him something that he feels could be true through his own prejudice, he just decides that it’s the truth. It doesn’t count that you’ve worked 40 years of your life on the very subject, that you have measured that problem, you have statistics about that problem, you have numbers and facts. All this doesn’t mean anything. That’s the bottom of ignorance right there. That’s the world we are in. Baldwin is needed even more today because he helps you focus to the essential, to what is important.


James Baldwin Was Never Your Negro

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Here’s the Hell Trump’s Order Created for Refugees Overseas

Mother Jones

For thousands of US-bound refugees worldwide, President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” has thrown their future into question. Now that refugees are not allowed to come to the United States for 120 days—and Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely—resettlement workers are scrambling to figure out what will happen to these people fleeing war, persecution, and disaster in their home countries.

Trump’s executive order affects both refugees in the middle of the screening process and those already approved for resettlement in the United States, according to Sarah Krause, senior director of immigration and refugee programs for Church World Service, which operates one of the nine global resettlement support centers for US-bound refugees. “For someone to get referral to the US refugee admissions program is a feat,” says Krause, whose organization helped with the resettlement of more than 14,000 people from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States last year. “For them to have made it through the process and been approved is even more incredible. That they have gone through all of that and we are now shutting the door on them is unconscionable.”

In addition to its temporary freeze on resettlement, the order caps total incoming refugees for the 2017 fiscal year at 50,000 people—less than half of what the Obama administration had planned. Nearly 26,000 have already been resettled. For the 872 refugees already set to travel to the United States this week—not including those from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen—the government has granted a temporary grace period. Those refugees will be allowed to enter the country until Friday. For those scheduled to enter the United States after Friday, their flights have been canceled.

Here’s what Krause sees as the most pressing issues facing the refugees left behind by Trump’s order:

People have been left without housing or their possessions. “These are individuals who, in many cases, have already sold their belongings in order to have some money upon entering to the United States,” Krause says. “Many of them knew their final destination—the cities to which they would be resettled. In Kenya, refugees coming from the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps are brought into Nairobi prior to their departure for the United States. There they stay at the International Organization for Migration transfer center, where they receive predeparture medical screenings as well as cultural orientation, where they learn about life in the United States. Currently, there are over 120 refugees in the IOM transfer center who were expecting to board flights this week and who are now being told they will be sent back to the camp. For those refugees, they have already given up their shelters to new refugee arrivals, and sold their belongings. Their future is very uncertain.”

Refugees already approved for US entry may need to restart parts of the resettlement process—a delay of months or years. “Their cases remain in processing,” she says. “Some of their clearances will expire during this 120-day period and will need to be re-requested. There are checks that are requested by the resettlement support centers: security opinions, interagency checks, as well as fingerprints. It is a challenge to line all those clearances up, which means the window for departure is very small. Once that window closes, it’s difficult to open again.”

Refugees from the seven banned countries were left stranded. “For those that had already been booked for travel, their flights have been canceled,” Krause says. “Processing has essentially halted. They are not in their home country, they’re in countries of asylum, and the conditions in those countries are often very difficult. Some refugees make it to urban centers but live on very little and are not permitted by the countries in which they’re residing to work. Others are living in camps with hundreds of thousands of other people. Our Somali refugees—most of them have been in exile since 1990. You have generations of Somalis that have never been to Somalia.”

Officials are trying to prioritize refugees in particularly dangerous circumstances. The executive order allows for some refugees to be admitted on a case-by-case basis, Krause says. “We’re working with the Department of State to compile a list of the most vulnerable cases, although at this point the process for seeking exemptions is not yet clear. This is a life-saving program, and a delay of even a day for some cases could mean death in a case of extreme medical need or protection issues. There are some who are being moved from safe house to safe house by UNHCR because they are being hunted by their persecutors. I know of a gay Somali man who is currently in a safe house and who has been attacked. He is one of those cases in our pipeline.”

But for others, there’s little hope of finding another home now that the United States has shut its doors. “For those for whom we don’t believe exemptions can be sought, or it may take too long, we will look at pulling those cases out and giving them back to UNHCR for referral to another resettlement country. While the US accepts less than 1 percent of the world’s refugee population, we take more than any other. So it is unlikely that any other countries will have the capacity to take those that we cannot. And other countries have their own processes. That will take time.”

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Here’s the Hell Trump’s Order Created for Refugees Overseas

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What the Heck Is a Placebo Anyway?

Mother Jones

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Anton Mesmer, an 18th-century German physician, believed a mysterious force he called “animal magnetism” could be used to cure people. Mesmer’s theory was that there was invisible fluid in the body that could be controlled by magnetized objects and that disease was a result of “obstacles” to those fluids’ flow. To fight the disease, Mesmer used hypnotic procedures on his patients. At times, he would give people water he had “mesmerized” in order to cure them.

While Mesmer claimed some success with patients, he had critics. One was Benjamin Franklin, who saw Mesmer’s healing techniques for what they were: placebos. In modern medicine, a placebo is a fake medical treatment used to test out the results of real medications. The placebo effect is, essentially, the body’s response (in some instances, a very real response) to this fake treatment. In other words, Mesmer’s medications weren’t scientifically sound, but they may have made patients feel better through the power of suggestion.

Award-winning science writer Erik Vance has spent a lot of time thinking about the placebo effect. In his book, Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal, Vance explores placebos, hypnosis, and how beliefs influence bodily responses to pain. “Placebos and beliefs generally is so much a part of our lives,” he tells Kishore Hari on a recent episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. “It has an amazing power to change our bodies.”

Vance has a unique perspective on the topic: He was raised in a Christian Science household and saw a doctor for the first time when he was 18 years old. “Belief was basically my health care,” he says.

Today, placebos are used by researchers to test whether drugs are actually effective in treating medical conditions—that is, whether patients who are taking an experimental medication see better results than patients who just think they are taking one. For some conditions—Parkinson’s disease, for instance—placebos can actually be an effective treatment.

It’s hard to figure out what the precise mechanisms of the placebo effect are and how they work. But as Vance explains, we now know that they often involve real chemicals produced by the body—real drugs from your “internal pharmacy.” Some of these chemicals are used by the brain to make sure that your expectation meets reality. When expectation doesn’t meet reality, the brain steps in and forces it to fit. Parkinson’s is caused by a lack of dopamine, a chemical that, among other things, is involved in reward processing in our brains. “Expectation drives placebos,” Vance explained to National Geographic. “And dopamine is a chemical that’s very responsive to our expectations. Parkinson’s happens to be a deficiency in the very chemical that’s very important in placebo effects and rewards.”

But while the mind is powerful, it can’t do everything. Vance says there are rules at play. Many serious diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, don’t respond well to sugar pills—patients need actual medicine that has been proven more effective than placebos. “There are some places where the role of the mind to affect the body is profound,” says Vance, “and other places where it is not.”

Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

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What the Heck Is a Placebo Anyway?

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