Four hour challenge / Oscars and Politics

Only a few weeks after a Golden Globes’ Ceremony, where actors praised diversity, and openly criticized the policy of the newly elected President, the Oscars were expected on Sunday night to be a real political night, and another demonstration of the non-alignment of the world of arts with the ongoing US politics. President Trump, who had shared angry reactions on Twitter after the Golden Globes announced a few days before that he would not watch the Oscars Ceremony.

Here is a 4-hour review of the political statements that were heard during the Oscars nights.

20:41: Jimmy Kimmel, Master of Ceremony jokes that the ceremony is being watched by “220 countries that now hate us”. He adds: “I want to say thank you to President Trump, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?”, and “If every person took a minute to reach out to one person you disagree with and have a positive conversation we can make America great again – it starts with us”.

20:43: Jimmy Kimmel spots Meryl Streep in the audience and pays tribute to her “many uninspiring and overrated performances” (which had been Trump’s comments on Twitter, after the actress made a anti-Trump speech at the Golden Globes). He adds “nice dress, by the way”,“Is that an Ivanka?”

21:11: Alessandro Bertolazzi, who receives the Oscar of the best make-up and hairstyling, reminds the audience that he is an Italian immigrant.

22:05: Anousheh Ansari reads out a statement on behalf of the winner of the Oscar for the Foreign movie, Asghar Farhadi. The statement to Trump’s recent ban of immigrants traveling to the US from seven countries, including Iran: “It is a great honor to be receiving this valuable award for the second time. I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight, my absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six countries who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans immigrants from seven countries to the US”

22:11: Gael Garcia Bernal gets political on stage, and states: “As a Mexican and a human being, I’m against any kind of wall that wants to separate us.”

22:42: Advertising for Hyatt: “What the World Needs Now Is Love” which shows people of different races eyeing each other suspiciously before finding a connection. The ad concludes with “For a world of understanding.”

02:08 Actor Winner Casy Affleck (after criticizing President Trump’s measures the day before) says “Man, I wish I had something bigger and more meaningful to say”.


EntertainStats Podcast

A one-time podcast about how popular Oscars are with MIT students. The podcast can be found on SoundCloud.

This podcast was created by Dijana, Maddie, Mika & Sruthi. It took just under 4 hours to discuss the idea, interview students, record and publish the podcast. (Monday 11:30 am – 3:15 pm)

Some behind the scenes pictures for entertainment purposes:

Discussing the idea ->

Interviewing students ->

Editing those audio recordings ->

Writing the podcast script ->

..And the reporters rehearse for podcast recording in our makeshift audio room (in between doors at the student center entrance) ->


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In Defense of The Web Inspector

Here’s a funny thing about the Web: sometimes, secrets are hiding in plain sight. Indeed, when you browse a web page, you generally receive a lot of elements from its server. Of course, you generally obtain HTML and CSS markup, as well as Javascript code, but also a variety of other files like fonts or data sheets. Then the browser combines and interprets all of that data to form the page you are browsing. What you see on the webpage is only, then, the tip of the iceberg; but there is generally much more to it, and it’s sitting idle in your computer’s memory.

Often the rest of the iceberg is essentially worthless for journalism purposes. Sometimes, however, it can be crucial to access it. For instance, you could be looking at a visualization and you be longing to get the dataset forming the base of what you are seeing. Or you would want to remove that stupid overlay sitting between you and the paywalled content. As it happens, more often than you might think, you can circumvent it. (We’ll see how to do this later.)

So, today, I wanted to talk about a tool that allows you to do that; more crucially, if you are reading this now on desktop, it is probably just a shortcut away:

  • If you are on Chrome or Safari on Mac, just trigger the shortcut Cmd+Alt+i.
  • If you are on Chrome on Windows/Linux, just press F12.
  • If you are on Edge/IE, just trigger the shortcut Ctrl+1.
  • If you are on Firefox on Windows/Linux, just trigger Ctrl+Shift+c.
  • If you are on Firefox on Mac, just trigger Cmd+Alt+c.

What you are seeing here is the Web Inspector. Some of you, probably, have heard of it, or used it; most journalists, maybe even the ones that are processing data, are not aware of its existence. A web inspector allows you to understand what is going on with the web page that you are visiting. It generally is organized around the same categories:

  • a console, which broadly is here to detect and notify errors.
  • a storage panel, which displays cookies and other data stored by the website on your computer’s hard drive.
  • a debugger, which really is useful for developers that seek to debug their Javascript scripts.
  • a timeline, which displays how the page is loading (at what speed? What are the components that take the most time/space/computing power to load?),
  • along with a network panel which shows through which networking mechanisms these elements were loaded.
  • the resource panel, which shows all the elements used to load the page,
  • and the elements (or DOM explorer) panel, which how these elements fit together through HTML.

Let’s go back to the two scenarios that I laid out earlier, and use them as examples of how to harness these a web inspector for journalistic purposes.

Let’s take, for instance, this applet. Made by a French public broadcaster, it tracks the attendance of local politicians across France. You can search by name or region but, sadly, you can’t directly download all the data. This is all the more disappointing that the website indicates that their dataset has been done by hand, so you probably can’t find it elsewhere.

Well, with a web inspector, you can. If you open it and click on the network panel (and reload the page), you can see that there is a datas.json file that is being downloaded. (See the red rectangle.) You just have to click on it, and you just have to browse the dataset.

Now let’s take a second example. You want to go on a paywalled website, say, You probably will end up with that:

Now, there is a way to actually read the article in a few clicks. First, open the inspector by right-clicking on the dark part of the page and selecting “Inspect element”.

You should probably obtain a panel with an element of the HTML already selected. You can just remove it by pressing the delete key.

The problem, now, is that scrolling has been deactivated on this website, so you can’t descend much further into the article. However, if you inspect one of the article’s paragraphs, the panel will display the part of the HTML file that corresponds to the article’s content. You can then expand every <p> (which is the HTML-speak for paragraphs), or right-click “Expand all” on the line above the first paragraph:

And here you have it:

It’s not the most practical way of reading an article, but it’s probably better than no article at all. (And to be clear, I’m all for paying for your content!)

The broader point is this: if you feel like you get stuck on a webpage, that a webpage is somehow blocking you to access a deeper level of content, the web inspector may be here to help. It is not bullet-proof, but, as we’ve seen here, it can sometimes save your research process.

In short, the web inspector is an underrated tool for journalistic research: it is already installed in every desktop browser, it is a de facto Swiss knife for web tinkering, and is not that well-known. To me, it may be one of the common tools of journalism in the future.

Get Out: The Beast Racism Built

If James Baldwin’s words in “I Am Not Your Negro” set the cinematic world on fire with it’s striking relevance to today’s Divided States of America, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” is a horror film rooted in what racism feels like.

It didn’t scare me because it was a scary movie. It was terrifying because it revealed the tragedy of what it is like for black people to live with what W.E.B Du Bois called the veil and a double-consciousness:

“…the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil and gifted with second sight in this American world, –– a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Du Bois penned that over 100 years ago. But today, even black pre-schoolers recognize their otherness. They are suspended at a rate nearly four times higher than their white counterparts. A jury watched the life choked out of Eric Garner as he gasped “I can’t breathe” and still found no probable cause to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Very few people accept The Washington Post’s findings that unarmed black Americans are five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer. Instead they deflect with comments about about black on black crime without acknowledging that white on white crime is about the same or the systemic injustices that nurture the state of the black communities Trump is threatening to fix via militarization.

And when you grow up constantly facing the fact that your very humanity is scrutinized and people see your existence as a threat, you live with a certain fear.

“Get Out” is a brilliant exaggeration of what that looks like as it follows Chris, a young, gifted and black photographer, on a weekend trip to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s rich family. She hasn’t told her family he’s black. She assures him they are liberal and couldn’t possibly be racist because, you know, her daddy voted for Obama. But as soon as they start their journey to her neighborhood they run into an overzealous cop, meet her family’s black servants and by the time they sit down for dinner, microaggressions (“with your build and genetic make-up”) begin to feed the beast that is racism and tries to eat the flesh of young Chris the way it dines on the soul of black folk.

I’ve heard people say they won’t see “Get Out” because they are too scared. Well being black in America is scary. And it doesn’t come with the added perks of being fiction. See the movie. Take comfort in it’s make-believe and be motivated to check the very real biases and systemic oppression that inspired the tragedy of the double-consciousness on and off screen.


MIT Starr Forum: National Security & Civil Liberties 1942 & 2017

I’ve been interested in multi-media storytelling, so have created an article on Atavist for my coverage. My story is here:

The event I covered was:
2017 Day of Remembrance: MIT Starr Forum presents National Security and Civil Liberties 1942 & 2017
Saturday Feb 25th 2pm to 4pm

Time stamps:
Start 2:30pm (Technical difficulties and skipped opening statements of the event)
End: 6:35pm


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Jamelle Bouie on race and racism in American politics

Slate’s chief political correspondent, Jamelle Bouie, sat down with MIT’s Seth Mnookin this evening for a conversation about race and racism in the 2016 presidential election. The wide-ranging discussion approached the issue of race and racism from several angles — including both Bouie’s personal experience as an African-American journalist to a broader focus on the shifting ideological coalitions in the American political landscape.

Every political discussion since November 9th has probably started with the same question: how did this happen? Bouie deserves credit for pointing to the possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination earlier than other observers, citing the intensity of support at his early rallies, and how easily Trump survived the criticism leveled at John McCain shortly after announcing his candidacy. Trump also benefited, Bouie argued, from a crowded Republican field and the “zombie candidacy” of cash-rich but vote-poor Jeb Bush.

But Bouie, along with so many others, gave Trump scant chance of winning the general election against Hillary Clinton, pointing to the seemingly durable ‘Obama coalition’ of voters. Bouie admitted that he wished he’d more taken seriously Trump’s chances. The media in general, Bouie argued, were confident enough in a Clinton win to subject her to severe scrutiny and merely focus on the “spectacle” of Trump — it was “Trump saying crazy things, versus emails.”

Another reason Trump succeeded — and one which might have serious implications going forward — is that so-called ‘Never Trumpers’ stayed reasonably quiet. Bouie pointed to the several crises that the US two-party system has suffered through yet survived, and suggested that the Republican party is more likely to morph than collapse, with ethno-nationalism emerging at its core.

Bouie and Mnookin also discussed the challenges discussing race and dealing with racial inequality — even between those who might agree. Bouie highlighted the differing forms of interaction that take place between people of different races in the south as compared to the north — the liberal northeast of the country experiences its own perhaps more subtle form of segregation and separation which can color attempts at crossing racial divides.

Bouie, at a mere 29 years old, has already emerged as one of the leading observers of American politics in our current volatile era. Both Bouie’s firm sense of American history and his own experience undergird both his articulate prose and the important, impactful perspective on display this evening.