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”.


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.


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.

A Community Tackles Diversity

For my four hour challenge, I decided to kill two birds with one stone by covering an event using the tool Audacity — a platform I’ve been wanting to try out for a while. Knowing I would need as much of that time as possible for editing, I stayed close to home for this assignment to speak to my fellow students and colleagues about ongoing efforts to promote an inclusive community at The Fletcher School.



Opposition To Muslim Cemeteries In The U.S. Mainly Relying On Narrative Of Water Contamination


Residents opposing Muslim cemeteries in Texas (left) and Massachusetts (right)

Residents opposing Muslim cemeteries in Texas (left) and Massachusetts (right)

In the rural town of Dudley, Massachusetts, a cemetery has been proposed. People who live close to the land the cemetery is to be built on are opposed to it. The concerns voiced primarily focus on environmental impact of the cemetery due to burial practices and potential contamination of local wells. The agreed upon conditions by the organization attempting to build the cemetery however, seem to placate these concerns. They are quoted as saying “the group will comply with whatever the town wants when it comes to burials, even if it means not strictly following tradition”. Yet there is still opposition to the construction of the cemetery.

While there is “no law in Massachusetts that directly address green burials”, people have still taken issue with a cemetery located within the proximity of the wells they rely on adjacent to the property. A hearing was held in accordance with Massachusetts law, and many residents turned up to protest the cemetery plans, however the final approval lies in the hands of the town and the Board of Health, who’s job it is to make a final and informed decision about how best to protect the residents’ health. Despite comments from the town suggesting that the cemetery will move forward, people are still upset.

If this was the entire story, it seems likely it would come to a quiet end with the Board of Health approval, given the assumption that residents trust their government and Board of Health officials. The aspect of the story that is not represented above however is that the proposed cemetery is being brought forth by the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester. Despite the assurances from the organization that they will comply with town policies and laws surrounding safe burial, and that they are willing to adapt burial practices to satisfy concerns in the town, opposition remains.

It seems the only other substantive concern residents and abutters have is a question of whether there will be noise pollution. One attendee asked whether “he was going to have to listen to “crazy music” like the call to prayer.”

Sadly, what is left seems to be a simmering anxiety based on poorly understood cultural practices and a series of statements it is hard to categorize as anything other than racism and xenophobia. The debate in Dudley echoes almost identically a number of other challenges to Muslim cemeteries in the U.S., for instance in Walpole, MA and in Farmersville, TX, which have mainly cited claims that there is a risk to local water supplies, and many residents’ insistence that the opposition is not at all based in religious prejudices.

In response to the concerns, the president of the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester Khalid Sadozai stated “We are the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We want to bury our loved ones somewhere in Massachusetts area.”

At the time of this writing, neither the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester, nor the Dudley Board of Health, nor the Dudley Water Department, nor the Dudley Zoning Board, nor Dudley Police Chief could be reached for comment.

Will Boston’s T cost more to ride?

By Christa Case Bryant, Mónica Guzmán and Jorge Caraballo.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, known by Boston locals as the T, is proposing a fare hike of 5 or 10 percent to update its system and improve service. But many riders and interest groups say low fares are not the problem. Adjusting for inflation, fares have nearly doubled since 1997. Nearly one-third of the MBTA’s employees made more than $100,000 last year, some of whom signed off on their own overtime. Critics say the MBTA should get its fiscal house in order.

On Monday, the MBTA fiscal control board met to consider the proposed fare hikes and hear public comment.

[View the story “Should Boston’s T raise its fares?” on Storify]

The MBTA came under scrutiny when it released data showing that nearly one-third of its employees received more than $100,000 in gross pay in 2015. Below is a chart based on MBTA data published by the Boston Globe.

The red line charts MBTA employees' base pay in 2015. The blue line charts their gross pay. The increases were largely due to overtime and back pay. (Data: Boston Globe)

The red line charts MBTA employees’ base pay in 2015. The blue line charts their gross pay. The increases were largely due to overtime and back pay. (Data: Boston Globe)

“Charlie and the MTA”
Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax-Hawes

Let me tell you the story
Of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket,
Kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Charlie handed in his dime
At the Kendall Square Station
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him,
“One more nickel.”
Charlie could not get off that train.

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.

Now all night long
Charlie rides through the tunnels the station
Saying, “What will become of me?
How can I afford to see
My sister in Chelsea
Or my cousin in Roxbury?”

Charlie’s wife goes down
To the Scollay Square station
Every day at quarter past two
And through the open window
She hands Charlie a sandwich
As the train comes rumblin’ through.

As his train rolled on
underneath Greater Boston
Charlie looked around and sighed:
“Well, I’m sore and disgusted
And I’m absolutely busted;
I guess this is my last long ride.”
{this entire verse was replaced by a banjo solo}

Now you citizens of Boston,
Don’t you think it’s a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay
Vote for Walter A. O’Brien
Fight the fare increase!
And fight the fare increase
Vote for George O’Brien!
Get poor Charlie off the MTA.

Or else he’ll never return,
No he’ll never return
And his fate will be unlearned
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man (Who’s the man)
He’s the man who never returned.
He’s the man (Oh, the man)
He’s the man who never returned.
He’s the man who never returned.

Cambridge Canvassing for Hillary


I attended a canvassing event for Hillary Clinton’s campaign this morning in Cambridge, and challenged myself to cover it using video – specifically, using the Videolicious app that Gordon shared with us a couple of weeks ago. Having made my deadline for filing the report, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on some points that may be of help and interest to the class.

But first, I’d like to express my gratitude to a volunteer featured in the report – also named Hillary – who very graciously allowed me to accompany her for part of her canvassing activity, was more than happy to talk with me, and didn’t object to my capturing a few moments on digital film. (Hillary, if you ended up reading this, thank you for your kindness and of course, enthusiasm!)

On the tool:

In many ways, Videolicious is an amazing and promising app, but – particularly if you do not have an account (which are only available through institutional licenses) – there are some limitations:

  • Most importantly – personal, mobile-only accounts can only record 1 minute of video. Though I might have used different software, I wanted to give this tool a try given its intuitive interface and potential usefulness “on the go” for the future. If nothing else, this aspect did make the assignment an important lesson in editing.
  • Many special editing features and higher quality materials (i.e. HD video output) are also not available in the personal, mobile-only accounts.
  • The way the camera is positioned on your phone makes framing the “talking head” portion of your report somewhat challenging – although I tacked up my script, unless you have a well-placed teleprompter or can speak extemporaneously it is even more difficult to balance eye direction, background, and lighting with the practicalities of delivering the report in a short timeframe and in a less than ideal space.
  • Some video clips are too short to capture in the final piece, and get skipped over – it may be an understandable cutoff of around 1 second or less, but should otherwise have been enough frames recorded for use in other software.

On the experience:

I truly enjoyed this opportunity to get out in the field, interact with people and ask questions, and think journalistically about the coverage of an event. And although writing a text-based piece would have been its own kind of challenge – given that my background is more in communications than traditional journalism – I am glad that I pushed myself even further out of my comfort zone to try the video. (Though I will admit that being able to use my photography skills was, at least, a small comfort.)

With the app-imposed time limit, I found that I cut a lot out of material that I might normally include in a story – this made me think about the importance of marrying visual content like video with the context of written (or other) content. All of these components were also a lot to think about at once – capturing soundbites, images, video, names, etc. and thinking about publishing across multiple platforms is a lot for one reporter to do, but is becoming more and more common.

On participatory media:

Provided that our class is considering citizen participation in journalism, it seemed appropriate to attend a very civically- and politically-minded event. It did not disappoint. For example, state legislator Sal DiDomenico made several comments about the media’s role in buoying Bernie Sanders’ chances against Hillary Clinton in the interest of a contested primary. Every speaker, meanwhile, made a point about the important role played by the volunteers in attendance in getting the word out about the candidate. People become an even more integral part of the message and dissemination of media content.

My guide to canvassing (the volunteer Hillary mentioned above) also had some very sharp reflections on how she and her peers have been using social media in this presidential race. The “staying power” of repeated headlines (via social media sharing) stood out to her. And she was also amazed at how quickly a tweet she had sent, for example, was picked up and retweeted into the wider conversation beyond her immediate circle.

Given the caliber of speakers, it is not surprising that members of the press were in attendance. Yet there seemed to be all kinds – a reporter from the New York Times with a trusty notepad, another who appeared to be recording for radio or other audio formats, and several individuals on their phones like me. It made me wonder how different our takeaways and reports might be.