Airlines are Making a Beeline for Azerbaijan

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Why You Should Care

A massive new airport in Baku is helping transform this tiny ex-Soviet nation into a regional transit hub. 

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, AUGUST 13 2018

Language teacher Tim Stuebbe had visited Georgia and Armenia before he landed at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, Azerbaijan. He was surprised by how “developed, clean and organized it seemed.” It’s also massive, at 65,000 square meters, larger than any other airport in the Caucasus. And his response is exactly what Azerbaijan is counting on, as it attempts to emerge as a regional transportation hub.

Just seven years ago, when construction on the airport began, those dreams appeared beyond Azerbaijan’s reach. The country’s old international airport — its gateway to the world — had airlines flying little more than two routes: to Moscow’s Domododevo airport and Istanbul’s Kemal Ataturk airport. Now, in 2018, more than 30 carriers are delivering passengers to 40 destinations from Heydar Aliyev. Those numbers are expanding. Starting in March, big-name carriers such as Etihad Airways, Air Arabia, Wataniya Airways and Jazeera Airways have made direct flights from places such as Abu Dhabi or Kuwait City — even Tel Aviv — to Baku. More and more passengers are flying out from Baku as well. In 2017, Heydar Airport served 4.06 million passengers, exceeding 2016’s figure by 23 percent. In the first half of 2018, 1.96 million passengers took flights out of the airport, 14 percent more than during the same period last year.

It isn’t just foreign airlines Azerbaijan is relying on, though, to realize its ambitions. Before it rebuilt the Baku airport, it sank more money into its flagship air carrier, AZAL, taking delivery of two out of five Boeing 787 Dreamliners it had ordered and investing in several 767 freighters. More than 815,000 passengers, or 41.6 percent of the airport’s total traffic for the first half of 2018, traveled aboard AZAL, while its low-cost subsidiary, Buta, carried some 216,000 passengers. AZAL launched the country’s first flight to the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh earlier this year.

And there’s a third prong — other than the new airport and Azerbaijan’s national airlines — to the country’s strategy. Like Iceland, another small nation 3,000 miles away that has turned itself into a successful air transport hub, Azerbaijan is also aligning the airport’s growth with a broader tourism reboot. In May, the government established the State Tourism Agency and Board (STAB), a dedicated official tourism promotion body to spread word across Central Asia about Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea shoreline, its Caucasus Mountains and its UNESCO World Heritage Gobustan National Park. During January–April of 2018, 847,600 tourists arrived in Azerbaijan from 182 countries — 13.4 percent more compared to the same period in 2017, according to the World Economic Forum. In 2017, about 2.69 million tourists visited Azerbaijan — 20 percent more than during 2016. Most tourists came from Russia, and then Georgia and Iran. But the number of arrivals from EU member states in 2018 has increased by 12.4 percent.

For all those entering or transiting through Azerbaijan, the airport gives tourists the perception that “the Caucasus are an authentic yet easy-to-reach and comfortable destination,” according to Fuad Naghiyev, the head of STAB.

 An Azerbaijan passenger plane at Vnukovo Airport during a snowstorm.SOURCE  MARINA LYSTSEVA/GETTY

An Azerbaijan passenger plane at Vnukovo Airport during a snowstorm.SOURCE MARINA LYSTSEVA/GETTY

The month of July served as an example of just how far Azerbaijan’s international airport has come. On July 12, a British Airways Boeing 777 carrying 214 people from London to Mumbaimade an emergency landing there after the failure of its left engine. Five days later, Italian President Sergio Matarella arrived for an official visit, complete with a guard of honor and national flags all-round. And it was announced that Heydar Aliyev will receive the first flight of Turkish Airlines from the new Istanbul airport — slated to become the third largest in the world, serving 90 million people annually — later this year.

The airport’s emergence as a major transportation hub is in keeping with Azerbaijan’s desire to open up, said the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, at a ceremony in May in which Skytrax conferred its five-star airport rating on Heydar Airport, named for his father, the third president of the country. “If you look at the building from above, the building resembles a large bird with spread-out wings,” said Aliyev. “Similarly, Azerbaijan is developing with its wings spread out wide and moving forward.”

While the airport has already changed much for Azerbaijan, there is still more it could do, say experts. In addition to the business window, human-rights groups say that unless Azerbaijan has an independent civil society and free media, an airport named for a dictator will not diversify Azerbaijan’s economy enough to democratize it. “President Aliyev’s Azerbaijan doesn’t pass the test,” says Brigitte Dufour, director of International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR). “EU leaders should make it clear that there won’t be stronger ties with Azerbaijan until the government ends the crackdown on … dissenting voices.”

Still, Heydar has brought change, including in the design zeitgeist of the country. To fill the entirety of the Heydar Airport’s passenger spaces with cutting-edge architecture and interiors, including custom-made wooden bespoke furnishings and lighting schemes, the Azerbaijani government hired Autoban, an Istanbul firm known for its stylish restaurant schemes. The various “cocoons” the firm devised — made of tactile natural materials such as wood, stone and textiles and housing an array of cafés and shops — have the effect of creating a more intimate, and secular, landscape within the massive transportation hub. “The cafés were filled with locals drinking beers and enjoying watching the World Cup,” says Stuebbe.

Now that Heydar Aliyev Airport has a foothold in the region, Oxford Economics, a consulting firm, expects the Heydar effect to further lower transport costs — particularly over longer distances — increase competition and open foreign markets to Azerbaijani exports. Ultimately, apart from generating business, human rights groups are hoping that an airport named for a dictator will nonetheless diversify Azerbaijan’s economy enough to democratize it.

In a May interview with Forbes, Naghiyev, the head of STAB, acknowledged that because the global tourism market is saturated with enticing destinations, there’s a need for Azerbaijan to make a “distinct mark in the minds of consumers.”

It already has for Stuebbe. Contrary to its Soviet past, the country he saw “was a very welcoming and easy place to arrive to,” he says. With the new airport and its expanding traction in the aviation industry, that welcome now starts from the moment a visitor lands.

Why Nigerian-Americans Strive So Hard at School

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because no other US immigrant community has soared so high in education.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, JUN 13 2018

Late last year, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York opened an exhibit that, at first, seemed legitimately African. To Wander Determined featured portraits of two aristocratic families: the UmuEze Amara, one of the oldest noble clans of Nigeria, and the Obafemi, a minor house of traders and ambassadors.

A placard explained: “ … their lordships hope to engage visitors in an intimate experience of life between these two prestigious Nigerian houses.” It was signed by Toyin Ojih Odutola, deputy private secretary, Udoka House, Lagos. A familiarity with the work of Odutola, however, exposes her artist’s ruse — an imaginative play on Nigerian-American class consciousness and the so-called Nigerian “superiority complex.”

Long known for an intense cultural emphasis on success and education, Nigerians comprise one of the most urbane immigrant communities in the U.S. According to the 2016 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau:

60% OF NIGERIANS IN THE U.S. HOLD BACHELOR’S DEGREES — AND 27% HAVE MASTER’S DEGREES

The data showed 27 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans have bachelor’s degrees and 8 percent hold master’s degrees, according to the 2015 census. The survey also revealed that 4 percent of Nigerians in the U.S. have doctorates, compared to 1 percent of white Americans. And Nigerian-Americans’ education achievements top those of any other U.S. immigrant group. Asians come closest, with 12 percent holding master’s degrees and 3 percent having doctorates.

Odutola, an artist-in-residence at Barnard College in New York, has spent her career deconstructing the personal journeys of Nigerians in the world. “Everyone says, ‘I wish they were real,’” she told Vogue magazine about the fictional dynasty in To Wander Determined. “And the thing is, they could be … And so just imagine that [we Nigerians] were left to our own devices, and we developed on our own: Without any colonialist meddling, what would have happened?”

As for educational meddling, that began in the 1840s, when European missionaries began to import formal, Western-style education to the coastal cities of Nigeria, such as Calabar and Lagos. By the time Nigeria became a British protectorate in 1901, Nigerian children were learning to read and write in English. The British government granted many students, especially the children of the Nigerian aristocracy, scholarships to study at universities in Great Britain until the country started establishing its own institutions of higher learning.

Education for Nigerians has also offered a way out of the war and corruption that has engulfed the country since independence in 1960. Many Nigerians have pursued higher degrees in order to remain in the U.K. or to emigrate to the U.S. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 made it easier for Africans to enter and stay in the U.S. as students — not through family sponsorships, according to research by Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston.

Chinelo Okparanta, a Nigerian novelist who wrote the critically acclaimed Under the Udala Trees, also wonders about the effect of British colonization on Nigeria and the values instilled by Western education over an education in Nigerian culture. “Does it mean that Nigeria is so broken that we strive for education so that we can become unbroken?” asks Okparanta, who is a professor of creative writing at Bucknell University. “There are many broken parts of the world not pursuing education.”

The novelist’s grandmother did not attend university, but “she made sure that she was financially stable so that the next generation could get there and take care of themselves.” Born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Okparanta says she comes from a “line of people who prioritized education.”

Architect Chinwe Ohajuruka, winner of a Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, says that the movement of Nigerians toward more and better education has been in the country’s DNA all along. Growing up in 1970s Nigeria, Ohajuruka says her parents were not interested in her happiness because “nothing was more important than education.” Ohajuruka earned her first two degrees in architecture from Obafemi Awolowo University, in the ancient Yoruba city of Ile-Ife, and a third in Edinburgh, Scotland. The way she sees it, education for Nigerians is like “a tsunami with a slow and building movement that has not yet unleashed its full might.”

Could He Be the Youngest Scrabble Champ Ever?

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because Mack Meller is the ultimate man of letters.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, MAY 23 2018

The second floor of the 57th Street Whole Foods gives off no particular hint that it is anything other than a brightly colored café serving artisan coffees and foodstuffs. But every Sunday, it turns into a gamers den, filled with Scrabble jockeys caffeinating — and amping up on cerebral competition.

Few players command the reverence afforded to 18-year-old Mack Meller, who, on a recent Sunday, rotated among several custom-made Scrabble boards for a club pickup game. With 25 minutes to play, Meller and his teammate, Mark Abadi, a journalist with Business Insider, had to think fast. Meller put down F-A-N-U-M (a sacred place) and netted 28 points to start.

Following A-D-O-B-O (a Philippine chicken dish) pulled out by Sam Towne, a resident at Weill Cornell Medical Center, Meller parried with P-R-U-I-N-O-S-E (covered with powdery granules), and he and Abadi advanced to 287 points. Towne reluctantly put down Z-O-D-I-A-C-A-L. Meller arched his eyebrow and challenged. Then, with 48 seconds remaining on the clock, Meller’s eyes darted between tile rack and board, before he set down L-E-B-E-N (a North African yogurt-like beverage) to go “12 points and out [of tiles],” winning the game 474 points to 423.

“It’s important to think the play through — you don’t want to get hung up on a word,” he says. But Meller, a Columbia University freshman, is definitely spellbound by Scrabble. He has memorized at least 90 percent of the 120,000 words in the game’s lexicon, and lately, he’s been studying nine-letter words to contend his 2017 second-place finish at the 2018 North American Scrabble Championship in August. Meller also aims to rise above his national No. 4 ranking.

“I’m hoping to get back to studying [more words] after finals,” Meller says. At a multiday tournament in Poughkeepsie, New York, over spring break, he came in second “and also hit the 2100 rating milestone,” putting him 78 points behind the average rating of the 66-year-old national champion David Gibson.

So, what makes Meller the consummate Scrabbler? “He has better analytical skills than almost any of the other top players. Even at a young age, he was methodical and patient with his decisions,” says Joe Edley, a professional Scrabble player and the first to win the National Scrabble Championship three times. “The other extraordinary thing about Mack,” Edley adds, “is that while he has these great mental abilities, he’s as likable as anyone I’ve ever met.”

Scrabble — the board game you played at your grandparents’ house, pre-mobile-phone and post-holiday meal — has developed a massive following since the advent of virtual Scrabble, Words With Friends and similar apps. NASPA, the North American Scrabble Players Association, has between 2,000 and 2,500 active paid members, and its database lists another 10,000 who compete in clubs, where membership is not required. Annual sales of Scrabble sets in North America hover around $1 million to $2 million (Hasbro keeps that proprietary information), and surveys show that one in three households owns one.

Amateur Scrabble players believe the game rests on a player’s intellect, command of the Oxford English Dictionary and a little bit of wile. They are wrong. Considering that a bag of 100 tiles can yield more than 16 billion combinations, a competitive player not only knows a whole lot of words but is likely a mathematician (like national champ Gibson) or a computer programmer. Advanced anagramming skills are also key. The word WORDSMITH, for example, can morph into MISTHROW, MISWORD, RIMSHOT and WORMISH — if a player sees this quickly, he or she has more time to strategize.

 he calm before the score: Mack Meller at home in Bedford, New York.SOURCE  SASHA MASLOV FOR OZY

he calm before the score: Mack Meller at home in Bedford, New York.SOURCE SASHA MASLOV FOR OZY

Meller, whose parents — dad is a bond trader, and mom is an artist — belonged to a Scrabble club in Bedford, New York, began playing the game at age 4. When he was 10, he entered his first tournament and lost the first game. But the kid “stayed focused to claw my way back,” he says. After notching seven straight wins, he learned a lesson that has carried him through more than 50 tournaments nationwide. “Whether it’s through making a mistake or just poor luck, you’re going to have bad games. You never know what you’re going to draw, and even if you’re down 150 points, the game isn’t over.”

It’s that element of chance that keeps Meller returning to Scrabble over other games. “I originally started with chess, but the luck factor was missing. Scrabble is one-third luck and two-thirds skill, and when the best player isn’t winning the tournament, that just makes it more exciting.”

With a full academic load at Columbia, including courses such as general relativity and “rigorous proof-based calculus,” will the math and astrophysics double major ultimately choose Scrabble as his career, like Edley and world-record holder (and Meller’s former coach) Joel Sherman? Sherman thinks it’s a possibility: “It is habit-forming, and I suppose Mack stays at it because he recognizes that he is at the best age to groom his strength toward a national title. Plus, he’s just that smart that he can do it all.”

For now, though, Meller has chosen a non-Scrabble path. His summer job with the Voting Rights Data Institute’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group will have him researching the redistricting laws of all 50 states for algorithm design, running House-to-Senate legislative district matchings and modeling political preference in uncontested races.

How will his Scrabble knowledge help? “I think there are a lot of similarities between the possible geometries of a Scrabble board and the ways of subdividing a state into districts,” Meller says. He, more than most, understands how a single move can cause the whole dynamic of the board to shift. Game on.

He Built $150 Million Village... For Schoolteachers

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because this Newark real estate developer believes teachers can put U.S. cities on the path to prosperity

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, MAY 14 2018

For the past 15 years, much of New York’s real estate attention span has been diverted to Manhattan’s far West Side, where a glossy new neighborhood called Hudson Yards is changing the cityscape high-rise by high-rise.

But developer Ron Beit wants New Yorkers to look a bit farther, across the Hudson River, where being on the wrong side of the tracks has long been an economic constant. While former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was fretting about businesses and white-collar jobs moving to New Jersey and rezoning the West Side following a failed Olympic bid, Beit started snapping up acres of abandoned buildings and parking lots in Newark.

On that downtown land, Beit has built an opulent 400,000-square-foot complex designed by starchitect Richard Meier. Completed in 2016, it features a salon, fitness center and bakery next to three charter schools, a day care facility and residential apartments marketed to and subsidized for teachers. That’s right, teachers. For Beit, teachers — not Fortune 500 companies, not residents of luxury condos, not even purveyors of sports teams or casinos — are going to put Newark on the path to prosperity.

 The Teachers’ Village located in Newark, New Jersey.SOURCE  LESLIE DELA VEGA/OZY

The Teachers’ Village located in Newark, New Jersey.SOURCE LESLIE DELA VEGA/OZY

“For any successful development, you need to have three elements: commercial, residential and retail,” says Beit on a rainy day in the austere Newark office of his company RBH Group. “We had all the components right here, but we needed to leverage each of our economic dollars as cleverly as possible.” Beit, whose two older children attend private school, was impressed when his youngest, who’s in the New York public school system, asked, “What makes a city function? Professionals? Schools? Teachers?” And with that, he typed up the prospectus for Teachers Village, a $150 million residential, retail and charter-school complex in which teachers, students and parents live side by side in a sort of scholastic utopia.

With the blueprint developed in downtown Newark — already on the up-and-up thanks to the relocation of Audible.com and Prudential, as well as the installment of Rutgers University/Newark — Beit is now taking his Teachers Village vision national. Already partnered with the corporate responsibility arms of Prudential and Goldman Sachs, Beit is building Teachers Corner Hartford, a 60-unit repurposed building in the heart of Connecticut’s capital, as well as Teachers Square Chicago, a 115-unit “community as campus” building in the East Humboldt Park neighborhood.

And it seems Beit is just getting started — and at a fortuitous time, with teacher protests for better pay and working conditions grabbing headlines across the country. In February, he traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to speak to the Kaiser Family Foundation about putting in a Teachers Village, as well as to Miami and Los Angeles, both in need of housing solutions for middle-income teachers — teachers, however, who aren’t necessarily public school servants. When Newark district schools passed on the opportunity to move into Teachers Village, Beit contracted with three charter schools — Spark Academy, Discovery Charter School and Great Oaks Charter School.

 Tonnie Rozier of Tonnie’s Minis, a cupcake and sweets bakery located at the Teacher’s Village in Newark, New Jersey.SOURCE  LESLIE DELA VEGA/OZY

Tonnie Rozier of Tonnie’s Minis, a cupcake and sweets bakery located at the Teacher’s Village in Newark, New Jersey.SOURCE LESLIE DELA VEGA/OZY

In 2006, then Newark mayor and now U.S. senator Cory Booker resolutely pushed for the Teachers Village project — which received a reported $100 million in city, state and federal tax breaks — as did John M. Abeigon, president of the Newark Teachers Union. But Abeigon told Education Week in 2016 that Teachers Village ultimately aligned with the “corporate charter school movement.” Regular district teachers, he says, comprised only 18 percent of the residents in 2015, while 38 percent of apartments went to charter school teachers and 44 percent to AmeriCorps tutors employed by Great Oaks Charter School.

“It’s a known fact that traditional public school teachers … stay longer than charter school teachers, so their commitment and investment in the community is that much greater,” Abeigon says. “Those living in Teachers Village are going to be turnaround tenants. They’ll do their two-year stints … beef up their résumés and then go get a job elsewhere.”

Beit insists that he is “agnostic” when it comes to education by “trying to create a physical entity that gives educators whatever they need locally.” Still, he may have started a trend. Of the 10 public schools transferred to the Newark Housing Authority to sell in 2016, four are slated to become Great Oaks Charter Schools.

“Charters aren’t automatically provided with facilities, so we were talking with anyone who would take a meeting at that time. Since then, Teachers Village has been essential to our school’s growth,” says Jared Taillefer, executive director of Great Oaks Charter Schools. “Ron Beit is a visionary,” he continues. “Open parking lots and vacant buildings have become a living, learning community that is going to help break the cycle of poverty.”

BEIT INSISTS THAT HIS INTERESTS HAVE EVOLVED FROM LAND DEVELOPMENT TO CREATING “CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC GAME-CHANGERS” FOR CITIES.

 

Long before Teachers Village, however, Beit had his eye on Newark as the so-called sixth borough of New York. With an economics degree from the University of Wisconsin and a law degree from New York Law School, he started managing Manhattan real estate for other developers when he realized “that the only way to make money was to own — and to own, I had to leave the city.”

A native of northern New Jersey, Beit was familiar with Newark but couldn’t “understand why things weren’t happening there.” As he started buying up parcels of land, he discovered that a large section of the city was owned by landlords with no interest in maintaining much “beyond their storefronts” and that Newark “had a perception problem.” Beit dug in and formed RBH Group to piece together 79 parcels, hiring Richard Meier to design the SoMA Master Plan, which aimed to transform empty parking lots and decrepit buildings in the city’s South of Market district into a Brooklyn-esque neighborhood anchored by Teachers Village.

 

RBH Group also set about converting two more downtown sites: one into a sustainable Makers Village for AeroFarms, which grows greens and herbs without soil or sunlight; and the other into the Four Corners Millennium Project — seven mixed-use residential, hotel, office and retail buildings in a historic district.

Beit won’t deny that he is making money on Teachers Village, but he insists that his interests have evolved from land development to creating “cultural and economic game-changers” for cities. “There were times when things were difficult and I could have just walked away, but I had young kids and I wanted to tell them that education revived the cities.”

Severe Weather Ahead: She's Predicting the Next Climate Crisis

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Lisa Goddard’s predictions are good enough for the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, MAY 06 2018

In Cape Town, the residents brace for “Day Zero” in late August, when the taps could run dry. Further north, in the Sahel, drought has prematurely thrust migrating communities into the crosshairs of soldiers from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, adding to the conflict around the Lake Chad Basin.

Looking out her window at the snow-covered ground following another nor’easter, climate scientist Lisa Goddard ponders weather’s effect on other global crises: the drought leading to the Syrian civil war, torrential rain causing floods in India and Pakistan, the recent hurricanes that wrecked the Caribbean — outcomes she might have predicted. But unlike a TV meteorologist, Goddard, director of Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), doesn’t attempt to forecast the weather on any specific day. Rather, she looks months ahead, offering longer-term predictions — a bit like The Old Farmer’s Almanac but with “climatology and actual statistics of variability behind it,” she says.

“We study phenomena that may cause a region’s climate to differ from previous years,” Goddard continues. “A key factor is the temperature of the oceans … and since ocean currents change slowly, we can anticipate their effects on the atmosphere.”

 Lisa Goddard became fascinated with the cyclical climate patterns of El Niño (and its sister, La Niña) while studying for her Ph.D.SOURCE  ANDREW SENG FOR OZY

Lisa Goddard became fascinated with the cyclical climate patterns of El Niño (and its sister, La Niña) while studying for her Ph.D.SOURCE ANDREW SENG FOR OZY

As the director of IRI, which assists developing countries to prepare for and manage the impacts of climate change, Goddard, 51, has traveled from Colombia to Zambia — and many countries in between — helping to build national forecasting systems from scratch and working with aid agencies, such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to anticipate the next weather emergency. Until just recently, however, neither Goddard nor academics in general have been seated at the tables of the United Nations, the World Bank or any other multilateral organization advising on policy and programs for society at large.

That will soon change. In April 2017, President Lee Bollinger announced Columbia World Projects (CWP) — perhaps the most ambitious undertaking in his nearly 16-year tenure — to connect the capacities of the Ivory Tower to organizations with the power to translate research into programs that benefit the global community. “The extraordinary developments in recent decades of greater interconnectedness … have created or accelerated highly complex problems and have given rise to political movements favoring a reversal or change of course,” Bollinger said in a statement announcing CWP. “The multilateral institutions created in the period following the Second World War are straining under new realities. … All of this calls out for universities to become more involved.”

Nicholas Lemann, former dean of Columbia’s journalism school, has been tasked with directing CWP, and Goddard will lead its inaugural project focused on climate threats to food production and nutrition in six countries (Ethiopia, Senegal, Colombia, Guatemala, Bangladesh and Vietnam). In addition to improving food security, her goals include expanding economic livelihoods and supporting environmental stability. Goddard also wants to expand an enterprise created and implemented at the IRI — index insurance, which issues payouts to farmers in years when the weather causes categorical loss.

Surprisingly, climate change did not drive Goddard’s interest in weather. It started instead with a love of physics. Born in California to a teacher and a government official, Goddard received her undergraduate degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in atmospheric and oceanic sciences from Princeton University. While at Princeton, she developed a curiosity about the cyclical El Niño climate pattern, which brought her to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the El Niño guru himself: Mark Cane, who helped build the first computer model to successfully predict the 1985 El Niño months in advance. Cane went on to found the IRI with a mission to help millions of people by better preparing for the effects of droughts and changing ocean temperatures.

 Goddard will lead the inaugural project of Columbia World Projects, focused on climate threats to food production and nutrition in six developing countries.SOURCE  ANDREW SENG FOR OZY

Goddard will lead the inaugural project of Columbia World Projects, focused on climate threats to food production and nutrition in six developing countries.SOURCE ANDREW SENG FOR OZY

“I have known Lisa since she was a student, and as the IRI director, she has worked a miracle, taking an organization that was demoralized and facing a serious threat to its existence, and bringing it to extraordinary vibrancy,” says Cane, referring to IRI’s loss of funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which threatened to shutter the institute a few years back.

“I believe the IRI is increasingly recognized worldwide as the expert institution for application of climate science to societies in the developing world. This was what the IRI was intended to be, but it took Lisa to make it a reality,” Cane adds.

For her part, Goddard, who has two sons and lives north of Manhattan near the Hudson River, says that she is less concerned about melting icecaps and “sky is falling” predictions than developing a “global framework for climate services.” Still, she has her critics. Judith Curry, a former professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of the Climate Forecast Applications Network, says that IRI’s seasonal forecasting methods are several levels below state of the art.

“Their approach relies heavily on forecasts of the impacts of El Niño and La Niña, which has no particular skill beyond a few months,” Curry says. “Even if they were able to accurately predict [the El Niño effect], this shows very little skill in predicting the intensity of the Asian and African monsoon rains. Simply put, they are not using the best models, and their interpretation of the drivers of climate dynamics is overly simplistic.”

Goddard says that even the best models have errors and biases. “This is something that is not handled in any sophisticated way for real-time prediction at any other center in the world,” she explains. “The biggest sin in the prediction world … is using the output of a model, straight off the shelf, and without consideration of those who are using the information.” People of all backgrounds with a little training can make use of the information the ICI provides, Goddard insists, not just climate scientists.

“Once, in a meeting in Kenya,” Goddard recalls, “a colleague of mine communicated the concept of probability, which is not a word in their local language, to aid workers by using a paper airplane, which he flew repeatedly, marking all the spots where it landed on the floor to represent the range of possible climate outcomes.

“The locals got it, and their communities have since embraced our forecasts.”

Ivory Coast Sets Its Sights on Becoming a Start-Up Hub

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because no addiction is good — not even if it seems to be propelling your economy. 

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, APR 23 2018

Cocoa is a double-edged sword of a crop. Confectioners turn it into delicious treats or use it — in a more distilled form — for antioxidants that impart anti-aging properties, lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. It has long propelled Ivory Coast’s economy. But the crop also guzzles water, demands shade and is responsible for large-scale deforestation. Now, Africa’s second-fastest-growing economy is looking to drag itself away from its cocoa addiction — before the lows spiral out of control.

To diversify, the country is looking to turn itself into a start-up hub. Ivory Coast’s national distance learning center has joined with telecom giant Orange — which controls a quarter of the country’s mobile phone market — to increase access to vocational education and mid-career training. Under a newly inked partnership, they provide coursework from French-speaking online and African universities for smartphone downloads. Also, companies such as dairy firm Bel are working with Orange to track the informal distribution routes of street traders and farmers so that customers come to them — instead of them chasing traders.

Finally, because poverty leaves farmers vulnerable to pressure from traders to encroach on more and more forest land, groups like the Voice Network (Voice of Organisations in Cocoa in Europe) are lobbying government, industry and other social organizations to increase the share of profits Ivorian farmers receive — up from between 3.5 and 6 percent. In early 2018, the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana committed to an industry-backed Cocoa & Forests Initiative, promising to mitigate further damage to forests and to ensure fairer deals for farmers.

And the World Bank is working to keep cocoa production buzzing, while also helping Ivory Coast diversify its economy — with education as a key driver. In December 2017, the World Bank approved an International Development Association credit of $125 million toward hiring teachers for underperforming children, in addition to $205 million for girls’ empowerment.

“If Côte d’Ivoire is going to increase its diversification, this effort will have to be accompanied by a reform of its system of education and learning,” says Pierre Laporte, the World Bank’s country director for the Ivory Coast. “It takes skills to produce more and better, and these are usually acquired during the years of school and training.”

This mishmash of strategies may appear uncoordinated, even chaotic, but these initiatives are all rooted in Ivory Coast’s cocoa-driven economic success — and ironically, the vulnerabilities that dependence has spawned. From 2010 to 2015, the country’s exports increased at an annual rate of 2 percent, led by cocoa beans. This helped companies such as Swiss-based Nestlé create cooking chocolate, and German-based Nivea make its signature skin cream — all contributing $2.5 billion to the Ivorian economy, or 29.4 percent of total exports. With a GDP growth rate of around 8 percent since 2012, Ivory Coast is behind only Ethiopia in Africa.

 A teenager works in a small cocoa firm in Aboisso.SOURCE  MICHAEL ZUMSTEIN / AGENCE VU/REDUX

A teenager works in a small cocoa firm in Aboisso.SOURCE MICHAEL ZUMSTEIN / AGENCE VU/REDUX

But the country is also increasingly suffering from adverse environmental and social impacts that too come with a cocoa addiction. Over the past decade, cocoa farming has destroyed around 2.1 million hectares of land in the country — at least a third of which is illegal. Traders selling to the world’s largest companies have prompted eager farmers to plant cocoa inside protected land, reducing Ivory Coast’s rainforest cover by more than 80 percent since 1960. The illegal beans are often mixed with the “clean” cocoa beans, creating not only overproduction, but also fluctuating prices that return to haunt farmers. “The problem of deforestation cannot be solved without tackling the underlying crisis of farmer poverty,” says Antonie Fountain, managing director of the Voice Network. Farmers should receive 16 percent of the profit share, says Fountain, to alleviate extreme poverty within the community.

Efforts at improving the lives of cocoa farmers, and respecting their rights, are beginning to pay off — at least on paper — with the governments of the region’s cocoa-producing giants, Ivory Coast and Ghana, signing on to the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. It wasn’t easy to get everyone on board, says Richard Scobey, the president of the World Cocoa Foundation. But a new start has been made. “We established mutual trust and embraced the key principle of shared responsibility for past actions and future solutions,” he says.

For sure, challenges persist. The country is still recovering from a fiscal hangover due to extra-budgetary spending from 1993 to 2002. The World Bank has also recommended that the government monitor arrangements reached with mutinous soldiers and striking civil servants to ensure that there are no new conflicts or flare-ups of civic unrest — the country has suffered two civil wars already, just in this century. The upcoming elections in 2020 could prove a source of instability.

Still, the rapid increase in Ivory Coast’s GDP offers hope, and the country now dreams of transforming into a middle-income country by 2020. In addition to keeping cocoa production buzzing, the World Bank has committed to doubling its support over the next four years to nearly $5 billion — with other donor countries chipping in $15.4 billion in grants and loans — to make that upward mobility happen.

Getting there won’t be easy. But making its cocoa addiction less harmful is the first step for Ivory Coast to develop a truly sustainable economy. And the West African nation, assisted by partners, may just be on its way.

Running Straight into the Heart of Lagos

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because sometimes it’s about more than just putting one foot in front of the other.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, APR 08 2018

The sun had just started to rise on the waterfront of Lagos, Nigeria, as the crowd of runners turned onto the Third Mainland Bridge — the second-longest bridge in Africa. I checked my watch: nine-minute miles. Not bad. I settled into my marathon pace and the more than 6 miles ahead of me to Lagos Island, the commercial hub of the city.

It had been a harried morning already. The third edition of the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon had started in the wee hours at the National Stadium in the Surulere district, and it had not set off on solid footing. With a truck blocking the highway to the start line, runners had less than 10 minutes to warm up before the gun — and I was nearly run over trying to snap a few photos of them taking off.

Still, nothing so far had made me question my decision to come and run this marathon — not the heat, not the crowd, not the warnings about the crime, the corruption, the mass discontent of the population — until the Third Mainland Bridge. To the left of me as I started my ascent, I saw oil refineries smack-dab in Lagos Harbor; to the right, I looked over the slums of Iwaya and Makoko, with thousands of wood-and-tin shacks built on stilts just above the slick, oily water. Black smoke from cooking fires burned my eyes and my throat as I watched children in dugout canoes fish for the market or their daily meal. Only then, as I struggled to run while inhaling smog — the smell of diesel was everywhere — did I start to wonder: What had I gotten myself into?

Moreover, which comes first in the developing world? Development, or a marathon that is designed to inspire the populace to develop? Before Lagos, I had run marathons all over the Middle East — in Irbil, Iraq, in Palestine, in Amman, Jordan, and in Beirut, which was still rebuilding after the decades-long civil war. But until Lagos, I never questioned whether a city was ready to host a marathon.

Currently housing the largest metropolitan population in Africa at more than 20 million people, Lagos is made up of three islands and a mainland of 285 square miles that harbors some of the worst traffic in the world. There are no zoning laws in Lagos, and since the 1970s, the city has been overrun by the oil and gas industry, which rules corrupt soldiers, politicians and police through the power of the greased palm. Former “estates,” or planned residential neighborhoods, are overgrown with roadside markets, and informal settlements of people with nowhere else to go use the city waterways and side streets as toilets and refuse dumps.

Before I left, a friend who had visited Lagos on business called it the “Devil’s Playground” for all its abject poverty and the corruption that led to the abject poverty. Other friends warned me about the petty theft, owing to that poverty and joblessness, that characterized parts of the city. When young boys ran too close to me and eyed my iPod, I grew fearful — it might have been a dumb idea to bring it, but I needed music and I wanted to give the city its fair due.

But my impression of Lagos started to change significantly as I, and possibly 30,000 other runners, started running down the Third Mainland’s off-ramp and onto Lagos Island, the once bustling city center with half-abandoned skyscrapers, colonial-era British slave jails, stadiums on permanent permit hold and a coterie of broken-down yellow minicabs. Somewhere along the bridge, I had picked up a running buddy, a 25-year-old named Godwin, who stopped when I needed water, shared my melted Kind bars brought from the States and told me he thought he could “make it to the medal.

 Participants in the 2017 Access Bank Lagos City Marathon on Feb. 11, 2017. SOURCE  PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/GETTY

Participants in the 2017 Access Bank Lagos City Marathon on Feb. 11, 2017. SOURCE PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/GETTY

Medals were one of the things that kept the focus of the people who signed up for the marathon — a tangible item possibly worth a couple of bucks on the street or to hang in a room, offering some sense of accomplishment. The other sensation the marathon offered was transcendence. I saw it on the faces of the men and women who took selfies at the half-marathon mark, heard it in the cheers of the uniformed schoolgirls on the side of the road and read it on the marathon ads lining the streets of the route. Bromides such as “Access the Life” and “Beat the Odds” proved one thing: The Access Bank Lagos City Marathon had its advertising down cold.

The organization of the race proved a bit more laissez-faire. In addition to the marathon, the sponsors decided to put on a 10K race, which put the total at 100,000 “athletes battling for the various prize monies,” according to one local newspaper’s account. It was more like 100,000 hot, sweaty, sun-exhausted people, including me, run-walking past the posh compounds of Ikoyi and Victoria Island to duke it out for finishers’ refreshments and that hard-sought medal. By the time I crossed the line at 5 hours, 15 minutes, the water and the medals were gone. I was too jet-lagged and exhausted to care.

Others were a bit more vocal: “Where is the water? Where are the medals?” asked Efe Pote from Namibia in the British-inflected accent common in East African countries. “These conditions were like I had never experienced before. I want a medal. I need a water.”

I finally received a chair backstage about the time a fight broke out over a chest of icy bottles, just as Lagos’ state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, presented an 18 million naira ($50,000) check to Abraham Kiprotich, a Kenyan-born French marathoner who won the men’s race in 2:13:04, and one to Alemenesh Herpha Guta, an Ethiopian who won the women’s race in 2:38:25.

 Halfway through the hard part. SOURCE:  COURTESY OF ADRIAN BRUNE

Halfway through the hard part. SOURCE: COURTESY OF ADRIAN BRUNE

Ambode repeated a claim I had heard at the press conference: The Lagos City Marathon would have a “Gold Label” certification from the sport’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federation, “within two years.” He added with the Nigerian pride to which I was growing accustomed: “We are tired of foreigners, most especially Kenyans, coming to win this marathon. We need … to give the Kenyans a run for their money.”

I wound up staying an additional seven days past the marathon. I was trying to square the things I had experienced with the billboards around the city adorned with the Access Bank mascot encouraging Lagosians to “Keep on Running” for 2019. The Lagos marathon and the governorate had to make huge strides to attain its “gold” standard in 10 years, much less two. Before anything else, it needed to improve the lives of the populace — the people whom the marathon supposedly benefited — the Godwins running beside me, the schoolgirls cheering me on, those dwelling in the slums and breathing in the smog of international corporate neglect. In The Economists annual Global Livability Rankings, Lagos rated as the second-worst city to live in behind Damascus, Syria. But I was invited back for next year, and I’ll go. I’ll likely run again. If for nothing else than to see how many miles the city has come.

How Malta is Defying Europe's Economic Odds

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Small is successful, sometimes.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, APR 06 2018

When Napoleon expelled the Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta from their home in 1798, they had to survive. So the archaic order serving the Catholic Church, which had until then recruited only those of noble birth, opened up their tent to the non-noble. They brought in additional recruits, increased their revenue and, therefore, rebuilt their empire. Modern Malta is riding in part on that approach again, this time to beat the odds and emerge an unlikely economic miracle.

Malta — the smallest economy in the eurozone, with a gross domestic product of $11 billion — produces only about 20 percent of its food needs, has limited fresh water supplies and few domestic energy sources. But barely a decade into its European Union membership, the small island nation of nearly half a million people has weathered the eurozone crisis better than almost all the EU member states, and even expanded its GDP by a prodigious 6.2 percent in 2015, during arguably the worst period for small European countries.

Its strategy? A game of chess — opening up like the Maltese Knights did, but limiting exposure to external risks at the same time. Under an Individual Investor Programme (IIP) launched in 2014, Malta has issued nearly 700 passports — and thus, EU citizenship — to applicants who can share their talent, expertise and business connections with Malta. The recipients need to pay 650,000 euros to Malta’s National Development and Social Fund, which has advanced “quality of life projects,” in addition to a 150,000-euro investment in government stocks or bonds and the purchase of 350,000 euros in real estate. In turn, new citizens receive visa-free travel to more than 160 countries in the world, including the right of establishment in all 28 EU countries. Since the IIP’s inception in 2014, Malta has generated at least 200 million euros.

The other part: a mixture of financial services, including tax havens for outside corporations; online gaming; ship and airline maintenance and tourism — even as the country’s main bank, the Bank of Valletta, and other banks focused their business and reserves toward a domestic market during the stormy years of the eurozone crisis, says Michael Bartolo, the former ambassador and permanent representative of Malta to the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

“Malta weathered the euro crisis well because its financial setup was less internationally exposed than previously believed,” says Bartolo, adding that the country’s small budget — the $4.37 billion expenditure outlay for 2018 is not much larger than that of major multinational companies — made it easier to manage too. The IIP, in the meantime, he says, has been “very successful, resulting in an inflow of capital and increase in expenditures.”

For sure, the Maltese strategy has critics. The International Monetary Fund in its 2017 analysis of the Maltese economy advised the government to wean itself off the IIP program and to contain public sector spending. Recent charges filed against three men accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had been investigating corruption and money laundering at the highest levels of government, have also led to calls for a closer look at the sale of Maltese passports and the rule of law in Malta.

These factors have dampened the Maltese government’s medium-term plans to maintain a surplus of 0.5 percent of GDP up to 2020. However, according to Carmelo Inguanez, Malta’s current permanent representative to the U.N., the country has been building its market capacity since the departure of the last British troops in 1979. According to him, “when you are successful, people will always say, ‘What is the trick?’ and then throw mud at you.”

The trick, he says, is the full social fund that caters to economic and social gaps and allows for investments. But that isn’t special to Malta. What really props up Malta’s prosperity is tourism — which grew at 4.3 percent in 2015, and injected 1.7 billion euros into the economy. Ruled by a range of ancient civilizations from the Phoenicians to the Normans, Malta is home to a multitude of churches, temples, civil buildings, burial grounds and monuments to the Knights, along with its beach.

Filmmakers looking for a “location double” for ancient Greece, Rome or the Middle East, where it may be cost-prohibitive or too unstable to shoot, often turn to Malta. The country also has a thriving iGaming industry, which has let online gamblingcompanies from Sweden and France — looking to escape relatively restrictive tax regimes in their own countries — set up online poker, sports betting and slots sites and pay only around 5 percent in corporate tax.

To support all this, Malta also imports workers — 18 percent of the workforce, or about 37,000 people, is foreign, according to the Malta Employers’ Association. Additionally, the country caters to thousands of young people coming to learn English. Bartolo, who organized the first English course in Malta for Thomas Cook, says that although the students may not stay in luxury hotels and eat in expensive restaurants, they “take the good experiences with them to their families and their schools — and almost always come back later in life.”

 Tourists take photographs down a street on March 11, 2018, in Malta’s capital, Valletta.SOURCE  DAN KITWOOD/GETTY

Tourists take photographs down a street on March 11, 2018, in Malta’s capital, Valletta.SOURCE DAN KITWOOD/GETTY

There is a downside. Many Maltese have been priced out of the housing market and will likely face an inflation hike of about 2 percent in the coming year.

Still, it’s a small tariff on the benefits, according to Inguanez, who recalls how just four decades ago, Malta’s economy revolved around British military expenditure, and how the country’s transition to a more diversified economic structure was painful. “But we are now at the table, giving our Mediterranean perspective to the EU, to the U.N.,” he says. “We played our cards very well, and because of this, we will remain a small island nation looking outward.”

 

Uganda's Rapping News Anchor Takes Her 'Beat' Seriously

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because she’s bringing “rhyme and reason” to the people.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, MAR 14 2018

It had been a difficult week for Lady Slyke, host of Uganda’s popular NewzBeat show. The crew was planning a multipart special on agricultural entrepreneurship, requiring additional rehearsal time, and the rainy season had descended on the lush country about 50 miles from the equator. The mosquitoes had already begun their assault. Lady Slyke was stricken with malaria, making it near impossible for her to “follow the beat, follow the beat … from the studio to the street,” as she intones on the show each week.

“I am a rapper, and when I get something written — even though it is in a news format — I read it in a beat. If the writing is not rhyming, we have practice and practice until it rhymes before we do anything else,” Slyke, still recovering, says from her office. Nonetheless, Slyke and a farm-costumed crew pulled together the show, informing viewers about potential careers in agribusiness.

 When she’s not rapping the news on air, Lady Slyke designs clothing and accessories inspired by African tradition.SOURCE  COURTESY OF RAS NESTA

When she’s not rapping the news on air, Lady Slyke designs clothing and accessories inspired by African tradition.SOURCE COURTESY OF RAS NESTA

Tuning into hip-hop news is fairly foreign to Western countries. However, in Uganda, where the press remains a state-run affair and fully half of the population is under age 15, a program in which self-styled “rap-orters” broadcast with “rhyme and reason” is hitting the right note. Formerly led by Daniel Kisekka, aka Survivor, who left last year to focus on his arts career, NewzBeat is now helmed by news veteran Lady Slyke (born Sharon Bwogi). Considered Uganda’s queen of hip-hop, the 31-year-old is joined by Jay Sentino and a cast of younger artists including Zoe Kabuye, age 18 and also known as MC Loy; Zion Sheebah (Slyke’s 10-year-old daughter); and gospel rapper MC Yallah.

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With a female anchor, gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the forefront of the show’s editorial. NewzBeat also questions and counters harmful stereotypes and sociocultural norms around gender, highlighting achievements of women in typically male fields such as technology, science and business. A recent edition ran a segment on Africa’s first female disabled model; others have featured Nigeria’s first female mechanic, the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and South African girls launching a satellite into space.

“I love knowing. I love teaching. I teach people what I know, and we’re exchanging views while rhyming the conversation,” Slyke tells OZY. “And we have to keep talking because the news in Uganda doesn’t hit the political issues like it should. Some of our leaders are liars, some are doing their jobs, and the people need to know.”

Although Bwogi has been rapping about current events as Lady Slyke since she was 13, hosting a national news show wasn’t in her playbook until 2013, when Peripheral Vision International (PVI), a nongovernmental organization that creates advocacy media, called for an audition. PVI was looking to combine the public service announcements it had been showing in local video halls with news and music.

“The power of music is that it sidesteps some of the censorship applied to traditional journalism. And hip-hop has a power and a clarity that is often overlooked,” says Paul Falzone, the founder and executive director of PVI. “When we knew we wanted to work with hip-hop, we went to the source.”

Lady Slyke and Survivor, who served as her co-anchor and NewzBeat’s former head writer, were among the first to create and popularize “Lugaflow” — a genre of rap blending English with Luganda, the native language of Uganda, to advocate truth and change for the future of the country’s youth.

“While many traditionalists may dismiss NewzBeat as purely entertainment, it is covering a wider variety of news stories in a less restricted way than what passes for national news on the major networks,” Falzone says.

 Lady Slyke (left), Daniel Kisekka (aka Survivor) and Zoe Kabuye (aka MC Loy) at NewzBeat’s offices in Kampala. Ugandans call the team of broadcasters rap-orters — hip-hop artists turned journalists who rap the news headlines.SOURCE  ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/GETTY

Lady Slyke (left), Daniel Kisekka (aka Survivor) and Zoe Kabuye (aka MC Loy) at NewzBeat’s offices in Kampala. Ugandans call the team of broadcasters rap-orters — hip-hop artists turned journalists who rap the news headlines.SOURCE ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/GETTY

NewzBeat first aired in 2012 on NTV (Uganda National Television) before the station’s regular Saturday news bulletins. It has since expanded to spotlight four local, regional and international stories per week; no subject is off-limits, and a recurrent focus is news on corruption, intolerance and reproductive rights.

“I grew up hearing people do rap music; it’s in African culture,” says MC Loy, who was just 12 when she rapped for Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, at an event celebrating the country’s 50 years of independence. “NewzBeat is an astonishing form of education — and it elevated hip-hop to the next level. A lot of people used to think it was from the ghetto. Now that we’re on TV delivering news, we’re respected.”

Like Loy, Slyke was spurred on to make music by a sibling after she started imitating a local DJ called Berry, who rapped and scratched records on the radio. “Whenever I heard him, I felt like rapping too,” Slyke recalls. “My sister kept on encouraging, and I kept on training until I started performing on different shows, including Berry’s.”

Slyke entered the Ugandan music scene — “a man’s world, for the most part,” she says — in the late 1990s, writing songs about her experiences, both social and political, and performing at festivals, including the Bayimba International Festival of the Arts and Breakdance Project Uganda. In 2005, when her song “Mother Africa” won best hip-hop hit at the Pearl of Africa Music Awards, Slyke was credited with being one of Uganda’s leading ladies of rap.

It’s a title she wears with pride. But these days the TV show is her main avocation. “NewzBeat is a voice for the people by the people to the people. It delivers conscious, social, educative and political news and much more.” What would she put at the top of the list?

“Eradicating malaria this week,” Slyke says, pausing for a story rhyme: “If you feel feverish, you had better get checked/ Because if it’s malaria, you might be wrecked/ This disease can still be deadly/ Your best bet is to catch it early/ And even if you don’t feel like it, take those anti-malarials to strike it … down.”

Meet the Muppet Bringing Joy to Syrian Refugees

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because these kids need a wild-haired creature in their lives.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, MAR 05 2018

Like Sesame Street’s the Merry Monster, Tonton has wild orange hair, and like Elmo, she prefers to speak in the third person. But this pint-size Muppet with the outsize personality, known for being somewhat disorganized and prone to fits of restless curiosity, doesn’t live on Sesame Street. Well, not exactly. She lives in a place called Hikayat Simsim, the Jordanian version of Sesame Street that premiered in 2003, when Tonton was just 4 (she hasn’t aged much).

Brought to life by puppeteer Fatima Amaireh, Tonton and her best pal, Juljul, along with Jiddo Simsim (Grandpa Sesame, played by Issa Sweidan), made the show one of the most popular in modern-day Jordanian television — and that was before the International Rescue Committee decided to bring Tonton and her long-distance neighbors Elmo and Grover to refugee communities across the Middle East. This past December, the MacArthur Foundation announced that it was awarding the IRC and the Sesame Workshop its 100&Change grant — $100 million for “bold solutions to critical problems of our time” — to create a comprehensive early childhood education program for displaced Syrians throughout the region.

 Tonton, a Muppet from  Hikayat Simsim,  Jordan’s local version of  Sesame Street , reads a storybook with a refugee family in Lebanon. SOURCE:  TARA TODRAS-WHITEHILL/IRC

Tonton, a Muppet from Hikayat Simsim, Jordan’s local version of Sesame Street, reads a storybook with a refugee family in Lebanon. SOURCE: TARA TODRAS-WHITEHILL/IRC

The IRC and Sesame Workshop have begun the initial planning of Sesame Seeds — the working title for their initiative — but already the organization promises to take aim at the toxic stress faced by refugees. “We’re known at Sesame Street to tackle the tough issues generally, but we couldn’t help but open the papers and see every day the situation of refugee children,” says Sherrie Westin, vice president of global impact and philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization associated with the PBS series.

“Giving the children ways to learn and confront their trauma and providing parents with strategies to cope with its effects, we realized, could be one of biggest undertakings in social impact — and the largest childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response,” Westin says. Recent research has shed light on the effect of toxic stress, which floods the developing brain with dangerously high levels of stress hormones, risking permanent damage to biological and neurological systems and leaving children at severe risk for impairments that will follow them throughout their lives.

Some other nongovernmental organizations that work in the field, while not questioning the value of the program, believe there is more than one methodology to break the cycle of poverty. “That said, early childhood development is crucial in the context of displaced people in man-made and natural disasters — the best thing you can do is establish a sense of normalcy for kids affected by it,” says Scott MacMillan, a senior adviser with BRAC. “There have been wars going on; societies have been destroyed. Who is going to rebuild them? This generation? No, the children growing up in the camps now.”

Sesame Workshop and the IRC officially launched their pilot program at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. A year later, with their 100&Change funding application pending at the MacArthur Foundation, Tonton and Elmo — among other Muppets — traveled to northern Jordan to visit children at the Za’atari refugee camp, mugging for the cameras and making the media rounds with Sherrie Westin and IRC’s CEO David Miliband.

“Elmo thinks it’s important to know that everybody is the same deep down, and that’s very important,” said the furry red creature during a Facebook Live interview with CNN in October. “It was really sad because Elmo’s new friends told Elmo that they had to leave their homes because it wasn’t safe for them to stay. And that made Elmo really sad and sometimes a bit scared.”

Tonton, however, wasn’t about to let Elmo steal the show. When she danced during her visits, so did the children. And when Tonton gave big hugs, uttering her familiar catchphrase “I know, I know” in Arabic, the children hugged back.

“Tonton appeared in the tent and she was just one with the kids,” says Sarah Smith, senior director of education at the IRC. “You see kids who have been quiet or withdrawn become comfortable with the puppet, and realize as an educator of children who have been through so much and are having a hard time learning, that these characters allow them to relax and open up the opportunity to learn that’s not possible with even the best teacher.”

 Syrian children living in Bekaa, Lebanon, are excited to receive a surprise visit from Tonton. SOURCE:  JACOB RUSSELL/IRC

Syrian children living in Bekaa, Lebanon, are excited to receive a surprise visit from Tonton. SOURCE: JACOB RUSSELL/IRC

Two months later — and with much fanfare — the IRC and Sesame Workshop announced the grant.

To begin, Sesame Workshop will create a new Arabic version of Sesame Street for delivery through television, mobile phones and other digital platforms to equip an estimated 9.4 million refugee children with language, reading, math and socioemotional skills. Next up, Sesame Workshop and IRC will transform community sites, schools (both formal and makeshift) and other points of aid into centers stocked with storybooks, video clips and activity sheets for play-based learning.

The final component — aimed at reaching 1.5 million refugee children — consists of home visits and support sessions to connect 800,000 caregivers with health workers who will pass on Sesame Street materials, including storybooks, toys, games, mobile apps and parenting guides.

“There has been a substantial commitment to education in emergencies with political leaders and NGOs standing up and saying there is a problem here,” Smith says. “But less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid is going to education. Just stating the problem is not enough — we need people with power putting money behind those commitments.”

Tonton may not have deep pockets (or any pockets), but she has the power, together with her trailblazing sisters across the world, to help change attitudes about girls in more closed countries. These include Zari, a 6-year-old who wears a hijab and wants to become a doctor on Baghch-e-Simsim (the Afghan co-production of Sesame Street); 5-year-old Chamki, an insatiable reader on Galli Galli Sim Sim (the Hindi-language adaptation of Sesame Street); Kami, an asymptomatic, HIV-positive 5-year-old on South Africa’s Takalani Sesame; and Khokha, who dreams of becoming a writer, a police officer or an astronaut on Egypt’s Alam Simsim.

Each one a relatable character showing girls they can do, and be, more: “I know everything, everything,” Tonton proclaims with unbridled confidence, “and I am good in doing anything.”

Sexual Warfare in the Middle East Puts Men in Crosshairs

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because men as well as women are being sexually assaulted in the Syrian conflict.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, FEB 21 2018

In early 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assigned Stanford University researcher Sarah Chynoweth a seemingly impossible task: Look into male rape and sexual torture in the Syrian conflict. Chynoweth knew that many women and girls were being targeted for rape and other sexual violence, but the agency had no data on sexual assaults against males, or even if they were happening.

Chynoweth assumed that boys and possibly a few men had been targeted in prisons or other detention centers. But she surmised that she had been sent looking for a problem that hardly existed. And even if it did, she assumed no one would talk, given that male-on-male sex is forbidden in Islamic culture.

She couldn’t have been more mistaken. Although her statistics are based on preliminary data, Chynoweth found that:

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In fact, a focus group of refugee women in Jordan estimated that 30 to 40 percent of adult men in their community had been sexually assaulted while in detention in Syria. “The accounts were heartrending and horrific. They were also abundant,” Chynoweth wrote in “We Keep It in Our Heart” — Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys in the Syria Crisis, a UNHCR report released in October. “As I met with more and more refugees, I received similar responses, and was inundated with heartbreaking stories.”

While wartime rape disproportionately affects women, sexual violence against men and boys occurs under a variety of circumstances designed to inflict deep psychological pain, especially in regions with entrenched traditional gender roles. The UNHCR report, which studied refugee asylums in Kurdistan and Lebanon as well as Jordan, identified four scenarios: conflict-related sexual torture in detention; assault against gay and bisexual men by opportunistic perpetrators; pedophilia suffered by young boys in refugee communities; and sexual exploitation of boys and men in countries of asylum.

“Sexual violence isn’t used systematically in every conflict — there is significant variance,” Chynoweth says. When taken into custody, the victimized men were subject to electric shocks, rape in stress positions with pipes and other objects, as well as beatings and point-blank shootings of the genitals. In the camps, older boys and adult men used mobile phones to photograph unsuspecting boys while they were undressing or using the bathroom and then blackmailed them into performing sexual acts. Finally, males were assaulted rather than females due to the widespread belief in these refugee communities that the rape of a male is less harmful to his reputation.

Indeed, male sexual assault can impact men just as much as women, according to psychologists and psychiatrists. In all three refugee asylums where Chynoweth conducted research, survivors isolated themselves, withdrawing from families and communities. Friends and family members of survivors used the same vocabulary — that the survivor “wanted to die,” that he had become “a different person.” The family as a whole became stigmatized, as survivors were perceived as failing in their primary roles as protectors.

Some humanitarian organizations have begun to recognize the issue and provide basic services for male survivors, mostly by including them in programs for women and girls or LGBT persons. Generally, however, nongovernmental organizations, local organizations and police may not know how to identify signs of sexual violence in males. And if authorities are not hostile or dismissive of male victims outright, they may only be attuned to anal rape rather than other forms of assault.

Due to steep cuts in U.S. aid to the 2018 international affairs budget, which affect overseas development aid and support for U.N. agencies, male survivors are not likely to receive tailored help anytime soon. Most organizations providing care to male survivors of sexual violence are local human rights groups in dangerous settings where few, if any, international humanitarian agencies operate. Many of those that do, rely on U.N. funding that has been slashed.

Nonetheless, Chynoweth says she feels “a strong duty” to ensure that these men’s voices are heard. “The impact of sexual violence ripples across families and communities — it is not just a women’s or men’s issue,” she says. “My hope is that humanitarian agencies will increasingly address it, so that services and care are put in place for all survivors in every crisis, and that the men and women I met with will someday find peace and healing.”

* Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated a statistic on unwanted sexual contact or sexual harassment among male refugees in asylum communities.

The U.S. Has a Military Presence in Almost Every Country

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because the U.S. may not have to go it alone on international security.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, FEB 13 2018

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, U.S. President Donald Trump reassured the assembled political and business heavyweights that “America first does not mean America alone.”

That also could be the mantra for U.S. military strategy. Despite talk of a border wall and an overall Fortress America vibe these days among some members of the American body politic, the reality is that the U.S. is intricately involved in the military affairs of the world.

According to spokesman Ken McGraw of the U.S. Special Operations Command:

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That tally includes an estimated 8,000 personnel in combat and non-combat roles as the U.S. works actively with the militaries of more than three dozen countries and funnels money and equipment to armed forces in nearly 130 nations. The tab: $20 billion per year.

This dense web of bilateral agreements poses a few challenges, including relationships with the occasional unsavory partner. Take Indonesia, for example. Recently, in Jakarta, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis laughed and smiled as Kopassus, the Indonesian Army special forces group that conducts unconventional warfare, counterterrorism and special reconnaissance, put on a show — drinking snake blood, rolling in glass, breaking bricks with their heads and walking on fire. The military spectacle culminated in a hostage-rescue exercise set to the theme song from Mission: Impossible.

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The dog-and-pony performance sent the cabinet member known as “Mad Dog” back to the Pentagon to consider improved military cooperation. One obstacle — the Leahy Law, named for U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. It bars U.S. assistance and training to foreign military units known to have committed gross human rights abuses. That’d be Kopassus. The Pentagon has restricted funding to the group since 1999, when Indonesia conducted what Human Rights Watch called a “scorched earth campaign” in East Timor.

“U.S. support is a pretty broad statement — we have all sorts of relationships with all sorts of different countries,” says Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Generally, they are highly mutual. Many governments want the status and the security that comes from the U.S., while the U.S. offers security guarantees to countries in exchange for not developing weapons, among many other things.”

The largest area of current operations — outside Afghanistan and the Middle East — is Africa, where about 6,000 U.S. troops are engaged in security and counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida affiliates al-Shabab, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram. Two-thirds of American personnel are based in Djibouti, home to the only official U.S. military base on the continent. The Defense Department has also allocated about 1,700 special forces “advising and assisting” local soldiers in battlefield guidance, although these elite warriors also take part in a broad range of missions, including retaking enemy territory and capturing terrorist leaders.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has decreased its military contributions to multilateral treaty organizations and institutions, such as NATO and the United Nations, which are better equipped to assess and manage threats, according to Michael O’Hanlon of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution. In 2015, the U.S., as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, contributed about $2 billion of the $8.3 billion U.N. peacekeeping budget — a tiny fraction of the $598.5 billion U.S. military budget for the same year, according to the Congressional Briefing Book. In 2017, when President Donald Trump took office, the U.S. voted to cut $150 million from its contribution to U.N. peacekeeping and bolstered its own military spending by $80 billion.

“It costs the U.S. more than $1 million per U.S. troop in Afghanistan per year,” O’Hanlon says. “The total actual U.S. cost of the Afghanistan mission now exceeds $20 billion a year.” The entire U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations budget is less than half that, and it funds 16 or 17 missions around the world with more than 100,000 total troops.

“It’s extremely short-sighted strategy to pull from the U.N. and put into the U.S.,” Kleinfeld says, pointing to a 2017 Rand Corporation report that found U.N. peacekeeping operations can be “an effective means of terminating conflicts, insuring against their reoccurrence and promoting democracy … and have a robust positive effect on peacebuilding outcomes … [which is] stronger when peacekeepers remain.” In other words, U.N. peacekeepers are good at their jobs, especially if they stick around.

While Mattis contemplates reinvesting in the cobra-biting Indonesian troops, Kleinfeld suggests more U.S. contributions to the U.N. in terms of money and Security Council presence — but that would entail a reversal of the Trump doctrine to date. “The U.N. is by far the best bang for the buck,” Kleinfeld says. “It tends to go to places the U.S. wants, but more cheaply and effectively and with a lot more predictable outcomes.”

Africa's Airlines Aim to Connect the Continent

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Traveling to, and around, Africa is getting easier.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, JAN 10 2018

As an overseer of all security for U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world, Ken Payumo must make at least one stop each year in seven sub-Saharan African countries, from Liberia to South Sudan. When booking flights, he has several choices — none of them pretty.

To fly to the Central African Republic from Chad — neighboring countries — Payumo has to pick up a flight from Chad’s capital N’Djamena to Paris, then from Paris to Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. Sometimes, Royal Air Maroc comes through with just a layover in Casablanca. But once in-country and ready to return to the U.S., it’s a “hodgepodge” of options, according to Payumo: Air Maroc again from Bangui to Casablanca to Paris, before he can fly into JFK. Or a two-stop flight to Newark, New Jersey, on Ethiopian Air for $1,300 — if he’s lucky.

That may finally change. Encouraged by the International Air Transport Association and the African Union, executives of African airlines are gaining ground against the red tape, high taxes and political meddling that have long held back the industry’s growth on the continent. The Single African Air Transport Market, a flagship African Union project, would allow airlines to fly intra-African routes based on economic and financial considerations, draw in potential cross-border investment and enable the free movement of Africans across the continent through visa reforms. Roadblocks remain, but there’s early evidence that the plan isn’t just a pie in the sky.

The African Union is soon expected to renew a push to implement the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision — the key driver of the SAATM — which promotes competitive pricing, lifts capacity and frequency restraints, and permits “fifth freedom flights” that span at least three countries. Already, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and South African Airways — the continent’s most successful – have successfully promoted fifth freedom flights in sub-Saharan Africa. And a total of 550 new airplanes to Africa are expected for delivery over the next 20 years, including 300 large, regional jets and 250 small, single-aisle aircraft.

“Success can be measured in the number of international airport connections served by multistop flights in Africa,” says Heinrich C. Bofinger, a senior transport economist with the World Bank Group who has worked on air transport in Africa. “The fifth freedom route model has become the keystone of the development of services by key African airlines — and the cornerstone strategy of some newcomers.”

Because other modes of travel are even harder, air travel has long been recognized as the most efficient transportation mode in Africa; early in decolonization, the continent had its share of airlines that gained tremendous market penetration. Air Afrique, a 1960 partnership between several African countries and Air France, served all of Francophone Africa from its headquarters in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, until 2002, when debts forced it into bankruptcy. Nigeria Airways, also one of decolonized Africa’s first airlines, survived from 1958 until 2003. Since the turn of the century, individual countries such as Ghana, Mali and Senegal in the West and Uganda in the East have aimed to establish viable national carriers under public-private partnerships, but have hit regulatory turbulence.

The airline market in Africa, and recognition of the potential for profit, have grown dramatically. Just over 10 million airline seats in Africa were offered in 2001 — 14 years later, that number more than doubled to 22.7 million and linked more African cities than ever before, according to the World Bank Group. Experts say air traffic on the continent will grow by an annual average of 5.1 percent in the next 18 years, outpacing the global projected average of 4.7 percent. “Where there is demand, service providers will appear,” Bofinger says.

Yet most sub-Saharan airlines are losing money to the heavily bankrolled Arab airlines, such as Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways and Emirates, according to the International Air Transport Association. Of Africa’s big three carriers, only Ethiopian Airlines posted a profit last year, while Kenya Airways and South African Airways suffered losses. Some African countries still limit the growth of airlines through taxation and costs, and the IATA wants governments “to pass laws or enact policies that encourage airlines to develop,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA director general and CEO, recently told New Era, Zambia’s national newspaper.

The air transport sector is also still seen by many African governments as a “way to show technical accomplishment and skill,” says Bofinger. “The notion of the national flag carrier is still deeply ingrained in the politics of the air transport sector,” he says, and many governments remain reluctant to fully privatize airlines. They instead adopt policies that may not be financially sustainable, Bofinger says.

Safety, security and infrastructure also remain concerns. In 2013, the continent carried just 3 percent of global air traffic, but accounted for roughly 20 percent of the 29 accidents and 265 fatalities of commercial passenger planes worldwide. This traditionally high rate of accidents and fatalities largely has to do with the absorption of older Soviet-made aircraft, as well as the lack of independent regulatory agencies, says Elijah Chingosho of the African Airlines Association, a trade organization. The bigger airports like Addis Ababa and Nairobi lack the efficiency, effectiveness and entertainment they need to be called “gateways” for the continent, says Payumo — though Bofinger cautions against countries building grandiose airports assuming their cities are going to emerge as the next Shanghai-style hubs.

Not all these challenges are likely to evaporate anytime in the near future. But the booming demand, growing spunk shown by African airlines, the support they are receiving from bodies like the IATA, and the Pan-African reforms on the anvil promise a better future.

The new planes the major airlines are purchasing will reduce dependence on the outdated Soviet ones. And along with freeing up cross-border transport, the SAATM would establish a program to audit airlines safety and emergency features.

The green shoots of improvement are visible. In 2016, Africa did not record a single safety-related fatal airline accident. “Travelers will only patronize African airlines if safety standards are up to global standards,” says Chingosho. “The effort by various stakeholders to enhance a safety culture is yielding positive results.”

Meet the Woman Risking It All for the Perfect Shot

 Lucinda Grange: “As I sat there, the most famous city in the world below my feet, I felt like part of the city was mine. But also that the city will always have part of me.”  COURTESY LUCINDA GRANGE

Lucinda Grange: “As I sat there, the most famous city in the world below my feet, I felt like part of the city was mine. But also that the city will always have part of me.” COURTESY LUCINDA GRANGE

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because she’s giving you views you’d never get any other way.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, JAN 04 2018

As any photographer knows, every location presents trials — light, frame, aperture, just for starters — but Lucinda Grange has taken on a different set of challenges, and honed unusual skills for negotiating her most difficult shoots, skills more typically associated with mountain goats, or spiders.

Six years ago, Grange persuaded a friend to see a dentist inside the Chrysler Building so she could get past security and climb the stairs to the roof for a jaw-dropping shot of her perched on a brutalist eagle a thousand feet above midtown Manhattan. In 2013, she propelled herself up the Williamsburg Bridge for a self-portrait peering up from the girders. And just last month, Grange went full-on amphibian to wade through knee-deep water in an abandoned Brooklyn aqueduct in search of the perfect photo. I know, I was there.

“I am up for my green card, so I am concentrating on shooting in locations where I have permission to shoot now,” she said, ducking through a graffiti-sprayed underpass as we walked underground for at least a half-mile. (When I’d asked the previous week where she’d be taking me, her only response was “high and low.”)

 Author Adrian Brune poses for Grange in a retired Long Island aqueduct once used to transport water to Brooklyn.  COURTESY OF LUCINDA GRANGE

Author Adrian Brune poses for Grange in a retired Long Island aqueduct once used to transport water to Brooklyn. COURTESY OF LUCINDA GRANGE

To those quick to label her a thrill-seeker, Grange briskly pushes back. “I use photography as a means of self-expression,” she says. “I believe that a person is defined by their actions and choices, and is therefore defined by the environments they choose to put themselves in — and I challenge them to reconsider those environments.” Her chosen habitat is constantly shifting, and yields surprising rewards: Times Square sign hangers framed from the top down, a ballerina pirouetting from the ladder of a West Side water tower, a shot of lower Manhattan taken across the East River, from Governors Island.

“Lucinda has found a niche and she’s soaring,” says Jain Lemos, photo editor and executive with the New York–based YPA Foundation, formerly the Young Photographers’ Alliance. “I see these shots becoming iconic for a spell, and look forward to viewing more of her lofty perspectives.”

But while the public and certain editors love Grange’s derring-do, other photographers and critics dismiss her as just another urban explorer with a Nikon and a modicum of talent. To them, she embodies a typical “Urbex” working in a tired genre — and legally ambiguous locations — that’s become overexposed in the Instagram era.

“Most of these images are taken by illegal means,” says one photo editor familiar with Grange’s work. “I’ve heard of at least two photographers dying. Not many people would want to go on record praising this genre of photography.” Just this past November, a 26-year-old Chinese “daredevil” known for posting social videos of his stunts slipped to his death from a 62-story building. Grange has been arrested once, in Northern England, and admits to a couple of narrow escapes since moving to New York.

 “I set up my camera, took off my shoes and slowly walked along the cold beams of the bridge,” Grange recalls. “Feeling my toes grip the steel, I steadily moved one foot at a time until I got to the spot where I wanted to sit for the shot.”  COURTESY OF LUCINDA GRANGE

“I set up my camera, took off my shoes and slowly walked along the cold beams of the bridge,” Grange recalls. “Feeling my toes grip the steel, I steadily moved one foot at a time until I got to the spot where I wanted to sit for the shot.” COURTESY OF LUCINDA GRANGE

Grange is undeterred. Growing up in the U.K., near Newcastle, the child of factory workers felt the pangs of exploration first, climbing around Yorkshire’s derelict, overgrown quarries. At 17, she picked up a camera when her grandfather died and left the family his Nikon D70.

She joined a local camera club, and began to climb “bigger things” — from chimneys to bridges and skyscrapers. When Grange headed off to college, she decided to pursue photography over mechanical design engineering. Her grandfather’s camera now sits on a shelf in her tidy one-bedroom apartment in Flushing, Queens.

While at college, she worked part time at a bar, using the money to “go on cheap weekends away and climb things or go underground,” Grange tells me over a hearty English breakfast of beans, eggs and toast before setting out on a shoot. “Not many people would climb the Brooklyn Bridge, but lots would want to see the view. By sharing my work, I’m able to take people with me — if only in their minds.”

Grange made her first visit to New York in 2011 after handing in her final assignment at the Cleveland College of Art and Design in Hartlepool, U.K. From there, she spent three months in southern Mali, where she took her graduation photo, clad in a cap and gown she had carried with her and hanging onto a rock face above the hills of sub-Saharan Africa.

Travel soon became as indispensable as her tripod. Selected by the Independent and Young Photographers’ Alliance in Britain as a 2013 rising photographer for her portrait of a woman tucked between an arch of Notre Dame Cathedral, Grange went on to Egypt, Brazil, London and back to New York, where she shot the Chrysler Building photograph for a 2014 book Outside the Lines.

 “I had a week to get into as much/as little trouble as possible, seeing the Big Apple from its core, the infrastructure that allows it to flow and function. This image shows a section of the subway, and a train flying past me, leaving the underground, to fly over the Manhattan Bridge.”  COURTESY OF LUCINDA GRANGE

“I had a week to get into as much/as little trouble as possible, seeing the Big Apple from its core, the infrastructure that allows it to flow and function. This image shows a section of the subway, and a train flying past me, leaving the underground, to fly over the Manhattan Bridge.” COURTESY OF LUCINDA GRANGE

When photographer Micah Beree, a former studio assistant and archivist of Annie Leibovitz, first saw Grange’s work, he assumed a man had taken the photos. “I’ve seen the others’ pictures on the Chrysler Building with the eagle heads and thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve seen that; Annie did that.’ But everybody else had their model behind the eagles and Grange is sitting dead on top,” he tells OZY. “For me, a proper photo has proper exposure, a confident use of depth of field and paints with light. She has all of that, but she also pushed the limits. To me, that is impressive.”

Once settled in New York full time, Grange started her “Backward in High Heels” project, a collection of images of female artists performing in high spaces. Inspired by a quote about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (“Sure, he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did … backward and in high heels”), she set out to take photographs that “make the viewer reconsider the mental and physical capabilities of women.” What about her own? “I’ve been climbing since I was a little girl,” she says, “so I know the limits of my capabilities.”

Grange’s current obsession is “Inside Out New York,” a collection of photos for which she plans to scour the city’s hidden spaces for “views that the tourists and even most New Yorkers never see.” She’s set her sights on places like the power station beneath Grand Central Terminal, the engine room of the Staten Island Ferry and the safe at Tiffany & Co. and will soon start testing her moxie again.

“Sometimes it’s not about the conquest,” she muses. “Sometimes it’s about an unfamiliar environment, and the fun you can make of it.”

The Ultra-Runner Empowering Women in Conflict Countries

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because running equals quicker diplomacy

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, JAN 07 2018

Going into the Tor de Géants — one of the world’s premier endurance races at 330 kilometers (205 miles) — this past September, Stephanie Case couldn’t get her head into the run. She cursed at the cows, cried at the medical tents and told her support team she wanted to quit. Midway through the race, she figured it out. Physically conditioned for the Tor, Case hadn’t mentally recovered from a life-threatening fall on January 1 down the Col de Malatrà, a 9,632-foot peak — leaving her with broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a liver laceration. The ultra-runner and founder of Free to Run, an NGO that empowers women and girls in conflict countries, started 2017 with her greatest challenge: recovering.

“In order to keep your sanity when you work in areas of conflict, you do have to have an ultimate belief that everything is going to be OK,” Case says. “Lying there on the side of the mountain … I was faced with the prospect of everything not being OK. The possibility of me freezing to death, bleeding internally, was very real.”

Back at the Tor, Case fought to regain focus and finished the race in fourth place. “Part of me wanted to prove wrong all of the doctors who told me I wouldn’t be able to race in the mountains for all of 2017. The other part of me was just desperate to reclaim bits of myself,” Case says.

Robbie Britton, a top runner in Chamonix, France, took Case to task on social media when she posted after her accident about pushing through her recovery. He said she was irresponsible and encouraging others to get injured. Case says it was a good discussion and her aim was to give hope to people in difficult decisions.

At 35, having completed more than 35 ultra-marathons, 20 as a top-five finisher, the Geneva-based human-rights lawyer can’t imagine her life without a 50K (or longer) race on the training calendar — for herself or her charges through Free to Run. For 2018, she has started a pilot program to train runners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the Rwanda Challenge Marathon, in addition to her own schedule that includes the Madeira Island Ultra Trail and another Tor des Géants.

Case’s achievements in ultra-running stand alone. But in a sport that remains male-dominated — in 2016, one-third of ultra-marathon finishers were female — she has also made important strides to increase the visibility of female athletes in areas of the world where women often get sidelined. “She definitely has crazy, and in a good way,” says Case’s mother, Ann. “I believe the same crazy has led her to work in conflict areas and persevere for her human-rights passions and beliefs.”

 When not chasing mountains, ultra-runner Stephanie Case — photographed in Gaza in 2016 — works as a human rights attorney for the United Nations.  COURTESY OF STEPHANIE CASE

When not chasing mountains, ultra-runner Stephanie Case — photographed in Gaza in 2016 — works as a human rights attorney for the United Nations. COURTESY OF STEPHANIE CASE

On the other hand, Case’s advocacy can sometimes ruffle some running singlets. One critic, Sebastian Straten, founder of the Iran marathon, believes Case pushes too hard in delicate cultural situations that require a lighter touch: “This first marathon could open doors for Iranian women marathon runners. … If it was not for the first men-only modern marathon in Athens, there would not have been a marathon at all.”

Case never considered herself “sporty,” she says; nonetheless, the native Canadian rowed varsity crew while at college in Ontario and entered her first marathon during law school at the University of British Columbia. She thought it would be the ultimate challenge — but she felt disappointed after crossing the finish line. “I couldn’t figure out why I had trained for so many months just to participate in a race that was over in a couple of hours,” Case says. “I was searching for that feeling of really hitting the limits of your abilities and having to dig deep to go beyond. For me, that didn’t come in 26.2 miles.

 Case runs up the Madeira Island Ultra Trail in 2017, three months after a life-threatening fall in the Italian Alps.  COURTESY OF STEPHANIE CASE

Case runs up the Madeira Island Ultra Trail in 2017, three months after a life-threatening fall in the Italian Alps. COURTESY OF STEPHANIE CASE

She started researching longer races and found a 250-kilometer (155-mile) footrace in Vietnam. Unsure she would even finish the February 2008 race, she ended up with a first-place trophy in the women’s division, third place overall. “That’s when I realized that I might not be fast, but I was stubborn enough to outlast most of my competitors,” Case says.

After law school, Case worked at a corporate firm, did a series of international law consultancies and joined the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in 2012. While a posting to a war zone could have curtailed some people’s running dreams, it boosted Case’s. She logged laps on a treadmill and around the UN compound in Kabul and hitched helicopter rides to train in the mountains in Western Afghanistan.

Case also started running to raise money to support a local women’s shelter. But the women didn’t want money; they wanted to run with her. A year later, she launched Free to Run, and in 2015, one of their members became the first female Afghan to run the Marathon of Afghanistan. The following year, the nonprofit sent a team from Afghanistan to RacingThePlanet in Sri Lanka.

As Case moved to another UN posting, in Gaza, before settling in Geneva with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2016, she kept running, notching her first Tor de Géants, as well as the Ultra Trail Lago d’Orta, a 55-mile vertical scramble up 19,521 feet. She also backed an Iranian woman, Mahsa Torabi, as she crashed the first Iran marathon in April 2016 (women were not allowed to run), and joined her for the Iran Silk Road Ultramarathon — 155 miles circling the Dasht-e Lut Desert that August.

Emailing from Tehran, Torabi said, “I ran in that ultra-marathon because I wanted to show the power of women — that nothing could create limitations for us in reaching our aim in sports.”

Now fully recovered from her accident, Case says she has a new perspective on her life and ultra-running. “When we run, we are forced to be our authentic selves. We are stripped down to our most basic needs, and all of the noise and crap falls to the wayside,” she reflects. “It is the greatest equalizer. Out on the trail, it doesn’t matter what your background may be. All that matters is how much training you’ve put in and how committed you are to the journey.”

Why Millennials Are Signing Up for Gilded Age Clubs

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because millennials want to feel some grandeur too.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, NOV 28 2017

On Halloween afternoon, as the kids canvassed the brownstones in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Larry Berson, the head chef and general manager of the Montauk Club, directed a team of white-jacketed workers slowly transforming the mahogany-paneled bastion of wealth and privilege into a convincing haunted mansion. Feeling a financial pinch from the recently completed $2 million renovation of the late 19th-century Venetian-Gothic palace, Berson was counting on about 240 “retro nouveau lovers and gentlemen ghouls” to choose the club over myriad other haunted fetes across the five boroughs.

“People aren’t necessarily looking for the big, beautiful building anymore, although we definitely have that,” Berson says, showing off the parlor room with its Tiffany stained-glass windows. “They are looking for connections and fun events. Clubs have to change with the times, and we are changing with the times.”

Shifting demographics, corporate downsizing, Internal Revenue Service rulings that eliminated expensing club memberships … there seem to be plenty of changes threatening these relics of the Gilded Age. And yet it’s an improbable era of reinvention for private clubs — or at least the top-drawer ones in New York. Experts believe that as Gen Xers and millennials come of age, they are beginning to seek not only the panache of exclusive domains but also a connection to others and a sense of belonging. As a result, experts say, private social clubs are positioned to survive — and even thrive — in a socially fragmented age with seemingly limitless competition for social and leisure time.

“Presently, our membership rolls are stronger than they have been in decades,” says James O’Brien, a spokesperson for the New York Athletic Club, one of the most exclusive venues in the city. “Some of that is driven by the [junior member] associate class, but other classes of membership are also strong.” O’Brien points to innovations like intraclubs, or clubs within clubs, which provide specialized events and activities, from yachting to wine tasting to basketball — all within the same organization. “Combine this with the NYAC’s history and its Olympic traditions,” O’Brien adds, “and it’s an extremely attractive organization.”

Beyond New York, it can be an uphill run for many clubs, despite relaxed dress codes, permissive use of iPhones and the addition of fitness facilities. Overall, club membership is down 20 percent from 1990, according to a 2013 study by the National Club Association, a Washington lobby group, citing overbuilding, lifestyle changes and elitist reputations as factors. However, the same report — the most recent available — found that the top 10 percent of clubs are thriving.

 West Parlor, National Arts Club.  COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL ARTS CLUB

West Parlor, National Arts Club. COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL ARTS CLUB

The National Arts Club in Manhattan’s tony Gramercy neighborhood is solidly in the 10 percent. “We have fine artists as members; we have collectors as members. One of our first members was Alfred Stieglitz. Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono used to hang out here all the time, and we’re always looking for the next generation,” says Remi Koukou, the club’s event planner. The 24-year-old art history major from Boston has enlivened the 1840s Tilden mansion with exhibits such as “The Art of the App” in a ground-floor gallery, fashion parties such as the Bonnet Bash — a mishmash of cocktail mixology and millinery that’s open to the public — and location shoots for TV shows like Broad City. “It’s the 19th century in here and the 21st century out there,” says Koukou. “Now the challenge is to bridge that gap.”

In a competitive city like New York, all this has translated into a stiffer rivalry among clubs. Without the usual perks of a suburban country club — golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts and huge clubhouse — New York’s clubs are highlighting their individual assets, such as location and grand spaces, while maximizing the things all New Yorkers crave: access, good drinks and fine dining. Many have hired well-known chefs (usually French-trained) and endeavored to create sister-club relationships with shared-use facilities around the world.

 Larry Berson, head chef and general manager of the Montauk Club. SOURCE:  ADRIAN BRUNE/OZY

Larry Berson, head chef and general manager of the Montauk Club. SOURCE: ADRIAN BRUNE/OZY

Some have also cut dues. These clubs hue closely to the term “private” and don’t reveal membership numbers or finances, but organizations like the Metropolitan, the Union and NYAC strive to keep membership between 500 to 1,000 people, with annual dues between $350 (Montauk) and $5,000 (the Union), and initiation fees of up to $9,000 (NYAC).

“Clubs will have to work hard to achieve balance and weigh the different preferences and priorities of three generations of members: millennials, Generation X and baby boomers,” says Henry Wallmeyer, the National Club Association’s Gen X president and CEO. “Diversity is another hot-button trend, [and] not only in race and gender. People want to know when they walk in the door that there are people similar to them in interests and activities and that they will have someone with whom they can interact.”

The Gilded Age social club fervor actually started in the summer of 1836, when a number of leading New Yorkers decided to compete with the “great clubs of London, which give a tone and character to the society,” according to the Union Club’s website. They invited 250 “gentlemen of social distinction” to join the new Union Club. (The Union and Metropolitan clubs, among others, have a general “no press” policy — and many others did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

 The West Lounge of the Metropolitan Club is one of New York City’s grandest Gilded Age ballrooms. The private club was founded in 1891 by J.P. Morgan in a snit and designed by Stanford White.  COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN CLUB

The West Lounge of the Metropolitan Club is one of New York City’s grandest Gilded Age ballrooms. The private club was founded in 1891 by J.P. Morgan in a snit and designed by Stanford White. COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN CLUB

But as New York City grew, so did the number of people worth knowing, and thus the clubs expanded, with a broad emphasis on the “promotion of Literature and Art,” or so says the University Club. Over the decades, they moved from stately buildings to grandiose uptown clubhouses designed by Stanford White and other beaux-arts architects, with touches by stained-glass artists like John La Farge and art by the Hudson River School masters.

Overall, Koukou says, that if her peers can “get over the idea that ‘I can’t get in anyway, so what’s the point of trying,’” they will be rewarded with an experience that is part of the cultural fabric on the city. “We’re in Gramercy, which is a little exclusive, and we also cannot allow things like tours or advertising, so the younger generation doesn’t exactly seek us out,” she says. “Once they’re here, though, they get it and come to believe, ‘Yeah, this place is really cool,’ and then they join.”

Drinking My Way to Jail in Doha

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because no matter where you go, there you are.

By A.M. Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, NOV 15 2017

The Qatar women’s jail lay hidden far outside of Doha’s central Al Rayyan district, in a compound of 10-foot walls. The jail more closely resembled a construction site with office trailers than a fortress holding human-size cages. The approximately 50 Filipino and South Asian women blanketing the floor of the single room “cell” in my particular trailer — most likely contracted domestic workers/nannies from overseas agencies — were escorted there by niqab-adorned guards, probably just like I’d been.

But despite being a freelance journalist working a public relations gig at a foundation in Doha, I hadn’t arrived at the jail in October 2009 to expose a wrong or to write an investigative story — or even gain a necessary lesson that can come from crossing the wrong Qatari. No: I was there because I drank morning, noon and night in an Islamic country and got busted for it.

My reason for coming to Qatar two months prior was, essentially, well-intentioned escapism. Alcoholics Anonymous, as it was for me, is often the last resort for anyone who wants to quit drinking. From age 22 to 32, I had probably gone a total of 30 days without a drink, but almost as soon as I landed in my first 12-step meeting, I wanted to flee from it as fast as I could. Once I had a year of recreational AA crossed off my calendar in 2009, however, I longed for my old life.

So, I applied for and landed a job at an educational foundation in Qatar. The gig there came with free room, free transport and endless opportunities for travel and future jobs and freedom again. Most importantly, it delivered me from sober New Yorkers and the endless drudgery, pointless prattling and gun-to-temple banality of 12-step meetings. And honestly, as my family opined, what could possibly tempt me in an Islamic country, where booze was at least “haram,” if not legally banned?

Plenty, actually.

After my Qatar Airways plane touched down in Doha, my new boss took me to my new condo and presented me to some of my new, best “expat” friends, who handed me beers as soon as I crossed their thresholds. During my first day, new colleagues stopped by to offer after-work drinks. Soon I was visiting their compounds every night. Those nights evolved into an array of U.S. Embassy parties, boozy Friday brunches at the Ritz-Carlton and, finally, a three-hour, disorienting and desperate drive to the Qatar Distribution Company — the only liquor store in the country.

Only official residents of Qatar with their ID cards could purchase alcohol, and I didn’t yet have mine, so one of my new pals purchased two cases of Bud Light for me, one of which I promptly raided as soon as I arrived home the same night. The other, I left in my car for emergencies, such as dealing with my increasingly demanding boss during the horrible, clammy, anxiety-fueled brain ache of withdrawal. The blueprint I had devised for getting through a year of Planet Doha — let alone the two stipulated in my contract — was getting redrawn on a daily basis.

Hours after another Friday mimosa-filled brunch, despairing of taking a job in a hot, dusty country where I was not fitting in, I looked up the local AA and dialed. No one answered. I left a voicemail. The next day, my phone rang and a friendly British voice greeted me, listened to me recount my journey from AA in Brooklyn to AA rebellion in Qatar, and my precipitous slide back into alcohol abuse. He told me of a meeting to attend that night. “How many alcoholics in Qatar are there?” I asked, hoping there were a few people with whom I might forge a connection. About 10, he said. Ten in a country that was 80 percent expat. Not a very high percentage, I told him. “Yes, but we’re a very tightly woven bunch,” he replied.

Hardly able to find my way around the city with the endless roundabouts and royalty-named roads, I missed the meeting. Had I made it, someone might have possibly reached out and I could have grabbed a hand to safe passage. Sweating for a beer, however, I visited the W Hotel bar down the street from my condo in downtown Doha overlooking the Persian Gulf. There I met Abdulahi, the Somali bartender who would become my closest friend in Qatar, serving me beers, usually for breakfast, often lunch and, on occasion, dinner, asking no questions about my particular choice of stress relief — just my brand of beer — while amiably chatting with me.

Following one of those liquid breakfasts and subsequent drives to work, the parking lot attendant suspected something was amiss, ordered me to park and called the police. While I sat in my car, human resources tried to negotiate with a tall, hard-nosed sergeant wearing a brown uniform, knockoff Ray-Ban Aviators and a bushy moustache. I had been sick, they said. A staph infection on my leg, they explained. Antibiotics were making me seem drunk.

And all of it was true: I’d had an abscess opened and drained a week before. The sergeant almost let me go. Then he wised up and made me open the trunk. There appeared the case of contraband beer, opened, two missing.

In the end, though, the staph infection did almost actually kill me. And then it saved me. Released on bail and removed from my job, within two days — and afternoons at the downtown W’s hotel bar — the staph was in my booze-saturated bloodstream. I collapsed and was taken to a hospital, where nurses from the Philippines and India — probably sponsored by the same employment agencies as the women in jail — doted on me day and night.

A week later, under the cover of night, two human resources officials came to escort me to the airport for a flight to Dubai. We held our breath and then exhaled a sigh of relief as airport officials stamped my passport and I boarded the plane. During the flight, I ordered two beers and toasted my Middle East failure, as well as my escape from 30 days back in the prison trailer with the women whose external anguish mirrored my internal battle with alcoholism.

Instead of letting myself off with time served, however, I held myself captive to alcohol for three more years. In 2012, I sobered up. For good.

The New "Peace Corps" for Journalists

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because bolstered local news could combat the fake stuff.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, NOV 06 2017

Ben Schreckinger had just experienced the dinner most journalists would die for — especially in light of recent events — and still he was seriously considering law school.

The intrepid young reporter had spent the summer of 2013 as a fellow of the GroundTruth Project, a program to provide young journalists with foreign experience. In Schreckinger’s case, that meant traveling north up the Burma Road through Myanmar to report on the country’s reopening. Yet even as Schreckineger and his fellows were sharing a meal with freedom fighter–turned–lawmaker and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, he remained undecided — until GroundTruth founders Charles Sennott and Kevin Grant found him in the hotel pool later that night.

“We were talking over a beer and Charlie made me promise that I would give journalism two more years,” Shreckinger, the political correspondent for GQ magazine, tells OZY. “I said, a year — that I would do another year.” It took two before Schreckinger went to Politico, where he covered the Trump campaign and then wrote for the publication’s magazine — and he still took the Law School Admission Test. But in the end, “I owe it all to that promise I made to Charlie in that pool in Burma.”

Now Sennott and Grant, former editors of the news website GlobalPost, want future Schrekingers in places like Youngstown rather than Yangon. Starting in early 2018, Report for America, a spin-off of the GroundTruth Project, plans to grant about 1,000 early-career journalists fellowships over the next five years to work for depleted news organizations in undercovered regions of the U.S. Think Teach for America with a press pass.

“Although the shrinking of newsrooms is primarily financially driven, even when local newsrooms do have the budget to hire, they have a tough time recruiting and retaining talent,” Grant says. “Our DNA is global — we’ve been pursuing the big stories around the world — but last year around election time we realized our own country was in crisis. Much as the way we would respond to a crisis in Egypt, we needed to respond to the one in the U.S.”

Hammered by the decline of print advertising, local and regional newspapers have been hemorrhaging jobs for years. A 2015 study by the American Society of News Editors reported that there were 32,900 journalists at nearly 1,400 daily newspapers — a 10.4 percent one-year decline, and down from a peak of 56,900 in 1990. (In the past two years, ASNE declined to release employment figures because of a lack of reliable data.) The remaining jobs, and new ones from digital outlets, are concentrated in coastal cities: The share of American reporting jobs that were in New York, Washington and Los Angeles went from 1 in 8 in 2004 to 1 in 5 in 2014, according to federal government figures. Even in New York, local journalism took a significant blow last week when popular websites DNAinfo, Gothamist and their offshoots were shut down by billionaire owner Joe Ricketts, in part because the journalists voted to join a union.

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“The ad-supported, for-profit model for journalism is on its way out — 95 cents of every [ad] dollar spent is going to Google or Facebook,” Grant says. “We found this with GlobalPost before GroundTruth and have the personal experience, as well as the personal sting.” GroundTruth’s solution to keep emptying newsroom cubicles full? Foundation money.

GroundTruth started as a nonprofit division of GlobalPost in 2011. In 2015 — the year after its correspondent James Foley was beheaded by ISIS terrorists in Syria — GlobalPost was acquired by Boston public media producer WGBH. Public Radio International and other public journalism brands started picking up stories from GroundTruth, which is backed by the likes of the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation.

While GroundTruth publishes on international platforms, Report for America is locally driven. It will connect young, aspiring journalists with newsrooms that request the help. RFA will pay half of a fellow’s $40,000 salary package, with the newsroom and local donors picking up the rest. The fellow will work in the local newsroom for one year; the newsroom picks up more of the tab if it keeps the journalist longer.

ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative news site, and other organizations have started similar partnerships. ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network funds salary and benefits for reporters at up to six partner news organizations in cities with populations of less than 1 million.

Substantial questions remain about whether this model is sustainable. More than half of Teach for America recruits leave their initial placements in low-income schools after two years, and only 14 percent remain in their original schools by their fifth year. RFA’s backers don’t proclaim that they will save journalism, just as Teach for America can’t save education and the Peace Corps hasn’t brought about global unity. But GroundTruth did save both Schreckinger and Qainat Khan from law school.

Khan, a native of Tanzania who bailed on Northeastern Law after a year, is now on the road with GroundTruth’s Crossing the Divide project, assisting five early-career journalists from five states to report stories related to a larger national theme. “Local journalism is like providing a public service, and for me, it’s about doing meaningful work — to encounter people I would have never had a reason to encounter,” Khan says. “I’m not an economist and I don’t deal with the business side. But it makes sense to share the risk and share the cost. Perhaps collaboration will save local newsrooms. Otherwise, who are you competing with? It’s like a race to the bottom.”

Is This the End of Honor Laws that Shield Rapists from Justice?

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because for some women, honor can be a matter of life and death.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, OCT 19 2017

Noor was age 20 when she began working for Abed, first as a housekeeper, then as a nanny. One day, her 55-year-old employer, who owned a mobile phone shop in Jordan, drugged her and raped her. Realizing that the act would devastate Noor’s family, Abed pledged to marry her — his way out of a potential jail sentence, her way out of an inevitable life of shame.

“I was frightened, devastated and thought to keep silent,” Noor told investigators at the Sisterhood Is Global Institute, a women’s rights organization based in Jordan. And so at first she agreed. “But later I realized that I was pregnant, and I decided to file a complaint. I accused him of raping me.” Abed then invoked Article 308 of the Jordanian penal code, a legal loophole stipulating that rapists may be pardoned if they marry their victims and stay with them for at least three years.

Noor and Abed married. “I thought that life with my baby might make me happy, but I was very wrong; my situation deteriorated,” Noor told the investigators. “My only hope from marrying him was to make my baby safe — to register him in his father’s name.”

Rape of a woman or girl by her husband is expressly legal in at least 10 countries out of 82 recently surveyed by the women’s rights group Equality Now. In four of those 10, marital rape is expressly legal even when the wife is a child bride, and the marriage has violated minimum age of marriage laws. Moreover, in nine out of the 82 countries, so-called honor laws” enable rapists to wed their victims as a way of avoiding a trial and potential prison time. The only stipulation: The perpetrators must remain in the union for one to five years — the duration varies by country — or reach a “settlement,” financial or otherwise, with the victim or the victim’s family.

But gradually those laws are falling. In 2014, prompted by the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who swallowed rat poison after she was forced to marry her rapist, the kingdom of Morocco removed Article 475 from its penal code, a law that allowed a man convicted of statutory rape to escape punishment if he married his underage victim. Women’s groups were emboldened to start the regionwide takedown.

On July 26, the Tunisian Parliament passed legislation that outlawed violence against women, which repealed the article in the penal code that halts prosecution of a man who commits rape against a girl under age 20 if he marries her. Less than a week later, the lower house of Jordan’s “rubber stamp” Parliament revoked Article 308 cited by Abed, and two weeks after that, Lebanon’s Parliament abolished its “marry your rapist” law, although it kept marital rape and child marriage on the books.

With those decisions, women’s rights groups now have their sights on similar laws in Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain. “Obviously, each country has its own political movement, but developments in one country do send shock waves across the region and do inspire the possibility of change,” says Samira Atallah, a senior adviser with Equality Now, one of the lead organizations acting to repeal honor laws in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region.

However, these groups face resistance from conservative value systems that treat women’s bodies as a social issue, century-old colonial laws that date from British, French and Ottoman occupations, and the severe stigma surrounding premarital sex — even if it’s coerced sex. “Virginity is very, very valued in these societies,” Atallah says. “Sex before marriage … makes a woman not marrying material according to society, and rape not only brings shame to women’s honor but also to the family and any prospective partner.” Opposition to such laws comes from women’s groups rising up and stating that “subjecting a woman to a life of abuse by marrying her to her abuser carries — or should carry — just as much stigma as women suffer from the crime itself,” Atallah adds.

Counter to popular perception, Sharia, or religious laws, have little to do with marry-your-rapist statutes, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Rather, the French Napoleonic Code of 1810, which allowed a man who kidnapped a girl to escape prosecution if he married her, and the similar Ottoman Code of 1911 weighed heavily in devising laws for former French colonies and British mandates and protectorates. Patriarchal attitudes kept such provisions in place.

 Activists in Maputo, Mozambique, march in 2014 to protest a colonial-era law included in new legislation that allows rapists to go unpunished if they marry their victims — and remain married to them for a minimum of five years. SOURCE:  JINTY JACKSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Activists in Maputo, Mozambique, march in 2014 to protest a colonial-era law included in new legislation that allows rapists to go unpunished if they marry their victims — and remain married to them for a minimum of five years. SOURCE: JINTY JACKSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

As for Jordan, over the past decade, “groups generally never came close to success, other than occasionally sending a bill to Parliament and having it stall in committee,” says Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at HRW. “By all accounts, the king [Abdullah II] is a fairly progressive guy, but the society is very conservative.”

Nevertheless, last year Abdullah II — informed by the Arab uprisings of 2011 — formed a royal committee to strengthen the judiciary and came out with proposals and draft laws that would satisfy a populace that’s restless in many circles. “Because they had the king’s initiative, they passed,” Coogle says.

Conversely, the removal of Jordan’s 308 clause was also supported by conservative groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which voted to repeal the law in order to protect themselves from women who might have used it to legitimize illicit relationships. “They came at it from a weird way — to keep a woman from crying rape if a man tried to walk away,” Coogle says.

Despite the milestone, women still face significant retaliation until the conservative attitudes surrounding sex change. “It’s the sexually related behavior that brings shame on a girl’s family,” Atallah says. “The fact that she was raped doesn’t matter. So it’s not just enough to have these [laws] repealed — enforcement, empowerment and education must happen.”

Meet the Man Who Could Be the First American Pope

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because the first American pope might be more than a TV show.

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, SEPT 17 2017

From the outside looking in, Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, with its high Victorian architecture, colossal statues of Nelson Mandela and imposing, crescent-shaped Union Buildings, appears a paragon of order — the good twin to Johannesburg, its wayward brother 25 miles to the south. And yet, an assignment from the portentous halls of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to the smaller midcentury modern Apostolic Nunciature office and residence in one of Pretoria’s gated communities could be seen as getting put out to pasture. But consider the presidency of Jacob Zuma, who has survived seven no-confidence votes amid countless scandals, a restless electorate beset with 25 percent unemployment and a recent report on church abuse, and Pretoria is a minefield of spiritual unrest.

Into this Ascalon, on Feb. 9, 2016, walked Peter Bryan Wells, Catholic diocesan priest turned papal diplomat, and formerly the most senior American official in the Vatican — fourth in line to the pope himself.

“I’ve found that I do as much pastoral work here as anything else. I’m in Soweto saying mass in the morning and with the Dominicans for an event in the evening,” says Wells, giving a tour of his house after shepherding in guests. Pretoria is prone to carjackings and home invasions, and Wells lives in a locked community and uses a car and driver. “Most diplomatic services bring the concerns and interests of their countries. I am here for the people of the country. I am here to hear their challenges, their sufferings and joys, to take them back to the Holy Father, so he knows if he needs to use his very loud voice to help those who don’t have a very loud voice.”

As Pope Francis continues in his mission to reach out to the most marginalized communities, Wells’ five-year appointment could signify a stepping-stone to higher office. Since 1980, the number of Catholics in Africa has grown by 238 percent and is approaching 200 million, according to a 2015 report issued by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University–affiliated research center. And the countries under his charge — South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia — present some of the biggest problems (and opportunities for salvation) in the world.

A preliminary 2017 report on the Commercialisation and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems by the South African government found that church leaders in evangelical or “storefront” churches were allegedly pouring boiling water over congregants‚ placing them in deep freezers and making them drink gasoline in a “demonstration of God’s power” before taking their money. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch has documented a general lack of faith in the government’s willingness to develop a strategy to combat the high rate of violence against women, as well as the continued underreporting of rape, even in the home.

 Archbishop Peter Wells, the Apostolic Nunciature of South Africa, practicing deed over deity by helping to plant trees in a village outside Johannesburg.SOURCE COURTESY OF ARCHBISHOP PETER WELLS

Archbishop Peter Wells, the Apostolic Nunciature of South Africa, practicing deed over deity by helping to plant trees in a village outside Johannesburg.SOURCE COURTESY OF ARCHBISHOP PETER WELLS

“South Africa is a major player on the Africa continent — and Peter has a lot of opportunity there,” says Monsignor Gregory Gier, who was Wells’ superior in the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Wells was ordained and spent his first five years as a priest. Looking ahead, Gier adds, “He certainly would have the qualities and the confidence to be the first American pope, but the timing isn’t quite right. Then again, no one was sure the timing was right for an Argentinian pope or a German one, either.”

Known as a charismatic yet low-profile workaholic, Wells, the former assessor for general affairs of the Holy See’s secretariat of state from 2009 to 2016, was considered in Vatican circles as the “go-to man” for world leaders from English-speaking countries who wanted the pope’s ear. During his tenure in Rome, Wells was also credited with voicing the Vatican’s position on sensitive issues, including the sex abuse controversy, same-sex unions and Francis’ sweeping effort to turn the church toward the poor and the marginalized. After Francis realized the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican Bank, needed significant reform, he enlisted Wells to rid the bank of alleged money-laundering and tax-evasion schemes. In 2014, Francis put Wells in charge of the Holy See’s Financial Security Committee to ensure that all Vatican financial transactions — from distributing church collection change to collecting rents from vast property holdings — met European bank transparency standards.

Having such professional authority and responsibility is something Wells never conceived of. Born in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the eldest of five children to moderately religious Catholic parents, Wells was always an altar server, but priesthood didn’t enter his mind until he was at university, studying premed and working with youth at the local parish. “I wanted to just be a priest in Oklahoma — you could do so much with small parishes to make them active and alive,” Wells says.

After graduating from seminary and becoming a priest, Wells entered the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in 1995. As a diplomat in training, he earned a doctorate in canon law and learned the four required languages of the Vatican: Italian, French, Spanish and English.

 Pope Francis (left) congratulates newly elevated bishop, Peter Bryan Wells, during his ordination on March 19, 2016, at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.SOURCE  VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Pope Francis (left) congratulates newly elevated bishop, Peter Bryan Wells, during his ordination on March 19, 2016, at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.SOURCE VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Like his contemporaries around the world, Wells’ agenda is the pope’s agenda — and Francis’ papacy is focused on climate change, sustainable development and the “protection of human dignity.” But in South Africa, Wells has picked up another cause: education, especially for girls. “We see a lot of undocumented children, and it’s hard for them to get an education,” he tells OZY. “One of the main ways to get out of poverty is through education, and the church is making sure that this concern is addressed.”

As refugees from neighboring countries flood South Africa and teenage girls become pregnant — sometimes consensually, often not — and then drop out of school, Wells realizes that his tenure will involve more deed than deity. “The church here was so involved in the struggle against apartheid, always on the front lines, and now that the leadership is more indigenous and coming into its own, I believe we have a real chance to change things here,” he says.

“But with my life, I take it as it comes. The more I try to think and analyze, the more wasted energy.”