Slave cemetery poses questions for country club in Florida’s capital city – Dec. 26, 2019, 6:03 AM PST By The Associated Press

Just before the Civil War, three of every four inhabitants of this Florida county were human chattel owned by elite white families.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The rumors swirled for decades: A dark history long lay buried under the grassy knolls and manicured lawns of a country club in Florida’s capital city.

Over the years, neat rows of rectangular depressions along the 7th fairway deepened in the grass, outlining what would be confirmed this month as sunken graves of the slaves who lived and died on a plantation that once sprawled with cotton near the Florida Capitol.

The discovery of 40 graves — with perhaps dozens more yet to be found — has spawned discussion about how to honor those who lie in rest at the golf course. And it has brought renewed attention to the many thousands of unmarked and forgotten slave cemeteries across the Deep South that forever could be lost to development or indifference.

“When I stand here on a cemetery for slaves, it makes me thoughtful and pensive,” said Delaitre Hollinger, the immediate past president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. His ancestors worked the fields of Leon County as slaves.

“They deserve much better than this,” said Hollinger, 26, who is leading a push to memorialize the rediscovered burial ground. “And they deserved much better than what occurred in that era.”

Wooden markers that had identified the graves have long since decayed. For years, golfers have unknowingly trod through the cemetery.

Leon County was the center of Florida’s plantation economy during the antebellum days and had the state’s highest concentration of slaves. Just before the Civil War, three of every four county inhabitants were human chattel owned by elite white families.

The Houstouns of Tallahassee was one such family. From the early 1800s through the Civil War, the family operated a 500-acre plantation. In modern times it has been parceled out to developers who transformed fields into an expanse of strip malls and residential neighborhoods, some sprouting stately homes.

A huge swath of the property became the Capital City Country Club, now an 18-hole golf course in one of Tallahassee’s most sought-after communities.

“It’s fair to say that the golf course is one of the reasons why this burial ground has been preserved as well as it has for so long,” said Jay Revell, the country club’s resident historian and the vice president of the region’s chamber of commerce.

“A hundred years ago when the golf course was constructed there was certainly no technology to decipher what was or wasn’t here,” he said during a recent visit to the country club.

There had long been talk among some Tallahassee old-timers about the long-gone plantation and its cemetery.



Here’s Why Kansas CO2 Emissions Are At Their Lowest Level In 40 Years – By Brian Grimmett • Dec 26, 2019

A wind turbine rises over Kansas.

WICHITA, Kansas — As global carbon dioxide emissions break records, Kansas is headed in the opposite direction — reducing emissions for 10 straight years.

Kansas’ decline is largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal powered electricity. That is to say: Kansas produces less carbon dioxide, or CO2, the powerful greenhouse gas that’s released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels and is a major driver of climate change.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Kansas emitted 58.2 million metric tons of CO2 in 2017. That’s good enough to make Kansas only the 31st largest emitter in the U.S.

While it’s below the national average, on a global scale: “Kansas, if it were its own country, would be one of the top 60 CO2 emitters,” said Joe Daniel, an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

So, when Kansas sees a reduction in emissions like it has in the past decade, it matters, he said.

The decline began in 2007, when total CO2 emissions in Kansas peaked at nearly 80 million metric tons.

Where CO2 comes from

So how did the state reduce its annual CO2 emissions by as much as theentire country of Bolivia so quickly? Three graphics explain it all.

First, it’s helpful to know the source of Kansas’ CO2 emissions. In 2017, about half of total CO2 emissions came from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to create electricity. The rest was mostly from burning gasoline and diesel in our cars and trucks.

The recent reductions aren’t transportation-related, because, despite more efficient and cleaner burning engines, additional people and cars have offset the difference. In fact, total transportation emissions in Kansas have barely changed in the past 40 years.

That leaves electric power generation.

The decline of coal

As the graph shows, energy-related CO2 emissions began to plummet in the mid-2000s. Specifically, it’s emissions from coal-fired power plants.

While some of the reductions are likely due to plant upgrades and federal environmental regulations that forced coal plants to clean up what was coming out of their smoke stacks, it’s mostly because plants burned less coal.

Coal plants in Kansas only produced about 20,000 megawatt hours of electricity in 2018, compared to an average of about 35,000 megawatt hours during the 2000s.

Daniel said the decline is largely due to economics. With the fast growth of cheap wind-generated electricity in Kansas, it’s become less profitable to run coal plants.

“I don’t think a month has gone by where I haven’t read a study about the poor economics of either coal plants, or coal mines, or the companies that invest in those properties,” Daniel said.

The rise of wind

About 36% of all electricity produced in Kansas is from wind, the highest percentage of any U.S. state.

Twenty years ago, there was no such thing.

Part of the rapid growth of the industry is obvious: You wouldn’t put a wind turbine in a place with no wind, and there’s a lot of wind in Kansas.

Plus, federal and state tax incentives encouraged developers to jump into the market.

And it’s increasingly cheaper to build a wind farm.

Just this year, Kansas saw four new wind farms come online, adding enough capacity to power 190,000 homes for a year.

“Will we see four wind projects come online every year for the next five years? No,” said Kimberly Gencur-Svaty, director of public policy at the Kansas Power Alliance. “But I do think we’ll probably continue at a pace of where we’ve averaged the last 20 years, which is a project or two.”

How low can it go?

Ashok Gupta with the Natural Resources Defence Council said the move to renewable energy and subsequent decrease in CO2 emissions will be vital to reducing the impacts of climate change.

But, he wondered if it will be fast enough, especially in states that have a lot of wind.”

“We should be going by 2030 to pretty much carbon-free electricity,” he said.

While some states like Colorado have begun to adopt 100% renewable energy goals, Kansas has not. Even if Kansas were to get to 100% renewable energy, there’s still the nearly 20 metric tons of transportation emissions to worry about.

Achieving a clean electrical grid will also be key to reducing those emissions, Gupta said, even if it also means another, different shift in the way things are currently done.

“We have to start making sure that our transportation and our buildings are moving to all electric,” he said. “That’s the strategy for the next 10 years.”

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to

Copyright 2019 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Trump Vs. Toilets (And Showers, Dishwashers, And Light Bulbs) – Tamara Keith December 27, 20191:12 PM ET

President Trump’s complaints about toilets, dishwashers and light bulbs make for an unusual political rallying cry, but it’s one that fits with his deregulatory agenda.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

On the night the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump, he delivered a two-hour campaign rally speech that took a detour — into the bathroom. His long riff about plumbing, household appliances and light bulbs had the crowd in Battle Creek, Michigan, cheering and laughing along.

“I say, ‘Why do I always look so orange?’ You know why: because of the new light,” Trump said in a complaint about energy efficient light bulbs. “They’re terrible. You look terrible. They cost you many, many times more. Like four or five times more.”

Trump has long railed against clean-energy-producing wind turbines, but recently he’s added light bulbs and other household items to his repertoire. It’s an unusual political rallying cry, but one that fits with Trump’s deregulatory agenda.

The Trump administration is actively exploring rolling back efficiency standards related to appliances and plumbing. They have already moved on incandescent light bulbs, prompting the White House to recently tweet, “If you like your lightbulbs, you can keep your lightbulbs!”

The tweet inaccurately blamed the standards on the Obama administration. In reality, they date back to former Republican President George W. Bush’s time in office. All of Trump’s complaints relate to efficiency standards phased in over many years and multiple administrations.

“Remember the dishwasher, you’d press it. Boom — there’d be like an explosion. Five minutes later, you open it up, the steam pours out,” Trump said reminiscing about dishwashers that used more energy and water to wash and dry dishes. “Now you press it 12 times. The women tell me, again. They give you like four drops of water.”

Setting aside his assumption that women are the ones who do dishes, Trump also shared his thoughts on faucets and shower heads. He even turned “toilets” into a call-and-response line, asking the crowd, “What goes with a sink and a shower?”

Pantomiming a flushing motion, Trump brought his frustrations with low-flow toilets to life. “Ten times right, ten times. Bah Bah,” Trump said, before pointing at some poor soul in the crowd and accusing him of requiring a lot of flushes. “Not me, of course. Not me. But you. Him.”

Peter Gleick with the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif. considers this all to be Trumpian nostalgia for a time when showers were strong, toilets used four gallons a flush and light bulbs burned your hands when you touched them.

Gleick said these newer household items are part of an “efficiency revolution,” doing the same tasks with less, halting the upward trajectory of water and energy consumption in America. And, yes, a dishwasher cycle takes longer, and incandescent bulbs are cheaper to buy up front.

But in the long run, “They’re much more expensive, because they use a huge amount of energy, which we pay for over time and they burn out 20 times faster,” Gleick said.

Based on the way Trump talks about efficient light bulbs, it seems his complaint is with compact fluorescent bulbs, which were the only low-energy bulbs widely available ten years ago. But today, store shelves are full of LED bulbs with warmer looking light and even longer lifespans. Gleick suspects Trump’s toilet complaints are outdated as well, because low-flow toilet technology has come a long way in recent years, too.

“Some people got bad toilets, but that was 15 and 20 years ago,” Gleick said. “And now the new toilets not only use a tiny fraction of the water the old toilets used to use, but the truth is they flush better — and if you have a bad toilet that doesn’t flush well, that’s because you have a bad toilet.”

The idea that Trump’s crusade against efficient toilets and light bulbs could influence policy is something Gleick finds galling. But others welcome the president’s attention.

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Five Weinstein Accusers on the Controversial $25 Million Settlement – Victoria Bekiempis December 2019

Left to right: Larissa Gomes, Caitlin Dulany, Ally Canosa Photo: Vulture and Getty Images

Last week, the New York Times revealed that Harvey Weinstein, more than 30 women who had accused him of sexual assault, and his now defunct film studio, the Weinstein Company, had agreed to a $25 million tentative settlement that would end many of the sexual-misconduct lawsuits against him. Of this sum, $6.2 million would go to 18 accusers who filed cases in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom; the rest would be for class-action participants and accusers who have yet to come forward. It’s part of a $47 million deal aimed at paying the Weinstein Company’s debts.

Some participants in this civil settlement told the Times that they were disappointed with the agreement but that it was the best possible outcome. Because the Weinstein Company declared bankruptcy, they felt this deal was their best opportunity to recover something, but some parts of the potential settlement have prompted controversy and criticism. Under the settlement, Weinstein would not have to admit wrongdoing or pay anything himself. The bill would be covered by his insurers.

Attorneys Douglas H. Wigdor and Kevin Mintzer, who represent several Weinstein accusers, commented in a statement to the media, “We reject the notion that this was the best settlement that could have been achieved on behalf of the victims.”

Caitlin Dulany and Larissa Gomes, two Weinstein accusers who are part of the civil litigation that led to the settlement, spoke with Vulture about the controversial deal. Weinstein accuser Louisette Geiss, who is also part of this court action, issued a statement, while Alexandra Canosa, who is suing Weinstein separately from the civil litigation with her own suit, spoke with Vulture about why she is rejecting the deal. Kaja Sokola, who had originally been part of the group civil litigation, also issued a statement about why she won’t participate in the settlement. You can read their comments below.

Caitlin Dulany

The Saving Grace actress’s sister urged her to speak out about her alleged 1996 assault following the New York Times’ exposé on Weinstein. After communicating with other accusers, Dulany became a leading plaintiff in the group civil lawsuit against Weinstein and his former company.  

When I first got involved, it was two years ago. I never thought it would take this long, and to me, the settlement, while not perfect, brings some closure and relief and recompense for a lot of women. But it’s been two long years of, first, presenting this battle in court and then trying to negotiate a just settlement. The original plan was to go before a jury in this case. [Then] there were two things that happened. We really didn’t anticipate it, even though our case is sort of at the vanguard of the law. The courts dismissed all of our claims that were older than 10 years. This was devastating. We no longer could pursue our case in court at that point. The other part of this that was tough was the bankruptcy. In terms of Harvey, we shut down his company. He lost his business and will potentially be going to jail. His whole world has unraveled as a result of what we all have done — the women in this class action, all the women who have filed suits, and all the women who have spoken out — we did that. But the bad news about that is he has very [few] assets left, and he may declare bankruptcy. And the Weinstein Company going into bankruptcy created a situation where we as victims were lumped in with unsecured creditors.

What we were able to do was negotiate with the “unsecured creditors committee” — and, by the way, Louisette Geiss, whose name is on this case as one of the lead plaintiffs, was the chair of the unsecured creditors committee — and worked very hard with the other people representing unsecured creditors to create a victims’ fund out of this insurance money. The bankruptcy just threw such a wrench into this whole thing. The ups and downs of this have led to where we are now. [It] is not what it could have been, and that’s very, very difficult for those of us who have been part of the negotiation process.

It’s important for everyone to know that we did everything we could to make this the best possible outcome and it’s still disappointing, and, for me, that I will be very active in this type of justice in the future for other victims. This has got to be better. It has got to be better than this. We have to be more protective within the court system, in the civil court system. It was really difficult that it was such a small amount. I had to really have a lot of patience and think about it and understand that there was nothing else that we could do. Our goal in bringing this has always been to create a victims’ fund for all survivors — there’s just so many women, to this day, who still don’t have a voice, who are scared to come forward. It was really important to me personally to really come together with other plaintiffs and protect all of the women who were hurt.

Larissa Gomes

The Canadian actress reached out to the Los Angeles Times in October 2017 about an alleged 2000 incident during a meeting in Weinstein’s hotel room. Gomes, who was working as an actor and ensemble dancer on the Toronto set of the Miramax-backed Get Over It, alleged that Weinstein had demanded to see her breasts and kept trying to massage her neck during a meeting in his hotel room. When Gomes got to the door, Weinstein grabbed her and tried to kiss her before she escaped, court papers claim. 

I am one of the class representatives in the settlement, and I have been pretty much since the beginning. We chose to take more of a frontline role in order to represent all of the women that don’t feel comfortable to come forward yet. We were trying to set up a victims’ fund for all the survivors. I think it’s disappointing because the amount is certainly not what it could have been, but there were so many factors [like bankruptcy] that came into play throughout the history of these negotiations in terms of agreeing to a settlement amount. The only thing to recover in this situation are the insurance policies. So that is kind of, I believe, the reason it is at the amount that it is. There’s nothing to claim post-bankruptcy.

In terms of people saying they felt pushed to settle, they don’t have to do anything, but the bankruptcy has to come to a close. That’s the law, it’s not about class lawyers pushing. I don’t see it as the end of the fight, but like one win in the beginning of a very long fight. I think the laws need to change, and that seems to me the more likely path. I know, for myself, the reasons why I wanted to push so hard to have a fund for victims that would be fair and allow all victims to recover. Essentially, what it says, regardless of the amount, [is] that we are holding these companies accountable. Creating a settlement fund and a settlement happening should be something to celebrate, in my eyes, because we created a fund — the first ever to recover something, but also it holds these companies accountable.

Louisette Geiss

The former actress made her allegation against Weinstein at a press conference in October 2017. Geiss has alleged that during a meeting in 2008, Weinstein excused himself to go to the restroom — only to come out “in an open bathrobe, naked underneath.” She said Weinstein ultimately insisted that she watch him masturbate. When Geiss, who said no, went to the door, he “grabbed both of her arms forcefully and kissed her” before she fled, court papers claimed. 

While this has been a painful and emotional process, our goal has always been to help my fellow women and create a victims’ fund for all survivors. Outcomes like this, where the women are paid before creditors in a bankruptcy, are as unlikely as they are rare. Though it is tragic that we have to go through this process at all, I am glad to see an outcome where, if they choose to, women like myself can receive some of what is deserved. I want to be clear that our fight is not over. The settlement does not absolve Harvey criminally, and we will continue to demand that true justice is delivered until we see him behind bars. I’m grateful to the many women who continue to fight under a broken system in a process that is stacked against us. From statutes of limitations to dismissals in court, too many of us have already faced unacceptable hurdles toward what is fair and right.

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There’s an Alternative to Border Walls: Let People Get on Airplanes – NOAH LANARD Reporter December 20, 2019

The United States makes it nearly impossible for Central Americans to work legally. It doesn’t have to.

Cornelio Ciprián, a radio DJ, walks through the mountains in Cubulco, Guatemala. Noah Lanard

At 20 years old, Ricardo Caló left rural Guatemala for the United States, worked for three years, and came home. Two decades later, we met at his metal workshop in Cubulco, a small city five hours north of Guatemala City. Thanks to his time in Tennessee, he owned a home, kept his kids in school, and ran a welding business, a skill he learned by building Sonic Drive-Ins throughout the American South. It was the type of success story the United States has spent billions of dollars to prevent. 

Under Democratic and Republican presidents, the US government has tried to deter unauthorized migration from Central American out of existence. At the same time, it’s made it impossible for nearly everyone in the region to come legally. More humanely, bipartisan coalitions have approved foreign aid designed to encourage Central Americans to remain at home. What unites both approaches is a vision of a world in which Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans quickly stop coming to the United States. 

There’s an alternative that’s rarely discussed: seeing Central Americans’ desire to work in the United States as a chance to help both sides’ economies. Rather than force people to spend billions of dollars on smuggling fees, the United States could offer visas that let them get on airplanes to and work here legally. As I reported in a story about how President Donald Trump’s border policies have trapped people in places like Cubulco, many of them simply want to do what Caló did: earn some money and then return home to a more comfortable life. And it’s a solution that’s made more politically palatable, in the face of concerns about long-term competition for US workers, by the fact that demographic shifts are already well underway that will see far fewer Central Americans seeking to leave home for the United States.

One of the most empirically rigorous proponents of this approach is Michael Clemens, an economist and the director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy at the Center for Global Development. Clemens came of age as unauthorized border crossings climbed to record highs in the 1980s. Every year, he recalls, the reaction in the United States was just, “How are we going to stop it?” 

His research shows that much of that boom could have been predicted by one fact: The number of young people entering Mexico’s workforce peaked. There weren’t enough jobs, so they headed north. Washington’s response was to militarize the border, which led migrants to use deadly routes through the desert to avoid deportation. Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey has estimated that the increase in border enforcement caused more than 5,100 deaths between 1986 and 2010.

Then, around the time of the Great Recession, there was another largely predictable shift: The era of mass migration from Mexico ended as the number of Mexicans joining the labor market declined. For the past decade, moreMexicans have been leaving the United States than coming to it. For Clemens, the US government’s decision to push an entire generation of Mexicans migrants into the hands of smugglers was a “vast historic opportunity, terribly bungled.” But Mexican migration “was still massively, massively beneficial for the US,” Clemens says. “There’s a whole generation of children who were taken care of, grandparents who were taken care of, buildings that were built, factories that were guarded at night, farms that could continue to exist only because of that Mexican migration.”

Like Mexico in the 1980s, the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are now moving past a demographic peak. For the first time in decades, El Salvador’s youth population is decreasing because of dramatically lower birthrates. In Honduras and Guatemala, the number of young people will grow at a far slower rate in the coming years. A visa program for the Northern Triangle would not need to “be some sort of carte blanche for unending migration,” Clemens says, adding, “Definitely, there’s an end point. That is the unequivocal lesson of the Mexican experience.”

Central America will send far fewer migrants to the United States than Mexico did. There are only about 33 million people in the three Northern Triangle countries, one-quarter the population of Mexico. Relative to their populations, there are already more immigrants from the Northern Triangle in the United States (3.5 million) than Mexican immigrants (11.2 million). Even if the scale of migration from the Northern Triangle ends up far outstripping Mexican migration, it would only mean a few million additional people settling in a nation of 330 million people, likely over the course of decades.

Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, Mexican workers usually come to the United States legally these days. Clemens cites three major reasons: the reduced demographic pressure, stricter border enforcement, and legal channels for migration. The result is far fewer Mexicans willing to cross the border without authorization. Employers, including the Trump Organization, have responded by recruiting seasonal workers in record numbers. In 2017, the United States admitted nearly 500,000 seasonal workers from Mexico, compared to fewer than 10,000 from the Northern Triangle countries. The United States could easily change that by creating new visas specifically for Central Americans, or allocating more existing visas to them.

Rather than visas, progressives tend to focus on foreign aid. Clemens also considers Trump’s decision to cut off assistance to Central America “vacuous and nihilistic.” The problem is that the evidence for deterring migration through development assistance is “weak at best,” according to a review of existing studies he did with researcher Hannah Postel in 2018. They concluded “that aid would need to act in unprecedented ways, at much higher levels of funding, over generations” to greatly reduce migration. In many areas, economic growth will likely lead to more migration, since people often stay because they can’t afford to leave. (None of this means that the United States shouldn’t provide more aid: It can deliver clear benefits and after backing generations of brutal dictators, the United States arguably owes Central Americans far more than a few hundred million dollars.) So the US government can offer more visas, or it can push people into situations like the one Ricardo Caló found himself in two decades ago. 

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NPR’s Favorite Movies Of 2019 Glen Weldon – December 19, 2019 9:55 AM ET

NPR’s movie critic and Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts picked 20 of their favorite films of the year.


Working with stories his grandfather told him, Skyfall director Sam Mendes has crafted a World War I battlefield saga about British soldiers tasked with getting an urgent message to the front. About 1,600 lives are at stake, so there’s urgency aplenty. And with Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins on hand, it was bound to have epic sweep. Mendes and Deakins employ all the usual war-movie tricks, with one extra: They’ve told the story in real time, contriving to make the film — from trench explosions to airplane crashes to waterfall slaloming — look like a single continuous shot. — Bob Mondello


Mati Diop’s Cannes award-winning debut feature is a genre exercise in which genres morph at will, with Senegalese history twisting together with magical realism in a narrative pretzel. What begins as a labor-dispute drama becomes, by turns, a romance, a police procedural, a comedy and, finally, a haunting ghost story grounded in woman power, class resistance and the tragedy of mass migration. — Bob Mondello

Avengers: Endgame

Say what you will — you can’t deny that the final chapter of a decade of big-budget Marvel superhero storytelling didn’t feel like the culmination it was. And for all the talk of Thanos, Endgame was never about the villain. Nor was it about the Snapture, which we can all now agree was pretty goofy, as heroic dilemmas go. No, it was about this roster of heroes we’ve come to know, each vibrating at his or her (but mostly his) respective frequency, converging one final time. The result was sad, and thrilling (“On your left!”) and — most importantly — satisfying. — Glen Weldon

Josh Brolin plays Thanos in Avengers: Endgame.

Marvel Studios


Beanie Feldstein is a force of nature as a high school overachiever who, on the eve of her graduation, begins to wonder if she needed to work so hard. Kaitlyn Dever, who had a fantastic 2019 between this and the Netflix series Unbelievable, is her best pal. The two have a chemistry that’s both intimate and fraught, just like real best friends, and the tensions between them feel earned and important. Billie Lourd turns in a scene-stealing turn as a girl who just keeps showing up everywhere, and the movie builds to one of the most satisfying conclusions a comedy provides this year. — Linda Holmes

The Cave

Director Feras Fayyad (Last Men in Aleppo) has built his riveting documentary around Amani Ballour, a heroic female doctor operating a hospital in tunnels under the city of Ghouta during Syria’s civil war. Her struggle to save lives is complicated by all the usual horrors of war — bombing, starvation, insufficient medical supplies — and a few others exclusive to this conflict: the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on its own people and sexism that leads the people benefiting from the doctor’s work to disparage her for working. — Bob Mondello

The Farewell

Writer-director Lulu Wang’s film is based on the radio piece she did for This American Life, which was based on her own life: Her beloved grandmother back in China was dying, but her family refused to tell this news to the elderly woman. In the film, Billi (Awkwafina) flies to China to be with Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), reluctantly going along with the lie. The Farewell is the kind of film in which characters spout broad characterizations about the cultural differences between East and West — pronouncements that should seem ham-fisted, and land with a thud. But Wang’s direction is so intimate and sharply observed, and the performances so natural and unforced, that this warm and gentle film earns every emotion it wrings from you. — Glen Weldon

Fast Color

Marvel movies have been around so long that it’s easy to forget that their big-budget effects, A-list stars and sweeping scope represent just one approach to superhero storytelling. There have been several stripped-down, character-based takes on the genre before (Chronicle, Super), but Fast Color exudes a confidence — and a skill for clever, unshowy world-building — that even the most bloated blockbuster would envy. Julia Hart’s visually gorgeous film about a young black woman with destructive powers (a compelling, grounded Gugu Mbatha-Raw) embraces the metaphor at the heart of the superhero idea and proceeds to unpack it in a host of fun and surprising ways. — Glen Weldon

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A creative solution for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan | LaToya Ruby Frazier Dec 19, 2019“

Artist LaToya Ruby Frazier spent five months living in Flint, Michigan, documenting the lives of those affected by the city’s water crisis for her photo essay “Flint is Family.” As the crisis dragged on, she realized it was going to take more than a series of photos to bring relief. In this inspiring, surprising talk, she shares the creative lengths she went to in order to bring free, clean water to the people of Flint.

AI Is Biased. Here’s How Scientists Are Trying to Fix It – WILL KNIGHT 12.19.2019 12:34 PM



Researchers are revising the ImageNet data set. But algorithmic anti-bias training is harder than it seems.

Computers have learned to see the world more clearly in recent years, thanks to some impressive leaps in artificial intelligence. But you might be surprised—and upset—to know what these AI algorithms really think of you. As a recent experiment demonstrated, the best AI vision system might see a picture of your face and spit out a racial slur, a gender stereotype, or a term that impugns your good character.

Now the scientists who helped teach machines to see have removed some of the human prejudice lurking in the data they used during the lessons. The changes can help AI to see things more fairly, they say. But the effort shows that removing bias from AI systems remains difficult, partly because they still rely on humans to train them. “When you dig deeper, there are a lot of things that need to be considered,” says Olga Russakovsky, an assistant professor at Princeton involved in the effort.

The project is part of a broader effort to cure automated systems of hidden biases and prejudices. It is a crucial problem because AI is being deployed so rapidly, and in ways that can have serious impacts. Bias has been identified in facial recognition systems, hiring programs, and the algorithms behind web searches. Vision systems are being adopted in critical areas such as policing, where bias can make surveillance systems more likely to misidentify minorities as criminals.

In 2012, a project called ImageNet played a key role in unlocking the potential of AI by giving developers a vast library for training computers to recognize visual concepts, everything from flowers to snowboarders. Scientists from Stanford, Princeton, and the University of North Carolina paid Mechanical Turkers small sums to label more than 14 million images, gradually amassing a vast data set that they released for free.

When this data set was fed to a large neural network, it created an image-recognition system capable of identifying things with surprising accuracy. The algorithm learned from many examples to identify the patterns that reveal high-level concepts, such as the pixels that constitute the texture and shape of puppies. A contest launched to test algorithms developed using ImageNet shows that the best deep learning algorithms correctly classify images about as well as a person. The success of systems built on ImageNet helped trigger a wave of excitement and investment in AI, and, along with progress in other areas, ushered in such new technologies as advanced smartphone cameras and automated vehicles.

But in the years since, other researchers have found problems lurking in the ImageNet data. An algorithm trained with the data might, for example, assume that programmers are white men because the pool of images labeled “programmer” were skewed that way. A recent viral web project, called Excavating AI, also highlighted prejudices in the labels added to ImageNet, from such as “radiologist” and “puppeteer” to racial slurs like “negro” and “gook.” Through the project website (now taken offline) people could submit a photo and see terms lurking in the AI model trained using the data set. These exist because the person adding labels might have added a derogatory or loaded term in addition to a label like “teacher” or “woman.”

The ImageNet team analyzed their data set to uncover these and other sources of bias, and then took steps to address them. They used crowdsourcing to identify and remove derogatory words. They also identified terms that project meaning onto an image, for example “philanthropist,” and recommended excluding the terms from AI training.

The latest on artificial intelligence, from machine learning to computer vision and more

The team also assessed the demographic and geographic diversity in the ImageNet photos and developed a tool to surface more diverse images. For instance, ordinarily, the term “programmer” might produce lots of photos of white men in front of computers. But with the new tool, which the group plans to release in coming months, a subset of images that shows greater diversity in terms of gender, race, and age can be generated and used to train an AI algorithm.

The effort shows how AI can be reengineered from the ground up to produce fairer results. But it also highlights how dependent AI is on human training and shows how challenging and complex the problem of bias often is.

“I think this is an admirable effort,” says Andrei Barbu, a research scientist at MIT who has studied ImageNet. But Barbu notes that the number of images in a data set affects how much bias can be removed, because there may be too few examples to balance things out. Stripping out bias could make a data set less useful, he says, especially when you are trying to account for multiple types of bias, such as race, gender, and age. “Creating a data set that lacks certain biases very quickly slices up your data into such small pieces that hardly anything is left,” he says.

Russakovsky agrees that the issue is complex. She says it isn’t even clear what a truly diverse image data set would look like, given how different cultures view the world. Ultimately, though, she reckons the effort to make AI fairer will pay off. “I am optimistic that automated decision making will become fairer,” she says. “Debiasing humans is harder than debiasing AI systems.”

Invisible Ink Could Reveal whether Kids Have Been Vaccinated – Karen Weintraub December 18, 2019

The technology embeds immunization records into a child’s skin

Invisible Ink Could Reveal whether Kids Have Been Vaccinated
Researchers use microneedles to inject quantum dots with medical information into pig skin. Credit: Tom Buehler MIT

Keeping track of vaccinations remains a major challenge in the developing world, and even in many developed countries, paperwork gets lost, and parents forget whether their child is up to date. Now a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers has developed a novel way to address this problem: embedding the record directly into the skin.

Along with the vaccine, a child would be injected with a bit of dye that is invisible to the naked eye but easily seen with a special cell-phone filter, combined with an app that shines near-infrared light onto the skin. The dye would be expected to last up to five years, according to tests on pig and rat skin and human skin in a dish.

The system—which has not yet been tested in children—would provide quick and easy access to vaccination history, avoid the risk of clerical errors, and add little to the cost or risk of the procedure, according to the study, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.


“Especially in developing countries where medical records may not be as complete or as accessible, there can be value in having medical information directly associated with a person,” says Mark Prausnitz, a bioengineering professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the new study. Such a system of recording medical information must be extremely discreet and acceptable to the person whose health information is being recorded and his or her family, he says. “This, I think, is a pretty interesting way to accomplish those goals.”

The research, conducted by M.I.T. bioengineers Robert Langer and Ana Jaklenec and their colleagues, uses a patch of tiny needles called microneedles to provide an effective vaccination without a teeth-clenching jab. Microneedles are embedded in a Band-Aid-like device that is placed on the skin; a skilled nurse or technician is not required. Vaccines delivered with microneedles also may not need to be refrigerated, reducing both the cost and difficulty of delivery, Langer and Jaklenec say.

Delivering the dye required the researchers to find something that was safe and would last long enough to be useful. “That’s really the biggest challenge that we overcame in the project,” Jaklenec says, adding that the team tested a number of off-the-shelf dyes that could be used in the body but could not find any that endured when exposed to sunlight. The team ended up using a technology called quantum dots, tiny semiconducting crystals that reflect light and were originally developed to label cells during research. The dye has been shown to be safe in humans.

The approach raises some privacy concerns, says Prausnitz, who helped invent microneedle technology and directs Georgia Tech’s Center for Drug Design, Development and Delivery. “There may be other concerns that patients have about being ‘tattooed,’ carrying around personal medical information on their bodies or other aspects of this unfamiliar approach to storing medical records,” he says. “Different people and different cultures will probably feel differently about having an invisible medical tattoo.”

When people were still getting vaccinated for smallpox, which has since been eradicated worldwide, they got a visible scar on their arm from the shot that made it easy to identify who had been vaccinated and who had not, Jaklenec says. “But obviously, we didn’t want to give people a scar,” she says, noting that her team was looking for an identifier that would be invisible to the naked eye. The researchers also wanted to avoid technologies that would raise even more privacy concerns, such as iris scans and databases with names and identifiable data, she says.


The work was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and came about because of a direct request from Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates himself, who has been supporting efforts to wipe out diseases such as polio and measles across the world, Jaklenec says. “If we don’t have good data, it’s really difficult to eradicate disease,” she says.

The researchers hope to add more detailed information to the dots, such as the date of vaccination. Along with them, the team eventually wants to inject sensors that could also potentially be used to track aspects of health such as insulin levels in diabetics, Jaklenec says.

This approach is likely to be one of many trying to solve the problem of storing individuals’ medical information, says Ruchit Nagar, a fourth-year student at Harvard Medical School, who also was not involved in the new study. He runs a company, called Khushi Baby, that is also trying to create a system for tracking such information, including vaccination history, in the developing world.

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Working in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, Nagar and his team have devised a necklace, resembling one worn locally, which compresses, encrypts and password protects medical information. The necklace uses the same technology as radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips—such as those employed in retail clothing or athletes’ race bibs—and provides health care workers access to a mother’s pregnancy history, her child’s growth chart and vaccination history, and suggestions on what vaccinations and other treatments may be needed, he says. But Nagar acknowledges the possible concerns all such technology poses. “Messaging and cultural appropriateness need to be considered,” he says.