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Daily Archives: November 9, 2019
Renowned researcher, UTRGV professor blazes trail from Monterrey to White House to TedXMcAllen – Monitor
Posted: November 9, 2019 at 11:49 pm
UTRGV professor Karen Lozano keeps her calendar full.
Shes often found in the lab, where she and her students have pioneered production methods in nanotechnology. Other times, youll catch her mentoring prospective engineers in her office, or out in the community, proselytizing to high schoolers about careers in science and technology.
If students need to talk to her, they usually try to catch her in her office. She gets so many emails that its hard for her to reply to all of them.
Last month, Lozanos research took her all the way to the White House, where she received the Presidential Excellence Award in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring she was one of just 15 educators chosen for the award. This week, shell speak about her work at TEDxMcAllen.
Arguably, shes one of the busiest professors on campus, but it definitely wasnt easy getting there.
Twenty-five years ago Lozano graduated from the Universidad de Monterrey at the age of 21, with a degree in mechanical engineering. Shed always been passionate about solving problems and the hard sciences, and mechanical engineering seemed like a natural path to take.
Lozano had her doubts, however: It was almost unheard of for a woman to become a mechanical engineer in Monterrey, but her mother pushed her to stick to her passion, telling her that it would open up doors in the future.
If were going to keep on supporting you and sacrificing for you, why are you going to study something that will not give you opportunities? Lozano remembers her mother saying. Study something that will give you opportunities. Follow the path less traveled.
Lozano did just that, but it was a lonely path. She was the only female mechanical engineering graduate in Monterrey in 1993. In fact, she was the only female in her program at UdeM.
The guys would all go together to a house to study and I was never allowed to go to somebodys house to study with 20 guys, so they would all study in teams and I would study alone, in my house, she recalled. Of course, once in a while, somebody would give me the comments like, Why are you here? Youre only gonna marry and have kids. Why are you here?
Lozano would blow off the comment with a tongue-in-cheek joke.
If Im gonna have kids, and Im doing all this advanced math and stuff, Im gonna be able to help them in their math when they were in high school. That was my answer all the time, she said. Which is something that I never did. I have a senior in high school and one that already graduated, and I dont think I ever sat to help them with math.
Monterrey is an industrial city, and theres no shortage of engineering jobs. Lozano remembers watching companies snap up her male peers before theyd even graduated. No calls came for her.
After college, she started applying to jobs she found in the newspaper. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months.
Every morning I would wake up and the first thing I would do, I would go through the classifieds, Lozano said. I was just sitting in my house for three months.
There were plenty of listings, but none she was qualified for.
There were tons of openings, Lozano remembered, but all of them said, Were looking for a mechanical engineer. Sex: Male. You can google right now, and youll still find them, in 2019.
Finally, one morning Lozano opened the paper and saw a different ad, asking specifically for a female mechanical engineer. Lozano thought her classmates had bought the ad and were making fun of her.
Everyone that graduated me was already working, she said. It was totally weird.
Lozano applied anyway and got an interview.
I went, and it was legit, she said. There was this girl working there, this engineer, that graduated four years before I did from another university as a mechanical engineer, and she had faced the same situation that I was facing. So when they had a position, she asked the boss if it was OK for her to post this one as a social experiment, to see how many women would show up. I was the only one, so I was hired.
Lozano worked at the company for a few months before being accepted into a Masters/PHD program at Rice. After her post-doc she was hired on at UTRGV, where shes researched and taught for the past 20 years, making one of the most significant breakthroughs in her field in the late aughts.
Nanofibers are an interesting technology. A thousandth the diameter of a human hair, nanofibers can be worked into a variety of products that can be used in medicine as skin grafts and drug delivery, as an ultra-efficient filtration material and even as batteries.
There are some that are very, very small and have very high thermal conductivity and electrical conductivity, so if we combine them with plastics, then we can make plastics that can conduct electricity, Lozano said. Instead of copper or aluminum it can be a polymer, a plastic, that will have similar properties in terms of electrical and thermal properties, and we can lower the weight.
According to Lozano, theres a fair chance that because of advances in nanotech, your cellphone battery will weigh little more than a Post-it Note in the near future.
As exciting as the field was, Lozano had a problem: nanofibers took forever to make. They were traditionally made through a process that involved using heat or electricity, and only produced a miniscule fiber or two an hour. Instead of making groundbreaking discoveries in the fields of medicine or technology, Lozanos undergrads were spending all of their lab time laboriously teasing out solitary strands of nanofibers.
At the undergrad level, you need to hold something in your hand, to see it, to be able to bring that interest, she said. If I just give you one little hair, you cant do very much. Theres no way I could excite them or ignite that spark to fall in love with research.
Lozano was at a loss. She considered directing her students to research something else. Then, one day, inspiration struck her in one of the most likely forms: a cotton candy machine.
My mind just went crazy, she said. You have tons of fibers, very simple to produce. Theyre not nanofibers, but were engineers, we can make changes to make it nano. A group of students started working on it, and long story short, we developed those machines, we even created a company.
With the new machines, Lozano and her students could make nanofiber material by the bolt. They created an actual business that operated in McAllen for several years, producing material at an industrial scale and showing off their new process to others in the field.
At one point there were so many people coming by, Lozano says, the FBI dropped in to see what was going on.
It was very good, Lozano said. We hired lots of people and we had people from all over the world coming by.
The business was bought by a larger company in Tennessee in 2017, but Lozano and her students have continued to work with nanofiber. Their research has led to dozens of patents and scholarly articles.
A lot of our undergraduate students are co-authors in scientific publications, and thats amazing, Lozano said. Its not that common that undergraduate students graduate with journal publications from top journals. Even our high school students that work in the lab get the opportunity to be co-authors.
For Lozano, exposing students to science in such a direct way is just as, or more, important than her research breakthroughs and academic recognitions.
If you walk into her office, you wont see the White House commendation from October; it resides in a drawer at her home. It was gratifying, she says, but not as gratifying as seeing her students working in the lab.
You will, however, see a full-sized carnival cotton candy machine in Lozanos office, a reminder of the inspiration that helped her students succeed.
I see my students getting like five offer letters, and they come to me and their problem is which one to select, she said. So Ive seen what can come after, and I tell people that theres opportunities and theres jobs and you can contribute to society.
In many ways, the woman whose own path toward a career in science was unlikely has devoted herself to paving the way for others. Lozano frequently works with local high schools and even made a YouTube channel geared at inspiring and instructing children.
Its important to plant that seed in boys and girls, she said. To me, its the fuel that keeps me going.
On Tuesday, Lozano will continue talking about science at TEDxMcAllen. Her discussion will be streamed live on the groups Facebook page.
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Posted: at 11:46 pm
Lewis Madison Terman was one of the most prominent eugenicists at Stanford. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Lewis Madison Terman was born in 1877 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Deemed a precocious and bookish child, Terman claimed to have performed his first psychology experiment at age 11. He received his Ph.D. in psychology in 1905 before coming to Stanford University in 1910, where he stayed until his death in 1956. Terman is best known for developing the Stanford-Binet IQ test, a development which made both him and Stanford University well-known throughout the United States. Termans interest in intelligence, however, was not it was motivated and shaped by Termans deep belief in eugenics.
Surpassed by perhaps only David Starr Jordan, Terman was the most influential Stanford eugenicist. He was a firm believer in attempts to improve the human race through selective and restrictive breeding. He joined and served as a high ranking member in many eugenic organizations (the Human Betterment Foundation, the American Eugenics Society, and the Eugenics Research Association), and worked alongside many others (such as the American Institute of Family Relations and the California Bureau of Juvenile Research). Terman was a central figure in the expanding network of American eugenicists in the early 20th century, a fact which can be seen clearly in his research interests.
Termans academic research as a psychologist was always linked to the furthering of his eugenic ideals. One of his major fields of study was gender and sexual deviance, as shown in his 1936 book Sex and Personality: Studies in Masculinity and Femininity. In this text, Terman set out to quantify sexual deviancy, using tests and questionaires to scientifically determine if an individual was sexually deviant, non-conforming to gender roles or a potential homosexual. Two years later, Terman extended these findings and argued that marriages could only be successful when parents obeyed tradition gender roles, as he argued in his 1938 book Psychological Factors in Marital Happiness. Terman, like many eugenicists, was dedicated to preserving the marriages of white Americans, promoting them to have eugenically fit children. In Building a Better Race, historian Wendy Kline argues that Termans motives behind both of these studies were rooted in eugenic thought. Terman did not just want to identify sexually deviant individuals: he aimed to promote the eugenic eradication of those who did not fit into his strict gender and sexual roles in the name of preserving the (white), happy heterosexual family.
But Termans most famous contribution to both eugenic movements and society at large was the Stanford-Binet IQ test. Terman did not invent intelligence quotient tests. Many existed before him, with the most prevalent being the Binet IQ test. Developed by French psychologist Alfred Binet, the Binet IQ test mixed quantitative and qualitative methods because Binet viewed intelligence as too multifaceted to be expressed by numbers alone. Terman, however, held a more simplistic view of intelligence. For him, intelligence was an innate trait which could be quantified and acted according to Mendelian theories of inheritance. With this in mind, Terman revised Binets test in his 1916 The Measurement of Intelligence, in which he devised a quantifiable scale of intelligence from idiocy to feeblemindedness to genius all of which could be determined with a simple test.
Early attempts to quantify intelligence included questions such as this one, in which test takers were asked to identify the prettiest face.
From its very conception, Termans Stanford-Binet IQ test had questionable applications. In The Measurement of Intelligence, Terman used his test to present an argument of IQ deficiency in Indigenous, Mexican, and Black communities, supporting theories of racial intelligence that other eugenicists, including Stanfords own Leonas Burlingame, often embraced. He argued that the dullness of these communities were racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come, and that there were significant racial differences in general intelligence.As historian Alexandra Minna Stern examines in her book Eugenic Nation, contemporary researchers (mainly Termans own students) used the IQ test to determine the intellectual worth of Mexican immigrants and communities, often concluding that Mexicans were racially inferior. Termans test was also used regularly to determine who should be sterilized in the name of eugenics: individuals with an IQ of under 70 (deemed feebleminded) were targeted for sterilization by the state, such as in the famous case of Carrie Buck. In the United States, over 600,000 people were sterilized by the state for eugenic reasons, often because of IQ test results. For many eugenicists, Termans research finally presented a way to efficiently and objectively judge the eugenic worth of human lives.
Even after Terman, IQ tests have been abused and misused for political and eugenic motives. Termans IQ test inspired similar aptitude tests, such as the SAT, which has been used historically and today to limit the quantity of marginalized people in the academy. In recent years, theories of racial intelligence have resurged in popularity one example is Charles Murrays influential 1994 The Bell Curve, often used as an excuse for racist exclusionary practices based on some of the same faulty assumptions as Termans original theories.
Many have criticized the very idea of intelligence existing as a quantifiable and inherited value. Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, for instance, in The Mismeasurement of Man, shows the flawed assumptions made in Termans belief in racial IQ and intelligence as an inheritable trait, showing instead that a) intelligence is far too complex to be understood as a Mendelian trait and that b) the IQ test likely does not measure intelligence (a rather abstract concept) at all. But even if intelligence could be quantifiably valued, Termans approach of ranking human ability, and the application of his methods in determining who was welcome in a eugenic society, would still be unacceptable. A number can never define the worth of a human being.
Lewis Madison Terman has the most complex legacy of the Stanford eugenicists. We, as gifted Stanford students, have a vested interest in believing in the value of IQ and quantifiable ability. We have a vested interest in upholding elite education institutions and in pretending that we are somehow more deserving of resources and prestige than anyone else. We have a vested interest in prolonging the myth that Stanford and other elite academies select only the best and the brightest. There is no building honoring Lewis Terman on Stanfords campus. Terman Fountain is, as the administration is quick to point out, named after his son, esteemed engineer Frederick Terman. However, Stanford University, as an elite and exclusionary institution and a gatekeeper of knowledge, is perhaps the greatest monument to Lewis Terman.
Contact Ben Maldonado at bmaldona at stanford.edu.
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Posted: at 11:46 pm
Fitzgerald was mocking Toms concern about the impending demise of white Nordics Americans of English and Scandinavian descent at the hands of subpar colored breeds from Southern and Eastern Europe. But a century ago such anxieties about what was called race suicide were shared by the most influential Americans of the age. An enthusiasm for eugenics, the belief that only men and women of superior racial stock should be encouraged to reproduce, fueled a fervor to sharply restrict immigration. Beginning in the years before World War I, that fervor was communicated by Boston Brahmins, progressive politicians, Ivy League academics, and widely read journalists. Above all, it was endorsed and promoted by scientists.
As Daniel Okrent documents in The Guarded Gate, a riveting new history of the anti-immigration movement of the early 20th century, the flames of racial xenophobia were fanned by respected men with scientific credentials experts in biology, zoology, anthropology, even paleontology and climatology. The threat posed to white Americans of Nordic ancestry by the unchecked influx of low-quality foreigners was not a figment of Fitzgeralds imagination. It was a matter of scientific and scholarly consensus, set forth as incontestable fact in biology textbooks, in prestigious newspapers and magazines, and in bestselling books by activists who saw catastrophe looming.
One of those bestsellers (thinly disguised in Gatsby) was The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, by the Harvard historian and political scientist Lothrop Stoddard. Published in 1920, it bewailed the headlong plunge into white race-suicide and warned of the calamity Americans faced from the hordes of immigrant Alpines and Mediterraneans, not to mention Asiatic elements like Levantines and Jews. He foresaw cataclysmic possibilities, among them mongrelization and the end of white political dominion.
Stoddards book was effusively praised by Madison Grant, the nations most renowned conservationist and the chairman of the New York Zoological Society. Grant, to whom the media routinely turned for scientific insight, served on the National Research Council established by President Wilson to stimulate research in the mathematical, physical, and biological sciences. He was also the author of his own influential book of white-supremacist nativism, The Passing of the Great Race, which argued forcefully for an end to open immigration before it was too late. Immigrant laborers are now breeding out their masters, and killing by filth and by crowding as effectively as by the sword, he wrote.
Stoddard and Grant worked closely with Henry Fairfield Osborn, a Princeton-educated geologist and paleontologist, professor of zoology at Columbia, and longtime president of the American Museum of Natural History. In 1921, Osborn convened the Second International Eugenics Congress in New York, presiding over a glittering roster of scientific delegates that included Alexander Graham Bell. In addition to exhibits and papers on heredity and evolution, writes Okrent, the theme of immigration restriction was inescapable. In his welcoming address, Osborn proclaimed the urgency of barring the entrance of those who are unfit to share the duties and responsibilities of our well-founded government.
Again and again, the need to overturn US immigration policy above all by excluding Italians, Russians, Jews, and Asians was presented not as a radical political position but as a scientific imperative, something on which all educated people agreed. Science is our polestar," Stoddard averred. There were a few intellectual dissidents, but most skeptics eventually succumbed to the overwhelming scientific and progressive consensus.
The prominent biologist Charles Davenport, for example, disliked the idea that whole ethnic groups should be deemed undesirable. Yet by 1911, readers of his college textbook were informed that unless immigration rules were changed, the population of the United States will, on account of the great influx of blood from Southeastern Europe, rapidly become darker in pigmentation, smaller in stature, more mercurial, more attached to music and art, [and] more given to crimes of larceny, kidnapping, assault, murder, rape and sex-immorality than were the original English settlers.
Leading media voices echoed and amplified the scientists warnings. The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, The Century magazine, Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post all were on the nativist bandwagon, many invoking the authority of science in support of the anti-immigration crusade.
They had their victory. In 1924, Congress passed the harshest immigration law in US history, slamming the gates shut on virtually all non-Nordic immigrants. Before the law was enacted, 76 percent of newcomers were from the nations of Southern and Eastern Europe. That fell to 11 percent after the new law took effect.
The 1924 quotas remained in place for decades. Not even the rise of the Third Reich could induce Washington to lift them. In 1939, the SS St. Louis, carrying 900 refugees from Hitlers Germany, reached the United States. But the quota for German immigrants was filled. The ship returned to Europe, where the Holocaust was waiting.
A century ago, immigration restrictionists were glad to cloak their racial bigotry in the reputable language of science. Like Tom Buchanan, they readily believed those who assured them their prejudices were all scientific, and had been "proved by experts with advanced degrees. But a thing isnt true or false just because scientists say it is. Science is no more reliable a touchstone of right from wrong, or wise from foolish, than any other form of human inquiry. Like all human beings, scientists are prone to fanaticism and confirmation bias and the lure of popular acclaim. Skepticism is always in order when sweeping changes in policy are demanded in the name of science. What Okrent calls "the corrupting potential of scientific authority uncoiled with devastating effect in the last century. If we arent careful, it can do the same in this one.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.
Posted: at 11:46 pm
Premiering this week, Personhood is the latest film highlighting the state of reproductive rights in the United States and how efforts to undermine the constitutional right to abortion cause unnecessary harm. In addition to exposing how fetal personhoodor the anti-abortion idea of legal protection for fetusesimmediately threatens the lives and well-being of pregnant people, the documentary film covers important issues concerning what the future could hold if state and federal policy continues in this trajectory. Personhoodserves as a reminder that more organizing and political activism are needed to meet the challenges ahead.
Produced by Rosalie Miller and directed by Jo Ardinger, the documentary film follows Tamara Tammy Loertscherafter her incarceration as she rebuilds her life and fights to overturn Wisconsins Unborn Child Protection Act, also known as the cocaine momlaw. The law allows state officials to detain, imprison, and institutionalize pregnant people against their will due to current or past alcohol and substance use under the concept of fetal personhood.
As Rewire.Newshas reported, personhood laws seek to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as persons, and to grant them full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution, including the right to life from the moment of conception. Wisconsin is one of at least 38 states that grant some form of personhood to fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetusesmost states do so through fetal homicide lawsand is the result of the anti-choice movements decades-long effort to pit the rights of pregnant people against the alleged rights of fetuses.
Ardinger first had the idea for the film, her directorial debut, in 2011 after watching a Rachel Maddow segment on the Mississippi personhood amendment, which would have defined life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. Wed been watching the avalanche of these incremental restrictions, but what took me aback about Mississippi was the complete ban and all the other implications, Ardinger told Rewire.News in a phone interview. As I went deeper into the research, my question turned away from what if we become El Salvador? where they prosecute people for miscarriages, because I learned that we were already doing that. This is [about] so much more than abortion access.
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Ardinger had not heard much about the concept of personhoodor seen it in other films, and no one she spoke with knew about it, so she decided to make a film of her own to help expand the national conversation. Ardinger met Loertscherthrough the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), a nonprofit organization working to secure human and civil rights for pregnant and parenting people.
As the film documents, Loertscher struggled with thyroid issues and couldnt afford her medication after losing her job and health insurance. Eventually, she started self-medicating her thyroid-related depression and fatigue with methamphetamine and marijuana. Upon finding out she was pregnant, she stopped using these substances and immediately sought medical care to ensure the health of her fetus. She shared her drug use with members of her care team so they could provide appropriate treatment. Instead, she was detained in the hospital after someone there reported her. Under the law, her fetus was put into protective custody, assigned a guardian, and given a lawyer. Loertscher, on the other hand, was denied legal counsel when she asked for it and subsequently refused to participate in the proceedings, which went on without her.
The state-assigned guardian to her fetus didnt object to Loertscher being placed in jail, where she experienced conditions that are not conducive to a healthy pregnancy. She went without access to prenatal care, says she was abused by jail staff, and was eventually put in solitary confinement. After several weeks, she was released on the condition that she submit to weekly drug testing for the duration of her pregnancy.
Loertschers story isnt unique. In Wisconsin alone, more than 4,000 women have been affected by the Unborn Child Protection Act, as the film notes. Loertscher was just one of few of the legislations victims who fought back.
Across the United States, pregnant people who experience miscarriage or stillbirth, who choose to give birth at home, who seek abortion, or who are exposed to interpersonal violence are criminalized. Those most targeted for criminalization include low-income women and women of color. Astudy from NAPW published in 2013 found that 71 percent of targets for arrest, detention, and forced interventions are low-income women and 59 percent are women of color.
I became a filmmaker to tell stories like Tammys, Ardinger said. These stories get buried. For every one story that makes the headlines, its just the tip of the iceberg.
Tammy represents so many women who are going through this, Ardinger added.
The Cost of Fetal Personhood
Beyond sharing Loertschers story as an example of experiences happening around the country, the film highlights the growing threat of laws seeking to personify fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. In particular, these laws have the potential to erase human rights for entire groups of people, to deter people from seeking health care by interfering in the patient-provider relationship, and to push the United States further along the slippery slope of eugenics.
In the film, NAPW founder and executive director Lynn Paltrow says, There is no way to add fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses to the Constitution without subtracting pregnant women. But the personhood movement is working to do just that. Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the political right has been working to establish fetuses as constitutional persons under the law. In the Roe v. Wade decision, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun suggested that a fetus could be protected under the 14th Amendment if its personhood was established. Lawmakers introduced the first personhood legislation in Maryland only a week later.
The courts have issued mixed rulings on the issue. In early 2017, a federal court ruled Wisconsins Unborn Child Protection Act unconstitutional. But in July of the same year, the nations highest court had issued an order upholding the law. As a result, pregnant people in Wisconsin are still subject to a law that gives the state police power over pregnant women without any protections others would have under similar circumstances, explained Paltrow.
The cost of personhood for fetuses is the human rights of pregnant people. As witnessed inLoertschers case, legal proceedings could go on without regard to the actual pregnant person, as if they simply do not exist. This ideology is best captured in comments from Florida lawmaker Jos Oliva, who referred to pregnant women as host bodies and fetuses as lives in a TV interview earlier this year.
If you recognize fetuses or the unborn from the moment of conception as separate, you subtract women, Paltrow told Rewire.News in a phone interview. If [the personhood movement] succeeds, the people who get pregnant are going to lose their fundamental rights to privacy, to equality, to due process of law.
If the state can protect fertilized eggs, the moment a woman becomes pregnant and poses a risk, she could be locked up, Paltrow added.
Another concern raised in Personhood is that of eugenics. There is a long history in the United States of limiting the reproduction of certain groups of people through forced sterilization and forced or coerced contraception. In the film, Arthur Caplan, a professor of Bioethics at New York University School of Medicine, asserts that legally permitting fetal personhood could have long-term implications for eugenics in the United States.
Speaking by phone with Rewire.News, Caplan explained that the personhood movement could pave the way for a shift away from an ideology in which certain groups are eliminated to one with a focus on making the best babiesboth of which would be a form of eugenics. In the past we had eugenics programs brought about by certain government officials or doctors themselves who took it upon themselves to sterilize. In the future you could have much more systemic national programs. They could treat [embryos] like little people, like little patients, Caplan said.
According to Caplan, the scientific community could do more to challenge rhetoric equating embryos to people. They know that many embryos dont go on to become fetuses much less babies, he said. But researchers are afraid to lose their funding, so they have tended to run away from it.
Laws criminalizing pregnant people for substance use also have the effect of deterring them from seeking care and disrupting the trust between patients and providers. If someone can be detained or imprisoned because their care providers or anyone in a hospital or health-care facility can report them, it follows that they might be more hesitant to share information they believe could get them in trouble at a time when what they really need is help.
When Tammy got pregnant, she went to the doctor, and she did all the right things to get help, Ardinger said. Tammy was working to ensure the health of her fetus, and what they did was put her in a dangerous situation. Theyre discouraging people from getting help.
Advocates say there is evidence supporting this. For example, Tennessees expired law that allowed people to be charged with assault if they had pregnancy complications after using illegal drugs is seen as having discouraged people from seeking care. Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of the Tennessee-based reproductive justice organization SisterReach, discusses it in Personhood. This law put a wedge between doctors and mothers, Scott said. The law basically turned their doctor into a warden into a probation officer into the police. So, [pregnant people] didnt want to go to the doctor anymore, Scott added.
Pregnant people using substances or experiencing other health-care challenges must be met with compassion, not punishment. Scott continued, SisterReach was involved in this work to shed light on the other things in peoples lives that may lead to them using drugs in the first place. And to shed light on the fact that there were not enough facilities to even service women.
So, where do we go from here? Scott said in the filmwe now have an opportunity to shift how people think about pregnant people, including low-income people and those who use substances.
At the end of the film, viewers are encouraged to vote against fetal personhood. The anti-choice movement has been very coordinated at filling political seats with people who will advance their agenda to strip women, queer folks, people of color, and low-income families of their human rights to reproductive autonomy and health care. Keeping them out of office and defeating anti-choice legislation by voting is important. But tackling these threats also requires those who believe in justice, in reproductive autonomy, and in human rights to do more than vote. It also requires pro-choice, justice-oriented progressive candidates to run for office.
Theres support for people who are interested in running. EMILYs List provides training and support to elect pro-choice candidates, and groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America endorse candidates who prioritize access to abortion and reproductive health care.
Personhood premieres at the DOC NYC Film Festival on November 8 and 14. The filmmakers will announce additional screenings over the next few months.
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Posted: at 11:46 pm
Sexuality educator Isy E. Abraham-Raveson, who specializes in consent, body image, and gender as it relates to children, discussed the history of reproductive rights and advocacy with roughly 20 attendees in Fong Auditorium Thursday evening.
Harvard College ReproJustice Action and Dialogue Collective hosted the event as part of programming for Harvard Sex Week. The discussion focused on how reproductive health issues have affected people of color throughout U.S. history.
Abraham-Raveson opened the discussion by asking attendees how they defined the phrase reproductive justice. Audience members responded with answers relating to abortion, consent, menstrual products, and the landmark 1973 abortion rights case Roe v. Wade.
She then asked attendees to reflect on their experiences related to reproductive health. Audience members spent several minutes writing down their thoughts, which they later shared in small groups.
Abraham-Raveson led participants through an exercise in which they constructed a timeline of historical issues related to reproductive violence, like sterilization and eugenics, as well as modern legal restrictions on access to abortion.
In another exercise, she asked attendees to categorize reproductive health issues that particularly affect certain groups, like immigrants, racial minorities, and BGLTQ people. Participants wrote down their ideas on posters and then shared them with the rest of the attendees.
Toward the end of the event, Abraham-Raveson led the group in a discussion on advocacy for reproductive health.
Isabel MarionSims 23 said she believes one of the most important parts of reproductive health advocacy is education.
It would act as inspiration for a lot more people to join in advocating, which would work as a catalyst for change in general, she said. The more people who know and think its a problem, the easier it is for things to change.
Guadalupe M. Jacobson-Peregrino 21 agreed with MarionSims and said education enables people to understand their rights and medical options available to them.
Many of the attendees said they found the event to be very educational. Maria Keselj 23 said she enjoyed learning about the history and context behind reproductive health issues.
Jacobson-Peregrino said she learned a lot from this event, even though she has taken a number of classes on the subject as a Women, Gender, and Sexuality concentrator.
Now, Im thinking about it as the colonization of womens bodies and how, in order to reverse it, we need to decolonize the female body, she said. How do we decolonize the female body? It brought a whole new jumping-off point for my mind.
Abraham-Raveson said after the event that her goal was to educate attendees and encourage them to share their experiences with one another.
I like to think of myself more as a facilitator than a presenter, Abraham-Raveson said. My mission is to get people excited about something important, get them in conversation about it, provide them with some knowledge that they may not have already had, and direct them towards action steps.
Posted: at 11:46 pm
Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a Humanities Washington Think and Drink event moderated by the inestimable Clyde W. Ford.
Ford is one of the most interesting people most of us will ever have the pleasure of meeting, and in addition to being a respected speaker hes also the acclaimed author of a number of books, including the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award-winning mystery The Long Mile. His latest work, Think Black: A Memoir, chronicles his years working for IBM, and his fathers stint there as Americas first black software engineer.
Think Black is something far bigger than a tech memoir. To begin with, its more than a memoir: Its a biography of Clydes father, John Stanley Ford, and his grandfather, John Baptist Ford, a Pullman porter during the 1920s. Its Clydes story of growing up black in New York City during the civil rights era, torn between parents whose only common ground seemed to be their intelligence, a love of music, and their desire to create a better world for their children.
Its an exploration of the intersection between technology and race in America during the 20th century, and in the world at large. Its also an indictment of IBM, a company that was involved in eugenics in the 1920s, whose technology was used to catalogue Jews during the Holocaust and blacks during South African apartheid, and which has recently come under fire for its creation of technology used by police departments to aid in racial profiling.
I found the books exploration of the inner workings of IBM particularly fascinating. A company that, to this day, presents itself as a forward-thinking problem-solver, its been involved in highly unsavory endeavors for most of its existence. Thomas J. Watson, IBMs founder and the man who hired Stanley Ford, publicly portrayed himself as a Branch Rickey-esque promoter of equality, and perhaps he did see himself as such, but he was a businessman first and foremost.
Within the company, he demanded cult-like obeisance and adoration from his employees; an official songbook was circulated in the organization containing lyrics like that man of men our friend and guiding hand, The name of T.J. Watson means a courage none can stem. Watsons hiring of Stanley Ford and other black men into mid-level positions with the company was a calculated move, as was his cultivation of a family-like atmosphere that kept employees comfortable enough to overlook certain injustices.
During Stanley Fords time with IBM, however, his warm feelings toward Watson cooled somewhat, and after he was denied promotion following Watsons death in 1956, he worked covertly to subvert IBMs hiring practices by coaching other black men on what would be covered on the hiring exam, to help them obtain positions with the company.
Think Black is a lot of things. Its a relatively short book that covers a lot of ground, succinctly and engagingly. Most importantly to me, its a warm and compassionate yet unflinching exploration of the fraught experience of being a black man in the emerging tech world of the mid- to late 20th century. It opens a window to a very important and largely unacknowledged place and time in history, and we are the better for having looked through it.
Think Black: A Memoir by Clyde W. Ford was published in September by Amistad Press. It retails for $25.99.
Emily Ring is manager and event coordinator for Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staffers review books in this space every week.
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Posted: at 11:46 pm
Editors note: This commentary is by Robby Porter, of East Montpelier, a self-employed woodworker and the owner and partner in small scale hydroelectric projects. He is the author of Doodlebug, A Road Trip Journal.
Like the saying about bringing a knife to a gunfight, the Cornices are out-of-step with the times. In small, rural towns across this country, 30 or 40 feet above Main Street, proud, silent and sometimes crumbling, these decorative flourishes along the tops of buildings are clueless against the computer technology, faster than a bullet, that causes the empty storefronts and faded Space for Rent signs at street level.
With their mute communication, the Cornices tell of a time when place mattered, when a small town could be the point of intersection for commerce and ideas, hopes and lives. If their stoic brick and stone could express emotion, they would show bewilderment, sadness and confusion. The Cornices are from a time when a successful person would construct a beautiful building in their hometown not only as an investment, but also with the hope of bequeathing something of lasting value to future generations a commitment to the place they loved and considered theirs and special.
At these thoughts the Spreadsheets scoff, What are they? Sentimental indulgences, thats all. Beauty? Ha! Just one persons arrogant assumption that they know what looks nice to someone else. A building might last 100 years. Compound the extra cost of those cornices for a century and think of the value you could create. Sense of place? You mean xenophobic, provincial, jerkwater.
The Spreadsheets are an extension of the idea that free trade is always good and money is the measure of value. If it makes sense, by the logic of the Spreadsheets, to move manufacturing overseas or import resources from somewhere else, then little by little that logic prevails. The cost to place does not matter to the Spreadsheets, only the bottom line, a number on a computer screen. Place matters only in reference to shipping routes, low taxes and efficiency. Theoretically, the value the next generation gets is money, limitless, borderless, fungible, mobile and unattached.
The Cornices are an extension of place. Someone built something in a particular place, put their name on it and put extra effort into making it beautiful, a cost they were unlikely to receive a monetary return on, because that was their place and they wanted to make it better. People whose parents and grandparents came from countries where they could never hope to own property, made good in this country and then gave back to their communities in a thousand ways, some personal and forgotten but not unimportant and some enduring, like the Cornices. Now, as the ever-increasing gravity of big cities pulls young people away from the small towns and rural areas to jobs that pay a living wage, the Cornices remain, a reminder of a bygone age.
The era of the Cornices wasnt noble. Jim Crow, racism, eugenics, child labor, segregation, disenfranchisement, vast unmitigated poverty and ignorance were features of their time. And yet when you look at the Cornices you feel the commitment to place that emanates from them and the hopeful sense of a future that will be ever better.
The physical representations of the Spreadsheets, the box stores and enormous distribution centers, are as unattached and standardized as the shipping containers which deliver their wares from someplace far away. No commitment to place. No regionalism, provincialism, nationalism and theoretically no racism, sexism or anti-immigrantism, just individuals, atomized, maximizing their consumer choice and personal freedom to whatever extent their finances allow in a supposedly free market.
For a narrow subset of humanity, the promise of the Spreadsheets seems to be working well. These are the very wealthy and also some whose combination of advanced education and technical skills allow them to live more or less as global citizens, nominally citizens of a state, but actually moving their bodies and money around the world as suits their career or entertainment or investments the Elites. They are connected to whatever place and acquaintances suit them best at any given time. The one value they stand for is the system of globalization which allows them to continue maximizing their freedom and wealth.
There is another group reaping rewards from the Spreadsheets, the Hapless Beneficiaries. These are the truly destitute around the world, people living on a few dollars a day, the humanity neglected by the rest of humanity. The Spreadsheets, in their voracious appetite for cheaper labor commodity, have discovered that the hands and lungs of this group are just as able to perform hard and repetitive work as more expensive bodies elsewhere. This reality causes rejoicing by the Elites because it is the perfect counterpoint to the destruction wrought by the system that benefits them. Look, a poor person who used to live on one dollar a day now living on two dollars a day. A 100% increase in wealth. Globalism floats all boats!
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The gains received by the Hapless Beneficiaries and the Elites have come at great cost to the rest of us. Vermont has been spared the worst, so far. The rural Midwest and Appalachia have been less lucky. Cities of a certain size seem to be able to maintain their center of gravity. But all across the country the suction created by the Spreadsheets is pulling communities and people apart. The republic is divided against itself, red against blue, urban against rural.
In Trumps opening campaign salvo the Mexican border and the illegal immigrants crossing there were convenient and exploitable symbols for the destruction of the American middle class caused by the borderless and hard-to-picture Spreadsheets. The vulgarity and racism with which Trump imagined the consequences of open borders diverted the mainstream media, always suckers for a sensational story, from comprehending the enormity of the underlying problem. Trumps language condensed the problem and a solution with compelling imagery Mexican rapists and a wall. If that seems like an oversimplified explanation, it is, but the savant salesman closed the deal and now hes president.
Whether Trump logically understood the connections he was making or just used his magical salesman powers to intuit the connection, like a jazz musician instinctively improvising on a riff, is an open question. When it comes to selling, he is either an intuitive genius or a calculating one a question of tactical importance for his political opponents. As for the rest of us, assuming the republic survives his administration, what matters is that the people in power start thinking seriously about the consequences of running the country on the logic of the Spreadsheets for the benefit of the Elites.
The fact that Trump is the messenger who finally got through with this message shows how isolated the Elites are from the reality most citizens live in. A man whose only known value is money, who is the walking embodiment privilege, whose business tactics involve systematically screwing small tradesmen and ripping off students, this caricature of elitism is what finally got the rest of the elites to recognise that perhaps it is wrong to abandon everything that doesnt smell like money, that the accuracy of the phrase fly-over-states denotes moral failure rather than wit, that everything cant be priced in dollars.
However flawed the product being sold, every successful sales pitch has to contain a kernel of truth. Donald Trump recognized the truth that place is defined by borders and that many Americans feel displaced within their own country. What it means to be part of a place or a country is to have a connection beyond the purely practical or monetary. This idea of value is unquantifiable by the Spreadsheets and therefore incomprehensible to them. If the price is the same, its all the same to the Spreadsheets who stand only for money and its ability to flow unimpeded around the world relentlessly seeking a better return.
Convincing nearly half the country that he, Donald Trump, an elitist who started life making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a toddler-landlord, would reverse the destruction caused by the Spreadsheets, this was salesmanship as masterful as the famous quip, The prettiest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist. The devil captures souls by offering them something they desperately want, in this case, fulfilling the longing of many people to believe that someone in power would protect their place instead of selling it to the highest bidder.
To rephrase the Rabbi Hillel, If I am not for a place, what place will be for me? But if I am only for a place, what am I? If not now, when?
For all of human history, there seem to be two contradictory actions people will resist until the last drop of their blood has been spilled. The first is any attempt to usurp or relocated them in any way, violently or through persuasion, from the place they view as their homeland, and this applies no matter how harsh or inhospitable the place is.
The second is any attempt to prevent them from leaving their homeland, if they want to, and seeking a better life in some other place, no matter the risks. People will set off on a flimsy raft across a shark-filled ocean, or walk hundreds of miles carrying small children just for the chance of a better life someplace else.
The value of money to the Spreadsheets is in existential conflict with the primal human desire to be connected to a place or to seek a new place.
When the forces of free trade cause a factory to move, the Elites sigh and shrug. Sad, but the market has spoken. Then they move along to a bigger city or a different country. Perhaps they even have to sell their house for less than they paid for it, a capital loss they can no doubt offset against share price gains in the company that will now have lower labor costs in the new place. The people left behind, who either love their place more than they love money, or dont have enough money to leave for a new place, they suffer as do the buildings and roads and schools.
When desperate migrants fleeing economic or climate or political disruption flood over a border, the Elites, connected to no place, are perplexed by the stench of racism rising from the people who already live in that place. What did they expect, that communities and voters drowning under decades of stagnant wages and billowing addictions would all smell sweet when they were swamped with immigrants?
The Spreadsheets dismiss connection to place as an outdated notion, an anachronism like the idea that your last name reflects where you are from. They say that place no longer matters, that in a global economy we all live on one place, the Earth, and we should move around as market forces demand.
But this idea fails even more dramatically on a global scale than it does on a local one. The future habitability of the Earth, the place we all share, is of no concern to the Spreadsheets. The same Spreadsheet logic that inexorably destroys small communities is just as steadily destroying the climate that gave rise to human civilization. Running the world for the interests of people who only value money will have us fighting with each other over who inherits a planet none of us can live on.
Like the rabbis aphorism, its both at once. Were going to have to devise a system that respects our individual connection to place and doesnt destroy the place we all call home. Its going to have to be a system with borders and trade, a system that allows people to migrate but doesnt displace people who want to stay in the place they call home. The principles that form the foundation of this new system will not be measured by money alone but will have to value people and their connection to place. If that sounds like a difficult balance to strike, no doubt it is, but as the rabbi points out, the time for this change is always now.
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Posted: at 11:45 pm
The future isnt an accident, its something we create and it seems our goal is to hack what it means to be human. What was once science fiction is now reality: the first cyborgs are here. A revolution is unfolding in operating rooms, labs, artist, and designer studios across the world.
Scientists and entrepreneurs are on a quest to unlock the secrets of the human brain through implantable technology. The documentary I am Human by Elena Gaby follows three people with varying degrees of disabilities who have been implanted with brain-computer interfaces allowing them to achieve what was once impossible. Programmes such as BrainGate, Synchron, and Neuralink are among the neurotech organisations working to restore communication, mobility, and independence in people who have lost movement due to paralysis, limb loss, or neurodegenerative disease.
In the documentary, Stephen, who is blind, has a retinal implant which connects to electrodes in his brain. Elsewhere, Anne who suffers from Parkinsons Disease is considering whether to have deep brain stimulation through inserted electrodes. These brain implants come with great societal implications as groundbreaking neurotechnologies could gradually branch out into the general population when people adopt how transformational they can be.
A future where we can type or control our cars with our mind is within reach and if the technology were to make it outside the medical domain, the future is one of brain-to-brain communication, enhanced memory, and cognition where even speaking to each other may not be as necessary. In her recent article for the Guardian, Zoe Corbyn features Dennis Degray, a paraplegic man who was able to send text messages, shop on Amazon, and stack blocks by controlling a robotic arm through the neurons of his mind. Brain implants could revolutionise the way we connect to the world around us. If harnessed, for example, in the military, in retail, the workplace or train stations, they could become the new standard for interactions between people, machines, and products.
But cognitive enhancements, although still in experimental stages, should make us question the deep implications of self-governance and privacy. In our cyber future, will humans or technology prevail? Daniela Skills short film featured on Nowness portrays a future where humanity battles with cyborgs and robots in a quest for co-existence. This appears to be a far-fetched scenario, but if we observe the signals of today and operate as cultural listeners, we can see a tipping point between humanity and machines through the rise of neurotechnology.
Bionic humans and intelligent robots are here, and you better get used to them; you might even become one of them in the future. Companies such as Youbionic aims to democratise smart prosthetics in an effort to enhance the human intellect and physiology its recent invention, the Youbionic Paw Arm, is now available through open sourcing. Another open-source, artificially intelligent prosthetic leg designed by scientists Levi Hargrove and Elliott Rouse at the University of Michigan and Shirley Ryan Ability Lab will be released to the public and scientific community. This naturally redefines the changing boundaries between the human and the machine, the animate and inanimate, controller and controlled, and how accessible this may all become.
In our quest to merge the physical, digital and machine, ancient themes of Animism dating from ancient civilisations and religions such as the Golem are being played out with todays toolbox. Creatives like Princess Gollum illustrate our fascination with giving life to non-living things. Humans cannot help but explore their power and their fears in a bid to take control of the inevitable: the degradation of the human body and mind. This need for eternity has inspired us to create human-like creatures with special abilities from Frankenstein to todays alien Avatars such as Galaxia.
In her art installation Homemade RC Toy, Geumhyung Jeong questions our relationship with machines by interacting naked with homemade robotic sculptures. Flowing Water Standing Time by fashion designer Ying Pao is a robotic garment which moves according to colour and is inspired by the work of neurologist Oliver Sacks. We could see the development of garments that can be a tool for navigation, communication, and as an amplifier for VR spaces with projects like Ava Aghakouchaks soft wearable Sovar.
Meanwhile, Ai-Da, the worlds first humanoid robot artist, has had her first solo exhibition of eight drawings, twenty paintings, four sculptures and two video works. There was debate about granting personhood to AI in the EU courts in 2017. This was ultimately rejected; however, recently two professors from the University of Surrey filed patents on behalf of an AI system. They are arguing it should be recognised as inventor, and although the Patents offices in the UK, EU and US insist innovations are attributed to humans only, this now seems to be an outdated notion.
So, what does this mean for the human body, intelligence and emotions? In What humans will look like in the next 100 years, we discussed the acceptance of baby androids in our society and the manufacturing of cyborgs by 2048. The project Replika by Pleun Van Dijk, commissioned by Roskilde Festival, echoes this transhumanist concept. By staging a human production-line, designers act as gods and stage a future where human shells are reshaped by industry and capital. New research shows that we may also be able to regenerate human tissue and body parts, as scientists have discovered the human body can renew like salamanders.The paper, published in Science Advances, explains we have the same healing process as amphibians and this previously unknown ability might be exploited to enhance joint repair and establish a basis for human limb regeneration.
Science fiction artistEsmay Wagemans explores a parallel concept of re-creating body parts in a race to res-culpt humanity. This idea, paired with the developments of soft computers such as the Octobot, a chemically powered robot which can essentially take any shape, points to the potential for merging soft wearables with Augmented Reality, social media, and Artificial intelligence. This could lead to a new way of communicating and representing ourselves in which our skins would become screens reflected in Aposema, a facial prosthesis which acts as an external emotional indicator. The project speculates on our ability to empathise in an age where people prefer technological devices over in-person interactions. Built using soft robotics prosthetics, biometric sensors and an augmented reality digital layer, Aposema would translate facial expressions when we are no longer able to understand emotions.
How we relate to other humans and our own physicality is changing deeply as we race to virtualise and reinvent our body. The democratisation of technologies ranging from robotic limbs to mixed realities, coupled with the progress of 3D scanning and modelling, are suggesting the possibility of a human body that is modifiable, customisable and open source. New beauty standards will emerge out of this transhumanist scenario in which mutant creations would colonise our current traditional sense of reality.
We are creating another dimension, another human nature before our eyes. The speculative design studio Imprudence explores future beauty products with their online store selling items ranging from cat eye DNA, nano filter make-up to a skin scanning soap. Face filters are a key illustration of the viral desire for wearing 3D makeup as seen in Ines Alphas recently launched collaboration with the fashion brand Bimba y Lola.Through her digital creations, digital artist Ksenia Trifonova engages with a future where images will be projected onto our faces and give us the ability to transform and communicate data, style, social media posts on our skins.
Our clothing will not be immune to the changes in our reality paradigm. Rflctv Studios streetwear collection transforms into interactive hyperreal dichroic garments through augmented reality. Moin Roberts-Islam of the London-based Fashion Innovation Agency recently featured a prototype scanner for human body augmentation and customisation created by Cyberpunk 3D artist Rafe Johnson. It could offer new ways of trying on jewellery, accessories and tattoos.
And with Virtual humans, avatars will not only populate our feeds, but they will also enter customer service applications as we are now able to replicate human emotion and mimic meaningful and authentic interactions. Soul Machines enables highly realistic Autonomous Animations of humans through an AI-powered Digital Brain. The avatars are already planned to be rolled out in customer service for Natwest. Concurrently, Facebook has outlined its plans to turn us into holograms in a future communication where instead of using Skype, we could be teleported to our parents living room for dinner across the world. The holographic avatar in Blade Runner or the loveable operating system in Her are here.
Western philosophy makes an absolute distinction between the living and the non-living. We presumed that humans were the only thinking things but now machines think, they will sense, feel, reflect, even have a sense of self, through avatars like Josefin Jonssons virtual humans, cyborgs and humanoids. As we use advanced technologies to push the edges of humanity, machines are becoming like us. The question now is, where do we end and where do they begin? And is this a true advancement for society?
The transhuman future is here - Dazed
Transhumanism, AI, gaming and human biology to feature at Mumbrella MSIX with new session announced – mUmBRELLA*
Posted: at 11:45 pm
Learn how transhumanism and artificial intelligence are changing the way we acquire users as software engineer for PALO IT and co-founder of Transhumanism Australia, Alyse Sue, speaks at Mumbrella MSIX to lift the lid on transhumanist technologies.
Sue, a full stack Node.js and C# software developer has co-founded three ventures focusing on health and emerging technology. Shes also had vast experience working with AI and blockchain and has previously spent nearly four years at KPMG focusing on finance and technology.
Sue will speak at Mumbrella MSIX on transhumanism and artificial intelligence
At Mumbrella MSIX, Sue will discuss using artificial intelligence to completely tailor content to passers-by, while also revealing how to target digital humans living in virtual worlds created by Facebook and other tech giants.
In addition, shell uncover ways to plant messages directly in peoples brains using brain-computer-interfaces.
Also confirmed is Forethought group CEO, Ken Roberts, who will reveal how to avoid the big idea lottery. The former associate professor at Melbourne Business School and now managing partner of Forethought Research (formerly Roberts Research Group) will assert that there is still extreme ineffectiveness in advertising and that the origin of the issues is the intuition-based big idea.
Roberts will explain a scientifically proven way of forming a foundation for creative briefs and big ideas
He will share with delegates Prophecy Thoughts & Feelings, a scientifically proven, marketing science-based, method for identifying the rational and emotional motivations for category and brand-specific consumer behaviour and show how these motivational drivers should form the foundations of the creative brief and the big idea.
Meanwhile, Dr Juliette Tobias-Webb will lead an interactive session explaining the psychological reasons why consumers enjoy games and how certain structural characteristics of games elicit beliefs and behaviours that lead to continued engagement.
Tobias-Webb will reveal the real benefits of gaming and how it affects consumer thinking
Tobias-Webb, who has worked for Commonwealth Bank, Ogilvy & Mather and lectured at the University of Cambridge has spent her career focusing on understanding human behaviour and decision making and applying insight from neuroscience, psychology, and economics to create real-world, measurable behavioural change.
Curated by Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and chief thinker at Thinkerbell, Mumbrella MSIX (Marketing Sciences Ideas Xchange) explores the intersection of marketing, behavioural science, creativity, and everything in between.
It takes place on February 20 in Sydney with tickets on sale now.
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Posted: at 11:44 pm
Think you know Poppy, the robo-pop sensation and maker of mesmerising YouTube videos, all in the guise of a sentient Artifical Intelligence? So did NME Deputy Editor Dan Stubbs when he went to meet the LA-based star at a London fetish dungeon, only to find Poppy is more human than we might have thought. Breaking character for the first time, Poppy reveals more than ever before about her work, her life and why she wants to bring down the internet. PHOTOS: JENN FIVE
Have you ever been browsing the help page of a website when a text box pops up inviting you to a live chat with a customer service operative? You click and enter your query, only for it to quickly become apparent that youre talking to a chatbot. Its a bit like a normal conversation, except the voice on the other end picks from a selection of vacuous, tangential phrases and keeps asking you if youre happy, as if youre speaking to a Love Island contestant whos coming up on ecstasy.
That experience is pretty much what Id geared myself up for when it came to interviewing Poppy for her first NME Big Read. For those not already familiar, Poppy is many things: a pop star, an actor, a director, a composer of ambient music, a religious leader (at her own Church Of Poppy), a DJ, a comic-book character, a smash hit YouTuber, a provocateur, a performance artist and a master of multiple media. One thing she is not, she has previously insisted, is human.
We meet at a torture dungeon in Walthamstow, North-East London. And no, I dont remember stumbling upon one of those in the Yellow Pages either. Its best thought of as a gymnasium designed by Pinhead from Hellraiser, dark and leathery and full of metal hooks, and all the apparatus is disconcertingly greasy to the touch. Hanging around there for a few hours while Poppys NME photoshoot takes place, you find yourself idly leaning on some piece of kit or other only to realise its a sex gurney with stirrups and bondage rings.
Poppy, it must be said, is perfectly at home here: shes arrived accompanied by her collaborator and creative partner, Titanic Sinclair (real name Corey Mixter), a selection of PVC outfits and a massively oversized, sculptural leather overcoat that her friend Marilyn Manson might wear. Thats right, her friend Marilyn Manson, whose 50th birthday she attended this year. What do you get the goth rock icon who has everything? My presence, she replies.
That friendship and NMEs, er, sexhorror photoshoot make sense if youve been following Poppys career lately. Last year on Halloween the American singer put out Am I A Girl?, an album of candy-flavoured robo-pop that, sonically, put her in league with the PC Musics of the world. Stylistically it presented her as the real-life Ashley O months before Black Mirror and Miley Cyrus got there.
Poppy claims to have not seen that particular episode of the dystopian Netflix drama, despite the fact that the story about a transhuman pop star who covers Nine Inch Nails tracks seems directly influenced by her own career. Ive heard about it a lot, she says. Curiosity hasnt got the better of you? I dont really like shows that lots of people like, she says. If someone suggests a certain thing then Ill intentionally not watch it. Its just me being stubborn.
Am I A Girl? and the preceding Poppy.Computer, from 2017 were seemingly targeted at people who fetishise Japanese kawaii culture and futurism equally. Her forthcoming album, I Disagree, due on January 10 next year, promises to be a different beast: specifically, one with devil horns. It finds Poppy embracing the tinnitus-inducing thrash of heavy metal alongside those cute, catchy choruses.
Its a stylistic shift that follows testing times, including a lawsuit, a high profile beef, and a second bad record deal more of which later. This, then, is heavy metal as catharsis. I try to channel all of my anger steam into my artand maintain some form of composure, even when I feel I want to end everything, she says, troublingly. End herself or end the world? The world.
So you were feeling quite angry about some things? Yeah, but I would say it feels natural too. When we were making Am I A Girl? we were driving to the studio and listening to a lot of heavier music. I would go in and write a rainbows and butterflies song and I was like, OK, theres a disconnect here
Poppys reinvention is the kind of gear-change that might cost an artist a portion of their audience, but fans on YouTube seem to be getting the right idea. I run Poppy through some of their comments on her recent track Concrete, which is probably the best example of Poppys new direction, as its both sweet and heavy with deeply, deeply disturbing lyrics fetishising the idea of being buried alive in concrete. Poppy says she would kill time with a lot of thumb twiddling if that happened in real life.
So here goes with the comments:
This song makes me comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. Im confused.
Poppy: Ive become comfortable with being uncomfortable. If things are comfortable, I get anxiety.
Another: This is what having bipolar disorder feels like.
Poppy: That makes sense.
Shes clearly a victim of MK Ultra mind control, guys.
Poppy: Clearly. I like conspiracy theories. Ive seen one or two videos online about (CIA experiment) MKUltra. I know a thing or two.
And another: Its like if Slipknot, Babymetal, Queen and The Beach Boys made a song together. I dont hate it.
Poppy: I like that one.
Theres an example of Poppys self-confessed stubbornness when she and I are walking from the photoshoot to a nearby pub. Poppy drags a shiny black suitcase with one hand and holds a polystyrene head in the other. On the head is a blonde wig, which Titanic Sinclair has just named Moppy. Poppy rejects the offer of help in carrying either, which causes problems when a fan spots her Poppeeeeeeeee! comes the shout and she very quickly picks up the pace, suitcase bouncing behind her.
When we make it into the pub, she heads for a table in the furthest, quietest corner. On the way there, making chit-chat about her interests (she loves fail videos and crime documentaries, she says, and rarely sleeps), I had broached the subject: when, exactly, is she going to start pretending to be a robot? Well, she says. Well see.
Previous interviewers particularly the infamous US shock-jock Howard Stern have made a sport of trying to get Poppy to break character, or even simply to laugh. Even out of the public eye, Poppy carries herself with an air of almost supernatural composure. She sits bolt upright, doesnt slouch, and speaks carefully and with great consideration in a soft, southern American accent. Shes fiercely intelligent and quietly assured. She drinks black coffee and frequently cracks her knuckles, which snap so loudly you wonder if theres a metal skeleton in there after all.
An exaggeration of this emotionally guarded person is the one that Poppys fans have become obsessed with. In some of her YouTube videos, she asks endless questions of the viewer about their relationship with social media, and whether they validate themselves through followers. In others, she experiences crises about the nature of her own existence. In some, black goo oozes from her mouth. Theyre videos that challenge the viewer in a number of ways: not much happens, it happens very slowly, and though theyre absolutely PG rated you probably wouldnt want to be caught watching them at work. Theyre much like the trend for ASMR videos, in which people whisper and click and generally make the viewer feel a bit strange in a way they cant quite put their finger on.
Theres a supporting cast, too: Poppy has an occasional enemy, Charlotte, whos a mannequin, and a friend, whos a plant. I remind her of the latter as she tucks into vegetable crudites in the pub. People keep pet pigs and still eat pork, comes the response.
That stupid question about the ethics of eating salad when your sole companion is a houseplant and about a zillion others like it are essentially rendered moot when it becomes apparent that Poppy is breaking character today. I find myself feeling the weight of trying to work out the things fans would most like to know and the things Ive always wondered about this singular artist.
Poppy likens her stylistic shift naive pop AI to rock hellion to David Bowie killing off Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Apollo, reasoning its an artists prerogative to change. Is this interview set to be Poppys big reveal: a kind of Pinocchio moment where she declares herself a real life girl? I feel the same [as before], she says. I just feel more certain.
Information about the person behind Poppy isnt exactly a state secret. Wikipedia has her as Moriah Rose Pereira, born January 1, 1995. When I ask her about her age, its one of the few times shes guarded. I dont know, you know. I dont know. Its not what my Wikipedia says.
So what else is wrong on your Wikipedia page?
I think the dates are weird. Most of the rest, its OK.
Youre not tempted to change it?
No. Theres an element to Wikipedia that I think you know how they ask you for donations on the homepage? Im just like, Just let it go. We dont need it. I dont think the general public should be able to change information like that. I had a Google Home for a short time and of course, I had to ask it, Hey Google, whos Poppy? And it would rattle off all this information just from Wikipedia and it was all wrong, and I thought it was really funny.
So, OK, you switch the Google Home on how far down your list of questions is that one? Be honest.
It was after a little while, she says. Theres a video that Titanic and I shot where Im smashing my Google Home afterwards. I thought it would smash a lot easier than it did.
Do you trust that kind of technology?
But the Poppy we know loves AI and the idea of computer learning, right?
Im trying to move backwards. Im trying to get rid of my technology. In turn its going to make it harder to get a hold of me and my friends mad at me but its OK.
Are they going to have to fax you?
Im thinking carrier pigeon.
When previous interviewers have asked where Poppy lives, the reply would be the internet. Actually, she confirms, she grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and lives, not-quite-alone, in Los Angeles, California. I have a Sphynx cat. Hes the demon man of my home. His name is Pi and he I think he was sent to ruin my life, she says.
Its easy to imagine Poppy being an outsider in Nashville, typically the home of country music and cowboys rather than robots, and a place she describes as having that small town feeling. Its equally easy to see her being on the fringes in Hollywood. She describes her life there as feeling like Im in the middle of a lot of things, but with my journal out, just watching. So youre an anthropologist? I guess so, she says. I think everybody would say that about me. When Im in a room, Im looking everywhere. I think I would be a spy if I wasnt a singer.
Though a keen dancer, Poppy spent much of her childhood alone in her bedroom. I would intentionally isolate myself from a lot of things, she says. She did half of her education in public school, where she was bullied, and completed her studies early in homeschool. I didnt have a positive experience [at public school], says Poppy. I barely said any words, so that kind of opened me up, in a way, to be the target of everyones teasing.
For what things?
Being skinny and quiet.
Homeschool conjures images of a parent playing the teacher role. Actually, says Poppy, she did her studies alone in her bedroom, where the internet was my teacher. When you consider that image a slight, quiet girl, sat alone in a room with only the internet for company, diligently racing through the curriculum its not too difficult to join the dots to Poppys character on YouTube. Yeah, it does actually make sense when you think about it, she says, as if this might, improbably, be a fresh thought. I like that. If I could just have that be my legacy famous for being alone in a white room Id be happy with that.
The move to LA came when Pereira signed her first record contract, a major label deal under the name ThatPoppy. Having already left the family home, she relocated without telling a soul. I kept everyone in the dark because I didnt want anyone to get in the way, she says.
Poppy met Titanic Sinclair, an artist, musician and director, through a mutual friend within a few months of moving to LA, and instantly hit it off. At the photoshoot, Sinclair had described his first encounter with Poppy as being like meeting David Bowie, so shook was he by her creative force.
Meanwhile, Poppys frustration with her music career was growing. I went through the circus at that label, the changing of the representatives or whatever, and I was coming to find out I was actually just in a really bad deal, she says.
When Poppy and Sinclair began making YouTube videos together, it caused further friction with the label. I was being discouraged from making the videos, and in turn, Titanic and I were like, Were not gonna listen, so we made twice or triple the amount, she says. And that was when [the label] started to react. They were like, Hey, we dont think we should make these videos. Why are you making these videos? I was like, Why are you working at a record label?!
Whether or not they had approval, Poppy and Sinclair had hit on something with their channel. Theres an element of Kubricks 2001 A Space Odyssey about the videos, in their glacial pacing, ambient soundscapes, medical lighting and stark visuals. Though they share DNA with your average YouTuber content, they subvert the conventions: there are no jump cuts, theres no begging for likes and follows. Where your average YouTuber goes to pains to welcome the viewer into their world, Poppys videos make you feel like youre peering into a world you shouldnt be seeing. Yet by incrementing the play count by one, or liking, or commenting the viewer becomes part of the piece.
Poppys character fascinated by the world, a model of pure innocence partly came from her interest in the Myers-Briggs test, a personality test that encourages respondents to answer as they would when they were a child, which she has completed multiple times. I would say that [the Poppy character] is directly linked to how I was when I was untouched by the world, the most innocent way of thinking, she says.
I put it to Poppy that if any of her clips were exhibited in a gallery, it would be considered differently. But because its on YouTube, its considered
Which is a little bit frustrating because YouTube is just the medium that we chose to put it on, you know? We could have been on Vimeo, or PornHub, or whatever it may be, but YouTube was the one. And this goes into a bigger conversation about how social media is ruining everything.
Sorry, what? Poppy, the character, is fascinated by social media, isnt she? Obsessed with it even.
I think that at the beginning, social media was a good thing, but as of recent times, the angry internet mobs and misinformation and X, Y and Z, I think its now its a pendulum, so it started out good, now its bad and I think it will fall somewhere in the middle, hopefully. Otherwise well just need to create a new internet, which I hope I can do one day.
What would the PoppyNet look like?
Thered be a nominal fee. Thered be a screening process. You know, What are your intentions here? And no memes.
They just clog the servers.
Poppys own pendulum has swung from good to evil lately. Allowing that to happen meant listening to her gut more. I wanted to put forward this very composed and refined body of work and I so strongly believed in that that I wasnt really willing to listen to this other part of me, you know? Like the devil and the angel on [my] shoulders, she says. Im working more on impulse than before.
The shift is understandable because, in the past year, life has thrown Poppy its fair share of digital lemons. Having struggled on a major, Poppys subsequent label home proved an awkward fit, too. It wasnt really a functioning label, which I can say now, she says. It was more of a tax write-off. There wasnt a lot of consistency going on there. The partnership has now been dissolved, and Poppy is currently signed to prog metal label Sumerian Records.
Meanwhile, the dynamic between Poppy and Sinclair has been under scrutiny. Some taking the pairs artistic creations a little too seriously have been questioning whether theres an issue of coercion there. Actually, says Poppy, the opposing characters: her as the naif, him as the sinister svengali, are just part of the storyline. The narrative that we created in order to tell the story of the first album was very much Titanic is the bad guy and hes the leader, which I think is funny because its not true, says Poppy. It is very much 50:50, the effort.
In April 2018, a former creative and romantic partner of Titanic Sinclair, who goes by the name Mars Argo (real name Brittany Sheets), claimed that Poppys character was ripped off from her, and that Sinclair had been emotionally and physically abusive to her following their relationship. In May, Poppy issued a statement describing Argos actions as a desperate grab for fame, and in September the case was settled out of court, with no money exchanging hands and none of the parties acknowledging liability of wrongdoing.
Later that year Poppy had a run-in with the highly respected Canadian artist Grimes over their Am I A Girl? collaboration Play Destroy. Poppy said shed been bullied into submission by [Grimes] and her team of self-proclaimed feminists. Grimes responded publicly, posting a message saying, Poppy you dragged me into a disgusting situation and wont stop punishing me for not wanting to be part of it, I dont want to work with you, you leaked the song anyway.
Oddly, Grimess subsequent single, We Appreciate Power, sung from the perspective of an ambitious AI, seemed to be a land grab for Poppys own turf. Poppy is reluctant to dredge any of it up again today.
Its kind of dead news, she says. And my new album is good, so
It does seem like you probably admire Grimes in some ways. Is it quite sad when that sort of thing happens publicly, her posting about your professional behaviour on the internet?
I think Im just used to the way the internet works and the lifespan of the news cycle.
What was your learning from Mars Argos lawsuit last year?
I just learned more about Hollywood.
Did it make you like Hollywood more or less?
It solidified my view of Hollywood.
Will you elaborate on that?
Everything is not as it seems. That can be your headline.
If Poppys recent experiences led to the end of her wide-eyed AI innocence, you hope it might lead to her being recognised for the furiously creative force she is. Playing devils advocate, I put it to Poppy that it would be easy to look at some of her previous work and think, This is willfully vacuous. A track on Am I A Girl?, the Diplo collaboration Time Is Up, is absolutely on point with the 2019 zeitgeist of climate change activism and, coming from another artist, it may have been hailed as a culturally important moment. Coming from Poppy, it went unnoticed as the musings of a robo-girl.
Poppy agrees that the concept may have clouded the message. With pop music and my experience with it, it was interesting to like with the first album, to me its pop, but lyrically the subject matter of the songs is not digestible to anyone whos not understanding of why this album exists, you know, she says. I think with the new album, you could come out of nowhere and listen to it for the first time and get what you want from it.
I ask if her character, demeanour and gender led to her not being taken seriously in dealings with labels and collaborators, the business side of music. Not to go into gendering it and having it be about being male or female, but typically in a situation like that [people] would look at Titanic for the ideas and the commands, she says. But I find it funny, because thats not actually the case. Its very collaborative. People would be surprised.
Three weeks later, on October 31, Poppy returns to the UK to play a special show for NME. Shes on tour in the US, and has come over on an off-day especially for us. Yesterday she was, improbably, performing in the ring at a World Wrestling Entertainment event in Florida; tomorrow she plays a headline show in Texas. Tonight, shes at the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston playing a headline DJ set at NMEs Ghouls To The Front the Halloween edition of our Girls To The Front series, which celebrates female and non-binary artists.
Her associate arrives first to scope out the venue. He quickly deems the grungy dressing room not Poppys vibe, which, considering we last had her in an S&M dungeon, speaks volumes about The Shacklewell Arms, and says shell arrive just before stage time instead of hanging around. And sure enough, at 9pm Poppy turns up in a black-and-white PVC catsuit, face painted like the nightmarish clown Pierrot, pitch black lips emphasising a fixed smile.
Making no bones about the lack of live DJing going on, Poppy spends much of the set reading a graphic novel handed to her by a fan, making a sport of very slowly, very purposefully turning the pages as banging techno and quotes from horror films blast out of the speakers. Poppy doesnt dance or speak, preferring to let a sample of her saying Im Poppy do the latter for her.