Podcast of the Week: Border Trilogy

The US government’s policy on illegal migration flows through the Sonoran desert is simple: its dangerous and therefore people should be deterred. That isn’t the case: in reality hundreds of migrants die each year trying to traverse the harsh environment that leads into the United States. Clearly the policy is broken, but how did it even get to this point? Radiolab’s “Border Trilogy” looks at the development of “Prevention Through Deterrence” since the late 1990s. 

It tells the story of how the students from Bowie High School in El Paso, a border town which used to be a major crossing point, fought back against frequent harassment from US border patrol. The level of grief emanating from the border communities eventually led to a change in policy, driving migrants streams away from cities and into the desert.

Simultaneously, the podcast reveals the story Jason De León, an anthropologist searching for migrants’ scattered belongings in the desert. One day he finds an arm and nothing more, leaving him wondering how many people have simply atrophied out there. Lastly it tells the story of Maricela, the Ecuadorian mother who never arrived in New York. 


You can also access part 1, part 2 and part 3 directly on Radiolab’s website. 

Podcast of the week: The Demise of the Hungarian Social Democrats

On the 8th of April, Victor Orban’s right-wing populist coalition Fidesz-KDNP won an astonishing 48.9% in the parliamentary election. The Socialist party–Dialogue for Hungary (MSZP), which had been ruling until Orban took power in 2010 and was the major opposition party since then, has received a humiliating 12.25%.

What has happened? Last October, Social Europe’s editor-in-chief Henning Meyer spoke about the demise of the Hungarian social democrats to former EU Commissioner and MSZP politician László Andor. They discuss the unexpected problems which arose from EU accession in 2004, the loss of MSZP’s constituency and Orban’s authoritarian tendencies.

This revealing half-hour is much recommended to those that want to not just shake their heads at Sunday’s results, but understand how contemporary Hungary is rolling.


deep web henry jackson society

New report calls on UK Government to be tougher on online terrorism

A report from the Henry Jackson Society says British government must do more fight terrorists on the deep web

deep web henry jackson society
Credit: Wikicommons

An influential foreign policy think tank has called for the UK Government to take tougher action on online extremism, in a report published on Sunday.

The authors say that some “areas of the web”, including the deep web and the Darknet, “have become a safe haven for Islamic State to plot its next attack.”

The research published by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) suggests that the British government should create an “Internet Regulation Body” and increase funding to “build intelligence capital on the Darknet”.

The HJS report suggests that terrorists are using encrypted apps such as Telegram to communicate, drawing some sympathisers from social media sites into Darknet forums for recruitment and indoctrination, building propaganda reservoirs out of reach of governments and tech companies, and using cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin to fund terrorist activities.

The deep web is distinct from the surface web, which contains information available through familiar search engines like Google and Yahoo. It holds 400 times more information, provides users with greater anonymity, and is harder access. A tiny fraction of the deep web is comprised of the Darknet – a highly unregulated part of the internet where users enjoy optimum anonymity.

Content on the Darknet ranges from secret communication between human rights activists, to illicit drug and weapons markets, hitman services and extremist forums.

In a speech given in February, Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that the 5 terror attacks which struck the UK in 2017, killing 57, had an “online component”, lamenting “remote radicalisation.”

The Manchester arena bomber was alleged to have used YouTube to learn bomb making, and the Home Office found that IS used more than 400 online platforms to spread propaganda in 2017.

A number of young Britons who have left to join IS in the Middle East are said to have been radicalised online.

Despite these apparent problems, the report is likely to draw criticism from some quarters.

Freedom House, an independent civil liberties watchdog released a report in 2015, describing internet surveillance in the UK as “undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable.”

That same year, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal said publicly that the UK intelligence agency had been illegally collecting bulk data for 17 years. An EU court also declared that the UK’s data retention rules imposed on internet providers “cannot be justified” within a democracy.

Despite the criticism, the government passed the Investigatory Powers Act – otherwise known as the Snoopers Charter – in 2016. The legislation authorised bulk surveillance in the UK and was described by The United Nations special rapporteur on privacy as “disproportionate”.

This trend of increasing surveillance appears likely to continue, raising concerns over free speech.

Around 27% of the World’s internet users live in countries where arrests have been made, of people publishing, sharing and even “liking” Facebook content. Freedom House said in 2017 that internet freedom is declining globally for the 7th consecutive year.

The New Yorker Radio Hour: American Bombs Falling on Yemen

Abdulqader Hilal Al-Dabab, known as Hilal, was the mayor of Sana’a. He died in March, alongside more than 140 others, when a Saudi ‘double tap air strike’ hit a funeral ceremony. The falling walls of the Grand Hall buried him; and he passed away in the ambulance to the hospital.

Host Nicolas Niarchos speaks to Hilal’s son, a student in the US, about his father’s path and principles, and how we tried to keep Sana’a running throughout the war. Zooming out, the podcast also critically examines origins of the war and the British and American support to the Saudi air force, which keeps it going. And it talks about the future, which has just gotten even a bit bleaker, as a whole generation of potential peacemakers died that day in March.



Strexit 2018: The British town that wants its own Brexit

The PanEuropean reports from Stratford-upon-Avon, where a breakaway movement wants its own, localised Brexit. Or as they’re calling it, Strexit.

A campaign group in a British market town believes that Brexit does not go far enough. Or rather, come close enough. They want to implement Brexit locally, so that the townsfolk can enjoy the advantages in advance of the national negotiations, without being held back by delays or transition periods.

John King and Richard Vos, leaders of the new movement in the West Midlands town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, see no reason why the principles behind Brexit cannot be rolled out immediately to benefit everyone in the town. The group they have founded, dubbed STRIP (Stratford Independence for the People), has expanded from a founding nucleus of 6 to a present total of 28.

“We are hoping the public will not refer to us as strippers, like they call UKIP voters kippers”, says King. “So far this doesn’t seem to have happened; I think people recognise that we have a perfectly serious point to make, which deserves to be respected”.

The aim of the group is to let locals take back control of their own affairs, without interference from bureaucrats in London who do not understand the town’s history and special status.

“Stratford was a great place in Shakespeare’s day, and we want to make it great again”, explains Vos, “but we must cut the red tape that has tied our hands for so long. Give the town back to those who actually live here, not the ones who are just passing through, taking advantage of all our facilities”.


Thousands of foreign tourists invade Stratford every year, who STRIP say traipse through Shakespeare’s birthplace, causing damage for which locals must foot the bill, not to mention the traffic congestion and additional road repairs needed. Some group member have suggested building a wall for security, following the example of York and other famous English towns and cities in the past. But King plays the idea down.

“Of course that is not practicable. We will settle for border points on the main roads, where documents can be checked. Anyone not from Warwickshire will be required to pay a small tariff, which will help the town’s finances enormously”.

“People from London will probably require a visa”, adds King.  “It’s not that we don’t like Londoners, but there’s plenty of room for them in the great metropolis”.

So how would Stratford look if the group achieves its aims?

“Shall I compare it to a summer’s day?” quips Sophie West, another founder member. “Seriously, those sunlit uplands the Government talks about would suit Stratford very well. I can’t think of a better place to showcase the new era that the country is looking forward to”.

But the group’s vision does not stop at Stratford-upon-Avon. There are hundreds of towns all over England which could be liberated to realise their true identities, claim the campaigners.

“If we can strike a blow for freedom here, there will be no stopping us,” says an ebullient West. “Strexit will serve as a model for the rest of the country. We’ve started something big and if anyone doesn’t like it, they can go whistle”.

‘Women Rule’ with Democratic Senator of North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp

On this week’s episode of ‘Women Rule – Backstage with Female Bosses’, POLITICO’s Anna Palmers sits with Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic Senator of traditionally Republican North Dakota, for an open talk about her politics.

The conversation touches upon many topics, for example Heitkamp’s impression that in American politics, regional divides are actually often stronger party or gender lines. (She comes from a very North Dakotan small, where her family made up 10% of the constituency.) They talk also about how it is to be a woman in politics, about alliances between female politicians, and about the importance of putting gender aside in political battles.

And then they speak of course about her – for a Democrat controversial – support for the Second Amendment and reluctance towards stronger gun control, and her cooperative stance towards president Trump.


Postcast of the Week: The Bijlmer, City of the Future

In 1933 the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM) took place on the S.S. Patris bound for Athens from Marseilles. While soaking up the Mediterranean sun, the architects drafted the ‘Athens Charter’, which contained their vision for the city of the future. Thirty years later, the city planners of Amsterdam took on their ideas to create the Bijlmermeer.

Locally known as the ‘Bijlmer’, the complex is about a half-hour bike ride from the city center, and is truly a realisation of the Amsterdam in concrete. The architects deliberated over every aspect of modern ways of living. However, the white middle class, the intended audience, did not want to leave the crowded and unstructured heart of Amsterdam. As a result, many of the 31 concrete towers remained empty until new arrivals, especially from Suriname, moved in.

In this two-episode ‘City of the Future’ special, 99% invisible host Roman Mars tells the story of the Bijlmer: he talks of the dream, the many setbacks during construction, the multiculturalism, the catastrophe that struck in the form of an airplane crashing into one of the towers, the subsequent reconstruction, and the future. The Bijlmer is clearly not what its planners envisioned. In fact it’s still evolving.


See here the trailer of the film “Architects’ Congress“ by László Moholy-Nagy about the CIAM 1933 sailing from Athens to Marseille.


The Bijlmermeer

Podcast ‘EXPERIMENT’ by Stories from the Eastern West

Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic: the countries that lie to the east of Germany and Austria don’t feature much in European discourse – except for the odd head-shake over the latest populist or nationalist tendencies. Stories from the Eastern West (SFTEW) delves beyond the familiar narrative and tells the “hidden history” of these places.

The episode ‘EXPERIMENT’ recalls the story of how the first studio producing experimental electronic music was founded in Poland in 1957 – in a climate dominated by authorities hostile towards new, and especially Western forms of cultural expression. Jazz music, for example, was banned. But Eugeniusz Rudnik manoeuvred through the political obstacles to achieve his dream: to make the Polish Experimental Radio Studio a place for the creation of unheard sounds and recordings.


Forming a choir: making music with refugees in Athens

We no longer need English or French, because they are not our languages. We realise that through music our barriers fall, and through music we communicate. We can forget where we come from.
The Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

“When I make music, I forget everything, the dark thoughts go away,” says Ahmed.

It’s the December 11, 2017, and I am in the heart of Exarchia, an anarchist neighbourhood in Athens.

I’m staying at at the Orange House (“Zaatar”), an accommodation and cultural centre for refugees. At the moment I am running around Athens, struggling to find a guitar, and I’m becoming increasingly impatient. Tomorrow morning, I’m making music with the refugees.

My friend Marina, the Franco-Greek founder of The Orange House is currently on leave, hence I’m here to supervise the house.

The next day is a riotous affair. Twenty children, teenagers, adults and even old people show up. We don’t have enough instruments, but I expected this: the two guitars will go to the guitarists, and the others will sing. Those who can’t sing? They can keep the beat going.

Obviously, nothing goes as planned. When I ask an Afghan woman to sing the classical C-major scale, she sings the harmonic minor scale: the oriental scale. I audition the others, but she is the only one who can really sing. My dreams of a harmonious choir are short lived.

I improvise: the rhythm, that’s what we’ll focus on. But I can’t help lose hope – very few have a sense of rhythm, and those who do can’t help but speed up to a furious pace.

The first classes are tough. My choir keeps getting distracted, and after five minutes, they lose track. They get up, talk on the phone, and walk around the improvised classroom – all with good reason.

Ahmed has had nowhere to sleep for more than two weeks, and spends his nights in Victoria Square, the home of many refugees in Athens. As a 17-year-old Pakistani, his status as a “single man” does him no favours. No NGO can find him accommodation.

Fahed, a 19-year-old Syrian, is obsessed with Calais and England. He is desperate to join up with the English woman he married in a camp in Gaziantep during his journal, but his marriage is not recognised by the British government. To make matters worse, France has recently closed its relocation programme, deeming it to have fulfilled its goals.

Anousha is Iranian. She is 50 years old. Forced to marry a violent husband at the age of 15, she has born the brunt of insults, punches and humiliation that have marked her forever, decimating any self-confidence she might have had. Every five minutes she tells me she’ll never make it, that she’s not good at anything.

Anja, a 15-year-old Afghan girl, is extremely enthusiastic, despite not remembering anything I tell her.

Olivier never smiles. The 21-year-old from the Congo is always sad, and is not motivated enough to participate in the class. Despite that, he keeps coming back.

All of my students arrive looking tense. They are haunted by their past traumas: they mourn for their former countries and way of life, often succumbing to nostalgia. This feeling is compounded by the more concrete problems of finding accommodation, staving off inactivity, learning the new language and dealing with a painstakingly slow bureaucracy. Yet when smiles are drawn, the tenseness fades – we even laugh for a moment.

At the end of class, they leave whistling, and thank me: “the music is magic, it’s really good”.

“See you tomorrow, huh?” they insist. And the next day, they are there, at the ready – they even arrive early to make sure not to miss a session. Eventually the choir gets to know one another. I discover that some take a two-hour bus not to miss the six o’clock guitar lesson. The kids love to come and listen. I invite them to join in by clapping rhythm with their hands, but they opt for cooking utensils and standing on the tables. They’re not always in rhythm, but they laugh!

Olivier teaches Congolese rumba to Hassan, who spent a year in prison. Fahed starts again on a famous old American tune.

Anousha and Anja ask me to play the chords of a well-known Persian song by Salar Aghili – they sing it together.

We realise that through music our barriers fall, and through music we communicate. We can forget where we come from.

We realise that through music our barriers fall, and through music we communicate. We can forget where we come from. They look at each other and the music takes shape, and the melodies blossom with rhythm. Bonds are formed, and I see real smiles.

Fahed insists that I teach him to play “happy birthday”. I don’t like the melody, but I try anyway. He doesn’t quite get it and I lose patience, so he films me playing it with his phone. He tells me he would have liked to play it himself – it’s a gift for his wife in England from Athens.

I’m embarrassed, what does it matter if “happy birthday” is not my favourite song, I could have made an effort.

Ironically this is what I am thanked for. By not treating them as if they were made of glass, as victims, but for seeing them as equals. By forgetting, for a moment, their status “refugee” – this word that sticks to their skin, and is so hard to remove.


Emmanuelle Stein

Podcast of the Week: Reggaeton In The Age of #MeToo

This week Alt.Latino, NPR’s program about Latin Alternative music and Latino culture, discusses the controversial aspects of Reggeaton, a genre often criticized for its highly sexualized portrayal and use of women. In the context of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the topic got attention once again after the recent Grammy performance of ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, had many scantily clad women shaking their butts around the two male singers.

Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras and his two guests, the scholars of Latin American culture Petra Rivera Rideau and Omaris Zamora, take both an academic and a personal look at the issue. They are neither out to defend, nor to condemn Reggeaton. Rather they are trying to understand why the music sounds as it does, and the various perspectives from which it can be interpreted, without propagating one truth.