Film Reviews
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Talking About Talking About Israel

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Dialogue is divisive, but it's our best hope too.

In any controversial political or social subject, discussions can quickly devolve into tense conversations or even irate screaming matches. The latest global issue that this applies to is the quickly devolving situation between Israel and Palestine.

Engaging in dialogue on this particular matter really seems to rile people up and perhaps for good reason given the complexities. For one, media coverage can be very one-sided or downright wrong as the recent case of Diane Sawyer illustrates—she incorrectly identified a photo showing devastating wreckage as being in Israel when it was actually in Gaza. ABC later apologized for the mistake. Additionally, studies have shown that people tend to gravitate towards information they already agree with. But since both parties in this case have committed atrocities, both sides have valid arguments against one another (although this often leads to the blame game which can lead into centuries of grievances). Researchers have also hashed out an idea called Identity-Protective Cognition which suggests that people reject information that threatens their identity. While this behavior can be relatively innocuous on an individual level, it can turn dangerous, even deadly, once it's applied to groups. If someone does accept the information, they face rejection and could potentially lose close relationships. The conflict between Israel and Palestine harbors all of these elements as well as others, including the complex role of the U.S.

Of course getting people to talk is probably the best way to stop the deaths that are occurring—at least 612 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed in just two weeks. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has pushed both sides to “stop fighting” and “start talking.” Here, Jon Stewart finds out what happens when the topic is broached:

Photo by gnuckx, licensed under Creative Commons.

Living to Work or Working to Live

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The case for guaranteed paid vacation time.

While we may think of vacation time as a luxury, other countries view it as a right. In fact, the U.S. is the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation days. While the majority of employers do provide paid days off, 28 million people don't get this benefit (about a quarter of the workforce). Compare this to France where all workers get an average of 30 days or even Japan, known for its strenuous work hours, where employees are allowed 10 days. Even developing countries such as Tanzania (21 days), Sierra Leone (18 days), and Ecuador (15 days) have provisions.   

That’s why Hotels.com has initiated the Vacation Equality Project which hopes to gather 100,000 signatures for a petition aimed at Congress and the White House. The president of Hotels.com, Johan Svanstrom said, “We are a strong believer in the power of vacation and we hope that the Vacation Equality Project will help increase awareness of this issue.” There are several benefits to paid time off. Obviously employees gain from it, but the companies they work for also do as worker performance tends to improve. Additionally it would help the economy. As of 2013, leisure spending came to $620 billion dollars. This included sectors such as air transportation, recreation, and lodging. If 25 percent of the working population were added, billions more would be put into the economy and it would create additional jobs in the domestic tourism industry.

Photo by Damian Gadal, licensed under Creative Commons.

 

Understanding the Food System Week by Week

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The Food List brings attention to a particular food topic to catalyze sustainability and accountability.

Navigating our food system can be a challenging process—each month it seems like there’s a new trend and understanding our daily impact within a larger context can be difficult. That’s why The Lexicon of Sustainability has kicked off The Food List. Each week for a year, the project breaks down specific topics such as food waste, packaging, seeds, and humane treatment. This week’s theme is traceability and it focuses on the seafood industry. The comprehensive guide provides readers with information in a multitude of formats which can appeal to a wide range of ages. The topic’s webpage features terms related to the topic, a film, activities, information artwork, interviews and a recipe, all provided so readers can learn about overfishing and accountability efforts. Then when consumers go to the grocery store, they have better knowledge about how fish is raised and what to watch out for on product labels.   

The lists are compiled from a multitude of sources, from environmentalists to consumer rights groups to farmers themselves. The project's overall aim is to “bring transparency and accountability to our nation’s food system and the impact it has on our environment and health.” You can sign up for The Food List or visit their website each week to read up on the latest (and past) themes.

Photo courtesy of The Lexicon of Sustainability.

Peeling Back the Label

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Behind the Brands ranks the ‘Big 10’ food companies based on seven different categories.

The global food system is profoundly flawed—there’s enough food being produced yet one in eight are undernourished; food and beverage companies pollute water sources and have unfair labor practices; costs related to diabetes amount to $245 billion dollars annually in the U.S. and rates are only expected to rise. To bring awareness to some of these problems, Oxfam developed the Behind the Brands campaign. At their website, you can discover what products are owned by various corporations. For instance, Unilever owns Hellmann’s, Lipton, and even Ben & Jerry’s. You can then check out the scorecard for the company. Unilever has a 63 percent score which is based on ratings that take into account land, women, farmers, workers, climate, transparency and water. When the campaign launched in February of 2013, Unilever came in at 49 percent so already there's been some progress. Of the ‘Big 10’ companies, General Mills ranks last at only 21 percent.

The purpose of Behind the Brands is not just awareness. It's also launched actions to get consumers to petition specific companies on specific issues. Mars and Nestle were compelled by over 100,000 people to improve conditions for women cocoa farmers. And more than 225,000 people pressured Coke to commit to a “zero tolerance” policy on land grabs which have become a problem in sugar-producing areas. Judy Beals, the Behind the Brands campaign manager said, “The public response to the campaign has been tremendous. This commitment is further evidence that no company is too big to listen to its customers. The biggest food giants in the world are changing how they operate because consumers are demanding it.”

Photo by tanakawho, licensed under Creative Commons.

Strengthening Citizen Journalism Through Transparency

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Citizen Evidence Lab assists in verifying footage and images submitted by citizen journalists.

Globally more people have access to cell phones than to proper sanitation. Combine this with the fact that news outlets have slashed their budgets and you can see why the role of citizen journalism is increasingly important as a source for information. Often using mobile phones, locals on the ground have been able to capture protests, conflict, and human rights abuses in regions with limited access for reporters. Not only is the work of citizen journalists being published in media outlets, but it can also be utilized to inform policies and humanitarian aid directives.

But how can we validate photos and footage that have been submitted by citizen journalists? Thanks to Amnesty International, the process has become more streamlined using their new site Citizen Evidence Lab. The website features a step-by-step process for analyzing pictures and footage which includes using reverse image searches and a ‘Stress Test’ that asks basic questions about the video’s uploader and content. Video can also be evaluated using the YouTube Data Viewer which extracts metadata, giving viewers a more accurate idea of when and where the video was shot. Additionally the site has case studies and sample exercises. Christoph Koettl developed the project and says, “We don't see a lot of manipulated videos, but we do see a lot of videos shared in the wrong context—either old footage or the completely wrong location or country.”

The site is still a work in progress and Koettl will make changes based on feedback he receives from users. He also hopes that it will eventually evolve into a database which people can use to find authenticated media.

Photo by Nasser Nouri, licensed under Creative Commons.

Björk Comes to the Classroom

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An app-album becomes an educational tool to explore creativity, music, and science.

Björk released Biophilia in 2011 as an app-album. It combined song, technology, video, and games, and since then it has evolved into a unique educational program. The album was built upon further by educators and coders to create the Biophilia Educational Program, which allows users to explore design and ecology, and to learn how sound and science are related. The program utilizes both touch-screen interactivity and hands-on lessons. Each song is integrated with topics such as viruses, the solar system, and earthquakes. It’s aimed at children ages 8-15 and its unconventional format is said to help students with ADHD or learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

There have been Biophilia workshops held in Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, New York City, Norway, and the UK. Chris Shoemaker from the New York Public Library says, “Over 20 teens excitedly delved into the Biophilia app to explore music, nature and technology in hands-on after-school programs. Week after week, the teens used iPads to create their own songs and explore the inner workings of the Biophilia universe, while weekly science experiments allowed them to transfer skills and knowledge between the digital and physical worlds.”

While it's a stretch to see this becoming part of Common Core, the Biophilia Educational Program is slated to be introduced as part of the official curriculum in some Scandinavian schools.

Photo by F de Falso, licensed under Creative Commons.

The First Commons Country

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Ecuador is making strides towards becoming a post-capitalist society.

While a few companies have opened up to post-capitalist ideas such as open source patents, Ecuador is the first and so far only country to embrace moving towards a holistically commons-based framework. The FLOK Society (which stands for free, libre, open knowledge) was founded in conjunction with the government, with the intention of opening up education, technology, and civil society so that everyone has access and is a part of these resources. Other initiatives relate to sustainability and the arts. Underpinning this idea is the belief that the neoliberal model in Ecuador has exploited its people and resources and that a new model needs to take its place. The commons model that is being established pays particular attention to indigenous groups. Many of these communities have been hurt by ‘biopiracy’ from scientists and pharmaceutical companies, so the FLOK Society is working to implement Commons-Based Reciprocity Licensing.

Michel Bauwens, creator of the P2P Foundation was brought on as the Research Director and says, “To work for a sustainable society and economy is absolutely crucial for the future of humanity, and while we respect the freedoms of people to engage in market dynamics for the allocation of rival goods, we cannot afford a system of infinite growth and scarcity engineering, which is what capitalism is.” Bauwens explains more here:

Photo by M+M Photographers, licensed under Creative Commons.