OZY on Fashion + Protest

Fashionable model.

Getting Guilt-Free Garb

Can we shop ourselves into a perfect world? In a little utopia within the fashion industry, all the fabrics are organic, all the wages are fair and all the clothes are good-looking. Whatever you call it — sustainable fashion, ethical clothing, slow fashion — this utopia was until recently pure fantasy. Some 70 percent of consumers say they’d pay more for ethically sourced clothes. But retailers, consultants and activists say sweeping change won’t come until big companies commit to sustainable supply chains. 

Eyeing Fashion, Not Conflict

When fighting erupted in Juba, South Sudan, last December between government forces and rebels loyal to an ousted vice president, it threatened to unravel everything the new country had built, both physically and culturally. One such cultural touchstone was Juba’s emerging fashion industry, led by designers such as Akuja de Garang. Her annual Festival of Fashion & Arts for Peace has drawn the attention of international press, which hailed her as one of South Sudan’s enterprising repats helping to define the new country’s cultural identity. Award-winning war photographer Ben Lowy shared some of his most stunning images — not of violence, but of fashion, and of one new country’s attempt to build beauty amid violence.

 

Dressing to Impress in the Congo

Dressing fabulously can be an act of creative self-expression — and an elegant form of protest. At first glance, La Sape — short for the “Society for the Advancement of Elegant People” — is a slightly surreal concept. After all, it’s not every day one sees men roaming the streets of a depressed, war-torn country dressed in candy-colored three-piece suits, bow ties and fedoras, which might seem frivolous in a country where just under half the population lives in poverty. But the movement aims to do more than help people forget their troubles. It has become a subtle form of social activism.

Get Lit Up: California Bookstore Day

woman looking at books

Attention readers: Put down your iPads and prepare to squabble over one-of-a-kind signed prints by Lemony Snicket as if they are Cabbage Patch Kids.  

On May 3, at 93 indie bookstores up and down the Golden State, is the first-ever California Bookstore Day. “Think Record Store Day for nerds,” explains Pete Mulhvill co-owner of San Francisco’s beloved Green Apple Books (recently dubbed Bookstore of the Year’ by Publishers Weekly) who came up with the idea.

Illustration of bear reading with california flag colors

Green Apple Books’ Pete Mulvihill

Source Nate Keck

Last year, Mulhvill, the 40-something father of twins who bikes daily from the beach to his bookstore, pitched the notion of a nationwide bookstore day to the American Booksellers Association. They weren’t quite sold – but the Northern and Southern California’s Independent Booksellers Association was, and signed on as sponsors. Next, Mulhvill garnered support from bigwig publishers like Penguin, Random House and HarperCollins, who all agreed to put out special items for the occasion. And then the wise man roped in his wife (writer and OZY contributor), Samantha Schoech, to produce the all-day statewide event. 

Perpetual New York Times best-selling author James Patterson donated a nice chunk of change to the cause, too, while Schoech went about soliciting contributions from local lit stars like Dave Eggers and Isabelle Allende and Michael Pollan. “Every single author we asked said yes, without hesitation,” says Schoech. The result? 13 very cool limited edition “word-based” works — available in-store only on May 3rd. Not just books, but wooden stencils and recipe boxes and a bag with an Egger’s story silkscreened all over it. 

Over the last few months, in-the-know Californians have been getting excited, slapping bumper stickers on cars and proudly carrying canvas totes adorned with the CBD’s hand-drawn logo of a black bear snug on a rug holding a book. It was the winning entry of “not very many,” admitted Schoech. “But it’s so cute, we didn’t care.”

Whether book lovers will sleep on sidewalks overnight for signed copies of George Saunders’ famous graduation speech “Congratulations by the Way” the way record store fans recently did for limited vinyl editions of Tears for Fears’ “Ready Boys & Girls?” remains to be seen.

Regardless, CBD is bound to be the most fun you’ve ever had at a bookstore. Sipping Starbucks at Barnes & Noble doesn’t count. 

Plans vary by bookseller, but we’ve heard rumors of mimosas and literary costume contests and free flowers with purchase. Live author talks and al fresco wine bars and food trucks (of course). It’s like one big book fair from San Diego to San Francisco to Eureka — but better. Folks coming together not just to, you know, support their kids’ school (a worthy if often obligatory cause), but to honor the written (and printed) word — and the living, breathing people and places behind them.

A simple, old-fashioned idea — one that was ironically hatched in the tech-happy Bay Area, a part of the country better known for killing print than promoting it.

It’s no secret that San Francisco has always felt a little inferior to the publishing powerhouse that is NYC, but Left Coast literary types expect a little payback with California Bookstore Day. “Apparently,” says program director Schoech, “New York booksellers are jealous they didn’t think of it first.” 

A Selection of CBD’s Literary Loot
Available one day and one day only! And, no, sorry, definitely not on Amazon.com. 

1. Congratulations, By the Way, by George Saunders
(Random House) $20
A special CBD edition of Saunders’ epic eight-minute convocation May 2013 address at Syracuse University is signed, numbered, and doodled in by the author. (Hello, Ideal Gift for any upcoming graduate.)

2. Depressed. Repressed. Obsessed. 3-Panel Book Reviews by Lisa Brown
(California Bookstore Day Publishing) $17.99
68 hardback pages of wit and humor and amazing full-color illustrations by Brown. Signed and numbered, it includes an intro by the bestselling author of the Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books, Mo Willems.

3. “Bad Citizen” Stencil by Don DeLillo
(California Bookstore Day Publishing) $35
CBD was given permission by DeLillo to turn an iconic quote from his novel White Noise into a wooden stencil you can hang as art, turn into a T-shirt—or use it as a graffiti artist might.

4. Recipes from Michael Pollan’s Kitchen, by Michael Pollan
(Penguin Group) $16
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” A gorgeous little box of old-school recipe cards that feature Pollan’s personal recipes, plus a note from the bestselling author and food guru, too.

5. Bookstories, by Various Contributors
(McSweeney’s) $30
Short, literary odes by selected McSweeneys’ writers that detail the best bookstores they know of that don’t exist. In an accordion book that loosens to unfold a hidden, multi-panel illustration inspired by the California landscape.

John Onoje’s Army of One

Portrait of John with blue hat in front of statue during the day outdoors

John Onoje is describing the last time he was beaten up, when three tracksuited teens stroll up to him. “Whatever happened, happened. Let it go,” the taller, spottier one says, smiling, before high-fiving his pals and walking off.

“He’s the guy who did this,” says Onoje, fingering a huge scar on his chin and pulling up a grainy video on his phone: It’s the same three boys, in the same place we’re at now, Ştefan cel Mare Park, cornering him. “Hey, nigger! Nigger!” they scream in the video, pushing and punching him to the ground.

“I told the police what they said, but they told me it wasn’t a registered offensive word,” Onoje says, gazing downward. “This is normal for me.”

John Onoje fled civil war in Sierra Leone 15 years ago and ended up in Moldova. Labeled the country’s ‘only black man,’ Onoje has been a refugee, a newspaper vendor and, now, a leading voice for EU membership. It’s improbable, from start to finish. However, Onoje’s European dream isn’t born of lofty ideals but everyday violence. EU membership is his ticket from regular beatings — or worse — since, with an EU passport, he could leave the country.

Moldova’s a small spit of land between Romania and Ukraine. A corrupt and desperately poor place, Moldova may be powerless to prevent Russian annexation, should Vladimir Putin decide to reclaim another former Soviet satellite. Moscow has started squeezing by outlawing Moldovan wine exports.

Rattled, the government has stepped up EU courtship. Likewise has Onoje, who believes that a West-leaning outlook would free Moldova from Russian “tyranny.” Many, though, would rather see a return to Russian rule. The country is divided.

And that makes Onoje’s quest rather urgent.

In 1999, Onoje — studious and a daily churchgoer — was earning a master’s in business administration in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, to add to his physics undergrad degree. 

Eight years into the country’s civil war, a shell hit Onoje’s family home. His mom and dad died instantly. “That was the end of Freetown for me,” he says. 

With help from friends at Médecins Sans Frontières, Onoje boarded a ship bound for Europe, and three weeks later arrived in Chișinău, Moldova’s crumbling capital. “I didn’t know anything about Moldova,” he says.

Within a few years, Moldova would know about him.

In 2001 Onoje obtained refugee status and eked out a living hawking newspapers at Chișinău’s central bus station, a choking mess of street vendors and second-hand smoke. Waking at seven, he’d visit the printers and work all day, every day. On the nights he had a roof to sleep under, Onoje headed straight to bed. Going out for a drink? Too dangerous. “If I go out, they’d kill me,” he says.

After four years, Onoje moved from newspapers to tea and coffee, which he still sells at a giant open-air market beside the bus station. He can make 100 leu ($7) on a good day, and buys a bed at a local Catholic mission. His passport application languished for years, which he blames on the red tape of the communist government under then-President Vladimir Voronin. “That was the worst thing,” he says. “Plus, I was getting beaten so much — oh, how many times I went to the hospital.” He rolls up the sleeves of his velvet blazer. Nicks and scars everywhere.

John in hat and dark coat holding a sign yelling outdoors during the day

John Onoje, an immigrant from Sierra Leone and now a citizen of Moldova, holds a banner while accusing Iurie Roşca, leader of the Christian Popular Democratic Party, of treason.

Source Dumitru Doru/EPA/Corbis

Onoje finally got Moldovan citizenship in 2011. And that December, he ran for president under the banner of the National Liberal Party (PNL), which favors reunification with Romania. He lost. 

He made Voronin furious, though. As Onoje mounted a soapbox in Ştefan cel Mare Park, Voronin told supporters just a few yards away that the PNL had “brought here a negro, who’d just climbed down from a tree. And now he’s doing politics for them.” Social Democrat leader Victor Șelin urged Onoje’s citizenship be revoked.

“After that, people attacked me every day,” Onoje says. The worst beating came a year later, when three men forced Onoje into a public toilet in broad daylight. He tried to call the cops. “Don’t bother,” one said. “We are the police.”

After the fall of communism, Moldova’s agrarian economy slumped, and the nation today is a fragmented hash of ethno-linguistic groups. About a quarter of its 3.6 million people speak Russian natively. Half a million of those live in Transnistria, a closed-off pseudo-state that has enjoyed de facto independence since a civil war froze in 1992.

Most are upset that the current regime is courting EU membership. Moldova’s prime minister, Iurie Leancă, claims it will make the economy more “predictable.” 

On a Sunday afternoon in Ştefan cel Mare Park, kids breakdance on cardboard beside flat-capped pensioners who drink home brew from two-liter bottles. Next door, swanky bars sell cocktails to government suits. Soviet-era trolleybuses roll next to $100,000 Mercedes down the chiasmic main avenue, past the Parliamentary Palace.

And there in the park stands Onoje, speaking to a crowd of around four — two of whom seem lost — and filmed by Oleg Brega, a local journalist who befriended Onoje during his 2011 presidency run. Brega even took him in for a fortnight when the tea trade ran dry. Onoje isn’t Moldova’s only black man, Brega tells me: “We have a lot of mixed-race people — Roma, Asians from Pakistan, Tajikistan, others — but John is the most visible.” Brega doesn’t share all of Onoje’s views, but says his courage is inspiring. “He doesn’t represent his people, or Moldovans, or Romanians. None of them have the bravery he does,” he says.

As sunlight crackles through the trees, Onoje runs through his spiel: Moldova is lost without Europe, he says. And without Romania, there is no Europe at all.

John in suit and hat holding sign yelling on the steps of a building outdoors during the day

Failed presidential candidate John Onoje, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, now a citizen of Moldova, protests in front of the Republican Palace before a meeting of the Moldovan parliament in Chisinau, 16 December 2011.

Heckles.

The second time we speak, it’s Onoje’s 55th birthday. He has no plans for revelry. When the Moldova-EU accord is signed, says Onoje, then he’ll have a drink.

He’s not sure why he has stayed in Moldova: Perhaps it’s the fight. But now a middle-aged man, all he really wants is to find someone he can settle down with. “I could never get married here,” he sighs. “The racists wouldn’t let me. They don’t want to see black and white mix. And besides, what is love? I don’t even have freedom. You can only have love if you’re free.

“I am not happy,” he adds. “But I’ll be happy when they sign that paper in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll go out that night, have a drink and enjoy my freedom.”

But for now, Moldova’s Only Black Man is trapped.

Could the Medical Profession Learn Something from Ikea?

Asian woman looking an MRI results

What if you could have all of your health care needs met through one office?

Take, for example, a possibly broken nose — it’s not so terrible you automatically think Emergency Room, but it’s definitely painful enough to see a doctor. You go to your general practitioner, who refers you to a specialist in another practice. There’s not much to be done but prescribe some painkillers, a script you have to take to yet a third business — the pharmacy – to fill. You’re exhausted. You’re out several co-pays. And your nose still hurts. But what if you could do it all under one roof? 

You go for an annual physical, and an in-house nutritionist pops in to help with that cholesterol problem, while a pharmacist fills your prescription, and a care coordinator schedules follow-ups. The paperwork to deal with specialists? Not your job anymore. And if you have a problem after 5 p.m., that’s OK — just call, someone will pick up the phone. 

Because these practices offer more preventive care and longer hours, they keep more people out of the ER…

There’s a model for this, known as a patient-centered medical home. And it’s growing. Fast. In 2008 the National Committee for Quality Assurance had certified 28 practices to be patient-centered medical homes. As of March 31, there are 7,118 practices certified to be these one-stop medical shops around the country. They’re concentrated on the coasts, and in the big Western states like Texas. The NCQA has links to accredited practices. 

 

Your insurance company might have a list too. They’re pretty gung-ho about the cost savings the one-stops could provide — so much so that Andy Reynolds, a spokesman for the NCQA, a non-profit that certifies PCMH practices, says many insurers will pay for all the costs related to PCMH certifications. Because these practices offer more preventive care and longer hours, they keep more people out of the ER and (hopefully) head off more serious medical complications before they arise. Think more than $60 billion in medical savings a year. 

Not every transition to the new model has gone smoothly thus far. One health care industry journal reports note that patients can fall through the cracks, their care forgotten, as doctors shift file-keeping and patient-tracking systems.

But Americans are likely to see more PCMHs, in part due to the Affordable Care Act. 

Under the ACA, offices deemed “health homes” can be eligible to receive extra funds, depend on their state. There are also bonuses for general practitioners who open their office up to treat more Medicare and Medicaid patients — an impetus for the patients and the doctors to create new “health homes” for them as well, especially focused on upping preventative care and lowering emergency visits. It could save the government $175 billion in health care spending by 2020, according to NIH estimates.

It could save the government $175 billion in health care spending by 2020, according to NIH estimates. 

And many areas are using guidelines already out there, like those of the NCQA, to determine “health homes” for funding purposes. 

So expect to see more of these PCMHs soon, if you haven’t already. Including your own GP.  

Brazil’s Former Military Dictatorship

BW headshot of João Goulart

“Are you prepared to kill?” the retired general had asked Jean Marc, a young student who had arrived at Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Palace 50 years ago to support a military takeover. Marc believed that he was fighting for democracy and just wanted to help out.

Members of the military had barricaded themselves into the grandiose headquarters of Rio’s state government. But killing was not what Marc had in mind, and he was swiftly sent packing. “This is a place for killing and dying,” said the general.

Brazil’s dictatorship became a blueprint for fascist regime change. Think: Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Uruguay.

His words were prophetic, and helped usher in 21 years of military rule.

Democracy was finally fully restored in 1989. But as Brazil marks five decades since the coup, many say that the brutal legacy of human rights abuse remains disturbingly in place.

Brazil’s military takeover also became a template in Latin America over subsequent decades: A left-wing leader or guerrilla groups sparked fears of a communist revolution, prompting a coup led by hard-line military officials supported by right-leaning social groups and covertly backed by the United States.

While Brazil’s rulers were less murderous than those in other countries, their dictatorship became a blueprint for fascist regime change. Think: Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Uruguay.

Brazil fell that day into “one long night of darkness,” said a recent Facebook status of the country’s president Dilma Rousseff.

Troops marched into Rio on March 31, 1964, and seized power from the country´s democratically elected president, João Goulart.

President Goulart, nicknamed “Jango,” had introduced leftist reforms after taking office, taking steps to control the profits of multinational companies and expropriate disused land and properties.

Soldiers by a tank in the night in black and white

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Troops manning medium tanks guarded the War Ministry throughout the night as rumblings began against the leftist-leaning regime of President João Goulart.

Source Globo/Getty

A speech on March 13, 1964, in which he promised to nationalize Brazil’s oil reserves, proved to be his undoing.

Thousands of opponents filled the streets in a “March of Families for God and Freedom,” giving dissident military leaders confidence that they had enough popular support to instigate a successful coup. They marched on Rio de Janeiro, and Jango fled the country.

The day after the coup, Jean Marc walked with friends to the historic center of the city. They watched navy officers open fire on a group of unarmed protesters demonstrating outside a military club. The shooting, like others he heard about, never appeared in the press.

“Shocking, cowardly attacks,” said Jean Marc, today bearded, with white hair combed straight back, and working for an NGO advocating for organic farmers. Such acts became commonplace under a regime that outlawed dissent. 

Current President Rousseff was one of the thousands of people detained and tortured during the military´s rule, under which they might jail any perceived supporter of left-wing ideals. Hundreds of “sympathizers” were killed.

The impunity enjoyed by Brazil’s human rights abusers of the past contributes to impunity of security forces in the country today.

The economy soared under the dictatorship, at least for a while. Economic growth averaged 10 percent from 1968 to 1972, based in part on high levels of investment made with borrowed money. The rich prospered, but not the poor. Brazil struggled through the oil shocks of the 1970s and ended up with another classic Latin American story: debt crisis and hyperinflation.

More moderate military leadership in the late 1970s and early 1980s opened the door to mass protests that ultimately brought an end to dictatorship.

But the road to democracy was rough, and much of Brazil’s dark history remained hidden.

A Truth Commission was established only in 2011, long after other Latin American countries. Unlike its neighbors, Brazil’s probing of the past has no legal consequences, since a 1979 amnesty law continues to protect all perpetrators of abuses. No one has been tried for the torture and killings.

BW image of man speaking into microphones with many people around him

Joao Goulart talks during a meeting at Automóvel Clube View on March 30, 1964 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Source Globo/Getty

Amnesty International (AI) says the law is a serious breach of international human rights treaties, and is campaigning to repeal it.

Moreover, AI argues, the impunity enjoyed by human rights abusers of the past contributes to impunity of security forces in Brazil today. Extra-judicial killings and abuses are common within the country’s Military Police, which is run like an army unit, but officers are rarely prosecuted.

Police kill around 2,000 people a year, typically young men living in poor neighborhoods, leading to comparisons of the “social cleansing” that took place during the dictatorship.

Protesting also remains a dangerous business, with tear gas and rubber bullets a common response to even small outbreaks of violence during demonstrations.

“There is still fear — fear to discuss politics, fear to challenge the state,” said Mauricio Santoro from AI Brazil. ”We are now a democracy, but we still have a very long way to go.”

Biofuels vs. Disappearing Grasslands

Aerial view of grassland and riverbed during the day

There’s biofuel in them thar prairies!

You’ve got it, Yosemite Sam. A biofuel rush has officially swept the U.S., with farmers planting corn, soy, sugarcane and other plants for use in fuel. Their crops help meet the EPA requirement that almost all gasoline sold in the U.S. contain at least 10 percent corn ethanol, the most common biofuel. As early as the 1970s, scientists touted biofuels as a clean, renewable energy source. And since a cornfield can’t burst and pollute surrounding habitats like an underwater oil well might, some conservationists endorsed them as environmentally friendly. 

But recent data have put this onetime green energy panacea under scrutiny. Demand for corn ethanol helped triple the price of corn from 2005 to 2011. And studies have shown that corn, canola and other biofuel crops with high nitrogen requirements produce a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions

Such fast rates of grassland conversion haven’t been seen since the 1930s.

Now we might have another reason to second-guess biofuels. Between 2006 and 2011, farmers converted more than 1.3 million acres of Great Plains grasslands into corn and soybean fields, according to a report by South Dakota State University ecologists Christopher Wright and Michael Wimberly in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s a rate that keeps pace with deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia. Imagine 1.3 million football fields, or an area roughly the size of Delaware.

Field with dry soil in foreground

Soil erosion in field of soybeans near Corydon, Iowa, July 2013. 

Source Charlie Riedel/Corbis

Wright and Wimberly have put numbers on what had been only anecdotal evidence of “the worst-kept secret in the Northern Plains.”

“We’re not anti-farmer,” Wright says. “It’s just an important story that needs to get out there.”

Amber waves of grain…

When the Natural Agricultural Statistics Service released satellite images showing land coverage in the U.S. each year from 2006 to 2011, Wright and Wimberly weren’t sure what they’d find. They used their grant from the Department of Energy to study biofuel sources, and focused on the Western Corn Belt (WCB), a region that includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.

Farmers shoulder the risk, thanks to subsidized crop insurance and tantalizingly high prices.

As they combed through the data, their jaws dropped. “We were surprised at how much [grass conversion] there was and how quickly it was happening,” Wright says. Such fast rates haven’t been seen since the 1930s.

Wright and Wimberly saw an explosion of cropland even along the western edge of the WBC — a region prone to drought. But farmers shoulder the risk, thanks to federally subsidized crop insurance, not to mention tantalizingly high corn and soy prices.

Farmer inspecting corn on his cornfield

Farewell, Amber Waves of Grain

Source Corbis

North American grasslands, or prairie, is an ecosystem that once covered a wide swath of the continent, from the Rocky Mountains east to Texas. It’s responsible for the productive soils still found in the region. Grasslands trap floodwaters, absorb toxins from the soil and serve as crucial breeding grounds for ducks and other birds. 

Crop plants don’t hold carbon in their soil as well as native grasses, research shows. All plants “inhale” carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and “exhale” life-giving oxygen, collectively acting like the “lungs” of the global ecosystem. But grassland loss — similar to rainforest deforestation — reduces that lung capacity. What’s more, tilling the soil for planting stimulates bacteria to release carbon dioxide. And the birds that once nested in protective tall grasses now have populations that are plummeting faster than any other group of birds in North America. Today, Wright and Wimberly are also looking at how grassland loss affects bird migration.

Did the scientists get it right?

But the satellite images used in the study are “fraught with issues” — namely, they aren’t hi-res enough to distinguish crop switching from grassland loss, according to Benjamin Rashford, a professor of agriculture and applied economics at the University of Wyoming.

The researchers admit they struggled to distinguish croplands from grasslands using the satellite data. For example, hay grows naturally in grasslands but can also be planted for pasture, so the appearance of corn in a region once covered in hay might represent crop switching — not grassland loss.

Biofuel advocates also argue that although they aren’t quite “carbon neutral,” biofuels still come out on top. They emit less carbon dioxide than traditional fuels and the plants that serve as raw material do absorb some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Who are you going to believe — a satellite … or farmers who are on the land and know what’s happening on it?

Aerial view of grassland and riverbed during the day

Source Corbis

Geoff Cooper, senior vice president of research and analysis for the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry trade group, wonders why Wright and Wimberly didn’t verify the accuracy of the satellite data by visiting the farmland themselves. “Who are you going to believe — a satellite that can’t tell the difference between a prairie and a hayfield, or farmers who are on the land and know what’s happening on it?”

But Rashford notes that Wright and Wimberly used statistics to account for their uncertainty. “So while their specific numbers may be a little off, their general conclusions are very robust,” he says.

Solutions, missed opportunities, and a bit of hope

So what can be done to reverse or slow grassland loss? Johann Walker, Director of Conservation Programs in the Dakotas and Montana, points out that the Sodsaver and Swampbuster provisions in the most recent Farm Bill helped slow loss rates by preventing farmers who drain wetlands or farm erosion-prone lands without a conservation plan from qualifying for Farm Bill programs. Wright also suggests granting cattle producers a premium for grass-fed beef.

Scientists are also working to develop cellulosic ethanol — biofuel made from leftover husks, stems and other inedible plant parts from all sorts of crops. Cooper says the economic recession discouraged investment in scaling up this alternate technology. But with the economy picking up, four U.S. facilities — in Iowa and Kansas — could start commercial production of cellulosic ethanol in the next few months.

But the long-awaited arrival of cellulosic ethanol might be too little, too late. In 2012, the biofuel industry produced about 13 billion gallons of corn ethanol — enough to satisfy the demand for the 10-percent blend most vehicles burn. Yet demand for gasoline has actually fallen. The market doesn’t have room for any more ethanol, period — cellulosic or otherwise.

There’s no clear-cut solution, but Wright and Wimberly’s study has started a conversation. “It’s kind of blown my mind that so many people are interested in the topic,” Wright says. ”People are recognizing there is an issue, and there’s potential to amelioriate land cover change.” 

Our ecosystems are vastly interconnected, so clearing any existing habitat — whether grasslands or rainforests — often brings unintended consequences. As the biofuel rush and deforestation continue, studies like Wright and Wimberly’s keep land cover change on the map — so our Earth’s lungs can breathe a little easier. 

The Father of All Film Secrets

Darth vader

In the face of rampant speculation, rumors and inadvertent leaks, Disney, Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams are doing their best to keep the lid on the details of next year’s blockbuster-in-waiting, Star Wars: Episode VII. But no matter what Abrams & Co. have in store for moviegoers on the film’s now confirmed release date of December 18, 2015, which will be set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, they will be hard-pressed to rival the bombshell dropped by The Empire Strikes Back in the summer of 1980.

There are a handful of moments in the 1980s when most people can remember precisely where they were: The fall of the Berlin Wall, the Challenger disaster and, for many of us under 50, the discovery that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father.

Believe it or not, that disclosure — perhaps the biggest reveal in film history not involving Bruce Willis or a Dil pickle — was as big a surprise to the vast majority of the film’s own cast and crew as to the millions of us who left the theater in stunned silence.

Most cast members and crew had scripts with the fake line ’Obi-Wan killed your father.’ 

That’s right: Prior to Empire’s premiere, the true identity of Luke’s father, and arguably the lynchpin for the entire Star Wars franchise, was known only to creator George Lucas, the film’s producers, director Irvin Kershner, actor Mark Hamill (playing Luke) and James Earl Jones (the voice of Vader).

Most cast members and crew had scripts with the fake line “Obi-Wan killed your father” instead of the “I am your father” used in the final cut. Even David Prowse, the 6-foot-5-inch British bodybuilder in the Vader costume, was given the phony line to read during shooting (though it appears he had a pretty good idea about where the film was headed as early as 1978).

The veil of secrecy over Vader’s reveal was intense. As Mark Hamill would later describe it:

“Kershner, the director, brought me aside and said, ‘Now I know this, and George knows this, and now you’re going to know this, but if you tell anybody, and that means Carrie [Fisher] or Harrison [Ford] or anybody, we’re going to know who it is because we know who knows.’”

Empire’s great secret was also helped along by the fact that George Lucas did not decide to transform Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker, into Darth Vader until relatively late in the scriptwriting process. If you’ve ever wondered why Luke’s last name was never changed from Skywalker as an added precaution to conceal his existence from his father and the Empire, the answer — hard as it is to fathom — might just be that the epic plot point had yet to be incorporated into the story.

But what a twist of fate it was, and not just for Luke. For many of us who saw the film as children, Empire represents a clear demarcation in our childhoods. Vader’s true identity was our first real exposure to life’s ambiguities, to moral complexity. Suddenly, evil was the father of good, and life would never again be so clear or straightforward.

“Search your feelings. You know it to be true.”

OZY on $$$

Man with money coming out of his briefcase

2014: The Year of the IPO?

It’s been a booming first quarter for 2014. Sixty-four companies went from privately held to issuing their first public shares in the first three months of the year, according to Renaissance Capital. The stocks collectively raised $10.6 billion. But this stuff ain’t just the get-rich-quick offerings of legend. There aren’t 64 new Googles, Twitters and Facebooks wandering around out there. Biotech companies — which play in pharmaceutical drug markets and the health-care space — accounted for half of the 64. Seeing twice the number of IPOs in the first quarter of 2014 as in the first quarter of 2013 might not be quite synonymous with success. A company hitting the market with an IPO could be in transition, or it could need the influx of funds that selling stock provides.

The Bitcoin Revolution Hits Africa

The digital currency Bitcoin might be a great solution to the problems of 326 million Africans who lack access to basic banking services. Especially if you’re a member of the large and expanding African diaspora, and you want to send money home to grandma or the hubby left behind. The problem: You couldn’t count on mobile payments for that money sent home, known as foreign remittances. The most common vehicle for such payments, Western Union, tends to charge onerous fees. Which makes bitcoin very appealing, if you can get past the expensive exchange rate — of $500 per Bitcoin.

Oh, Snowden, Look What You’ve Done — to the Cloud

Big changes are forecast for the American side of the cloud-computing industry. Most people picture cloud computing in terms of email, using Gmail (cloud-based), say, rather than Outlook (desktop software). But that’s just the retail, and arguably less important, side of the business. The cloud also has a gigantic wholesale side that provides backroom operations for just about every major company you interact with on myriad everyday tasks at home and work — from file sharing and banking to filling out health claims and storing photos online. Cloud services offer an outsourcing haven that has rendered many basic in-house computer jobs obsolete. American companies — IBM, Google, Microsoft, EMC, Rackspace and Amazon — were the world’s dominant players when it comes to cloud services. But then Edward Snowden stormed onto the field, casting a long shadow over the industry. Could the power center of the cloud be shifting away from Silicon Valley and toward Europe? 

Should You Carry a Municipal ID Card?

Sandra Tovar shows her Texas ID card and U.S. Employment Authorization Card at a meeting of the Fort Worth Chapter of the North Texas Dream Team Thursday night, January 24, 2013

Comprehensive immigration reform is on again. No, it’s off again. No, it’s on again. Nope, it’s off again.

Take heart, CIR enthusiasts. As the back-and-forth over immigration reform enters its umpteenth year, a potential workaround might be coming to a city near you.

Since 2007, a handful of cities have issued municipal IDs to residents, regardless of their citizenship. The idea is to integrate undocumented immigrants by making it easier for them to open bank accounts, interact with the police, access city services and rent an apartment. Bringing the undocumented “out of the shadows” will improve civic life for everyone, proponents say.  

It’s a warm-hearted move as well as a political calculation. The concept is generally popular in cities, which tend to lean liberal, and is sure to have long-range appeal among voters as national demographics shift. About a dozen cities are in some stage of the municipal ID process.

The line between protecting and branding residents can be a fine one.

But ID cards are not an easy way out of the immigration quagmire. Opponents argue that municipal IDs overstep local authority, could lead to fraud and lure terrorists. The earliest version won vicious backlash, including from federal authorities. Even those who support the cards stress the importance of sweating the small stuff, like card design and privacy controls. The big risk: Unless they’re popular with immigrants and non-immigrants alike, the ID cards can brand as outsiders the very people they attempt to embrace.

“It’s been trial and error for cities to even realize that it’s a risk and start guarding against it,” says Emily Tucker, an attorney at the Center of Popular Democracy who has studied the issue in depth. 

This week, New York City will hold its first hearings on municipal ID legislation, a pet project of the new mayor, Bill de Blasio. If approved, New York’s program would be the most prominent of its kind. It would send a message, too, for New York City has a certain symbolic status in matters of security and immigration. 

Proponents like Tucker are enthusiastic about New York’s foray into municipal IDs, if a bit wary. If not done right, they say, the ID cards won’t protect undocumented immigrants, but just sort and label them for easy deportation. The line between protecting and branding can be a fine one. The IDs tend to work best when other protections for undocumented residents are in place: confidentiality for city services, local law enforcement policies that limit interaction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and other “sanctuary city” provisions. “Without those things, people won’t want to use the card — they’ll be too afraid,” says Tucker.

Cities vary enormously on this count: Some abide by the ICE’s “detainer requests,” holding suspected unauthorized immigrants in local jails until the federal authorities pick them up. Others refuse. Some jurisdictions allow police to act as ICE deputes. Others won’t allow police officers to inquire about immigration status.

Table with uniformed police officers speaking with people

California Highway Patrol officers lead an information session on obtaining a state driver’s license at the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, Calif.

Source Lenny Ignelzi/AP/Corbis

New Haven, Conn., was the first municipality to adopt local IDs, in 2007, after a robber stabbed an immigrant to death. According to reports, undocumented immigrants were dubbed “walking ATMs” — often, they carried cash, as they couldn’t open bank accounts. New Haven’s program faced some backlash, including, allegedly, from federal authorities: Less than two days after the city passed municipal ID legislation, the ICE raided homes in the area and detained 32 immigrants.

Cities are able to enact progressive agendas that likely wouldn’t fly nationally.

Although the city has stood by its program– it’s issued some 10,000 IDs– it’s not clear how functional the IDs are. Cashiers often don’t accept it, researchers found, and it served mostly to underscore the city’s pro-immigrant attitude. 

Since 2007, Oakland, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and several localities in New Jersey have all joined suit. Programs in Richmond and Los Angeles have been approved, and local governments from Philadelphia to Iowa City and Phoenix are contemplating issuing cards, too.

The local ID programs are yet another instance of cities taking “an affirmative step toward securing interests of their residents in the face of congressional inaction,” says Peter Bailon, a lawyer at the progressive American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange. They also demonstrate cities’ ability to enact progressive agendas that likely wouldn’t fly nationally.

Official documentation could serve as ”breeder documents” for other IDs, critics say.

But are cities exceeding their authority? “It’s not just usurping but contravening federal law,” says Ira Melhman, spokesperson for the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). There’s controversy here. Although the federal government places control over immigration firmly within its authority, the law does not explicitly forbid the issuance of local IDs, proponents say. And the feds have tended to turn a blind eye to the programs.

Mehlman and others say they also worry about terrorism. They argue that municipal ID requirements are lax and could allow criminals to procure false identification. Official documentation, even if limited to a few municipal venues, could serve as “breeder documents” for other IDs, they say. New York state Senator Greg Ball blasted the municipal ID plan as the “de Blasio Terrorist Empowerment Act.”

ID proponents dismiss such fears as absurd. The IDs, they point out, have stringent eligibility requirements and limited jurisdiction. They don’t replace federal identification documents such as passports, social security cards or tax identification numbers. Their main concern is that the IDs actually be used.  

It may not be so easy to circumvent the federal government though, even for cities that are relatively friendly to the undocumented, like New York. De Blasio’s administration has already issued notice that it could put out bid specifications for ID cards, but the City Council has lagged. Only 15 council members have come out saying they favor the legislation, short of the 26 needed for a majority.

Of course, with hearings starting tomorrow, that could change quickly. Are you ready for your New Yorker ID, New Yorkers?

The Ancient Art of Battle Rapping

2 Men battling out on stage with microphone

There’s a war going on and the battle lines are drawn.

It’s battle rap: the lyrical art of throwing down that’s reaching new heights in the YouTube era.

To understand the genre of battle rap, think of it this way: Imagine two rappers, standing anywhere between nose-to-nose to 2 feet apart. Add the ruggedness of a rabid, street-hardened crowd, the comedic timing/language of Eddie Murphy in his standup comic glory, soap-opera-like story lines between competitors, and, to top it off, the hyperbolic prefight commentary of WWF wrestlers.

The type of rap we are talking about: spitting lyrics to no musical soundtrack, straight a cappella for a few minutes, boxing-round style.

Got all that? Good. Because the market for this level of hip-hop mastery is at an all-time high. Eminem, a former battle champion, is thinking of sponsoring battles, and cable network BET has incorporated the battles into its popular 106th & Park video countdown show with a segment titled Ultimate Freestyle Friday. On YouTube, certain matchups can rack up hundreds of thousands of views. 

Yeah, it’s bursting — but rap battle’s landscape has been around since the beginning of hip-hop. There was the ’80s Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee; ’90s/’00s Jay Z vs. Nas; and now, ’10s Kendrick Lamar vs. any of his rap peers in existence.

What’s the natural evolution from simple battle rapping? Battle leagues, causing an explosion in the popularity of the type of battle rap we are talking about: spitting lyrics to no musical soundtrack, straight a cappella for a few minutes, boxing-round style. These leagues are formed with turf-tested rappers from different regions, and the style has switched in the presentation of the setup. Take King of the Dot (aka KOTD), based out of Toronto, and heavily supported by way of hosting bouts by the hitmaking artist Drake. Grind Time is a favorite league that often operates out of Florida. The U.K. is even in on the act with the successful Don’t Flop franchise out in London. 

Troy ”Smack” Mitchell turned it into a business — one that pitted street-smart, savvy lyricists against each other to prove whose wits were the wittiest.

And then there’s New York’s Ultimate Rap League (aka URL). This particular league is the grandfather of them all. It’s the one that matters most when the wins and losses of multi-league battle participants’ records are evaluated. The ringmaster of the battle behemoth, Troy “Smack” Mitchell, has taken his street DVD brand of the same name (Smack) and transformed it into an events platform that produces the face-to-face matchups.

Smack’s long road to success in this lane started with taking a segment on his DVD and turning it into a business — one that pitted street-smart, savvy and seriously talented lyricists against each other to prove whose wits were the wittiest. And while some of the lineups — which were face-to-face — got hostile, and even a few fists flew, the art form of making crowds of people “ooh” and ”ahh” from rhyming words prevailed. Leagues were needed to bring order to a genre that grew beyond the street curbs they were born on.

Eventually, the battles went off the streets and into clubs — even respected venues like New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Tickets to watch the lyrical smackdowns can go from $75 for general admission up to $250 for the VIP treatment.

The must-see of all the battles takes place most Augusts in New York — it’s URL’s main event, called Summer Madness. It’s stacked with a full bout card of the league’s hottest mic rippers, from both yesteryear and today. Watch below as URL’s star, the Harlem-repping Loaded Lux, destroys the confidence and cripples the career of an unsuspecting Detroit rapper named Calicoe. And keep track of the primer for Summer Madness 4 with URL’s upcoming pre-game bouts, named Night of Main Events (aka N.O.M.E.), happening June 7 at New York City’s Irving Plaza. It’s not to be missed.