My Suspicious yet Informative Interviews!

Hello! My name is Brittany Dickey, I am a senior at SMU, and this summer I am in London studying how human rights campaigns use the Olympics as a platform to raise awareness. I am particularly studying Green Wash Gold Campaign 2012. This organization is targeting BP, Dow, and Rio Tino, 3 sponsors of the Olympics that have serious human rights abuses. Last week I interviewed Colin Toogood and Jess Worth. The interviews were about an hour each and were very informative. The biggest thing I noticed was how suspicious Toogood and Worth were initially. Toogood informed me that Dow hired spies that follow him and other employees around, sift through their rubbish, and hack into their computers. When I asked if he was leery of doing an interview with a student from a different country, he said that Dow would not normally send someone like me, a Black woman from America. He did mention that the company could be “doubling back” and sent me to throw him off!

Bhopal Medical Appeal is Dow’s biggest threat as the campaign has damage the social license of the company. The BMA’s goal is to attack the company’s PR and as a result affect Dow’s bottom line. He said, “what we are trying to do is influence the media in a way that affects Dow.” The theory is that the more Dow loses money, eventually the company will rationalize that it is more cost efficient to fix the problems in Bhopal India. Apparently this is working as a Homes report ranked Dow as the 5th worst PR disaster. Toogood made clear that BMA is not just attacking Dow for the hell of it. BMA wants the people in Bhopal India to receive help and for the toxic waste that was dumped to be cleaned up. I asked Toogood about the arguments that Dow was not responsible for the oil disaster in Bhopal India because this happened before the company bought the Union Carbide Company. Additionally some argue that the UCC already paid a settlement for the oil leak. He explained that a civil settlement happened years ago but now criminal charges are being filed for culpable homicide in addition to a curative settlement that has been filed. The curative petition could range from 1 to 8 billion dollars. Toogood and I talked about how Dow has taken responsibility for UCC’s lawsuits in America but not India. Toogood said that because Dow, “is an American company there is more pressure in their native country.” There just is not any accountability for the horrendous occurrences in Bhopal.

Another big question I had was the campaigners view on the role of the Olympics in ensuring that companies with human rights abuses be restricted from sponsoring the event and increasing profit. Toogood agreed that the Olympics could persuade companies to repair past human rights abuses and uphold companies that have been pioneers in the human rights movement. However he said it wouldn’t do any good attacking the Olympics because the audience BMA targets are in support of the Games. There is currently a court case in New York City against Dow about the toxic dumping the company did in India that is still causing illness and affecting the citizens who live there. If this case is in favor of the citizens, it will set a precedent that there is an issue outside of the oil leak in the 80’s. Going into the interviews my big thought was: most people could care less about human rights abuses. The reality is that people tend to be selfish and oblivious. When I asked Toogood about whether BMA could raise social awareness he responded, “people don’t give a damn, we know that.” The overall goal of the BMA is to influence Dow by aiming for the company’s wallet.

The UK Tar Sands Network has different goals in mind. Worth made clear that she personally wanted BP “to shut down.” She said that the stock holders would save more money selling and closing than watching the company plummet. The UK Tar Sands Network is targeting the political arena rather than society at large. People in the political arena have the power to actually make a difference. In addition Worth said, “we are saying to the Olympics ‘you should not have picked these companies’.” She hopes that the Olympic committee will think harder about who they allow to sponsor the event. Worth believes that the Olympics, “is so lucrative that if the Olympics set stringent rules maybe some companies will clean up their act.” Also companies that are more aware of human rights can be sponsors and that is the overall goal. BP has extracted 20% of the world’s natural resources and has plans to continue to extract more oil for the UK Tar Sands. Although their extractions has been said to pollute the water of indigenous people in Canada, no research has been done to confirm this. People have complained of becoming ill and have protested their extraction in the UK. The most interesting thing I learned from this interview is that protestors in London are being arrested for no reason and restricted from protesting. According to Worth, the protestors are being arrested for peaceful protest and taking photos of the Olympics grounds. I would love to interview a few protestors and get their prospective.

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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh No…

It’s like wrestling a bear, and the bear is winning. It’s like climbing up Mount Everest and having your shoes stolen by said bear (which is why you were wrestling him in the first place).  It’s like remembering, mid-wrestle, that you were supposed to be at the dentist an hour ago and now they are going to charge you that fee; the expensive one with the overly long name. It’s like being a poor college student wrestling a bear on the top of Mount Everest, realizing that you are about to get an overdraft fee on your credit card, and having no shoes because the bear stole them. That is what the last three days have been like. I started with a fire but that fire has cooled into smoking embers, which are not enough to warm my fingers into words. I thought that after two awful days of writing, a weekend spent rock-climbing and fly-fishing would cure my writer’s block. Alas, even the joys of my prize fish could not shake the languidness that had enveloped me.

I have only recently begun to tell people that I want to be a writer. It is a scary thing because that phrase (“I want to be a writer.”) has some weird stigma attached. It is cliché to want to be a writer. “Oh,” people think to themselves, “You want to be lazy. You want to live in a cardboard box for the rest of your life. You want to breeze your way through college and not do any work like those engineers, or accountants, or lawyers. You want to do drugs, don’t you? You will probably fail.” But to your face, they smile and say, “That’s nice.”

On our way to fly fishing, I was asked by an eager young freshman named Monica, who had spent the last forty-five minutes discussing the merits of an Accounting major with a senior named Bryan, what I wanted to do after I graduated. I said that I wanted to be a writer, but that probably wasn’t going to happen because I wasn’t very good. I told Monica that I was going to do all of the things I imagine other people think about when I say “writer”. Lazy, check. Cardboard box, check. I am worthless, check. Terrible writer, check. Our professor (this was a Wellness class trip) turned around and told me off. I told her I was joking. She said that the more I said those things the more I would believe them and you know what, she was right.

I have doubted myself lately and that is probably because when I get on the Facebook, I see pictures of people getting married and statuses about incredible internships. When I look at my friends, I see successful people, some of whom already have jobs lined up with a year left to go at SMU. I look at my parents and my professors, and I see people who are secure and settled. Then, I look at myself and I see someone struggling to write his first novel. I see failure. I see myself wrestling a bear, at 14,000 feet, over a pair of shoes. I feel like I am losing this fight. But, tomorrow will be better and so will the day after, and maybe I will get my shoes back. I have one month and I can’t afford to let another day go by.

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Day Three: Black, White, and Glurble

This is Day Three of writing and I am chugging away at a fantastic speed. My goal was to write 1000 “good” words a day, and after two days, I am at 4500, which is more than I could have hoped for. The narrative arc is beginning to take shape and it is exciting to see all of the pieces fall into place. One of the exciting things about writing is the moment when everything begins to fall into place; when you know exactly what needs to happen and when. So far, I have four chapters and am working on the fifth. I like to work through a story as linearly as possible, unlike others who like to write an ending first. When I write an ending first, I feel like I have boxed myself in, and the story has no room to grow and change. I know what I want to happen, but as my characters grow and change, so does the story. This tactic seems to be working and I am making significant progress everyday.

The novel is (or will be) broken up into three different parts, with the first and last addressed to the father. The narrator will be speaking to his father. Below is a snippet from the opening chapter entitled “We Built this Home”.

You are an old withered man who walked through our old home and told this son how this stunning waterfront property has five bedrooms and three baths, with a guest room that looks out onto the murky sea. You didn’t see. The lanai by the guest bedroom is great for company, you said, and this house has character; it has history. This house has our history but history is forgotten and then misremembered. You never saw, would never see, and I know it. You are dead but this old withered man is still here in your place. There is a ghost inhabiting your floppy skin, waving your arms, and speaking unfamiliar words with a familiar voice. Sometimes your face contorts and I can faintly see the “you I knew” grappling for control of your familiar features. It was a face I had traced with my eyes many times before, but it was a face that had changed, different in the way only a child would question, like feeling the freshly shaven skin of where a mustache had once been and asking, why?

I have spent a grand total of five days in Taos and I do not know if I ever want to leave. Everything runs on a different pace here and it reminds me of the relaxed/unhurried attitude of my home. Home for me is Hawaii, which, if you have ever been, runs on a different clock. The numbers on a traditional analog clock usually have the suffix “ish” attached, which infuriates or excites many of our visitors. It is a pace that I have missed and I have fallen back into it with ease. This is not to say that time in Hawaii, or Taos, is lazy, but rather it is relaxed. Unhurried is really the best word. Deliberate, maybe?

For my writing, this kind of clock is the best kind of clock. While discipline, which I talked about in my last post, is necessary, the “ish-time” (as I like to call it) keeps me relaxed. I have no commitments, other than to myself and to my writing, which is liberating and invigorating. I have gone white-water rafting and mountain biking. I have done Pilates, which left my abdominals in a twisted knot, and enjoyed the company of some “OK” people. I have done all of this without having a commitment until June 28th when I hop on a plane back to Dallas AND I have written more than twice word count than I had planned on.

This place is awesome. It is different than any other place I have lived in. Dallas and Kailua, Hawaii are polar opposites, black and white. Dallas is hot and southern. Hawaii is not and far eastern (as I like to think). Now, imagine that somehow there was a color that was the opposite of both black and white and vice versa. Let’s say that this color would be called glurble. That color would be Taos. Dallas, Hawaii, and Taos are black, white, and glurble. Taos and Hawaii may run on the same time but the taste, smell, and attitude of the place and of people here is unique. No, I did not lick or sniff any local Taosites… It is a saying, people.

With that, I leave you. I am 877 words into my second day and we haven’t even hit lunch yet. It’s fanTAOStic. (I am sorry but I had to do that. It was an awful joke and I apologize. I will make up for it next blog.)

PS. If you are looking for an interesting read, check this article out:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/frontal-cortex/2012/06/the-virtues-of-daydreaming.html

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Writing a Novel in Taos, NM

Dylan O. Smith is a senior Hunt Leadership Scholar and David and Carolyn Miller Scholar. A member of the University Honors Program, he is majoring in English with a specialization in creative writing in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. He was named a Richter Fellow and Unbridled Learner for summer 2012, when he will be working on his first novel at SMU-in-Taos.

As I write this, I am flying over the Pacific towards Dallas, and ultimately, in a few days time, I will arrive in Taos, NM. With support from the Richter Fellowship and the Unbridled Learning Grant, I will spend the month of June at SMU-in-Taos writing my first novel. From way up here (35,007 feet according to the monitor), I can see the beginnings of a sunrise. There is a yellow tinge developing on the horizon, like a banana that is beginning to ripen. This is cliché, but I feel like a green banana, waiting to ripen and become a delicious snack. I have written short stories, and have attempted to write longer works of fiction, which in my opinion petered out. AKA, it was terrible, like worse than PB and J without any of the ingredients, and only rocks to eat. This time things are different. I am finally “writing what I know” and for the first time in my fledgling writing career, I know where I am going with my fiction and what I need to do in order to get there. Before I began working on this novel, I would begin a piece of fiction with an idea, or a line, that I especially liked, and from there I would begin to write, letting my words lead me where they would. I lacked direction. While this is not a terrible thing, and can be useful when writing short stories, when writing a novel, this process would have doomed me to failure. I started this novel with the goal of writing about what I know, which would give my work a solid foundation to build on. So, I took a bunch of objects from my childhood (in the house I grew up in), which were paintings, furniture, toys, etc, and put them in a new house, with a new family. Then, everything made sense, and the story arc became instantly clear. I knew exactly what had to happen and when. I knew each character intimately. I know what I have to write and I am ridiculously and severely excited to start writing in Taos.

I see Taos as an opportunity to take the next step in my educational development. College is a place where young people transition from learners to doers and I hope to make this experience the catalyst for my development as a writer. During a typical SMU semester, I take one creative writing class and four unrelated classes, each of which demands time and effort. My writing gets put on the back burner. You wouldn’t want to write a short story after chugging through an 8-page essay about variance of theme in Jane Austen’s Emma, would you? I thought not… It is difficult to devote myself to fiction writing when there are so many other things going on in. It takes discipline and until now, I do not think I had it. I found myself writing only when I had too, when I had something due. In Taos, I will have no commitments, only a commitment to myself and to my writing.

The Richter Program and Unbridled Learning have given me an opportunity to take the next step in my development; to develop my discipline and to devote myself to something I hope to do for the rest of my life as a profession. Most college students get that opportunity, through internships with the accounting firms or through research assistantships with the geology department, examining ancient whalebones. I have yet to find an internship that asks me to write fiction for an entire summer, though if you know of such a place, please contact me immediately. I am looking at this experience as an opportunity to develop a skill every successful writer has: discipline. Discipline, in writing terms, is the ability to sit down, every day, and write. This does not mean sitting down and saying you while write whilst furiously stalking your old high school classmates. No, this means sitting down and writing until you have reached your goal. For my purposes, I will be writing 1000 words a day. I say, “I will” for a reason. I WILL be writing 1000 words a day, no matter what. I will develop discipline so that when the fall semester comes around, I will be able to sit down and write, even when my writer’s block is trying to fit into my writer’s cylinder. I will make it fit.

This is not to say that I do not enjoy writing fiction. I do. I love it. It is my passion. However, it is not easy and it never will be. Writing is incredibly difficult and many times, I find myself struggling to come up with the next word, much less the next sentence. I doubt everything that I write. I sometimes sit down and “it” happens, which is when I literally can’t type fast enough to put all of my thoughts into words. Then, when the flurry subsides, and I look at what I have written, I realize that it is a load of… well… garbage. Something that looks great to me on Tuesday could, on Thursday, be reread and judged to be the worst thing I have ever written. It is a struggle to write something and not doubt what you have written. I think the biggest reason for my doubt is the knowledge that someone else will be reading my work; that someone else will be judging the very thing I work hardest at. What if my mother doesn’t really like something I have written? What if I offend my roommate? What if no one likes what I am writing? I have heard from countless people that the sooner I detach myself from my work, the sooner my doubts will begin to subside. I put so much of myself into my work that sometimes I forget that when people constructively criticize, they aren’t criticizing me. All of the frustrations, doubts, and even fears of ultimate failure, are not enough to get me to stop. I enjoy it too much to do something else.

I am incredibly excited to begin my ripening process. (Do you see what I am doing by going back to my opening banana metaphor? Quality stuff here…) I am on the cusp of becoming the real deal, a real banana if you will. I guess that after spending a month in the mountains, I will be able to call myself a “writer” and extend my pinky finger whilst I sip wine in Paris. With only one year left at SMU, I think now is a good time to begin the transition from learner to doer. I want to begin the ripening process. Unripe bananas are green, bland, odorless, and hard, so let me convert my starches into sugars and develop into a yellow, tasty, soft, and smelly writer. Hopefully when I finish up my novel this summer I won’t feel as Truman Capote did when he said, “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.” I won’t be doing that. Promise.

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Asian Carp could help us solve hunger problems

My name is Michael Tran, majoring in Applied Mathematics at Southern Methodist University. I became a part of Unbridled Learning Project, doing research about Asian Carp which are known as an invader species on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

The project requires me to travel from places to places through out Illinois state, starting from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC). When I was at SIUC, I had a chance to meet and discuss with Dr. James Garvey, who is a Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Center at this school. Dr. Garvey has been working on the Asian Carp issue during the last 12 months. They received a grant of $2.8 million from Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). They have been monitoring the fish and figuring out patterns of their movements along Mississippi and Illinois river.

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A picture of mine in front of Lake Michigan

I left Carbondale after 4 hours of talking to Dr. James Garvey. I drove down to Golconda, which is a small town in the South of Illinois. I have met and talked to many local people, surveyed their reactions toward Asian Carp. According to Kenny Bradford, a local retired fishermen, “Asian Carp has a huge impact to local area as well as wherever that the Illinois or Mississippi River passes through. Those fish can jump very high out of the water and it could hit you in the face.”

I stayed in Golconda for 3 days to study about the Asian Carp. I have had a chance to go on the boat and have seen a lot of fish jumping. “They get scared when a boat goes by”, said to Kenny.

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Kenny Bradford and I after a trip on Ohio River

Left Golconda, I continued my journey to another town call Thomson. I have met and had great conversation with Mike Schafer, who is the owner of Schafer Fisheries.

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Mike Schafer – the owner of Schafer Fisheries

 Mike has created many plans in order to help get rid of the Asian Carp. He supplies Asian Carp product such as liquid fertilize, animals food (for dog or cat), or even hotdog for human consumption. His products are now available at more than 16 countries around the world, such as South Africa, Israel, Hongkong, China, Singapore…

When asked about humanitarian food aid, Mike replied, “It is very hard to do since we do not have any supports from the government. We need to be funded.”

The biggest goal of my project after studying feasibility and toxicology is creating a humanitarian food source in order to help the hungers around the world. It can be done and if it happens the way I predicted, there would be a huge benefit; not only for America, but also for many other countries around the world.

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 The fish are being cleaned before they go through the ‘de-bonding’ machine

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 This is common Carp, not the Asian Carp which dominating the Illinois and Mississippi river

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 Joe (left) is an IT engineer and James Schafer (right) is the son of the owner, who is also the general manager of Schafer Fisheries

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Asian Carp can jump very high out of the water when they are shocked by electricity

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According to the study of SIUC, they estimated there would be more than 12,000 Asian Carp on each river mile

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 Solving Asian Carp problem can help creating jobs in the local area. These fishermen can earn up to $4,000 per day, based on how many fish they caught.

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 It’s also helps to create jobs in the factories. The salaries for these workers range from $8.00 to $12.50

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 After sorting the fish, they are going to be frozen for different purposes of usage. It can be used as fertilizer, foods for animals consumption, or even for human consumption. 

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These hotdogs are very tasty, it even better than any hotdogs you would find in the supermarket. 

There are many debates whether or not this fish can be a good nutrition source, Americans seem do not interest when consider using Asian Carp for their meals. According to the study from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Asian Carp is very high in Omega 3, low fat and also low contaminated level.

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Imagine one day that Asian Carp could make their way to get into the Great Lakes, the view will no longer be as beautiful as it shown in the picture. If we do not have an appropriate action in the short time, it will soon becomes a nightmare.

Watch a video made by Michael about his project http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOBppQ1sj7I&feature=youtu.be

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