Draft of National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship Proposal

Latin America Cultures and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

My proposed digital storytelling project will focus on Chile, Peru and Mexico (CPM) in order to investigate some of the changes to be brought about by the soon to be ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Long-form reportage on this is timely, as just some of the numerous and significant shifts the TPP will cause include national signatories capacity to control policy areas related to biodiversity, climate change, food self-sufficiency, political cultures and cities composition by accelerating urbanization. To my knowledge there currently no major news outlets addressing this, which is unusual as those who have commented upon it typically describe it as an expanded NAFTA, a trade agreement that has had vast effects on multiple registers in the United States and Mexico. I’ve chosen these three countries as these are they are the only Latin American (LA) countries to be involved in TPP negotiations, I speak Spanish, have a background in LA political economy and literature, have grown up amongst Latin American’s so would be culturally competent while in those countries, and am able to use personal and professional resources to connect with various people and institutions that would be willing to assist in the storytelling project.

While in Mexico and Chile, I will be able to obtain letters of introduction to academics, government bureaucrats and NGO workers via my former Latin American Studies professor, who has worked extensively in both countries. In Peru, I will be able to connect to business networks through a personal friend whose father is involved in the equivalent of the American Chamber of Commerce. What will additionally assist me in meeting people for interviews is my amiable, outgoing manner honed from having traveled extensively. My background as an educator, political scientist and historian will allow me to contextualize broad issues (Cities, Cultures) in a way that allows for focus on the most pertinent aspects as they relate to the reader. Some examples of my approach would include addressing questions to politicians, NGO and community activists such as: Will the environmental component of TPP mean that regions currently protected for use in eco-tourism will become sites of extractive industries? How are national laws protecting biodiversity going to be affected by a new regime of international copyright laws? How are city and national governments planning responses to their projected population growth following the increased capacity of international investors to purchase traditional, under-capitalized small-farms? How are domestic, traditional cultures adjusting to international market pressures, be it migration or new practices? What are some of the methods that civil society groups as well as local and national government bureaucrats are encouraging the use of new technologies to help them manage these issues? How is access to oceanic resources allocated, monitored and regulated? What impact, if any, does Pope Francis’ Argentine birth and Jesuit background have in these aforementioned areas? In addition to this, my reporting will also alight upon more general interest themes, such as culture and food. As I have extensive travel experience, am a chef and enthusiastic user of food and travel experience-sharing social media websites I plan on attempting to include as much content of this sort as possible. Food sourcing practices, recipes and general customs may not seem as significant a topic in the light of these other concerns, but are also important in providing a holistic picture of the Chilean, Peruvian and Mexican lifestyle in relation to these changes.

The presentation of this material will take a multi-medium approach. While I imagine that the majority of my reports will be a combination of text, photos, and various charts and graphs that can provide a visual indication of some of the thematic areas that I am investigating I would also like to obtain as much footage as possible with those that I am able to converse with in English. As I am skilled in using iMovie, I believe that I could ably produce short segments of video for upload to wherever is requested of me.

My travel plan is to move from the southernmost location and then move north, from Chile to Peru to Mexico. This pattern will be repeated within the countries themselves as it will be the most efficient for timing and allow me to avoid unseasonable weather. In each country I visit I would primarily spend my time investigating the financial, industrial, cultural and political centers as well the adjacent park and agricultural regions that also be affected by the TPP. What follows is a general itinerary and a brief explanation as to what it is about each place that deserves exploration related to the project themes as they relate to conservation, development and innovation.

In Chile I would begin in Puerto Montt, a once independent region that is now a key transport hub known for it’s sizeable salmon industry. In 2007 this sector had to rapidly shift their practices when overcrowding and the ISA virus made them lose much of their stock. An additional feature of Puerto Montt is its proximity to Chiloe Island, the site of sizeable indigenous community and a significant portion of Chile’s mussel industry. How the environmental conservation efforts of marine life and the people’s deeply connected to the sea will be affected by TPP will be just two points of investigation. From there I would take a travel to Concepcion – the country’s youth culture and rock-music capital. An investigation of the differences between the once Independent Puerto Montt region and the second largest city will highlight the differences as to how the TPP will be felt in each region. From there I would go to Santiago, the country’s economically divided industrial center. I believe that here I would be able to get a more urban perspective on the conflicting views towards the TPP. One such story, for instance, could include an investigation of Los Caimanes, just north of Santiago. This is the home to mines that have been a point of controversy between the local, indigenous Mapuche community and a Chilean company over the latter’s usage of water. From here I would go to Valparaiso, notable for its novel forms of public transportation, strong European heritage evident in the styles of housing of different neighborhoods and a place to explore issues of preservation versus innovation both in the city’s housing and commercial real estate market and also as it relates to the nationally protected parks around it. As national parks currently compose 19% of the country’s landmass and could potentially become sites of extractive industry, I would visit the Reserva Nacional Lago Penuelas Biosphere Reserve adjacent to Valparaiso. Additionally worth mentioning is that as it is considered the Land of Poets, I would like to incorporate some elements of cultural history into my storytelling – be it visiting the former home of Pablo Neruda or one of the haunts of Roberto Bolaño.

In Peru I would begin my storytelling project in Arequipa by investigating how new capacities for investment outside the industrial center will accelerate the countryside’s transition from artisanal farming practices towards increasing urbanization. Political and cultural problems created by highly centralized land ownership, a recurring political issue in Latin America, has been felt particularly hard in Peru due to the racial and ethnic concerns. How it is that the government and civil society groups are planning on manage this issue following the likely exacerbation of the economic divide with the passage of the TPP will be one important topic I will address. A second is the increasingly planned use of water in the periphery via irrigation and a third relates to the distinct, UNESCO recognized Arequipeña architecture and manner of speech. From here I would go to Cusco, the former Incan capital and now an important tourist destination to highlight food and biodiversity issues such as the cultural effects wrought by a six-fold increase in monthly earnings brought about by the growing global demand for quinoa. Near Arequipa is Manu National Park, categorized as the most biologically diverse place on Earth. I would also visit here so as to bring up how the park has been partially privatized for natural gas exploitation despite protestations by the UN due to it’s environmental repercussions and the forced relocation of numerous indigenous communities. Once in Lima, the gastronomic and financial capital, I would have increased access to interview people working on projects related to Manu park as well as the recent increase in attempts at finding sources for oil, metal and mineral exploitation. Of specific interest is how it is that illegal mining operations and oil spills are affecting the Amazon. From here I will go to Trujillo, the cultural capital of Peru and considered by the Inter-American Development Bank to be the region’s first sustainable city. Exposition into what exactly this means and how it relates to concerns over climate change will be a major focus of investigation. It’s status as a model city and how it has dealt with a population growth of almost 100% in 20 years would be key themes to have academics and urban planners discuss. Continuing to contrast the cultures of indigenous peoples and the descendants of European immigrants would be made highly visible via the temples of the Sun and Moon.

From here I would go to Mazaltan in Mexico. The “shrimp capital of the world” and a major source of the country’s processed fish, I would here probe how their fishing industries face similar issues as Chile. While they face EMS rather than ISA, how the government, the private sectors and international regulatory bodies are deal with this while also competing for ocean access with newly re-authorized tourist cruise ships provides numerous arenas for insight into how the local population navigates conflicting interests. Going to Puerto Vallarta, additionally will allow me to highlight how here, in contrast to Chile and Peru, the rapid growth of population has led to numerous negative effects in waterways, a major problem considering the large role tourism plays in the area, and access to basic services. From here I would go to Chiapas to highlight the at times severe divisions that exist between the rural south of Mexico and it’s more industrialized northern region. To best illustrate the differences between these regions I would then go to Mexico City. I would build on this theme but also investigate how it is that civil groups, such as Grupo Eolico Mexico, have successfully petitioned the government to set a goal to have 35% of it’s energy usage produced by wind by 2024. Additionally worthy of attention is the effects of recent opening of investment into the country’s historically state owned oil-sector.

It is important to visit all of these locations to illustrate that variety of political and environmental conditions that the TPP will soon be implemented in. As the unleashing of new market forces and trade norms will not impact each region in the same manner, consumers of the content I produce will get a broader perspective of what the conditions are that the TPP will be affecting. I believe that by personalizing, historicizing and contextualizing the likely changes created by this trade agreement’s intent of increased prosperity and affluence for signatory countries will become more evident to current detractors while also pointing to areas that will require more conscientious effort to circumvent preventable problems.

Review of "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief"

So several months ago I watched this interview of Lawrence Wright by Steven Colbert and became interested in reading Wright’s book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. After a initial anecdote of the Church practices meant to illustrate them as psychologically manipulative but also helpful for people wishing to overcome a specific problem in their life, Wright opens by deconstructing much of the Church’s official biography of LRH’s early life. The truthfulness of his purportedly self-healed injuries are subjected to criticism as are his credentials as an atomic physicist and war hero. What is instead presented is someone who is deeply concerned with winning accolades for bravery, becoming distinguished as a leader, writer and thinker, someone that is extremely anxious over his many relationships with women and is constantly moving across the country. LRH is depicted as a caddish lothario that cuckold’s several prominent personages of the time, included fellow science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. The tensions displayed in LRH’s notebooks and actions is familiar to anyone who has great energy, insight and capacity but has yet to find the correct form in which to put it.

One of the more interesting aspects of these first section is his contextualization of LRH within the social/religious milieu of the time. He does this by providing accounts of LRH’s many influences, Sigmund Freud, Aleister Crowley, Alfred Korzybski, and illustrating the post-war American longing for new a religious feeling that would bring people closer together following the dissemination of the news that humans now had the power to destroy the world many times over with the atomic bomb. With the threat of annihilation real, with a greater affluence that allowed for disposable income to go to self-improvement courses – be it Transcendental Meditation, Jungian Therapy or Dianetics Auditing – he clearly shows that the drive for greater human perfectibility becomes a more significant factor in American social relations. This new religious impulse and LRH’s capacity to synthesize concepts from his vast reading in spiritual works and formulate his findings into psychological maxims in simple, positivistic terms informs Dianetics initial success as a popular form of self-therapy.

While some of his claims on the abilities and transformations that could be achieved by someone whole wholly devoted themselves to this may have been overblown, and while LRH’s background LRH is likely exaggerated claims, Wright admits that there were many cases of positive development by those that joined what evolved into the Church of Scientology. Using the initial success of and interest in Dianetics, LRH expanded, refined, codified and created the organizational structure which would then became the Church. Wright recounts many disturbing and fascinating narratives when LRH’s was Commodore of the SeaOrg and touches upon intriguing situations worthy of books themselves – such as Operation Snow White, the Church’s battle with the IRS, their attempts to take over the Psychiatic Congress, etc. The unrelenting and ruthless attacks against the Church’s enemies are both frightening and impressive – such as the Church’s bankrupting of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) via lawsuits, their purchasing of the organization’s name through an intermediary and subsequent distribution of CAN literature that states Scientology is not a cult.

Wright shows how the manner in which LRH lived and his level of productivity on certain issues clearly indicate that though he was making his living off the church it was in no means simply so that he could live an opulent lifestyle. One simply, paraphrasing Wright, does not put as much of his life energy into such a project as LRH did just to bamboozle people. This archetypal role of false leader is assigned to David Miscavige. Miscavige is the Stalinistic figure, though instead of gaining control of the PolitBureau he uses his powers and capability for intrigue to gain control of the Church. As should be apparent, I found Wright’s journalistic prowess to be very impressive. What I wished would be delved into more, however, was more extended analysis of the dynamic components of the religion itself. Wright does touch upon them in the chapter The Faith Factory. He exposits on the late 1950’s era psychological concepts of ideological totalism, self-referential paradigmatic thinking that “blinds” one to “facts” and it’s relation to social groups, and throughout the book intersperses similarly oriented comments. AS his concern is more with the ascent of Miscavige, the rationale and effort to focus upon celebrities and the willful self-imprisonment of Scientologists it’s understandable that he doesn’t delve to deep into this. That said he does quote from a longer, comparative religion work that delves into some of these issues elsewhere and provides information for supplementary reading. Wright’s clearly critical of the religion, but finds many other admirable aspects within it. He is even able to state that “Hubbard’s throughout could be compared with that of other moral philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant and Soren Kirkegaard, although no one has ever approached the sweep of Hubbard’s work,” and finds that “like every new religion, Scientology is handicapped by the frailties of its founder and the absence of venerable traditions that enshrine it in the culture”. Put simply, people fear or are averse to what they don’t understand and a basic knowledge of the “tech” is worthwhile.

Some of the things most interesting to me personally was the discovery that some of the things that my father would do when I’d been hurt or was having trouble with school would be considered Scientology tech. I vividly remember contact assists, repeatedly placing an injured part of my body against the thing that injured it until the fear/energy was dissipated, and being assisted in visualization and materialization exercises to increase my recall and comprehension of material that I’d studied, a practice that I continue to this day. From reading I also learned of other overlaps between Scientology and my more recent studies in psychotherapy. For instance while LRH was later to categorize hypnotherapy as a degraded form of moving forward on the bridge to freedom, he was clearly influenced by it as evidenced in his early notebooks and recordings. Wright’s assessment and my own research into this particular aspect of therapy suggests that LRH’s later disavowal of it can be see a misprision in order to greater distinguish his tech from that of other similarly minded practitioners.