Tag: politics

Photo Courtesy of CNN Money

I was born to love film.

I was raised by a family who lived and breathed entertainment. My uncle is a movie producer, my cousin a stage manager on Broadway. My grandfather, a seventy-five year old man, has overflowing DVD piles of every Disney film, Oscar-winning movie, musical, and Olympic-record-setting video that ever aired on TV. My mother stays up until 2am every night watching her TV shows (she can compete with any binge-driven college student). The entertainment industry is an unspoken staple of my family.

So, naturally, television has always been a huge part of my life. As much as my father tried to enforce TV limits, I knew from a young age that “one hour of teletubbies” meant at least two when Mom was home. Some people blast me for watching so much television, but I know I always have my family on my side, and nothing is as stimulating nor as intellectually thrilling to me.

As I grew up, I slowly became the Roger Ebert of my friend group. I (whether asked or not) would tell my friends which movies to see, which actors deserved the Oscar, which television show was an overly dramatic waste of time. My past and current boyfriends have all gone through a “movie-education,” and I have never missed an awards ceremony (even when I was on the other side of the world and had to wake up at 2am and surf the web for hours before I found a live stream). I’m pretty darn serious about this stuff.

But enough about me. All of this was an introduction of sorts, a drawn out way for me to prove to you that I am indeed qualified to write this column. Sure, I’m a religion major who has yet to write that breakthrough screenplay that earns me a seat at the Golden Globes, but I’m opinionated, nonetheless, and born to movie-educate the masses. So, on that note, let’s dive right in.

It would be amiss not to begin this bi-weekly column with a post that addresses the insanity currently sweeping over Hollywood. This week’s SAG awards were filled with emotions– from numerous actors speaking out against President Trump’s executive order on immigration to Denzel Washington upsetting Casey Affleck and Ryan Gosling for best actor. (Who saw THAT one coming??) The Oscar nominees have been announced, snubbing Taraji P. Henson for her role in Hidden Figures and controversially allowing disgraced anti-semite Mel Gibson in the running. Questions surround the fate of Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian nominated director who may not be able to attend the February 26th ceremony due to Trump’s ban, and NBC’s Dick Wolf is trying to squeeze out more money by making yet another Chicago show.

You’ll notice that most of these have to do with politics. 2016 (and so far 2017) has been a banner year for the Hollywood-Washington crossover, with celebrities becoming more involved in a presidential election than perhaps ever before. Aside from the usual backing of presidential nominees, Hollywood stars have not missed an opportunity to share their feelings about the new president. John Oliver made it his life’s mission this season to convince viewers to vote for Clinton. Meryl Streep (who’s NOT overrated, Mr. President) called Trump out during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of perhaps the most overtly political show on Broadway– though also the most amazing) has been incredibly vocal about his hatred for the new president, and Lorne Michaels was awarded one of President Obama’s medals of freedom, arguably because of the recent politically-driven season of Saturday Night Live. On the flip side, celebrities like Kanye West and John Voight have come out in support of President Trump, though they are in the minority of Hollywood stars. In fact, political opinion in Hollywood has become such an expectancy this past year that celebrities who didn’t pipe in about the election (like my main gal, TSwift) have been getting a lot of flack.

Now, this column isn’t about politics. This column isn’t about the 2016 election, the current president or his policies, and this column definitely isn’t about my own political views. This is a column about Hollywood and the entertainment industry, but the two have become so mixed recently that I find myself wondering– is there a separation?

I truly believe that artists have a valuable and irreplaceable role in society. At times, I’ve found answers in film and television to questions so deep and personal that I didn’t even know I struggled with them until an actor or a writer put them in front of me– and the film industry could not do this without delving into the thick of things, attacking the personal and the relevant when no one else dares to. But, as I watched the nastiness of this past year’s election grow, I wondered if recognizing limitations was something Hollywood has yet to learn.

As much as intellectuals might deny it, celebrities have an enormous amount of influence in modern society. We may not realize it, but we look toward Hollywood as an escape. We see celebrities through our rose-colored glasses; when we hear about their lives and opinions, we hear them the way we hear lines on a screen or words on a page. We don’t know it, but we instinctively give them a reverence we don’t give the guy who lives next door, or even the news anchor who brings in an expert we’ve don’t recognize to talk about the election. And when we give them this level of reverence, we give them power. So much power that, when they tell us their opinions, we cloak them in veils of absolute truth. And, so, the question is: Is Hollywood sticking its nose into the political arena making the political climate better or worse? When do they step up and use their public platform for good, and when is it just a bully pulpit? Are actors’ opinions something we need to hear just because they have a mike and a camera beaming out to millions of people?

It doesn’t matter whether I (or anyone else) agree with the stand certain celebrities took and continue to take about the current President and his policies. The point is this: there are people who voted a certain way because John Oliver or Kanye West told them to, and that is freakin’ terrifying.

And so, Hollywood, as one of your most devoted fans, I make a plea: I ask that you recognize your influence, but also acknowledge your limitations. See where you can inspire, but also understand where you can hurt. Trust your audience to engage, but also trust them to be individuals. Remind us of the magic of the movies, but never try to rob us of our own thoughts. I think it’s time Hollywood began anew, forgot about politics for a little bit and focused on creating art on a more personal and nuanced level. And maybe then, the political climate (and also the comedy late shows) will begin to improve.

Keep on watching,

Yael
P.S. Stay tuned for my first pick on your Must See Binge list!

In the aftermath of President Trump’s election and inauguration, we asked Columbia students how they felt about the next four years. Here’s what they had to say:

 

I still haven’t really fleshed out my ideas, and it will be difficult to truly see how the election affects me until Trump’s presidency gets underway, but at the moment I’m looking at myself and I recognize I’ve enjoyed pretty much every benefit of society: I’m a well-off white male, hardly a target of misogyny or racism, so this result doesn’t affect me, existentially so, like it does my transgender classmate or Hispanic brother-in-law. But it still feels…wrong. And surreal. Yeah, it feels wrong and surreal that half the country aligns themselves with a man who represents the antithesis of many values I stand for and more importantly, the nightmares of millions of people who now how to live in fear. These people, as it is too often forgot, are HUMAN BEINGS and ought to be treated and respected as such, yet their ability to live without fear of harassment and prejudice and racism and sexism has taken a backseat to the specter of an America that becomes less great with every graffitied swastika and bigoted Facebook post.
-Bennett Smith, CC’20

 

 I think that, over the past eight years of Obama’s presidency, progressives have become somewhat complacent, not realizing that the progress we’ve made over the years is far from permanent. I think the election was really a wake-up call for liberals, and shows that, over the next four years, we’re going to have to work hard to overcome our own divisions to protect the gains we’ve made and promote a forward-thinking future. While a figure as contentious as Donald Trump has the potential to sow division, I hope that, over the next four years, progressives can reach out to those who disagree with us to understand where they’re coming from, why they believe what they believe, and whether we can find any common ground. That doesn’t have to happen in the halls of congress or the streets of NYC—it can happen right here on campus, where I think a commitment to empathy, even when uncomfortable, will serve us all well in the long-run.
-Arman Azad, CC’20

 

With the election of Donald Trump, the United States has a special chance to make much needed and unique changes. We’ve elected a man that will always put this nation and its citizens before all else. No party or ideology will come first, the partisan deadlock in Washington will come loose, and government will once again start working for the people. The days of empty rhetoric have passed. The era of real action has arrived. The next four years shine brightly ahead with the promise of new jobs, infrastructure, and investment fueled by reduced taxation and regulation and a renewed sense of faith in and love for this country. The path to a stronger, prouder, brighter America for all Americans, no matter how they identify or where they come from, is clearly set before us. With President Trump in the White House, guided as always by the invisible but all powerful grace of God, no citizen of this mighty land need worry that our Great Nation is in the right hands.
-Dante Mazza, CC ’19

 

As someone whose family still lives in a former USSR country, I’m not optimistic for the next four years given Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia. Trump’s indications that he won’t necessarily fulfill NATO obligations are a threat not to be taken lightly or brushed under the rug as he takes office. Having been in Latvia during the election made it quite clear to me who wanted what: the Latvians overwhelmingly supported Hillary despite being traditionally more conservative, while the ethnically Russian Latvian citizens were pro-Trump. On this front as well as all others, I can only say that the best case scenario is one in which he accomplishes nothing over the next four years.
Molly Mittler, BC ’19

 

The election of this president is emblematic of a bigger issue that encompasses racism, sexism, and xenophobia. The policies that his cabinet and his nominees have stated or even hinted at will transcend those barriers of effect. Donald Trump is obviously different from previous presidents. While the war on drugs destroyed the lives of black people, and while presidential silence on the AIDS crisis echoed the apathy for the death of so many, Trump’s policies will also affect the base that so eagerly voted for him. While I may lose the critical benefits awarded to me by a party that is at least trying, benefits that made many of us apathetic to the horrors that could so easily come from our complacency with the system, the one solace that may possibly console me is that the ignorant, the angry, and the misinformed which so eagerly voted for a demagogue will feel the repercussions of these next four years too. But, in the words of Dylan Thomas, we will not go gentle into that good night. The best of us will pull the country forward kicking and screaming like we have done so many times before. We will work to protect the rights of women, and the rights of minorities, and the rights of those less fortunate through marches, protests, sit-ins, and in the most important way of all, by voting in 2018 and 2020.
-Rafael Ortiz, CC’19

 

The inauguration of Trump makes me uncertain as an immigrant, a black person and a woman. Insecure of how emboldened racists and sexists feel right now with such a man as president for the next four years. I literally have four years before I complete my undergrad and I have never been this involved in American politics because this time it directly affects me. It is definitely interesting to watch how the years will unfold.
-Cynthia Welinga, BC’ 20



I find it disheartening and appalling that many have been defending this presidential outcome as democracy. Though President Trump was elected democratically, the notion of democracy, itself, has been lost. We are dangerously close, if not there already, to a state of tyranny upholding its ways in a veil of democratic values. We, as a nation, have fought hard for the past eight years to reestablish a sense of democracy, equal values and unity within the people. This election puts all we have fought for at risk. “We will not be divided” seems to be a popular response to the election, and I stand by it. However, the division which we must understand is that of the people and the sovereign. Our 45th President does not have interest in his people, but in our nations wealth. A businessman is not fit for president because his interest lies in the acquisition of property and not the well being of his people. He will bring forth this division which we are so strongly trying to avoid. He will bring upon us violence. These are dark times for us all. The misconstrued understanding of anarchy is not to go to war, but to reestablish equality. We must stand strong and fight against this formation of fascism and tyranny.
-Petros Gourgouris, CC’17

 

Although Trump’s message smacked too much of his campaign rhetoric and lacked unity, the inauguration was remarkable. Simultaneously in Gambia, a political transition also took place. But that one only happened because an international coalition forced a tyrant to step down; and it is for that reason–the reliability of the American government and sensibility of the American people–that I’m cautiously optimistic for the next administration.
-Blake Mueller, CC’18

 

Although I am disappointed with the outcome of the election, and the direction the Trump administration seems to be setting out for itself, I take heart in what President Obama said before leaving office. All Americans work together to bring about positive change. This is not a power reserved for one man. That being said, there are many people Trump’s administration affects far more intimately than myself, both in proposed policies and the culture it promotes. It falls on all of us to stand united to protect each other’s rights and liberties. I am hopeful we will do so moving forward. The millions at women’s marches across the world are evidence of our resolve to fight for one another.
-Scott Aronin, CC’15

 

To me, this inauguration represents the culmination of a political strategy of divisive racial discourse, fear mongering, and manipulation of basic facts that has ultimately put a party in power that unabashedly does the bidding of the rich elites of our country while concurrently tricking millions of poor citizens to vote for them. Never before has someone served as president who is the sole embodiment of a rich, white, privileged class who is the enemy of a robust, prosperous, and diverse middle and lower class, and who has continuosly served to divide the American populace and has weakened us as a nation. Reading about the gutting of basic rights in this country such as health care for tens of millions is heartbreaking, but it gives me hope that Columbians and young people across the country and world are not content to allow Donald Trump to systematically strip us of our power and our voice. For the next four years I know that Columbians will be on the front lines of the fight to protect our future from those in the American government who seek to destroy it .
-Adam Buford, CC’19

 

I think we’re going to learn a very hard lesson about idolatry in politics. One we should have learned before.
-Mae Graham, CC’18
If you’d like to submit a piece to the Lion, please email submissions@thecolumbialion.com.

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and the director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia. A student of math and physics at MIT, he developed an interest in statistics as a college senior and has gone on to become a leading educator and blogger in the field. His work has focused particularly on American politics, including research on the ability to predict elections, the power of the individual voter, and the benefits of redistricting. He blogs at andrewgelman.com.

In your blog, you regularly call out and discuss statistical misinterpretation and deception. What are some important statistical lies being propagated now?
The biggest lie, I think, is that certainty is easy to attain using routine methods.  This is a lie that many people tell to themselves.  As the saying goes, the first step in fooling others is to fool yourself.
You’ve described your successful projects as endeavors aimed at “big fat targets”, such as voting patterns and election incumbency. What targets interest you most now?
In political science I’ve lately been interested in studying polarization and the role of social groups.  We’ve been thinking a lot about what we call the social penumbra, which is the set of people connected to a group.  For example, the number of gays in America is about the same as the number of Muslims in America, but, in surveys, a lot more people report having a close friend or family member who is gay, than report the same of a Muslim.  Two groups that have approximately the same size, have much different penumbras.
What larger statistical questions, in general, will emerge in coming years?
At one extreme, there’s been lots of difficult statistical work on integration of large streams of data, for problems ranging from internet marketing to self-driving cars.  At the other extreme, lots of decisions are still being made based on whether a comparison is “statistically significant.” To consider one application area:  there’s lots of talk about personalized medicine based on each person’s genome; but new medical therapies are still being evaluated using crude between-person experiments.  How can this be?  If we can barely come to a consensus about what works in medicine, or what are the effects of different diets, how can we hope to design individualized therapies?  In many areas of applications, we need more local and relevant data and less reliance on statistical significance.

Know a student, staff, or faculty member that we should interview next? Let us know by sending a note to submissions@columbialion.com. Interested in conducting interviews on behalf of The Lion? Email operations@columbialion.com to join the team.

A brief note to people who voted for Trump to preserve their ‘conservative religious values’:

I am a devout (Brethren) Christian. I always look to preserve my religious values (which may be considered conservative) when I vote. Always. And I firmly believe that a Trump vote does not embody this.

When I look for a candidate who preserves my Christian values, I don’t look for if they oppose certain ‘taboo’ sins as considered by popular culture – but if they exemplify what a Christian is by showing a Christ-like love. This person is not Donald Trump. So please do not try to disguise your racist bias under your so called pursuit of Christ. Above all Jesus calls us to love him and one another (Matthew 22:36-40). His second greatest commandment is to love another and I would like to know how you believe Donald Trump is pursuing this doctrine.

I can see how coming from your place of (presumably white) privilege you can overlook his other flaws because nobody is perfect and you are pro-life above all. I’d just like to add that I’m very pro-life. Pro-life as in the lives of millions of immigrants (documented and undocumented) who fear for their safety, millions of LGTBQ who fear for their safety, millions of people of color (like me) who fear for their safety, millions of AMERICANS who fear for their safety. Pro-life as in the lives of millions of Americans who do not feel the love of Christ from someone you voted for. Someone you voted for to uphold your ‘conservative religious values’ which to me are ‘conservative values that are not at all religious but definitely borderline racist’.

So please, do not continue to spread the lie that your vote for Donald Trump was a vote to uphold your religious beliefs. Do not be fooled: your vote for Trump was not a vote for Christianity. It was a vote that supported Trump, as a sexually immoral, misogynistic, racist bigot. It was a vote for someone who definitely does not uphold Christian values.

The author proclaims to have ‘a conservative mind but liberal views’ because she believes that above all – Christians need to show Christ’s love first. She is a first year student of color at Columbia College for now, but like may students is considering transferring to McGill or really any other school in Canada if Trump becomes the misogynistic, racist leader he portrayed himself as being during the election. She is constantly praying for the state of this country (and is low key happy that she is not an American at this point in time).

Although I had intended to continue the series on the neuroscience of education, when I sat down to write a column a day before the United States votes for a new president, many new senate members, and hundreds of ballot measures, I’ve found that this election has truly consumed us all. So instead, today’s column will be dedicated to the young realm of neuropolitics – and what ramifications neuroscience may have for tomorrow’s vote.

Although contentious elections are nothing new, this cycle certainly feels more polarizing than years past. Many people on both sides are in disbelief as to how supporters of the opposing candidate could possibly overlook the horrible things they’ve said or done. Both sides are utterly confident that not only are they correct, but that all the facts support their position. Here is where fMRI has an answer.

In one of the first studies of its kind right before the 2004 elections, 30 self-identified ‘strong’ Democrats and 30 Republicans reviewed John Kerry and George W. Bush making self-contradictory statements while having their brains imaged. In an experience familiar to anyone who has tried this tactic against a member of the opposing party, the participants were critical of the hypocrisy in the opposing candidate while letting their own candidate off easy. While that result is predictable, the fMRI results were not at all.

The participants achieved this feat of mental gymnastics by quieting down the part of their brains necessary for impartial reasoning like the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and instead lighting up emotional circuitry such as the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula, which will all be important later. Specifically, an area of the brain called the basal ganglia lit up, which is, among other tasks, responsible for rewarding selective behaviors with dopamine. Effectively, partisan brains were triggering dopamine rushes for ignoring the issues in their own candidates’ statements and criticizing their opponents. Once entrenched, it seems very difficult to combat confirmation bias by rational arguments when the ‘rational argument’ part of the brain is offline during these discussions.

The differences that divide us seem to run deeper than confirmation bias. A growing body of research shows some fundamental wiring differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives. One study was actually able to use brain regions of interest from an fMRI to determine political affiliation with 83% accuracy, which is over 10% higher than the next-best factor of parent’s ideology. In general, a conservative brain will more strongly react to disgust and react with more emotionality to uncertain concepts or events, thanks to a larger and more active insula and right amygdala.

Liberals, on the other hand, are less fearful of new stimuli and less reactive to negative events, and more likely to adapt to changes in established patterns. Some of these effects can be attributed to their larger and more reactive anterior cingulate cortex, which has long been known to monitor and mediate conflicting information. From the psychology side of things, personality data shows that conservatives value loyalty, stability, and are both risk- and change-averse.

Meanwhile, liberals are more likely to change their opinions and base decision-making on new information, specifically the kind of fact-heavy information that activates the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Without placing a value judgement on either ideology, it seems that biological differences in how people process and respond to information aligns with ideological differences.

Of course it’s important to keep in mind that the brain is a highly plastic structure, so there’s a classic chicken-and-the-egg problem in play here. Twin studies, long the gold standard for measuring genetic influence, attribute somewhere between 40 to 60% of political preference up to genetics, as manifested by differences in brain structure. It’s also possible, even likely, that slight anatomical differences might snowball into bigger ones if those neurological pathways are strengthened by continued exposure to politically charged information.

As with much of neuroscience, it’s sometimes unnerving to think about how our decisions are so frequently based on the activation of subcortical structures, not conscious thought. While we may find it difficult how someone could possibly vote for the other candidate, perhaps political neuroscience can contribute some understanding to the underlying motivations that determine political choices. So as we decide on a new president this Tuesday, give a thought to those scientists trying to figure out what’s going on in your brain while you’re making that oh-so-important choice.  

Uniquely Human runs alternative Mondays. To submit a comment or a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.