Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
Sao Paulo police officers confront student protesters during a strike in August.
The high-profile killings of figures like Ferguson, Missouri's Michael Brown have stirred a national conversation about police brutality as of late. But it turns out the Americas' second biggest economy struggles with this issue on a much greater scale: Brazil's police killed more than 11,000 civilians between 2008 and 2013; on average, a staggering six people every day. This jaw-dropping number was released today in a Brazilian Public Security Forum (BPSF) report whichrounds up statistics illuminating the country's struggles with public safety. To put the figure in context, it took police in the United States 30 years to kill the same number of civilians, despite the fact that there are at least 50 percent more people in the US.
Sao Paulo in particular has seen an increase in civilian deaths at the hands of the authorities. Between January and September of 2014, officers killed 478 people during confrontations, twice as many victims as during that same period last year. The uptick parallels an increasingly lawless criminal culture, say authorities. "Rather than turn themselves in to the police, criminals prefer to open fire," Sao Paulo police department's Jose Vicente da Silva told the AP. "That is what is causing the increase."
"Unfortunately, we are a country where police kill more and die more."
Many of Brazil's police killings happen in the predominately black favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where there's been a heightened military presence, in part to try and pacify the area for the World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Brazilian journalist Juliana Barbassa, who's writing a book on the issues feeding Brazil's massive national protests, described this tension when she spoke with my colleague Ian Gordon in July. When more police entered Rio's slums, "at the beginning there was this real hope that they could do something," Barbassa said; for one, break up the drug rings controlling the community. But then "you've got military police fully armed, in your community 24/7, regulating things like when you can have parties—it's not without its serious problems." Barbassa explained that the city has seen some "very ugly cases of abuse of power," including authorities torturing and killing civilians and then hiding the bodies. "To see these things happen, with this freshly trained, specifically chosen group of officers, really helped unravel a little bit the expectations and hopes that people had."
While the BPSF report paints a grim portrait of police use of force in Brazil, it also reveals how officers themselves suffer at the hands of the country's rampant violence. While fewer officers died on duty in 2013 than in 2012, many more were killed (from non-natural causes) on their off-hours: In 2013, 369 policemen perished while off-duty, compared to 191 just two years earlier. BPSF researchers note that it's tricky to pinpoint exactly why officers are being targeted outside of work, but in some parts of the country, killing a cop is a gang rite of passage.
"Unfortunately, we are a country where police kill more and die more," BPSF's researchers write. They later conclude: "Death should be understood as taboo, and not an acceptable outcome of security policy."
We've entered the age of the coconut. While the lactose intolerant quaff Starbucks' new coconut milk lattes, the gluten averse are busy baking with coconut flour. The number of coconut oil products—for both cooking and skin moisturizing—grew by 800 percent between 2008 and 2012.
Of course, the craze started with a different part of the hairy tropical fruit: its liquid center. Ethnic markets in the United States have sold coconut water for decades, but it didn't go mainstream until 2004, when, as the New York Times'David Segal reported earlier this year, two separate brands, Vita Coco and Zico, happened to launch simultaneously. Inspired by the drink's popularity in Brazil and Central America, the entrepreneurs emphasized the beverage's hydrating minerals—an all-natural Gatorade. Food trends analyst Harry Balzer of the market research firm NPD Group notes that the launches coincided with our growing fixation on natural eating; Whole Foods was an early vendor. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of coconut water brands quintupled. Today, a 12-ounce serving goes for $1.50 to $2.00—adding up to a $500 million industry, with PepsiCo and Coca-Cola owning big sellers.
After a lawsuit accused Vita Coco of exaggerating health claims, the brand rewrote its labels and paid a $10 million settlement.
Americans were the perfect market for this salty-sweet liquid because we already bought into the benefits of post-exercise beverages, says Jonny Forsyth of another market research group, Mintel. But ads touting coconut water's superior hydration turned out to be overblown. After a 2011 lawsuit accused Vita Coco of exaggerating when it claimed that the beverage had "15 times the electrolytes found in sports drinks," the company agreed to rewrite its labels and shell out a $10 million settlement (though it did not admit any wrongdoing). Lilian Cheung, director of health promotion at Harvard's School of Public Health, says coconut water does contain some electrolytes, especially potassium. And it usually packs less sugar than sports drinks—around 1.3 grams an ounce compared to Gatorade's 1.7 grams. But for those getting seriously sweaty during workouts, sports drinks contain more sodium than coconut water. And for the rest of us, water is still the best choice for hydration, says Cheung, especially because it's easy to replace lost electrolytes with food (oranges, spinach, and kidney beans, for example).
Iffy science notwithstanding, the coconut water trend spurred industry confidence in the fruit's oil ($10 to $15 for a jar), which came with a whole new set of questionable health promises. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration scolded health guru Joseph Mercola for saying that Tropical Traditions Virgin Coconut Oil could "reduce the risk of heart disease" and "lower your cholesterol." Some nutritionists have praised the oil's higher proportion of medium-chain fatty acids, which are less likely than long-chain fatty acids to deposit fat into your tissue. But unlike olive oil or vegetable oil, coconut oil is still mostly saturated fat, and eating too much of it could raise levels of the bad kind of cholesterol, "a major cause of heart attacks," says Frank Sacks, a Harvard professor of cardiovascular disease prevention. Even more so if the product has gone through harsh processing, says Cornell nutrition science professor Tom Brenna.
Here's what coconut products are good for: companies' bottom lines. American brands are "making really high margins and buy the coconuts for virtually nothing," Mintel's Forsyth told BeverageDaily.com. In the Philippines, the world's second-largest coconut producer after Indonesia, nearly two-thirds of small-scale coconut farmers live in poverty. Though harvesting the fruit requires a perilous climb, often up trees treated with harsh pesticides, they make just $3 a day at the height of the harvest. Each coconut yields around 500 mL of liquid; a 12-ounce bottle uses about two-thirds of a nut. Of the $2 that you pay for a bottle of the stuff, the farmer makes between 7 and 14 cents. And don't forget that all that coconut water must be shipped across the planet, adding considerably to the product's greenhouse gas footprint.
So what's a coconut lover to do? One option: Buy an ethically made product. Earlier this year, Fair Trade launched a coconut certification program that guarantees farmers a 10 percent premium on top of their sale price to be used toward causes like typhoon relief. Participants in the program include Naked, Coco Libre, and Nutiva Virgin Coconut Oil. The brand Harmless Harvest only works with organic farms, and its Fair for Life certification prioritizes fair pay. Another company, Big Tree Farms, reduces shipping emissions by selling dehydrated coconut powder so you can make your own coconut water. Guilt remedies? Maybe. Magic health elixirs? Probably not.
When Sara Farizan presented early drafts of her young-adult novels at writing workshops, her fellow graduate students at Lesley University often responded with a stunned "Huh." The YA genre tends to be dominated by wizards and trolls, but here was Farizan writing about gay teenage sexual angst. Her 2013 debut novel, If You Could Be Mine, centers on Sahar, an Iranian teenager who considers desperate measures—including sex reassignment surgery—to try to stop her true love's arranged marriage. Farizan, born in the United States to Iranian parents, figured the book would sell on the fringes. Instead, it quickly landed on several "best YA reading" lists and snagged a Lambda Literary Award.
Her new novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, takes place closer to home. Out October 7, it is set in a waspy prep school, not unlike the one Farizan attended as a closeted teen in Massachusetts ("pre-Ellen," she notes). "I had this outgoing personality, and I was class president, but inside, I was going to my car to cry."
Farizan's stories, as full of gossip as any school cafeteria, are nonetheless funny and frank. They deal with uncomfortable issues—and not just for "girls named Emily or Annie." For that matter, Farizan thinks her fellow YA authors could do better at appealing to kids of all stripes. "Not that Harry isn't great," she says. "But if Ron and Hermione had been some other identity—black, Latina, gay—I think that would have made a huge difference."
Mother Jones: You've said: "I write books I wish I had as a teenager." Can you elaborate?
"It didn't bother me that my first crush was animated, or a mouse; it bothered me that she was female."
Sara Farizan: My first crush, as early as age 5, was Gadget the Mouse from Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. It didn't bother me that she was animated, or a mouse; it bothered me that she was female. I had these inclinations, and was really terrified by them. This was pre-Ellen of course, and given the culture my parents are from—where a husband and wife is very important, and kids, and then those kids grow up to be doctors hopefully—I spent a lot of years in this silent fear and anger. As a teenager, I had this outgoing personality, and I was class president and doing all kinds of things; but inside was going to my car to cry. I had no problems explaining to people what my Iranian heritage meant, and trying to be a good representative. What did worry me was that I was secretly gay.
MJ: What were you reading at the time?
SF: There were LGBT-oriented books for teens by Julie Anne Peters, and Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind. I normally got those from my town library rather than my school. But there wasn't anything about someone of a different background, you know. They were all girls named Emily and Annie. While those books were really helpful to me, there was a disconnect in that the only LGBT books that I had read about in school were concerning very of-European-descent people.
MJ: You started your books as graduate school projects. Did you think they'd become more than that?
SF: I really didn't see them ever being published, based on what they're about. Everyone in the "Writing for Young People" track was writing trolls and wizards, and, um, not LGBT people of color, certainly. I thought perhaps they were too niche. I didn't anticipate that all of this would have happened—that I'd be speaking to you, for one.
MJ: There are a lot of doctors in your books, and I see that your father was a surgeon. Did you feel pressure to go that route?
SF: No, but I think it was a profession that was understood. It's one that's really lofty and prestigious. I think for a lot of Persian parents in the States, being a doctor was the gold standard. There's this comedian, Amir K, who does an impression of his dad, who's like, "What do you mean you want to be a comedian? You can be a lawyer, you can be a doctor, you can open up a bank." And Amir's like, "Dad, you can't just go around opening up banks." [See video below.] My sister and I have gone very media-related routes. My parents are really wonderful about it, but it's not something they knew anything about. It's all very new territory for them.
MJ: Is your book, If You Could Be Mine, banned in Iran?
SF: I don't know that they know about it. I don't Google myself. I don't look myself up. One, because I'm a fragile flower. And two, it's going to mess up anything I want to write in the future.
MJ: You paint a very believable portrait of life in Iran. Did you live there for a time?
SF: I've been there. I have the passport stamps. I worry about being exploitative because I'm a Westerner. But for me it was very important, being a member of the LGBT community and dealing with that kind if frustration and isolation, to imagine what it would be like growing up in the country my parents are from.
MJ: The idea of transexualism plays a big role in the new book—though it seems pretty evident that Sahar is not trans. But I was surprised to learn that transgender Iranians can get subsidies for gender reassignment surgeries, and that they have more government protections than homosexuals.
A boy steps out of a bus full of families deported from Mexico back to Honduras in July of this year.
Escaping rampant violence in parts of Central America, tens of thousands of child migrants made a treacherous journey up to the United States border this year. To help dissuade such a vulnerable population from taking such risky treks in the first place, Obama announced Tuesday that he plans to roll out a new program to allow children to apply for refugee status from their home countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
The program is still in the planning stages, and it remains unclear how old the kids must be and what circumstances they must be caught in to successfully apply for asylum. But at least it's a move in the right direction, says Michelle Brané of the Women's Refugee Commission. "They are laying the groundwork and designating an avenue—it's a good starting off point," she says.
"That's not even close to enough. We saw 60,000 kids arrive from Central America this year."
White House spokesperson Shawn Turner told the New York Times that the initiative is meant to "provide a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey children are currently taking to join relatives in the United States." The point made in the last part of this statement has caught the attention of human rights advocates including Brané, as it suggests that only children who already have a relative in the US will qualify for asylum under this new program, leaving out thousands who are trying to escape newly developing unrest and gang violence.
Advocates also worry about the number of applicants that will be granted asylum. The White House's announcement projects that 4,000 people total from Latin America and the Caribbean could be granted refugee visas in fiscal year 2015. (Let's not forget that region includes troubled countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Haiti). The children who would be allowed to apply for refugee status from their home countries appear to be a subcategory of that 4,000. "That's not even close to enough," says Brané. "We saw 60,000 kids arrive from Central America this year."
"Kids have a threat against their lives. They don't have time to stand in line, file an application, come back later, stand in line again. They have to leave immediately."
One study by the UN High Commissioner of Refugees revealed that 60 percent of recent child migrants interviewed expressed a targeted fear, like a death threat, which is the type of experience that can qualify you for asylum. If you use that statistic, that means 36,000 of the kids who crossed the border this year should qualify for refugee visas—nine times the total number Obama is promising.
But Brané says an even bigger concern with the program is its potential to eclipse or replace protections given to targeted migrants who arrive at the Mexico/US border. "A program like this is fine as a complementary approach," she says, "but it cannot replace protection at the border; it should not impede access to asylum in the US." Ironically, it's the children whose lives are most threatened that could have the hardest time applying for refugee status from their home countries. "In some of these cases, kids have a threat against their lives," says Brané. "They don't have time to stand in line, file an application, come back later, stand in line again. They have to leave immediately."
Illustrator Wendy MacNaughton has no shame in asking our server about the tattoo peeking out from under her right armpit. We're at Magnolia Brewery, a pub in San Francisco with a soft glow and a hint of an edgy past. The petite, bespectacled waitress explains that the hen and chicks inked on her inner bicep come from a kid's book her grandma used to read to her at the childhood farm. After the server disappears to retrieve our fries, MacNaughton says: "If someone is choosing to permanently mark their body, there is a story behind it."
She should know. MacNaughton has spent much of the last two years on a new oral-history book, Pen and Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them, out October 7. The testimonies accompanying her expressive drawings serve as glimpses into the subjects' earlier selves—"my sister and I would race after bees in the lavender bushes and try to pet them without getting stung"—or mantras to live by—"a gray-blue stripe down my spine…symbolizes 'balance.'" Some insignias represent disturbing moments: incarceration or chemo or lost family members. Others are just goofy: A male comedian sports a cursive "Whoops" on his arm, and one woman inked a T. rex on her ribcage as a reminder "not to take myself too seriously."
The project was the brainchild of Isaac Fitzgerald, co-owner of literary website The Rumpus and the books editor at BuzzFeed. Past bartending gigs had taught Fitzgerald that quizzing fellow mixologists about their tattoos was an easy ice-breaker. As his interest in publishing took hold, he noticed that most books about tattoos merely relied on photographs, which, in terms of capturing the essence of a great tattoo, "leave a lot to be desired."
One day, Fitzgerald was having a drink with MacNaughton, whose playful renderings have adorned the pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, PRINT, and several books. "I said, 'Here's this really dumb idea!'" Fitzgerald recalls. "And I think she was like, 'That's not that dumb.'" So, in 2012, they launched a Tumblr called Pen and Ink, which pairs MacNaughton's tattoo portraits with the subjects' personal stories. Before long, their project had attracted 80,000 followers, including rock star fans such as Neko Case and Colin Meloy.
"Andrea de Francisco, Cafe Owner"
Drawing hadn't always come so easy for MacNaughton. After graduating from Pasadena's City Art Center College of Design in 1999, and making, in her words, "the worst conceptual art ever," she abandoned her pen in exasperation. Instead, she went to grad school for international social work, and spent several years working on political campaigns in East Africa.
The drawing bug bit again after she moved to the Bay Area and began sketching fellow commuters on the train to work. Something had shifted: "In art school it was all about expressing my analysis of the world, and my ideas." But now she wanted to use her talents to tell other people's stories. Her sketches of life in the city—street characters, found objects, or moments on a bus—became an online series for The Rumpus, culminating in a 2014 book, Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words.
"Anna Schoenberger, Manager at Thrift Store"
Interviewing diverse tribes for Meanwhile was a great warmup for Pen and Ink, MacNaughton tells me. Nowadays, it's impossible to predict who might have a tattoo: anyone from "people who work downtown in an office on a top floor in a suit to somebody who doesn't work who has tattoos all over his face," she says. She shoots me a sly look. "I get a possible tattoo vibe from you."
When I break the news that I'm actually not among the 23 percent of Americans who are inked, she counters, "You just don't have one yet." (I've recently become obsessed with FlashTats, those sparkly temporary tattoos designed to look like jewelry. Gateway drug?)
MacNaughton, who has wavy rust-colored hair and sparkly eyes, sports two tattoos herself—both equally embarrassing, she admits. She points to one on her forearm: a triangle connecting three circles meant to represent a philosophical "mirror theory." "There was a point when I would have removed this. But I'm really glad now that I didn't." Doing Pen and Ink, she says, "helped me embrace that attitude that this represents a time in my life when I was more sincere. That was a great time. And I am so glad it is not that time anymore."
MacNaughton and Fitzgerald are already busy with a sequel, Knives and Ink, an illustrated series of tattooed chefs and their tales. MacNaughton's not done inking herself, either. "My next tattoo," she confides, "is Grandma-related."