“On September 24, NPR show Radiolab aired a 25-minute segment on Yellow Rain. In the 1960s, most Hmong had sided with America in a secret war against the Pathet Lao and its allies. More than 100,000 Hmong died in this conflict, and when American troops pulled out, the rest were left to face brutal repercussions. Those who survived the perilous journey to Thailand carried horrific stories of an ongoing genocide, among them accounts of chemical warfare. Their stories provoked a scientific controversy that still hasn't been resolved. In its podcast, Radiolab set out to find the "fact of the matter". Yet its relentless badgering of Hmong refugee Eng Yang and his niece, award-winning author and activist Kao Kalia Yang, provoked an outcry among its listeners, and its ongoing callous, racist handling of the issue has since been criticized in several places, including Hyphen. When Hyphen's R.J. Lozada reached out to Kao Kalia Yang, she graciously agreed to share her side of the story for the first time. What follows are her words, and those of her uncle. ... On the date of the interview, Wednesday May 16th, 2012 at 10 in the morning, Marisa Helms (a Minnesota-based sound producer sent by Radiolab), my husband, and I met with Uncle Eng’s family at their house in Brooklyn Center. In customary Hmong tradition, my uncle had laid out a feast of fruits and fruit drinks from the local Asian grocery store. He had risen early, went through old notebooks where he’d documented in Lao, Thai, Hmong, and a smattering of French and English, recollections of Hmong history, gathered thoughts, and written down facts of the time. The phone lines were connected to WNYC studios. Pat and Robert introduced themselves and asked us for our introductions. The questions began. They wanted to know where my uncle was during the war, what happened after the Americans left, why the Hmong ran into the jungles, what happened in the jungles, what was his experience of Yellow Rain. Uncle Eng responded to each question. The questions took a turn. The interview became an interrogation. A Harvard scientist said the Yellow Rain Hmong people experienced was nothing more than bee defecation. My uncle explained Hmong knowledge of the bees in the mountains of Laos, said we had harvested honey for centuries, and explained that the chemical attacks were strategic; they happened far away from established bee colonies, they happened where there were heavy concentrations of Hmong. Robert grew increasingly harsh, “Did you, with your own eyes, see the yellow powder fall from the airplanes?” My uncle said that there were planes flying all the time and bombs being dropped, day and night. Hmong people did not wait around to look up as bombs fell. We came out in the aftermath to survey the damage. He said what he saw, “Animals dying, yellow that could eat through leaves, grass, yellow that could kill people -- the likes of which bee poop has never done.” My uncle explained that he was serving as documenter of the Hmong experience for the Thai government, a country that helped us during the genocide. With his radio and notebooks, he journeyed to the sites where the attacks had happened, watched with his eyes what had happened to the Hmong, knew that what was happening to the Hmong were not the result of dysentery, lack of food, the environment we had been living in or its natural conditions. Robert crossed the line. He said that what my uncle was saying was “hearsay.” I had been trying valiantly to interpret everything my uncle was saying, carry meaning across the chasm of English and Hmong, but I could no longer listen to Robert’s harsh dismissal of my uncle’s experience. After two hours, I cried, “My uncle says for the last twenty years he didn’t know that anyone was interested in the deaths of the Hmong people. He agreed to do this interview because you were interested. What happened to the Hmong happened, and the world has been uninterested for the last twenty years. He agreed because you were interested. That the story would be heard and the Hmong deaths would be documented and recognized. That’s why he agreed to the interview, that the Hmong heart is broken and our leaders have been silenced, and what we know has been questioned again and again is not a surprise to him, or to me. I agreed to the interview for the same reason, that Radiolab was interested in the Hmong story, that they were interested in documenting the deaths that happened. There was so much that was not told. Everybody knows that chemical warfare was being used. How do you create bombs if not with chemicals? We can play the semantics game, we can, but I’m not interested, my uncle is not interested. We have lost too much heart, and too many people in the process. I, I think the interview is done.” Before we hung up the phone, I asked for copies of the full interview. Robert told me that I would need a court order. I offered resources I have on Yellow Rain, news articles and medical texts that a doctor from Columbia University had sent my way, resources that would offer Radiolab a fuller perspective of the situation in Laos and the conditions of the Hmong exposed to the chemicals. My uncle gave Marisa a copy of a DVD he had recorded of a Hmong woman named Pa Ma, speaking of her experiences in the jungles of Laos after the Americans left, so that the Radiolab team would understand the fullness of what happened to the Hmong. After we hung up the phone, there was silence from the Radiolab team. ”—MUST READ: Kao Kalia Yang, “The Science of Racism: Radiolab’s Treatment Of Hmong Experience,” Hyphen Magazine 10/22/12
“At night, that basically means you don't see the Earth… not at all. When it's a moonless night you don't see the Earth. In fact, all it might look like to you is the absence of stars.”—
Astronaut Dave Wolf, relating what darkness looks like in space.
This is from the latest Radiolab, “Dark Side of the Earth”, in which Wolf tells the gripping tale of being trapped outside of the Russian space station Mir for days, waiting for a dark death to set in, and how he lived through it. And in the end, he says, if you’re floating just right, space can be a very peaceful place to hang out.
Give it a listen.
“The media is biased. Not in the way that people think it is, but it's certainly biased towards tension, it’s biased towards surprise. And so, there might be some kind of bias that leads us all towards a result that is counterintuitive and exciting. ”—Radiolab host Jad Abumrad, who dropped by last week to talk about the Decline effect, which is when results from scientific experiments become less and less replicable over time.
The Science Behind Music & LanguageNPR's Radiolab
NPR - The Science Behind Music & Language
If you are a fan of any kind of music and love intellectually stimulating thought, this is a MUST LISTEN. I’m a huge fan of NPR, and I can proudly say I’ve listened to every Radiolab podcast…there’s definitely well over a 100 hours of content. This is my 2nd favorite hour long special they’ve ever done, and it’s one of the most profound discussions I’ve heard to this day. I edited it down to my favorite 20 minutes so I could upload it to tumblr.
In this Radiolab special, experts explore the complex line between music and language by turning to physics and biochemistry to ask how sound becomes feeling, and how this feeling can become so influential within our lives and how we perceive the world.
If you want to listen to the full pod cast, here is the link.