Tuesday June 13, 2017

June 13, 2017 episode transcript

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The AIH Transcript for June 13, 2017

Hosts: Carol Off and Jeff Douglas



CAROL OFF: Hello, I'm Carol Off.

JEFF DOUGLAS: Good evening, I'm Jeff Douglas. This is As It Happens.

[Music: Theme]

CO: Attorney general knowledge. There are no major bombshells in Jeff Sessions testimony before a Senate committee. But tension continues to simmer because of the answers he gave an answer he didn't.

JD: They couldn't extend an olive branch if they wanted to. The European Union slams Italy because it is failing to take the appropriate steps to stop spreading disease that’s killing all the trees… or any steps at all.

CO: Seeking the least worst option. As fighting intensifies for control of the Syrian city of Raqqa, residents are caught between two deadly choices: cross a minefield to flee or stay put and risk being killed by airstrikes.

JD: A place with the sun. After Kevin Durant's leads the Golden State Warriors to an NBA title and is named MVP of the finals to boot. We're going to speak with the person who helped him find order on the court: his mom, Wanda.

CO: Caesar sullied. Sponsors pull their support from New York Shakespeare in the park because the title character in “Julius Caesar” bears a suspicious resemblance to a president who favors red ball caps over laurel wreaths.

JD: And… revenge is sweet and frequently pink. A Brooklyn company will track down the troll who sent you that mean tweet and then send your tormentor a cake with the trolls nasty words written right on top. As It Happens, the Tuesday edition. Radio that hopes confection is good for the soul.

[Music: Theme]

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Part 1: Jeff Sessions testimony, Raqqa civilians, Kevin Durant’s mom

Jeff Sessions testimony

Guest: Philip Asha Rangappa

JD: Jeff Sessions was center-stage today. The U.S. attorney general was in the eye of the “Russian interference” storm rocking Washington and the administration of President Donald Trump. Here's part of what Mr. Sessions said in front of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee earlier today.


JEFF SESSIONS: I recuse myself from any investigation into the campaign for president. But I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations. At all times throughout the course of the campaign, the confirmation process and since becoming attorney general I have dedicated myself to the highest standards. The Trump agenda is to improve the lives of the American people. These false attacks, the innuendoes, the leaks you can be sure will not intimidate me. In fact, these events have only strengthened my resolve to fulfill my duty.

That was U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking earlier today in front of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. Asha Rangappa has been watching all of this very closely. She is a former FBI special agent and the Associate Dean at Yale Law School. We reached Ms. Rangappa in New Haven, Connecticut.

CO: MS. Rangappa, right out of the starting gate we heard Jeff Sessions say today that any accusation against him regarding collusion with Russia is detestable lies based on innuendo. What did you make of that?

ASHA RANGAPPA: Spies don't come up and ask you to commit treason. That's not how they work. They don't say hey, would you like to collude on our interference in the election? Spies go through a process where they develop a relationship. They're looking at your access, your vulnerabilities and what they can exploit. It's a long game. So what I hear him saying is listen, I never had these direct conversations with any Russians about you know engaging in this activity. That may be true but that's actually a separate question from whether he had contacts with Russians, either officials or business people. You've heard that question come up. And what they're trying to get at is probably information that exists on the intelligence community side that he may have been a target for development by Russian intelligence.

CO: Even if he didn't realize that or even if he didn't collude or offer or give them anything they wanted to get him in their pocket?

AR: I mean that is a possibility, right The Russians are always… I mean any spies, but I think especially the Russians are looking for people that they can exploit and get something out of. And often that process happens unwittingly from the target's perspective until it's too late. You know, I would think that as a senator, someone who presumably has some experience in intelligence related matters, he would understand that and be more nuanced about how he is answering these questions and the kinds of contacts he has like understanding that he may not be directly being accused of a crime.

CO: As you pointed out he is a very highly qualified senator, a very experienced man, yet he has said a number of times look things will go very quickly. The campaign was just so rapid. I may have had conversations I don't recall. He always couched his statement that he didn't have conversations with Russians. He said at one point possibly I had meetings that I don't remember. But if I did have meetings I don't remember nothing improper took place in those meetings that I may or may not remember. What does that tell you?

AR: It tells me I mean he doesn't remember a lot, which is problematic. I don't know I really think that at this point it matters what information the intelligence community has. There seems to be a discrepancy between the seriousness of what the intelligence community has seen about his interaction with Russian intelligence and he apparently is unaware of that. So I think we just have a disconnect. There could be ways of reconciling those two things that don't necessarily mean that he is lying. But the big picture is he should be as concerned as the intelligence community about what may have been going on. And that's what I see missing here is that there seems to be this adversarial approach to this when this is an issue that should be of concern to everyone regardless of party.

CO: And then he says that what he knows about the Russians may or may not have done in the 2016 U.S. election is mostly what he's read in the media. He says he's never had a classified briefing about that file and he did recuse himself at some point. But that he has no knowledge of it and he says all he knows is if they say it's true, I guess it is. What do you make of that?

AR: That was very striking to me, in fact my jaw dropped a little bit when I heard him say that he had never had a classified briefing. He was attorney general for several weeks before he recused himself. It would obviously make sense that he wouldn't get any briefings once he recused himself. But before that, this would be probably the biggest counterintelligence investigation happening in the FBI. And I am really at a loss for understanding why that wouldn't have been one of the first cases that he would have been briefed on. Just drawing on my own experience there may be other reasons, but my initial reaction is to say that for some reason the bureau and the National Security Division of the Justice Department were not able to share what would likely be top secret and compartmentalized information with him. That's largely probably what the case involves.

CO: The attorney general's testimony he seems somewhat miffed and surprised by all the pressure on him to explain how the former head of the FBI, Mr. Comey, came to be fired. I mean this is the head of the FBI is fired in the middle of an investigation into activities that members of the administration that fired him are being investigated for. And it seems to be quite extraordinary to actually find out what's behind that. He says his letter recommending to the termination of Mr. Comey they never mentioned Russia in that. Mr. Trump said in an interview that the Russian probe is what motivated him to fire Mr. Comey. Did any of that get cleared up today?

AR: No, I don't think so at all. I think that was a very circular conversation. He seems to be insisting that the stated reasons in the memo that was written by Rod Rosenstein were the actual reason that there would need to be a fresh start as you just pointed out. That was directly contradicted by the president. I think you also noticed that he's been refusing to answer certain questions related to any conversations he might have had with the president. And that's been incredibly unusual because he really has no legal basis to not answer those questions. Executive privilege is a privilege that belongs to the president. And that would need to be invoked by the president, which it has not in this case. And there doesn't seem to be any other basis for him to not provide more clarifying questions to the committee and I can see that the committee is getting incredibly frustrated with that.

CO: Did you hear anything in his testimony today that you think might come back to bite him in the backside? Anything that he put on the record that raised your eyebrows?

AR: Yes. Well, there is one event which definitely there are now two differing testimonies under oath. So this is the meeting that Comey had with Sessions after his initial interaction alone with the president in which he felt uncomfortable. And he went and he told the attorney general that the attorney general needed to make sure that he was not left alone with the president again. Now when Comey testified he recounted that when he said this, the attorney general actually didn't reply, kind of shrugged his shoulders or made some kind of gesture that conveyed you know I can't really do anything about it. But the attorney general's account is that he actually conveyed back to Comey that Comey should follow the FBI and Department of Justice protocols in any future interactions and kind of gave him some official guidance. So it's a small discrepancy I mean, but it's a big point because a lot of the criticism that Comey is under is why he didn't take his concerns to people at the Department of Justice? And so the attorney general's responsiveness and who is really being truthful about it really does matter to that issue.

CO: We will leave it there and we will be following. Ms. Rangappa, I appreciate speaking with you. Thank you.

AR: Thank you. Bye bye.

JD: Asha Rangappa is a former FBI special agent and is the Associate Dean at Yale Law School. We reached for New Haven, Connecticut.

[Music: Folk]

Raqqa civilians

Guest: Puk Leenders

JD: Civilians in northern Syria are facing an impossible choice. In the city of Raqqa, a U.S.-backed group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces has entered the city, and is attempting to gain a foothold against ISIS there. And now civilians can either flee the city and attempt to cross minefields to safety, or they can stay where they are and risk being bombed by the U.S. or killed by ISIS. Puk Leenders Is MSF’s Emergency Coordinator for North Syria, that is Doctors Without Borders, and that is where we reached her.

CO: Ms. Leenders, what are people telling you about the situation inside Raqqa? The ones who have been able to get out what are they saying?

PUK LEENDERS: They talk about how they have been fleeing and how difficult it was to make the decision to flee. And the life they left behind, all their properties and all their stuff. And I think Raqqa City has been besieged for a long, long, time. So access to healthcare, food and water has been challenging for them. And, at a certain point, people lose hope and trust that things become better and then decide to flee.

CO: And so the conditions inside are obviously terrible and there's not enough food, there's no health care and so they need to get out. What are the risks they take by choosing to flee their homes in Raqqa?

PL: It's an incredible difficult decision to make. For me, it is a decision no family, no parent, should ever have to make because to stay in Raqqa and to expose your family to heavy bombardments or to decide to flee and to cross active frontlines and minefields. It's an impossible decision and that's why it is so important. And MSF has to make sure that people are able to flee Raqqa on a safe way without putting their life in danger.

CO: What have they told you about that minefield that they have to cross?

PL: You don't know where minefields are. You don't know where mines are. But many people talk about it. And I spoke, for example, with a father who fled with his children. And during the time he was fleeing, they got in the mine and he lost one of his children. And the other girl was very badly injured. And he still took both of them with him. But I mean those stories are incredibly painful to hear.

CO: These troops that are taking on ISIS, these Syrian Democratic Forces, are backed by the United States. With the technology the U.S. has is it not possible to de-mine an area for these people so they can get out?

PL: For us, it is really important that that there's more de-mining. And we really encourage humanitarian actors to also start de-mining. That more locations for civilians being de-mined. For example, hospitals are being de-mined. It takes a long time before you can access, for example, a hospital to start up health care because there are still mines inside the hospital compounds or inside the hospital buildings.

CO: You say that inside the city if they choose to stay they're facing bombardment. How intense is that aerial assault right now on Raqqa?

PL: I mean if you hear the stories the children are sharing with you about planes they hear. And they tell you that you have to be careful for these kind of things that shows how much it is in their minds.

CO: And what do people tell you about what it's like? Because they've been in that city trapped there for three-and-a-half years. What are they telling you about this latest push to take over Raqqa? What kinds of experiences? What kind of stories are they telling you?

PL: Most of the people are sharing the stories of slowly losing hope on a future and slowly losing hope in the future for their children, and hoping that there will be something good for them again. I mean many people have been fleeing before, this war in in its seventh year. So a lot of people have been fleeing previously to Raqqa, and now, they have to flee again from Raqqa. So this adds up and the trust that things will come right and that there is a future for them. That's what they really are extremely concerned about.

CO: And so here they are the ones who are still in Raqqa are there when this battle between ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces it's intense. It's extremely important strategically for those U.S.-backed forces to take Raqqa. Do you have an expectation that they will be trying to protect the civilians who are inside that city?

PL: I think I might hope that they do get protect these civilians. It's a very difficult thing that the people inside Raqqa are suffering so much from this war. I mean they are people, they are civilians, they're just like us and they are exposed to this level of war and violence.

CO: We spoke with a U.S. colonel a few weeks ago and he said the best way to protect civilians in these areas is to defeat ISIS. How do you respond to that?

PL: I mean I cannot talk for the people. I mean people do suffer from a lot of things what is happening over there. So they do suffer from the airstrikes, they do suffer from the minefields and they do suffer from the violence inside of the city. And none of them should happen to them.

CO: And do they hope to go home? To go back to Raqqa city?

PL Many people do actually, yeah. Many people do because they have built their lives and that's their home. So they have to flee for the violence, but they all express that they really would like to go back when things are safe again.

CO: Ms. Leenders, I appreciate speaking with you tonight. Thank you.

PL: You're welcome. Thank you very much.

CO: Good night.

PL: Good night.

JD: Puk Leenders is Doctors Without Borders Emergency Coordinator for North Syria.

[Music: Ambient]

Kevin Durant’s mom

Guest: Wanda Durant


FEMALE VOICE: He just can't stop smiling. He shares a moment with his mom. WANDA DURANT: Look at me, you did it. I’m proud of you, son.

JD: That is just seconds after the Golden State Warriors won the NBA finals last night. That was Kevin Durant and his mother, Wanda. They were wrapped in a tight embrace on the court. It was a long awaited championship for Mr. Durant. It was his first and his mom has been at his side every step of the way. In 2014, Kevin Durant won the NBA MVP and famously called his mom the real MVP. Wanda Durant took our call earlier today. We reached her in Oakland, California.

CO: Wanda, how did it feel to see your son win the NBA finals last night?

WD: I was just amazingly proud. It was quite overwhelming, really, because I wanted this for him for so many years. But this is the perfect time. So it was quite emotional, I was just really on edge. And I had to really take a moment to take it all in.

CO: There was this great moment on the court last night when you were embracing your son after the game was over, and that's a long time coming, isn't it?

WD: Yes, that moment there was a long time coming. Because I know how hard he worked and I remember the moment he came to me and said that he wanted to be a professional athlete. I was sitting on our sofa, and he came and said Mom, I know what I want to do. I'm going to be a professional basketball player. And I said to him give yourself some time to think about it and come back. He came back relatively quickly and I said OK, well, I’m going to push you and I’m not going to let you quit. I just remember that time from that moment up until the moment that won. It was quite emotional because all the highs and lows that we had gone through. And it was just hard work to create a foundation of how to be successful.

CO: I want to you about that foundation you laid for him given what you're up against. Your son said in 2014, when he was named the Most Valuable Player, he said the real MVP is my mom. And he said you kept us off the street, you put clothes on our backs, you put food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate and you went to sleep hungry. You were a single mom during those years. How difficult was it to support him through all of that.

WD: Well, you know, as I look at the time I could say was it was difficult. There were moments that I didn't know how I'm going to make ends meet. But as I look back now, it was all worth it. And mothers just do what they have to do, whether you are a two parent household, you’re a co-parent or a single parent, you do what you have to do and it doesn't matter. As I look back, they were the sweetest times in our lives, and nothing could compare to it — nothing.

CO: What was sweet about that time?

WD: We were together and no matter what happened in life, we still had love for each other. And we supported and we pushed one another along the way. And that's what was sweet about it. I wouldn't take any part of our journey away.

CO: Your son worked so hard for that moment last night. And when he left Oklahoma City to play for the Golden State Warriors It was something that upset the fans in Oklahoma. And I know that at one game in Oklahoma he got some pretty intense booing and chanting, and you were there. How hard was it for you to hear what the people in the stands had to say?

WD: That was quite difficult. I know that they would be disappointed in his departure, but to be so venomous after he poured his heart into Oklahoma. Kevin is a natural leader, and so a leader is the last person he thinks about. And that's what Kevin gave to Oklahoma City. And for them not to recognize that because he decided to leave was quite helpful.

CO: It was a tense series, wasn’t it? Last night’s final score: 129 to 120. Your son was unstoppable. I mean he scored 39 points. What was going on in your heart and mind as you watched him do that?

WD: At that moment, I was just wanting it for him. I wanted the success of it for him. I knew he could do it. I just knew he could do it.

CO: And he was doing an interview afterwards, and you came behind him. And you grabbed him by the scruff of his beard and pulled him toward you. What did you say to him?

WD: I told him to look at me. And I told him that he did it. And I wanted him to hear me say it, and I wanted him to take it. I just wanted to be assured that I said that to him, and that he heard me. That was important to me.

CO: Wanda, a big congratulations to you as the “Most Valuable Mom” and your son. Great work and thank you so much for speaking with us.

WD: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

JD: Wanda Durant is Kevin Durant's mother. She was at game five of the NBA finals last night to see her son leave the Golden State Warriors to victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. We reached her in Oakland. We have more on this story on our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.

[Music: Hip-hop]

Fields of wheat

JD: During her well… semi-disastrous campaign, British Prime Minister Theresa May said a lot of things that have come back to haunt her. And now, she's admitting as much. Today, she told a group of conservative MP says quote, “I got us into this mess, and I'm going to get us out of it.” She's right about one thing: it's a mess. It's a pretty big mess. And it's not just a political one. It is potentially an agricultural one as well because even one of Ms. May's most innocuous campaign comments has had a negative result. We told you about it last week. Ms. May came in for some pretty widespread mockery for her answer to a silly question about the naughtiest thing she had done as a child. So cast your mind back to her reply.


THERESA MAY: I have to confess when me and my friends sort of used to run through the fields of wheat. The farmers weren’t too pleased about that.

JD: OK, full disclosure: we added the reverb and the echo for metaphorical purposes because the Prime Minister's odd answer continues to reverberate around the UK. And people are getting concerned about possible repercussions. Mainly that other people will run through a field of wheat. Of particular concern is a Facebook group called “Running Through A Field of Wheat.” It is scheduled to take place in Norfolk on the weekend of June 23rd. The event description reads quote, “Feeling naughty? Been selling arms to Saudi Arabia? Privatized the National Health Service recently? Come join us for a cheeky frolic through fields of wheat. The farmers will love it!” 29,000 people have said that they're going. Of course, it's a joke likely. No particular Wheatfield in Norfolk is specified, but people have been posting videos to social media of themselves running through fields of wheat in honor of the PM's naughtiness. And the story of this ongoing, if probably fictional, threat to the country's grain even made the web site “Farmers Weekly”. So far, Theresa May has not yet eaten her words, at least not those ones. But it is perhaps about time for her to help herself to a bowl of shredded wheat.

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Part 2: Italy olive trees, troll cakes

Italy olive trees

Guest: Alison Abbott

JD: The bacteria are deadly. And the European Commission says that Italy is just letting them spread. Xylella fastidiosa causes olive trees to dry up and die. It showed up in Puglia, on the Italian boot, a few years ago. And scientists say that if the disease cannot be stopped, it will spread across Europe killing not just olive trees, but other plants as well. But the European Commission has released the results of an audit that suggests the Italians are simply sitting on their hands. Alison Abbott is a European correspondent for the journal Nature. We reached her in Munich.

CO: Alison, this sounds like a serious threat to the Italian olive industry and beyond. What's the European Commission accusing the Italians of having done?

ALISON ABBOTT: The European Commission has various rules and regulations of how to handle epidemic infections. And it requires action to be taken locally that's very precisely outlined. And the audit points out that the authorities in Puglia have been very remiss in carrying out these monitoring and controlling activities. And, in fact, I did some research on this myself, and with the help of a colleague in Italy who was able to get seven detailed figures on the actual monitoring that's been done, you can actually show that nobody was actually monitoring it all last year essentially.

CO: Getting to the details of why this isn't being contained? But does tell us a bit about what Xylella does to the trees?

AA: Xylella penetrates the sort of the sap of a tree. So it gets very deep into the tree, and the sort of blood system, so to speak of the tree. And that it expands and it just simply physically blocks the flow of fluid through the tree. So the tree, at the top, just simply dies of thirst.

CO: And how widespread do you think this is at this point among the olive trees?

AA: Well, we know pretty well exactly how widespread it is. At the moment, it is contained within the heel of the boot of Italy. So to that extent, it should be relatively easy to draw a line across it and prevent it moving forward.

CO: But it's not happening. It is not being prevented, is that right?

AA: Well, I think the idea is that it's not being prevented sufficiently. This disease can spread very rapidly because insects carry it from one tree to the next. And the measures to control the insects, and to uproot the trees, and destroy nearby trees haven't been carried out to the extent they would need to. So I think what everybody is hoping, we hoped last year and it didn’t happen, but we hope that following the exposure this year that controls haven't been taking place properly Italy will now start to take this a lot more seriously and stop it in its tracks. Every year that it's marching forward there are more trees involved because everything behind it is dying. And there's a greater chance of infections escaping somewhere else.

CO: But how could they not be taking it more seriously or acting more aggressively given the olive industry in Italy? These trees are old and it's difficult to replace. Why do you think that they're not being more aggressive?

AA: Well, if you think of the local political situation it is sort of quite easy to understand. So the small holding farmers that have smaller olive groves stand to lose everything if their trees are cut down. So the protesters are in large part saying we don't know it's Xylella. Why are you cutting down trees? Why are you doing this to control something we don't believe in? The scientists have actually proven that it's Xylella, but protesters say there are the options. Why is that important? Because Xylella is incurable; you have no hope. But if you hope against hope that actually maybe it's a fungus that's causing this disease maybe something else that you can cure then you don't have to cut down. So these are these sort of emotional factors that are leading to this very crazy situation. Populist politicians are siding with the you know these emotional arguments that perhaps it's not. And, it has to be said, the legal system in Puglia has also intervened, which has made it extremely difficult. One public prosecutor last year opened an investigation into the scientists implying that scientists may have actually caused the disease. Also, investigating whether Xylella wasn't the cause, and at this point, he put a stop to all uprooting of trees while his investigation continued. The accusations that are being investigated are obviously completely ridiculous. None the less, it's made authorities a little bit worried. Should they chop the trees down supposing the court decides something else? So that's been going on as well.

CO: And the Italians appointed a military police general to lead this eradication program back in 2015, and what happened to him?

AA: He did his best. He made a plan which was in accordance with EU regulations about what should be done. And then when he started to try to implement this and emergency rules, which gave him really all the authority that one needs. He was confronted with lot of different problems. First of all, protesters would take dramatic actions. They’d chain themselves to trees, stop the transport of things moving into the area, they’d block roads, they’d block railroads and then you had the legal system. And he just realised that he could not do this job. There was no way that he could do it. The state of emergency lasted for one year and it was not renewed. So the competence went back to the local authorities and the local politicians, who now they're sort of more or less coming into line. But for so many months — well over a year — they were siding with the protesters and really not doing their duty.

CO: And so, meanwhile, nothing's being done about the olive trees?

AA: So far very little has been done. Much less than should have been done, and time and bacteria wait for no man, right?

CO: All right, we will be following this story. Alison, I appreciate speaking with you. Thank you.

AA: Thanks Carol.

JD: Alison Abbott is a European correspondent for the journal Nature. We reached her in Munich.

[Music: Bluegrass]

Julius Caesar

JD: Well, despite the protests and the pressure for even more of its sponsors to withdraw support, New York’s Shakespeare in the Park is going ahead with tonight's performance of “Julius Caesar”. Now this production is a bit controversial in that it features a Caesar who bears a certain resemblance to the current U.S. president, complete with the big, blond, comb over and the Eastern European wife. But, as we all know from English class, Caesar doesn't do so well. He is stabbed to death and that has prompted accusations that the artists are playing politics and possibly even inciting violence against their head of state. Before yesterday's opening night, two of the company's sponsors, Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled out. But the play's director was not backing down. Oscar Eustis took to the stage before last night's performance to address the controversy before the crowd.


OSCAR EUSTIS: Hamlet said the purpose of play from the first till today was it is to hold up as tour, a mirror to nature. To show the age his form and pressure. Excuse the male pronoun, it’s what he used. That's what we do here in the theatre. We try to hold a mirror up to nature. It’s what Shakespeare was doing. It’s what we’re doing. When we hold the mirror up to nature, often what we reveal are disturbing, upsetting, provoking things. Thank God! That's our job. Anybody who watches this play tonight, and I'm sorry there's going to be a couple of spoiler alerts here, will know that neither Shakespeare, nor the public could possibly advocate violence as a solution to the political problems, and certainly not political assassinations.

[Sound: Cheering and clapping]

OE: This play, on the contrary, warns about what happens when you try to preserve democracy by non-democratic means. And again, spoiler alert, it doesn't end up too good. But, at the same time, one of the dangers that is unleashed by that is the danger of a large crowd of people manipulated by their emotions. Taken over by leaders who urge them to do things that not only are against their interest, but destroy the very institutions that are there to serve and protect them. This warning is a warning that in this show and we're really happy to be playing that story for you tonight. What I also want to say, and in this I am proud to say for the public theatre past, present and future. For the staff of the public theater, for the crews at the public theater, for the board of directors of the public theater and for Pattrick Willingham and myself when I say that we are here to uphold the public's mission. And the public's mission is to say that the culture belongs to everybody — needs to belong to everybody — to say that art has something to say about the great civic issues of our time. And to say that like drama, democracy depends on the conflict of different points of view. Nobody owns the truth. We all own the culture. Welcome to Julius Caesar.

JD: That was Oscar Eustis defending his new production of “Julius Caesar” last night in Central Park.

[Sound: Macabre rock]

Troll cakes

Guest: Kat Thek

JD: Once in a while, As It Happens gets a critical assessment online. For example, one listener's recent opinion that a particular program was quote, “the biggest waste of airtime that I have ever experienced.” Unquote. Now that, of course, is an example of what you would call constructive criticism. We can work with that. But some commenters, believe it or not, just want to hurt your feelings. And that is where a New York-based company called Troll Cakes comes in. The self-describe bakery-slash- detective agency turns a troll’s online comments into cakes, and then ships them to the troll. We reached Kat Thek, head chef and chief detective at Troll Cakes, in New York City.

CO: Kat, was there a particularly nasty online exchange that inspired this idea?

KAT THEK: Yes, I was on Dolly Parton’s Facebook page, and somebody wrote as a comment on this really lovely photo of her wearing this like whole bedazzled number. Somebody wrote, “your mama be so disappointed!” And it set me off. Not in like a furious way in like a uncontrollable laughter kind of mixed with a little bit of fury. It was just such an insane thing to say to somebody, especially Dolly Parton that I couldn't really get out of my head. The audacity of anybody to say that to another person and I was so curious what their goal was? Were they actively trying to hurt Dolly Parton's feelings? It was just so strange.

CO: But how did you get the idea of that cakes could actually be sent to trolls.

KT: I think it was just the contrast of it that I thought was funny. I thought the mean comments don't really make any sense online. No one ever asks for these sorts of comments that people leave. So it makes that kind of the same amount of sense to write that on somebody's Facebook wall or tweet it at them as it does to put it on a cake. But it was a lot funnier to see it on a cake because we only ever really see cakes that say great things, you know? Happy birthday, congratulations, happy anniversary and yada, yada, yada. But to put the really nasty stuff on the cake just kind of made it I thought very funny.

CO: But then you took it one step further and you combined these two professions of yours, cake chef and chief detective, to create that kind of business for people who wanted to respond to these horribly hurtful tweets that they've seen. So tell us how do you go about sending a Troll Cake to somebody?

KT: you go to www.trollcakes.com and you'd have four options. So option one is “Just a Troll Cake”, so with that you would send in a screen-grab of a mean comment and the address of the person who said it. And then we'll make the cake and then we'll mail it right to their home or work. And it will include a little printout of their comment. Option two is the same thing, only it's a “Troll Cake Plus Detective Agency”, so that if somebody says something to you and you don't even know who that person is or where they live or where they work. You just send us a comment and we'll track them down and we'll mail that cake to their home or work. And then option three is very similar, but that is our “Tiny Hands Special”, so that for any President Trump tweet, or lately anything that he says in an interview. We'll put that on a cake and we'll just mail it right on over to the White House. And then option four is if you have a friend who kind of gets a kick out of stuff like this, but they're like a very nice friend and they're not running around saying mean things on the Internet. You can just take any cake that's on our Instagram feed and we'll mail it to your friend with a little note of what's going on with this cake.

CO: I have so many questions but, category three, “The Tiny Hands” option, how many cakes have you sent to the White House so far?

KT: You know not a ton. We've done like under a dozen, but those are extremely satisfying to send.

CO: And what are some of the tweets that have been put on to the White House cakes?

KT: The craziest one that went to the White House was from a somewhat recent interview in which Trump boasted about being able to draw the highest TV ratings since the World Trade Center attacks. So I mean not like you can't really wrap your head around somebody saying something like that, especially the president. So that was a very satisfying to put on a cake and just sort of sit with how completely insane that looks in icing.

CO: Obviously the underlying message here is that you get people to eat their words.

KT: Yes.

CO: Do you know if they actually eat the cakes, or do you think there might be a bit nervous before they would do that?

KT: Personally, I would be very nervous. But I bake the cakes and I can vouch that they are delicious cakes. But it does really go against good judgement I think to chow on a mysterious cake that has arrived in your mailbox…

CO: By somebody who doesn't like you.

KT: Right, exactly. I don't know what happens with them, but they're delicious cakes.

CO: Do you think you've cured anyone of doing nasty tweets?

KT: I don't think so. I don't think you can. I think all you can do is have fun with it. I mean people are going to be jerks. And you know what? That's not such a bad thing. If everyone was on their best behavior all the time the world would be so, so, boring. My goal at least isn't to fix anything. Just to get a kick out of it. It's funny when people embarrass themselves by doing something mean.

CO: What's your favorite Troll Cake so far?

KT: “Donkey Witch”, two vaguely insulting words put together and I have a very confusing mental picture of what that is, but I love it as an insult. I also love “Sloppy Butt”.

CO: Somebody called somebody that they don't even know those two things?

KT: Yes.

CO: It's astonishing. But have you found anything that you just that you couldn't do? It was just too mean to put into icing.

KT: I get a fair amount of requests for cakes that are based on verbal arguments. And those can get very mean and I don't do those. One, it's sort of not our thing. We're a bakery and detective agency, but we're more of an Internet comment bakery. So I only feel comfortable mailing mean things if I'm positive that the person getting the cake said the mean thing. I think if you're going to say something you should be comfortable seeing it on a cake in front of you.

CO: You have to see the tweet or the Facebook posting?

KT: Yes, I have to see the screen-grab of it. And you know I'm sympathetic because if somebody says something really nasty to you I think it makes a lot of sense to delete it. You know you don't really want to see it anymore.

CO: You’d think.

KT: So I feel bad for customers that I turn away for that reason. It's few and far between, but I don't want to risk adding some sort of strange bully relationship.

CO: Well, good to talk to you, Kat. Thanks.

KT: Thank you so much.

CO: Bye bye.

KT: Bye.

JD: Kat Thek is the head chef and chief detective at the Brooklyn company Troll Cakes. We reached New York.

[Music: Jazz]

Sound of the Day: fish counting

JD: Hey baby, are you a professional polisher of weighing instruments, because you have the shiniest scales? It's bad enough to hear someone spout a terrible pick up line. It's worse to hear thousands of millions of dumb pickup lines spouted at the same time. Unless those pickup lines are being emitted by thousands of millions of fish, in which case they could help save the fish themselves. Gulf covinas are shiny silver fish that congregate in the Colorado River Delta every spring to spawn. They come in huge numbers, and so it is competitive. And that is why the male corvinas issue a distinctive, unsubtle mating call, using their gas bladders. It sounds like this.


[Sound: A purring noise]

JD: Impressive, but that doesn't give you an idea of the astonishing volume of that sound. Brad Erisman of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute says quote, “It's louder than a rock concert. It's louder than standing less than a metre from a chainsaw.” The male corvinas’ seductive gas bladder racket has its pluses and minuses. Plus: it helps him attract mates. Minus: it also attracts fishermen, who can easily track them by the sound and catch hundreds of thousands just by showing up. But now, a big new plus: that university of Texas team has figured out a way to estimate the size of the corvina population using the fish's passionate roar, and as such, to help manage fishing to protect the population. They have discovered a way — probably using an algorithm, algorithms are huge these days — to calculate the number of fish by the amount of noise they make. Which is how they were able to surmise that there were 1.5 million corvina at this year's spawning party, so the Corvina’s clumsy advances have led to great advances. And their loud attempts to hook up with other fish may save them from hooking up with hooks.

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Part 3: Slavery prof, hot planet

Jeff Sessions testimony

JD: As we mentioned earlier, the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was facing some questions today in front of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. As expected, there were some heated exchanges. And one of them involved Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. It centered around testimony last week by former FBI director James Comey, and Mr. Sessions earlier decision to recuse himself from any trump Russia investigations. Here is part of what that sounded like.


RON WYDEN: General Sessions, respectfully you're not answering the…

JEFF SESSIONS: Well, what is the question?

RW: The question is Mr. Comey said that there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn't talk about them. What are they?

JS: Why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty. This is secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don't appreciate it. And I tried to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I've appeared before. People are suggesting through innuendo that I have been not honest about matters, and I've tried to be honest.

RW: My time is short. You've made your point that you think Mr. Comey is engaging in innuendo. We're going to keep digging…

JS: Well, Senator Wyden, he did not say that.

RW: He said it was problematic. And I asked you well it was problematic about it?

JS: Some of that leaked out of the committee that he said in closed sessions.

JD: That’s U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, earlier today, at the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. A second heated exchange came later on in the day between Mr. Sessions and a Democratic Senator from California, Kamala Harris. And she wanted to know what legal grounds Mr. Sessions had for refusing to testify about some of his conversations with the president?


KAMALA HARRIS: And you referred to a longstanding DOJ policy. Can you tell us what policy it is you're talking about?

JS: Well, I think most cabinet people, as the witnesses you had before you earlier, those individuals declined to comment because we were all about conversations with the president.

KH: Sir, I'm just asking you about the DOJ policy your referred to.

JS: That’s a longstanding policy that goes beyond just the attorney general.

KH: Is that policy in writing somewhere?

JS: I think so.

KH: So did you not consult it before you came before this committee? Knowing we would ask you questions about it?

JS: We talked about it. The policy is based…

KH: Did you ask that it be shown to you?

JS: The policy is based on the principle that the president…

KH: Sir, I'm not asking about the principle. I'm asking…

JS: I'm unable to answer the question.

KH: And you would rely on that policy. Did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for you refusing to answer the majority of questions that have been asked to you.

MALE VOICE: Senators will share the chair to control the hearing. Senator Harris, let him answer.

JS: We talked about it and we talked about the real principle that's at stake. It's one that I have some appreciation for having spent 15 years in the Department of Justice, twelve as United States attorney. And that principle is that the Constitution provides the head of the executive branch certain privileges. One of them is confidentiality of communications. And it is improper for agents of any departments in the executive branch to waive that privilege without a clear approval of the president. And that's the situation that we're in.

JD: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an exchange with California's Senator Kamala Harris, earlier today, at the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

[Music: Rock]

Slavery prof

Guest: Kayla Renee Parker

JD: A single multiple choice question in a university sociology class has led to a historical debate, threats and a professor losing her job. The question was about slavery's effect on black families. And University of Tennessee student Kayla Renee Parker says that the answer the professor wanted suggested that black families were not torn apart by slavery. We reached Kayla Renee Parker in Knoxville.

CO: Ms. Parker, what was the quiz question that started all of this?

KAYLA RENEE PARKER: The quiz question stated historical research on African-American families during slavery says what? And there was an “A-through-D” multiple choice answer selection. And I’m not quite sure what “A” and “B” were, but they were false. And so I had to choose between “C” and “D”. And “C” was that black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners. And “D”, most slave families were headed by two parents. And I chose “C” and my professor told me that the answer that was correct was “D”.

CO: And you challenged her on that. On what grounds did you challenge that she had the wrong answer.

KRP: Yeah, so I emailed her originally and I just requested additional information that would prove that “C” is incorrect. I didn't try to say that “D” was false. And I was certain, knowing my history, that “C” absolutely had elements of the truth and “D” did not. So I emailed her and I provided research and I even had quotes from our textbook that supported my answer. But was immediately responded with just defensive wall of I refuse to change the answer. You are incorrect. And if you want the full points to make you happy then we can do that, but it's not because you're correct.

CO: You had meetings with her, did you not? And what was the gist of those encounters?

KRP: So yeah, it was originally just email correspondences. And when I was getting such pushback from those emails I took it to Facebook and started talking with my friends and family asking am I out of line arguing the black family bonds were destroyed by the issues of slavery? And that sparked up a conversation. And she apparently found my Facebook and began responding to all of my friends and family further defending her point. And then the next Monday, we met in the hallway after class and what started out with her just going through her textbooks and telling me specific sociologists that didn’t explicitly state that black family bonds were destroyed. She just got increasingly irate. And when I mentioned that the question as stated diminishes the impacts that slavery had and continues to have on the black family today. She immediately got defensive and said Oh, I've been teaching black students for my entire career and I've never had anyone question how I teach this. Saying things like I went to an integrated kindergarten when I was six and I thought it was normal. And I fought for black rights my entire life and I consider them my black brothers and sisters. And how dare you come here and tell me that I'm diminishing the impacts of slavery. I could never. So our conversation — our meeting — didn't go well. It ended with her saying well you know if you think you know this well why don't you lecture on it? And I said I didn't know that that was an option. When can I do that? So then I ended up presenting to a class on my opinion and I thought that family bonds were destroyed by slavery to our class about three weeks later.

CO: And so was that the end of it? Was that because she gave you that opportunity you were able to lay out the case as to why the answer was “C”, that the black family bonds had been destroyed by the abuses of slave owners. You were able to lay that out. Could that not have resolved it?

KRP: Yeah, I thought that would be the end of it. However, it wasn’t and a week later, my friend woke me up and said she just so happened to be looking at my professor’s Facebook page. She found that my professor had been basically posting libelous comments about me on her Facebook saying she was going to go see my Linkdin contacts and reach out to all of my professional contacts. And that she was going to release all my information after the semester was over. And that she was going to fight me. #karmawillfindyou and just making all these threats against me because I was bold enough to contradict her in front of the entire class.

CO: And this was an open Facebook page then?

KRP: yes, it was public.

CO: Her argument was that her way of teaching this course was not based on racism. She said that she was using historical research and that you were countering it with anecdotal evidence. What do you say to that?

KRP: I actually had like seven specific sources not just purely anecdotal. She chose to only focus in on the anecdotal because it helps her argument. However, I welcome anybody to Google books and studies and there are countless studies done that support the argument that black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slavery.

CO: What has the school done about this dispute?

KRP: The school acted rather responsibly. So when I brought to the attention that retaliation was occurring and that she was making threats against being on a public forum they took immediate action. They removed me from the class. They gave me other alternatives for finishing it. And they met with her, put her on administrative leave. After she was placed on administrative leave, she e-mailed our entire class saying she was placed on administrative leave because a classmate of theirs had been posting libelous, defamatory, comments on my Facebook page, and played up her character and integrity. And the school is siding with the student instead of the administrator and saying that she doesn't have a right to defend her character on her Facebook page. And so she was saying and warning everybody that she would be terminated next week. And after that, she packed up her office and she's not to teach anymore at UT.

CO: Can I just ask you finally do you think it's possible for a white person to teach African-American history?

KRP: I think it is. I think that what needs to happen first is the understanding that we are currently living in a society that engulfed with white supremacy. You know that's how we are raised. That's what's normal for us. And so, understandably, even people who consider themselves to be allies for the movement, which would be a professor who is teaching black history. They have to understand that sometimes they may say or do something that is framed as supremacy. And the first and that they have to do is be able to be mature enough to suffer slack. And understand that they have to try to be more open-minded rather than putting up a defensive wall and believing that they cannot possibly say anything that's framed as supremacy if they're not racist.

CO: We'll leave it there. Ms. Parker, I appreciate speaking with you. Thank you.

KRP: Thank you so much. It’s been awesome.

JD: We reached Kayla Renee Parker in Knoxville, Tennessee. We did also reach out to Professor Judy Morelock, she declined comment for legal reasons. University of Tennessee did not respond to our requests for comment.

[Music: Orchestral]

Poultry farm

JD: You might have seen the video. It was released late yesterday by Mercy for Animals. It's disturbing. It shows people hitting and throwing live chickens. And the footage was allegedly recorded by a volunteer for Mercy for Animals, via a hidden camera. Since the release of the video, Elite Farm Services, a chicken catching service in British Columbia, has fired several of its employees. It says it is quote, “sickened” by the footage. Elite Farm Services provides chicken to Lilydale, which is owned by Sofina Foods. The company has said that it is, “appalled and extremely shocked” and will be investigating this situation. Earlier today, Mercy for Animals held a press conference and here is part of what vice president Krista Hiddema had to say.


KRISTA HIDDEMA: Everyone who sees this footage can agree that the level of animal abuse uncovered by this whistleblower simply cannot continue. As such, Mercy for Animals is demanding prosecution of the workers, the managers and the companies. We are expecting the enforcement of this by the BCSPCA, the CFIA and the RCMP. A detailed legal complaint together with the footage was provided to all three law enforcement bodies. We expect swift and meaningful action as soon as possible.

JD: That’s vice president of Mercy for Animals Krista Hiddema speaking at a press conference, earlier today. And later on in her speech, Ms Hiddema called on Galen Wesson, the president of Loblaw a company that buys chicken from Lilydale, to commit to what she called “meaningful animal welfare policies.” In a statement to CBC Loblaw said it has quote, “a zero tolerance for any animal abuse” and that it has made this clear to its supplier. Also earlier today, Benoit Fontaine, chair of Chicken Farmers of Canada, spoke with the CBC in British Columbia. And here's part of what Mr. Fontaine told host Michelle Eliott.


BENOIT FONTAINE: We find that very sickening video and I don't think it is the reality of chicken farmers all across the country. We do condemn all these actions. And it doesn't respect the way we grow our chicken around the country. There's no defense for the mistreatment of birds as we saw in these videos. Mercy for Animals, to say the name of that organization, they have a strict agenda. And at the end of the day, this agenda is to ban any protein from animals and the food of the people. So as long as people eat chicken, beef, pork, or other proteins from animals Mercy for Animals will work against these industries.

MICHELLE ELIOT: You're saying this is it about an agenda?

BF: Yeah, Mercy for Animals, at the end of the day, for now, are talking about the welfare of animals and everything and the way we grow chickens and we grow beef. But at the end of the day, they don’t want you to eat any animals to feed yourself.

JD: That was a clip of Benoit Fontaine, the chair of Chicken Farmers of Canada, speaking today on the CBC radio program “BC Almanac”. There is more on the story online: www.cbc.ca

[Music: Ambient]

Listener replies: flushing sounds

JD: Yesterday on the program we told you about Cecilia Cato, a councillor in the town of Tingsryd, Sweden. Ms Cato wants music to be piped into school bathrooms in order to cover up the other sounds that students might be hearing… or making while they're in there. And the idea is to help students who may be feeling self-conscious. That story made a splash with one of our listeners. Allan Murphy in Tokyo sent us an email with the subject line “toilet sounds” and that e-mail reads quote, “you had a short item, I think from Sweden, about playing music in school toilets to make the children less shy about the sounds of their bodily functions. In Japan, this service has been available for at least 10 years. It was found that women office workers were flushing toilets frequently in order to mask the sounds. And so machines were installed to play the flushing sounds and reduce water consumption. Sometimes the sounds are automatic from the moment one sits down until standing. Other times you push a button. Japanese toilets are very high-tech. They're concerned that foreign tourists do not know how to use the 747-like control panels for the bidet, water pressure, temperature, etc. They are flush with pride about these items.” Well, thank you Allan for that and for the reminder of the superiority of Japanese toilet technology. We have a long way to go here in Canada. And if you would like to comment on anything you hear on this program, do find us on Twitter and Facebook. Both those accounts @cbcasithappens. You can e-mail us: aih@cbc.ca. Or give us a call 416-205-5687.

[Music: Jazz]

Hot planet

Guest: Scott Gaudi

JD: Great news! Astronomers have discovered a new planet. It is called KELT-9b. Doesn't have the same ring to it as say Earth or Neptune, but we can work with that. Before you start packing there are some things that you should know. First off, it is 650 light years away, so prepare to be groggy, jetlagged and cosmically grumpy by the time you arrive. The other slight hiccup is the climate: KELT-9b is very close to the star it orbits and its surface temperature is over 4,000 degrees Celsius. And before you ask: no beaches. Professor Scott Gaudi is one of the scientists who discovered the planet. We reached him in Austin.

CO: Professor Gaudi, what would it be like on a typical day on KELT-9b?

SCOTT GAUDI: Well, it's not a day I would like to spend any time on. It's not a planet that I would like to spend any time on. A year until KELT-9b takes about one-and-a-half days. So it takes one-and-a-half days for it to complete its orbit. If you are on the dayside, you would see the host star always in the same place in the sky because this planet is tightly locked. And it would subtend about 40 degrees on the sky. So about 80 times bigger than the sun does from our perspective. And frankly, you wouldn't last very long. You'd be vaporized almost instantaneously by the radiation from the host star. That's if you were on the day side. If you were smarter, you would probably try to spend more time on the Night side, where it would just be a mere 3,000 degrees Kelvin. Still probably pretty hot and not someplace you'd like to spend a lot of time.

CO: OK, so it wouldn't be a beach day?

SG: No, no, you know the first thing that would happen would be you get a really, really, bad sunburn. And that would probably take a fraction of a second, and then you basically vapor into gases. Unfortunately you'd be put out of your misery pretty quickly.

CO: How does the planet itself even survive? I mean with all the radiation and the heat?

SG: Yes. So it's a good question and it's one that people commonly are confused by. So the planet itself has an enormous gravity. I mean it's three times the mass of Jupiter and it’s about twice as big as Jupiter. So it still has a very, very, strong gravity. Much stronger than the gravity on the surface of the earth for example. So you know even if there was a surface and you could stand on it and you were blasted by the radiation, you’d be crushed by the gravity. So you know to pick your poison. But the gravity is strong enough that it can hold on to the gas in its atmosphere, which is mostly hydrogen and helium, pretty well. And even very high temperatures, which result in very high velocities for the ga particles are not high enough to allow those most of the gas to escape from the atmosphere of the planet.

CO: Now astronomers are usually looking for planets that might support life and might be like Earth where we might you know when they colonize or go. If you were an alien and you never wanted to see a human being you might go there, right? It's the last place we will end up. So why were you even interested in finding it?

SG: Yeah, it's an excellent question, right? I mean we're hearing a lot these days about the search for potentially habitable planets. So a lot of people call the search for planets around small stars a small star opportunity because for a variety of reasons it's easier to find potentially habitable planets around low-mass red dwarfs. But I kind of like to chide my fellow astronomers and say that they're really involved in not the small star opportunity, but the race to the bottom. Now you know I'm just kidding. I think this is a very valuable thing to do. But my point being is that while a lot of people are focused on the search for the smallest planets around the smallest stars. The planets around more massive stars and hotter stars have largely been ignored. Partially this is due to technical reasons; it's hard to find planets around hot massive stars. But a lot of it is just as you say people are focused on the search for habitability. So we like to say in the KELT collaboration since we're focusing on these hot massive stars that there's plenty of room at the top. We don't all have to be racing towards the bottom. And more seriously the scientific pursuit of the extremes of the population of exoplanets will really allow us to put the potentially habitable planets that we do find in the context. And this is one very, very, simple but I think very important example of that is we are starting to come to the realization that our own solar system with gas giants sort of in the middle and rocky planets in the center and one potentially habitable planet. You know those kinds of systems are not the norm. There are probably a minority of systems. So why is that? We don't know, but it's only by surveying the full range of planetary systems that we can hope to really understand how our solar system fits into that context.

CO: All right. That sounds very, very, noble and academic. But I understand you had a bet with a colleague over this?

SG: I did. Not even a colleague but a graduate student. It’s probably totally inappropriate to make bets with your graduate students, but, anyway, I did. And he was running the KELT north collaboration and I was advising him. And we found the signal and we went back and forth for a while. It was so extreme that neither of us believed that was a real planet at first. So he decided to enter into a bet with me whether or not this was a planet. So we had a very nice bottle of single malt scotch on him saying it wasn't a planet and me saying It was. Well, as we know, I won the bet.

CO: So you get to sip a very nice single malt while you contemplate life on KELT-9b.

SG: Well you know the bottle of scotch is long gone. I shared it with some friends to help celebrate the discovery.

CO: Before I let you go is there any planet… do you have a favorite? Do you think if you had to go live on another planet — the you have found that might be habitable or might be able to support life — any one that you think you know I might be able to put up with that?

GS: I would probably choose one of the planets on Trappist-1. And that's not just because you know it's the most recent discovery of a suite of habitable planets or it's a really interesting system. It's that the host star is going to live for about 10 trillion years. And so you know if I really want to have a nice long life that's where I want to live.

CO: I think I'll stick with Earth. Take my chances.

SG: Yeah. Well, as long as it remains habitable I’ll probably stick with it as well.

CO: Yeah. Well, there's always some doubts about that. that go into another. Professor Gaudi, it’s great to speak with you. Thank you.

SG: All right. Thank you for having me. It's been a lot of fun. Bye bye.

JD: We reached professor Scott Goudy in Austin, Texas.

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