Episode 702: Nigeria, You Win!

Lariat Alhassan ran a tiny paint company, Larclux paint. Then she won tens of thousands of dollars from the Nigerian government. No strings attached.

Courtesy of Lariat Alhassan

Lariat Alhassan owned a tiny paint business in Abuja, Nigeria. Things weren’t going great. She had no office. She was selling paint out of the trunk of her car. But one night, while Lariat was listening to music in her room, she heard an ad on the radio. At first, she was sure it was a scam. It said that the Nigerian government was offering millions of dollars to businesses. Practically no strings attached.

It was no scam. This was an experiment that the Nigerian government was taking on. A contest, meant to help the country’s tiniest businesses get bigger. If it worked, it could help solve Nigeria’s massive youth unemployment problem. And it could also point the way towards solving a big economic puzzle. In the developing world, how do you get a small business to become a medium sized business that can grow to become a big business? Because when that happens, it creates jobs, and wealth, and all kinds of other benefits.

There are tons of entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses. But most of them get stuck at one or two employees. The big thing they need is money—but if you’re a bank looking to make a loan, how do you tell a good two-person paint company, like Lariat’s, from a bad one? How can you predict who will use the money wisely? Those loans end up looking really risky, and so banks often don’t lend at all, or of they do, they charge a ton.

But if someone could figure out how to tell the tiny businesses ready to boom from the ones about to go bust, then it could help solve those big puzzles, like unemployment, and help fight poverty.

Nigeria had a plan. They’d hold a massive nationwide contest. They’d give out piles of cash like nobody else had before. And Lariat was in.

Music: “Family Summer Reunion” and “Po’ Boy.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

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Oklahoma Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Make Performing Abortion A Felony

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill on Friday that would have made it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion.

The legislation, which was the first of its kind, as NPR’s Jennifer Ludden reported Thursday, would have effectively eliminated abortion in the state. Oklahoma lawmakers passed the bill on Thursday, as the Two-Way reported.

Fallin’s office issued a press release saying she vetoed the bill because it was “vague and would not withstand a criminal constitutional legal challenge.”

It continued:

“Fallin is the most pro-life governor in the nation. She has signed 18 bills supporting pro-life values and protecting the health and lives of mothers and their unborn children.

“Senate Bill 1552 would have made it a felony for physicians to perform abortions. It also contained a provision to revoke their medical licenses unless the abortion was necessary to save the life of the mother.

” ‘The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered ‘necessary to preserve the life of the mother,’ Fallin said.

” ‘The absence of any definition, analysis or medical standard renders this exception vague, indefinite and vulnerable to subjective interpretation and application,’ she wrote in her veto message.”

As Jennifer reported Thursday, abortion rights groups said the bill “is unconstitutional, a direct violation of Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, and predicted it would be struck down by the courts if it were signed into law.

The Associated Press adds that “state law already makes it a felony for anyone who is not a doctor to perform an abortion. [The] bill would have removed the exemption for physicians.”

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In Life And In Film, The Past Is Ever Present For Director Terence Davies

Sunset Song, Terence Davies latest film, tells the story of Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), a young Scottish woman who gives up her dream to help run the family farm. Along the way, she falls in love with a young farmer named Ewan (Kevin Guthrie).

Sunset Song, Terence Davies latest film, tells the story of Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), a young Scottish woman who gives up her dream to help run the family farm. Along the way, she falls in love with a young farmer named Ewan (Kevin Guthrie). Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Watching a Terence Davies film is like watching paintings come to life. On the other hand, the filmmaker jokes, “The people who don’t like my films say it’s about as interesting as paint drying.”

Still, Davies (pronounced “Davis”) has plenty of defenders. More than one critic has called him Britain’s greatest living film director, and French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard — who was famously not a fan of British moviemakers — called Davies’ 1988 full-length feature breakout, Distant Voices, Still Lives, “magnificent”.

An Eye For Beautiful Melancholy

Davies’ fans praise his use of light and shadow, music and silence; and they celebrate the way he digs into the past (especially his own) to tell emotionally-charged stories of families and women.

Yet over the course of his 40-year career, Davies has only released six full-length features and one documentary. His latest film is called Sunset Song. It stars Agyness Deyn as a young Scottish woman who must give up her dream of becoming a teacher to help her brutal father run the family farm in the years before World War I. Deyn is a relative newcomer to acting — you may have seen her in fashion magazines sporting Burberry or Armani — but the former top model impressed Davies from the get-go.

“I was going in to start auditioning for the film,” Davies recalls. “Agyness was sitting at the top of the stairs, and I thought, ‘God, she looks about 11.’ And she came in — she was the first person in. She gave a wonderful audition and I turned to my producers and said, ‘We’ve found her.’ “

Scottish papers have given the actress from Manchester, England, props for her Scottish accent in the film, but there are plenty of shots where she doesn’t speak at all. In several scenes, the camera lingers on Deyn’s profile as her character stares out a window at her family’s land. Davies credits Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer with inspiring him.

“I’ve always been fascinated … by people at a window with light falling in on them,” Davies says. Pictured: Agyness Deyn in Sunset Song. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

“I’ve always been fascinated — and I don’t know why — by people at a window with light falling in on them,” the filmmaker says. “And Vermeer is my great love. And Andy Harris, who was the production designer on Sunset Song, said to me, ‘Have you come across some paintings by a Danish [painter] called Hammershoi?’ “

Vilhelm Hammershoi painted around the turn of the 20th century. Davies says his canvases are “like Vermeer but with a kind of smudged Northern light. And they’re very often about just windows and doors open with no one in them — empty corridors. When there is someone in them, it’s usually a woman, usually with her back to the viewer. And there’s a kind of melancholy there that I can’t describe, but they are extremely beautiful. And I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to make the interiors look like that.’ “

The film’s interiors were shot digitally, but for the landscapes Davies used 65 mm film. Sunset Song is the first of his fiction films to feature broad landscapes, and he jokes it may be the last. “The weather in Scotland can be pretty miserable,” he says, so he shot the film’s summer scenes in New Zealand.

Sunset Song is the first of Davies’ fiction films to feature broad landscapes, and he jokes it may be the last. “The weather in Scotland can be pretty miserable,” he says. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The Happy Years

Despite his work being so visual, Davies seems to consider himself a writer. He quotes Anton Chekhov and Emily Dickinson off the top of his head. “I’ve always, always written,” he says. “For instance, when I go abroad, I don’t take photographs. I’d rather write about it because my still photographs really are dreadful.”

His movies, however, are another matter. Deyn says she’s been a fan ever since she saw Distant Voices, Still Lives, which tells the story of a working-class family in Liverpool. “His filmmaking kind of opened up my eyes to different ways to tell stories and to communicate the intensity which Terence does so well,” Deyn says. “He leaves it up to the audience to kind of dub in what they imagine is going on — to project onto it what it is for you. And then it evokes so much feeling because you’re actually a part of it.”

Deyn had 18 months to research her role while Davies raised funds, and she was struck by the way two men — Davies and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, the author of the 1932 novel on which Sunset Song is based — were able to capture the story of a young woman struggling to find her place in a world of farming and war.

“Lewis Grassic Gibbon — when he wrote the book, people thought that he was a woman using a pseudo-name,” Deyn says. “Because back in the day they thought that How could a man write from the point of view of a woman in the specific way that he did? And also Terence has the most wonderful view of women and their strength.”

That view comes from Davies’ childhood: He grew up in a working-class family of 10 kids in Liverpool. Davies was terrorized by a violent father who died when Davies was 6. The filmmaker says the years that followed were the happiest in his life, in part because of how often his sisters would take him to the movies.

“My greatest influence was the American musical,” Davies says. “That’s what my sisters loved and that’s what I loved because they took me to see them. And I think you imbibe that like a kind of language.”

Music plays a big part in all of Davies’ films, including Sunset Song. That, too, goes back to his childhood: “When I was growing up, there was a program on BBC Radio on a Sunday night called Your Hundred Best Tunes and it was about classical music. And they played this recording of ‘All in the April Evening’ by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir and I’ve never forgotten it.”

He uses that recording in a scene from Sunset Song as farmers and their families cross the hills on their way to church. There, the priest exhorts them to go and fight after Britain declares war on Germany.

Learning To Forgive The Past

Davies remembers a lot from his past: hearing a radio adaptation of the novel Sunset Song when he was 17 or 18; hearing a handsome neighbor sing “Ghost Riders in the Sky” at one of his mother’s parties; his father refusing to let his brother in the house after he’d gone AWOL — and his brother forcing his way in to confront their dad.

And he remembers church. “I was brought up a Catholic and I was a very devout one, too,” he says. “But when I got into my teenage years and realized I was gay, I tried to live under the tenets of ‘to be pure in thought, word and deed.’ And it is impossible. I prayed until my knees bled and no succor came. And it’s left a huge hole in me.”

The past is something Davies, 70, has dealt with in all of his films, whether it’s the struggles of others in other times — like the main characters in Sunset Song or his adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth or his own past and his abusive father.

“I have a great deal of difficulty in forgiving things that have been done to you in the past that have damaged you,” he says. “And, in the end, you have to be able to forgive — otherwise you’re always chained to the past.”

Terence Davies has just finished his next movie and it, too, is set in the past: It’s about 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson.

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Nile Crocodiles Found Near Miami, Researchers Confirm

University of Florida researchers recently published a paper showing that captured reptiles in 2009, 2011 and 2014 are Nile crocs.

University of Florida researchers recently published a paper showing that captured reptiles in 2009, 2011 and 2014 are Nile crocs. Joe Wasilewski/AP hide caption

toggle caption Joe Wasilewski/AP

Snakes and lizards and crocodiles, oh my!

All of these creatures, which include Burmese pythons and carnivorous lizards, have turned up in Florida in recent years, sparking concerns about possible damage from invasive species and questions about how the non-native animals came to be in the state.

Now scientists have determined that three crocodiles captured near Miami in 2009, 2011 and 2014 are indeed Nile crocodiles, the far more aggressive relative of American crocodiles, which are native to the Everglades. The researchers suspect there are other Nile crocodiles in Florida as well, The Miami Herald reports.

“I’ve heard of enough sightings of a strange looking croc in the areas that are connected to this to make me think it’s possible,” University of Florida biologist Frank Mazzotti, one of the scientists who confirmed the crocodiles’ species, told the Herald. “But yeah, I don’t think we’ve pulled out the last one yet.”

Using DNA, Mazzotti and another biologist, Kenneth Krysko, also confirmed the crocodiles didn’t come from any known captive populations.

Krysko said “the captured crocodiles matched genetically, meaning they are related to one another, but didn’t match Nile crocs kept at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other licensed Florida attractions,” The Associated Press reports.

So how did the aggressive crocodiles — which, according to the AP, “are believed to be responsible for up to 200 fatalities annually in their native sub-Saharan Africa” — get to South Florida?

“They didn’t swim from Africa,” Krysko told the news service. “But we really don’t know how they got into the wild.”

The AP says the crocs, a species whose adult males can grow to 16 feet and weigh up to 1,600 pounds, were likely “brought to Florida illegally by an unlicensed reptile collector who either didn’t contain them properly, allowing them to escape, or, more sinisterly, planted them in the Everglades in hopes they would multiply.”

With any invasive species, there’s a risk of disrupting the ecosystem. As NPR reported earlier this year, in the last two decades, the Burmese pythons, which can grow up to 20 feet, have “taken a big toll on native wildlife,” in the fragile Everglades ecosystem. In fact, their presence has become so problematic, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission held an “event where it showed prospective hunters how best to corral a 10-foot long snake,” NPR’s Greg Allen wrote.

The Herald says that the crocodiles could pose a similar problem. The newspaper wrote:

“While no one’s suggesting the Nile crocs may become the next Burmese python, their presence does raise concern. This species, commonly found in South Africa, can live in colder regions — a range that would extend as far north as Savannah, Ga. A special state permit is required to legally possess or breed Nile crocs in Florida but there is fear that illegal trade in the reptiles could increase the risk of more escapes.”

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Texas woman and her Chewbacca mask go viral

A Texas woman found fame this week after filming a Facebook Live video of herself in an electronic Chewbacca mask that racked up over 50 million views in less than 24 hours.

Candace Payne recorded the video in a department store parking lot on Thursday.

Chewbacca is a fictional character from the “Star Wars” movie series and adventurer Han Solo’s sidekick.

The mask emits a guttural sort of whine, characteristic of Wookiees, that Payne triggered when she opened her mouth.

“I’m such a happy Chewbacca!” Payne exclaims, while laughing. “This is worth every penny!”

“Chewbacca” began trending on Twitter in the United States on Friday, with users of the social media platform cheering the video.

“If you haven’t seen the Chewbacca mask lady video yet, you are missing out on a few minutes of pure joy,” tweeted ¡Gabe! Ortíz ‏(@TUSK81).

“Can we all agree that this​​ ​reaction to a ​​Chewbacca mask is everything?” tweeted Kohl’s (@Kohls), where Payne said she bought the mask.

“Laugh. It. Up,” tweeted Star Wars’ official Twitter account (@starwars).

A Kohl’s spokeswoman said the Chewbacca mask has sold out online.

As for Payne, a subsequent Facebook post indicated that she is enjoying the reaction.

“Thanks for all the feels, Internet webs,” Payne wrote. “I mean it.”

(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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'El Chapo' One Step Closer To U.S. After Mexico Approves Extradition

Mexico’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, stands for his prison mug shot at the Altiplano maximum security federal prison in Almoloya, Mexico. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP

Infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán is one step closer to being extradited to the U.S. after Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said the process could go ahead.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman said, “We understand that the Mexican Foreign Ministry has now approved our two requests for extradition, following their approval by Mexican courts.”

Earlier this month, a Mexican federal judge gave the green light for the kingpin’s extradition, as the Two-Way reported.

Guzmán’s lawyers still have appeals they can file, however, and the process could take “weeks or months” to finalize, as The Associated Press reported.

“We are going to do it, but not right away, because it’s a process you have to fight with arguments,” lawyer Jose Refugio Rodriguez said earlier this week. “We have 30 days.”

And as the Two-Way has reported, the head of Mexico’s extradition office, Miguel Merino, warned in January that Guzmán’s legal team could delay the extradition for four to six years.

NPR’s Carrie Kahn reported in January that Guzmán had been “indicted on drug and arms trafficking, money-laundering and murder charges in at least six U.S. states.”

In total, Guzmán “faces charges from seven U.S. federal prosecutors including in Chicago, New York, Miami and San Diego,” The Associated Press reports.

The DOJ says it has agreed not to seek the death penalty, which is consistent with its extradition assurance policies with Mexico.

In July 2015, Guzmán escaped from Mexico’s supermax Altiplano prison through a mile-long tunnel. He was recaptured in January, but fears about another possible escape persist, according to former FBI agent Arturo Fontes, who spoke to The Dallas Morning News when Guzmán was transferred to a prison in Juarez earlier this month.

“Either the Mexican government really intends to ship him out to the United States immediately, or something else is afoot,” he said. “There are no coincidences here. I’m not buying the government’s explanation. For the sake of the Mexican government, they need to extradite him ASAP or risk being a joke again.”

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