Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

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Rappers on ‘Blurred Lines’

Sometimes when you haven’t blogged for awhile, you just have to pick something and get on with it. So, here are some rappers’ views on the ‘Blurred Lines’ verdict (which, if you’re not familiar, was explained excellently by my colleague Parker Higgins). Presented without comment.


I have mixed emotions because, you know, I love the sound of Mr. Marvin Gaye and I love the sound of Pharrell Williams and it’s delicate because I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t in the studio when he created the song. I know that I worked with Pharrell and he’s a very original and creative guy and whenever I worked with him he never listened to old music. We always made fresh music. I don’t know how to say what’s right, but I do know that I love and appreciate both artists and both musicians and I just love music.


And I don’t think that it takes away or diminishes any greatness. It nods to the fact that we are all human, no matter how great we are or how great our lineage are or how impeccable a bloodline we may come from, we all get it wrong at some point in time. And you know, I think this is one of those cases. Any kind of art, creative-based business, it draws from inspiration and inspiration is intangible. You cannot say what was inspired by something and if it should or should not have been inspired by something.


Art is something that’s made to inspire the future. If you utilize somebody’s artistic expression blatantly, to [the point] where it’s an identifiable thing, then there should be some sort of compensation to the person who inspires you

There should be a statute of limitations, because if I sample [Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”] going, “I-I-I-I’m dream-dream-dream-dream-dream-ing / I-I-I’m dream-dream-dream-dream-dream-ing / Yo but she’s so fine, I keep dreaming about her/can’t go another day of living without her”—my song’s context and movement is totally different than what his song is about. Even though I use his portion as an instrument—because the sampler is an instrument—he should not be able to come in and take 100 percent of my song. The most he should get is 50 percent. There should be a cut off. Fifty percent is the most.

The Greeks could come sue everybody because one generation teaches the other. When you hear an A chord to the D to the E, there are over one million songs with that same progression. And each one of their songs is identified as their own. The point being that art will continue to inspire the next generation, and we will find duplication.

New for 2015: How to Help Syrian (and Iraqi) Refugees

Two years ago, I wrote a post about how you can help Syrian refugees. While I stand by the information in that post, I decided to write a fresh one that includes newer organizations. This post also includes some repeats from the last. Many thanks to Lina Sergie Attar and Sima Diab for their help.

As I explained last time, I’ve highlighted organizations that are 501(c)(3) US-based nonprofits and receive high marks from GuideStar and Charity Navigator, with a couple of notable exceptions.

Suggestions are in no particular order:

  • Save the Children is an internationally known organization (95.01/100 on Charity Navigator) and 501(c)(3) nonprofit that currently maintains a Syrian children in crisis fund. Their program is unique in that they’re working to create “child-friendly spaces” to give children in refugee communities ” a safe space to play and get support while keeping their minds off the harsh reality they are facing.”  This is important in that psychological help is as needed in a crisis as medical and other care.  Guidestar also ranks Save the Children highly, with a Gold-level mark in the Exchange.
  • The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation received a Silver ranking from Guidestar‘s Exchange and is not yet ranked on Charity Navigator (which requires 7 years of IRS filings). The organization has local programs in Lebanon and southern Syria. Their own annual report states that only 1% of donations went toward overhead costs in 2013.
  • Basmeh & Zeitooneh is unranked because it’s not a US charity, but Syrian and Lebanese friends speak highly of it. The aid group, based in Lebanon, works primarily with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, providing them with psychosocial support, food, clothing, and other needs. You can donate to their current campaign here. They also run a women’s workshop.
  • The Middle East Children’s Alliance is a California-based nonprofit that works locally and internationally, and is currently running a campaign to support children and families in Gaza and Syria during the winter. They score a 70.79/100 by Charity Navigator, likely due to their high fundraising expenses (they send glossy materials out to even small donors). Their financials are a bit outdated on Guidestar.
  • Relief and Reconciliation is a charity that runs a Peace Centre in northern Lebanon aiming to “help people of all faiths … to exit violence and to find a better future.” As they are not a US nonprofit, they are unranked by Guidestar and Charity Navigator, but their About page boasts some impressive credentials!
  • The UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, has a special fund for refugees, with clear indications of what support of different amounts can provide (for example, “$200 can provide blankets for 20 families”).  Donations through that page go through USA for UNHCR, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and is ranked 70.90/100 by Charity Navigator.  Part of the reason for their lower ranking is that they spend more than 20% of their funds on fundraising, which usually means a lot of paper (and it’s true: I do receive a lot of mailings from UNHCR generally).  You can review their financials through Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
  • Syrianorphans.org is a small organization that received 501(c)(3) status in 2013, after I wrote this post. Though it does not yet have its financial reports up (GuideStar), the charity claims that it does not use any donations to support overhead costs, ensuring that donations are used entirely to support Syrians.

On encryption, memory, and forgetting

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.45.44 AM

This is what an encrypted chat looks like after the fact.

“[W]e must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory.” – Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Rare is the interview that brings tears to my eyes. This is not what I was expecting when I sat down for an interview with my friend, the journalist Lina Attalah, in Cebu City, Philippines, a couple of weeks ago. She had told me about the interview the evening before over snacks and drinks at our hotel’s rooftop bar and I, always a fan, had eagerly agreed. We were to talk about surveillance, the Internet, infrastructure.

Memory is a tricky thing. Over the past few years, I’ve been asked for “my story” many times. How did I come to what I do? Why the Middle East? And every time, I tell it differently. The anecdote about the Moroccan professor who was a harsh and hated teacher but when he talked about his homeland, his eyes lit up. How I skipped my own graduation to study Arabic the summer after because I couldn’t be arsed to get up at 8am during the school week. The first time Global Voices linked to my blog. The bloggers I met, knew, remember.

Memory is a tricky thing. I can tell that story plainly, or I can tell it through revelations I had later on, after I’d made the choice, after I sat on my kitchen counter that first day, peeling potatoes and wondering what had led me there. I can also tell the story of how I came to politics, to political thinking, but sadly, there are pieces missing, pieces of my own memory, pieces I can never retrieve.

I don’t remember who taught me how to use OTR, but I remember one of its biggest advocates. Alaa, a friend I met first in 2008 and who is now imprisoned in Cairo, was among a few friends who, early on, pushed me to use encryption. When I finally adopted it, our conversations opened up – not just with Alaa but with a number of people whose use of OTR—a way of holding ephemeral, encrypted chats that disappear when the window closes—made them feel safe. And it made me feel safe too: Not just from the watchful eyes of governments, but from those who might log, share, later embarrass me with my own naiveté.

Last April, in some other city, I sat with Lina on a bus, telling her about my sadness in conversations lost to OTR. During our interview, she brought that line of thinking back, asking me “Is the proliferation of a consciousness of privacy canceling out important narrative, important information?” She continued:

You mentioned to me once having had long encrypted chats with an activist over the years and now you have no access to these. That’s a record dropped. But there is an additional layer, which is that not only people use encryption but they actually end up not saying stuff altogether. The unsaid can be the product of privacy…

A record dropped. The unsaid as a product of privacy. Confronted with this idea, and the memories of conversations I will never recall, I found my eyes suddenly welling up with tears. Tears for the things I’ve learned, and all the things I’ve forgotten.

Ephemerality is a funny thing. Often, it frees us from the burden of memory; memory that can come back to haunt us. Unlike PGP, wherein encrypted emails are still store-able and unlockable with a private key, OTR erases our memories, allows our gabbing to be ephemera. This serves a purpose, but its unintended consequences, for me at least, often feel severe. I think back to when I first adopted the tool and wonder: Did I realize?

Becoming conscious of our privacy is a good thing. Consciousness is always a good thing. But as we become more conscious of the weight of our secrets, our hidden lives, are we forgetting the value of the archive?

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