Senate Passes Coronavirus Relief Bill, Moratorium On Evictions, Rural Schools And COVID-19, Coronavirus-Fueled Racism, Pandemic Movies
KPBS Midday Edition / March 26, 2020
Speaker 1: 00:00 What the federal $2 trillion stimulus means for California and how a moratorium on evictions in the County and city may help. I'm Jade Hindman. I'm Maureen Kavanaugh. This is KPBS midday edition. It's Thursday, March 26th
Speaker 1: 00:27 it's now estimated by County officials that if social distancing is not maintained by the public, covert 19 cases in San Diego may continue to double every three days and the county's hospital beds will be filled by April 14th. That serious warning comes on the heels of new numbers showing coven 19 cases rising to nearly 300 in San Diego back in Washington. D C legislators are saying that help is on the way at least financially, a $2 trillion relief package for workers, small businesses, healthcare providers, and local governments was approved unanimously by the Senate last night. Tomorrow, a vote is expected in the house of representatives. Joining us is Congressman Mike Levin, who represents San Diego's 49th congressional district. Congressman Levin, welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: 01:18 Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1: 01:20 Is the bill passed by the Senate last night going to a vote in the house with no changes?
Speaker 2: 01:26 Uh, that's my understanding a Marine and it's a bit of a moving target because it's such a huge, uh, bill, I have the PDF open on my screen right now. It's 880 pages, a $2 trillion in really impacts, so, so many different aspects of this crisis, whether it be the public health crisis, uh, or the economic crisis. Of course, to solve the economic crisis we've got to solve the public health crisis. And uh, you know, I know my colleagues are all reading through it as I am. And then, uh, also, uh, somewhat unclear as whether we're going to need to go back to Washington, uh, in person for a vote. Uh, or not. That's still being resolved. I do know that the bill will be considered on the floor beginning, uh, tomorrow at 9:00 AM Eastern time.
Speaker 1: 02:12 We heard today that 3 million people filed for unemployment last week. That's the highest number ever. What is in this relief bill for them?
Speaker 2: 02:22 Well, I think first people should know that we were able to turn what was really a corporation's first proposal into a bill that far more focuses on workers and families. We successfully negotiated a massive investment in the unemployment insurance program and some critical reforms to make the program more effective. Uh, we expanded the unemployment insurance to allow part time and self-employed and gig economy workers to access benefits. Uh, we added an extra 13 weeks of, uh, federally funded unemployment, uh, and we secured another $600 on top of, uh, the base unemployment benefit, uh, which I hope, uh, for many Americans will mean that they can, uh, get at least close to their average paycheck. Uh, well struggling through this crisis. Uh, we also included a cash payments. That was something that was debated very heavily. I, I felt it was a really appropriate, uh, and, uh, working Americans are going to be, uh, able to get a cash payment and it's a scale depending on their income. Uh, but if you're making less than $7,500, or excuse me, $75,000 a year, you're going to be getting a $1,200, uh, per person.
Speaker 1: 03:36 When can people expect to see that money?
Speaker 2: 03:39 Well, according to treasury, secretary Minutian, if you are a, uh, filer tax filer and you've set up, uh, your refunds electronically, uh, what I was, uh, told is that about three weeks from now is when, uh, about 50 million Americans will see those checks or see the, the, uh, direct deposits into their bank accounts. On the other hand, if you don't have that, uh, set up, uh, with the IRS and it could take a bit longer, you know, obviously we want people to get this money as soon as possible and they did it through the IRS. So specifically to try to accelerate the deployment of those direct cash payments.
Speaker 1: 04:18 Now this is a $2 trillion relief package that's almost more money than anybody can imagine. Where is the government getting that money? The treasury doesn't have 2 trillion sitting in a vault somewhere.
Speaker 2: 04:29 Well, it's deeply concerning, but we already have a $23 trillion national debt, and I do worry that we're going to have to increase that debt, uh, in order to pay for a lot of this. This really is a, a huge, uh, emergency in this country and it requires a response that's, uh, up to the challenge. I think the, uh, calculation here is one where we can't devastate the economy, uh, in the near term, uh, but we're going to have to borrow in order to have that fiscal stability in the near term. And, and it, it, uh, no question, uh, will lead to problems down the road. I was just mentioning to a constituent that, you know, our grandchildren are going to have to pay the bill, uh, for a lot of these provisions, uh, whether it be the loans to businesses or the small business loans, the, the direct household payments, all the different tax provisions, the direct aid to States, the unemployment insurance, et cetera, et cetera. All of these have huge price tags. And you know, we have to remember that this bill, uh, is roughly equivalent to 9% of our gross domestic product. It's the biggest bill I really in the history of the United States, uh, from, uh, a onetime, uh, spending perspective.
Speaker 1: 05:44 And you think perhaps additional relief or stimulus might be needed to get the country out of the economic impact of the outbreak? Is that right?
Speaker 2: 05:54 Well, we just don't know. And this, the third bill now that we've done, we initially had an eight point $3 billion bill a few weeks ago. Uh, at the time it seemed like a, you know, a pretty robust, uh, response. And then we passed $104 billion bill. The family's first bill that provided two weeks of, uh, extended leave. And, and we thought at the time, you know, that was robust, but we've seen the exponential growth of uh, covert 19 and you know, that clearly is impacting us all, uh, and the draconian, um, social distancing measures and stay at home, uh, measures that have been adopted in California, which, which are absolutely the right things to do to prevent the virus from spreading any further in any faster than it has to. Uh, but make no mistake, I think in the months ahead we're going to have to take a wait and see approach.
Speaker 2: 06:47 I would have liked to see, and one of the things that wasn't in the bill, uh, a some sort of, um, trigger, whether it be via GDP or unemployment rate, where the cash payments and the unemployment assistance, uh, was ongoing so that we wouldn't have to keep going back to the well again and again and again. Uh, but if they would have linked it to, you know, somehow to GDP or unemployment that didn't make it what instead we've got our four months in fact of extended unemployment benefits. So going from 26 weeks to 39 weeks with that extra $600 a week, uh, added onto the, uh, normal unemployment rate. Uh, we there, there are other things in here that we're going to have to work through as well. One of the problems I see is that, you know, in San Diego County we've got a number of smaller municipalities. I like those in my district and the way that the 150 billion for state and local governments is currently structured. A bigger cities like the city of San Diego can receive funding directly, but smaller cities, whether it be Carlsbad or Oceanside or Vista or any, any of the cities in my district, they're going to need a pass through through San Diego County. So just another layer to complicate the process. And I've expressed my concern, uh, to, uh, to house leadership and it's just one of many things we're gonna need to address in future legislation.
Speaker 3: 08:05 I've been speaking with Congressman Mike Levin, Congressman Levin. Thank you.
Speaker 2: 08:10 Thank you for having me.
Speaker 4: 08:15 [inaudible]
Speaker 3: 08:19 right now as 1 million Californians apply for unemployment. There is a freeze on evictions and San Diego County and the city of San Diego, Imperial beach, Chulavista San Marcos in Oceanside are all moving in similar directions. Joining me to discuss the details, our city of San Diego, council member Monica Montgomery along with San Diego County supervisor Nathan Fletcher. Welcome to you both. Thanks for having us. You know a handful of state assembly members that represent our area have signed on to a letter asking the government to put a state wide hold on. Evictions, supervisor Fletcher. Do think a statewide policy would be a better approach?
Speaker 5: 08:58 Oh, absolutely. A statewide policy would be a better approach in a statewide policy. That was a very rigorous and very easy for folks to, to get relief, uh, would be the ideal situation. Absent that you're going to have some jurisdictions like the city of San Diego did under council member Montgomery is and others leadership, uh, like the County of San Diego did. You'll have some jurisdictions do it, but it could be different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. And then I fear some jurisdictions won't address it at all. And the, and the reality is people are really hurting right now. This is having any very real economic impact. And, and we need to let the public know that no one is going to lose their home. No one will go without food. No one's going to have their power or their water turned off. Uh, create a sense of calm that we can get through this and, and that, that essence of your home, uh, and where you live, not being taken away from something outside of your control is a commitment. We should make statewide
Speaker 3: 09:49 council member Montgomery, yesterday's council action shielded people in the city from being evicted through the end of may, but it's not automatic. What do city residents need to do if they are unable to pay their rent?
Speaker 6: 10:01 We know that the renters, about 46% of the residents of the city of San Diego rent. Uh, but we also know there are landlords and not all of them are sitting on a whole lot of money. Right. So we wanted to have a balanced approach to this. Um, there will, there are requirements to show a proof that you have been affected by these, uh, covert 19 outbreak. But really the main purpose of this measure is to allow renters and landlords to really work together to come up with ways that are creative, that allow folks to be able to stay in their homes. So we, we have done that. It's an approach to that think that San Diego will benefit from. Um, and so we're, we're moving forward with it.
Speaker 3: 10:46 Ken landlords asked them to pay a portion of their rent under this new ordinance.
Speaker 6: 10:52 Yeah. So the ordinance allows for that type of negotiation. And the bottom line is we don't want anyone to have to worry about any type of eviction for a period of time. And so that, that's very important. A lot of folks have, as you mentioned in the intro, uh, lost their jobs, you know, overnight. And so this is a time where folks are really scrambling trying to figure out how they're going to make ends meet. We want it to be able to give folks the time enough to figure out how they would survive throughout this, this crisis in this global pandemic. And so it does provide room for negotiation. Folks do still have to pay rent the contract that the leases are still valid, but it does allow some room for negotiation and, and for folks to really be able to breathe at a time like this.
Speaker 3: 11:41 Supervisor Fletcher, do residents in the unincorporated areas of the County follow a similar process to what council member Montgomery outlined?
Speaker 5: 11:48 It is the uh, the two efforts are very similar. We actually made a few changes to, uh, to kind of mirror some of the things that the city was doing. We want to do align them as best we could, but it does provide that opportunity to negotiate, work something out. And you do have to demonstrate that you've been financially impacted. It's not a high threshold to get over. You've lost your job, you've had your hours reduced, you will meet the threshold to be able to do it.
Speaker 6: 12:10 And council member Montgomery, what have you been hearing from your constituents about the impact of the Corona virus outbreak on them? Yeah, we have folks concerned about red. We have a lot of people concerned about food security. So where we are connecting with those entities that provide food within our community, we are concerned about our seniors folks to do not have the mobility maybe to get out and go to those essential places that have food in order to be able to shop. So we're hearing all types of things. We have quite a few health care workers in this community that are on the front lines right now. There's really not a place that this hasn't hit. And so we are fielding all of all of the concerns and tried to quite folks in the right direction to get the relief that they need. We're also hearing a lot about, um, unemployment claims.
Speaker 6: 13:04 Um, so you know, we're, we're looking at, I'm watching what's going on at the federal level, the state level, the County level, every single day. We're grateful for the collaboration that we've been able to have with the County and supervisor, Fletcher and chair and, and all those who serve on that board. Because right now we need all hands on deck. And so we've been doing that in order to address the concerns and the needs, the dire needs of our community members and council member Montgomery, you know, those who utilize this eviction protection both in the city and County will have to pay back that rent eventually. Do you foresee this being a challenge for tenants? The more we communicate with tenants, the more tenants can set up a plan in order to use this grace period to get back on track in the time allotted. So that is a very, it's something that, that I have put at the top of my list of priorities to make sure that we educate people that you have to make a plan in order to pay your rent.
Speaker 6: 14:06 I am very hopeful and grateful. We've seen so many kind acts from people in our community. I'm hopeful that landlords and tenants can work these things out because we have to leave room for that and you know with us all working together, we can accomplish this and get on our feet together in a few months, but it is going to take time and it's going to take patient and and patients and we're going to have to be a little bit uncomfortable. But if we do that and go through these things together, we will be okay. When we spoke with Whitney Benzie in the California apartment association, vice president of public affairs in San Diego, he said that although some of their members own many buildings, but the bulk of our membership
Speaker 2: 14:52 is mom and pops and they're the ones who are really going to have the hardest time with this. They're the ones who they miss, they lose a rent payment, they're going to have trouble covering that themselves. And so that's the challenges that we're seeing from our membership. But at the same time, they understand that this is a very unusual time and that they've all got to meet this challenge together. So no one's complaining necessarily. It's just, Hey, we understand the tenants have an issue. So do we, can we all admit that and, and try and find a solution that benefits everybody included, including the banks, right? Because if the banks don't get their mortgages from the owners, then you know, then they're in crisis as well. And I think that will just exacerbate. And, and that's why I'm hoping the bailout role, whether the state or federal help address and support everybody.
Speaker 3: 15:37 The governor has worked with banks to provide relief to homeowners who may have trouble paying their mortgage. That County has also put a hold on foreclosures and unincorporated areas. Supervisor Fletcher, do these programs apply to landlords?
Speaker 5: 15:51 They do. They do apply to landlords. And you know, I'm not unsympathetic to the concerns of a mom and pop individual, uh, who operates one building. And I think that there are a lot of SBA and federal type programs that will help some of those, uh, owners of units. And, um, and, and I, and I'm, I'm not unsympathetic to the concerns of the big banks, although they always seem to be taken care of. And so my guess is they're going to be fine. You know, a lot of the programs that are being announced, I think that the banks, those folks, they generally get taken care of and I'm sure they will out of what's coming out of Washington. But I think we really got to step up and reassure the public that this is going to be okay. Uh, and, and we're going to make it through this.
Speaker 3: 16:27 I've been speaking with city of San Diego council member Monica Montgomery along with San Diego County supervisor Nathan Fletcher. Thank you very much to you both. Thank you for having us. Thank you.
Speaker 7: 16:41 [inaudible]
Speaker 3: 16:44 with schools shut down for the foreseeable future because of the Corona virus pandemic. Those in the most remote parts of the County are struggling to get their students on the internet. KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, spend time at some rural school districts to see how they're serving their students.
Speaker 8: 17:03 Well, I, I don't want to sound like a crazy person, but, um, being a science teacher, uh, I taught about the Spanish flu, uh, and I, and when bird flu was happening and stuff, I, when I was a teacher currently in the classroom, we use those as, um, discussion points to leave McLeod
Speaker 9: 17:20 the superintendent at Warner unified school district San Diego county's smallest K through 12 school district serving about 200 students. When he first heard about the Krone buyer's spreading across the world, he didn't hesitate to act. But when he decided to close schools, he knew online learning wouldn't really be an option. The district is tucked between mountains, so cell phone reception can be spotty and internet access is limited, especially at the native American reservations. We're about a third of the students live.
Speaker 3: 17:48 You see that Hill, so
Speaker 8: 17:50 that broadcasts to this whole Valley. But if you're over in any of these little ravines, you, you don't get a direct signal. And then there's cell towers, but they're like narrow along the highway. And if you're off the highway, you get no reason.
Speaker 9: 18:06 Luckily McCloud asks teachers to start preparing for distance learning in early February, about a month before school started closing in San Diego County. While some districts are relying on online instruction, Warner unified is going old school with paper packets. Rudy Mercado is a sophomore at Warner high.
Speaker 10: 18:22 Yeah, it's mostly packets because out here, just like barely any internet connection as you can say. And yeah, so mostly packets
Speaker 9: 18:32 on the other side of the County is the [inaudible] elementary school district, which serves a sparsely populated community in Eastern San Diego. Elizabeth by stud is the superintendent. She said she's been flooded with calls in recent weeks from educational technology companies offering help with distance learning. Yeah.
Speaker 3: 18:49 Emails. And it's amazing how many emails are coming from vendors all over in order to try and support schools, which is wonderful. Um, but that's, they're inundating at the same time, so they're trying to be helpful. But it's a lot.
Speaker 9: 19:04 [inaudible] students also went home with packets, but both districts are working to purchase devices called hotspots, which would allow students in remote areas to get an internet connection.
Speaker 3: 19:13 Our technology department is working with vendors, trying to get some hotspots that we could check out to families who don't have internet. We have Chromebooks, we have enough Chromebooks. So it's really the issue of making sure that if we give them a Chromebook, they could actually use the Chromebook.
Speaker 9: 19:31 These districts have another big job that goes beyond academics keeping students fed while schools are closed. Hormonal Zura has partnered with the Grossmont school district to distribute food at Warner. About 85% of students are low income and eligible for free and reduced price lunches. Since school's closed last week, McLeod has been hand delivering meals to students who live in Lake Henshaw. Resort
Speaker 8: 19:54 a trailer park about 10 minutes from the district office as one. You're welcome. Good manners. It's not just the students who need food in this community. So, so many people from the community are like, Hey, can you give us food too? So are you able to, we do buy extra. So, and y'all like, you know, if we have extra milk, it's going to expire. So we give that out. We have proof that's going to go bad. So I only brought a little bit because I only expected seven and what was there 15 or 16 different families here? So I'm going to go back and see if I can come back and give them some fruit. So just tell them the cloud has hoped this would last for just a few weeks, but now he's preparing for a much longer or deal.
Speaker 11: 20:40 Joe home K PBS news.
Speaker 3: 20:48 So far on the program today we've heard about how the Corona virus pandemic is impacting schools, renters and workers. We're now going to talk about how it's impacting the local Asian American community. President Trump has referred to coven 19 as the Chinese virus and our next guests say that's inciting racist attacks against Asian Americans. Joining me is Leanne Kim. She is a former journalist and founder of the San Diego Asian film festival and author of a new op ed in the San Diego union Tribune titled words matter. Don't call coven 19 what president Trump has also Leonard Trin. He prosecutes hate crimes at the San Diego County district attorney's office. Welcome to you both.
Speaker 12: 21:32 Thank you. Thank you for having us.
Speaker 3: 21:35 So Leanne, I'll start with you. You open your piece with something the president said this week in a press conference. Let's take a listen to that.
Speaker 13: 21:42 It's very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States and all around the world. They're amazing people. And the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form.
Speaker 3: 21:56 You know, this statement came after he defended the use of the term Chinese virus. So when he said that Asian American should be protected, what did you make of that?
Speaker 12: 22:06 Why listen to that press conference live? And I had to, you know, I asked myself, did he just say what I thought? He just said it completely took me by surprise. Uh, and it came out of nowhere because he didn't give any context to why he was saying this. I mean, out of 20 seconds of a nearly two hour long press briefing to say that Asian Americans are awesome and that we should be totally protected, it's, it's very confusing. So there was no mention of, you know, or apology of his use of the words Chinese virus or even the more derogatory term from his own aid. Uh, the conch flu. And I think the problem that we have as a community about, it's not just about the term Chinese virus, but it's also the implicit linkage to a long history of anti-Asian rhetoric and violence and also these tropes that foreigners, um, are diseased and are dangerous. And so, you know, when he was using the words Chinese virus, it was really alarming to the entire Asian American community.
Speaker 3: 23:12 And Leanne, tell us more about that long history of linking illness to people's racial and ethnic identity.
Speaker 12: 23:18 Sure. Well, Asians actually were the first group of people who were singled out to be denied us citizenship as well as entrance into this country. So back in the late 18 hundreds that was during the yellow peril era when the Chinese in particular were racially profiled as filthy, diseased and uncivilized. And that led to the Chinese exclusion act that was enacted back in 1882 but get repealed all the way until 1943 and obviously those stereotypes have been passed down from generation to generation, sadly persist today. Other quick examples include when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we blame Japanese Americans and appended thousands of lives by throwing them into internment camps. And then more recently after nine 11, anyone who was perceived to be Muslim based, immediate hate and threats to their livelihoods, which continued today. So again, this is a situation that I think we should all take very seriously because even after the Corona virus or COBIT 19 goes away, these sentiments will still linger.
Speaker 12: 24:27 And Leanne, you know, I'm wondering if you've personally experienced some of the anti-Asian sentiment or heard from others who have been subjected to attacks. I know firsthand that even before we had this social distancing measures in place that are, um, Asian American restaurants and, um, Asian-American business owners were facing incredible hardships. Um, you know, if you go down convoy street, this was back in late January, early February, normally very bustling area of town was like a ghost town because there was fear that if you eat Asian food or you were served by Asian people, that you are more likely to get the Corona virus, which we know is not true. But now that we're under orders to stay inside our homes, most of those attacks are happening obviously online. So recently I was, I'm part of a press conference with uh, council president, Georgette Gomez and supervisor Nathan Fletcher, talking about the dangers of using this kind of rhetoric.
Speaker 12: 25:29 And I couldn't believe the amount of, um, hateful and vitriolic comments to my talk. Here's a couple of examples. You guys need to stop eating dogs first. Everything that comes from China's stamped with made in China, including toxic plastic toys, toys and drywall. What's the difference? Why do they always have to be politically correct and use and why would the media use a Chinese woman? Do they think that it would hold more water coming from her? Stupid is a stupid does. I love that one. Because I'm not even Chinese. Just saying, when you eat bats and grill live dogs, that's what happens. So, you know, I was talking about, you know, rhetoric and bigotry and um, and racism as result of what the president was saying. And I think many of these comments, just confirm my point. You know, Leonard, there have been reported hate crimes against Asian Americans and other parts of the country. Talk to me about, uh, what the County DA's office is doing to combat hate crimes. Are you actively investigating any local incidents? We work really closely with our local law enforcement and federal law enforcement officers. Um, if you think
Speaker 14: 26:44 about the way that crimes are reported, hate crimes in particular can get kind of lost if they're not investigated properly. So if a victim of a hate crime, let's say, um, in the course of being attacked or singled out, uh, they hear slurs that are being used against them and then they get assaulted. If they report that incident to law enforcement and they leave out the fact that, that the slurs are being used, then law enforcement can't identify that as a potential hate crime. And so as it gets, uh, down the road of being reviewed by a prosecutor's office, if that information has never conveyed, we can never identify it and charge it correctly as a hate crime. So our office has been active in training law enforcement and asking the right questions that victims of crime, because oftentimes when there's no explanation or no motive for why a crime occurs, it sometimes is based on bias, which is what is at the core of, of, uh, our hate crimes laws.
Speaker 14: 27:42 You know, Leanne just told us what she faced online. Have you seen a rise in hate speech against the Asian American community on social media and could that escalate to a hate crime? Yes. You know, kind of, one of the things that, that we're always concerned about is that when we see hate speech, so, um, either disparaging language, the use of slurs, but nothing that threatens violence and, uh, nothing that could be prosecuted. Uh, when we see hate speech online and particularly when we see an increase in hate speech against a particular group, that's always a precursor to hate crimes that target that very same group. When we talk about things that, you know, politicians say better disparaging towards a particular race. If you look at the data in the days and weeks following that incident, we see an uptake in hate crimes that target that very same group.
Speaker 14: 28:32 And so words that people say have, uh, an effect on people who are listening to them. Uh, when we see hate speech on social media and it sort of, um, gets other people to come out of the woodwork and, and agree with some of these bias thoughts, that's kind of where, you know, one of the main ingredients to seeing an uptake in hate crimes against that same particular group. And, you know, Leonard, outside of what's happening online, have you heard from the local Asian community about their concerns and potential hate incidents? Uh, there was an incident that actually has made kind of the social media rounds where an Uber driver, uh, picked up a couple passengers. Uh, and almost immediately, uh, he was targeted for being from Hong Kong and they immediately launched into coronavirus and all these, you know, kind of racist tropes. Um, and, and so we are seeing some of that, but none of it so far has crossed into the, the realm of an actual crime being committed against, uh, fortunately against the Asian American community. Um, and one thing that I, I really wanted to express was, you know, as a parent, um, I have heard, uh,
Speaker 12: 29:42 students of, uh, friends of my own children who have been, um, verbally attacked at school before school had been let out. In particular, one young girl was told to wash her hands longer, for example, because she was Asian and that she was definitely going to get the Corona virus. Uh, she needs to wash your hands even more than anybody else. So those kinds of things happen with the young kids and they're bullying. Um, and online bullying can be really very hurtful. So what I am asking, you know, especially for parents, is to take some time to talk to their children and having meaningful conversations about why, uh, singling out or blaming a certain group of people is wrong and how that it could hurt people. And the other thing that we can all do is that whenever we hear this kind of rhetoric is to just simply call it out, not ignore it, but call it out each and every time so that it doesn't get normalized.
Speaker 1: 30:45 I've been speaking with Leanne Kim, founder of the San Diego Asian film festival and author of a new op-ed in the San Diego union Tribune titled words matter, don't call covert 19 would president Trump has and Leonard Trin, prosecutor of hate crimes at the San Diego County district attorney's office. Thank you very much to you both. Thank you.
Speaker 15: 31:15 [inaudible]
Speaker 1: 31:20 many people are turning to movies as distraction while sheltering at home. KPBS arts reporter Beth OCHA Amando speaks with Eric. Leonardo is an instructor of cognitive science at UC San Diego about using a pair of films to consider the current coronavirus pandemic from social dimensions and see how language and emotions can spread through a population just as well as viruses.
Speaker 16: 31:45 Eric, I've had a chance to talk to you about movies before and you've been working on a list of kind of pandemic films to watch while we're sheltering at home. And before we get to some of the films that are on your list, give us a little background on what your particular field is.
Speaker 17: 32:03 I'm an instructor of cognitive science at U CSD and in particular I'm an emotion researcher. I study how humans and animals understand each other's emotional state by using multisensory cues from our social counterparts. My research is broadly concerned with how the brain gives rise to emotion and social interactions and how emotions like panic and fear can spread through a population of humans and animals. Um, so I won't be speaking necessarily about the biological aspects of coven 19 and these films, but instead the social dimensions and how language and emotions can spread through a population as well as viruses.
Speaker 16: 32:40 I had a chance to talk to another UC San Diego professor and we kind of covered some of the biological information when we talked about the film contagion. Uh, and one of the things was that when he described what a virus was, that it's this parasite that's looking for a host. You know, immediately one of the films that came to mind is the thing because it's driven to find a host to live in. So the thing is a really interesting film. This is John carpenter's the thing, the one that came out in 1982. And so what kind of issues and ideas does this film bring up that intrigued you at this particular time?
Speaker 17: 33:17 It really brings up a series of issues that I think we are dealing right now with the cobot 19 pandemic, which is specifically detecting whether or not someone is infected with a virus. And what clues can we actually use to figure that out? Mainly like how do you know it's really me that's interacting with you and not something else. And what kind of cues can we use and other species use to figure this out? Social recognition of other members of one species is a key part of survival and reproductive success in the animal kingdom. In the mammalian brain, there are specific circuits in the brain that are dedicated to identifying the same species, pheromones, different species, pheromones, um, facial expressions and identifying the actions performed by others of the same species or predators. These tend to be huge for designating ingroup and outgroup distinctions. And usually when we're in a crisis, this is usually going to determine who you help and who you blame for the crisis. So these systems usually in other mammals are primarily olfactory. So the S the scene that comes up for me from the film when it comes to mammalian detection of a social other is the scene with the dogs.
Speaker 15: 34:28 Go ahead. Go ahead. What are you waiting for?
Speaker 17: 34:32 Where the dog that was infected with this virus enters this cage? With all of these other dogs present and at first the dogs just kind of look at this dog that's entering and they don't seem to notice much of a difference and then it sort of sits down in an awkward way and then suddenly the dogs realized something is wrong. There's some kind of error there. That dog is not behaving the way other dogs behave or it's not smelling the way that other dogs smell.
Speaker 15: 35:03 Thinking
Speaker 17: 35:03 about like the sense of smell and how it can actually cue us into whether someone is part of our species or not. It's also related to illness, which I found particularly interesting. So not only do we recognize pheromones of species or other species, but we might be able to also sense when they're ill by their smell. For instance, like when somebody has diabetes, their urine smells like rotten apples or when someone has typhoid, their body odor turns to the smell of baked bread. Recently a Scottish woman became famous for being able to tell if someone has Parkinson's disease by smelling their tee shirts. But keep in mind that this is something that both consciously and unconsciously, so there's something really interesting about this dog I figuring out that there is something very wrong with this creature that has just entered.
Speaker 16: 35:48 And so taking the thing, how are you seeing some of that playing out in this current pandemic in, in terms of people can walk around infected and not know it and infect other people and how, how is that adding to kind of the way we're experiencing this pandemic,
Speaker 17: 36:11 the invisibility and the undetectable unity of the Corona virus is what makes it, uh, sort of in some ways kind of banal because like everyone looks fine, right? And yet it's what also makes it more insidious because then it spreads more and then it's going to affect those vulnerable populations. So it has this sort of precise question of the detectability or undetectable pity of illness through all sorts of symptomatic means. Meaning like the way someone is moving around, whether someone is coughing of course, but even these other less detectable things like how they're smelling and all of these other things. So I think that this film really brings to light a lot of the issues of what happens if someone has this virus and they're walking among us and you can't even tell the difference.
Speaker 16: 36:57 And one of the films that you've chosen is a personal favorite of mine, which is Pontypool, which has been described as a zombie film without zombies because of the way the disease kind of spreads. And it's through language. So it's something where like a word can infect your brain and kind of unhinge it. So this is a really interesting film and an interesting way to look at the idea of disease or pandemic.
Speaker 17: 37:29 This was a really interesting example because it still plays on this idea that maybe the viruses need not be these necessarily biological entities, that there are other types of entities that can spread in the same types of ways, whether it be emotion in the last case, uh, but it could also be words and their meanings. Consequently. So there's uh, a few quotes that I thought that were really interesting, which was Dr. Mendez, this character, as he starts to slowly figure out what's going on
Speaker 15: 38:01 possible, what's impossible, doctor, it's viral, that much is clear, but a lot of the blood or blood not at all or even in our bodies [inaudible] words.
Speaker 17: 38:32 Well those speaking, but in some some
Speaker 18: 38:36 words are infected and it spreads out when the contaminated word is spoken. Oh we are witnessing the emergence of a new arrangement for life and our language is its host
Speaker 17: 38:52 and then he says, if the bug enters us, it does not enter us by making contact with our ear drum. No, it enters us when we hear a word and understand it, understand it's when the word is understood that the virus takes hold and it copies itself in our understanding. It's basically a disease of some or a virus that infects this part of the brain that that allows us to understand language, which actually I have a theory about before I get to the theory, I'll go to the way that they wind up treating it in the film, which is mainly, um, they realize that because it's related to understanding in the meaning of a word, if they keep repeating a word and other variations that are related to it, um, then it kind of loses its meaning, which actually in the linguistics literature is called semantic satiation, which is the subjective loss of meaning.
Speaker 17: 39:45 When you hear a word over and over and over again. I don't know if you've ever done that, like you say the same word over and over again, and it sounds like just mush. It doesn't even sound like the thing that you originally started with this type of phenomenon is actually studied in psycho linguistics and in the brain, the area of the brain that is responsible for understanding, written and spoken language is known as Verna keys area. And when this area of the temporal lobe is damaged, um, people actually are not able to understand the meaning of written or spoken words. So I would say that this virus very likely takes place in a Bernie keys area to some extent. However, there's also another part of the brain that's very close to Verna keys area that is responsible for what is called phonological processing, which is the sound of words.
Speaker 17: 40:34 So for instance, if a word sounded like or rhymed like another one, like in the movie they say they start with symbol and then they say simple and then they say sample. Those aren't related in meaning they're related in the way that they sound. So what I would say is the reason why this treatment seems to work is some kind of relationship between those two parts of the brain. I mean the thing that's so kind of chilling in the film too is the way you can almost see a brain kind of come apart. Just as a person kind of hears a word and starts to say something. It was a really well done film in that respect. There is something quite disturbing about that. And it mainly, I think one thing that kinda got me was the idea that it's not the same word for everyone.
Speaker 17: 41:22 In fact, everyone has a different word that their brain is sort of stuck on. And this idea, I think the fact that every brain is unique is a really important to me. And the fact that there are words that you can say to certain people that can elicit wildly different responses than others. Um, so I guess the thing that really comes to mind with, with this point is that it kind of opens up to something like ideology. It's like if sometimes if you hear the right sentence, it could radicalize you, it could make you join a crowd that's going to be like in a mass panic and hysteria. So for this, the way that I want to sort of analyze this part of the film and relate it to the current situation is that words actually have a huge impact on the way that people respond and the language that public officials use to describe what's going on can spread. And in this case, I think what we see is a lot of American leadership using a lot of racist and xenophobic rhetoric using words like Chinese virus or Wu Han virus. Um, and I think that that could lead to something like mass scales to be goading of these, um, others that have invaded our population. This is very classic 20th century genocide speak. Uh, and I would say that racial discourse and language like this can spread just like a virus and it can be just as if not more deadly.
Speaker 16: 42:46 And the interesting thing too about this particular film is it's Canadian and the, it's based on a book where the author is from a country where there are two languages spoken French and English
Speaker 17: 43:00 and I, and I think it's interesting that they chose the English language as the one that is infected that might speak to some kind of Quebec qua type of separatism. But I don't know.
Speaker 16: 43:11 Okay. I want to thank you very much for talking to me about some unusual pandemic films, and we'll talk some more on my cinema junkie podcast about some additional titles that people can seek out while they're sheltering at home.
Speaker 17: 43:24 All right. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. That was Beth OG Amando speaking with UC San Diego neuroscientists, Eric Leonardo artists. You can hear Beth's full interview on her Sinema junkie podcast next week.
The Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed the coronavirus relief package despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far enough or not far enough in protecting working Americans. Also, the San Diego City Council voted to halt evictions until the end of May for those affected by the pandemic. Plus, as more school districts move to distance learning, rural schools face a greater challenge than most urban schools mainly because of internet connectivity. In addition, the novel coronavirus outbreak first broke out in China and rhetoric from politicians and pundits are fueling racist attacks against Asian Americans. And, with people spending more time at home, they’re turning to movies as a distraction. UC San Diego Neuroscientist Eric Leonardis suggests a few films that can be used to look at the pandemic from a social dimension.