Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM117: Grave Oversight

Sudan has been involved in ongoing civil wars since 1983. The wars were about religion, culture and resources. By 2005, approximately two million civilians had died. In 2011, the southern part of the country voted to secede from the north, creating the new country of South Sudan.  But there were still three regions that were claimed by both north and south: Abyei, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan. These regions are rich in oil and have fertile farmlands, so politicians and humanitarians predicted there would be violence following the secession. Civilians in these regions, mostly farmers and shepherds, would be caught in the middle.

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Content Note:

- Genocide

Nathaniel Raymond is a human rights investigator. He was looking into an alleged massacre in Afghanistan when he was introduced to the idea of using satellite imagery for humanitarian purposes. At that time, satellite images were sometimes used for documenting force swells and finding the locations of mass graves. But Nathaniel wondered if he could figure out a way to use satellite imagery proactively; what if he could figure out a way to see an attack coming and sound an alarm before anyone got hurt?

 
 

Nathaniel wasn’t the only one who had this idea. Actor George Clooney had also been researching ways to use satellites as “anti-genocide paparazzi” in Sudan through an organization he co-founded called The Enough Project. The Enough Project and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and others sponsored the project. The Satellite Sentinel Project partnered with the private satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe, who gave the SSP permission to point some of their satellites where they pleased and take pictures. By December 2010, the Satellite Sentinel Project was in full swing, inventing a new methodology for analyzing satellite imagery of active conflict in real time.

Nathaniel Raymond, former Director of Operations at the Sentinel Satellite Project. Photo by Jeff Emtman.

Nathaniel Raymond, former Director of Operations at the Sentinel Satellite Project. Photo by Jeff Emtman.

The mission of the Satellite Sentinel Project was threefold:

  1. Warn civilians of impending attacks,

  2. document the destruction in order to corroborate witness testimony in later investigations, and

  3. potentially dissuade the governments in both Sudan and South Sudan from returning to war in the first place.

“We wanted to see if being under surveillance would change the calculus… If they knew we were watching, would they not attack?” The Satellite Sentinel Project would release their reports at midnight so that they would be available in time for morning news in East Africa.

Critics of Satellite Sentinel Project say that South Sudan shouldn’t be a playground for experimental humanitarian efforts bankrolled by a foreign movie star. And Nathaniel says the critiques are valid. “It was always a Hail Mary pass. And, we must be clear, it was always an experiment, which in and of itself is problematic. But… what else are we going to do, sit on our hands?”

Satellite Sentinel Project released a total of 28 reports over 18 months. The methodology Nathaniel and his team developed is still being taught at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Today Nathaniel Raymond is a lecturer on Global Affairs at Yale’s Jackson Institute. Special thanks to Ziad al Achkar, one of Nathaniel’s colleagues from Satellite Sentinel Project that helped us with this episode.

PBS Newshour Reporting on Satellite Sentinel Project’s documentation of burned villages in South Sudan.

Nathaniel Raymond’s 2018 talk on Satellite Sentinel Project at the EyeO Festival 2018.

This episode was produced by Garrett Tiedemann and edited by Bethany Denton. Additional editing by Jeff Emtman.

Music: Garrett Tiedemann.

Cover Image: Fire burning near Abyei town, composited with a shadow of a satellite for HBM by Jeff Emtman. Source image by DigitalGlobe.

HBM113: The Last Ones

Bethany Denton’s been thinking about grief a lot lately. In 2017, two of her friends, a mother and a daughter, died unexpectedly just two months apart. Since then, Bethany’s started seeing grief in just about everything, including a caribou at Woodland Park Zoo that dropped her antlers after a miscarriage.

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Content Note:

- Language
- Death

Bethany’s good friend, Jesse Brenneman has also been thinking a lot about grief. It was his mother and sister who died in 2017. And shortly after that, his grandfather and father died too. So over the span of a year and two months, Jesse lost his entire immediate family.

HBM064: A Shinking Shadow, in which Bethany talks to Jesse’s sister Erin about her eating disorder.

When Bethany told Jesse about the grieving caribou mother who’d dropped her antlers after miscarriage, Jesse suggested contacting his next door neighbor Ben Long. Ben is a writer and conservationist with an affinity for caribou.

On a snowy January morning, the three of them drove out to the Flathead National Forest outside of Kalispell, Montana for a walk in the woods. They hoped to find caribou tracks in the snow. Caribou used to be plentiful in northwestern Montana and throughout the continental United States. These days, due to deforestation and destruction of their habitat, the caribou population in the lower 48 could be as low as three animals.

You may recognize Jesse’s voice from his time as a producer for WNYC’s On The Media. Today he is a freelancer of many disciplines living and working in Missoula, Montana.

Face the Racist Nation, a piece produced by Jesse Brenneman for WNYC’s On The Media.

Music: Jesse Brenneman | | | The Black Spot

HBM111: Waiting for Earth

Motherhood always seemed non-negotiable for Bethany Denton. Her upbringing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints certainly instilled this. Mormons believe in what’s called a “premortal existence,” a place up in heaven where the eternal souls eagerly wait their turn to be born on Earth so they can prove their faith to Heavenly Father, and then return to glory in the afterlife.  

For Mormons, life on Earth is just a short test, an opportunity to practice free agency and serve God’s will. That’s why leaders of the LDS Church like Elder Dallin H. Oaks are concerned about falling birth rates among members of the church. They believe that “one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth.”

This belief in pre-life gives additional weight to God’s commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” It’s about more than maintaining the populations; it’s about giving other children of God a chance to live.

As an adult, Bethany lost her faith in the LDS Church. She stopped believing that her primary purpose in life was to be a mother, and for the first time, she started to seriously consider what her life would be without children.


Music: The Black Spot ||| Lucky Dragons

Roberto Molina and Bethany Denton on their wedding day. Photo by Zephyr Wadkins. 2018.

HBM107: Carlo Surrenders

Carlo Nakar spent more than twenty years in the United States before he was called by God to return to the the Philippines. It happened during one of his first classes of grad school at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.  He looked into the rafters and asked, “Lord, what would be the hardest thing that you could ever ask me to do?” He received a verbal answer: “You should work with sexually trafficked girls in the Philippines.”

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Content Note:

- Human Trafficking
- Sexual Abuse
- Language

At that time, Carlo was in grad school to find himself after a long stint working at a facility for abused and neglected kids.  But he had stayed there too long and effectively burnt out from the secondary trauma of working with children who were sexually aggressive.  He felt unfit to become a therapist.

So it came as a surprise when God called him to work with sexually trafficked girls in the Philippines: “But I was called to do this. I have to show up.”

Since receiving the call from God, Carlo accepted an internship at Samaritana in Quezon City, near his hometown of Manila, where human trafficking is prevalent. There he works with women who have been trafficked or worked as prostitutes. In this episode, Carlo tells the story of the first time he did street outreach in Quezon City on behalf of the organization.


Since recording his audio diaries, Carlo traveled to India to attend a conference hosted by the International Christian Alliance on Prostitution. He attended a presentation on OSEC (online sexual exploitation of children) and for a second time he felt called by God. He said he felt a sense of certainty that this is the work that he is uniquely prepared to do. After graduation, he intends to work as a therapist for children who have been sexually exploited online.

Carlo’s been on HBM before, in one of our very first episodes. Listen to HBM008: Chuck Gets Circumcised.

Bethany Denton produced this episode, and Jeff Emtman helped edited it.

Music: The Black Spot | | | Circling Lights

Carlo Nakar and his contact juggling ball. Photo by Carlo Nakar.

Carlo Nakar and his contact juggling ball. Photo by Carlo Nakar.

HBM102: Breath Holder

Archer Mayo has always loved finding lost things. He grew up on several navy bases and spent much of his childhood swimming and looking for human detritus–sunglasses, teacups, glass bottles. That’s why he takes such delight in searching for old lead weights in the murky waters of the Columbia River in Washington state.

Archer is a free diver and uses no breathing apparatus when he dives. He just holds his breath and gives in to his mammalian dive response. It’s a reflex that allows mammals to hold their breath underwater longer by slowing the heart rate and shifting blood from the limbs to the torso. “Once my mammalian dive response kicks in... I feel much more calm and centered.” Archer says, “I call it ‘The Flip’.”

Archer envies whales and dolphins for living in a world that seems weightless. He can only go so long living as a bipedal mammal on the surface before he feels the urge to dive again.

In this episode, HBM producer Bethany Denton watches from a river bank as Archer dives just outside of his home in White Salmon, Washington.

MUSIC: Circling Lights ||| The Black Spot